Blagodaria (Thank you) Bulgaria

It was a long 19 hours of travel, but we made it home a couple of days ago (without missing any flights this time!). Completing fieldwork and helping the clients at the rehab center was certainly a highlight for us, but the trip in its entirety was one in and of itself as well. We introduced ourselves to the Bulgarian culture by eating their traditional meals, exploring their historical sites, walking their local streets and meeting their incredible people. We learned so much more than just about how to treat a geriatric client and additionally learned about a new culture, made new friends and built stronger relationships along the way. Our team could go on and on about how much we enjoyed this trip, but in short, we’d like to say thank you, Bulgaria, for giving us an opportunity none of us could imagine would be so impactful and memorable. Blagodaria!

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2017 Bulgaria Vision Team

Last day in Sofia

Our final full day of this trip started with us enjoying our last Bulgarian breakfast, many choosing to enjoy French toast with Bulgarian white cheese and jam eaten with a seaside view. We sadly took our last scenic pictures of the Black Sea, packed up our bags into the vans and started the 4-hour drive to Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital city. As we missed our chance to explore the city at the start of our trip, we were interested to see how the bustling cityscape compared to the rural countryside we had been experiencing most of our trip.

We started our day in Sofia with a traditional Bulgarian meal of meats, cheeses, bread and our favorite shopska salads. The serving presentation was an experience in itself as everything was served on a hanging platter from the ceiling in the center of the table. After filling our stomachs with delicious food, we toured the city visiting the Bulgarian president’s house, Serdica (architectural ruins preserved in and around the metro system), the statue of Saint Sofia and many churches, one of which was being set to host a wedding which our tour guide mentioned is normal for outsiders to attend! We also walked along the yellow brick roads that mark the center of the city and lead to the government buildings and eventually became the original inspiration for the one used in the Wizard of Oz. In search for last minute souvenir shopping and Bulgarian gelato, we spent some time at Vitosha Boulevard which we all agreed is similar to 3rd St. Promenade with its shops and eateries lining the street.

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Vitosha Boulevard

Winding down the evening, we checked into our hotel and saw the Bulgarian national soccer team at dinner. They seemed very intent at watching a live soccer match on TV so we let them be as one of our tour guides told us who they were. Being our last meal together, we presented Paul, Jackie and our two tour guides who eventually became more like friends, Emiliano and David, with cards to show our appreciation for them in providing us with such an incredible trip. Soon after, some wanted to get to bed early so they could get up in time for our early 5:15 a.m. meet time the next morning, while others didn’t want to fall asleep and savor the last bits of the trip before waking up to the reality of leaving Bulgaria.

 

‘Free Day’ in Sozopol!

A perfect day in paradise! We keep joking that every day feels like the ‘best day ever,’ like nothing could ever top it … but then the next day always does! Today was our first ‘free day’ of the trip. We woke up (late! Since we got to sleep in a little :-)) to sounds of waves crashing and views of incredibly blue water. We ate our breakfast (full of our favorite Bulgarian white cheese, of course!) seaside before venturing off to explore different areas of beautiful Sozopol.

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We managed to navigate the cobblestone streets in our flip flops as we visited local shops, walked along the boat docks, and of course spent time on the beach! Since we are here a bit earlier than Sozopol’s high season, we had the hotel and the beaches nearly all to ourselves! The Black Sea was pretty chilly but many of us took the plunge (albeit a very quick one!).

There was lunch poolside at the hotel followed by swimming, lounging, and relaxing under the sun, or venturing through the ‘old’ town and ‘new’ town areas. That evening we dined waterfront at Del Muro (seems like everything here is waterfront!) where we chatted over delicious food and drinks.

Today was a a welcome change of pace from our usual busy schedule. We were able to relax, recharge, and reflect on our fieldwork experience so far. Tomorrow, it’s off to Sofia!

Dovizhdane (Bye) Stone and Compass ☹️ Straski (Hello) Black Sea 😁

It was a bittersweet morning today as we packed up and said bye to Stone and Compass in Stolat and its amazing hospitality. We savored our last breakfast by Chef Kolyo and headed out for the long ride to the city of Sozopol and the Black Sea. On the way, we stopped at the Shipka Monument in the Balkan mountains, making it our coldest and windiest part of our trip thus far. It serves as a memorial for those who died for the Liberation of Bulgaria during the Battles of Shipka in 1877.

It was a long van ride with one van of the ride becoming known as the quiet nap van and the other as the karaoke party van! After we stopped for a light lunch, we continued driving and then finally made it to Sozopol. It would be an understatement to say that we were not disappointed with our view of the Black Sea. We took a walk through what is known as the old part of town along small cobblestone roads of seaside homes. After seeing listings for rentals and looking up the US conversions, some of us were convinced we want to move here! Our hotel sits atop the rocky side of the sea, but we were able to walk to the sandy side and dip our toes in.

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Good friends, good scenery and even better memories

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Our first sighting of the Black Sea, pictures galore!

The end of the night concluded with dinner at our hotel’s restaurant. As this is a more popular summer vacation destination, it seemed as if they were not expecting 18 of us to walk in (especially with what we found out was only a one chef night). Needless to say, we thoroughly enjoyed everything from risotto and baked brie to shrimp pasta, trout and sea wolf (a type of Bulgarian fish). We shared our highs and lows, with some making us laugh and others being emotionally heartfelt. Today is technically when our real vacation began to chill out and relax having finished fieldwork, but it is safe to say our group feels this entire trip with all its surprises has been unforgettable.

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Best day ever!

IMG_7605Today’s title is not an exaggeration, we keep saying each day and meal we have is the best, but the next experience we have continues to top the prior.

It was our last day at the Rehab Center and we were very excited to implement our treatment plans and work with our clients who we grew to love. As soon as we stepped out of the van, one of our group’s clients already had poked his head out the window and excitedly waved hi to us. The rehab center invited therapists from other clinics to be a part of the interactive therapeutic demonstration Dr. P led with a client that the physiotherapist requested. We learned how to K-tape a shoulder subluxation and open a hand in a flexor pattern. One of the most impactful moments was when we witnessed him and the rest of the team transfer the client to a wheelchair and perform a partial sit to stand, something she hasn’t done in months! The client expressed how hopeful they now were to try again after realizing what they could do with help, exactly what fills an OT’s heart. After implementing our treatment plans and playing group volleyball with our clients, we can collectively say that this hands on work was unlike any other fieldwork experience we’ve had, or possibly will ever have.

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Then it was off for even more fun in Veliko Tărnovo (VT). We visited Tsaravets Fortress and our jaws dropped at its expansiveness and beauty. We climbed the cobblestone stairs and trail to the top of the castle where we were met by a picturesque view not able to be captured by even the highest quality photos.

After trekking back down, we strolled through the artist’s street where we shopped for authentic souvenirs and met and chatted with the artists who made them. Before heading back, we enjoyed yet another amazing dinner and desserts in VT and were greeted with yet another surprise of an amazing light projection show on the castle.

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Artist’s street, where we did lots of authentic souvenir shopping 
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Fortress artifacts the artist’s use as inspiration for their work

We finished the night off celebrating our last night at Stone and Compass in Stolat with karaoke and unforgettable performances of “Tiny Dancers”, *NSYNC, Spice girls and “California Love”.

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Lights and dramatic music to showcase the fortress

So yes, today was the best day ever…so far!

A Day in Ruse: Collaborations Abroad

Today was an important day for not only our Vision Team here in Bulgaria, but also for the entire OT program at CSUDH. We had the incredible opportunity of meeting and collaborating with students and directors from the University of Ruse, a lovely university referred to by the students and faculty as “Angel Kanchev.”

Despite arriving late to our meeting with the OT faculty and students (Mnogo suzhalyavam za zakusnyatkhme), we enjoyed a presentation given by Liliya Todorova, the founder of the university’s OT program (Bulgaria’s only OT program). She, one of the first graduates from the OT program in Ruse, is now a professor and a director for the program. Occupational therapy is a newer discipline in Bulgaria (10 years old), and is mirroring the same growing pains that the US once had. The bachelor’s program was established in 2006 and the master’s program in 2013. In 2011, a connection was established with the US with a Fullbrite scholar, making Erasmus mobility possible. This is a process that funds students’ and teachers’ travel abroad to study occupational therapy.

After a fruitful Q/A session with the group, we were given a tour of the university. EXCITING NEWS: Liliya is looking forward to collaborating with us in the future!

To bask in the glory surrounding a successful meeting, we decided to treat ourselves to a couple of hours touring the beautiful city of Ruse. We were given free time to explore the city’s main square, venturing into and out of shops and contemplating gift ideas for our loved ones back home. Some enjoyed gelato, while others enjoyed Bulgarian beer. Some cleaned out entire perfume stores (you know who you are, wink wink), while others merely window shopped, admiring the many Bulgarian treasures.

After regrouping at the square’s fountain, we found our way back to the vans and headed home. Or so we thought. Our fabulous guides had yet another surprise in store! We were invited to enjoy an a-la-carte dinner at a hip, local restaurant in a town called Veliko Tarnova. There, we experienced a wave of emotions-stunned by the city views, excited to eat salad (just salad), and terrified of the “Andre the Giant” size pizzas. You’d think we’d know better by now. 🙂 All in all, it was a lovely day filled with laughs, eating, tears, eating, and more laughs.

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First Day of Fieldwork

Today our group had the first of two opportunities to visit the Rehabilitation Center in Stolat. The Center is one of the premier rehabilitation facilities in Bulgaria, and is home to about 45 people. After meeting with the resident director and physiotherapist, we split up and met the senior residents we would be evaluating and planning treatments for. Despite the language barrier, we were able to form meaningful connections with the residents at the center. We spent about an hour evaluating the residents’ range of motion, muscle strength, vision, and mobility.

After a brief break for lunch, we did a group activity with some of the residents to increase their social participation and engage them in some movement. It was an incredibly fulfilling experience. We all felt very fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet and work with these kind and interesting residents. They were so welcoming and willing to show us their physical abilities, and they really seemed happy to have had the chance to socialize with us.

We had another delicious meal at the Dan Kolov restaurant and then made an impromptu decision to visit the nearby Dryanovo Monastery, “St. Archangel Michael”. It was up in the hills and simply gorgeous.

We wandered around the grounds where there were beautiful orthodox sculptures, buildings, and frescoes.  We also explored the Bacho Kiro caves.

A few of us went on what we thought would be a short hike, and ended up scaling a mountain! We were thrilled to find ourselves at the top at the most picturesque lookout, and spent a few minutes in awe of the view and of how lucky we were to have had the opportunity to go on this trip. We all agreed that our experience of Bulgaria was much more than we could ever have imagined.

 

 

First Days in Bulgaria

We finally arrived in Sofia on Saturday evening, and we travelled to dinner at Dan Kolov, a lovely local restaurant. The amazing Chef Kolyo prepared us the best meal, and there are many more to come. We had traditional Bulgarian Shopska salads, bread with white bean dip, bacon and spinach rolled chicken, and that was just to start! We ended the night with a hearty helping of pork steak, mushroom gravy, and mashed potatoes. We finished with a slice of walnut cake. We also had traditional Bulgarian fresh made apple juice, and we can all agree it is the best apple juice we have ever tasted. We are going to have several meals at this restaurant while we are in Stolat. We also learned about the local hero Dan Kolov, a famous Bulgarian wrestler. He is a local hero who wrestled thousands of matches and only ever lost two.

After dinner, we found our way to the Stone and Compass center and got some much needed rest. Here are some pictures of the view around the center. The sun, the fresh clean air, chirping birds, and peaceful nature, allowed us to slow down and reflect on how lucky and blessed we are to be here.

In the morning, we went on an excursion to the Etara, an open air market and museum in Gabrovo. This was an opportunity to see some functional water driven machinery, view local craftsmen at work, learn about traditional arts and crafts, and shop for some souvenirs.

We had a lunch meeting with the rehabilitation director and the physiotherapist from the rehabilitation center. This was a chanc for the Bulgarian rehabilitation professionals to get to know us and tell us a bit about the clients at the rehabilitation center. They also establish a plan for tomorrow. This was a great chance to build our relationship and expand our understanding of rehabilitative therapy in Bulgaria. After lunch we visited the Bulgarian supermarket and shopped for Bulgarian food and candy.

In the afternoon we had a little bit of time to rest and explore the center.

In the evening, we met in the barn at the Stone and Compass Center, where we learned about therapeutic exercise and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). We also discussed our plans and objectives for tomorrow. In the evening there was a spectacular lightning storm. We watched the lightning, relaxed, and sang a little karaoke before getting some rest for a big day at the rehabilitation center tomorrow.

It is Sunday night here in Bulgaria. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there. We are sorry we could not be with you today, but we love you all!

 

Trip Enhancement

We have arrived in Europe and are having a very exciting trip! We have taken a slight detour to Rome, Italy. Our first plane was delayed and we missed our connection to Bulgaria, so we spent the night in Rome. We made the most of it!

Here is an image of the professors seeing to our re-accommodation

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After taking a few minutes to freshen up, we went out for the evening. We had an amazing authentic Italian dinner in the heart of Rome. Then it was time for some late night exploration. Walking the cobblestone streets of Rome, we explored monuments, shops, and of course, gelateria. We were able to see the outside of the Roman Pantheon, The Coliseum, and several other beautiful historical sites and buildings.

Here are some photos of our night on the town:

The next morning, we took the train to St. Peter’s Basilica and walked around in the neighborhood around Vatican City.

Although this detour was unexpected, we made the most of our chance to spend a little time in the charming city of Rome. We are in the Leonardo da Vinci airport and all set to board our plane. Tonight we will arrive in Sofia and drive to the village of Stolat.

Lounging in Leonardo da Vinci airport