Walking Sofia and traditional Bulgarian dinner

This afternoon, Amy and I decided to walk around the city a bit more and skip the library tours. I hear that people were pretty disappointed that more of the American students didn’t show up to the library tour, but we’ve been pretty wiped out by the conference and so we were looking to sort of break away from the group. We were looking for t-shirts with Cyrillic text printed on them, but we didn’t find any. I did, however, manage to buy two more pashminas (I think I might have a problem). I came back to the hotel to begin to pack up some of my things.

     So the dinner. About 40 of us loaded up in a bus that took us across town to a restaraunt specializing in traditional Bulgarian food and entertainment. The decor of the place really reminded me of those “traditional” Mexican restaraunts in the US: rustic wood planking and stucco on the walls and dried chilies hanging all over the place. The food was mediocre, chicken and potatoes again. I didn’t bring any money with me thinking that because I’d paid $40 just to attend the dinner that everything would be included. Our table got one bottle of wine and a small bottle of water each (there were 6 of us at a table). If we wanted any more wine it was $22Lev for another bottle and $3Lev for more water. This kind of ticked me off a bit because no one told us that we’d need any money–or that we’d have to pay for water with dinner. The dancing was pretty neat. The 8 dancers were really good at what they did and they did dances from difference regions in Bulgaria, wearing the accompanying costume. But we have to get up early to go to the Rila Monastery tomorrow, so I was getting impatient to leave after dinner. Some of those who had brought money with them were enjoying themselves a lot and I felt sort of guilty for trying to speed things up. I tend to get pretty impatient in group settings, in case you hadn’t noticed from this blog. I really don’t like waiting for other people in order to move forward. This is just a lesson in patience for me, I suppose 🙂

Alright, so I’m off to bed because we’ve got an early start. I’ll upload photos tomorrow, along with monastery photos.

 

Ciao

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Final morning of the conference

I had to get up extra early this morning to attend the 8:15 conference session. Our conference is divided into two main rooms, one being the room with simultaneous translation, the other being the English-speaking room. This morning I got the translation room, unfortunately. The overarching topic of this morning’s session was of the digitization and preservation of Bulgarian historical documents. Now, this would usually be a fascinating topic for me, but I had a really difficult time following the presentations. For one thing, the powerpoints tended to be in Cyrillic. The translator speaks halting English and often stumbles over the longer technical terms.

     In any case the gist of the presentations was that there needs to be more widespread digitization of significant historical documents. In the case of medieval Slavic manuscripts, there is a lack of a web-based digital library in which to house them. In terms of a National strategy on preservation and digitization of important historical documents, manuscripts, and images: there is no strategy. The presenters mainly cited a need to build partnerships amongst the libraries both in Bulgaria and internationally in order to share resources as information.

    The final presenter talked about the need to make these items openly accessible to everyone so that  they become part of the shared Bulgarian legacy.

 

This afternoon, we’re taking a tour of the Bulgarian National Library and the University of Sofia Library. It’s not exactly my idea of a good time, but we’ll see. I guess there’s always something to learn from seeing someone else’s library. This evening we get to attend a banquet with Bulgarian dancing and traditional Bulgarian food. If the food is anything like what we’ve eaten so far, it’s fishheads, tomatoes, cucumbers, and fried cheese. Yum. Tomorrow we’re taking a day trip to the Rila Monastery up in the mountains. It’ll be great to get out of Sofia with its smog and noise. I’m sure there’ll be a ton of photos coming out of that trip. I haven’t been taking many photos here mainly because it’s a bunch of boring conference photos and I know that no one really wants to look at those.

     I’m really getting excited to go home. I’ve said it before, but this has been a really long trip. It’ll be nice to hear English spoken again, and I won’t be so self-conscious about ordering coffee, or lunch. The language barrier is pretty massive here. I guess it’s my American mentality that expects everyone to bend to my language requirements, and I should let that go. I think that I now have a deeper understanding of people who come to the US and struggle to be understood. It’s frustrating and a little demoralizing.

     More conferencing now….

postcards from Sofia

Sofia (conference day 2)

Today the length of my trip has caught up with me and I’ve been taking it easy for the most part. Nine days living out of a suitcase has taken a lot out of me. After my conference duties and lunch, I went up to my hotel room and spent the day reading and resting in silence. It felt good and now it’s almost 5pm and I’m feeling more rested and ready to see people again. I realized that when I posted the last batch of photos that I hadn’t even explained many of them. The last half of them are from the conference sessions and dinner last night, but the first half contained some Istanbul photos and a bit of Sofia. So I’ll explain them:

 

So the first day we were here, we found our way to the hotel to drop Sarah off  at our hotel (she’d reserved a room for a day earlier than the rest of us). It was lunchtime so we went to a Lebanese restaurant next to the hotel. Now, I eat hummus quite a lot at home, but this was the best hummus I’d ever tasted. We’re going back tomorrow for lunch. For my lunch I had a “sandwich” (it was more like a quesadilla) of a thin patty of ground beef, mint, and garlic served in a toasted pita. It was amazing with the thick yogurt, cucumber, and dill sauce we’d ordered. So far, the best food we’ve eaten on this trip has been here in Sofia, but only from the ethnic restaraunts: the Italian restaurant the first night, the Lebanese place, and the Dutch bakery where Carson and I found sweet croissants and .60 cent espressos. The Bulgarian food has been disappointing to say the least. I feel kind of sorry for the vegetarians in our group (there are lots of them, too). The “traditional” Bulgarian place we went on our first night at the conference served a fabulous salad of cucumber, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, dill, and white cheese. It went downhill fast after that. The main course for us meat-eaters was what appeared to be a butterflied and pounded out chicken thigh with zero seasoning and extra fat served with some greasy potatoes. The vegetarians fared much worse though as they got a plate of battered and fried (and soggy) feta cheese. This might sound dreamy to some people, but trust me, it was awful.

     The other day we walked a long way to the “Womens Bazaar”, a gigantic open-air market about a 30 min walk from our hotel. Stall upon stall of cheap, knock-off shoes, boots, clothing, and blankets. Scattered here and there were some actually good stalls and I picked up a nice, heavy pair of handwoven wool socks for 6 Lev (maybe 4 bucks USD) and an awesome pair of knitted long john pants for 3 Lev. There are also dozens of produce stalls (see the pictures) and though they weren’t nearly as fabulous as the Spice Bazaar in Istabul, they had quite a lot of delicious-looking things. I bought some Bulgarian paprika and some apples.

     Oh yeah, so there’s usually some weird thing that is used regularly in local cuisines around the world. For Bulgaria it appears to be bologna. They put that crap in everything!  If there’s an unidentified meat on your plate, it’s probably bologna. I’m not necessarily complaining–I am just rather amused at some of the creative ways they use it here. I’ve seen it plain for breakfast, baked in dough for lunch, rolled around potato salad for an hors d’oeuvres, and chopped up in salad for dinner. Always it has that kind of disappointing flavor when you expect to taste ham or prosciutto, and instead get the watery saltiness of bologna. Odd.

     Alright, I’m off to get ready for dinner now. Ciao!

Conference, Day 1, continued…

It’s actually Day 2, but I just typed up my notes from yesterday’s happenings.  Oh and here’s the link to my Sofia pics so far (there’s a few Istanbul pics at the beginning):

http://picasaweb.google.com/annehepburn/Sofia#

 

Yesterday we had the student poster sessions at the National Library of Sofia. We set up in a rather echo-y marble hallway that also happened to be the route to the washrooms. The presentations were for the most part excellent, but we were really strapped for time and each presenter only got 5 minutes to discuss their posters. I think Carson’s was my favorite presentation because I love her topic: the globalization of Sesame Street. It would have been even better if we’d been allowed technology instead of a bulky poster. Anyway, the one big drawback of the presentations was that we were essentially presenting to ourselves, which we could’ve done in the US.  I hope that the conference organizers make some alterations to the student presentations for next time. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be here and to see all of the different sessions and to take in the Bulgarian culture, but did we have to lug a wonky, oversized poster across the world? Perhaps next year the students will be allowed to actually stay at the conference to present, instead of going across town to the library? I don’t know…

     Anyway, after the presentations, we headed over to the University of Sofia to see Monsignor Cesare Pasini, the prefect of the Vatican Library present a paper. The lecture was situated in a beautiful domed room with huge crystal chandeliers. The Monsignor delivered the lecture in English, though his accent was quite heavy and he was very hard to understand, especially with the echo from the PA system. What little I got from the talk was about the history of the Vatican Library, its archives, and something about the future outlook for library access. We then headed down to the “banquet” which was actually free wine, rakia, and finger food. Baaaaaaad combination. We then headed back to the hotel and proceeded to drink more wine. So I’m suffering from a pretty pounding headache right now. But it was a really good time. I’m taking a break right now before I work the registration desk in a few moments.

     I’m feeling better about Sofia as a city. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty depressing place in parts. Around the University however, it’s much more cosmopolitan and attractive than the concrete jungle we saw near the hostel. One thing that’s sort of getting to me, and that I won’t get used to is the constant cigarette smoke. It’s everywhere. I’ve taken allergy pills every day but it still irritates my lungs and my eyes. I hope that London isn’t as bad as Turkey and Bulgaria have been for cigarette smoke. Oh yeah, I haven’t mentioned that after the conference, I’m going to London for 3 days to relax. And I’m so glad I planned it. I have to say that even though no one specifically is on my nerves, the group dynamic here is really getting annoying. I’m tired of having to wait for other people and the constant talking. I’m up in my hotel room by myself right now just to get some time to think and not have to talk to anyone. I’m off to work the registration table! Ciao for now.

Conference, Day 1

It’s early on the first day of the conference, but I’ve got a tiny amount of free time to add to the blog today. I also will upload pictures later this evening after the banquet. This morning we sat in on the “opening comments” for the conference. We listened in with one of those translator devices in order to understand the Bulgarian speakers. They were so grateful to attend the conference and to have so much interest for information management and globalization.  

The first speaker I sat in on was one of my “assignments” as a student atendee. I was required to take notes and photos of the session. Luckily is was an intensely interesting topic: disaster management and knowledge sharing amongst disaster relief organizations. Our first speaker is an archives management worker at the UN for the Sudan crisis. He talked about the importance of documenting and properly archiving these human rights disasters so that a. we can learn from them, and 2. so that we can convey the fact that they are actually happening. So many of these human rights violations and genocide continue to occur because the rest of the world is ignorant of them even happening. It was poignant and incredibly interesting. Talk about taking the field of librarianship to a higher, more global level. The other presenters for my session are Turkish scholars also working with disaster management systems. Their thesis dealt with the fact that because most disasters are localized events, they are dealt with locally with no standardization or common terminology utilized for its documentation. It tied in very well with the UN representative, but was rather difficult to understand because of their rather broken english. I snapped some photos of the powerpoint slides, so I can look off those later on.

 

Okay, time for lunch! More later!

Thoughts on Sofia

Well, I’ve only been here a little less than two days and I’ve seen a really limited amount of the city–we’ve walked quite a bit but mostly along the same routes. What I’ve seen is mostly run-down, littered, and completely in need of repair. The sidewalks are “tiled” as in instead of pavement, they are set with rows upon rows of concrete tiles, which over the years have buckled and become rather uneven. I’ve stubbed my toe once and a couple of people have tripped. The women here all wear high fashion boots and I cannot imagine how they can handle walking down those sidewalks. Last night at dinner, someone was saying (and it makes sense) that the Bulgarian government is almost completely bankrupt and can’t afford even basic infrastructure repairs. The people have money, though, which explains the really expensive clothing and more european aura of the city. So it looks like there is money here, just not enough to repair buildings or roads. I’m no political scientist, so I don’t know what caused it, but the gentleman last night said that it was caused with the Soviet withdrawal of Bulgaria, and that a similar situation exists in most former-Soviet Republics.

     We ate last night at a restaurant called “Happy Bar & Grill”. The Lonely Planet guidebook calls it a Bulgarian chain restaurant. It’s actually a theme restaurant in the vein of TGIFriday’s or Chili’s in the U.S.  What the theme is, I can’t tell you–maybe the theme is “Ridiculous American Theme Restaurant Paraphernalia” because one of the posters was a giant Alf poster that says “Got Cat?” The waitresses all wore “skirts” which were like little red strips of fabric worn across their ass to allow for some semblance of modesty. Anyway, most of the new arrivals to Sofia from our class were snapping photos of the menu in its misspelled and misphrased glory. The food was bleh. My greyhound came in the form of a huge froofy glass of grapefruit juice and a side tumbler with vodka and another side tumbler with ice and little tongs. It was a bit overdone. Jennifer S. and I each tried Rakia, which is the Bulgarian national liquor. It really reminds me of Grappa in Italy, earthy and fruity, but very strong. Incidentally, I tried Turkey’s version, Raki, at our hostel and it is much more like Sambuca in Italy, or Ouzo in Greece: more anise flavored and slightly sweeter. I bought a bottle there, so maybe I’ll crack it open on Thanksgiving.

I’ve had some serious misgivings about the guidebooks for Bulgaria. I bought both the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide books for Bulgaria (both 2008 editions) and they’ve been pretty off-the-mark on a lot of stuff in Sofia. Restaurant reviews seem to be geared at the “American Tourist” (bland and cheap), which isn’t the usual reading audience for either publication. If I wanted that, I’d just buy a Fodor’s or Frommer’s guidebook. Anyway, it’s no big deal, they both have maps which is really what I need them for. It was just a thought.