Whew. What an amazing five months it has been here in Bulgaria. Even though I'm almost packed and have just ordered the taxi for o'darkhundred tomorrow morning, I still can't believe I'm leaving. Didn't I just get here? 

Most of all, I feel deeply thankful for the chance to have a sabbatical, to be able to spend five months doing research and spreading the word about storytelling in a country I love, often in a language I love. It has been a luxury to have five months without anxiety about when my next gig might come in. 

Let me back up to a week and a half ago. As my brother Mark and sister-in-law Sarah were visiting, I took a few days off, traveling with them to Balchik on the Black Sea. We flew to Varna and took a crowded minibus an hour up the coast to Balchik. I asked around about where our hotel was. A young woman named Kremena grabbed my phone to call a taxi, running back to a little streetside pub to ask for the number. She was having trouble with it, so I took the phone back (whew) and called the hotelier, who came to pick us up. [Unsolicited plug: if you're ever in Balchik, I recommend the Family Hotel Magnolia. Say hello to Ivan for us.] 

Balchik is known mainly for two things: Queen Marie of Romania's Quiet Nest Palace, pictured below, and the Botanical Garden.

Queen Marie of Romania's Quiet Nest retreat

Queen Marie of Romania's Quiet Nest retreat

The palace was built between 1926 and 1937, at a time when Balchik was part of Romania. It's a beautiful spot. There are lots of stories about Queen Marie, who was a strong and independent woman, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Was this her love nest? Did she die of cirrhosis, or was it in fact pancreatic cancer (more likely, as she didn't drink)? She was a fascinating character. Here's one of the views from behind the Palace:

She had a sitting room that looked out over the sea. Truly a quiet nest.

And a giant tomblike tub:

The Botanical Garden was lovely and peaceful. These steps lead up from the Palace to the garden.

Is this small Stonehenge in homage to Queen Marie's English roots?

The garden is known for its cacti:

We were only in Balchik for a couple of days and didn't swim, but we did wade. As this next picture shows, the Black Sea isn't actually black, but blue-green in many shades. We hit perfect weather and not too many tourists, mostly Russians and Romanians. 

Even though it was a short visit, it was relaxing. We wandered and read and ate and chatted. On Saturday, we took the bus back to Varna, then another bus to Veliko Turnovo, where I helped Mark and Sarah get a taxi to a hostel. I got back on the bus and returned to Sofia for a little more work. They toured around Veliko Turnovo and Plovdiv for a few days before joining me again at home. Home? Yes, Sofia—and this apartment—definitely has been home for the last five months. I'm going to miss this place. 

I've got plenty more pictures. Look for more blog posts soon, after I get back stateside. 


Disclaimer: This is not an official Fulbright Program publication. The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.