I can't say that I ever envisioned traveling to Bulgaria.  The Bulgarian Fulbright Commission, however, took the initiative of hosting a teachers' conference for central/eastern European ETAs (English Teaching Assistant).  After a bit of debate, I decided that such a conference would likely provide more fodder for lesson planning and, in turn, a better experience for my students as well as my colleagues.  So, unsure of what to expect, but hopeful that it would be edifying, I set off via Vienna to Sofia, Bulgaria.

Once there, I had a prompt adventure in the city before the official start of the conference.  I was surprised by the number of ETA's present--45--which traveled from the following host countries: Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Czech Republic, and Bulgaria.  The conference was well-planned and well-delivered.  I am always encouraged when teachers teach about teaching like teachers.  Sessions included topics like advice for teaching reading, writing, vocabulary, and pronunciation.  Classroom management, lesson planning, and sample classroom activities were also presented.  In between sessions, there was time to mingle with the other ETAs.  I enjoyed gleaning from their classroom experiences as well as getting to know some people who had interesting life experiences and stories to share.  Aside from the formal sessions, the commission planned for some recreational time as well.

On the second night at the conference (Thursday) we went to a traditional Bulgarian restaurant called Vodenitsata.  There we ate Bulgarian food, listened to Bulgarian music, and saw some Bulgarian dancing.

Around the same time dessert was being served, a company of the dancers proceeded outside with an icon.  They then performed a coal-dancing ritual.  I am not entirely sure of the history, but it seems to be a ritual/ceremony connected with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

the glowing coals
The final night of the conference (Friday), we took a bus tour around Sofia.  We saw many of the sites that I had already seen in my personal journey as well as another excursion I had taken (with company this time) during a free afternoon.  However, I hadn't yet gone inside any of the buildings.  Inside of St. Alexander's church was breathtaking.  There were frescoes done in an approachable style--not so presumptuous as the Renaissance and not so iconic as the Byzantine.  Rather, they were quite unceremonious and natural.  Photos were forbidden inside, but here's a reminder of the exterior as well as some other sites we visited.

Detail outside St. Alexander's

Inside the Church of St. Sophia

The St. George Rotunda
A typical Bulgarian street  

By and large, I saw Sofia as being a typical former Soviet Bloc countries.  Communist architecture abounded and it seemed slightly depressed.  I would be curious to see other parts of Bulgaria, as it is a large country and photos which I have seen of villages and of nature have been quite lovely.  I was almost breathless on the flight in and out of Sofia, as I looked on the mountains below.  We'll see if I ever venture into this country again.


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