Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bulgaria ~ Cuisine

So I’ve had a bit of time now to assimilate back into Western culture i.e. sleep, eat, and not think about impending exams – and some of the things that keep on taunting my mind are the memories of the foods that I experienced. Good food at exploitatively dirt cheap prices, so much so that for a short while, I actually thought that I’d died and gone to a little heaven of my own. However, my la-la-land was not to last – sadly, the thud that brought me back to Earth was the sound of my empty wallet.

That’s right. I ate so much that I ran out of money.

After all, if a main dish costs £3-4, then how could you not order four more?

I’d ramble on for a little longer, but some of you *cough* Ting *cough* have said that my blog entries are waaay too long, so I’ll just talk a little bit about Bulgarian food in general, and tantalise you all with my food memories in pictorial form. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.


From what I’ve gathered, Bulgarian food is incredibly diverse – amongst the many cuisines available, you’ll be able to find Greek, Turkish and Italian, which definitely makes for a lot of choice. We would be walking through a town and be able to buy kebab, pizza or even Subway whilst on the move; however, I wasn’t there for fast food, so we spent most of our meals in the restaurants.

Things I found common to most menus are: soups, salads and clay pots.

At the first restaurant that Ting took me to, nothing I ordered could compare with the epicness of the soup that she picked:

Soup in a bread bun!

There is always a huge array of salads, much more than we’d get in England. It’s not as common to have leafy salads over there, as they just don’t really grow rocket or lettuce or anything fancy like that. Expect grilled peppers (yummy), tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, potatoes, olives…and occasionally, some leaves.

A salad that I really grew to like is Shepherd’s Salad, which is a concoction of tomatoes, cucumber, onions, chillies, egg, ham and mushrooms:

Om nom nom!

Dishes that are typically Bulgarian include a selection of meats wrapped in bacon and topped with cheese (need to ask Ting what this is called); clay pots filled with chicken, chilli peppers, onions, mushrooms and tomato sauce; and various meats with short-grain rice. Cheese is very well loved over there - if you are not a cheese-lover then beware!

I live to eat...

So much food! And yet we finished it all...

For dessert, yoghurt is a great speciality of Bulgaria. Yoghurt, you think? Like the stuff you get in pots? Yes, but better. Their natural yoghurt has got to be some of the best yoghurt I have ever tried. There was one restaurant in Koprivshitsa which served us a yoghurt so thick that it looked like ice cream. We had blueberries or strawberries with ours, and the combination was so good that no matter how full we were, we always made room for dessert! :)

Another dessert that we tried was pancakes, but that's more standard fare so not quite as exciting.

All in all, a wonderful culinary experience - I am definitely looking forward to trying to make some of the dishes that I tried!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bulgaria ~ Day 6

Waking up in the morning was pretty atrocious, especially when we'd arranged to meet Ioanna and her friend Pepi for breakfast at 9am with our luggage in tow. The girls took it in turns to drag my suitcase around, which was really sweet of them as they thought it would make me hobble faster. Ting went to the post office to mail her postcard, and there we were told about the opening of a casino that was taking place at the Sea Gardens, so that's where we headed to next.

Many young adults had dressed up in classic Western costumes, handing out flyers to passersby whilst a band played in the background. Easels were placed periodically around the main path for people to draw on. I'm not sure what else was to happen as we didn't stick around for too long - we were far too hungry for that.

I thought we were going to get food nearby but apparently, nearby means far up north; the place we went to last night, which was definitely a trek and a half. The logic of the youth is so mind-boggling sometimes. Turns out the place they wanted to take us to was closed, so we had to make do with a cafe/restaurant/pub setting. But it was so nice to eat my crepe and drink my hot chocolate on the beach. Lunch swiftly followed - a salad of veg and a salad of mussels - all of which is money that I now owe Ting, being in the red and all. After taking yet more photos, we went to pick up supplies at a supermarket and then waved our final farewells before hopping into a taxi to the airport. I was genuinely sad to see the girls go - they totally reminded me of youthful times, back before Cambridge leached the life out of me...

At the airport, I didn't need to wear my rug, as everything actually fitted into my suitcase, but at security, sadly my rose-petal jam got confiscated. Sigh. On the plane, Ting tried to add patterns to my nails (jokes), but we got told by a flight attendant to stop it as the liquid was flammable - totally a rubbish reason as, guess what, the perfumes they sell are flammable! And so are the alcohols that they sell! In order to make myself look intelligent again, I brought out the dying Kindle and read as much of Catching Fire (the second and still addictive Hunger Games) as I could, whilst rationing out the one lone orange that I had left. One slice each every twenty minutes got us through the thirsty crisp-eating ride, and when we landed, this time I was one of the audience who clapped in thanks for still being alive.

We arrived back in England at 3:30pm - plenty of time to run around looking for phone chargers. I was adamant that the sockets in between the bubble gum machines worked, but in the end, Ting wedged herself in between two arcade machines in order to charge her phone. How ridiculous we must have looked on CCTV. After Ting left for her coach, I tried to get the person at the currency exchange desk to charge my Kindle but apparently they're not allowed to do things like that. Seriously?

My coach journey was a pretty lonely affair - I managed to finish reading Catching Fire though, and the hour spent in Milton Keynes trying to drag out my chili beef sandwich was agony as I totally regretted not putting the third book on the Kindle, not that I'd have been able to read much of it anyway.

My coach got delayed by twenty minutes, something that we weren't told about on the notice boards which stressed me out, yet managed to get a group of us speaking to each other. Lol. One of the guys - Matt - was a bit of a cocky joker, and after the woman next to me got off in Wakefield, he slid into the empty seat before I could even blink and then proceeded to show me a Virgin advert on his laptop that he was in eight years ago. Fifteen seconds of fame, huh. Apparently he's also in a band that made it to LA, but as he never actually told me the name of that band, I'm somewhat more skeptical. I am always amazed by the people I meet whilst I am confined to a single mode of transport.

Anyway, not really much else to say now - mummy and daddy were waiting for me at the station and took me home to a nice bowl of soup. I guess I'll close off the Bulgaria posts with some more focused entries on the foods I experienced there, and perhaps post some of the lesser embarassing photos that I took, hehe.

Until then, adios!

Bulgaria ~ Day 5

Where it gets slightly weird...

We woke up refreshed, after what had probably been the best night of sleep so far (by best, I mean longest amount of hours unconscious) and promptly rolled into breakfast downstairs. For a two star hotel, the spread was pretty fantastic - cheeses, meats, apples, oranges, bread and other various honeyed fruits were on the agenda. I don't know why I poured myself a glass of orange squash, as the colour of the liquid did nothing to improve my post-dye trauma. Unsurprisingly, we had the place to ourselves.

After breakfast, we finished packing, thinking we had plenty of time - we did - until we got carried away in chit-chat and ended up having to dash to the station in a record fifteen minutes. Ting bought us tickets for 10.40 Levas each - the equivalent of just under a fiver - and we found a space on the train for our three hour journey.

I guess when you're speaking English loudly, you're bound to be noticed, and in our case, a girl a few seats away turned to us and asked us where we were from before boldly asking if she could come and sit with us. This was the first bit of youth contact that we'd had in a while, which was extremely refreshing, given her bubbly personality and her endearing accent when she spoke English. Ioanna and I hit it off instantly when we both discovered that the other person liked anime - don't think Ting was very impressed haha. Turns out the kid was travelling to Burgas too, as was her cousin who also came over to join us. Classic metal-head. Yeah, we had a lot to talk about.

He asked us to come and sit with his friends, who happened to be sitting at the end carriage next to the toilet. Pleasant. During our chats, I found it fascinating how they all expressed disdain towards gypsies, sharing a common attitude that I don't quite understand. Later on, I asked them about whether there were bears here or not and set off some banter that eventually led to them (two of them are in a band together) to start writing a song on the spot about something they'd made up called beach bears. I can only guess at what that concept is alluding to... ¬_¬

In Burgas, Ioanna offered to show us around and help us find accomodation. On this journey, I stepped onto some uneven ground and twisted my ankle, effectively wrecking it as it was still weak from the time I'd twisted it in Lacrosse Cuppers. It caned like hell, but I kept on going until we came to the hotel. The price they wanted was 55 Levas, but as I was very very short on cash, I insisted we go elsewhere - not realising that Ioanna would then take us to the place her mother worked at and get her family to find us cheaper accomodation. I am so oblivious... :S

At the office, we bumped into Ioanna's cousin there too. Her mother worked in advertising and found us a bit of a novelty - by the time we left, at least ten photos had been taken. Ioanna, her cousin and another guy took us to a different hotel where they charged us 40 Levas (Ting thinks they'd had to negotiate the price which made me feel kinda bad) and after dropping off our stuff, Ioanna came with us to get pizza for lunch but had to leave to run an errand for her mother.

After Ting warded off a guy that she later told me was a gypsy (once again, my oblivion kicks in), Ting and I chilled in town for the rest of the afternoon. I bought a bandage for my ankle, and Ting went hunting for gifts before we headed to the Sea Gardens - finally we were at the coast!!

In terms of beaches, I've seen better, but I can't remember the last time I was at the beach (Venice?! If that's the case then at least five years ago :S), so I made the most of it by going camera crazy.

Am waiting for Ting to upload some of her photos as they are much better than mine!

Once we were bored of the beach, we went back to the hotel and did some packing before going to the big clock landmark to meet Ioanna and her friend at 7pm. On the way, I had a budget slice of pizza, and when we all met up, Ioanna took me to another fast food place to get a cone shaped thing that consisted of some kind of pitta bread-like exterior, chips, chili sauce and slices of meat.

In Bulgaria they have places that sell coffee by day, and then drinks by night, and this is where we headed to next. Yes, that's right, and that is how Ting and I ended up drinking with two (underage) sixteen year olds, the cool cats that we are. Oh dear indeed.

Cocktails were cheap and came with free shots, so it didn't really matter that I couldn't read the menu at all. Ioanna and her friend shared a milkshake, and I quickly accepted the fact that I was not going to have a smoke-free night, yes, indoor smoking is still legal here. Ioanna's cousin, another cousin, and her older sister showed up, and after we left the bar, we let them lead us way way north to a stretch of beach, me half supported by Mitko as I couldn't actually put any weight on my ankle at all.

By the time we arrived, I was freeeezing and ended up acquiring clothes from everyone - I think I was wearing seven layers in total! We hung out at the beach way into the night, doing chavvy things like playing music on phones - one of Ioanna's cousins entertained us by dancing in amusing ways to the songs. Eventually it got too late (i.e. past midnight) and so we began to head back. Many detours later, we arrived back at the hotel at what must've been 1 or 2am. I then thought it was a good idea to wash my hair before bed, and as we had no hairdryer, that turned out to be a -really- good idea...not. Ach, the fanciful notions of the drunk.

Bulgaria ~ Day 4

Only managed to write half of this entry before my Kindle decided it's battery was too low, so I've had to finish it at home.

Woke up again from the cold, this time at half five, but it was OK, as there was only an hour and a half to go until we had to wake up, pack and leave for the bus stop! A guy in an ancient minibus took us and two American travellers to the train station, a building in the middle of nowhere where the only other animate objects were a kitty, a doggy, another doggy with a weird nose that clearly wanted Ting's breakfast, and some men that looked as if they wanted our luggage (and maybe something more).

As expected, the 08:51am was late, and clambering onboard was a pretty clumsy affair, especially when the steps to the train were so high up! Once we were on board, we found some seats in a quiet compartment and bought tickets from an inspector when he came over.

We arrived in Kazanlak around lunchtime-ish. My first impression of the town was that it looked like it was at the same level of development as Sofia, if not slightly more touristy. In terms of aesthetics, it wasn't incredibly pretty - the town's main attraction are the Thracian Tombs which aren't actually in the town itself; they're many many miles away! Anyway, we made our way to the information centre to seek information about finding a place to stay for the night. The woman there gave us directions to a relatively cheap hotel with a room for 40 Levas.

After dumping our stuff, we went in search of food, dining at a very un-Bulgarian bar and grill. The binge-fests of the last two days, left me requesting just a Shepherd's salad and chocolate milkshake for lunch - I amassed a bill that was smaller than Ting's for once! Lunch over, we went back to the station to check up on departure times for the next day (and witnessing another horse drawn cart - oh my!) and then went to a supermarket to pick up some food supplies.

These are the 'sweets' I bought...

I bought oranges and what I thought (and what Ting had said) were some Bulgarian sweets but upon first hand experience, turned out to be disgusting dyes! ARGH!! This I did not discover until we were back in our hotel room, after I'd popped one of the pills, registered bitterness and then spent the next ten minutes or so hawking up orange spittle, convinced I was going to die. Even thinking about it right now brings up that bitter taste, eurgh! Ting took one look at the back of the packs, read the Romanian, and was then like, oh, it's dye. So much for my placing my trust in her throwaway comment earlier!! And I'd thought they were such a novelty too, to package sweets into what looked like drugs... ¬_¬

After I'd gotten over the fact that I'd probably ingested some very concentrated dye, we went to a history museum and had a guided tour of stuff from Bulgarian olden times, the rose trade, and Seuthopolis, an ancient Hellenistic city back in the day. There are some very sci-fi looking plans to rebuild the city as such:

Pretty cool, huh?

As the main Thracian tombs were too far away, we went to the reconstruction one at the edge of the town, which was still pretty cool. It was located in a park that held a bear statue which ensued much hilarity for at least ten minutes - both Ting and a random chubby kid were able to ride that beast, but I was such a massive fail. Pride would not let me leave without taming the bear, so we stuck around until the kid had left and then I went in for round two, eventually succeeding when I climbed it from the other side. Yay.

Afterwards, we walked around for a bit, apparently got followed by some guys (to which I was oblivious), went shopping for ritalin (didn't find any in tablet form), nail polish, and once we'd finished painting our nails, we went for a meal at one of the restaurants that Ting's trusty guide book had mentioned. There, I ate my usual fill of salad, chips, and clay pot containing chicken, chili, onions, and tomatoes. By the time we left, it was pretty late, so we didn't really do much else - Ting took a nap and I tried and failed to update this blog.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bulgaria ~ Day 3

Yet another update from my Kindle!

Woke up at three in the morning due to the freezing cold, fumbled around for my coat and two blankets, inadvertently waking Ting in the process. She was like, "What's she doing? Why is she going outside? It didn't occur to me that you were cold because I was pretty warm." Great.

Had a shower when it was the correct time to awaken, and headed to the information centre to try to figure out a plan of action for the day. When we realised that the place didn't open until ten, we decided to - you guess it - go get food! We hung out in a smoky cafe for a while, me on the hot chocolate, and after we found out what we wanted to know, we went to buy museum tickets to see the six restored houses.

On our way to one of them, i took a detour and stopped to buy a hat and two pairs of knee length socks imported from Korea. All in the name of not freezing to death. We went to two houses before lunch - both were such charming buildings, rustic and quaint in a way that no Western house can ever hope to replicate. For lunch, we ate at what the guidebook described as an 'uninspiring' restaurant which was a pretty accurate summary. Nevertheless, I ordered shepherd's salad, chips, grilled peppers and krvarma.

Afterwards, we visited a market and another house before climbing into the mountainside to see a monument - that was my favourite part of the day. I saw crystals growing from a stream which came from a hole in the ground, posed underneath the backside of the horse statue, and drank in the wonderful sight of the village spread out before me. Going down, I finally came across an elusive horse drawn cart - Ting's reaction to my gasp was: "I thought someone was about to attack us. But no, it's just a horse."

We went to two more houses, a church and the Bridge of the First Shot. Somewhere in between those, I ended up buying a rug, some handknitted socks which are damn cool, matching mittens and a jar of rose petal jam. Om nom nom.

Then we went back to our room and napped until seven thirty, which of course was food time. The restaurant from yesterday was not open, so we tried out one close by - it turned out to be alright. We decided to share so ordered lamb drobsarma, shepherd's salad, sausage and haricot stew, stuffed peppers and strawberry yoghurt. After consistently ordering so much food and spending so much money on inanimate souvenirs, now I'm slightly worried about how I will manage for the rest of the week...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bulgaria ~ Day 2

Where it's just me and you...

Today didn't really turn out the way we had planned it to, on account of the fact that Ting's alarm didn't go off and that I was far too drunk to have a shower last night, choosing instead to try and upload as many photos as possible onto Bookface. I really feel sorry for the me of yesternight, the poor deluded soul. Once I'd sobered up enough to realise the error of my ways, it was time to rock on the second challenge of the night - ignoring the double whammy of snoring long enough in order to trick myself to fall asleep.  At one point, two guys stumbled in, drunk out of their minds and passed out on ther bunks. Lol.

At half eight, my alarm went off, rudely reminding me that I needed to look for the padlock that I had so foolishly lost last night in my drunken haze. Unfortunately, Ting chose that moment to tell me that we needed to leave in fifteen minutes. How did I cope? By running away to the bathroom. How did Ting cope? By getting ready to leave. I quickly realised that there was no way I could shower in time, so packed and legged it. Turns out we missed our projected departure time, so we decided to eat breakfast slowly and just wing it.

A taxi took us to the station, and after a lot of running around, we realised we would never have made the coach departure time. This completely screwed up our plans and set us back by a whole day as the next coach to leave Sofia for Koprivshtitsa was at two!

So in order to kill time, we did what we do best and chilled in a cafe. I finished The Hunger Games, majorly freaked out by the monsters at the end, whilst Ting did something more productive and read her papers. After a while, we decided to go hunt for lunch, and ended up eating pizza on the streets - I was like: "Shall we stay here to eat?" to which Ting replied: "You're standing in front of two industrial size wheelie bins." Oh. For dessert, we upgraded and ate our yoghurts - a national speciality - in a Subway style cafe before wandering around a market to kill the last bit of time. Ting bought a bag, and then we trammed it back to the station.

The coach journey consisted of us eating oranges, talking about addictions and me falling asleep. Apparently there's yet another video of the latter but Ting assures me she won't be uploading it because she is not a 'lame ass'. Yay.

Once we arrived, we tried to sort out travel to the next location and accomodation for the night - we're staying at a lovely guest house with an awesome stove heater. I promptly had what turned out to be a freezing shower and then we wandered around the village. Not gonna lie, it was like a ghost town. We eventually plucked up the courage to go into one of the larger restaurants where we were the only ones dining - this turned out to be the best culinary experience I have had so far on this trip! Only photos can convey the sheer awesomeness of our three course meal! In fact, we were so full that we lurched our way home.

Since then, I've been slowly writing this entry out - completely on Kindle, so please forgive any errors!

Bulgaria ~ Day 0 + 1 = 1

So I figure I should keep a blog of my experiences this week, as due to my meagre luggage allowance, I could not bear to sacrifice a t-shirt and some underwear for my traditional pen-to-paper journal. Boo. As it happens, this looks to be a most interesting week indeed...

Day 0

After my parents left me stranded on Harvey Road, Cambridge, I had nothing to do for the two hour wait until the 787 arrived so I did what every bored/slightly depressed girl is instructed to do: retail therapy. The Grafton was a ten minute walk, and I killed oodles of time in Primark, eventually leaving with a belt, a necklace, and a pair of sunglasses that I am 90% certain I will have no need for at all this week. How naive of me to extrapolate from last week's weather trend.

Even after killing time, I was still early for the These two concepts do not go side by side but it was definitely a good feeling!

The coach journey was an hour and a half of pure and utter pain in which I was cruelly reminded of why I do not enjoy coach journeys - reading on an empty stomach leads to some majorly unpleasant sensations. Not even the awesomeness of The Hunger Games was enough to stop me from feeling like I had been tossed into a blender that in turn had been tossed onto a whirlpool-ridden ocean.

At the airport, after some speedy texting, some trials, some errors, and a Texan burger, I managed to board the plane - by myself for the first time! Somewhere along that line, I felt like I had what can only be described as a cheesy 'coming-of-age' moment. Cue classic epiphany music. Throughout the journey, I was completely and utterly engrossed in The Hunger Games, so much so that by the end of the flight, I only had 70 out of the 630 pages left to read. Ker-razy. As we landed, people clapped for what I can only surmise as being thanks for still being alive. I'd heard Wizzair was bad, but do people do this on any other airline?

The local time was 1:55am - I got picked up by a man who drove me to the place Ting had arranged for us to stay. As we drove through Sofia, he pointed out various landmarks to me. My first impression of Sofia was that it was a quiet city in limbo between culture, renovation and poverty. Some of the flashing bits reminded me a lot of developing China. It took me a while to accept that the driver wasn't going to kill/murder/rape/mug me in that order - years of stranger-danger conditioning are SO hard to overcome - but all too soon, we had arrived! The man led me through a nondescript looking door that revealed a charming hostel round the corner, and as I stepped in, I was greeted by the oh-so-sleepy face of Ting! Boy, was I relieved to see her.

She showed me to our room - a small place with beds for six. Having to navigate around in the dark when I was already half asleep was something that I do not wish to relive - let's just say I didn't get to bed until 3am and didn't even make it changing out of my jeans before I fell asleep in my coat...

Day 1

I'm a pretty light sleeper, so I guess I started coming to and drifting in and out of sleep at 8am, local time. Ting got up around 8:30am and went to have a shower; I followed suit and optimistically dressed in a dress, shirt and tights. Got shot down a few minutes later when Ting told me I'd freeze to death and it was then that I realised that I'd only packed for summer. Good going, girlfriend.

Downstairs, I had toast with salami, cheese, tomato and apple for breakfast, and after downing two glasses of fruit squash, I was buzzing. We looked at the maps and travel guides for a bit before making a move. Ting had assured me that there was not much to see in Sofia, and sadly, it turns out she was right - the walk from one end of the city to the other takes about twenty minutes! Ting also assured me that I should not have eaten too much for breakfast - turns out she was right again - I was way too full to be able to appreciate the traditional foods for sale at the market!! Sad times! :(

So, to sum up the morning, we looked around some churches, got ice creams at the market, drank from a mineral fountain, and said hi to a stray dog before we headed to the Natural History Museum - and what a barrel of laughs that place was! It was here that I learned about Ting's fear of birds, specifically of her worst death possible - being killed by birds and then eaten by a vulture. Memorable quotes include:

"Killer mydia. You wouldn't want one of those in your vag." - Anonymous on a bambi-like creature known as a chamois, followed by yet another gem from her: "Have a little bambi coming out of my vag? I'd like to think my babies are cuter."

We looked at another market that sold hypodermic syringes (someone actually tried to sell me one), various knives and guns (so badass), accordions (squee), violins (I want), filigree jewellery and Communist stash (something for the brother perhaps?) before we headed to the cathedral as a detour en route to lunch. I ordered onion soup, stuffed peppers and mashed potato - after a relationshippy/religious conversation too deep for my liking, we rolled into a patisserie and spent the next hour or so gorging ourselves on tarts and tea until 5pm...

I'm not really sure what we did for the rest of the day, apart from shop and eat more food. And buy some gloves and a scarf to stave off the FREEZING cold weather - five degrees!?!? All I know is that we now own a bottle of gin that has been making it's way down my throat for the hour or so it's taken me to write this silly blog entry. Plus a pair of smexy trousers and a Minnie Mouse t-shirt and a Smurf t-shirt between the two of us.

And now I'm a bit too tipsy - so much so that I'm actually winning at pool! (Edit: We lost the white ball so no one won in the end)

Yeah. So...laters.