27 June 2012

Hamburg to come

Our flat was so neat when we got back, but the clutter is taking over again. I don't even know where my big camera with all my Hamburg pictures on it is! Here is one from my small camera anyway. There are many more pictures to come, and a lot of stuff about books!

Speaking of which, I went to a store today to pick up the German course book that my class will be progressing to next week, but inevitably also walked out with a spiffy dictionary—because dictionaries are the best, and a Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag book with one of their sticker covers. It's short, so I think I can manage. I actually had a streak during German class today when the teacher brought up camping and I knew lots of relevant words, like "tent" and "making fire" and "going fishing", all from a bit of Calvin und Hobbes that I was rereading yesterday.

In other awesomeness, I went by the office of the English course coordinator of the same organisation to get the books for the first course I'll be teaching! Finally some employment; albeit only once a week and starting at the end of September. Yay me!

21 June 2012

Sunshine and happiness

The weather in Hamburg today is almost as good as back home. A few more degrees and a little less windy and that would be the perfection of Baden-Würtemmberg. But as it is I'm super psyched to have blue skies!

My friend who visited us over the weekend was also excited about the good weather in the south-west. Her travels through Germany thus far had been a bit wet and drab.

We took a short lap around Stuttgart and then Kirchheim unter Teck on Sunday afternoon. Then on Monday morning it rained on us in Herrenberg for about five minutes before it turned into a most lovely day. I planned our visit in the morning so that I could get a better view from the hill than last year when we were there in the afternoon. It seems I keep making mental notes of better times of the day to visit places depending on the position of the sun.

After Herrenberg we took a short stroll around Ehningen and I took some pictures of the garden spots that I'm in love with. In Böblingen we walked around the city park area and visited the Flohmarkthaus, from which I naturally had to liberate a few items.

Before heading home to watch whatever soccer match was on that evening, we checked out the fancy cars at Flugfeld and had a homebrewed beer at Wichtel.

Oh! The first picture is from when I went pattern and colour-crazy at the mall on Friday night. Win!

Sofia OVER

We started our final full day rather late, so we went straight for lunch. I think our waitress was a bit English-scared, but I made sure to point to the menu. I'm pretty sure for one dish she memorised the location of the item so she could cross-check with the Bulgarian one—totally how I planned it. She did just fine in bringing us our delicious and super cheap orders!

The main thing I still wanted to see was the Ethnography Museum. It's housed in the National Art Gallery, but the art part of the action seems to be subject to renovation at the moment. The museum was like many, somewhat budget, but there was a really great video piece on an end-of-winter Bulgarian festival. (You may recall my post on Fastnacht and Setsubun.) Pictures of similar festivals in Europe were also exhibited. As for the rest of the collection, the kindness of one of the staff members in explaining one or two things really made our visit that little bit more special. I wouldn't know, by just looking at it, that a particular ceramic object is part of an interesting ritual, or what the motifs in the embroidery suggest, so thanks, Mr Dude. The shop at this museum also worked out for me—I'm wearing my silver Bulgarian necklace everywhere! (Thanks, Mr Husband-man ;))

We poked our heads into some more of the churches, and then we mostly just chilled out and watched the world go by. Always important.

You may have noticed some themes in the pictures, so a few general notes. I loved the little tuck shops and how narrow they could be, or how a thousand products could be exhibited at the front. My favourite version of this shop was the cellar shop. Customers have to bend down or crouch on the sidewalk to tell the shopkeeper what they want.

And speaking of sidewalks, man, what a mess they are. The state of the paving seems to have inspired some buildings to pave directly in front of their property so that at least that part looks a bit better. Bottom line: watch your step.

The next morning we took a taxi back to the airport and hung around there, before we could hang around Vienna airport, then Frankfurt airport, then Stuttgart Main Station, and finally our own home!

I never got around to buying any, but Sofia had some interesting second-hand book markets. Some sellers also had titles in English, French, German, or other languages.

I did buy a book at the museum about the history of Bulgaria and its people. What a pity that someone with a sufficient level of English didn't edit the text.

20 June 2012

Sofia MORE

The next morning we investigated some sights in more detail. First up was the Archaeology Museum. While we waited for our friends, we watched the guards do some prancing. The museum itself was quite rewarding, not least because I wasn't the only one geeking out on history and things. Their arbitrary proximity alarms were a bit annoying though. I didn't touch anything!!!

We also poked our heads inside the Rotunda of St George before we headed to lunch. I really can't get over how cheap it was to eat and drink there. We could eat more than enough and have drinks for about 25 leva for the two of us, but do note that with the exchange rate that means about €13! I also liked that the restaurants served normal portions and kept all side dishes separate. If you order ribs as a main, that's what you get—ribs. It's up to you to also have a salad as a starter or order chips as a side, or whatever. This makes for good variety... and eating lots of good salad! We had shopska salad with most meals.

In the afternoon we got ready for the wedding. Luckily, a Bulgarian friend of the groom at our table could explain some customs. As for the Bulgarian dances, I think us foreign bunch mastered one: a really slow one. But on the other music we danced our legs off. We got back to the hostel so late that it was the kind of hour where you could pick up a transvestite prostitute—if that's what you're into.

19 June 2012

Sofia GO

I'm such a cheat! I'm in Hamburg and want to tell you about it but first I must get up to date with the few days we spent in Sofia, Bulgaria. As interesting as Hamburg is, I do find myself wishing for a bit of that sweet Bulgarian weather and the cheap, cheap food!

After landing around midnight, and thankfully being allowed into the country, we took a taxi and settled in at our hostel. Turns out having our own room actually translated into having an entire apartment to ourselves!

The next morning we got started with what has to be the best way to get to know the city: we took the FREE SOFIA TOUR. The tour wrapped all the major sights of central Sofia, its history, and some fun facts into just over two hours. Fillip was a great guide!

Some points of interest that you'll see in the pictures include:

  • The Palace of Justice
  • The Holy Sunday Church / St Nedelya Church
  • A Roman tomb with the Church of St Petka of the Saddlers on top
  • The Sofia Public Mineral Baths
  • The Rotunda of St George
  • The Largo
  • The Ivan Vazov National Theatre
  • The National Art Gallery
  • The Russian Church
  • Sofia's Hagia Sophia
  • The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
  • Sofia University

In the afternoon we were taken to visit the Boyana Church. The mediaeval frescoes there are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Our guide was an absolute treat. He liked to move our attention around, clutching the nearest girl's upper arm or guy's shoulder to turn their body and thus the whole group along with them, to follow his pointer.

We extended our day of fun with a bit of Geocaching with some new friends. We saw the Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Church, amongst other things. For a sweet ending we enjoyed some epically delicious gelato at Confetti Gelateria.

13 June 2012


Actually we've been back from our Bulgarian trip since Monday night, but between sleeping in our own bed, laundry, and UEFA Cup soccer, I haven't got around to looking at the pictures. Seems that I didn't go completely snap-crazy though, so editing shouldn't take too long.

The soccer (or football, whatever) has everyone around here very excited. Flags are hanging from balconies and windows, and flapping in the wind from their perch on the back windows of cars. Yesterday I saw a dual supporter with one German and one Croatian flag for each side of the car.

Another thing that has kept me occupied is reading Sometimes There Is a Void: Memoirs of an Outsider by Zakes Mda. You need to add it to your essential-South-African-reading list today. In high school I studied the periods 1924–1948 and 1948–1976. The history curriculum required that we study two out of three periods, the final one that we didn't do being 1976–1994. Between Nelson Mandela's The Long Walk to Freedom and John Carlin's Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation (also retitled after its film) I thought I managed to absorb a lot of the details I hadn't been required to study, but I'm really pleased to be filling in even more gaps with Mda's book. I'm not only learning more about Lesotho, which I really knew nothing about, but I'm also seeing the birth of our democracy through critically informed eyes. Much of what is still wrong—and getting worse—in South Africa started under Nelson Mandela. Even our biggest heroes do not have perfect legacies.

Of course I'm also enjoying Mda's unflinching honesty in the telling of his life story. That, and hearing even more about South African theatre—something that I also studied in high school, but could probably never learn enough about!

So maybe next time someone asks me, "So what's the deal with that country inside your country—what's it called again?" I'll have a better answer than, "Lesotho? It's small, and, uh, in the mountains."