New Year's in Со́фия

Collin and I spent New Year's in Sofia, Bulgaria, visiting my great friend and Fever teammate Jules. She's doing a PhD at Ohio State on Bulgarian folklore and the return of young people to the village. We could not have found a better tour guide!

Jules fit it well with winter gourds as we explored Sofia on New Year's Day and found all the restaurants closed.

Lucky for me, we overlapped for one night with another wonderful Fever teammate, Dorf, who just finished her PhD at Columbia University on solar production of hydrogen fuels. In short, we explored rad street art, Eastern Orthodox cathedrals, delicious pastries, and a new alphabet with awesome nerdy frisbee people.

We visited three Eastern Orthodox cathedrals and caught two singing performances by priests. The music sounded eerie and mournful to my ears, but maybe the songs were joyful, I really couldn't tell. Long, thin tallow candles burned all around us. Church-goers can buy and light a candle to make a prayer. If the prayer is for a living person, the candle is placed on a tall golden pedestal. Prayers for the the dead are set lower down.

Sunlight on domes.

Icons and gold filigree cover the walls and ceiling.

Jules took us to a fabulous museum called the Red Apartment. It's a frozen-in-time, hands-on look at a typical Bulgarian home during the late socialist period. Here I am listening to the audio tour and trying on clothes from the wardrobe.

We got to sample delight and other treats in the Red Apartment's kitchen.

I love learning new alphabets. Reading signs becomes a game, and it's a lot easier that learning a language. The Bulgarian alphabet is a version of Cyrillic.

В is pronounced "V"
Г is pronounced "G"
C is pronounced "S"
H is pronounced like "N"
Ф is pronounced like "F" (think about the Greek letter phi)
Щ is pronounced "Sht"
Я is pronounced "Ya"
Л is pronounced "L"
Ж is pronounced "Zh"
Д is pronounced "D"
П is pronounced "P" (think pi)
И is pronounced "Ee"
Р is pronounced "R"
Ю is pronounced "Yu"

Some letters are pronounced the same in Bulgarian and English, like A, O, K, M and E.

Okay, your turn! Can you tell what this word says? СOФИЯ

How about this one? НИHA

We visited the Централна минерална баня, or Central Mineral Baths, in Sofia. Natural hot springs pour out of fountains. Citizens collect the water in reused gallon jugs to drink at home.

An ornate theater contrasts with the worn mustard paint of a socialist-era "block" or apartment building.

This is a sushi restaurant by Jules's apartment. Look closely: she's wearing fish-egg lipstick and nail polish!

We took a road trip to the historical capital, Veliko Tarnovo. The city is famous for Царевец (Tsarevets), a fortress of the Second Bulgarian Empire from 1185 and 1393 AD.

The fortress of Царевец in Veliko Tarnovo.

Lichen and moss life on the stone fortress paths.

The chapel at the heart of the fortress was filled with disturbing and moving Biblical art in angular gray.

Veliko Tarnovo clings to the hillside above the semi-frozen Yantra River.
How many cats can you spot on this cobblestone street?

We slept at Рилски манастир, or Rila Monastery, for a night. This compound, nestled in the snowy Rilska River valley, is Bulgaria's largest Eastern Orthodox monastery. It honors Saint Ivan of Rila who spent the years of his life subsisting on herbs in a cave to become closer to God.

Рилски манастир, or Rila Monastery

Monks banged wood in the mornings and evenings. Snow fluttered down in thick flakes at night. We appreciated the silence and stillness of this retreat, but were grateful for our heated room and soft beds.

Religious icons were painted on every surface, including the domed ceilings.

Jules, Collin and I took a morning hike up the trail behind the monastery. A few downed trees didn't stop us!

This furry mountain dog led us up the trail and rolled around in the snow when we took too long to catch up.

My favorite part of this trip has been баница, or banitsa (emphasis on the first syllable). It's a squishy breakfast pie of layered filo pastry and a mixture of egg and salty feta cheese. I would move to Bulgaria for the баница.

Breakfast pastries at a bakery. Always go for the баница.

For dessert, try delight, baklava or chocolate mousse!