Tuesday, 30 September 2014

My Impressions of Sofia

A few weeks ago, Boryana asked us to write about our impressions of Sofia over the past few months, to be published in some compilation of how foreigners see and live the Bulgarian capital. I realised that this short text's natural home was, apart from anywhere else, this very blog, and so decided to copy and paste it here.

As out time is ticking - there's only a week left now - you can expect more such retrospective posts, even in this melancholy spirit that has engulfed our little international party, this awkward mood of wanting to fit as much as possible in the little time left but not doing so at all because the current situation of terminal comfortable inertia feels so natural. This single week ahead of us all of a sudden feels like it could fit the entire past nine months in it and with room to spare.

My impressions of Sofia

Sofia is similar in a way to Athens in that you can feel that its status of capital was only recently, in the grander scale of things, given to it. Not so long ago, it was a relatively unimportant provincial town of a large multicultural empire – just like Athens. The same empire, incidentally, And then, history happened.

The malls that are sprouting up like mushrooms nowadays have old communist building to serve as their backdrop meadow. Spreading like mushrooms, popping up almost instantaneously like mushrooms. These and other kinds of buildings or shops go to show what it is that people grew to desire after decades of austerity, lack of economic and political freedom and loyalty to the Party: sex shops, 24 chasa alkohol i tsigari, supermarkets and other shops open every day till late, McDonalds aplenty, multinationals that have set shop and offices due to the low minimum wages… All these things that seem so quaint to a person who grew up in a country where capitalism has been long taken for granted and is being, small step by small step, left behind.

But all the above was the stereotypical image of Sofia, the things I imagined I would find before ever setting foot in Bulgaria 8 months ago, similar to the common preconceptions we often have for cities that used to be communist. All the above I did find, but there was so much more. Sofia: candidate for European capital of the Unexpected  2015!

I found huge parks full of life, kateritsi, old trees, young as well as old people, with dogs or without, but mostly with; Sofians love their kuchetata. I thought Sofia would be a gray city; it is, but it’s much greener than it is gray. Grayn? Sorry, that was a bad joke. It was a big surprise and for me a big reason Sofia is as pleasant to live in as it is.

The city’s mass transit system was also a highlight of the unexpected. The two metro lines connect at Serdika, but they’re really one line split in two, like a single rope half painted blue, half red, forming a huge loop. That’s cool. The old trolley buses with their weird noises and the turbulence at Ruski Pametnik also have a special place in my heart. But my favourite by far is the Sofian tram. It’s almost iconic. Everybody knows I’m a fan of anything on rails, especially if you can muse looking outside the window while on them (which sadly excludes the metro). Sofia’s tram network is huge and plain fun. Who doesn’t like lines changing routes because of surprise repair works on main roads, or permanently angry tram drivers who randomly stop to get lunch or cigarettes and loudly quarrel with passengers? The best by far are lines 20 and 22: they have more seats and less standing room in this way making you feel like you’re on an actual train. Bonus points for line 10, which goes through a forest. By the way, if you don’t think the orange ticket stamp thingies aren’t amusing in their backwards-ness, but in a very adorable way, I’m not talking to you! And yes, I know that tickets are very expensive, especially since you have to use another every time you switch lines. But hey, those are the perks of being an EVSer; free transport cards! Not surprisingly, though, I went ahead and managed to lose mine in these final days of the project.

Then there’s the city proper, the things you can do in the centre. Here’s a brief list of options: eating amazing gelato at Confetti – definitely some of my favourite ice-cream in the world; Art Hostel with its garden: the perfect place to chill with a Stolichno Weiss, my Bulgarian beer of choice; Veda House with its unbelievably rich hummus; Mimas and that place owned by Turks on Ulitsa Pirotska that make the best falafel in town, and of course Sofia City Library and Ploshtad Slaveikov that saw so many of our activities, busy as well as lazy afternoons…  This list of favourite places accumulated over a period of eight months could go on but I’m running out of space on this small page. Not being able to mention every little special thing brings out some kind of familiar guilt in me.

Last but not least, Shar Planina 55 in Opalchenska: the building which was constructed in the Interwar period, with no elevator, the entire staircase of which we had to climb every time we wanted to reach our apartment on the fourth floor. If there ever is a hostel named after this otherwise inconspicuous place, know that it will be because our apartment saw many travellers from around Europe and other volunteers and provided shelter without complaint to more people than what would be considered normal for a living space of this size. It will forever stay in our hearts.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

European Day of Languages/Salad

Isn't Europe like a big bowl of salad - colorful and messy? That's why we love it!

 Sofia City Library invites you to celebrate the European Day of Languages together with us, volunteers from all of Europa - Greece, Spain, Denmark, Latvia, Poland, Austria, Slovakia are making a salad and the secret ingredient is you. That means you, my beloved language fan, should come on 26th September at 17:00 to Sofia City Library (American corner) It's going to be cosy, fun, international, friendly, with games, interesting presentations, language teaching and salad eating!

 Европейски ден на езиците На 26 септември Европа отбелязва деня на езиците. Целта на този празник е да се обърне внимание на деца, младежи и възрастни колко е важно изучаването на чужди езици, да подтикне към изграждане на положителни нагласи към всички говорени езици в Европа и да мотивира за учене на чужд език през целия живот. На 26.09.2014 / петък / от 16.00ч. започваме дискусия и четене на различни езици в Руския център и продължаваме от 17 до 19 часа в Американския център на Столична библиотека, където доброволците от ЕДС са подготвили програма, с която да отбележим празника. Ще научите коя е думата, която звучи еднакво на 24 –те официални езика в Европа.Ще има игри и презентации за най-лесния начин за научаване на чужд език, както и дегустация на национални ястия , типични за дадена страна. Ще си разменяме рецепти, ще слушаме музика, ще говорим на различни езици. Заповядайте да празнуваме заедно!

 За предложения и участие, моля пишете на мейл: dialog.21@abv.bg
За повече информация:
Боряна Янкова - 0887677089
Валентина Личева – 0897 300 943
Мариета Георгиева – 0888 087 147


Miro in the proper attire

Zanda's salad is the only one I didn't try. :'(

Etwas Kartoffelsalat, bitte!

Maria serving the hungry crowds

Salad and language make people happy.

Food and language makes the world go round

Spanish salad - what's left- by Vicente

Greek salad -what's left- by yours truly.



Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Beglika Fest 2014

Golyam Beglik is a lake in the Rodopi mountains that didn't exist before 1951.

Since 2008 it's also been a gathering place for people who believe in change and new possibilities and who want to have a good time surrounded by beautiful nature. Enter Beglika Fest, which has become one of Bulgaria's biggest and most important summer festivals.

We hitch-hiked to Beglika and back and camped there for a few days with Maria, Zanda, Miro and Daphne. Apart from a couple of stormy nights we (and our 20lv tents with the water resistance of my towel) had to endure, and the fact all the interesting workshops they had going there were almost exclusively in Bulgarian, we had an unforgettable time. Plus, it felt like we were part of something important, something ground-breaking.

I mean, dry toilets, hammocks, seed exchange, Suggestopedia, sailing, astronomy, kung fu, yoga and tasty vegetarian/vegan food all in one place - I will never forget that chocolate pancake and the vegan kyuftechta, never! What more can a person ask or hope for?

We didn't get a chance to listen to all of the bands because of the bad weather during most of the nights, but also because the spacial and temporal layout of the stages made it difficult, at least for me, to follow everything. One band in particular, though, made an impression on me. Traditional Balkan sounds together with beatboxing and dubstep, you say?!

The following is a video I made out of all the videos I took from Beglika. It's small and humble, there mostly to give you a small taste of what the Beglika experience was for our small international group.

As you might've been able to tell from the video, however, I'm definitely happier with our selection of photographs. Credits go to Daphne, Zanda, Maria and yours truly - can't bother to do it for each one separately:

Hammocks over water.

Signs to where the find the good stuff.

I love this picture

Weird thing about Beglika: at night they had the "chill" music and during the day
they had all the pumping beats, especially at the chill station.

Miro introduced us to the concept of dendrophile and nothing was the same again...

Looks interesting doesn't it? Само на български!


At the MMUUZZAA tent.

...all kinds of crazy things...

Maria and Zanda got their henna tattoos.

Sharing is caring.

Занда и кончето


"At night it can get cold", they said...

Tent City

Foggy mornings.

Kung Fu for dummies at sunset.

Where we got most of out sunburns.

Ghetto water resistance!

Haide, next time in Beglika let us be volunteers with perfect knowledge of Bulgarian! Or we could be the ones with the game corner...

Monday, 18 August 2014

Moving Gallery

Snips of a moving photo gallery we did in July with our EVSer friends. Featuring Anna, Kuba, Florian, Gabi, Miro, Maria, Zanda, Vicente and myself.

 I'm not going to explain anything related to our performance, in order to more closely simulate our complete shut-off of communication with the outside world during the exhibition.

 Perhaps Zanda's assessment about the whole thing was correct: "more pictures, less video"!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Moving books from Portuguese to Spanish Reading Room

The Portuguese reading room is soon going to become the Korean reading room. For that reason, all of the books kept therein had to be moved to the Spanish reading room and section which from now on will likely be the Iberian section! Meanwhile, we got some videos from the procedure and we thought they looked fun and representative of the good time we have in the library even when doing "manual work" like this, so I decided to up them.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Green Library 2014

We made this video with all our love for the event that was made of love. Library's a giving tree. Enjoy!

We were also on Bulgarian National TV. Unfortunately, I can't embed the video, so you'll have to click on the link and watch it there. Here's another reportage done by TV Evropa - I speak Bulgarian on that one! :D

The theme song:

Download .mp3

Again, many thanks to Zanda, Maria, Valya and Boryana. You should write something about it too, girls! Post it on the comments and I'll make it part of the post.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Green Library 2014 Promo and Bulgarian National Radio Interview

This video was an exercise in spontaneity: we came up with the idea for it, wrote the lyrics and the music, shot it, cut it and uploaded it within 6-7 hours. Extra footage is from our first Green Library event at Lyulin, which took place last Saturday, and, apart from the rain, which spoiled our plans a little bit, it was quite successful.

I mean, we even went to the Bulgarian National Radio for an interview. Valya, Boryana and Zanda were the ones who spoke the most, presenting our activities and inviting the listeners to our event in Lyulin, but it's no small thing getting to speak in Bulgarian on the freakin' national radio, if only just for 15 seconds! The people were kind enough to share the interview with us. Valya starts speaking at 0:25, Boryana at 2:00, Zanda at 4:00, Maria at 4:20, Vicente at 6:55 and myself at 07:10. Here it is:

Many thanks to Maria and Zanda, who had the original idea, and everyone else who helped make this a reality. See you next Saturday!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

One Minotaur, one Labyrinth and One Ball of String

In English...
...and in Bulgarian!
Two of the five visiting Greek girls - Lena, Lenio, Konstantina, Efi and Dimitra - have already left. It always breaks my heart bonding with people over such small periods of time and then having to say goodbye, or at least "see you later", so soon. Anyway, it was an absolutely great experience taking part in these workshops, escaping in the process our own collective labyrinth and bringing to life something valuable for children and adults alike. All of the countless hours of Skype calls between us paid off in the end! And there's more to come.

I took more than 20GB of video yesterday, and it might take me a while to edit together and upload something worthwhile; when I do, however, I'll place it in this post.

These workshops took place under the action of the Greek N.G.O ''Εμείς και ο Κόσμος/ Nuestro Mundo'' (www.nuestromundo.gr) in collaboration with the Central Library of Sofia/ Sofia City Library, on the occasion of their collaboration within the framework of realization of the Project of European Voluntary Service (EVS) Web Culture in the Library. The workshops are included in the broader activities developed by ''Nuestro Mundo'' in collaboration with European Educational Institutions concerning the theme of Stereotypes in Genders and of Children's Literature. This project, is funded with private resources of the NGO ''Nuestro Mundo'' and it is supported by the Project European Voluntary Service (EVS) Web Culture in the Library.

Monday, 7 July 2014

July Summer Reading at the American Corner

This is the schedule of the July Summer Reading at the American Corner. This year's theme is Planet Earth. We'll be happy to see you!

July 4, 17:00
Movie: Earth-creation of a planet
4 юли, 17:00 ч. Филм: Земята-създаването на една планета

July 5, 11:00 to 13:00
Children's activity: Water
5 юли, 11:00-13:00 ч.
Детско занимание: Water

July 7, 17:30
Read aloud in English
7 юли, 17:30 ч.
Четене на глас на английски език

July 8, 13:00 to 17:00
Making presentations / Programming with Scratch
8 юли, 13:00-17:00 ч.
Изработване на презентации/Програмиране със Scratch

July 9, 11:00 to 12:00 am
Children's film: Until the Arctic
9 юли, 11:00-12:00 ч.
Детски филм: До Арктика

July 10, 11:00 to 13:00
Children's activity: Plants
 10 юли, 11:00-13:00 ч.
Детско занимание: Plants

July 11, 17:00
Movie: The wonders of the ocean
Диана/Камелия 11 юли 17:00 ч.
Филм: Чудесата на океана

July 12, 11:00 to 13:00
Children's activity: Ice / Snow
12 юли, 11:00-13:00 ч.
Детско занимание:Ice/Snow

July 14, 17:30
Reading aloud in English
14 юли, 17:30 ч.
Четене на глас на английски език

July 15, 13:00 to 17:00
Making presentations / Programming with Scratch
15 юли, 13:00-17:00 ч.
Изработване на презентации /Програмиране със Scratch

July 16, 11:00 to 12:00
Children's film: Animation
16 юли, 11:00-12:00 ч.
Детски филм: Анимация

July 17, 11:00 to 13:00
Children's activity: Volcanoes
17 юли, 11:00-13:00 ч.
Детско занимание: Volcanoes

July 18, 17:00
Movie: Life
18 юли, 17:00 ч.
Филм: Зараждането на живота

July 19, 11:00 to 13:00
Children's activity: Moon
19 юли, 11:00-13:00 ч.
Детско занимание: Moon

July 21, 17:30
Reading aloud in English
21 юли, 17:30 ч.
Четене на глас на английски език

July 22, 13:00 to 17:00
Making presentations / Programming with Scratch
22 юли, 13:00-17:00 ч.
 Изработване на презентации /Програмиране със Scratch

July 23, 11:00 to 12:00
Children's film: Animation
 23 юли, 11:00-12:00 ч.
Детски филм: Анимация

July 24, 11:00 to 13:00
Children's activity: Animals
24 юли, 11:00-13:00 ч.
Детско занимание: Animals

July 25, 17:00
Movie: The great secret of water
25 юли,17:00 ч.
Филм: Великата тайна на водата

July 26, 11:00 to 13:00
Children's activity: Oceans Висенте
26 юли, 11:00-13:00 ч.
Детско занимание: Oceans

July 28, 17:30
Reading aloud in English
28 юли, 17:30 ч.
Четене на глас на английски език

July 29, 13:00 to 17:00
Making presentations / Programming with Scratch 
29 юли, 13:00-17:00 ч.
Изработване на презентации /Програмиране със Scratch

30 July, 11:00 to 12:00
Children's movie: Timon and Pumba Safety Smart
30 юли, 11:00-12:00 ч.
Детски филм: Timon and Pumba Safety Smart

July 31, 11:00 to 13:00
Children's activity: Earth Structure
31 юли, 11:00-13:00 ч.
Детско занимание: Earth Structure

August 2, 11:00 to 13:00
2 август, 11:00-13:00 ч.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Russian conference in Rodina Hotel

Last weekend Dimitris, Zanda and I had the opportunity of helping with the organization of a conference about the developing of Russian culture and image in Bulgaria. The library participated throug its Russian Center, so we did our part as European Volunteers. The conference took place in Hotel Rodina in the center of Sofia, but we also went to other places.

First day of the conference we help filling 180 bags, 1 per participant in the conference, with a pen, a notebook, and a belt for the identification.

                                                Zanda, Dimitri and I, filling the bags

After doing this we went with the russian guests to the museum of Bulgarian History so they could know more about the history of the country. In the museum there are highly valued treasures for Bulgaria, like somme of the most ancient archeological remains in Europe, or objects that belonged to Vasil Levski, the great hero of bulgarian independence.

Back to the hotel the conference started. My task then was taking photos of the room and the speakers.

Some moments of the conference

Unfortunately I don´t speak russian so I don´t know exactly what the conference was about but I Know for sure they explained the activities that take place in the Russian Center.

Next day, Sunday, we took a bus with the attendants to go to the Rila Monastery and the village of Melnik, so they could feel the taste of the bulgarian countriside. Rila is one of the most important religious centres for bulgarian orthodox and Melnik is well known for its good wine. We visited one of its many wineries.

Rila monastery

Enjoying the red wine of Melnik

Finally on monday Maria, Boryana and I were invited to the famous restaurant "Chevermeto" where we could try some bulgarian style meats and enjoy with traditional dances of the country. This were staged by a group of professional dancers, but the russian guests have also their chances to dance, that they didn´t lose. Neither did we.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Jāņi - Latvian Midsummer

On June 23rd we celebrated Jāņi together with our Latvian friends, which is their celebration of midsummer, complete with fires, homemade cheese, beer (very important) and attempting to stay up until sunrise - whoever fails to do so is cursed with sleepiness for a year, at least in Latvian tradition. What is important to note here is that of course the night of June 23rd in the high latitudes of Latvia isn't more than 3 or 4 hours long, which means that Jāņi doesn't translate so well for countries that aren't situated quite as close to polar bears and baby harp seals as the Baltics are - call me Bulgaria. Some of us made the brave attempt, but the idea of sleeping around the fire, or in custom hammocks, beat the spirits of all but the toughest.

The celebration took place in a summer house on Stara Planina close to Rebrovo, which is in a forested valley next to Sofia. It never ceases to surprise me with how many beautiful spots of nature, mountains, lakes, rivers and forests, exist no farther away than a single hour's trip from Bulgaria's beating heart.

A taste of the 40-minute train ride, together with Janis, Rian, Zanda and Vicente.

Latvian homemade "cheese"

What? ZANDA is evolving!
So much green... Jāni had his day
Wild strawberries! City boy was excited!

Picking flowers for the Jāņi crowns

After the sun set, the fireflies came out to play. Some of us, including myself, had never seen a firefly before, and that we were excited doesn't even begin to describe it. The attempt of a video above doesn't remotely do the experience justice, but at least you can catch part of the vibe, especially played by the sound of the chatter of the crickets and the song of other little creatures of the night.

I'll leave you with an interesting observation: Greece, Bulgaria, Spain, Latvia, Denmark and I'm sure further countries still, all share the same obviously pagan celebration on the same day - the summer solstice - but it's everywhere under the guise of the same obviously christian name: St. John's. Vicente's theory is that the pagan festival had existed everywhere in Europe since ancient times, and very early on in its history christianity decided to keep it intact in order to not not alienate the recently-converted pagans. It added, however, the "front" of the christian saint to more covertly incorporate the old celebration to its own traditions. Who knows?

Friday, 27 June 2014

State of the Workshops

We've been having our workshops for a few months already. Some of them we'll be dropping next week in order to make room and time for other activities, so let's take this opportunity to have a look at what's been going on and which of our workshops will be seeing the warm light of July!

Easy readers had potential, but unfortunately I wasn't able to reach the right audience and participants or make it clear that the workshop was for advanced learners or speakers of English. A lot of the people who expressed interest were really looking for a way to improve and practice their language, and to that effect most have discovered that the English conversation group on Wednesday is closer to their needs. Next week will be the final round of this little workshop that could.

Vicente started his film projections a few weeks ago. So far we've played To Kill a Mocking Bird, Platoon and Midnight Cowboy. Next week's film is still undecided; follow our facebook and twitter to stay posted. Tuesdays at 16:00 in the American Corner.

Vicente's other workshop, Spanish Culture in the Spanish section has been a limited success; we have to say however that we've had a few very devoted participants, which is encouraging. At the workshop itself we have passed over We even went to watch Vivir Es Fácil Con Los Ojos Cerrados together a few weeks ago at the opening of the 21st Spanish and Latinamerican Cinema Week organised by Instituto Cervantes and some of the embassies and consulates of the countries represented. The workshop will live on into July; Fridays at 16:00 at the Spanish reading room, as usual.

Zanda had a great success with her Saturday Native American Art for Children workshop. I didn't go that often because it was relatively early the morning  (three cheers for Zanda for all the sleep she missed!) but I know that it was a sensation and attracted lots of childrens as well as parents to our activities.

On one of the days fellow EVSers Florian and Gabi, normally working in Montana with puppets, took over Zanda's workshop:

Florian next to me, Gabi next to Maria

Unfortunately, Native American Art for Children is another of our activities that has run its course, but you never know!

My personal favourite has been Maria's Creative Magical Writing. This one I have attended a few times and each and every one of them I came out having written something beautiful and, indeed, magical. What we usually do is have a bit of free writing to loosen up our hands and minds and then we are given a topic to write about but under the pressure of the ticking clock. Our creative magical topics have included first-person narration through the eyes of a butterfly; being Death; painting a multisensory picture of what Summer means for us; and more.

We have new participants joining every time and Maria keeps coming up with great ideas to keep things fresh, so two thumbs up for her. You can join us on Saturdays at 13:00 in the American Corner.

Last but certainly not least, and even though it's not exactly part of our regural schedule of workshops, it's worth mentioning that the English conversation group has been given a second hour during the week, namely on Thursdays, in order to split up the participants into smaller, more manageable groups and in this way help more people have the opportunity to speak for longer. With this change, we thought it would be a good idea to also divide the group into two different levels, in this way providing speakers of varying confidence and aptitude with a choice.

On June 11th, we had close to 25 people in this small room.
Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.
 So, from now on the schedule's going to be like this:

Wednesdays 17:30 advanced group; Thursdays 17:30 beginner group - throughout July at the very least.