Archive for January, 2010

Snow, man!

Another weekend, another 4.30am alarm rings. After last weekend, I figured I am done with winter hiking – I really enjoyed it but I put it in the column for once in a lifetime experiences to be not repeated, and got excited for ice climbing or XC skiing next. However, Leslie could not do any hiking last weekend and went on to persuade me to join her in a trip this Saturday (16 Jan) …so there I was, getting ready for another crazy day of walking in the snow at 5am.

Leslie was driving me and two more guys to the White Mountains, and was not exactly happy when I completely passed out on the front seat after some two hours of sleep that night.  She said that it is a responsibility of the passenger in the front seat to entertain the driver, but i guess my eyes were quite irresponsible and just rolled back in their sockets…

The trip took place in the scenic Franconia Notch and the hike was a considerably easy loop of about 4.3 miles that would get us to Mt. Pemigewasset, an elevation gain of 1200ft. It was a nice and pleasant not too steep walk at first, one I would enjoy even more if my feet were not burning. I know it sounds a bit weird, considering that it was around the 30 degrees outside, but my feet were honestly on fire. Once I discovered the miracle of feet warmers, I became their biggest fan, and could not imagine going out, walking for hours in the snow without those life savers… yes, but I guess 30 was warm enough, and my feet did not need additional warmth on top of what I generated… the instructors said that I would be the first person getting second degree burns while winter hiking, so I decided it is time to get rid of those evil things.

At the beginning of the trail all of us strapped on our snowshoes and started a pleasant jaunt up leaving footsteps as big as Yeti’s. We were taking turns leading the group and setting the pace, which I successfully avoided, but once Leslie headed the hike she took off ahead as if she had a jet pack on her back. We reached the summit quite early to enjoy brunch and take in all the great views of Franconia’s splendor. When we headed down the snowshoes were not helping much… nothing was really helping while rolling in the snow down the trail but the soft powder was welcome. Towards the end of the hike we reached a patch of untouched snow next to the road and decided to make a huge snow man waving at the passing cars. We started rolling huge balls uphill fighting the natural laws of gravitation in a team effort. We then stole some carrots and celery fro the lunch pack of one of the guys in the group (apparently a healthy one) and created the cute grumpy face of our snow man. I must say, it was quite nice to play in the snow with the other kids 🙂

After some more walking, the trail ended half a mile away from the parking lot we started from and we had to walk the way back on the road – I swear that was the most difficult part of any hike I have done.  Somehow those boots were not made for walking… on the road. Finally, we made it back to the cars but decided to take a special detour and explore Flume Gorge nearby with its fascinating walls of ice and the enthusiasts climbing them… truly amazing. Even more amazing was the fact that I managed to stay awake during the ride back, but as always Rage Against The Machine were there to help.


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Winter School

Winter means skiing and snuggling season, a time to enjoy the invigorating freshness of a winter day, then sip hot cider or mulled wine in front of a fire. Well, I definitely prefer the snuggling part, especially in January when temperatures fall way below the freezing point hitting -10°F or -20°F. Of course, I enjoy the softly falling snow that winter brings along, the cozy fires crackling, the cold whip that stings your face as you fly down a ski slope, romantic horse-drawn sleigh rides and hot cocoa. I love it… for about a week. And then all I want is the warm sun, gently kissing my butt cheeks on the beach of some faraway island, but as I can’t afford running away to the Caribbean, I usually turn to old-school hibernation. For days I would stay home reading a book or watching a movie under the blankets, and nothing and no one can make me go out once the darkness hits the ground (usually around 4pm) and the temperatures fall another 5-10 degrees.

Or so I used to… With the whole new year – new blog – new life story, I also decided to change my approach to winter. I mean, I am stuck in Boston during this horrible season, so I might as well just get over it and embrace the piles of snow… literally. So I signed up for Winter School – the name could not be better – I am going to school to learn to like winter or as the leaders described it “its goal is to teach skills that facilitate the enjoyment of outdoor activities in the winter.” Wow, only MIT people can think of that… Oh yes, Winter school is organized by the MIT Outing Club during January, so I guess I am back to school at MIT 😦 The students are supposed to attend lectures during the week and spend time outdoors on the weekends on trips including hiking, snowshoeing, orienteering, cross-country and back-country skiing, ice climbing, winter camping and mountaineering.

I was actually pretty excited, but not for long. The first two lectures were absolutely required to participate, so on the first Tuesday of January I found myself sitting on the stairs of a huge lecture hall, full to the brim with people looking very MIT… I immediately felt the familiar IHTFP (I Hate This Fucking Place for the non-MIT) rushing to my head. My sole consolation was my friend Leslie, who also signed up for the winter school, and two of us endured the next two and a half hours of lectures on how to dress, eat, drink and pee in the freezing temperatures. During the first two lecture we also heard all the different ways you can die in winter conditions – hypothermia, frostbite, avalanche that can smack you in a tree or lead to hypothermia or suffocation, getting lost that can lead to any of the previous, falling off or something falling on you, or simply impaling yourself with an ice axe or crampons. That almost killed my enthusiasm, but I still signed up for my first winter hike of about 5.5 miles and 1400ft elevation to the White Horse Ledge in the White mountains. The leaders for this hike were this really cool couple who used to be my GRTs (graduate resident advisers) in my old dorm and they were the main reason I chose it, but the promise to stop in a small local brewery on the way back to Boston also helped.

Thus last Sunday I find myself awake at 4.30am for the first time after I have not been out the night before. Half asleep, with a backpack full of supplies, I start marching in the deep night to the Student Center to meet my driver to New Hampshire, and slowly realize that my legs are already getting tired (just a 10 min walk) from the huge and heavy snow boots that I had rented that also made my feet look like Goofy’s. That was definitely not a good start. A long three hour drive followed, that I mostly slept through, and we finally got to North Conway where the rest of the group was already waiting. I was surprised to learn that most of the people in this trip were not affiliated to MIT, even though they had this very specific look…Anyway, it was time. We dressed up a bit more, spread out the group gear of crampons, ice axes and sleeping pads, and got ready for the real stuff.

We started at the Echo Lake, which was completely frozen so we decided to cross it instead of go around. There were marks of snowmobiles that assured us the lake can handle our weight, but still spread out so that if one falls in the icy water the others don’t follow…very encouraging I know. The people with more slippery boots put the crampons on, but my boots apparently had enough friction so I was sent ahead, making tiny steps on the slippery ice, walking like a geisha. Then we started following the Bryce Path to Cathedral Ledge, which was surprisingly steep. Ana (the trip leader) kept saying that the lines on the topomap did not look that close, but that did not help us much while climbing up on three legs and an ice axe and trying not to slide back onto the person behind. I was staying ahead, usually second or third in line, pushing myself every minute to make the next step and praying for a break to rest. I could not allow myself to fall behind because I felt that once I step back, I will just keep slowing down and drag the whole group behind. The words of my old teacher, who used to take us summer hiking in high school, echoed in my ears: “Разтвори пергела!” which in literal translation would be “Span the compass (that geometric thing that you draw circles with)” or just make big steps…uuuh Bulgarian you know…

The wind was gushing and I could hear it whistling above us while we were protected in the forest. Finally we reached the summit and looked back at the lake that seemed so far below. It was a pretty cold that day, with only 20°F at the bottom of the trail and I did not dare ask how cold it was up there with the wind ready to blow us away. While hiking I could not feel the cold at all, as the physical exercise really warmed us up and we  kept taking clothes off to avoid sweating, but on the top I appreciated all 4 layers I had on.  I was also very happy that my feet were nice and warm the whole day, as I finally discovered the miracle of feet warmers.

We enjoyed the beautiful views from the summit for a bit, but it was quite windy so we quickly dove back into the forest and started the loop around the White Horse Ledge. We kept pushing to reach the next summit before 1pm knowing that once we eat some lunch and relax no one will want to climb up anymore. The hike was less steep so we made quick progress and when we finally looked back the Cathedral Ledge looked miles away. It was windy again on the overlook so we set our small camp to have lunch in the trees but not without a great view of Mt. Washington. When we settled I brought out of my backpack yet another big fluffy jacket to keep me warm while Ana got the stoves going to melt some snow and made us some hot cider and chocolate that felt like heaven for my frozen fingers. Dan (Ana’s husband) also showed us the basics for orienteering so now I can finally say I know how to use a compass (that north-south thingy).

After much deserved rest we started descending on the other side of the ledge. It was a long hike but going downhill felt like a walk in the park; I thought I could walk miles more until we had to go up a tiny hill to reach the other side of the lake and I felt my legs giving up. I swear the only thing that was holding me up at that point was the idea of reaching the cars and getting to the Moat for some freshly brewed beer to end the day. Finally, we reached the Echo Lake and I put on the crampons to cross it again to the parking lot completely exhausted as I realized that I have completed more than a full work day of hiking… and then I looked back.  The view was so beautiful with the purple sky above us, the two summits far behind and a girl and a boy skating in the corner of the lake. Somehow all the miles we walked made sense for a moment.

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Lost Love

Long time ago, when I was maybe 12 or so, I was with my dad shopping for New Year’s presents, and he bought my mom two tiny books wrapped together. They told me that I am too young to read them, so of course, one day soon after, I secretly opened them and started reading carefully page after page. Those tiny books were the two volumes of an anthology of the timeless Bulgarian love poetry.

I was lying in my bed, slowly going through the books taking in every line, and wanting to feel like those people in the poems did. I wanted to love, even though I didn’t know what love is (I still don’t). Thus page by page I reached a poem that was different. I read it again and again, and then and there it became my most favourite love poem; even now this is one of the few poems that I know by heart. It is called “I believe in silent love” (“Аз вярвам в мълчаливата любов”) by a poet named David Ovadia (Давид Овадия) and it was his only piece in the two books. Here is the original:

Аз вярвам в мълчаливата любов

Без думи, без красиви обещания,
без упреци, без молещи уста,
аз вярвам само в нямото страдание,
в сподавения порив на кръвта.

Очи, в които погледа не гасне,
докосването нежно на ръце
от клетви, от несдържан плач по ясно
говорят на човешкото сърце.

Тя всичките прегради побеждава!
Тя – вечен огън и нестихващ зов!
Как нея ще отминеш, ще забравиш?
Аз вярвам в мълчаливата любов.

….and here is my unfortunate try to translate it in English. I’m not exactly a good writer, let alone a poet, so bear with me:

I believe in silent love.

No names, no pretty promises,
No blame, no pleading word,
I just believe in silent misery,
In the stifled passion of the blood

The eyes, with never dying flame,
The gentle touch of longing arms
Than vows, than cry untamed,
Much clear voice the human heart.

She all the obstacles will conquer!
She – eternal flame, undying call!
How could you leave, forget her?
I believe in silent love above all.

A few days ago, I do not even remember why, this poem came back to my mind. I thought how beautiful it is, and how perfect and serene of a feeling it transcends. And then it hit me… I can never feel like that. I can never have silent love. I talk way too much!

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Meet the Ivlevs. Mr. Ivlev is a former acrobat and excellent software engineer, who finds computers boring. Mrs Ivlev, juggles real estate and taking care of 7 creatures, while holding absolute dominance in any kitchen. My (friend) miss Ivlev is an aspiring novelist, talented figure skater, and proven traveler that I met in the middle of the ocean. The younger miss Ivlev, an actress in LA who knit me a hat in 2 hours, is this frail creature who can kill you with her eyes, and then smile so that you ask for more. And then comes the little Mr. Ivlev….oh yes, if I was only 15 years younger….he plays the saxophone and practices guitar, does archery and creates awesome cups and dishes in his pottery classes; he also completely crushed me in chess (ok, that is not that hard, but he’s only 11) and to top it all off, he is also a bit shy… just how many hearts will he break! Then there is the old and pretty fat cat, the cutest little dog (not as cute as mine though), and the loudest and quite annoying parakeet. And all this in a house, snuggling on a small hill in the foot of the Rockies, right next to what is called the Garden of the Gods not for any reason. And the mountains – everywhere!…

That’s where I spent the last week of 2009. Winter Wonderland!Just in brief, in a week I ate a ton of amazing home made Russian food, drank a lot of tea, learned Jewish stories and how to light the Hanukkah candles, tried to improve my Russian skills over various jokes on the Russian government and police, line danced in a a cowboy club creatively named “Cowboys”, and saw a yard of beer in one place, but the glass could not handle it and snapped in million pieces. I also managed to recycle my real glasses and run over my i-pod (somehow it still works), I failed to book a return flight (only because I subconsciously knew that I would not want to leave, even before I got there) and did not realise that until two days after I arrived.

The whole family (I consider myself part of it now), including the dog, went on a short trip up in the mountains. While people were getting ready for Christmas and Santa Claus, we took up an adventure with snowmobiles, enjoyed snowboarding and skiing in fresh powder, and spend the nights outside in a hot tub or natural hot springs. Riding snowmobiles was especially eventful, or disastrous for the group guide, who had to drag my snowmobile twice out of the deep snow after he had his finger broken the same morning by another group of talented snowriders. My Ivlev and I were sharing this fancy ride and for a while the group was maneuvieng smoothly along the winding forest paths. Then we reached a wide plain for some freestyling and after a few laps, during which I was holding on for dear life, she skillfully aimed the snowmobile at a tree, but got stuck in a ditch right in front of it. In a few minutes of a three-way struggle between man, machine and nature, the snowmobile was released and transferred under my authority. Of course, with me being an expert and all, it took me only a couple more minutes to drive it straight into the untouched snow, and as soon as I got off, I sunk waist deep in snow and shame. I barely crawled through the snow to get back to the path but the snowmobile had no chance. At this point the whole group of about 10 people came to help, stomping a small way to the snowmobile, pushing, pulling and lifting it to get it out, with the guide directing this circus and secretly hating us (maybe not so secretly). Naturally, there was a happy end but no more freestyling, and a less eventful ride to the home base. Snowboarding the next day, was a bit more successful for me – lots of falling but at least the powder was fresh and soft and I honestly did not mind lying in it. On one of the slopes though, the snow was so deep that I could just not get through it, getting stuck as soon as I try to slide and losing sight of the snowboard whenever I try to get up… so I did the next most natural thing – I sat in the snow, slowly making my way down the slope on my bottom… fun times. The evenings were peaceful – watched Harry Potter in the cabin over tea, enjoyed the hot tub in the hotel with hair and brain completely frozen, and took underwater pictures in the hot spring pool while freaking out the other swimmers with the flash in the water.

Back in the house I enjoyed reading “1984”, and was being fed like a baby every 2-3 hours with pirogi, pelmeni, jewish bagels, crepes, and lots of sour cream, with a cup of tea before, during and after the meal. To use up the energy after all that food we went hiking at the Seven Falls, horseback riding through the Garden of the Gods, and played board games (that uses calories too, you know). We also went ice skating at the Colorado Springs state-of-the-art rink where Albena Denkova and Maxim Stavisky (Bulgarian two-time world figure skating champions) have performed… and I did not fall. I could not really stop, let alone spin, even though my Ivlev was patiently trying to teach me, but I still felt like I’m a star in “Cutting Edge”. Talking about movies, we did see quite a few over the week, cuddling in my bed in front of the computer, lounging in front of the big screen TV with a glass of wine, or staring in the even bigger screen in the movie theater and nibbling on a pickle (yes, pickle… no pop corn, but a pickle. That’s how they do it in the square state). Strangely enough most of the movies were somehow related to England, including Sherlock Holmes which struck me with the innovative approach to time and space in London, as it took the notorious detective only 2-3 minutes to run through some tunnels from the Parliament to the top of the Tower Bridge. Nevertheless, a good movie. We also experienced Avatar 3D and this is where the glasses incident occurred – I dropped my prescription glasses instead of the 3D ones in the recycle bin. It took a few hours to find out what I have done, but I did feel a bit less bad as I realized that the woman who answered the phone in the theatre did not sound very surprised as I explained the situation. They did find them and left them in Lost and Found for me to pick up… and then they lost them again. I do realize that recycling my glasses is not exactly worth a Nobel prize, but losing something from Lost and Found requires a completely exceptional set of skills. A few days of searching followed, along with multiple conversations with different levels of the theatre hierarchy, but I received my glasses… self-explanatory, after this episode we did not see Sherlock Holmes at the same place. Regarding Avatar, I would not say it was fully worth its consequences, but I did enjoy it (and the pickle). I was impressed by the amazing director work that guided the imagination through the multiple layers of colourful and magical flora and fauna. The story, however, felt a lot like a futuristic version of Pocahontas, and I was even more disappointed to learn that James Cameron has adopted many of his ideas about the fantastic world of Pandora from the science fiction cycle “The World of Nooncreated in the 60s by the Russian Strugatsky Brothers.

So, the Ivlevs… I felt so much at home there, not only because Mr and Mrs Ivlev have exactly the same names as my parents… the smell of home made food, the shouting across floors to find everyone, checking what the dog is chewing on now… it felt so familiar. The Ivlevs were my family when I could not be back home for the holidays for the first time. They gave me the perfect end of a year that I could not wait to be over…

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Only The Beginning

Recently many of my friends wrote life buckets for their future – 30 things to do before 30, or 10 before 25. I guess, at the end of the year people draw the line of what they have done in their life and how much more there is to be done… Or maybe, it’s just that my friends and I, far enough from the flimsy teenage years, and still young to be too serious about life, sat down to consider where we would be in those 5-10 years from now.  Thus filling those buckets with dreams reminds us where we are going and keeps us on track to our goals. Day by day, or month at a time, we scratch the things from our lists and this makes us feel better about ourselves, brings us closer to what we have pinned down as personal success for the years to come.

So yes, I succumbed to the fashion of making life buckets and started filling mine… but then it started overflowing…. there are way too many things I want to do, some realistic and some not so much… so I, being innovative and all, decided to take a different approach. I started writing down the things that I am going to do this year… I am not saying that I am going to stop wrinkling my forehead and drink less coffee… I want to, but who knows…

So here it is, my list of things I am doing in 2010… no dreams, no life goals or resolutions, just facts…

  1. Live in Europe… again
  2. Fly a plane at least once
  3. Buy a new motorcycle
  4. Ride a roller coaster (never done it)
  5. Get a legit scuba diving certificate (Cleopatra’s doesn’t count)
  6. Party at a big music festival
  7. Get on a helicopter
  8. Go white water rafting
  9. See the Dropkick Murphys for St. Paddy’s Day
  10. Ice climb
  11. Visit San Francisco
  12. Have a beer at a Red Sox game
  13. Finish my tattoo project
  14. Spend Christmas back in Bulgaria
  15. Go to Canada
  16. Start the 2011 Mongol Rally journey (register and fundraise)
  17. Skydive
  18. Get a great gob
  19. Improve my drumming
  20. Learn Argentine Tango
  21. Go whale watching
  22. Couchsurf
  23. Knit myself a hat and scarf (learn to knit along the way)
  24. See a Celtics game

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Dear diary…

It’s finally 2010 and I have decided that it would be MY year after an eventful finish of 2009. So, turning a clean sheet and starting a new decade I figure I should start my life anew… in a way.

I never in my life kept a diary or a journal – I figured I will always remember the great moments  so what’s the point of writing everything down….will I ever read it? Will I show it to anyone? If I want to catch up with my friends and tell them my stories, I can write them emails, postcards… or so I thought until recently, when I slowly started realizing and finally came to terms with the idea that my memory is not as good as I thought. I have forgotten details from my greatest adventures… I don’t even remember what I did three weeks ago.

I have always been pretty bad at keeping in touch with friends who are now scattered all across the globe. One of my friends would write long emails with her crazy adventures to keep us updated with her life. I would read them over and over again and feel as if she is telling me those stories back in her room, she on the soft chair in front of her desk, and I curled up in her bed… and I want to tell her so many things…. Talking on the phone with friends and parents and hearing about their everyday lives, love drama and travel adventures, I want to share back and tell them about my life, and yet the same words keep coming out in emails and conversations…. “I’m good… nothing special has really happened… same old… I hate my job and I made banitza last weekend.”…

So this is my genuine try to keep in touch, share and remember what happens to me. As I am lazy to keep them separate, this would be at times my personal diary, travel journal and a blog with my very significant thoughts on life. It would be for me and for you, for everything and nothing really…

…This is for the unforgettable moments that I am trying to remember.

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