27 January 2007

MBAEC reunion in SC

Joel, Ryan, Pete

MBA Enterprise Corps alumni and current South Carolina residents Joel (Bulgaria 2005), Ryan (Bulgaria 2005), and Pete (Kazakhstan 2002) painting the town in Columbia on Friday night.

22 January 2007

Flyin’

Legacy's engineFriday was moving day for my brother, Simon, and his wife. Thankfully they didn’t have too much junk (at least by American standards,) and many hands indeed made the work light—in fact we were done in a few hours. So, Micah—my other brother—asked me if I want a ride in his new airplane—a Lancair Legacy. Of course I jumped at the chance; he has been building this high-performance airplane for a couple of years now, so obviously I wanted to experience what it is like to ride in this “sports car in the sky.” As you can see from the battleship gray color, there are still a few cosmetic tasks that need to be completed, but nothing that would affect its air-worthiness (despite the ominous “passenger warning” on the instrument panel.)passenger warning In fact, he had just modified the oil door on the cowling, which allows us to appreciate the throaty six-cylinder engine (it did sound like a sports cars when he fired it up) in the picture at the top—it certainly doesn’t need any help from a hypothetical MTV “Pimp my plane!”

We taxied to the runway, checked the engine, and then Micah released the brakes. I was immediately impressed; the plane pushed me back in the seat in a way that I’ve only ever experienced in a jet.

Legacy and CassuttMicah’s friend, Eric, was also ready to fly, so he got into his little plane and joined us in the skies within a few minutes. He also built his own plane—a Cassutt, which is a type of aircraft that they race around pylons in Reno, Nevada; needless to say it is fast. Never the less, Micah was able to blow his doors off, as we say in the American vernacular for racing past another vehicle. We flew to the Pelion airport for fuel, and I learned just how expensive this hobby is—avgas is over $3 a gallon!

Tim and Eric over Lake MurrayOn the way back, we came across Micah’s neighbor, Tim, who is an aerial photographer. Of course, we had to get some more pictures (I had been taking many from our perspective, but needed some of us.) So, we flew to Lake Murray to snap some air-to-air photos: in the picture above, Eric is on the left in his Cassutt, and Micah’s Legacy is on the right (if you blow it up, you will see Micah in the left seat—looking toward the camera, and I looking forward—starting to get a little queasy from all the steep turns.) Photo credit: Tim French. I made the final picture here: silhouettes of Tim’s plane on the left and Eric on the right captured over the lake at sunset.

15 January 2007

On Blogging

I’ve been blogging nearly continuously for 3 years now. So, naturally, I’ve given some thought to why I do this. I started my first blog when I went to business school in Vienna in 2004. It was intended as a way for my friends & family to keep up with what I am doing without sending out individual emails (or pestering anyone with bulk emails.) As such, it was successful; my audience grew by word of mouth to include all kinds of friend, family, acquaintances, former colleagues, and classmates. Granted, it was not a steady audience (expect my mother, who would ask my father every morning if I had written anything new,) but this is the beauty of a blog: friends who had “not visited [my] blog in a while” could easily catch up, since a month’s worth of post can be easily read in one sitting. However, one important person I found out that I am writing for is myself—specifically my “future self.” It turns out my blog is also my diary; I actually enjoy reliving the heady days of grad school, for example, by reading something I wrote a year or two ago. Of course, I would not actually write a diary (that is something only teenage girls do,) so blogging for an audience is an incentive for writing my personal history. However, this dual usage leads to some conflict, namely self-censorship. Due to the broad audience that could potentially read my blog, I often have to choose my words carefully. It’s not that I lead a particularly scandalous life, I just don’t want to bore my audience most of the time (sometimes, though, I do nerd out for the sake of my brothers.) Never the less, many times I redact large portions of what I write in Microsoft Word before I even post it (which, by the way, is good advice for you students out there: don’t write up to a minimum word count; write past it, then cut out the weak portions, leaving only the good stuff.) The other issue is that some characters that make up this ongoing story of my life like to maintain a lower profile. I have little compunction about sharing my life on the Internet, but I’ve found that some people don’t like the idea of me writing about or posting pictures of them on my site. Therefore, I have become more guarded—practically, I have adopted a first-name only policy. One particular young lady was made it clear that she did not want to appear here, but recently has relented, and even ask “why am I not on your blog?” So—without further ado—here is my girlfriend, Mirena.

09 January 2007

Ski Borovets

Snow suitDespite dire warnings that there is insufficient snow in Bulgaria for skiing, we went to Borovets on Sunday with two American diplomats. But first, we had to go shopping. After spending most of the day in countless shops, we went back to a little shop and bought a cute snow bunny outfit that Mirena had initially found. (We also bought a business suit the same day.) Mirena insisted I buy something for myself, so I got a cool new ski jacket; the total for everything was a mere 320 leva ($212.)

The actual skiing was decent; the slopes at the top of the mountain were fine for the most part, although there was over a meter of snow missing from last season. I skied nearly nonstop all afternoon, getting my money's worth for the half-day ticket (25 leva.) Meanwhile, Mirena and one of the diplomats were getting beginner ski lessons on the bunny slope. I know this can be frustrating, but she had a reasonably good time.

Mirena's new suitThe past two days have been spent running around town getting "loose ends tied up." For example, this afternoon—just before my flight—we were in the notary's office getting some documents officiated for my business (investment.) Then it was off the the airport, but the new terminal, which is finally in operation. After a tearful goodbye, I was taken by bus to my plane in front of the old terminal—the jetways were standing unused! The Sofia-Brussels flight was remarkable only for the beautiful view of the sunset crisscrossed by contrails of other flights over the skies of Europe. At one point, I looked down I noticed a large river, which I thought probably was the Danube; indeed, just a few seconds later I noticed the unmistakable junction of the Sava and Danube at Belgrade!

Right now I am writing this in a fairly nice hostel in the center of Brussels, having spent my last Euros for the key deposit, I can't even buy a fine Belgium beer! Tomorrow I will get that 10 Euro back, and stretch it between lunch, souvenirs, and train ticket back to the airport. UPDATE: I ended up frittering away the morning, and had to rush to the airport with only minutes to spare—so don't expect any souveniers! :-(
Brussels

03 January 2007

Velingrad

Sofia night with Mr. VitoshaFirst, here are some time exposures (all 25 seconds) from New Year’s Eve. The first one—made at 22:00—is a calm view toward Mt. Vitosha (which was only barely visible by the naked eye.) After midnight, fireworks broke out all over the city; people were shooting them rooftops, balconies, and the street—it was like the fourth of July! ;-)Fireworks! In the third picture, you can see the burst of light coming from the official New Years/EU Accession party downtown—which we just watched on TV.

Spa

For the New Year’s holiday (of January 1st and 2nd) we went to spa resort town of Velingrad. 4th of July! We originally made reservations at an old restored hotel (check out the iron work over the door in the picture below!) but we decided on a nicer, newer, and cheaper hotel after tearing all over the city looking for the best value. As in many places in Bulgaria, these spas are fed by naturally hot, slightly minerally water.

Hammer & Sickle
poolThe pool was a balmy 31C (88F.) We also hit the Roman (steam) bath, sauna, and had massages. Mirena asked where people go relax in the US; I honestly couldn’t think of an equivalent. I am sure we do have spa resorts somewhere, but I think most people “just go the beach.”

TP

On the way back to Sofia, we came through Belovo, home of Belana Paper Mill—Bulgaria's largest producer of TP and paper towels. Along the road opposite the factory, the street was dotted with vendors selling all the various brands produced there. We stopped and Mirena bought a restaurant-sized roll of paper towels for 3 leva, but she said their prices were actually not that competitive; I suppose they lure Sofians into thinking they can get a good deal on their way home.roadside TP vendor

Below is one last time exposure I took at twilight as we were heading back to the expressway (notice the streaks of light from cars on the extreme right.)

Oh, and BTW, it is snowing right now! ;-)