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Last teaching day

Veliko Tarnovo


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Today was the last day of the language school's academic year, and so my last day of work. It has been slowly winding down for a while though - the young learner classes all finished at the end of May (when they finish their academic year) and the exam preparation classes have also already finished. I only actually had one class today; a small, absolutely lovely Elementary class which I've really enjoyed teaching. They were very kind when I was saying goodbye!

I forgot to mention it in previous blog entries, but speaking of kind goodbyes, I was taken to Stratilat Café for lunch last month by a one-to-one student as a thank you for helping her pass the CAE (Cambridge Advanced exam). After we'd finished eating she gave me a novel called 'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett, set in the 1960s and described as 'the other side of Gone with the Wind'... sounds like an interesting read! She said that she hoped I would remember her every time I read it. Of course I will - she was an absolute pleasure to teach!

Last Sunday 'R' and I had a leaving party which was supposed to be held on the terrace in the sunshine, but unfortunately for once the weather failed us and the rain forced it into my flat instead. We had a great time anyway! Lots of people came and we had loads of food - mozzarella & tomato salad with red pesto, homemade hummous, flatbreads which I cooked ultra-fresh so people could eat them straight from the pan, green salad, a ham selection, strings of preserved sausages, sirene (feta-like) cheese, snezhanka (a yoghurt & cucumber salad), bottled roasted red peppers, olives, salted & buttered popcorn... There was cake which someone made, too, but I didn't have any space left for any!

Last Thursday I paid a visit to VT's Archaeological Museum. I know it sounds a bit silly but I didn't realise it was there until only about a month ago! The entrance is quite hidden away and there is a distinct lack of signage and advertising of it, compared to other attractions here. I love visiting archaeology museums - wish I'd found out about this place a lot sooner. Anyway, although not quite at the same level as the archaeology museums in Varna and Sofia, it was definitely worth visiting. It had some prehistoric objects, finds from the nearby Roman town of Nicopolis ad Istrum (which I visited on 21st March; see my blog entry here), Tsarevets Fortress when they were reconstructing the Patriarchate Tower in the 1980s, some votive tablets and figures of gods and goddesses, some Roman toys made of clay and some other interesting artifacts.

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One or two other out-of-the-ordinary have happened within the last two or three weeks - small enough not to merit a separate blog post each, so I've saved them up to put in one together;

- A couple of weeks ago it was a very misty and cloudy day; so much so that little sun was getting through. Both windows in my kitchen/ living room area were open. All of a sudden a swallow flew inside one window, circled the room and flew out of the other! When I looked back out of the window I saw loads of them circling round. My flat is on a ridge with valleys on both sides, so I have a wonderful view. I'd never seen so many swallows in the air in one place before, let along so high up yet level with my eyeline.

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- A week or two before the swallows incident, I was sitting in my flat doing something or other when suddenly I heard a voice on a loudspeaker getting louder and louder and then fading away. I rushed to the window and looked down but I was just too late to see what was going on. Ten minutes later it came back again and I saw that it was a circus advertising ploy - a small truck with colourful billboards on the back. It was clearly going round the town in circles, raising awareness. The third time it came round I was ready with my camera and managed to get a picture.

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- Two Friday evenings ago there was a Sound & Light Show with the accompanying soundtrack available to all - not sure what the occasion was (usually the soundtrack, apart from the bells, is only for a group of paying customers). It was a lovely balmy evening with a clear crescent moon. It was wonderful to hear and watch the show again, though bittersweet for me because I knew it was probably the last time I would hear it.

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As I said, tomorrow I am off to my first post-work travel destination; Skopje, Macedonia! I will have to go via Sofia. This is my plan for the next month and a bit; all of this worked out by ourselves, as we are travelling independently rather than with any tour company.

Veliko Tarnovo - Sofia - Skopje (Macedonia) - Sofia & maybe Mount Vitosha (Dave joins me here) - Veliko Tarnovo - Istanbul (Turkey) - Cappadocia - Izmir - Selçuk - Ephesus - Selçuk - Izmir - Istanbul - Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria) - Sofia (Dave flies home) - Veliko Tarnovo - Bucharest (Romania) - Sighișoara - Budapest (Hungary) - Home (UK).

Now that I've finished writing this, time now to down the road with 'R' to meet up with the other teachers for a drink or two at The Bestseller. A cocktail I think, or some Kahlua on ice or Malibu & Diet Coke.

Posted by 3Traveller 06:20 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged parties birds museum bulgaria veliko_tarnovo english_teaching fortifications roman_remains tsarevets_fortress bulgarian_cuisine Comments (0)

Veliko Tarnovo Day celebrations

Veliko Tarnovo


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Veliko Tarnovo Day - the birthday of the city, when religious figures, a military band and schoolchildren parade through the town with pennants, icons, flags, black-and-white photos of the city's benefactors, a long green garland, music and colourful balloons.

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The mayor gives a speech and presents newly appointed honorary citizens. There's a carnival atmosphere in the air, with free concerts in front of the Municipal Hall and street stalls nearby.

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After dark a party truck sweeps down the main street and along to the plaza in front of Tsarevets Fortress with a crowd in tow, partying to the music blasting from the loudspeakers.

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Later that night, fireworks light up the sky...

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...and an amazing laser and 3D-imaging show is displayed on the hill of the Assen Monument.

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I enjoyed all of the above very much. The weather was perfect and everything was impressive. For the laser and 3D-imaging show, Gurko Street was so packed with people I didn't even attempt to get near the front; I went back up to the main street instead, where I viewed the show from one of the plazas that looks out over the river and the Assen Monument.

The almond trees are blossoming - very picturesque.

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On the main street at the moment there are some wonderful photos of Veliko Tarnovo displayed. I took these photos of them as I returned home after the parade.

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Last night I went to a short, free concert by the Veliko Tarnovo Brass Band, part of the Veliko Tarnovo Day weekend celebrations. It was OK, but there was no heating on in the building for some reason, so we all got distracted by the cold! The band had a guest jazz soloist called Theodosii Spassov, who is apparently very well known in Bulgaria. I simply could not work out what instrument he was playing - it looked very like a clarinet from the distance, but it sounded like a cross between a clarinet, flute and recorder. It sounded quite breathy. I only found out later that what he was playing was actually a kaval - a type of end-blown flute traditional to the Balkans and Anatolia. Sometimes he combined playing that with a type of singing, humming and other strange vocal noises. The pieces they played were a little bit samey to be honest, but I'm still glad I went, because it was an interesting experience.

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Posted by 3Traveller 04:47 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art parties bulgaria procession veliko_tarnovo fortifications tsarevets_fortress gurko_street assen_monument Comments (0)

Happy birthday!

Veliko Tarnovo


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After a lie-in and breakfast, we had a really lovely video chat with Mum. During the chat we opened our presents to each other and from Mum - amongst other things, I got some fascinating-looking books which I can't wait to read; Alexander von Humboldt's 'Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Region of the New Continent', a Folio Society copy of Francisco Núñez de Pineda y Bascuñán's 'The Happy Captive', a Hakluyt Society's copy of 'Pieter van den Broeke's Journal of Voyages to Cape Verde, Guinea and Angola, 1605 - 1612', Oliver Rackham's 'The History of the Countryside', Richard Cohen's 'By the Sword' and last but certainly not least, 'Wild Planet', a book of amazing photographs celebrating Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

After that we went out for a walk. The sun was out, but it was due to cloud over later. To make the most of the sun, I took Emma and Kate onto the terrace...

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...and then down Gurko Street;

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Then we popped into my workplace so they could have a look inside it (and print off their boarding cards for their return flight) and walked down the main street, Stefan Stambolov.

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We were all quite hungry by now, so I took them to a café on the craftsmen's street for some lunch. For pudding I had rice pudding and Emma and Kate shared a Diet Frumenty; they'd wanted to try this ever since I'd had it at Christmas.

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Then we did some shopping. My main present to them was something each from the craftsmen's street, within a certain budget. Emma chose an icon of St George and the Dragon and Kate chose some colourful, beautifully painted and glazed cups. I bought myself a sugar pot with two handles, which was also vividly coloured and beautifully painted and glazed. We also stopped at a tiny secondhand bookshop, where Emma bought some books but Kate and I didn't. Nearby the bookshop we found a slightly random giant chair!

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Once we got back to the flat, 'F' came round with a surprise chocolate birthday cake she'd made for us! How lovely of her. We cut it there and then, each having a slice of it with a cup of hot chocolate or tea.

At 5 o'clock I had a Google Video chat with Dave. While I was speaking to him I opened the parcel he'd sent; a box filled with a mixture of books, fancy shampoo, my universal plug adaptor that he'd fixed and an IOU for a hot air balloon trip with him! (This was also from his parents - thank you so much!) To go on a hot air balloon trip is a dream I've had ever since I can first remember.

After a little rest, Emma, Kate and I went out for dinner at Han Hadji Nikoli. We all ended up ordering the same things; tarator to start and then chicken breasts stuffed with mozzarella and wrapped in prosciutto, with vegetables and a baked potato with garlic butter and rosemary. We were all too full for dessert!

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From Melodie Bar we all went on to Lino Bar, which has pool tables and electronic darts; the pool tables were all booked up until late, so some of us played darts while others sat down and had more drinks. The last bar we went to was Sammy's, next door. Here I just had a hot chocolate. When we left here the heavens had opened; it was pouring with rain. Instead of getting a taxi, however, we walked/ ran from roof shelter to roof shelter, avoiding the streams of water coming off the roofs or out of pipes, until we reached the flat.

Posted by 3Traveller 22:57 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged parties sisters dave cocktails bulgaria mum veliko_tarnovo han_hadji_nikoli gurko_street extreme_weather birthday_celebration Comments (0)

World Cup Final, leaving drinks and my last day at work

Guayaquil


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Earlier today we all met up at someone's flat to watch the World Cup Final and have a barbecue buffet at the same time. Germany was my seeded team in the teachers' World Cup sweepstake, so I ended up winning $50! Thanks Germany!

Yesterday evening I went out for my leaving drinks with my now-ex colleagues. We started off at Arthur's Café in Las Peñas. Although the food took a long time to arrive, it was good, and we had a fantastic view of the river and the lights of Guayaquil round the curve of the bay. A supermoon was out and we also caught sight of the Captain Morgan ship (which turns into an all-you-can-drink floating bar on weekend nights) sailing up and down.

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From Arthur's Bar we climbed to the top of Cerro Santa Ana next door, going up the steep steps and paths round the side and back of the hill rather than the main ones at the front. My idea was to take some photos from the terrace at the top before stopping in at different bars on the way down. I remembered the only time I had tried to do this on a night out before, the terrace turned out to be closed to the public after midnight, so I was keen to get to it before then this time around.

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To my joy, when we got to the terrace the lighthouse was still open, so I climbed to the top of that and took in the amazing views of the terrace and chapel directly below me and then spread out before me the lights of the city, the bridge joining Guayaquil with Daule and the darkness of the River Guayas and Isla Santay.

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The upside to the often oppressive year-round hot and humid daytime temperature of Guayaquil is that after dark, even in the middle of the night, it is never ever even the slightest bit too cold. Permanent t-shirt weather. The humidity goes down and when there's a bit of a breeze going, like there was tonight at the top of the hill, it is pleasantly balmy. Although I was happy and having a great time with the rest of the group, at the same time it felt slightly poignant at the top of the lighthouse because I knew it was almost certainly the last time I'd be in that position with this view.

From the upper terrace we moved on to the lower one and found seats outside on the terrace of the wooden Puerto Pirata bar, 'the pirate ship'. We spent quite a while there, with the lighthouse looking over us, before we moved on down the hill.

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We stopped at a succession of small quirkily decorated bars, including one where I saw two dressed-up clowns in full makeup sitting in a corner having a drink together (!). Our final stop was slightly bigger bar with a dancefloor we took advantage of for a while before heading home in taxis.

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On Friday 11th I had my last teaching session; my Friday class of public sector English teachers from 5 - 9 pm. It was quite touching at the end because the students were all really nice, despite the fact that I've only had them for three once-a-week classes. One of them even said "you're a best teacher!" (sic)... during the break halfway through the lesson, one of them (who is a head teacher, out of interest) told me she loved the activities in class because they were funny... I wasn't 100% certain what she meant, because something I've noticed a lot of students do here is use the word 'funny' when what they mean is 'fun' - but I didn't think it quite appropriate to make her elaborate in that situation. I suppose it was still complimentary whether she meant 'enjoyable' or 'amusing'! I just smiled and said thank you and that it had been a pleasure for me to teach them, which is true.

It was an eventful class in other ways as well. Within the first hour I looked up at one point because I saw through the window out of the corner of my eye two people standing on the staircase outside the classroom looking down; standing there were two ex-students of mine that I had in FCE (First Certificate of English) prep classes on Saturdays until I went on holiday with Dave! It looked like they really wanted to speak to me, so I put my head outside the door to have a quick word. They seemed startlingly excited to see me. It turned out that they were just about to take the speaking part of the FCE exam. A few encouraging words were in order before I returned to my class.

Not long after that, 'I' from receptionists/course co-ordinators came in with a phone to take some photos of me and the class to put on the school's Facebook page to commemorate the fact that it was my last teaching day here. After the official photos had been taken, some of the students made her take photos with their phones as well.

During the class I had them doing role plays to practise doing the different parts of the PET (Preliminary English Test) speaking test. Lots of moving chairs around and changing between being the examiner and one of the candidates. Hopefully they are a lot more aware now of what type of activity they have to do for each part, and how to do them.

I leave for Loja tomorrow; I won't be in Guayaquil again until the 24th.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:30 Archived in Ecuador Tagged parties night football barbecue ecuador guayaquil explorations english_teaching cerro_santa_ana las_peñas Comments (0)

Night out in Guayaquil: the floating 'Captain Morgan'

Las Peñas and the River Guayas

Update from January 2019: The boat is still there, though officially known as 'Barco Morgan'. I didn't mention it below, but it did and as far as I know still does more normal daytime river trips during the week and I assume at weekends as well (don't quote me on this though).

At the Malecón in Guayaquil there is a wooden boat docked called the Captain Morgan, which on Friday and Saturday nights becomes a floating bar. It leaves at 11.30 pm and sails up and down the River Guayas for a couple of hours; you pay $15 to get in and then it´s all you can drink for free.

A group of us decided to give it a go. Before we went got on the Captain Morgan we had a few drinks at Las Peñas. We met up in a bar called 'La Taberna', somewhere I had never been to before. It was a very interesting place because the walls were covered with laminated photographs and framed newspaper pages and articles that looked decades old.

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There were also antique telephones and gramophones, old Latin American records in their sleeves, a collection of empty cigarette packets stuck onto part of one wall and two flatscreen TVs showing some very eccentric and low-budget-looking cumbia, reggaeton and merengue videos and some recordings of salsa nightclub performances. Part of a U2 concert was also shown. There was a giant inflatable Pilsener beer bottle outside the entrance.

There were no drinks menus; the owner simply brought over pitchers of beer and some chilled glass mugs. There were some bottles of spirits behind the bar but I decided to leave it and not bother having anything to drink considering the free bar I knew I'd have on the Captain Morgan.

After leaving La Taberna we walked down the Malecón to the Captain Morgan. I saw this bird on the way (apologies for the rubbish quality: I didn't want to scare it away by using flash).

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We'd arrived half an hour early so some of us went looking for food... For some reason the only food I'd had that day so far was a couple of empanadas in the morning and a chocolate brownie in the afternoon, so I was starving.The only open place nearby was McDonald's, so we went there. It was only the second time I'd been to a McDonald's in Ecuador. I had a small fries and a 'Thick & Crispy' burger because it looked like a plain double cheeseburger with a bit of special mayonnaise and what I assumed was crispy bacon inside... Once I bit into it I discovered that it wasn't bacon at all but pieces of pork scratching!

The boat trip was a great experience. It was interesting to see Guayaquil from a different viewpoint and after dark.

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We did a lot of dancing and took advantage of the free bar. Aside from beer they didn't have much else apart from vodka, whiskey, rum and mixers, so I had a rum & Coke and two whiskey & oranges.

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The boat came back to port between 2 - 2.30 am. I got a taxi back with some of the others who live in the same end of town. Unfortunately when I arrived back I realised I didn't have my phone anymore - I think it must have fallen out of my pocket in the back of the taxi or when I used the facilities just before we disembarked.

Posted by 3Traveller 03:37 Archived in Ecuador Tagged parties birds night ecuador guayaquil las_peñas malecon_2000 river_trip river_guayas Comments (0)

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