It’s a problem free filo-sophy

софииска баницаOk, I realise that this blog is starting to look like some kind of shrine to pastries, but please allow me just one more post about banitsas?

It’s just that I made my parents one tonight and then remembered that I’d taken a video of the amazing Filip at Sofiiska Banitsa, who unlike me makes the (filo-like) pastry from scratch – and it’s really quite hypnotic to watch him at work.

 

The finished product is a gastronomic world apart from my великобританица

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Wherefore art thou?

People in Sofia are a creative bunch.

Street art is one of the ways in which they express their creativity – most notoriously when the bronze figures on the Soviet monument were painted to look like various US pop culture figures and superheroes in 2011.

Graffiti rock dog Sofia Bulgaria

Boring rocks take on a new life in Sofia

I’ve mentioned before that some of the graffiti in Sofia makes me smile… but I suppose what I’ve not made clear is just how much of it there is. Everything from rocks to old police checkpoints in town have been transformed into friendlier objects.  And the creativity doesn’t stop at just graffiti – recently, 6-ti Septemvri was transformed by strings of decorations, a host of painted characters in period dress, a piano and an informative display about the history of the area.

Graffiti artist Sofia Bulgaria

One less ugly grey box in Sofia

But I think my favourite street art has to be the transformation of otherwise dull electrical boxes all across the city. Some have been painted as part of projects organised by the Transformatori Organisation (see the video below). Others are just transformed by inspired individuals who just want to make a corner of Sofia that little bit more beautiful. But no two boxes are the same – and coming across one that I’ve not seen before is guaranteed to make me smile :o)

The great news is that these talented street artists are being encouraged – various competitions are held each year in Sofia, and the Mayor of Sofia even appealed to street artists to paint public bins to make them more attractive.

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Vesela koleda!

Happy Christmas or Весела Коледа to you all!

I wasn’t in Bulgaria for Christmas but I am told that traditionally Bulgarians celebrate Christmas by:
– Doing a ‘fast’ or пости for 40 days before Christmas, during which a vegan diet should be followed.
– On 24 December, having a vegan meal with family. There should be an odd number of dishes, usually including:

    Tikvanik - a sweet Bulgarian pumpkin pastry eaten at Christmas

    Tikvanik – a sweet Bulgarian pumpkin pastry

  • Sarmi, which were originally described to me as ‘fermented cabbage’ but are actually a dish not dissimilar to Greek dolma, except that cabbage rather than vine leaves are stuffed with rice and other vegetables. In the run up to Christmas, if you go to fruit and vegetable markets, you can see barrels filled with cabbages that have been pickled whole.
  • Beans – always a favourite dish with Bulgarians and apparently even more so at Christmas.
  • Tikvanik or pumpkin pastry. Delicious.

– On 25 December, eating meat for the first time since October! Most families eat pork, the most popular meat in Bulgaria, but all types of meat are eaten, including Turkey.

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The end of the world as I know it

End of the world

Looks set to get hotter today
(Please contact me if you have copyright for this picture)

Well, if the Mayans are to be believed, the world is going to end today. If so, I’ll be quite annoyed as I’ve just spent quite a lot of time and money doing my last-minute Christmas shopping.

But I’ve been quite taken aback by how much the idea of the end of the world (or края на света) seems to have captured the imagination of the Bulgarians. I don’t even have that many friends here, and even so I’ve been invited on facebook to a number of events to celebrate the end of the world, including:

  • An organised run (why anyone would want to spend their last moments on earth running is beyond me)
  • A night-time cycle ride
  • A pub crawl
  • A gig
  • A careers event tomorrow (presumably for those who have been putting off making career choices on the grounds that the world will end anyway)

I wonder whether the idea of the world ending taps into some kind of Bulgarian pessimism. Not everyone is like this, but I really was astonished recently when I covered another teacher’s classes at a school in Sofia and asked the children to write a list of positive and negative things about Bulgaria. In every one of the classes that I taught, their initial response was that there would be a lot more negatives than positives. This response saddened me; why, even at such a young age, are Bulgarians so hard on their own country?

In fact, every class ended up with a longer list of positives, ranging from the beautiful nature to the merits of lyutenitsa (a sort of Bulgarian tomato sauce/ratatouille). And they’re right. This is an amazing country. Which is why (presuming that the world doesn’t end today) I’m very sad that I’ll be leaving it again in a few days…

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4 ways to identify whether you’re in a Bulgarian home

I recently asked a group of schoolchildren to identify the differences between the UK and Bulgaria. They came up with some gems like ‘we have more garlic in Bulgaria’ and ‘in the UK, if you go to someone’s house, you are expected to do their housework.’ (???)

Bulgarian cupboards

No shortage of storage space

I’ll be in 3 different countries in the next two weeks. If you, like me, sometimes struggle to remember where you are, then here are some of the key ways to identify that you’re in a Bulgarian home, apart from the fact that they don’t expect you to do their chores…

 

1. Cupboards

Bulgarians LOVE cupboards. In most houses, they are built from floor to ceiling. In my last apartment, there were cupboards IN the shower. One of my friends even has cupboards on the ceiling of his living room. The CEILING.

 

Bulgarian toaster

Breakfast is served

 

2. Horizontal toaster

Toasters in Bulgaria are perpendicular to ours. Which I suppose means that they could be called either horizontal toasters or teeny-weeny grilling machines. Regardless, they are ideally suited to making принцеса (or cheese on toast), a Bulgarian breakfast second in popularity only to the banitsa.

 

3. Double hob

Bulgarian oven

Not suitable for the Christmas roast…

Kitchens in most Bulgarian homes are kitted out with a miniature oven with two hobs. As a Brit, this blows my mind – in the UK even a pensioner living on their own will have 4 hobs and probably a full sized oven. Cooking my friends a traditional dish of haggis, neeps, tatties and black pudding proved quite a challenge for me recently. Especially since one of our two hobs is broken

 

Skanky flip flops

Oh, you’re too kind

4. Skanky flip flops

There is one certainty when you enter a Bulgarian home – and that is that when you have taken off your shoes, a pair of incredibly battered flip flops, worn by innumerable guests through countless generations, will be forced upon you. This is a hospitable act intended to keep your feet warm, although as someone who has a mild phobia of feet I sometimes find it difficult to remember this…

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Пуш-и офф?

Smoking kills ban BulgariaWhen we arrived in Sofia in May, one of the first things we noticed was that unlike in the UK, there was no ban on smoking in public places in Bulgaria. The boys I lived with were delighted. I was appalled – it had been so long since the implementation of the ban in the UK that I’d forgotten the constant stench and never-ending need to febreze your clothes.

So imagine my delight – and the boys’ dismay – when just a few days later, our Bulgarian teacher told us that a similar smoking ban had been rolled out in Bulgaria.

Opinions on the law were not just split amongst our group but across the country – so much so that some MPs from the centre-right ruling party GERB put forward a proposal to lift the full indoor smoking ban. This has led to a number of protests from those on both sides of the issue in recent days. Last week, a group of those in favour of the full smoking ban staged a rather ingenious protest outside the parliament where they walked backwards to express their opinion that to lift the ban would be to take steps backwards. Prime Minister Boyko Borisov shared their opinion; in a rather unprecedented move he threatened to resign if the ban was lifted.

Satirical website Ne!Novinite suggested that this move had led to unanimous support across Bulgaria for smoking indoors… but it looks like both the ban and the prime minister are set to stay, after a vote by Bulgaria’s Parliamentary Economic Committee today. A final decision is expected to be made by the Parliament on Tuesday.

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

In many ways, being in Sofia at Christmas is… well, just like being in any other European city at Christmas. It has the obligatory German market…

Sofia Christmas Market

Sofia Christmas Market

…and tacky sponsored Christmas lights.

Christmas lights Sofia 2012

Almost as bad as the Marmite-sponsored lights in Oxford St…

But then, just when you think it’s become another bland, homogenous European city, you stumble across a kangaroo covered in snow, or someone snowboarding on the Soviet Monument and you realise it will take far more than a few bits of Christmassy tat to cover up Sofia’s character.

Kangaroo statue Dondukov Sofia

Has a kangaroo ever looked more out of place?

Snowboarder Soviet Monument Sofia Burton

Not an average activity on a national monument…

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