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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Alone Among Merry People

It is so strange being alone among crowds of merry people on a Saturday night. This happened to me after I arrived from Luxembourg around 11 pm, settled in the hotel and jumped out on the street to have a bite, a drink and a walk.

The streets of Brussels, especially those around the Grande Place were bustling with live, love and laughter. Sometimes, in Budapest, in a similar situation, I have not had the desire to mix with an obviously drunk, vulgar and boring crowd. This, it seemed to me, was not the case now.

Most people were just having fun, laughing and enjoying company and friendship. And in such a situation I had absolutely no access to this fun and laughter. I was walking alone, full of unrealized potential for merry time and a late night out.

I went to a bar which I liked during my walk two days ago. The crowd there did not disappoint me: intelligent and artistic people. I had a quick Kriek (cherry beer), listened to some lovely music and went back to the shabby hotel.


I spent the whole Saturday with Dana and Radu in Luxembourg. It’s funny it made me think of a winter evening at least four years ago when I was in Buacharest and we went out to a bar. That’s when I met Radu in fact.

The trip from Brussels to Luxembourg was quite pleasant. The two-storey train was full of students going back home for the weekend. Most of them descended in all those towns along the line, Namur being the biggest. I remembered my student years when I used to make a very similar trip from Sofia to Sliven with the 4 pm express. This trip could be such fun depending on the company. It could be long and boring of course.

The Belgium train was clean fast and comfortable, a real pleasure. However, I was thinking that some of the early 1990s Bulgarian trains fun was rooted in the compartment system. Several friends could occupy a compartment and create great atmosphere for four hours. This wouldn’t be possible in the modern types of trains which incite you to quietly discuss things.

Luxembourg is a very strange town situated in a valley and the hills and plateaus around. It’s not very densely built so in the centre - very elusive - there are huge areas of green that allow the city to breathe. Luxembourg is plagued by striking poverty, its inhabitants still being far from the EUR 50,000 per capita GDP. Not all of these poor people can afford to change their BMWs annually or to buy a big house overlooking the valley.

Today we had a fun trip around the country, first north to a nice town by the river Sure, then east to Sure’s confluent with Mosel and then south along the Mosel. The road was on the verge of being romantic but not quite so. They say the German side is better. It was great though - driving slowly, cracking jokes and listening to Bob Dylan’s Saaarah. There were small hilly vineyards by the road and the landscape used to turn more impressive when the sun managed to pierce the clouds.

In the late afternoon we hurried back to Luxembourg to visit the European Court of Justice and the European Investment Bank where there was an open doors day. It was curious but not impressive. The architecture of those buildings depresses me a bit. It smells of inefficiency and rigidity. I hope I am wrong. The important thing is that Dana feels ok there.

I liked a lot Dana’s apartment looking at a nice quiet park. And very importantly, she has a great baby foot table. I had a steep learning curve yesterday and even managed to beat them a couple of times.

I had a great weekend with friends. I hope Radu is not angry that asked him questions about my knee. It turned out that he has operated cruciate ligaments and knows things about my cartilage problem. Sorry, Radu. Thanks for everything, Dana.


Recently when people around me mention they are going to Brussels they emphasize how boring this city is and how very unappealing their trip would be. I don’t agree with this at all. I find Brussels a very interesting place to be.

I have been in Brussels for the last several days and I have enjoyed it a lot. First, the weather was excellent – sunny with a slight breeze. Then I followed Wiolka’s advise and I went to Mozart Hotel, a nice and very funny place, 50 m. away from La Grande Place. In this hotel everything is kind of fake Mozart style – sofas, chairs, walls but it is not irritating, strangely. And very importantly, there is a strong wi-fi signal in the lobby and this was very important to me knowing that I has important staff to send.

Yesterday, I saw an old friend of mine – Albena – who lives in Brussels with her son and her mother and works for the World Health Organisation. They live in a beautiful part of the city resembling a lot Paris. The evening was great and there was ‘supa topceta’ (a Bulgarian meatball soup) and steak with Bordeaux wine. Then, we all watched the Sarkozy-Royale debate which was absolutely captivating to me. No matter that they both have bouts of demagogy now and again, we have to admit that they are both very high quality politicians.

Today we finished earlier and I had a very long walk in the streets or so it felt to my ailing knee. What is very special about Brussels is that it is the perfect border city between two cultures. One enjoys the frenchness of the cafes and the restaurants as well as some parts of the architecture. However, this elegance is strictly controlled by the more austere Dutch air of some of the architecture and some of the churches. What is different in Brussels is that it doesn’t have an architectural coherence; it is a mixture of French and Dutch, Walloon and Flemish. On top of it, there is this huge European ‘quarter’ that gives it a third dimension.

I have to review the history lessons about the establishment of Belgium and the development of Brussels. It would be interesting to know how the Belgium nation has been formed after the creation of a new country in 1830 following the Napoleonic wars. I also remember that Belgium was often the freer and more liberal neighbour of France. I think Emile Zola spent some time here as well as Verlain and Rimbeaud. This evening I was looking for this pub where they shot at each other and Verlain slightly wounded Rimbeaud. Crazy people. What I found great tonight while wondering in the small winding streets is that there are so many houses that feel kind of really old not and are not fully renovated. They are not run down or dilapidated but they have some patina on them. With a little bit of imagination one goes back to the end of the 19th century or at least to the 1920s when my grandfather - Zaharia - used to stroll those streets for 5 years while studying at the Brussels Technical University. I would like so much to know where exactly he lived as well as other details from these times. It is such a pity that there are no traces from this period of his life: a time completely gone.

I find it also very cool that the city is completely bilingual. Everybody changes Flemish and French just like that. Street names are also in both languages. Hotel Mozart is on the street Marche au Fromage which is Kaasmarkt in Dutch (Cheese Market). In fact there are many streets that bear the names of different markets: coal market, fish market, etc.. I also saw a street called ‘Chair and Pain’ (Flesh and Bread). Isn’t it great? And La Grande Place: despite being such a touristic place it is also a beautiful old square. I read today on one of the main buildings that some of the houses were rebuild in the 19th century replacing buildings that were destroyed in the 1687 bombardment…….

Unfortunately, I could not go to any museum today. I tried to visit the Museum of Instruments following Albena’s advice but I was too late. I would also revisit again the Musee des Beaux Arts where I have been in 1995. I remember it had a great collection of Dutch paintings which I like a lot.

I had another positive experience today. I had to find another hotel as all the rooms were taken in my hotel for tonight. I saw a sign ‘Rooms’ and I entered. The price was suspiciously low. An African man gave me a key for room 22. It turned out to be an excellent spacious room under the roof looking at a beautiful square.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Lazy bums

We've completely neglected the blog in the past month; in Bulgaria, we couldn't log in from the slow computer in Sliven, and then afterwards we were swamped with housework and various time-consuming activities such as vaccinations, getting residence permits etc. Plus, Boris has been staying up later than usual in the past weeks, so by the time he's in bed, we just about have the energy to have dinner and watch TV/read. And tomorrow we are off to Serbia where, I guess, we won't be writing much either...

But, eventually, we will find the time to write more. Promise!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ready, steady...

On Saturday we are leaving for Bulgaria--it will be Andrej's first trip out of the country, and the first since last November for the rest of us, as pregnancies and torn ligaments conspired to keep us in Hungary :) Andrej has a very cute temporary passport, courtesy of Bulgarian embassy in Budapest and a very nice lady called Diana Todorova, who works in the consular office.

One of the aims of the trip is to get Andrej a real passport: until we do that, he can't have proper health insurance in Hungary, and, of course, we can't go anywhere. We could have opted to get him a Serbian passport here in the Embassy--they do it on the spot--but we figured it makes more sense to invest those 50,000 HUF (about 200 euros) into our plane tickets than into the Serbian budget. The prices they charge in our consular office here (and elsewhere too) are just amazing--I guess the logic is that the shittier the passport, the more they should rip you off...

We are also looking forward to seeing Ruslan's family and just relinquish cooking, cleaning and entertaining kids for about two weeks... I think we both need a break badly! It's been a month since my Mum left and, boy, was it tough at times. So now, off to take advantage of the other granny :))))

Monday, March 19, 2007

Just pictures

Hoce Boris! (Boris wants)

Boris is already so fluent in Serbian that he can express himself in long, complex sentences without any problem. However, the phrase we hear most often from him is "hoce Boris" (Boris wants)--whatever it is that you have, or do, he wants it as well. At this picture he wants to grab the camera and make photos, but generally he mostly wants food. It doesn't matter that you're eating the same stuff as he is, he wants it from your plate.

A variant of "hoce boris" is "hoce nesto" (wants something). Now, you might think that it means he wants just anything but you're wrong. Somehow, in his little head, "nesto" came to mean something sweet, a dessert or csoki or a biscuit--stuff that we hide in the storage room to save from immediate extermination. Obviously, it's hillarious when you hear him asking for "anything", as if it was some kind of defined object, but he knows he is on to something. It won't be long before he can name exactly what he wants (cokolada, keks, kolac, etc) and then it will be more difficult to act like we have no clue...

Quatro mille baci

How many kisses are too many? Lately, Boris has been very keen on kissing Andrej. When he does it once or twice, you can't help smiling and showering him with praise: "Oh, you're such a good big brother." But then he goes on and on, and the more you tell him that it's enough, the more eager he is. At some point Andrej starts crying and it all descends into a struggle of wills between us and Boris. Since we're not willing to just slap him (yet) but, instead, believe in the power of persuasion, it all just goes on ... until we manage to divert Boris's attention with something else.

Of course, we were prepared for jealousy, but I never expected it to show quite this way. It's easy to be strict if the older kid is openly aggresive towards the younger, but this "I'll kiss you until I piss you (off)" is really pretty original :)))

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

First Trip to America - Venezuela

Last month I was lucky enough to be invited to a meeting in Quito, Ecuador, South America. It was funny that this interesting trip was a part of a project that I almost refused two years ago. Well...I took the project a bit against my will but later it paid back by sending me to Kenya last year and to South America this year.

Funnily this trip was not meant to be easy. Jelica's due date was February 2nd and if Andrej had been 12 days late like Boris his delivery date would have coincided with the trip. This would have meant no trip of course.

It was a long but nice 10 hour trip with Alitalia from Milan to Caracas. I had a lot to read and after all this is so much shorter than the endless 24-hour trips from Sofia to Prague I used to make 15 years ago. We slowly approached the Carrabean Sea, islands like Barbados, Aruba and Curacao. We were almost there. Then I landed in Caracas - my first American touchdown. The airport is right next to the sea and it almost seems that the plane would land on the water. I was expecting a smoky Latin American airport but to my surprise it was modern, clean and efficient - Simon Bolivar of course. Honestly, I didn't know that much about Venezuela, maybe a bit about Hugo Chavez's crazy but successful oil-funded social policies, images of him and Castro and nothing else. I knew that Venezuela is one of those crazy left leaning semi-communist South American countries together with Bolivia (at the moment). Lucky for them they have oil so actually Chavez can deliver on his promises......

....and there is enough to be done even in Caracas and it is visible from the 40 km trip from the coastal airport up to Caracas which is almost 1000 m. in altitude. Numerous neighbourhoods are scattered on the hills and I wouldn't call them prosperous. I guess these are the Venezuelan favelas - small houses, old American cars from the 60s and the 70s, children playing baseball in the 30 degrees heat.

I came to my shabby hotel, however excellently located in the very centre, next to Bolivar square. I dropped my luggage, put on my shorts and slipped in the pleasant summer evening. I was quite tired and content to see that they are showing a free Charlie Chaplin film on the square. Children and old people were enjoying and laughing. I remembered Novo Cino Paradiso and the people watching films in Sicily. It is such a great idea to show free movies in the open air. Why don't they do it in Europe???? Then I went for a dinner - squids, squids and squids again. I am a squid maniac.

My only chance to walk around Caracas was the next morning. I woke up at 6 and had amazing 3 hours in the old centre of Caracas. I poked my nose everywhere, drank fresh juice, coffee, watched the people go to work, set up their music stands, hang around. I bought some nice Venezuelan music. In a word I was happy I chose to travel through Caracas and not through Miami. Then off I went to the airport, then Bogota, then Quito.......

Room with a view

The picture to the left was taken in mid-October, when we moved to a new apartment. At the moment, it's still the same view, only somewhat less green--but there are more and more blooming trees. We are already planning to buy nice chaiselongs and start sunbathing on the balcony; Tsvete and Juli promised to get us a barbecue so that we can throw big meat-eating parties when the nice weather comes to stay. Hurrah! That's really one thing about moving to Buda that I can't argue with--the view is magnificent, it's quiet and green, the air is different. But my heart is still in Pest, or, to be more precise, in the 6th district, around Oktogon and Opera. Maybe one day?...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Never forget

Four years ago to this day Serbian prime minister was shot dead in front of the government. I remember him as an extremely intelligent man who knew what he was doing and why; for those of us who started going to anti-Milosevic protests since early teens he was somethign like a family friend, someone you've known for years and who shared important moments with you.
On the day he was shot I was at work, and although a colleague from Belgrade told us there was shooting in front on the government, I somehow thought it was "just" an attempt and everything was fine. I went out to Costa Coffee with a colleague, chatting about this and that, blissfully unaware. When we were back in the newsroom--early afternoon UK time--I looked at the screen and saw "Reuters-Djinjdic-wounded" and news to that effect. At that point you know what's coming--in fact, you know it already happened but the news takes time to leak out; still, I hoped he would make it, he had to make it. But he didn't.
It's not like he was some kind of a Messiah who could miraculously pull Serbia out of crap it's been in for more than a decade; but he was a good man, with a boundless energy, with a heart in the right place, and he didn't deserve to die. He should have lived to enjoy his children, and have grandkids and feed pigeons on the Kalemegdan fortress. And while his assassinators are being tried (in a scandalous trial rigged with obstructions), politicians who gave an approving nod in their directions are still free and still there. Until they, too, are brought to justice--of history, if not judiciary--there's lots of unfinished business in Serbia.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Origin of Name Ruslan

There are two versions of this Old Russian name. Obviously it can be
explained only by the influence of Turkic neihgbours of Russian in 10-11 centuries. It disappeared when Russian Orthodox church began to enforce Russian to give their children only Christian names.

1. Rus + Lan = Urys Olany = Russian Child.
Lan (Olan) in Tatar-Mishar dialect means "Child".

2. Arslan=Aryslan>Aruslan>Ruslan. Arslan (Aryslan) means "Lion".

Irek Bikkinin.

P.S. At the moment the name of Ruslan is widely used by Tatars and other
ethnic minorities of Russia and sometimes even by Russians themselves.

....and by one Bulgarian:-)

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Alfold (Big Hungarian Plane)

I must be upbeat because of the coming spring as travelling to and from Belgrade I liked the Big Hungarian Plane and it moved me. I have crossed the flat stretch between Budapest and Novi Sad many times but it often leaves me without emotions. I am definately a hilly/mountainous type of person. Of course - I grew up in a place where one is constantly in visual contact with the Balkan Mountain looming blue over the town. However, crossing the Alfold this time I thought of the old times when this land was a part of a big empire, when life was slow and distances challenging, when people sang and danced, when it smelled of dust and rain and horses and fires.... The firy sun was setting over the horizon while Csaba was speeding to Budapest and I was becoming more impatient to see Jelica and my two little boys.

Smellin Spring in Belgrade

I have been to Belgrade many times but have never written anything about it. And Belgrade definately deserves it. For some reason, I feel fine in Belgrade and I feel the sweet smell of home stronger than in Budapest. It's exactly on the border between two very distinct cultures: the Austro-Hungarian one and the Ottoman/Balkan one. For many years the border between the two great empires run along the Sava River: Zemun was a part of Europe and Belgrade was administered by Istanbul's Top Kapi - a stone's throw from Asia. You can see that everywhere: architecture, politics, business, etc......

So, it was good in Belgrade this time again. We arrived almost at sunset when the hilly old town is illuminated by the red sun and you and there are some promises in the air of an interesting evening should you have energy to go out. Of course, we didn't as we had a business meeting until 9 pm and then we went to a restaurant as we were starving. The restaurant - Daco - was very cute - traditional Serbian style, quite cosy, old coats and ironing machins on the walls, each table a different tablecloth, different glass wines and dishes, old style toilet where water runs from a tin vessel. And the quality of food was so good.....

The day after we had our meeting in the building of the ex Yugoslav Federal Government. I usually don't like these communist-style buildings but it was ok actually and the hall itself was very practical.

Ok, I can write more about Belgrade but that's enough for now. It was good to smell the coming spring in Belgrade.


Back to reality

Our family is back to reality: grandma and grandpa are gone, Boris is back to normal and sometimes frugal eating, we have to cook occasionally, clean and wash the dishes. It is much much difficult but it feels real and is somehow sweeter.
That doesn't mean that I am not saying a big Thank you to my mother-in-law Snejana who has been really helpfu for the last month, has given love and attention both to Boris and Andrej and most importantly has freed us from house chores and allowed us to take care of Andrej. A big Thank you goes to Dragan too who's been here for at least a week and whose priceless help and energy is also highly appreciated.


Sunday, March 4, 2007

Otac na sluzbenom putu, or Murphy's law of (Ruslan's) travels

As Ruslan mentioned in the previous post, somebody in our household is bound to get sick when Ruslan is on a business trip. As if it was not difficult enough to handle a healthy child (two since January!), caring for a sick toddler can be quite tasking (especially if you happen to be pregnant, say). Colds, runny noses, ugly coughs, vomiting--somehow it all tends to strike when the capacity is low in the household. Of course, it inevitably results in nasty phone calls and a lot of frayed nerves on both sides :)

It's all made more difficult by the fact that, being expats, we have no traditional network to fall upon: no grannies, aunties, cousins and neighbors around to call for help and occasional babysitting. At least we are lucky that my Mum and sister can often come to plug the gaps; it must be real tough for friends whose parents are thousands of miles away. I hate to think about what it will be like if we move even farther away, and it seems like we might have to (or choose to) sooner than we thought... but more on that another time.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Kids are Different

Both kids are sick today. It confirms the rule that someone falls ill when I am about to go on a mission or am actually on a mission. Tomorrow I am going to Belgrade for a day and Boris was really feverish today - 39.5 degrees in the morning. We rushed to the hospital - tonsilitis and again antibiotics. His temperature didn't go down and we had to wrap him in a cold sheet. It worked. Somehow, I didn't worry as I had faith that everything would be fine. In moments like that you realise that you are a very little factor in the scheme of nature which, I hope, knows its way.

Andrej has a running nose but he takes it in such a cool manner. He doesn't resist at all the strange procedure of vacuum cleaning his nose. For those who don't know about it, there is a Hungarian invention called orr-szivo por-szivo meaning something like nose-sucker. It is a very simple tube + hose attached to a vacuum cleaner. Imagine Jelica and myself operating the vacuum cleaner at night cleaning Andrej's nose.

My point is that kids are different. While Boris was resisting the cleaning procedure with all his force, Andrej is willingly offering his nostrils. It's interesting to note that Boris has a vacuum cleaner phobia. It was one of the first words he learned. The moment Jelica or I wanted to use it he escaped to the furthest corner of the flat. When passing close to it he followed it attentively with his eyes making sure that it won't jump and eat him. I am looking forward to see if Andrej would have a similar phobia.


When the Salad Was Better

My father-in-law knows I love salads. We are getting really spoilt the last month and as a part of this conspiracy he prepared a nice tomato-cucumber-fresh onion salad this evening. It looked good and I expected it to taste good. didn't. It had no taste, the cucumbers were watery and the tomatoes were not tasty. I don't want to be again as one of those Bulgarians who say that the tomatoes taste better there. I don't know about now but they tasted better years ago. Of course, we could have such a salad 2-3 months later but what a salad it was!!! And add some meatballs on top of it like my mother prepares them. This salad and meatballs really meant spring. It meant mother and father, flavoured wind, long walks on the main street of town.



I definately don't like hypermarkets. Jelica may have lift phobia but I have hypermarketphobia. Therefore I don't know why I go there now and again. Just to remember how bad it is - it is far, there is no place for parking, there is lots of walking, things are not at all cheaper, bread is bad and same is valid for vegetables. What's more you end up loading in the basket more than you need and pay more than you would have paid elsewhere. On top of that, staff is so unkind. There is never anyone you can ask about anything. After coming home you realise you wasted 3 to 4 hours at the best for buying things you don't need and spending lots of money. In brief, hypermarkets suck. I still remember reading somewhere how hypermarkets in the 60s killed the small shops in France....And I don't even talk about the environmental aspects of hypermarkets, foods travelling 1000s of kilometres and staff....

During the very cold winter of 2001 when I had personal problems and when I felt lonely in general. In hypermarkets, this feeling was strangely amplified. I wonder why.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

It was so easy

It was so easy to start this blog....thanks to Jelica and her computer genius. I have considered starting a blog for the last year and so. Why? Get in touch with some friends, share some thoughts show some pictures and hopefully, one day...get some feedback.

I have been in blog-reading for quite some time now and I find it really interesting to read people who are often extremely intelligent, witty and funny and who wouldn't have made it to the mainstream media otherwise. Of course, if you get hooked it may eat up all your time as one blog leads to another to another to........

See you around!

In a way of explanation

Here we are, jumping on the blogging bandwagon! I was truly inspired today reading our friend Pavel's witty and interesting stories about life with two charming ladies, Maia and Emese; I mean, it's not like we haven't considered starting a blog even before, but I guess none of us had enough enthusiasm to think it through. But today we put both our minds (and hearts) to it, so here we are.

Stay tuned!