Sunday, July 31, 2011

EUROPE TRIP Part 2: Bulgaria

I'm excited to tell you (warning this post is long, but hopefully entertaining) about Part 2 of our trip - Bulgaria! Um...where? B-U-L-G-A-R-I-A. Um...why? Well, Bulgaria has good cheese and I love cheese! So why not go there?!

Okay, really...I lived there for 16 months while serving an LDS mission and wanted to go back to visit some friends and show Tanner around! While living there I learned to speak the language (they speak Bulgarian. Don't feel stupid, everyone asks.) Since there aren't many Bulgarians in Utah I haven't had the chance to speak it much so it was fun to use it again! I was curious if I would remember and it's like riding a bike! It all came back! Little by little, but by the end of the 4 days words were just coming to me that I used to speak. It was cool! Това е Български! Обичам да говоря други езици. (<-- That's Bulgarian.)

On my mission - September 2007
Sister Thomas and I taught Elena (on the right) and the man to my left baptized her!

Well before I jump into our trip, here's a little background on my mission, I left for my mission on October 11, 2006 spent 2 months in the MTC and arrived in Bulgaria on December 13, 2006. I lived there until March 26, 2008.

I have a special spot in my heart for Bulgaria and my mission. I loved my mission! I always wanted to go on a mission and I am so thankful I had the opportunity. Next to marriage, it is the best thing I have ever done! And it was definitely the hardest thing I have ever done!

The language was difficult, the culture is different, and it was hard work and often very awkward approaching and talking to strangers every day while trying to share the message of Christ. It was unlike any other experience. I grew closer to the Lord in those 18 months than I had in the previous 21 years! (You don't really have anyone else to turn to!) Personally, I developed strengths and talents I didn't know I had. And I made friendships that will last through the eternities! I am so thankful for the time I served on my mission.

Me in some traditional BG dress while on my mission.
(That's not my hair.)

I was anxious to go back, I've heard tales of how a mission is never the same when you go back and how it could taint old memories, but it was nothing but sweet!

A little background on Bulgaria: see map below for location, it's about the size of Tennessee, there are 8 million BG's (could be less now - more and more are moving out), located in between ancient Roman and Ottoman Turk Empires, it was a hot spot and lots of people wanted to own it. For 500 years Bulgaria was under Turkish rule, which was hard because BG is and has always been a Christian country and the Muslim Turks didn't like that. After 500 years of hardship and rule the Russians saved Bulgaria it was then part of the Eastern Bloc countries and practiced Communism until about 1990. It is now a democracy and part of the European Union but from my point of view it is still struggling economically and the people are still trying to find themselves as a country and culture - it's really only been 20 years since it became it's own country after 600 + years of being under someone else's control.

As for the church in Bulgaria, by majority they are Bulgarian Orthodox, but were Atheist under Communism. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints became a recognized church in BG in 1991. There are about 2,000 members now, but only about 250 active members. There are 50 missionaries serving right now (about 76 when I was there) and there are about 10 cities open (15 when I was there).

The Bulgarian people are a faithful people. Throughout history they have experienced hardships, but they remain strong. They generally are a more "closed" people, but once you get to know them they open up and are very sweet and caring.

So back to our trip....We arrived in Sofia (the capital) on Saturday night after spending one day in Rome. After settling in our hotel we headed straight to Destination #1: The Mission Home. The Mission Home is where the Mission President and his wife live and this one also has a church meeting area and the Mission Office is located.

Ulitsa Marin Drinov - the street the mission home is on!
I was so excited when we got here!
The smells, the sites were all the same and the memories came rushing!

The mission home was locked, so we just went to dinner at the missionaries' favorite restaurant nearby. We got Shopska Salata (cucumber and tomato salad - THE salad of Bulgaria), pizza, Cucumber soup (another BG specialty) and some other classic BG dishes. I was excited to share them with Tanner.... He ended up order a plate of fries. He said it wasn't "so bad." But now that we're home he's telling everyone the food was terrible over there. I knew the truth would come out. :) But I still liked it. Bulgarian food isn't super flavorful, but it's usually light and fresh - so that's good. I grew to love some of the classic dishes mentioned above.

The next morning we went to church!!! First of all, I have to say how weird it was being back in my mission with no mission rules! On a mission you have a curfew, a time to wake up (too early...6:30AM), your always working and you have a companion that is always with it or not. Fortunately, I was blessed with great companions during my mission, but there's just not much alone time. So being back as a "normal" person it was weird to experience the freedoms I didn't have before and have the best companion ever - Tanner!

Okay, so church was great! I saw a lot of members I knew and a lot of members were there that I didn't know which is a good thing! I was ready to bear my testimony since it was testimony meeting when all of the sudden Sacrament Meeting was over! What?! Apparently church in Bulgaria is only 2 hours now, rather than the regular 3. Luckily I asked if I could bear my testimony in Relief Society and they let me. I was so happy to be able to! I told them that not a day goes by that I don't think of my mission and the wonderful people that they are and the impact they have had on my life!

Outside the Mission Home

Me and Gergina
Me and Baba Vicki
Me, Krissy and Monica

After church a member invited us to come over to their place for lunch. We enjoyed an authentic Bulgarian feast and some great conversation - in English...Tanner was grateful for that.

Below is a picture of Tanner and I with Krasi to the right of Tanner, one of the first members to be baptized in Bulgaria and his wife on the left in the brown shirt and their daughter on the floor. The lady in the orange is a native Bulgarian who married a Utahn (in the blue) and have 4 kids. They live in Utah now and were visiting for the summer - all their kids speak Bulgarian fluently. Krasi is an amazing man with many talents who gives so much to the church! I admire him so much and I am grateful we had a chance to spend some time with him!

Traditional Bulgarian food: Bread, Sirmee (rice wrapped in grape leaves), Bop (bean soup), mashed potatoes, Meat stuffed with peppers and cheese, and chicken.

After our grand feast :) we headed back to our hotel to change and had plans to go out again. Tanner laid down and wanted to take a quick nap so I joined him....we didn't wake up until the next morning!

So after a very good night's sleep we woke up early Monday morning and headed out to conquer the mountains. Well, after almost 2 hours of trying to get there we gave up. I didn't know how to get there on public transport and the taxi drivers didn't want to take the picture above is as close as we got! (Kind of looks like Utah, huh?!) Oh well. So we headed to meet an old friend, Velichko.

Velichko lives alone in a very small apartment and was never married and has no children. But he has the sister missionaries! About 5 years ago the sisters knocked on his door and he let them in. He is very excited about the gospel, but is too old to travel to church, but the sister missionaries continue to visit him because he is a good man and it makes him happy - and it makes us happy that someone wants to listen! He has a long list of all the sister missionaries he has met and has many pictures with him. While I was on my mission we gathered the information of his deceased relatives so we could do the temple work for them. He showed me pictures of them and it was cool to see the faces of the people I have helped do the work for!

Tanner had enough of the Bulgarian food experience so we went to an
Indian Restaurant for lunch.
We loved it! "Best Bulgarian food ever!" He says! Yum!

Some Communist Statue.

Ran into some members on the way to the park!

Met up with an old companion - Elena Shuvalova (from Estonia).
It was great to talk and catch up! She is an amazing woman!
On our mission together.

Went back to an old apartment (behind me)
and picked up some fruit at the nearby market!

Watermelon was always a favorite. I served in Lyulin in August and
we were often given free watermelon - but we only had a mini fridge!
So all we ever had in the fridge was watermelon and frozen chicken cordon bleu!

Yummmm!!! The best cherries in the world - and cheap too!
About $1 per pound vs. Italy where they were $10 per pound!
I <3 BG
Later that evening we went on a Free Sofia Tour with a local tour guide. Surprisingly, BG has a lot of ancient history - like I mentioned above, it was the crossroads for many ancient civilizations.

Fresh water fountains from HOT springs - the water is naturally 100 + degrees!

While digging for the metro (I was surprised how much I heard this
while traveling through Europe) they found some ancient Roman ruins! 

Haha! I think their jealous!

Alexander Nevski Church - right in the center of the city. Very beautiful.

In BG it's a tradition on March 1st to give red and white bracelets to friends
 and you wear them until you see a Stork or the first bud and then
you hang them on a tree. It is a symbol of safety, friendship and springtime!
You often find them on trees all throughout the year.

Love this picture of my sweet hubby!
For dinner we went to a traditional BG was okay. We were serenaded by BG's in Hawaiian t-shirts. :)

I enjoyed (sort of) Bulgarian Yogurt and Prunes for "dessert."
The next morning we took a bus to Plovdiv, the 2nd largest city in BG. On the way there we past many Sunflower fields!

In the sunflower fields on my mission! Can't miss my fro in the back there. 

I was lucky enough to meet up with some great friends!
 Nellie Mihaleva was an old companion, Sisi and Lily Vahid are sisters.
We have become good friends since I've been home.
They are both Dressing Your Truth Club Members (Type 1 and Type 4.)
It was soooo amazing to see all of them!
I love this woman! She is amazing!
Nellie has Muscular Dystrophy and often needs help walking, but regardless
of her handicap she is strong, independent, and a light to the world!
I will always treasure our time together and our friendship!
She has a great sense of humor and loves to laugh (and thinks I'm hilarious!)
It brought tears to my eyes to see her again!!!

Together on our mission. I love her smile!

In the city center. 
We walked through the old city to a look out point. 
At the top!
The church in Plovdiv. The only "real" church building in BG. 
The next morning it was just me and Tanner, we took another walk through the Old City and bought a lot more cherries!

An ancient Roman Ampitheather 
Cherry Tree 

We finished of our trip with some good old American Pizza!
It was so wonderful to go back to my mission! It brought back so many memories of the hard work I did over there and the many life lessons I learned. The best part was seeing old friends and reconnecting with them. I am so grateful for the experience I had while on my mission and that I had the opportunity to go back!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

EUROPE TRIP Part 1: Rome

Well, we're back! After a 19 day European Adventure we're back to home sweet home! 
We had a great time and saw a lot of really amazing things while some sweet memories which I'm excited to share with you!

Our vacation started with 1 day in Rome followed by 4 days in Bulgaria then another day in Rome, I'm going to talk all about Rome in this post and I'll get to Bulgaria in the next one.

But to start off...a funny comparison: on the way there vs. on the way home.

At our first hotel.
Can anyone tell me where I can get some jam?
(I think they're short on storage space in Italy.)
First real Italian Pizza - wasn't really good, but not bad either!
Can you tell I am sleepy? 

We arrived in Rome early on Friday morning and after a quick 1-hour nap, headed to the Vatican to see St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel! 

We were soooo tired and my feet were soooo swollen. (That's what happens when I fly.) So every step was a little bit more painful and by the time we reached St. Peter's we were struggling to keep our eyelids open. But we pushed through and did a lot on our first day!

In the Vatican Museum...lot's of marble statues.
It's amazing to me how many ancient things are in Rome, it's almost like they don't know what to do with them, they are everywhere!

We didn't get any pictures of the Sistine Chapel (you can't), but it was awesome. Literally  - awe inspiring. The chapel itself was smaller than I expected and the ceiling was higher than I envisioned, but the paintings are just amazing! That project was Michelangelo's first painting that he ever did! Our necks started to get sore looking up at the paintings! Some people look at them with mirrors. We downloaded Rick Steves' FREE audio tour and listened to that. It was great. We love Rick Steves!

Loved the free water! Bless those Romans and their aqueducts! 
St. Peter's Basilica.
I studied Art History in high school with the most amazing teacher in the world -
I love seeing things that I learned about years ago. This is one of them.

Michelangelo's Pieta. Very reverent and peaceful...makes me say...Piet-aaaaa.
Interesting tidbit: He made Mary look much bigger than
Christ on purpose to make Him look like a child in a mother's arms.

Outside St. Peter's

Our first Gelato...they got better every time!

After the Vatican we rummaged up some more energy to do the Rome Free Tour - a free nightly tour provided by local Italians!

Ahh, Trevi Fountain. I love this! I dare say it is my favorite piece in Rome!
I love how it is so full of energy, yet so still. Took my breath away.

The Pantheon. The oldest functioning church in the world -
just celebrated it's 1,400th year anniversary!
Interesting Tidbit: The columns are one solid piece of marble (unusual)
and they were pre-ordered and accidentally cut shorter than planned!
So the pediment is lower than they originally wanted it to be.
Oh, you Type 3 Romans...don't you know to double check?! 

Yummy! Lasagna.
Dinner cost almost $100. Yikes!
Fortune-ately we figured out to do meals a little cheaper.

The next morning we decided to take it a little easier. We had to catch the plane to Bulgaria by 2PM so we just went to a nearby park and rented this little bike/car thing and had a lovely time cruising around.

After returning from 4 days in Bulgaria (that post coming next) we spent another great night and day in Rome.

Yummy! Another great (and more affordable dinner) in Rome.

Enjoyed another entertaining Rick Steves' audio tour in the Forum.
Home of the Vestal Virgins. They were in charge of keeping the
Harth Fire burning at all times, and of course, were supposed to stay virgins.
Those who were caught fooling around were buried alive!! Yikes.  
Again, I just find it crazy how all these ancient ruins
 are just lying amongst a modern city!

After touring the Forum we headed over to the Colosseum. I kept thinking to myself, "It's amazing they thought of this back then!" But then I realized it's because they thought of it back then that we have what we do today, duh.

The Romans definitely were Type 3's (Italy is Type 3 still today). The Romans were all about bigger, better, and being more productive! Rick Steves' said if they were to come visit us today they would be most impressed with our freeways!

I was shocked how close the streets are to this ancient masterpiece.
Just another day in Rome driving by a 2,000+ year old artifact!

Someone's arch...Tito, Titus? Not sure.
But he conquered something and wanted me to remember...
Inside the Colosseum. Makes me want to watch Gladiator again!

Some ancient stone that has our intials on it!
 T + A = Love
(Crazy how you can just touch whatever you want, I'm used to bullet proof glass)

Emperor Nero's profile.
Tanner always says he has a Roman Nose - he is right.
St Peter in Chain's Church featuring Michelangelo's
Moses. Really beautiful.

Another beautiful thing...Giolitti's Gelato! YUMMMMMY! 
The best gelato the world has to offer.
Happiness smeared all over our faces!

...and stuck in our teeth...

And we happened upon some Italian Fashion Show. Check out that dress!

Another successful dinner!
A little black stone was on each table, we asked why...
decoration, of course.
And we returned to Trevi Fountain at night.
Throwing my coin in for a return trip to Rome! 
In "line" at Giolitti's again! 

And that's it for Rome! Ciao, bella.