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What I did on my summer non-vacation, Part 1  
24th-Jun-2012 10:23 pm
language, voyage
I thought I should take a moment to post a bit about my trip to Sofia, Bulgaria. I have to say, it's a very different experience travelling to a foreign country for business rather than being a tourist. I actually had very little time for doing anything other than working, eating, and sleeping. On the other hand, I spent most of my time working and eating with locals. So, I came back with fewer pretty pictures, but maybe a better understanding of local culture - or a very particular slice of local culture.

But let's start with a few pretty pictures:

This was the view from my hotel room window:

The equestrian statue in the foreground is of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, who is credited with liberating Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire. The building on the right is the parliament building (although I'm told that all parliamentary business takes place elsewhere, and the building serves mostly as a decoy for protesters.) The domed building on the left is the Alexander Nevsky church.

Here's another shot of the church, from its front entrance:
Alexander Nevsky Church, Sofia

The church has some amazing (though rather dimly lit) frescoes inside, but the real draw is the icon museum in the crypt. No photographs were allowed, but this is either one of the icons I saw, or a very close relation. (I've noticed that many icons depicted St. George with a very small person holding a teapot mounted behind him on his horse. I have found no explanation for who this small person is.)

The Alexander Nevsky church occupied my first jetlagged afternoon in Sofia, and that was pretty much all the touristy stuff I got to do for a week, except for a bit of wandering around central Sofia in the evenings.

I loved the fact that the 10 lev note has pictures of astronomical instruments and planets on the back:

And I was unreasonably tickled by this sign in the hotel room bathroom reading, "Dear Guest, Please be informed that our tap water is safe to drink."

Working in our Sofia office was interesting. The Technical Publications team there is very tight-knit. Almost all of the writers work in the same large room, at open desks without even so much as cubicle walls separating them. It's also a very homogeneous and rather young team - many of the writers went to the same high school and/or university, and the experienced old-timers are *maybe* my age, plus or minus a few years. Despite being so tight-knit, they adopted me as one of the group pretty effortlessly. It actually made me a little embarrassed - I'm not sure that we in Palo Alto are so thoroughly hospitable to team members from other sites who visit us.

I was really pleased that my efforts to learn a little bit of Bulgarian paid off in ways both expected and unexpected. The expected benefit was that it did help me communicate, and it was also very psychologically reassuring to me - I find the idea of being unable to communicate very scary.

The unexpected benefit was the amazed and delighted reaction I got from many Bulgarians when I spoke to them in their language. Even surly cab drivers would break into gleeful grins when I uttered a simple "good morning" or "thank you".

My primary resources for learning Bulgarian were the Teach Yourself Bulgarian Conversation CDs, which I played on my commute to and from work for a few weeks before going on my trip, and the free Bulgarian Survival Phrases podcasts. Neither will make you fluent, but since they do concentrate on vocabulary that is useful for the tourist or business traveller, you'll get a lot of bang for your buck. I recommend both.

Well, this is getting long, so I'll stop here. Look for a future post in which I'll talk about Bulgarian food, the Evolution of Technical Communications conference I presented at, and visiting Koprivshtitsa. With more pretty pictures!
25th-Jun-2012 08:06 am (UTC)
(I've noticed that many icons depicted St. George with a very small person holding a teapot mounted behind him on his horse. I have found no explanation for who this small person is.)

Well, that explains why he's the patron saint of England.

What a cool place to go -- I've always wanted to see behind the Iron Curtain.
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