First Day of Classes & a Memorable Bike Ride

Fantastic first day of classes at AUBG! I have students from the following countries: Macedonia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, U.S. (New Mexico),  Georgia (the country), Spain, Tajikistan, Vietnam,  Russia, Latvia, Japan and Bulgaria.  They are very bright and motivated and interested in everything– they remind me of Macalester or Carleton students. Bonus: I found a great cappuccino close to campus to replace my Dunn Bros. Most cappuccinos here are made with Nescafe, but this one is made with real expresso. You just have to ask.  So happy! Makes teaching just that much easier 🙂

Mark starts tomorrow and he is also excited to meet his students.  This morning he had a loooong and memorable bike ride that included several flat tires, some sheep, a dog chase and a farmer who tried to help.  I’ll let him tell you about it,  but in the meantime here is a pic of his bike in the hills near Blagoevgrad. He could see the Macedonian border from one of the mountains! Oh, did I mention that we are having fun here?

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Dinners, Monasteries & a State Fair tribute

 A quick update:  getting settled and enjoying meeting new colleagues and friends.  Some locals, some ex-pats and interesting internationals. We feel so comfortable here already, going out almost every night for dinner or drinks with large groups of people and loving it!  A typical dinner lasts 3-4 hours sitting outside in one of Blagoevgrad’s many lovely outdoor cafes.  We also had dinner at with the Provost (he used to work at the American school in Egypt) and the President (a native of Milwaukee who had been working at the American school in Kyrgzstan before Bulgaria) in the past week, so I think we’re off to a pretty good start.
Yesterday was our first “touristy” day. We took  a bus trip with students to the Rila Monastery, which is apparently the Jerusalem of Bulgaria. Who knew? Saint John of Rila was, according to the legend, a 25 year old hermit who resisted the devil by sleeping on rocks and under the sky and later in a cave and  where he did lots of fasting.  He did all this in, oh, the year 900 something, the beginning of Bulgarian Orthodox Christianity.  Today,  in the main church, there we many people lined up to get their home made bread or wine brought from home blessed by the monks.
When we were done, we took a walk to the other side of the monastery where we noticed a large line of people gathering around one particular food stand. We rubbed our eyes when we saw the words “mini-donuts.” Could it be true?  So we got in line  and eventually purchased a box and I couldn’t resist raising a donut (yes, they came with forks!) in honor of our Minnesota friends.  Наздраве!
Classes start in a few hours.  I’m ready.  Mark doesn’t teach till Tuesday so he’s going on on a bike ride this morning with the new mountain bike that he bought (will post more about that this week).  More to come!   Hope all is well in your part of the world.

The Bulgarian Saunter

The Bulgarian Saunter

There is a beautiful path along the Bistritsa river  here in Blagoevgrad that I try to go to every day for some exercise.  Most people on the path are definitely not into power walking. Instead, they do what I call the “Bulgarian Saunter,” which I would describe as a deliberately slow and almost hypnotic walk that is meant to minimize sweating and avoid raising the heart rate.  Of course this method of walking especially benefits the women in high heels (there are more women here in high heels than I ever seen outside of South Beach in Miami!). I snapped this pic of these two women doing the Bulgarian Saunter and I thought this photo also perfectly represents the old and new Bulgaria, which can clearly be seen by looking at their feet and their clothes (click on the photo to see a larger view of the pic).

Nothing stops these gals from their daily walk

The other photo shows a group of older women who are out on the path just about every night. They put me to shame with their dedication to walking daily in sandals and skirts.  You go, girls!

Orientation and Bikes and Stuff

Started new faculty orientation yesterday. On the plus side: speaking English for the first time in a week to someone other than Mark. Also,  meeting our new colleagues – some very interesting folks teaching here from all over the world.  The downside: like any U.S. university, there are many meetings. Lots of them.  Like all day, every day.  Mark managed to skip a meeting this morning (he’s an adjunct so he can!) and he went for a bike ride  out to the hills surrounding Blagoevgrad with a new buddy. He borrowed a bike from a bike shop owner  (see pics) who was going to rent it to him for $2 but the guy said “just take it” and Mark brought it back a few hours later after a 24 km ride. Amazing! He loved the ride.

When Mark isn’t biking, we have been busy getting our offices and computers up and running (PC’s only here) and  learning quite a bit about teaching expectations and campus culture. We are looking forward to meeting the students on Monday. For the record, here are our new  AUBG  ID cards (I know I already posted these pics on Facebook but I wanted to put it in the blog, too). Also I”m adding in a shot of Mark in front of the school a day before orientation, the view from his office and a few other random shots of things I thought you might enjoy such as Mark negotiating at the bike shop.    More soon.

Grocery store discoveries

Blagoevgrad is an interesting mix of old fashioned farmer’s markets and corner shops, but it also has most of the modern conveniences you would expect to find back in the U.S. So off we went to see the Bulgarian version of Sam’s Club called “Metro.”  Discovered a seafood section that gives new meaning to “fresh fish,”  beer in large plastic bottles and the biggest hunk of meat I have ever seen in a grocery store!   Just like a trip to Target, we ended up spending way more than we expected.  From now on, will probably stick to the local markets and shopkeepers but it was an interesting cultural experience!

Where we live

If you look closely, you can see Mark standing on the balcony of our new apartment in Blagoevgrad.  The front is across the street from a middle school, but the back of the apartment is what is special. Our new “sunroom” overlooks a yard (unusual for center of town), a 17th century stone fence and a bunch of interesting neighbors who sit on their balconies for what seems like many hours a day.  We have already learned that sitting for many hours and drinking any beverage and visiting is an art form here. There is literally no one in spandex here and very few people doing “fitness” except in sandals and even high heels!  One other quick note: the women here are stunning and the men–not so much.  More on that later.   Gotta get some sleep because new faculty orientation starts tomorrow!