Tag Archives: Travel

Peace Corps Week 2014

Dobre doshli! Welcome to Peace Corps Week!

BG Welcome

This week is Peace Corps week which means the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) everywhere are being asked to educate everyone about the Peace Corps – what it is, what it does, who it helps and why it’s important.

As an RPCV who served in Bulgaria from 2000-2002, I’m only too happy to participate!


About the Peace Corps

Here are a few basics about the United States Peace Corps.

  • It was founded in 1961, established by President John F. Kennedy
  • The first volunteers served in Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, St. Lucia, Tanzania, and Pakistan. Within a couple of years, volunteers were serving in 28 countries.
  • 215,000 volunteers are serving or have served in the US Peace Corps.
  • The Peace Corps is its own entity of the US Government, but is both non-political and non-religious.
  • Volunteers live on $100-400 per month living allowances. In Bulgaria, I started with $135 and but ended with about $150/month. That covers food, bus tickets, living expenses, repair costs when needed – since we couldn’t just call on a family member to fix it for us (though we fared better in the second year after getting to know more people!) trips to internet cafes to write home to our friends and families, etc.
  • Though it’s not usually required up front, most Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) learn a new language as part of their initial training. The idea is that we integrate ourselves into the communities in which we will be working.
  • PCVs have served in about 139 countries – including Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, South Africa, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Armenia, Hungary, Tonga, Iran, Malawi, Suriname and my personal favorite: Bulgaria.
  • Most jobs require a college degree, but if you don’t have one and have been farming your entire life, that will NOT prevent you from serving!
  • We had a 78-year old volunteer in our group in B-10 Bulgaria. She was not the oldest volunteer to have served. In my group, the average age of volunteers was 26. In the group after mine, the average age was 48. Pretty cool! We also had 70 trainees fly into staging in Chicago, 69 got on the plane and 55 finished.

I hope you’ll take a moment to look up any countries whose locations you can’t currently picture!


Countries in orange are where volunteers are currently serving. In yellow – where we have but no longer serve.

What are we getting ourselves into?

Peace Corps volunteers sign up for approximately 27 months of service in a developing country somewhere around the world. Our first 10-12 weeks of our time in country is for training: language, culture, health, job training, etc. We lived with host families – mine didn’t speak a word of English! who housed us, fed us (my host mom was a great cook!) and took care of us while we learned about their country. Once at site, we lived in apartments which pretty much had heat, water and electricity on demand. My site was more reliable than most as the only time my water went out was when they worked on the plumbing and for that we had advanced notice. One friend in northern Bulgaria was on a water regime and had water every other day.

Site Announcement Day

Site Announcement Day. YEA! Smolyan! (This is the day, about 5-6 weeks into training, that we learned specifically where in Bulgaria we’d be spending the next two years!)

My descriptions above are for Bulgaria. Every country is different. Every experience is different. I have friends who had to literally haul up water from a river in Africa whereas I lived about 12 KM from a ski resort. I lived in the mountains – a far cry from the flat cornfields I saw growing up in Indiana! I’m happy to say I can see the beauty in both!

Peace Corps volunteers have three goals

  1. To teach a sustainable skill (I taught middle/high school English)
  2. To teach the host nationals about American culture, traditions and well – about Americans! (e.g. how do we celebrate birthdays? Or holidays? Or what are our schools like? What’s the cost of living back in America? You name it – we were asked about it! You mean – you get free refills on sodas? LOL!)
  3. To teach Americans about our host nations (i.e. what I’m doing right now!)
bulgaria -map

Find the letter “d” in Kurdzhali and head straight south, stopping just shy of Greece. That’s where Smolyan, the town in which I served, is located.

About Bulgaria

I served in Bulgaria, a country about the size of either Ohio or Tennessee. It’s located in southeastern Europe, in a region called the Balkans. It’s surrounded by Romania to the north, Serbia to the northwest, Macedonia to the west, Greece to the south, Turkey to the southeast and the Black Sea to the east.

It’s absolutely beautiful and has a little bit of everything: Plains, River (the Danube River is the natural border between Bulgaria and Romania), the Black sea and beaches, about 4 or so mountain ranges: Pirin, Rila, Balkans, Rhodopes. It has great hiking and camping, lots of ski resorts (I was near Pamporovo, but there are also Bansko and Borovets, among others).

Bulgaria dates back to 681 AD when Khan Asparux settled there. I lived on Khan Asparux Street in Smolyan, a nice-sized city in the Rhodope Mountains – about 12 KM from the border with Greece and 100 KM as the crow flies from Thessaloniki (or Salonica). Bulgaria has a lot of history and every Bulgarian is very proud of it.

Fun facts about Bulgaria

  • Capital: Sofia (Pronounced SO-fee-uh, stress on the first syllable) :-)
  • Population: approximately 7.4 million (2011), down from closer to 9 million when I arrived in 2000, but it’s off the visa blacklist and is now (with Romania) a part of the European Union
  • Peace Corps closed out its service there, the summer of 2013
  • Language: Bulgarian – similar to Russian
  • Sveti Kiril, or Saint Cyril, after whom the cyrillic alphabet is named, was a Bulgarian. The Russians later adopted it.
  • Bulgaria was under the Ottoman yoke for nearly 500 years. The Russians came in and at the Battle of Pleven in 1878, helped the Bulgarians start to push the Ottomans back. Bulgaria truly received its independence in 1922.
  • During the Ottoman Yoke, it is said that credit for the preservation of Bulgaria’s early history is owed to the monks living in the many monasteries throughout the country.
Rila church

Rila Monastery

  • It was a Bulgarian who originally invented the computer.
  • Bulgarians have amazing recipes that incorporate their yogurt into the meal: Salata Snezhanka, Bulgarian moussaka, Tarator soup, etc. Yum!
  • “Na Gosti” is when you go to visit a Bulgarian in their home. You know it’s been a good na gosti, if your coffee goes cold because you’ve been talking for hours and hours. Some of my best memories of Bulgaria are from na gostis where I just sat and talked with my friends. Bulgarian hospitality – there’s nothing like it!
  • Bulgarians will claim that they had the bagpipes before the Scots or Irish. It’s called a Gaida.
Sto Kaba 3

Sto Kaba Gaidi (100 bagpipes)

Here’s a cool video that is being touted as being the first symphonic flash mob in Bulgaria – under the direction of Maestro Grigor Palikarov who is from Plovdiv – a very cool city! This is the Classic FM Orchestra out of Sofia. Watch this – it’s awesome!

I know this is probably a lot of random information that doesn’t even mention any of the great literature that comes out of Bulgaria (there’s a lot, trust me!) – such as the writings of Ivan Vazov, after whom the school at which I taught was named, or Xristo Botev or… and don’t forget books about Bulgaria written by other authors such as Balkan Ghosts by Robert Kaplan (I HIGHLY recommend that book.).

Or, if you’d like to try a simpler route, check out Rick Steve’s travel series. Here’s one sample of that:

Rakiya doesn’t only go with Shopska Salata! Shopska salad is excellent, by the way and SUPER healthy. Let me know if you’d like a recipe – I’m happy to share. (Along with Bulgarian Moussaka and Tarator!) Maybe then you can have your own na gosti!

Here’s a picture of me in my apartment in Smolyan trying on a traditional Bulgarian costume a few weeks before I left for Blagoevgrad. It’s a costume from the southern Rhodope (pronounced row-DOUGH-pee) mountains region. I bought it off a lady who was kind enough to sell it for the equivalent of approximately 2-3 months’ salary, or $175. It’s absolutely beautiful. I love all the stitching detail – isn’t it gorgeous? And this picture doesn’t even show it all off! (I wasn’t wearing the jacket because this costume was nothing but thick, heavy wool and I took this in June. It was very warm!)

This dress was actually a wedding dress of the grandmother of the lady who sold it to me. It’s in amazing condition considering her grandmother was married in 1921 (She showed me a picture).  Wow. I’m so lucky.

Traditional Bulgarian Costume

Thank you for reading this! I hope you’ll watch a few other videos about Bulgaria or read a little bit about it. It’s a beautiful country with a wonderful history and rich culture that is worth knowing better!


Passport France – Jean-Féry Rebel

Welcome to the 3rd in my Passport series about composers around the world. I first traveled to France for my senior year in college (I’ll leave out the year!), so my latest composer is a French baroque composer named Jean-Féry Rebel. I first discovered his music last year at a concert with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra titled “In Nature’s Realm” at which Rossini’s William Tell Overture and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony were also being played. Yeah – I bought my ticket for the William Tell, but was pleasantly surprised by the Rebel piece. So much so, that I went back the next day to watch the entire concert again. Yeah – it was that awesome!

Everyone: meet Maestro Rebel!

Versailles Salle

Check out the harpsichord inside the Palace of Versailles

Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747) was considered a prodigy on the violin. He was the son of Jean Rébel, a tenor in the choir of the Louis XIV’s private chapel. He eventually came to study under the Royal Composer, Jean-Baptiste Lully, who had been working as Court Composer for instrumental music under the king.

Jean-Féry Rébel

Jean-Féry Rébel

Considered quite a prestigious ensemble, Jean-Féry earned a spot in the Vingt-quatre Violons du Roy, the 24 Violins of the King, where he played until becoming the Chamber Composer to Louis XIV. Eventually, he wrote a tribute to his teacher called, Le Tombeau de Lully (The Tribute to Lully).

One of Rébel’s most famous works is a piece called Les Elemens, or The Elements. Check out the super funky (i.e. dissonant) chord at the beginning of this piece from the first movement of this work called “Le Cahos,” or the aptly named “Chaos.”

This kind of chord was the first of its kind – something not really heard again until the Romantic era by (I think) Shostakovich because it was so unusual. In my humble opinion, part of the beauty of baroque and classical era music is that it resolves and is symmetrical in sound, but in his day, Rebel was ahead of his time.

Principal bassoonist, Betsy Sturdevant, went into more detail about this piece in her blog before the Columbus Symphony Orchestra performed it last season.

Thanks for reading about Maestro Rebel! Next up will be Clara Schumann, a composer who is certainly not unknown, but her composing is typically overshadowed by that of her husband. I’m looking forward to learning more about her and hope you are as well!  

Chattanooga! Here I Come!

This Thursday, I’m finally heading south – to the world that occasionally has entire days that are ABOVE freezing! No, really. It’s true! Entire days! Weather aside, I’m taking a vacation to the city of Chattanooga in the great state of Tennessee!

Why Chattanooga and why this weekend? Well – I love Mozart. He’s my favorite and on Sunday, February 23, the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra is performing Mozart’s Symphony No. 40.  Here’s what’s on the program. I’m so excited!

CASTEREDE: Flutes en Vacances
VIVALDI: Concerto for Two Trumpets  in C Major
MOZART: Symphony No. 40

No idea who Casterede is, but that’s OK – I’ll learn. Besides, it’s Flutes en vacances and I’ll be en vacances, so it’s perfect! Anyhoo…Vivaldi – baroque and Mozart – classical. You cannot go wrong with this concert. It’s going to be great!

So I’m planning a whole trip around hearing Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 this Sunday. I’m driving down on Thursday and back next Tuesday leaving me with 4 whole days to explore and enjoy Chattanooga. Having lived in Atlanta and being from Indiana, I’ve driven THROUGH Chattanooga a bunch of times, but haven’t actually stopped there. So, I’ve made a wish list:

  • Go to the Aquarium. It’s supposed to be fabulous!
  • Visit Civil War sites. My ancestor, Brevet Brigadier General Benjamin Franklin Scribner, led his men in the 38th Indiana Regiment in many of the battles fought in the Chattanooga campaign such as Chickamauga and Lookout Mountain, though he was a colonel at the time.

BF Scribner

  • See the Choo Choo. Obviously! Remember my tour of the Ohio Theatre last summer? What did our awesome organist play? Chattanooga Choo Choo. It’s fate. It’s my destiny. It’ll be fun, too.

  • Attend a concert. This we know. :-) My friend from there is even going to join me for this. (and for the Civil War sites!)

Another fun thing to do will be to follow some of the suggestions of the CSO-TN Concertmaster herself. Holly Mulcahy has written several posts about being new to Chattanooga – seeing the sites and – visiting some top-notch pastry and coffee shops.


Check out some of her posts below about her new city. And as a linguist, may I say I love the alliteration!

Caffeine, Conversations and Christmas Concerts

Tourists, Treasure and Time

Bags, Boutiques and Bach

The Three Rs: Radio, Restaurants and Rhythm

You all know I’ll write about the concert, but visiting a new city will be a super fun adventure, so I’m sure I’ll share some of that fun as well. Heck, the CSO-TN’s own music director, Kayoko Dan (Hmm…should I call her Maestro Kayoko when I meet her in person?!) is going to join me at the aquarium and for some knitting. Yes – we’re both knitters! Holly’s going to join for some of Chattanooga’s famous coffee and pastries!

I may be traveling down there alone, but there will be no shortage of great company!

I should also mention that some of the other fine folks at the CSO in Chattanooga offered to help me out with visit – also recommending places to stay, offering to make sure I had plenty of suggestions on things to do, etc. I can’t get over how hospitable they have been. I’m coming down for one afternoon concert, but they’re going out of their way to make sure I’m taken care of for the duration of my visit.

 Southern hospitality – I love it!

Buskers: Edinburgh, Scotland

It was July of 2002 and I had just COS’d* from the Peace Corps when I traveled to the UK for a two-week vacation prior to starting my job with the American University in Bulgaria. When I say “just COS’d” I mean I JUST COS’d. I COS’d on July 5th and flew to London on July 6th.

Part of me just needed a dose of a western culture that I hadn’t had for a couple of years. I wanted to go somewhere where they could make change when I bought something. I wanted to go somewhere where the toilet paper was already provided in the bathrooms, not where I had to pay the equivalent of .10 cents for four squares sold by a lady sitting in the ladies room at a table with a roll of TP and a pair of scissors. And finally, I wanted to go somewhere where I knew that short of mechanical failure, the coaches and trains would actually depart.

These are not bad things, mind you. They’re just quirky. They’re things I learned to live with. For example, I learned to always carry small bills and coins. To this day, I still always carry a pack of kleenex with me – just in case. And finally, I got a lot of reading done on occasions when a driver didn’t feel like driving the 4.5 hour route to Sofia that particular day meaning I had to wait a couple of hours for the next departure. No big deal. (Of course there was that time when our bus caught on fire while heading down the freeway after leaving Plovdiv…that was kind of a big deal.)

Well once I arrived in London I was thrilled. What a great city. And western England, wow. And Wales – gorgeous! And… Well. You get the idea. After about a little over a week or so in England and Wales, I took a coach up to Edinburgh, Scotland. What a beautiful, fun, amazing (Insert positive adjective here) city!

Deacon Brodie's Tavern - Edinburgh

Deacon Brodie’s Tavern on the Royal Mile. Great breakfasts!

I stayed at a hostel on the Royal Mile and met a ton of great people! One day I ended up spending the day with a girl from Australia. We visited the Royal Yacht Britannia and the Edinburgh Castle, but had the most fun with a book we both bought called “What’s Under the Kilt.” It’s about life in Scotland and is absolutely hilarious! It’s along the same line as The Onion, but much funnier! Ahem. Anyway, while walking around the city, we found our friend, Malcolm, playing the bagpipes.

Malcolm - Edinburgh

This is me with Malcolm

He’s a Kiwi who is also part Scottish and is really talented. He was staying at our hostel, too and was a lot of fun. He also earned quite a lot of money playing! So – we stood and watched – all the while urging people on to drop a coin or two in his hat. It worked – plus it was wonderful listening to him. Nice guy!

Holyrood House

Holyrood House – Abbey in Edinburgh, Scotland.

*COS = Close of Service. This is the term used by Peace Corps volunteers when they complete their two-year service as a volunteer after having taught sustainable skills in a developing nation. It can be used both as a noun and a verb. Once you COS, you become an RPCV – Returned Peace Corps volunteer, or a member of the Peace Corps alumni. There are approximately 250,000 of us who have served in the Peace Corps since it was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

My Passport to (Some of) the World’s Composers

I’ve been having fun getting to know musicians who are all new to me. So far, I’ve concentrated on the awesome symphony musicians here in Columbus, Ohio. In 2014, I hope to expand on that. In the meantime, I thought it would be fun this year to also meet some new composers – whether they be living composers or composers who have been dead for centuries.

My challenge? Which composers and how the heck do I choose them?

An idea

I love to travel and have been fortunate enough to have visited many amazing places – whether that be by studying abroad, serving in the Peace Corps or just taking a vacation. So with that in mind, I’ve decided to get to know one composer from each country I’ve ever visited or lived in and then share what I learn here on Giocosity.

Starting January 2014, I’ll profile two composers per month starting with an American composer all the way through a Moroccan composer. The order of presentation is based on the chronological order in which I first visited each of these great nations.

As far as the choosing of the composers, it’s pretty random, but while Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi and Handel are all rather awesome, I am purposely choosing lesser known composers – or well – composers I don’t know nearly as well. It’s all pretty subjective!

Here are the composers. I’m still working on Morocco as that’s proving to be a tad challenging, but I’ll figure it out.

Thanks very much to Scott Chamberlain (St. Catherine University), Julia Rose (Columbus Symphony Orchestra) and my Dad for helping me put this list together!

  1. USA – David P. Sartor (b. 1956)
  2. Canada – John Estacio (b. 1966)
  3. France – Jean-Féry Rébel (1666-1747)
  4. Germany – Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
  5. Switzerland – Heinrich Sutermeister (1910-1995)
  6. Italy – Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736)
  7. Austria – Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831)
  8. Monaco – Massimiliano Greco (b. 1967)
  9. Mexico – Manuel de Sumaya (1678-1755)
  10. Northern Ireland – Ian Wilson (b. 1964)
  11. Ireland – John Field (1782-1837)
  12. Bulgaria – Pancho Vladigerov (1899-1978)
  13. Egypt – Abu Bakr Khairat (1910-1963)
  14. Turkey - Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907-1991)
  15. Greece - Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949)
  16. Romania – George Enescu (1881-1955)
  17. Hungary – Josef Joachim (1831-1907)
  18. England – William Byrd (1540-1623)  
  19. Wales – Morfydd Owen (1891-1918)
  20. Scotland - William Marshall (1748-1833)
  21. Belgium – Gilles Binchois (1400-1460)
  22. Argentina – Carlos Gardel (1890-1935)
  23. Spain – Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908)
  24. Morocco – Pending

I look forward to getting to know these composers. I hope you look forward to learning more about them as well!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing all of you safe travels, wonderful meals, a win by your favorite team and most important, warmth and welcome with your friends and family this long holiday weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 - Heather

Mozart: Austria

From my trip there, way back when…this is a statue of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in a park in Vienna, Austria. I especially love the flowers in front!

Vienna, Austria

And the home in which Mozart was born, his Geburtshaus, in Salzburg, Austria.  I was lucky to be there on the 200th anniversary of his death, so small ensembles were playing everywhere.  I didn’t get to see a full-fledged concert as I was only there a few days and spent my time wandering the city and visiting castles, but what I did hear was wonderful!



Buskers: Granada, Spain

These are a couple of guitarists in Granada, Spain playing traditional Spanish guitar music. They were very nice and were happy to pose while I took a picture.  I probably listened to them for a good half hour or more since they were really good and, for January, it was quite nice out!


Granada is a beautiful city in southern Spain and is home to the Alhambra which houses the last of the moorish palaces, Palacio Nazaries.  Someday I’ll have a chance to return there and also visit some other cities in the region.  So much history!


Granada, Spain


Inside the Palacio Nazaries


Alcazaba – just outside the Palacio Nazaries


Courtyard inside the Palacio Nazaries

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