A Frightful Night with House Red (Melnik, Bulgaria)

The rain has been pouring down all day and with increasing fury as daylight faded behind the night’s heavy clouds. Yet I sit outside, braving the storm on a humid terrace under a dry umbrella. The night is roaring thunder – its rolling downhill from a stone street, bouncing off the exposed rocks.  It frightens with sharp intensity. It grumbles like a hungry stomach with a strong metabolism. And it is expected but shouts long after patient prediction permits. It is close. The lightning was less than five seconds ago. The electricity skipped a beat in-between. Strike. Lightning. Pop. Complete darkness. Crackle. Electric light flickers. Boom! Thunder.

I said I was braving the weather: did I mention the half liter of local Melnik red wine keeping me composed?

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Trekking the Balkan’s Tallest Peak: A Glimpse into Bulgaria’s Brilliance (Rila, Bulgaria)

Rila national park is one of few Bulgarian protected regions. And unlike many other national parks, the Rila region is more than natural beauty that accumulates with the highest point in the Balkans, Musala peak, coming in a few meters shy of 3000m; it has a rich cultural history as well.

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Live Targets Cost Not Much More: AK-47 Shooting Range (Lviv, Ukraine)

I first saw this tourist thrill in Tallinn: come spend over 100 euro and shoot all these guns that you’ve seen in the movies like the AK-47, the cowboy’s Smith & Wesson, James Bond’s Golden Gun, the rapper’s Glock pistol, and some big fakin US military automatic assault rifle.

The Notorious AK-47, built by Mikhail Kalashnikov in 1947. Imagine if he built it in ’41

I’m not into guns or anything but this sounds like something I would try once just for the sake of my inner video-game addict twelve year-old self.

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Back to the USSR, Don’t Forget Who You Are: Russian Humor (Russia, Siberia)

A month spent in the wilderness of Siberia taught me much about Russian mentality. The most important aspect of Russian culture a foreigner must grasp to feel welcomed and comfortable amongst their Russian hosts is that of Russian humor.

When I arrived in north Baikal to start my volunteer work with the Great Baikal Trail, the first thing our team leader said was, “Put tents up fast; snow in four hours.”

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Lake Baikal’s Magical Island (Olkhon, Russia)

“There’s an erergy to that island. It’s magic. You have to go to Olkhon.”

That’s all I kept hearing from Siberians when I arrived in Irkutsk. This ain’t hockey so why fight these pesky Russians?

Actually, one thing I learned from being in Siberia and the Baltic states, Ukraine – places that continue to have Russian influence, at least in language – is that a Russian is very much like an African: an over simplified term that can refer to hundreds of different ethnic and cultural groups.

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Crackdown: A Summer of Unrest for Beijing’s Expats (Beijing, China)

Originally Published for Dispatches International

Editor’s note: All persons interviewed have been given pseudonyms to protect their identity due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter.

July 20th, 2012 – It is day 66 of Beijing’s 100-day crackdown on those working and living illegally in the country’s capital. The atmosphere appears calmer than during the initial phases of the government’s campaign. However, many are still choosing to err on the side of caution. Those with legal documentation looking to avoid the hassle of reporting themselves to the police station carry photocopies of their passport, visa, and temporary residence registration form on their person at all times.

Beijing reports that there are over 120,000 foreign immigrants in the city with as many as 200,000 foreigners passing through each day. The vast majority are here legally on valid tourist, business, or work visas.

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