Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sofia, Bulgaria

Did you know that Bulgaria is well known for yogurt? There’s plain yogurt, yogurt dip, yogurt drink with black pepper…..
After our arrival, we went off to explore downtown. The hotel map would have been helpful except the streets were listed in English but all the street signs were in the Bulgarian cyrillic alphabet (similar to Greek writing). Luckily our travel guide helped us break the code and we managed to get ourselves around!
Bulgaria fun fact…the yes and no head motions are reversed here. If you ask for something and intuitively shake your head up and down for the response they will assume you don’t want it and take the item back!
On our way to Sofia’s iconic site, the Aleksander Nevski (a Swedish born, Russian warrior) church we stopped off for some pizza - there are tons of pizzerias everywhere - and people watching at an outdoor café. After we got to the impressive church and had our look around, we wandered through the souvenir stands, which were selling anything from handmade wooden bottles containing rose oil, (Bulgaria are the world-wide producers of), to Olympic medals and Nazi paraphernalia.
Later that night we met up with some colleagues for a traditional Bulgarian dinner at a restaurant called Pod Lipite, which roughly translates to Linden or Lime Tree. I try to be adventurous with food in new countries, but this menu was a bit beyond my limits. It included things like chicken hearts (a bit chewy and not too tasty), pig intestines, and cow tongue! At least there was a great ambience in the place, very rustic stone walls, plain wooden tables, and a people in traditional dress playing the gaïda, a type of bag pipe.
The next day we had a live TV appearance to promote our show. My nerves got going when they put me into makeup, and although was awkward having translator (male nontheless) just behind me talking over everything I said, it was a very unique experience for sure!
The rest of the week was rather non-eventual as I was working, but at least my office had this beautiful view of Mt. Vitosha.

We did managed to check out some Bulgarian nightlife too at Club Candle. It seemed very loungy/laid back outside, but inside a “private party” raged on. Our persistence eventually paid off and we got to the dance floor where we finished up our night rocking it out to some Snoop Dogg and showing those Bulgarians how to move! All in all it was a fun trip to Bulgaria, I just wish I hadn't lost my stupidly expensive mobile phone in the taxi on the way to the airport, but you have to take the travel ups with the travel downs!

Back to the USA

First order of business --- diet coke! Surprisingly, it didn’t really feel all that strange to be back although I was very happy with the ease of communication.
The best part, besides being able to see my family, was hearing all about how much expansion our company is doing and knowing that I’m a part of it now. Our VPs put together a really nice video of our work with a photo collage that really made me realize just how eventful my time over here has been so far! And, of course, having our full team together was also very cool (in the team photo, from left is me, Charles, Jim Campbell, Gerry the boss, Rixt, Maria, Tom, Jim Moseley, and Steven).
The rest of the week was extremely busy with meetings, social functions, and a team building course that was a lot of fun. I once again challenged my fear of heights with an elevated contraption, which required careful balance and a very unflattering harness.
There wasn’t much rest for the weary this week, but the time I managed with my parents and Gram on the weekend was extremely nice and much needed! It was tough leaving them, but the show must go on. Now, it’s back to work in E. Europe ……

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bratislava, Slovakia

My first visit to Slovakia, a country known for folk traditions and beautiful women was to the capital city of Bratislava. You can see & feel that there is still much progress to be made to get this country completely out from under the dark cloud of communism, but this is a very old city with nice people, delicious food, medieval buildings, many unique statues, and extremely energetic kids who loved Winnie the Pooh!
There weren’t any direct flights from Amsterdam so I flew to Vienna, Austria and was driven the 1 ½ hours to Bratislava. Crossing over the Slovakian border there was an immediate change in the atmosphere, the lush green countryside and brilliant red, wild flowers were still there but the cute, colorful, cottages of the Austrian villages were replaced with drab gray, concrete, block buildings. My driver, Jozef a Slovakian around my age, explained that it was like living in a rabbit cage.
Shortly after arrival, I was off to the Incheba Expo Center for our opening night. All went very well with a nearly sold out audience of dancing and singing kids who just couldn’t get enough of their beloved Macko Puf. At the end it was like a kiddie mosh pit in front the stage!
After the show, a group of us went to the old centre for dinner. It was difficult finding a place still serving food at the late hour, but there were plenty of restaurants, cafes, and bars to choose from. After walking around for at least an hour and asking just about everyone and anyone we encountered for suggestions we settled for a pizzeria. The place had a very rustic ambience of cobblestoned walls and cave-like rooms.
The next morning I hit the hotel gym for a work-out, but was quickly disappointed to find that nearly all the equipment was no less than 10 years old. It didn’t seem to bother the Slovaks though, as there were at least 30 people crammed into a work out area that was only slightly bigger than my hotel room! I settled for the archaic stationary bike and people watching next to the pool. In the afternoon I escaped the heat of my non-air conditioned room and went for a walk around the old centre with some friends. We stopped for lunch at a traditional restaurant where I went for the “farmer’s lunch” of cabbage gnocchi with schnitzel.
My last night in town we tried going to the UFO restaurant over top the New Bridge, but were turned away because of a private function. Instead we hit a local Irish pub and drank some giant Hoegaarden beers.
My visit to Slovakia ended on Saturday when I returned to Amsterdam for a 12 hour stop over and luggage re-pack before leaving for annual company meetings in the US!

Dubai…Take 3

I’m not usually a fan of returning to the same place multiple times, for fear it will slowly lose it’s luster, but Dubai is one city that I find myself enjoying more and more! This time back, it was show time so I had plenty of people to go on new explorations with and exploring we did! The highlights included indoor skiing at Ski Dubai, fun in the sun at Wild Wadi Waterpark where water currents propel you up the slides so you barely have to do any work, a yacht cruise around the Palm Islands and the Burj Al Arab hotel, a house party with our local partners, mainly of Indian nationality, and the multiple brushes with adolescent royalty of the United Arab Emirates! I know this last one sounds extremely interesting, however the “royals” turned out to be pretty regular looking kids. The only difference was they arrived in custom made Mercedes, a fleet of nannies with them, and when they asked for to meet Mickey they got to meet Mickey.