The end of the Belgian trip, the beginning of the Bulgarian adventure

Transitions are always a bit tricky, aren't they? In general, this one has been smooth. Two weeks ago, I was in Belgium, seeing scenes like these: 

I had a great time, telling stories, hanging around with my good friends, even learning how to take the intercity bus to a couple of schools, something I had rarely done in Belgium. Soon, though, it was time to leave. I got to the Brussels airport early, which I much prefer to late. Here's the front and back view of a laptop and phone charging station that had a different spin to it (pun intended): 

I flew from Brussels to Frankfort to Sofia. In Brussels, I noticed a man reading a Bulgarian book and then I heard him speaking Bulgarian to another traveler. It turned out we were seated next to each other on both flights! I'd changed my seats on the flights, so this was a strange serendipity. I joked that I really wasn't following them. 

In Sofia, my good friend Vesko was waiting for me. He drove me directly to his apartment, where his wonderful wife Lidia was ready with supper, a real Bulgarian welcome. We had lukanka (dry sausage), feta cheese sprinkled with paprika, homemade sauerkraut and pickled mushrooms (picked by Vesko and Lidia!) and rakia (liquor made of fruit) and raspberry juice to start, then giuvech (stew made with chicken, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and spices) with bread. I know I'm forgetting a few other things. We ate and talked and talked. I've known Vesko and Lidia since 1988 and am always struck at how we pick up our conversation just where we left off last time.

The culinary welcome continued with a fantastic breakfast the next morning: banitsa (pastry with feta and egg in phyllo dough) and yoghurt with preserved wild blueberries. Oh, and Turkish coffee. Delicious!

Vesko had a surprise for me: he had recently come across an article I wrote in 1988, which he reworked so it could be published, as well as some letters I'd written to them in 1989, when I had left my job as a Slavic librarian for a post as a children's librarian. That's when I first started telling stories.

After breakfast, Vesko drove me to my new apartment in the center of Sofia, where we met George, the son of my landlady. At last, I'm home! That is, for the next five months.

I'll describe more in my next blog post.

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. 

A short note from Belgium

Hello! I'm in Belgium. No, not Bulgaria, not yet. It's confusing, as I'm a fan of both countries and have lived in both. I'll head to Bulgaria next Saturday to start my Fulbright adventure. In the meantime, I'm in Belgium staying with my good friend Marie, who lives here but who I got to know in Bulgaria more than 30 years ago. Oh, dear, that wasn't clarifying at all, was it? 

As the eastern part of the US prepares for a storm, the first snow of the season hit us here on Saturday:

You would think from this picture that Marie lives in the country, but in fact there are houses all around. It rained all day, so here's the view now:

It's a good day to stay inside and catch up on paperwork and naps. I've been busy, telling stories in schools and at a house concert. Most of my listeners have been English as a second languag speakers, ranging from age 3 to adult. I'm always learning how to do this better, even after more than 400 performances for non-native English speakers in my career. The listeners help me by asking questions, by telling me what isn't clear to them. They also help by telling me what they do like. 

Though it has been a fun trip so far, there have been a few hiccups. As I left my house in Kansas, ready for my new tenant, we smelled gas. Uh-oh, had to call the gas company. My excellent neighbors were on hand when they arrived, so now there's no gas leak. I made the mistake of booking a school on the day after I arrived, so I was jetlagged. I took the wrong train on Tuesday, not the express, so was late for school. I hate being late! Fortunately, the teacher in charge had added a 15 minute buffer to the schedule, so I did a full show. Everybody was very kind. My sandwich at a different school didn't arrive, so a student was sent out quickly for another.

I'm reminded that usually things like this work out.

More soon, probably from Bulgaria.

Pictures from Belgium 2013

Before I leave Belgium, I want to put up some of the random pictures I took on this trip. Back to storytelling later.


Facade of a house in Brussels. Lovely, isn't it?

This was in tile above a door in Brussels. It's fairly new, I think, as opposed to the next picture.


And what a lucky door the next one is:

And here is some good advice from a wall on the same street: 

And to finish up, the Happiness Cafe. 

More on the 2013 Belgian tour

It has been a good couple of weeks here in Belgium. Yesterday I had my last two performances of the tour, at the school the farthest away. It was in the village of Limbourg, which required that I take three trains and then be picked up in the town of Verviers by the kind director of the school. Fortunately, the trains were on time on the way (delayed on the way home, but I didn't care).

This is the clock in the Verviers train station.

This is the clock in the Verviers train station.

Some of the schools I've visited have been run by native English speakers or are international in scope. Others are English-immersion schools, with primarily Belgian teachers. I have to say, all the schools were wonderful on this trip. The level of English has been mostly very good. I left each school saying, "I hope I can come back here next time!" Believe me, this doesn't always happen. I remember one school in Belgium many years ago where the level of English was very low, the staff wasn't helpful, and the administration seemed hostile. I had none of that on this tour. All of the schools were welcoming, all of the kids responded well to the stories. The hardest part is always the logistical aspect, figuring out how to get to the schools either by public transport or by the kindness of my friend Marie and her trusty Prius.

Here are a few interesting things I saw at the schools. At World International School, the main part of the building was once a house owned by a marble merchant. There was marble everywhere! Mix and match. There was even a slab of marble in front of the radiator. This is the fireplace in the staff room: 

I didn't take pictures at Collège St.-Louis in Liège, though I did last time I was there. I had a fun time with the middle-school kids there. I would have liked to get a picture of the cat in the staff break room. Apparently there are several who live outside at the school. The director prefers them not to go inside, but this one was surveying its domain by the window.

At St. Paul's British Primary School, I had time to look through the school's albums of creative projects the kids do. I didn't go up into the back garden where the children go for recess, but I could see that they have a grand time there. One teacher laughed as she told of a student who had had to change his clothes completely the day before because he was plastered in mud. The play yard is up the stairs in the second picture.


Here are a few pictures from the school in Limbourg. I'm not sure what the animal figures playing instruments are, but I did love the seahorse playing harmonica on the balcony. 


I was in the gym at this school. The door to the bathroom had an unexpected sign on it: