Friday, August 31, 2012

Cyrillic and Cats - General landscape stories of Bulgaria

Bulgaria, (Plovdiv) was very curious. Its the second largest city in Bulgaria with Sofia being the first. Plovdiv dates back to 4000BC ranking it among the world's oldest cities. The city was first called Philippopolis. In the 14th century it feel under Ottoman rule until liberated by Russian armies in January 1878. Only later in 1885 did Plovdiv become part of Bulgaria.

Happy Bar and Grill with its Sushi bar
I'll start with my experiences of Bulgaria with my foodie interests first: The food was great! Close to where we stayed there was a place called Happy Bar and Grill. Now the name turned me away right away, but after I tried their spread, I was thankful for this place. Having to make weight and concerns of fresh food and water not being clean, Happy came through for us. No-one got sick! Beautiful salads and meat-only dishes, and the watermelon plate was a real hit in the heat and after race recovery! The menu had great options, nothing greasy. There was even a separate sushi chef that accompanied the menu option. An english menu helped, because unlike other places in Europe where you can kinda make out what it is, in Bulgarian we don't even share the same alphabet, so there was no understanding the text. The bills looked like the rosetta stone. We just had to trust but luckily Happy was so cheap after you convert the Bulgarian Lev to Dollar. Almost half. This helped the budget a lot! "So lets go get Happy!"

The grocery stores were laid out in a interesting pathway. Once you enter, you walk through the isles almost in a set way, that leads you finally to the checkout. But trying to get back to the first isle there is no connecting 'lanes'. You need to literally retrace your path.
The stock was simple. Nothing too cultural, except these two things: 1. Supplements and eggs. Now I guess Weightlifting is without doubt their most successful discipline. So even in a modest selection of food, shelfs don't lack space for an array of protein powders and supplements.  

Then the eggs could be bought in a little plastic packet that looked hand tied. It also looked like a farmer collected his eggs and put them in this modest packet and brought it to the grocery store. It looked like something from a farmer's market. I loved seeing that in the supermarket. It was the two worlds combining. The produce too looked so farm market like. Just displayed in blue crates, still with dirt and leaves in. As if the produce was picked from the farms and brought in to the supermarket. Nothing shinny. For sure there was no wax on these apples. And not packed out in perfect pyramids. It just looked so real. In the aeroplane magazine, there was an article on organics in Bulgaria, and a store called Balev Bio "Mapket". I guess the 'p' is an 'r' to us. Walking in this store, it had all the looks of a health store. But I questioned the organic term, because the blue crates in the local supermarket seemed more organic than this. The Balev Bio mapket stocked things that looked forcefully healthy and at high premiums. If pasta is processed, imagine how much more handling in gluten free pasta with a longer ingredient (preservative) list added to make it bind. So just to avoid gluten, you get a lot of extra crap that I don't think are worth it. So then the boxes better bling with lots of design to make you pay more to give you the comfort of value for money.
Cats are pests there. Like crows they wait for anything. We had a glassy-eyed friend who found us constantly. And by the trash cans they wait. Sometimes young children too.

Just as I said nothing shinny in the stores, there was nothing shinny about the people, the cars or buildings. They had nice cars but they were covered in dust. Their seemed to be no pretense here. The inside was more important than the outside. Things kept very simple. 

 The city is broken down. Ancient ruins are among abandoned buildings. Both old and new now crumbling to dust together. The streets are cobble and cracked. Lots of smoking people. As I went for my runs, I crossed open squares with nice bistro tables, casinos, central park- but broken windows never far from view. We walked up to the old city to where the theatre was. There the opening ceremony was to be held. It was nice to see the historic buildings, churches and museums. But most interesting was a comment from a street seller. He couldn't believe we were American. Too skinny he said. One half of the world dying from no food, other half dying from too much food. He also ventured into political views saying when Bulgaria was communist American would come. Now no tourists from the USA are passing by. He had no idea about the rowing event happening.
The entrence to the apartment

We stayed in an apartment called Luxury Studio Plovdiv. The entrance way was scary. A door next to a barred door looking like it was the entrance to an undercover dance club or bootlegged bar. Then we had to climb 6 flights to the apartment. Our routine was: down stairs (going down always seemed to pass so quickly). To the bikes which we locked to the stairwell. Unmangeling all the chains and bike locks. Bike to the course over the river. Row. Bike to Happy. Lunch. Back to apartment, lock bikes and climb stairs. This time every floor was counted. Every sticker on the door known for its sequence of how many more steps. Into the air-con room.
The rowing course and venue was really nice. In three days they suddenly erected big change rooms with nice shower facilities. The course is decided by an overhanging pedestrian bridge at the 1000m. The first time I passed under instinct caught me ducking. There are wide lanes on both sides of the course to run and bike on. Great for coaching. 

The weather was really perfect for racing. It was very hot in the first week we were there, but the second week, including racing was great. I saw my favorite German weigh-in ladies again! Thank you.

The race was not as I wanted in terms of results. But it was a solid performance. Unlike last year's world championships where I hit the buoys, and was devastated afterwards, this race I was excited to get back on the water to improve. Marie-Anne asked me afterwards how do I feel that the racing is over. She said she felt relieved as the weight has been lifted off her shoulders. I felt as if I've come home and my house was robbed. Two wooden medals are enough for me.

Roman Theatre
Country Bulgaria
Established4000 BC
 • MayorIvan Totev (GERB)
 • Total101.98 km2 (39.37 sq mi)
Elevation164 m (538 ft)
Population (2011 census[1])
 • Density3,316/km2 (8,590/sq mi)
 • City338,153
 • Municipal body403,153
Time zoneEET (UTC+2)
 • Summer (DST)EEST (UTC+3)
Postal code4000
Area code(s)(+359) 032

Bio Food sites:


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