Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What do you miss most about home?

When I ventured into the thrill of being an ex-pat, the one thing I was very sober of was the fact that I won't be able to speak fluently. Despite months of learning English diligently, I KNEW I will have to relearn it once I land on American land. At home I took pride with my ability to play with my language and I knew I was going to miss this fun. Aside from that I was head over heels about what my new life would be like...I was 100% curiosity.
So it came a bit as a surprise when a few months down the road new colleagues and friends asked me 'What do you miss most about home?'... Was I supposed to miss something? I almost felt guilty, but I didn't really miss much, at least not yet. Back home I had family and friends, but I also had half of my family and friends already living abroad, so...I was not really getting it...If I wanted to see someone, I could just fly and visit. If I wanted some Bulgarian food I could go to the international food shop and buy the few unique things. I really didn't feel at loss. I was actually enjoying the expanding of my world.
Many years passed by. I still find it exciting and enriching being an expat. I added a couple of countries to the list of places where I've lived...and I may easily add another one or two, if the winds change...
What do I miss most about home?
I'm not sure... but in an attempt not to sound too full of myself, I'll admit that I miss a couple of fruits we used to have in my parent's garden - quince and medlar. They are not widely popular, at least not in the States, UK and the Netherlands.
Their taste is very specific - not too juicy, not too sweet, a bit tart even. Quince and medlar are both originating from mixing apple and pear trees, but they look so different.
Quinces are large and yellow, more pear shaped. Medlars are walnut-size brown balls. Both are usually not eaten when first picked, although they are edible - the quince is too dry and tart (but I like it!) and the medlars are left to rotten - and that's when you eat them (be aware of the pits!)
Normally, they are used for jelly...the MOST flavorful and delicate jelly I could imagine! And it carries the flavor of home on a fresh authumn day, with a crispy air and generous portion of sun...and that I miss...sometimes...

(Photo from

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My first trip to Japan (Part 3)

Day 2, 24 March 2001, The Birthday

Early wake up. A long day is ahead of us. Diana asks me if I prefer tea or coffee. Coffee, I answer. With milk and sugar, or black, she asks. And now I have to smile. It's been more than 8 months since the last time someone asked me in the morning how I like my drink. Feels nice!
Somehow I don't feel any jet-lag. That's great, we won't be wasting time with it, so we head to the market - with the bicycles. To an American that may sound a bit odd, but to a Bulgarian that's fine. It's a good idea to take the bikes, because we can see more of Okazaki. Everything around me is so interesting - tiny houses, narrow streets, even the cars are miniature versions of what's driven in Europe and America. The tree crowns are chopped oddly, very short branches. It's so that they don't get blown by the winds and not to tear any electric wires. And all wires are above ground - because of the earthquakes.
We first go to the Grand Market, where most stores are American chains. Feels like back home, but wait...the grocery store is also a miniature version. Very small shopping cards, small packages. Coka-cola is nowhere to be found in a 2 liter bottle, the max is only 1 liter. The largest milk carton is also maxing at 1 liter - not like in America, by the gallon (3.78 liter). There is an abundance of food that looks unfamiliar and I can't stop asking about this and that, and the thing over there... Diana still has the patience to answer my questions, but very soon she will switch to a 'Well, I'm not entirely sure.' because even after a couple of years in Japan, she is still as lost as me at times.
After we added a cake and a box of birthday candles to the shopping card, we can call it success! We have everything needed and we are ready for the party!
Back at Diana's apartment and before the guests arrive we sit down to plan the following two days. We will go to Tokyo and visit the graveyard where Mikao Usui was buried after his last years of work with Reiki. And then we will head to the foothills of Fuji, where Diana's son could play in his favorite Tomas's land park, while we enjoy the snow covered mountain. In order to plan it all, since there is no internet in the apartment, we open a number of travel guides, maps, train schedule tables...and Diana starts reading, looking for connections, hotel to stay at, checking the distances...and I feel like an idiot, because I don't know a word in Japanese!!! My PhD is worth nothing, but at least it's fun to watch Diana figuring it out!
Next comes the party. But I'll save you the details ... the important thing is that Kliment managed to blow all 4 candles in 3 attempts...attaboy! and had tons of presents to unwrap!!!
And the adults had all kind of rice cookies and snacks, and some sushi too. You gotta love rice!
The company consisted of 4 Bulgarians, 1 Russian, 1 German and 1 Thailand lady. The last two compeated in a speedy-getting-drunk Tequila contest...The German lost! Still...a good show! :) The festivities ended around 2am ... quietly watching a Russian movie. be continued...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Making the most of Almere - a 24 hour adventure

Most times I plan my travels, weeks in advance.
Other times... I just hop in the car and drive off. That's what happened this last Friday...
I needed to escape! I needed a destination that is simple, yet not too bland; offering some quietness, yet something for my curiosity too. With the engine already on, I contemplated Rotterdam, the Delta works, Texel and finally decided to go to Almere.
Why Almere? It's not too far, it is on the IJsselmeer, a nice day-spa is in the vicinity of the city, and because it is a new city ... it's full of contemporary architecture, which I am so fond of. Enough for a day trip!
The most intriguing fact about Almere, in my opinion, is its location. Almere is on the Flevopolder which was claimed from the IJsselmeer only in 1968. IJsselmeer itself was once a part of Zuiderzee, but turned into a lake after the building of the Afsluitdijk in 1932. In a nutshell, Almere sits on a man-made island, in a man-made lake. Isn't that amazing?
I find my way to the city center easy and I pick Hotel Finn for my one night stay. After a short stroll down the street I end at the massive City Mall Almere featuring 120 shops, movie theater, restaurants, etc. Fun! But with all my respect, it looks just like any newer mall in a bigger American city. Only the people speak Dutch :)
Next stop, Thermen la Mer. Easier said than done, because my GPS failed to find it. While driving left and right, with no clear direction, I accidentally end up on the Fontanapad, a small park with excellent view of Almere's skyline. What a luck! Amazing! I snap a shot and continue.

After another thirty minutes of driving and the GPS telling me to turn where there is no road (Arg!!!!)...I call a friend for directions and finally get to the spa.
I spent four blissful hours in between a Finnish and a Meditative saunas, a Turkish bath, a swimming pool and also enjoyed delicious dinner and a drink. All my daily troubles melted away... at 90-95 dec C.
Back in the hotel a comfy bed was awaiting to offer a nearly ten hour sleep.
On the next morning I set the GPS to take me to Eilandenbuurt and Tahitistraat. There I saw some of the Gewild Wonen Expo 2001 Flexible Housing homes and also the pretty cool Exhibition Houses. To tell the truth, most of the residential areas are joy for a contemporary architecture fan like me. I snap a few shots from the car, because it feels a bit awkward taking a photo of someone's house... Imagine someone is doing it to me. Would I be thrilled? Perhaps not :-) If they only knew how excited I was to see their homes. I start wondering how they look on the inside...but I doubt I would ever find the answer to this question.

From there I took another wild shot at driving randomly and ended on the Gooimeerdijk, near by the city beach where I went for a walk. After that drove to the Muiderzand Marina - an old friend of mine. I visited the marina back in December, but the water was frozen, the boats were out of the water - they looked a bit sad on their stands, reminded me of trees without roots. Now life was back, watter glittering under the sun, wind almost pleasantly warm, boats making clinking sounds, ready to sail.

From there I took the Oostvaarderstdijk. It is not a big dike, but it's the first time I could see clearly how the land to the right is really laying lower than the water on the left. Unbelievable, but true! Windmills to the right are turning ... typical Dutch landscape.
Last stop before I head home - the Polderland Garden of Love and Fire. This place must be many times prettier when the trees are green and the sun in shining, but even now, it was very pleasant and had a very calming effect with the three canals, the minimalistic sculpture, and different trees in perfect straight rows and lines. The architect was inspired by a poem to create this project, The living flame of love, and the lines in the garden represent the connection between people in different places and times. So pretty!

With this my 24 hour adventure making the most of Almere was complete.
It was not the most exciting trip of my life, yet, it was very pleasant and relaxing. Interesting and adventurous too!

More photos? Click here :)
More info on Flevoland? Click here :)