December 7, 2008

Homemade Meals and Whiskey
Nova Zagora, Bulgaria

This, our seventh night in Nova Zagora, is set to be our last. There was certainly some discussion between me and Tatiana about our departure—especially since our warmhearted hostess (Mariyana) wished us to stay longer. But word came from our next pair of hosts that an early CouchSurfing Christmas party in the prominent southern city of Plovdiv was taking them out of town on the 11th.

If we don't leave tomorrow, relocation to this town (which is day-trip striking distance from the only touristy city I wish to visit in Bulgaria) wouldn't be able to happen for at least a week—and I believe us to be at the tipping point for our time here as it is.

There've been plenty of wonderful aspects to our time here, as there have been some challenging ones.

Mariyana has really gone out of her way to cook for us some wonderful meals—truly above and beyond, considering that she leaves for work (at a shopping mall in a neighboring city) before daybreak and doesn't return home until an hour or two before midnight. Her scheduled off days are rather erratic at best, but when she had them we've greatly enjoyed her company.

'Grandpa' asleep with Aidric

But because of Mariyana's intense work schedule, we were left alone in the company of her father for the bulk of our stay in Nova Zagora. This was both enjoyable and challenging, as the aging fellow spoke zero English (and unfortunately had limited patience for trying to communicate non-verbally). Tatiana, referred to as 'Tanya' by this man, was often caught up or dragged into his antics (as she had initially taken an interest in trying to learn some Bulgarian from the man), when she really wanted nothing more than to have some private time.

Private time is something that we (both as a couple and individuals) need from time to time, but the size of the snug home complicates things a bit (as does the father's limitless free time). A closed door doesn't mean much to this man, who'll just come in to get Tatiana or see Aidric without knocking.

Homemade whiskey refill

It sounds a bit silly, but one of the more trying aspects of our time in the home revolved around grandpa's homemade "whiskey". Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't what I'd personally call whiskey (which I don't even like in the first place). He keeps plastic jugs of the stuff in the back of the house, with a piece of wood tossed into the mix to give it an amber color.

With each and every meal—at least three times a day—we were poured a glass of his moonshine. No, not a shot, but a glass full. And he would get snippy and very insistent if/when we didn't want to drink all down. Sorry, but starting my morning off with a belly full of homemade whiskey just isn't a phase of my life I've reached yet.

But gentle grandpa was absolutely in love with Aidric, which Mariyana said (with a laugh) was only going to be a problem for her when we left (as she gets enough pressure from him to get married and have kids as it is). And our hostess and Tatiana had definitely had quite a bit of fun together running around doing a bunch of girly stuff when time allowed.

This is an excerpt from the CouchSurfing reference that I'll be leaving:

The town itself isn't much to talk about, but without a doubt this home was host to some of the best eating we've had in Eastern Europe. Any traveler would be crazy to pass on Nova Zagora and miss out on Mariyana's warm heart, insightful conversation and amazing culinary delights.

Tatiana had an absolute blast doing myriad girly things with our hostess, and our nearly eleven-month-old son and Mariyana's father (aka "grandpa") were practically inseparable during the visit. Despite his complete lack of English, he was always willing to take Aidric on little "walks" around their cozy home or keep him momentarily preoccupied when we were busy ourselves. Grandpa, with his love of folk music videos, homemade whiskey and fried fish, was certainly a memorable character for Bulgaria.

In the end, we're really happy that we got a chance to know these two.


The United States


March 18th, 2010

What the old man was offering is Rakia, a grape or plum brandy that Bulgarians take pride in making and offering at special occasions. The guy was probably a good old fashioned drunk who took this hospitality a bit too far because I have never seen a Bulgarian drink Rakia in the morning.
A sip or two with lunch is perfectly ok and with dinner… 2-3 shots are the norm.
It is technically moonshine but some families make high quality Rakia.

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