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Thank You for 5 Incredible Years in Bulgaria: A Photo Essay

Dr. Matt Horne, Elementary School Principal

Next week, my family and I will finish our fifth year at AAS; we will pack up our things and depart Bulgaria for our next adventure in Bonn, Germany.  Of course, we have been talking about it a lot lately and we all agree: Bulgaria, we will miss you!  We are so grateful for the time we have spent in this amazing place, with such amazing people, making so many amazing memories.  Here are just a few that stand out…

1. Fresh Pitka

This photo is from our first night in Bulgaria: July 1, 2019. We have been so lucky to have the most wonderful landlady. To welcome us, she baked fresh bread and served it to us with her home-grown tomatoes and hand-made seasoning. Since then, pitka holds a special (and delicious) place in our hearts.

2. Vitosha Mountain

We have made so many memories on and around this mountain. I feel inspired looking at the mountain each morning when I arrive at work or step outside during the day. It has been a huge gift to have such easy access to hiking, climbing, and time in nature.

3. COVID Resilience

COVID redefined so much about our lives. The team at AAS never failed to come together to find creative solutions in extremely uncertain times. Here, I learned the power of self-care and caring for others in hard times. This photo was taken during a hybrid end-of-year staff farewell party on June 12, 2020.

4. The Black Sea

After our life in Hawaii, we missed the ocean. The Black Sea gave us beautiful opportunities to reconnect with the water: swimming, kite surfing, cliff jumping, and the boys were even able to earn their SCUBA licenses one summer in Kiten Bay. This photo was taken on Gradina Beach right near Sozopol.

5. Biking to School

We have felt so grateful to live close enough to the school to make biking possible: it’s always a beautiful ride. I want to give a big thanks to everyone who has driven carefully around my sons and me as we pedal our way up and down the road to school.

6. Bulgarian Food

It turns out that Bulgaria is a great place to be a vegetarian. Lutenitsa, shopska salad, tarator, banitsa, patatnik, pitka, mekitsi, kozunak, tikvenik, kiselo mlyako, katuk, cirene, and so many more. We learned so many recipes and foods that we will take with us wherever we go. This photo is from our first year’s welcome dinner at Restaurant Vodenitzata.

7. Skiing

We’ve enjoyed skiing every year during our time in Bulgaria. We can always find good snow, cool places to stay, and so many accessible slopes. This photo is of the Markudjik 3 drag lift at Borovets: the steepest and most intense Poma lift I have ever used.

8. Flerken

I received this photo on Whatsapp on August 28, 2020, the day Jonah and Bekah found the cutest little kitten by the dumpsters near our house. As soon as I got the message, I knew we had a new cat. Flerken is now an inseparable part of our family and will travel with us to Germany.

9. Nessie’s Pond

We love swimming and we found some great swimming places not too far from our house. We named our favorite spot “Nessie’s Pond” after our stand-up paddleboard, also named “Nessie.”

10. Wild Fruit

This photo was taken after just a few minutes of raspberry picking on a trail near Borovets. We have loved the blackberries near our house, the raspberries in the mountains, the cherries in the abandoned orchards, and the strawberries that grow everywhere. Bulgaria is a delicious cornucopia of wild fruit.

11. Camper Travel

On vacations during COVID, we explored so much of Bulgaria and the surrounding countries by renting a camper van for our family – it was such a freeing way to travel and let us discover so much of this fascinating country. In case you don’t recognize it, this photo is of the Buzludzha monument, near Kazanlâk.

12. Neighbors & Traditions

We were lucky to have wonderful neighbors who were always game to celebrate every tradition and holiday we could think of. From coloring Easter eggs to carving Halloween pumpkins, we made some great memories together.

13. Pancharevo Reservoir

At least 3 days per week, and sometimes more, over the past 5 years, the trails around Pancharevo reservoir have been my easy-access to self-care in nature. It was my place to recharge, to contemplate, and to practice being present and connected.

14. Bulgarian Tomatoes

World class and mostly grown by our incredible landlady. We grew up eating farm fresh tomatoes in Eastern Oregon in the United States and still, Bulgarian tomatoes may be the most incredible tomatoes we’ve ever tasted in our lives.

15. Falafel Döners

Döners are my new favorite fast food and I probably eat them way too much. Chicken Shack? Chicken Snack? If you know, you know.

16. New Year’s Eve

I love fireworks (and so do my kids). We’ve seen some great fireworks displays in New York City, Washington DC, Malta, and more, but we’ve never seen anything like the way Bulgarians celebrate New Year’s Eve. We’ll never forget the first time the clock struck midnight and literally thousands of Bulgarian families ignited serious fireworks that lit up the city for a solid 20-minutes. It’s my favorite night of the year in Bulgaria.

17. Small Town Festivals

The amount of times we accidentally visited a small Bulgarian village in the middle of some huge celebration is mind-boggling. This photo is from New Year’s Day in the village of Sapareva Banya: we stumbled into a huge, loud Kukeri festival our first year in Bulgaria and since then we’ve been back to celebrate with them several times.

18. Malashevtsi Flea Market

Any weekend that Jonah and I don’t have something going on early in the morning, you can find us at Malashevitsi Flea Market on the north side of town. We absolutely love the whole, gritty scene and always come home with some treasure we never knew we needed.

19. Hot Springs

We visited many thermal pools all over Bulgaria that we loved, but the one that we visited more often than any other was Korali Pool, just a quick, 3-minute drive away in our bath robes. Admission was free with our MultiSport cards and it was always nice to just soak and hang out after a day at work and school.

20. The Community’s Generosity

Whenever there is a need, the AAS community comes through. The yearly, holiday tradition of making gift baskets for the service staff is such a heartwarming example: with a little coordination, families, staff and students pull together mountains of food, treats, and gifts for the cleaners and maintenance crews.

21. Snails

This one is for the kids. Beautiful, happy snails are everywhere at AAS and if you ask your elementary student, I’m sure they’ve been on the snail rescue crew more than a few times.

22. Hiking Trails

I’ve pretty much decided that Bulgarian trail makers don’t know what a switchback is, but I am so grateful for the massive network of trails, huts, and shelters that have given us access to some of the most beautiful nature we’ve ever seen. This photo was taken just above the Malyovitsa Hut on our way to Scary Lake.

23. Esports

The opportunity to start and run Esports during the last 3 years was an awesome adventure for me and a game-changing experience for Noah, Jonah and several other middle and high schoolers (pun intended).  We went from a startup team to world champions – we learned a lot and had a lot of fun along the way.

24. Graduation

Noah graduated from high school last year and we couldn’t be more happy with how his future is turning out at University in Germany. Next year, Jonah will enter the last year of the IB MYP and he’s more than ready. We’re so grateful for all that AAS has given to our sons over the past five years.

25. The People

More than anything else, we are grateful for the amazing people we have come to know and love along the way. With so many warm and open people, it has been easy to build strong connections that will last a lifetime. We’re going to miss Bulgaria and we’re going to miss our friends, but we will always be grateful for the time we had and the connections we made. Thank you Bulgaria, we will always love you.

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