26 June 2006

It’s all Greek to me

ThassosI went to the Greece for the weekend with the Sofia Hash House Harriers. That’s one of the great things about living here; Greece, Turkey, etc. are just a “road trip” away—in fact, I didn’t know I was going until Wednesday! Anyhow, I was great: clear skies, clear water, incredible scenery, and charming villages. At some points, however, it all runs together: Turkey 2 weeks ago, Australia last year, Bahamas the year before…I am spoiled. Which is why I am so glad I invited my Bulgarian friend, Mirena, to come along. She had never been to Greece, and greeted everything with wide-eyed amazement and appreciation.

For a more detailed account of our trip, see Ryan's blog.

Paradise BeachAs far as the title goes, I don’t know a word of Greek, and the babble between locals sounded almost like Italian to me. However, thanks to learning the Cyrillic alphabet (which is loosely based on the Greek), I now can figure out a lot of Greek signs and sound out words that had been previously undecipherable. A lot of letters are the same (or at least similar): the Cyrillic 'F' Ф is nearly indistinguishable from the Greek Phi Φ in any font, and it is easy to see that the Cyrillic 'D'Д comes from the Greek delta Δ. Others I've picked up over the years from math and such: Θθ (theta), Σσ (sigma) for example; so Thassos is spelled θασος. Most poignant was a sign on the way back, pointing home: ΣοΦία.

23 June 2006

Send lawyers, guns and money!

Yesterday, all American expats in Bulgaria received the following email from the embassy.
Subject: Information Needed for the Embassy's Emergency Preparedness

Dear American Citizen,

As part of Embassy's efforts to be prepared to provide assistance to the private American community in the country in case of an emergency, we need to know what resources within this community we may rely on. This is why we would appreciate it if you would tell us whether you have skills, such as languages other than English and Bulgarian, special expertise (for example, Engineer, medical doctor), as well as handy possessions (radios, helicopters, etc.) If possible, we would be grateful if we would receive your reply by June 27. Best regards,

Anna Radivilova
Vice Consul
U.S. Embassy Sofia

Ok, so I understand they would like to know of any doctors or medical professionals in the community which they could rely on in case of a disaster, but an engineer?! I can see it now: “Quick, we need someone to design a McGyveresque device to help us escape these villainous Bulgarians!”

And “…handy possessions”?! Again, I understand the value of a ham radio operator in case of wide-spread calamity, but a) what American expat has a private helicopter in Bulgaria, and b) would be willing to use it to—in fall-of-Saigon style—pick people off the roof of the embassy?

I’m sorry, but this email is just begging for ridicule, and—we in the expat community—are happy to oblige. Ryan wrote a humorous reply that he will hopefully has posted on his blog: TravelWithRyan.blogspot.com “He is a very shy and gentle man, but perhaps we could persuade him…Shall we ask him?”2

1 Zevon, Warren. Excitable Boy. “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.” 1978.
2 Abrams, Zucker, Zucker. Top Secret. 1984

19 June 2006

Doosie pothole

Absolute SofiaWith few exceptions, the roads in Bulgaria are in a serious state of disrepair. This is just something that everyone here gets used to and even jokes about—this is why the picture here (circulated by email—originator unkown) is so funny to us. Lately, the new mayor of Sofia has made an effort to address this; but most street remain pothole-strewn.

I chuckle when I think of the great lengths we go to barricade and demarkate construction sites in America. Here, there is a greater assumption of responsiblity by the general public—namely, watch out!

Pothole "Swallows" Jeep in Sofia
Politics: 15 June 2006, Thursday.

An entire Land Cruiser jeep fell into an enormous pothole in Sofia's Slatina neighbourhood, media reported. Local Nova TV reported that the accident took place at the "Ivan Shterev" street. Workers dug the whole the previous day, but left no signals for the threat. The driver was taken to Pirogov emergency institute. He suffered a broken arm and some other light injuries.

To read more unintentionally humorous stories like this, check out Sofia News Agency novinite.com I do this every morning for my daily chuckle. This is actually quite representative of Bulgarian journalism; more fluff than hard-hitting, investigative reporting. In fact, many times I find they even forget the basics: who, what, where, when, and how—seriously, I'll often finish reading a story and ask my self, "Wait, when or where did this happen?"

16 June 2006


Pearls Before Swine, 16 June 2006
Today's Pearls Before Swine is especially poignant. My response is that I've always assumed my readers to commenters ratio must be close to 100:1. However, I refuse to put a counter on my blog (or use Google Analytics) because I feel it’s better not to know this—in the same way you’re not supposed to know what your own IQ is. If knew I had hundreds of readers, I would get a big head; and if it was just a handful, I'd be discouraged. Ignorance is bliss.

14 June 2006

Turkey Observations

Rather than a “what I did over summer vacation” post, I’ll just list some random observations from my trip.
  • The Turkish people we met are genuinely friendly and helpful; everywhere we went we were greeted by “Yes, please” (well, OK, they were always trying to sell us something.) Mike remarked that in Greece everyone seems to run away when you need to berth your boat, but in Turkey, they run to help you. Not just marina staff either—we had restaurant staff, ice cream vendors, and even a nearby gullet crew help us tie up our boat.
  • Technology is ubiquitous. Even in seemingly remote areas, we always had cell phone coverage; and in the marinas, I always managed to find WiFi access.
  • This part of Turkey is full of big, expensive boats; marinas were packed and every little cove seemed to have a boat or two anchored.
  • Tourists to Turkey’s southern coastal towns & resorts are almost entirely composed of Germans and Brits. American never seem to come here—everyone guessed us to be either British, Australian, or even South African.
  • Sailing is a wonderful way to spend your vacation—and a good value for a group of 5-10 people. It’s not luxurious, but it’s so much fun, and you get to see places you couldn’t otherwise (even on an organized boat trip.)
  • Sailing is actually easy; of the myriad of lines, winches, and cleats on a boats deck, you really only use 3 while underway: the main sheet, and the 2 jib sheets. Blinky (that’s what we called the autopilot) will do the steering for you, and navigation is a cinch thanks to GPS chart plotters.
  • I really don’t like SCUBA. Yes, it’s cool to explore a world under the waves, but I do it just to keep current (ironically, so I can keep diving!)

09 June 2006


Just a few more pictures for now—for those back home, be prepared to be overwhelmed by hundreds of pictures and videos that Simon & Sarah are bringing back.

Karacaoren—the bay where we anchored Wednesday night (and had dinner.)
Our boat—the Ali II—is the one on the right (foreground.)
Joel at the helm
Joel at the helm of the Ali II

06 June 2006


That's my boat!

Can’t write now, so I’m just going to post a picture...because we all know a picture is worth a thousand words. I took this from the dingy that we tow behind the boat. (BTW, the boat is registered in Bergen, Norway—hence the flag.) Mike is at the helm (which we all got a turn to do,) Jeff is in front of him (mostly obscured), Simon is getting his toes wet, and Sarah is apparently below deck. We’re all having a great time and learning a lot about sailing too.

03 June 2006


Arrived at the port of Göcek this morning, where I met Simon and Sarah. After a bite of breakfast, we headed to pier H to see our yacht; all we could say—sweet! Now we’ve got to stock up on provisions and wait for Mike & Jeff. Just wanted to post this pictures to “make your eyes hurt” (inside joke.)

Joel, Sarah & Simon on the Ali II

02 June 2006


Today—as the rest of my colleague at Serdon were heading to a company retreat in Bansko—I slept late, then packed my backpack, and took care of a few last minute errands with the help of Mirena before heading to the airport for my late afternoon flight to Istanbul. Right now, I am now writing and posting this from the Attaturk Airport thanks the free (but slow) wireless Internet service. Tomorrow morning at 7:00 it’s on to Dalaman to meet Simon, Sarah, Mike, and his friend Jeff where we take possession of home and transportation for the next 7 days—a 41 foot sail boat. So, for tonight, I’ll just be hanging around the airport, as it doesn’t make sense to try to do anything in the intervening 8 hours. In any case, I look forward to our adventure starting tomorrow!