Thursday, January 19, 2012


An hour after nightfall, we arrived in downtown Sevilla, and began navigating to our hotel located in the labyrinthine old neighborhood of Santa Cruz. Little did we know that, in some places, the streets were only inches wider than the car, and hairpin turns were around every corner. After an hour of the most stressful driving experience of our lives, Judy managed to park the car like a pro, and we made our way to the hotel a few blocks away.
A bit shaken, we decided that we simply could not end our first night in Seville on such a silly note, so we began researching places to see the city's famed flamenco in action. Our search inevitably led us to Triana, the gypsy district, and the tiny bar called Casa Anselma, where we were told flamenco occurred genuinely and spontaneously. Immediately after arriving, we found it to be true, as a small band played flamenco classics in the corner while the packed bar sang along, and whoever felt the urge would set down their drink and saunter up to the front to dance in a space scarcely larger than a phonebooth. Anselma sashayed around, swinging her embroidered shawl, jovially taunting and teasing her guests - her deep and raspy voice overpowering the bar-chatter. Moments later, the entire bar went dark and Anselma herself led all in a sung prayer to the virgin - a small icon on the mantle which was lit by electronic candles. Afterwards, many of the patrons filed out of the bar, which allowed us to squeeze our way to the front and take a seat next to the band. For the next few hours we sat transfixed by the energy, and time seemed to dissolve away without our knowing. By the time we left, it was well past three in the morning, and it was only then that we realized how exhausted we were from the day's travels.
The next morning, we decided to wander through Seville without any real destination in mind, and soon found ourselves enchanted by the unique nature of the city - from it's ornate gardens and parks, to its magnificent architecture. We took in such sights as the famed Catedral de Santa María de la Sede (the largest Gothic structure in the world), and the Alcázar, enjoyed the scent of roasting chestnuts, and even stumbled upon a flea market in a small courtyard.

We also explored Seville's bustling downtown area, where modern department stores and clothing chains are intermingled with classic storefronts selling handmade clothing and antiques. We even had a food fight with some cheeky girls in a cafe, before exchanging notes (which we wrote in Spanish, and they wrote in English) as impromptu language practice.

That night we decided to witness the other end of the flamenco spectrum, and purchased tickets to a performance at La Casa de la Memoria - the venue widely considered to show the best flamenco in Seville. Shortly after six, we filed through the front door and into a beautiful 18th century courtyard, dimly lit, and overgrown with ivy. There were only about seventy seats in two rows around the perimeter of the courtyard, with a ten-foot square stage in center of the room. Once everyone was seated, a singer and a guitarist entered the room, sat down behind the stage, and began to play. After a few songs, a female dancer entered the room and took to the stage. For the next hour, our eyes did not move from the stage as she danced, later accompanied by an equally skilled male dancer. Together, they cultivated an atmosphere unlike anything we'd ever felt before, each working in perfect unison with the others.

Shortly after the show, we walked to a nearby restaurant, Vineria San Telmo. Each of us ordered three tapas, shared a bottle of wine (all for less than fifty euros), and concluded before it was even over that it was the best meal of our lives. So good in fact, that we extended our stay in Seville until the afternoon of the next day, just so we could go back for lunch.


After exploring Madrid, we decided to rent a car and travel with Judy to explore Andalucía. The first day, we drove all the way to Sevilla, stopping once along the way for a quick walk in Córdoba's historic center. Within minutes of stepping onto Córdoba's beautifully-paved streets, we were well aware that we entered an entirely different atmosphere than the one we'd come to know in Madrid. The houses were whitewashed, the streets lined with orange trees, and the Moorish influence on the culture could be felt everywhere. We gradually made our way to La Mezquita, upon Bethany's recommendation, along the way stopping to enjoy the varied architecture, including an old stable that was busily preparing for a show on Andalucian horses.

Within forty-five minutes, we had reached La Mezquita, famous for its red and white arches, and transitory history - starting out as pagan temple, which became a mosque, which became (and remains) a cathedral. The vast interior features over eight-hundred (of the original nine-hundred) arches, many of which had been brought from other regions in the Mediterranean and beyond. It was an incredible vision to behold.

Refreshed by our jaunt through Córdoba and with the sun falling from the horizon, we piled back into the rental car and readied ourselves for the short drive to Sevilla.

On to Spain

Upon arrival back in Sofia, we made our way back to Hostel Mostel, where we again traded portraits for the guests in exchange for two night's stay. We also had the chance to explore Sofia a bit before catching our flight out of Bulgaria, and managed to find some interesting antique shops and cafes while walking the golden streets of the old downtown area. The unique yellow pavers were supposedly a wedding gift to Tsar Ferdinand from the Austro-Hungarian royal family, in the early 20th century.

Our red-eye flight from Sofia to Madrid was exhausting, but made easier by our excitement at meeting Roy's aunt, Bethany, and Catherine's mom, Judy, in the Spanish capital. Bethany had been living in Spain for the last twenty years, while Judy had made the decision to come over and visit us for a week to celebrate the holidays. Our first night in Madrid, the four of us wandered the Barrio de Las Letras - guided by Bethany - and had a delicious, authentic meal at a popular local's place. The following two days were spent wandering the comfortable, cafe-filled neighborhoods adjacent to our hotel, and of course, visiting the Prado and Reina Sofia, where we saw such impressive works as Goya's Black Paintings and Picasso's Guernica. We also unexpectedly chanced upon an incredible (and free) retrospective of Eugene Delacroix's work at the Caixa Forum, an interestingly restored building located directly adjacent to a massive living wall - it turned out to be our favorite exhibition in Madrid.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Farewell to Bulgaria

Soon after completing our installation in Ivancha, it came time for us to leave UFO Studios and make our way back to Krushevo. Solemnly, we packed our bags and said goodbye to the animals, the space, and to our host, Margaret, who we'd grown close to and come to know as a friend. It was a long bus ride back to the Rhodopes in the southwest, and full of thoughts of what we had left behind in the rolling hills and fields of the north.

Upon arriving back in Krushevo, we immediately fell back into the space we had inhabited before we left, only this time we were greeted by the presence of two other workawayers - Anne-Lene and Elisabeth from Berlin - with whom we quickly made friends. Within a week of our return, all of us were invited to another wedding. However, on this occasion we were guests of the bride, and the wedding was to take place in a nearby town called Debren. Much like the wedding before, we had a lovely time dancing and feasting on the usual Bulgarian cuisine.

We were also fortunate to be greeted by wonderful weather in Krushevo, which allowed us to quickly get to work on Lily and Yan's cordwood building. In just a few days work, we managed to finish off a few of the walls by an interesting method somewhat similar to slip-forming (but without the rocks). With two pairs of extra hands around it was quick work, and we enjoyed the practice in natural building techniques.

With Thanksgiving approaching, we decided to treat our hosts and housemates to an authentic American holiday meal and set about gathering ingredients (many of which proved to be difficult to find). When the discussion of a Thanksgiving bird came up, Lily and Yan remarked that four of their chicks had grown into cockerels and were now at an age where they would begin to compete and fight with each other, as such they suggested the largest of them might make a good turkey substitute. The day before Thanksgiving, Lily walked us through the procedure and together we dispatched and prepared our first bird - it was a grim experience, but one that made us appreciate the offering of meat in a new light. Catherine prepared the meal almost single-handedly while the rest of saw about other tasks around the property, and it turned out to be one of the best meals we'd had in all our travels.

Photograph by Anne-Lene.

With the weather holding up, and the date for the girls to move on approaching, we decided to take a farewell hike together through the nearby hills. Careful not to disturb the flocks and guarding karakachans, we spent the day exploring forests and meadows. Towards the end of the hike we found a frozen waterfall which doubled as an excellent (although somewhat terrifying) slide, which ended up injuring all of us in various ways. It was a worthy price.

It was tough to say goodbye to the girls (though made easier by their convincing us to buy tickets to visit them in Berlin), though not long before we were met by some new workawayers in Luke and Lainey from the UK. Just like it's supposed to be, Roy and Luke bonded over chopping wood, while Catherine and Lainey bonded over knitting and making jam.

In the fews days before leaving Bulgaria, Catherine painted a couple murals for people in the village. One, life-size, in the living room of a woman's house, depicted a tropical island with her two grandchildren playing in the sand. In return for the painting, she stuffed us with traditional Bulgarian dishes and gave us bags full of terlitsi, socks, walnuts, and other beautiful things she had made by hand. Catherine also painted a tree of life mural on the door of the village shop, as a way of giving back to the store-owner, Angelina, who would always give us free coffees and beers whenever we stopped by.

Our last evening in Krushevo was spent around the small wood-stove in the village store. We all sat around it in a circle, and used our usual combination of minimal Bulgarian vocabulary and enthusiastic charades to say our goodbyes and recount stories from our stay in the village. Catherine was finishing off a crocheted sweater for her niece, and during the evening she was given more handmade clothes to send back for the baby girl. Fatme, the pattern keeper and master knitter, had made an amazingly intricate hat with leaves curling up the sides, as well as a beautiful pair of cabled terlitsi. We gave out chocolates to everyone who came into the store, as is tradition in Bulgaria when one is making an announcement, and were given blessings of fortune and health in return. At the end of the evening, we said another hard goodbye to the small community that had taken us in and given us so much.

The last difficult parting came in the morning, as we hugged our generous, long-time hosts and new friends. The goodbyes were short and to the point, as one would expect in Bulgaria, but no less heartfelt. Yan drove us to Gotse Delchev, where we would catch our final bus to Sofia.