Monday, July 21, 2008

Tuesday, July 22

Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Submitted by Kristen Holtschlag
"Now You See Me, Now You Don't!" – A.W.D.B.

Our last day in Sofia included all of our “lasts". Our last lecture, delivered by Pamela under the awning in our hotel's restaurant during a rainstorm, explored the experiences of women in Bulgaria throughout modern history. This lecture stimulated a lively discussion in the group in which comparisons and distinctions were made between these experiences and those in the United States and Vietnam. We took our last field trip to the Animus Foundation, an NGO promoting women's rights in Sofia, which we walked to in the aftermath of the storm. At this beautiful location, we heard a power point about this organization and had an extensive discussion of the issues surrounding women in contemporary Bulgarian culture. Following the lecture, we toured the organization's premises, which had made a concerted effort to create an atmosphere that was both therapeutic and familiar, achieved through the use of muted colors, comfy furniture, and powerful artwork adorning the walls.
After the trip to the Animus Foundation, we had our last opportunity to explore Sofia. One faction of the group investigated the Women's Market in the center of town. While Karen and Andrea discovered the best prices on produce and t-shirts, Margaret tapped into the underground pick-pocketing ring (thanks to the quick action of Ann Marie and Pat, no personal items were harmed in the process). Still others sought out more icons. A few others went their individual ways, walking the city or reflecting quietly in the hotel restaurant.
Following our individual explorations, we convened for our last dinner. Next door to the hotel, a lovely restaurant called Manastirska Magernica served traditional Bulgarian fare in a uniquely Bulgarian setting. There, we exchanged words of appreciation for one another and had many pictures and many toasts. Fantastic food and fantastic company rounded out our last day in Bulgaria.
From Bulgaria, all took separate paths. Kristen and Margaret went to Paris, Larry, Carol, Le, and Ann Marie to the Greek Islands, Karen to London, Kristin to Germany, and Stephanie went to see her grandkids in Pennsylvania.

Thus concludes the last blog entry. Довиждане!

Anne W. Dale Blair--Monday, July 21

Happy Birthday, Pat Goodman!

July 21,2008 Day 32 Sophia (Pat’s Birthday)

7:30 – 9:00 Breakfast in the hotel Cafeteria
9:20 in lobby to get on Bus
9:40 – 10:30 Boyana Church
11:00-2:00 National Historical Museum
3:00 – free time!!! (shopping, internet cafés, galleries, napping, etc.)

We met in the hotel lobby to take the bus to Boyana Church. According to the Lonely Planet: Bulgaria; “The tiny, 13th century Boyana Church, is on Unesco’s World Heritage list and is Bulgaria’s most cherished and revered historic monument. The 90 Murals, which date from 1259, are rare survivors from that period, and are among the very finest examples of Bulgarian medieval artwork. This includes the oldest know portrait of St. John of Rila along with representations of King Konstantin Asen and Queen Irina. Decades of painstaking restoration were finally completed in 2006, so visitors can not enjoy the church in all its glory.”

We entered the church in groups of 8 and “could only stay 10 Minutes”. We entered a plain 18x18 church with some remnants of murals on the wall, which was well lit with spot lights and our tour leader told us about it being built in 1845 and then she opened the door to another section and we all went “WOW” right out loud. It was like opening a jewel box. The colors in the next older section was vibrant and well lit so it was such a huge difference. We climbed into the smaller section built in 1259. The frescos were overlaid over older 10th century mural which were in the original chapel- probably built for an personal chapel. The guide pointed out the realistic details and all the people, saints and other important details on the murals. The church included several scenes from St. Nicholas and his life. He is the patron saint of the church.

Next, we rode to the National Museum of History which is housed in the old communist presidential palace. We were met by a guide, Agnes, who led us on a whirlwind tour of two marbled floors of the impressive museum. We had the history of Bulgaria in artifacts with an impressive about of gold amulets, lids, wine vessels, jewelry, and an incredible 9 vessel royal ritual set – including stag headed drinking vessels, and a wide serving tray embossed with 100s of heads of African Americans which the belief was of bringing good luck to the drinkers.

Traditional clothing outfits and costumes were upstairs with a coin room, an example of a classroom (with a punishment box under the teacher’s desk), a room with weaving examples and lastly a room from a house with the way people lived in the 1900’s .

To summarize the visit to the Museum I surveyed everyone with the question: What artifact did you find the most interesting?

The helmet and “chain mail” of the very early Thracian king- Larry

The pre-currency dolphin coins – Kristen

The “mother Goddess” figures – Pamela

The silver vase that showed how the Thracians used the drinking vessels and the female clay figure that was on one side and the other side was a male figure- Anne Dale Blair

The piece of the One True Cross – incased in silver relief double cross, discovered by Helena, wife of Constantine – Margaret

The cube under the teachers desk – Pat

The miniature gold horse carving placed under magnifying glass – Andrea

Seeing the possible “True” cross. – Heather

The hand-carved decorative ceiling in the presentation room – Julie

The wall of Italian mosaics with birds, animals, and historic figures.- Ann Marie

I really loved the peasant girl’s dress which was on display. I liked it because it is very representative of the 18-19th “farm” dress for a Bulgarian peasant girl. – Carol

Walking into the room where the bright gold Royal Wine Drinking Ritual set was displayed caught my attention and I recognized how old and amazing the artifacts in the museum are. – Karen

Loved the small Roman sculptures and the children’s toys from Roman times – Kristin

Shopping at the museum’s gift shop was fun! Not haggling with prices and high quality goods. Le

The detail in the artifacts from 5th millennium BC and the bath scrubbers. – Stephanie.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Sunday, July 20

Beautiful city of Sophia

Saturday, July 19

Goodbye to Blagoevgrad, Hello Sophia!

Friday, July 18

Julie Marek’s school website:

From Heather Bartlett—Michigan curriculum collation website, applying the GLCEs to Social Studies:

Kristen Holtschlag’s AP Language website:

Karen Lee’s “This I Believe” project:

Andrea Hartlund’s Photo Book project:

The quote page can be found at:

From Margaret Holtschlag —United Nations CyberschoolBus for comparing statistics about countries:

From Ann Marie Borders:

Online picture editing website/Free


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ann Marie Borders--Thursday, July 17

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, 6:00 a.m. ring the tower bells. “Good morning sunshine!” calls out one of the 5 roommates as we burrow more deeply under the covers of our cot beds. This is the coldest weather since arriving in Bulgaria and we’ve just completed a night in the Rila Monastery. We need to dress quickly for the 6:30 a.m. service in the church. Some make the trip to the “squatty potty” others head outside for pictures.

The monastery itself is an amazing complex of rooms in four stories. While our room on the third floor is simple with six cots a table, a chair and a sink, the ceiling is an elaborately carved flower with three dimensional petals and inner shapes. Flower boxes appear in a variety of places. We watch the sunrise as mist rises from the tree covered mountains. The serenity and peace in this early morning hour is accompanied by the knowledge that we survived a night without ANY modern conveniences.

The Church of the Nativity centered in the courtyard is the largest monastery church in Bulgaria. Icons cover a large part of the facade and appear to have been recently renovated. They include clear, bright pictures of Saints, Angels, and Bible stories. Darker visions of hell complete the bottom portions of the walls. Inside, elaborate carvings and icons fill the room, murals cover the walls and yet the feeling is austere in its darkness.

One’s focus is immediately drawn to the light coming from the three domes and candles shining on the iconostasis (wood carving and icon filled altar screen) created by Samokov woodcarvers working under Atanas Telado from 1839 to 1842. Thirty-three feet wide and at least twenty feet tall, it is an elaborate set of carvings and icons covered in gold leaf. (The writer met an Italian speaking woodcarver/carpenter working on this and other renovations in the monastery.

The service begins with one priest intoning prayers. Responses come from behind the altar screen. Dressed in elaborate vestments, another priest emerges bearing incense and blessing church icons. It is difficult for us to understand the prayers spoken in Bulgarian, and we are unused to standing for long periods of time but it was worth it to hear the warm, rich voices rolling like gentle waves over the listeners as monks worship using a variety of musical styles. Vocals covered intoned prayers. Some songs include the traditional Bulgarian drone. Finally, monks sing music divided into parts. Being non-Orthodox it is a gift to be allowed to attend services that are usually reserved to church members. The realization that there are differences between our cultures is again brought home and leads to a variety of discussions as we leave in search of COFFEE. No luck.

Walking around the grounds of the courtyard, the most impressive sight is of the original kitchen. Built by a man considered illiterate, it is honeycomb shaped and carved with years of soot covering the walls. A tour guide explains that the soot from the cooking area rises through the building coating the walls in three distinct places. Once the smoke reaches the opening at the top it is “white.” Hence, it is sited as being the world’s first ecologically clean building. The kitchen can feed hundreds of people at a time. One pot is touted as being big enough to hold a cow.

The museum contains an amazing collection of artifacts dating from the 16th through the 20th centuries. Chalices, gold and jewel encrusted manuscripts, keys, icons, woven epitasplios (shrouds) from 1855 and 1859, and vestments fill the glass covered cases. Most impressive is the printing machine, (1865) metal clichés and copies of these first prints displaying pictures of the Saints and Mary. The same room contained illuminated manuscripts and copies of manuscripts with musical notation from 1888.

Breakfast and COFFEE followed by a side trip to Happy Donuts brought smiles to all everyone. We packed, loaded the van and began our departure from the monastery. Making a three point turn on a road the size of a ribbon with the mountain on one side and a steep cliff edge on the other had everyone praising yet again our fantastic driver, Jorge. We really appreciate his skill.
It is impossible to relate everything we see on this trip. Here are a few views as we leave the monastery and head for Blagoevgrad.

*Crystal clear, baby blue skies replace the overcast, heavy rainclouds of the previous day.
*Tree covered mountains fill our line of sight for miles
*Bubbling river sounds fill the air as we cross the bridge.
*Young girls sit under a red-stripped umbrella selling honey at the side of the road.
*Wildflowers of purple, yellow and white turn their faces to the morning sun.
*Dusty roads lead to small villages and gardens.
*Jagged rock face borders the road with an occasional bush or vine struggling to grow.
*“Fish crossing” sign is seen outside the fish hatchery.
*Yellow fields of freshly cut hay are interspersed with green fields of corn and other plantings.
*“Oh my gosh!” punctuates the silence as storks perched on lampposts and chimneys are sighted.

Finally, Blagoevgrad, we are home. Home to room and roommate changes, key changes, new linens, luggage, food, laundry, and email. Once settled, some head to dinner with Nadia, Pamela and Margaret, some to the grocery store and some to the computer room.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Le Tran--Wednesday, July 16

What could be more relaxing than starting your day with coffee, friends and art making?

The Fulbrighters did just that. We gathered in the dorm’s lobby where there are several tables (perfect for art making) and a small coffee shop. Like my students, the teachers asked if they could eat and drink while doing their artwork. “Of-course”, is my automatic response.

As they filled the seats, I can feel the excitement rising in my heart. I am introducing iconography, an art form that has been and remained to be a major part of Bulgaria’s identity. Bulgaria was one of the first Eastern European nations to adopt the Christian faith; icons were the “bible” for the people since literacy was very low during this time. Christians believed that icons are sanctified objects that help them to feel the presence of God. Icons are traditionally stylized and unrealistic works of art.

The artists selected an icon from the collection I have accumulated thus far. They copied the image using watercolor and paper. The materials fitted the occasion since we had limited time and space for an authentic experience in icon painting. Once the brushes flowed, I could tell that my artists were relaxing and enjoying the process. It was a delight to see the paintings developed so quickly and that everyone was having fun. Carol may not have seen this as relaxing but we had fun nevertheless!

At 11:00 a.m., we boarded the bus with our overnight bag for Rila Monastery. I should mention that Kristin Grattan stayed within the luggage limit as this is Camp Bulgaria in her mind. The drive was approximately an hour from Blagoevgrad. We drove up to an altitude of 1147 meters, which meant cooler air for our weary campers.

Rila Monastery is a symbol of everything that is Bulgaria: the majestic mountains that surround the monastery, the monastery with its long history that was intricately woven with the country’s politics, culture and education. During the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1185- 1396), the royalty gave this land to the Bulgarian people to build a monastery to establish and propagate the veneration for Saint Ivan Rilski, a hermit and a miracle-worker. The cave in which he lived is up on the mountain. Supposedly, he performed many miracles but the most important miracle of all was healing the possessed. People heard about him all over the land and he became a national hero. After he died, pilgrims flocked to this holy place to honor the humble man whom the Church later ordained a saint.

The monastery has become a tourist destination in recent years. We felt the frenzy of the place immediately upon arrival. It was like an international fair. A variety of languages can be heard as bus loads of people congregated at the entrance. We were taken back by the expansiveness of the complex and the ornate Church of Nativity. There were three domes that rise rhythmically over the central nave. Surrounding the church is a monumental open porch. Its walls and ceilings are covered with beautiful frescos depicting religious people and events of the bible. The cobble-stone courtyard is light and airy. The 300 or more monks’cells surround the main church and act as a “fortress”, protecting its inhabitants over the years. Now these cells are available to tourists like us. We wouldn’t consider them as bed and breakfast or hostels….as a matter-of- fact; we don’t know what to call them. Although we were forwarned that there would be no shower at this place and that we shouldn’t expect any modern conveniences, nothing could have prepared us for our overnight stay at the monastery. Reality hits hard when we checked into our six person room for the night and then discovered that the bathroom was down the hall and one floor below. It wasn’t an ordinary bathroom but an ancient facility that deterred us from our nightly consumption of fluid and fellowship.

We dropped off our bags and headed for a long and challenging hike up to St. Ivan’s cave which was 4.8 km, uphill all the way! We saw open fields with gorgeous colors of gold, violet, yellow, orange, brown, white wild flowers and tall grasses. I wished I could have stopped and painted the scenery before me. It was absolutely breath-taking. The mountains rose in the background and above them were clouds and mists that mingled together to create a mysterious shroud that was constantly changing. The quick flowing rivers dotted the land; creating an obstacle for the hikers and at the same time provided us its relaxing sound of gurgling water. Once in a while, we encountered a waterfall. Its power drowned out our voices, reminding us of our place in this universe. Nature has a way of bringing us back to our humanity, no matter where we stand in this beautiful world.

The climax of the hike came when we entered St. Ivan’s cave. It took a minute or so for our eyes to adjust to the darkness inside the cave and then we discovered an altar with three icons. We paid our respect silently then one by one, we carefully climbed up the steps leading to a narrow and twisting opening. The opening leads up to another level of the mountain. Legend has it that anyone who has lived a good life will pass thru this opening. The hikers in our group all passed this test including me. We were cheered on by a group of children who had traveled through the cave before us. It was all very exhilarating!

In the end, it was me, Kristin G and Larry that trudged down last from the mountains. Our bodies sore, our feet wanted to scream and Larry’s knees wanted to be stay upon the mountains and forget about the climb down.

We met up with the rest of the hikers at the foot of the mountains, at a restaurant closest to the monastery. We enjoyed the little luxury and conveniences of the facility before heading to the monastery. Knowing that the gate closes at 9:00 p.m., we stayed out until a minute before curfew, such rebels we are!

Back to the room of six women, we ventured to the bathroom together. What a great bonding experience this was for us. I told Pat that I have done my penance, between climbing all the way to the cave and enduring this pit-i-ful bathroom, I have definitely earned my way to heaven. We went back to our room and had a snore- strip party, courtesy of Pat. The only thing we heard throughout the night was the church bell.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Karen Lee--Tuesday, July 15

What does freedom look like when you are not use to being free?

In the government class that I teach, I try to center my students on a few essential questions that we ask every unit and develop our answers as we progress in our study of US Government. One of the anchoring question is, “when is it right to fight back?” This morning during our lecture on democracy in Bulgaria, I found myself screaming in my head, “now Bulgaria, fight back now!”

Dr. Ivelin Sardarnov titled his discussion today, “Bulgaria’s Troubled Transition” and provided us with many reasons why Bulgaria is troubled. Here are a few facts:

Bulgaria’s political system is labeled as a parliamentary republic- but even that title seems a little troubled.

There is a president- Georgi Parvanov- who functions with limited power and a Prime Minister- Sergey Stanishev- who leads the 240 member Parliament.

The coalition of political parties that currently makes up Parliament are: Bulgarian Socialist Party (majority), National Movement Simeon II, and Movement for Rights and Freedoms.

The Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria was written in 1991.

There is a Constitutional Court where judges are appointed by both the President and Parliament for a fixed term. The EU has pushed Bulgaria to appoint a “watchdog” to ensure that there is a balance between independence and accountability to those serving on the court.

There is a limited system to make changes to the Constitution- our professor thinks changes that have to go through the Grand National Assembly (the amendment process) are unlikely.

Today’s lecture was the final and possibly the most complete thread to run throughout our studies since we have come to Bulgaria. Combining our knowledge of Bulgarian history, economics, music, art, literature, and now politics- our picture of this beautiful country speaks to each of us in a different way.

What became clear is that people around the world, act similarly when they have been oppressed for a long period of time. defines oppression in the following way:

op·pres·sion –noun
1. The exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, crew or unjust manner
2. the feeling of being heavily burdened, mentally or physically by troubles, adverse conditions, anxiety, etc.

Bulgaria has been an oppressed country for thousands of years. Between the Ottomans and Communism, it has been hard for Bulgaria to define who and what Bulgaria is on their own. The actions and attitude of the country can be linked to the long term oppression that has been present. Although the people that we have met along the way are trying to preserve a part of the history or culture, there does not seem to be a collective movement to “find Bulgaria’s place in the world.” After years of having a collective enemy, Bulgarians are now searching for a way out of the corruption in politics, law enforcement, economics and social systems. The irony of the Communist fallout is that instead of developing a sense of collective ownership as it was designed, it has left a feeling that no one owns anything. Which leads to the problem, like many around the world who have been oppressed, is that hope and trust in the system or authority has been replaced with pessimism and an individualistic look at how to survive. Bulgaria seems to be lacking a common goal to fight for. Without movement forward then the perception becomes, things were better when….

Bulgaria’s efforts to join the European Union and meet the standards that are expected with that title could be the catalyst for change that this country needs. The EU could serve as the watchdog that keeps the “vultures” away. Bulgaria is looking for someone to check the abuse of power and to ensure the common good is valued again. The lingering question is what will have to be sacrificed to make this change. Will it be the family values that are so intertwined with the culture, the historical culture that is rich in tradition and pride, or a sense of nationalism? Our hope for Bulgaria is that this country will realize its potential through education, trade and their glorious history of overcoming troubled times.

We started out on this journey looking at Bulgaria as a multilayered cake. I have to think that I am leaving this country at a time where another layer has just been added on. But I am confident that Bulgaria is not quite ready for the icing to top this country’s cake. We have not seen the best part of Bulgaria yet. I look forward to the day that the rest of the world understands Bulgaria in the way that we have been able to through our time and experiences here.

Here are the ideas from the post-it notes we wrote after today's lecture:

Big Ideas
- Bulgaria has a conflict of values between the strength of kinship ties and the absence of a goal of working together toward the common good.
- Good to hear both sides of the story
- Oppression has a lasting impact on people (both individuals and societies)
- What will it take to stimulate change in Bulgaria?
- The overall demographic trend facing Bulgaria today and its impact on the culture
- The corruption of political, economic and social systems in Bulgaria. The impact that this corruption has.
- The importance of joining the European Union and the future role it will make on the Bulgarian people.
- Upward mobility requires a sacrifice of tradition/family- harder with a great tradition
- Every society has its groups that function without intervention- gangs, hoodlums, mafia, thugs
- The EU is forcing change in economics, politics and judicial system using monetary controls.
- Family and kinship are very important historically to Bulgarians but can have positive and negative effects on greater society as a whole.
- Attitude and optimism/pessimism can be determined by status in society
- Pessimism breads an apathetic approach to life. People don't work as a collective group because of communism being dominated, corruption, fear/safety, prejudice, lack of tolerance
- Today's lecture was the thread to all other lectures- even the music and religion lectures by not mentioning these disciplines
- The element of change. Today's lecture on political change has had a great impact on the changes discussed in other lectures- historical regime change, presence of religion, economic change
- The data (information) given by the last presenter was consistent with the other presenters. The tone or view was quite different nevertheless.
- Irony of Communist fallout: instead of collective ownership, a sense that no one owns anything. Connection between Didar's discussion on housing and apartments and the lack of law enforcement for public services (parking, littering, etc.)
- What will be the next layer to the cake? Is the top layer of the cake now: of a troubled transition? or will it just become another layer on top of corruption and organized crime, personal morality, constant disenfranchisement, lack of trust/interest in "bigger picture", Ottoman, Communist Rule

- that corruption will prevent country from progressing and people from achieving a better lifestyle
- Romani children
- economic disparity
- primary institutions are irrelevant to everyday life (those that build a common good)- church, government, community groups, law enforcement
- national community that has been oppressed does not turn to drugs/addictions
- adjust to the Euro smoothly
- premonition for our country- too many parallels

- design includes more safety features in architecture and ergonomics
- for serge in humanities in education and not just business/marketing
- could the high standards of the EU be the "carrot" that helps Bulgaria survive, while allowing some nationalism to continue?
- that Bulgarians preserve their traditions and cultures
- corruption will go away with joining the EU
- that Bulgaria finds its voice as Bulgaria (no corruption, no inflation, government involvement) and Bulgaria keeps its voice in the EU

- much more foreign investment
- a new retirement location
- the EU may supply a check and balance
- generation gap of children missing will led to a gap in culture being passed on
- they will be fine because they joined the EU