Paris: walking, eating, biking and a video

Been in Paris for almost a week and Bulgaria seems very far away now.  It’s amazing what clean air and freshly baked  baguettes can do for a person!

I lived in this beautiful city when I was a college student, so it’s quite fun to come back as adult and discover it all over again.  That’s what we did on Christmas when we decided to rent Velib bikes for the day.  We left with a vague idea of where we wanted to go and several hours later, we found what we were looking for.  Going by bike gave me a very different view of Paris than I had ever seen before.  This is not your typical tourist video, but I hope you like it anyway. Watch it until the end, there is a sweet surprise in there from an lovely old lady we met at the end of the day.

In other news,  my brother Mitch Gilbert was on the news for finding $10,000 and giving the money back to the owner. What a guy! Check out the link to see the story  http://www.9news.com/video/default.aspx?bctid=1346879166001

And while you are at it, check out the newest “Helmet Cam” video I edited for my husband Mark from his most recent “Helmet Cam” bike ride in Bulgaria.  This one is about how biking and wild dogs don’t mix. http://markwollemannonthemove.wordpress.com/2011/12/26/dogs-and-biking-dont-mix-video-proof/

In Paris for another week and then to Amsterdam to visit friends.  Will be back in Blago in mid-January.  Hope you are all enjoying your holidays with people you love and in places that bring you happiness.

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A bulletin board surprise

After such a negative post yesterday about the air quality here in Bulgaria and my asthma, I thought I’d post something a little more positive today.  Something that made me feel really good and it didn’t involve Rakia or tea.

Today, as I was grading final papers, I went downstairs to grab a cup of coffee (a real cappucino in a machine for about .50 cents!) and when I came back I noticed something new on the bulletin board next to my office door.  It was a hand-written note on lined paper that said, “You are the best professor that ever came to AUBG! Can’t wait for next semester!”  That would have been enough to make my day, but then another student wrote “I second that!” and yet another wrote “Indeed! Thanks for caring so much about our department.”  A note like this is not the only reason I teach,  but it certainly helps to know that you are teaching appreciative and enthusiastic students like the fantastic students at AUBG!     What a great first semester it has been 🙂

I’m Allergic to Bulgaria


At night, as soon as the sun goes down, this town looks and  smells like a giant campfire.  In the morning, I look outside and I can’t see the beautiful mountains that surround us.  I check the air from the balcony, quickly slamming the door.  It’s bad. I complain.  I cough. I blow my nose.  My sinuses hurt. This has been my routine for the past two months since the good people of Blagoevgrad started heating their homes with wood and coal.   I go outside.  Cough.  Blow nose.  Spit.  Repeat.

It’s no better inside.  It’s hard to escape the outside smoke since everyone here also smokes inside (yes, there are new laws against indoor smoking, but no one around here seems to care about such things).  So it’s all smoke, all the time.  Not good for a gal with asthma and allergies.

Most people around here don’t notice the polluted air.   When I point it out to them, they say things like “it’s so much better than it used to be.”  They live with it.  Why complain?  Things are so much better now since “the change” (that’s their term for post-communist times). Our landlady told us that before “the change” they used to get up at 4 a.m. every morning to wait on long lines for bread and sometimes they came home empty-handed.  Her relatives were tortured.  The Communists stole their property. So what’s a little air pollution?

People here also tend not to go to doctors. Perhaps it’s the expense, but also culturally Bulgarians are more inclined to try and solve their own problems. I can’t tell you how many people, from my colleagues to the cleaning ladies, have heard me coughing in the hallway and tell me that I should be drinking tea with honey and Rakia (home made alcohol made from fruit with an alcohol content that can exceed 60%).  That solves everything, they say.   When I went to see the nurse in the AUBG doctor’s office, even she laughed off my concerns with a shrug and a smile and comforting words that went something like this:  “It’ll go away eventually. You’ll see. You’ll be fine. Have some tea and Rakia.”

Unfortunately, that prescription did not work for me.  Neither did the cough medicine or the two rounds of antibiotics prescribed by the AUBG doctor. He was about to give me a third round of antibiotics when Mark reminded me that I am allergic to dust and mold.  All of a sudden, everything made sense. I am wheezing from the coal and I am allergic to the building I work in.  I am officially allergic to Bulgaria.

Last week, I started taking some allergy medicine that I brought with me from the States. I also upped my asthma meds and things are improving.   So the nurse was right; I am getting better.  It wasn’t from the Rakia, but I like the attitude of these Bulgarians. I’m impressed with their strength, determination and their ability to shrug off things that should bother them but don’t.

There are still some days when I open that balcony door and I can’t see the mountains and I feel like I would like to be living somewhere clean and orderly with a good medical system.  But then I shut the door and those feelings go away.  As long as I can breathe here, we’re staying.

Our Thanksgiving: We were on Bulgarian National Television

Last night, the cleaning lady came in to my office to get the trash and she had a long conversation with me in Bulgarian. I  understood very little except for the words “television” and “dashetarya” (daughter).  She kept touching her heart and making a circle around her face which makes me think she was saying “I saw you on TV with your daughter and you look alike and it was so wonderful you were all together.”   I agree with her.  It was wonderful.

Our daughter Jenna is now back in Chicago now after spending a week with us in Blagoevgrad.  It was her first visit since we moved here in August and she was curious to see our every day lives in Blago.   We showed her where we teach, introduced her to our students,  took her to our favorite restaurants, showed her the hills where Mark has been biking,  and drove her around Bulgaria in a rental car. It was such a joy to share our new life with our kid.

Among the highlights was being asked to appear on Bulgarian National Television to talk about Thanksgiving.  I would say this was definitely not our typical holiday, which we would normally spend with Mark’s parents back in Wisconsin.  Instead, we shared turkey and pumpkin pie with a bunch of ex-pats as well as international students who were curious about this holiday. The owner of a new local restaurant, Casa Adria, had gone to great lengths to prepare  all the right food so it would feel like “home.”  So this experience made a unique holiday memory for all of us.

You can watch the BTV news story here  (we are on after the Macy’s parade). http://www.btv.bg/news/bulgaria/obshtestvo/story/586752860-Po_amerikanski_v_Blagoevgrad.html . We aren’t exactly sure what the reporter is  saying, but we are pretty sure lots of people saw it since the cleaning lady is just one of many people who mentioned it.

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Here are some pics from our precious time with Jenna. We hope she will come back again.