Jeff Harris Travels

Archive for June 2009

Heading Home

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Tomorrow I begin my journey home. I’ll be leaving Valencia for Madrid via the 7:50am train. Once in Madrid, I’ll check into my hotel for the night. I might try to go to the airport to check in early and pick my seats for the flights on Monday.

I’m scheduled to leave Madrid at 12:40pm on Tuesday and get to London by 2:00pm local time (a 5 hour difference from the U.S.’s East Coast). Then by 4:15, the flight from London to Baltimore Washington International should take off, flying for 8 hours and 20 minutes before landing in Baltimore, at around 7:35pm.

Home, sweet, home.

I do feel a bit apprehensive about returning. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been home in nearly 6 months, maybe it’s because there won’t be too much traveling a for a little while and the excitement that comes along with it, or maybe I think I’ve changed a little, but who really knows. I guess it’s like a symptom of reverse culture shock. I hope everything goes well. I’m sure it will, but I’m also sure I’ve changed some what during my time away. Hopefully for the better.

Facts and feelings about my time abroad:
– I will have spent about 175 days out of the country, almost 6 months.
-4 were spent in Ireland, 4 in Morocco, and 8 in Bulgaria, so about 16 or so days out of Spain.
-I now have friends from Estonia, Australia, Spain, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, and others.
-Skype is a lifesaver. I don’t want to think about my time here if I hadn’t been able to call or see loved ones daily.
-I’ve taken over 16,000 photos and 300 movies.
-I’ve taken 12 flights, and 2 more in the next 48 hours.
-Bulgaria was my favorite country, Morocco felt the most exotic, and Ireland felt like home, except for the left-side driving.
-I would bet I heard at least, if not more, fireworks during my time in Valencia, than the whole amount prior.
-Nothing is open on Sundays! Nothing! (OK, maybe some places, but it feels like everything)
-Professors are pretty much hands-off and uninterested. At least the art ones, and at least to the exchange students, who they think (correctly) are only in Valencia to party.
-I’m ready to come home after 6 months. I’m excited to see family and friends and new nieces!
-I’m one lucky guy to have experienced all that I have in the last months. What a time I had! I need to figure out a lifestyle that allows me to continue this.

Hasta luego, España. Hello U.S.A.

Written by Jeff

June 28, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Posted in Returning

I ♥ BG

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My trip to Bulgaria from Thursday the 18th to Friday, the 26th was one of the best weeks of my life. I think I fell in love with the country. It might not be the richest country (actually, it’s one of the poorer countries of Europe), but the land is beautiful, with mountains, young and old, constantly in view. Some of the people are really cool too.

The food was delicious. From homemade honey (from Peter’s family’s village home) to yogurt, to flat sausage and white cheese, and MUCH more, Bulgaria’s cuisine is a delicious one.

On Thursday, after being picked up from the airport in Sofia, we headed to the dorm Peter, Mariana (his girlfriend) and Damien (his brother) are staying in. Mariana had lots of food ready to eat. It was a bit overwhelming by the last bites. It was so much food, but it was all so good.

After some rest on Thursday and after Peter’s exam on Friday, we headed to the Vitosha mountain and made a barbeque with some of their friends, some Bulgarians and Kenny (his name in an American way) from Turkey. The food, again, was delicious. We had chicken wings, sausage, and shish kebabs with peppers, onions, mushrooms, and meat. We sat around, cooked, and talked for a few hours. It was a nice place, and my first real experience in the wilderness of Bulgaria.

On Saturday the four of us (Peter, his girlfriend, and his brother and I) visited the Rila Lakes. After a couple hour drive, we made it to the mountain. There was a ski lift in operation, so we took advantage of that for 15 leva (Bulgaria’s currency for the next year or so, before switching to the Euro). It took longer to get to the top than I had expected. Having never ridden a ski lift before, it was a daunting task to make sure I was lined up with the lift seat so that when it swung around to pick us up, I was on it all the way and not half way. Safely at the top of the lift, the full beauty of the Rila Mountains was exposed. There was still some ice/snow dotting the mountain. The air was fresh, the oxygen lower, and the smell was relaxing. We promptly made some ham and cheese sandwiches at the top. After we finished our lunch, the hike up part of the mountain (not that high, compared to the others) started. Peter and Damien quickly made it up the hill, five to ten minutes ahead of Mariana and myself. It felt good to hike, but the elevation was definitely felt. On the way up we met a magician who performed a card trick for us. I wasn’t expecting that. He showed us photos of himself with a famous Bulgarian magician. Then he started running up the mountain, suit jacket and all.

The view from the top was gorgeous. I wasn’t expecting to see such a sight during my time in Bulgaria. From the top, the seven Rila lakes were visible. Reflecting sunlight, they almost appeared metallic at one time, and later, after the clouds rolled in, blocking the sun, the clearness of the water was apparent. I didn’t get a chance to taste the water, but I’m sure if I did, it would have been some of the best water I’ve tasted.

After we made it down the mountain (almost as hard as hiking up it), we stood in line to take the lift back down. A woman ahead of us had injured her leg. Though feeling sorry for her, I was definitely glad it wasn’t me. To add to the woman’s stress, and all the other’s riding at the time, a thunderstorm rolled in. Lightning started and a steady rain fell as we slowly made our way down on the almost fully metal lift. We survived, and by the time we reached the bottom and hopped of the thing, the rain had stopped.

Sunday was sleepy day. I slept, off and on, for almost 13 hours, not so unexpected after walking up with mountain the day before. That evening (if I am remembering correctly) we ate dinner at a traditional Bulgarian restaurant. We had a hot pot of flat sausage mixed with vegetables, broccoli with cheese, and some other kind of dish I can’t remember very well. It was a lot of food, to say the least. At the end, I had yogurt with honey and walnuts. It was scrumptious.

Then Monday came, the day we started our journey across Bulgaria. After an exam, Peter and I made our way to Kaufland (a grocery/Wal-Mart type store) to get some canned food for our next dinner and breakfast. We drove for a few hours and made it to Koprivshtitsa, an old, small mountain town filled with traditional Bulgarian houses and traditional Bulgarian people. Despite the rain, we walked around the city and made our way along a little path leading to the forest. There was a little water spring/fountain that we stopped at to refresh ourselves. As we were drinking, a horse on a hill about the fountain tumbled down the hill and got wrapped up in the rope that was tied down to the ground. She (I think it was female) didn’t move much, so Peter went to see what was up with it as I took photos. Then I made my way up and we grabbed the front legs and rolled her over. She still didn’t move, but after some claps and nudges she rose and promptly began eating some grass, without even a little thank you.

After some more touring we entered a empty boarding school, which was very eerie and strange. We walked to the second floor and peeked into some of the rooms. In on of the rooms, a student’s identification was still there. It was like they had abandoned the place, with some rooms a mess, and others still with soda bottles on the ground and lights on. Spooky!

We debated sleeping in the car or finding a place to sleep, since it was getting late and we wouldn’t drive any further for the day. We settled on a guesthouse overlooking the town and went to sleep soon after. In the morning we ate canned meat and bread on the balcony of the room. It was a very peaceful place. And beautiful too, with the edge of the forest only feet away.

After breakfast we toured a little more of Koprivshtitsa and continued our journey. We zig-zagged across Bulgaria, stopping to see an old Monastery and the city it’s in, a Russian Orthodox church on the side of a mountain, and another small town that contained many a home topped with large stone shingles. It was a whirlwind kind of day and an awesome day. I never thought I’d see so much in one day. By 9 or 10 in the evening, we made it to Peter’s hometown of Yambol.

Waiting for us in Yambol, was his parents, a large dinner, and comfy beds. It was really neat to meet Peter’s parents and talk to them, despite my lack of Bulgarian.

The following day, Wednesday, Peter and I walked around Yambol. I’m envious of the park and pedestrian streets Yambol has. It’s nice to be able to walk in a street, without worrying if a car is coming. Sitting and talking in a park/garden was so much fun. Watching the old men and women sitting and conversing was nice. And the constantly running water fountain was also a nice reprieve from the hot sun. A little later we made our way to Peter’s dad’s (Toshko) TV repair shop. It seemed to be a steady amount of customers, all with some sort of problem with their TVs or related device.

For dinner that evening, we had more cold cucumber soup (yum), a baked meat and potato casserole-like dish, yogurt and plenty of juice and soda to drink. It appeared obvious that one of the cultural differences was that I drank a lot with the meal. Still, everything was delicious and the cake and ice cream that followed ensured I would quickly fall asleep.

The next day Peter and I eventually made our way out of Yambol and back to Sofia, after saying bye to his parents at the repair shop and saying hello and goodbye to a friend of Peter’s (a bike repairman). We drove for about 3.5 hours, almost running out of fuel by the time we entered Sofia. We made it to the Shell station and filled her up half way, after she drank the whole tank on our 1000-plus kilometer drive.

We drove another five minutes after filling up and parked and made our way to the top floor of the dorm building in Student City (the area where the dorm buildings are) and back to the room. It was sad, since it was my last night in Bulgaria, but I tried not to think about and and, instead, tried to enjoy the last remaining time I had there. We looked at some of the photos and ate food Peter’s mom had sent back with us. I fell asleep little later, slept for five or so hours and woke at 5:30, ready to drive to the airport for my flight back to Spain. It was a real sad time, as we were reaching the airport. It really made me realize how much I had came to like, well, actually, love Bulgaria and how strong my friendship with Peter had become over the week. It was a rather sad four hour plane ride across Europe. I am determined, though, that I will be back, sooner rather than later.

I’m sure I didn’t write all that happened during my week in Bulgaria. It would be more than enough for a novel. But I think I’ve explained the gist of my time in Bulgaria. I recommend checking out this interesting country.

Photos to come soon! Stay tuned!

See ya again soon, Bulgaria!

Written by Jeff

June 28, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Posted in Bulgaria, Traveling

Last “Photowalk” in Valencia

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I went out, a couple of days before leaving for Bulgaria, into Valencia to take some photos one last time.

Here’s the slideshow of those photos:
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Written by Jeff

June 28, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Posted in Photos, Spain, Valencia