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Katrina Hacker's 2009 World Juniors diary

A quick history lesson; learning to flirt in Bulgarian

Katrina Hacker served as a dedicated diarist to icenetwork.com in the 2008-09 season.
Katrina Hacker served as a dedicated diarist to icenetwork.com in the 2008-09 season. (Getty Images)

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By Katrina Hacker, special to icenetwork.com
(02/27/2009) - Katrina Hacker takes icenetwork.com backstage at the 2009 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, with an exclusive athlete diary.

Zdravei from Sofia!

I arrived in Bulgaria on Monday afternoon. Sorry that my blog is a bit late, but I've been so busy! All of Team USA is doing well. We're all really excited to be competing at junior worlds, supported by our great team leaders Doug and Kim. We are staying at the Hotel Kempinski, by far the most lavish competition hotel we have ever experienced, with an amazing gym, a smoke-filled lobby and some impressive "bling" on several of the guests (sadly, not on Team USA).

Sofia, the site of the competition, is a beautiful city located in Central Bulgaria. Bulgaria is situated at the crossroads between the eastern and western worlds, and consequently, Bulgarian history is very long and complicated. Over the years, the country was ruled by Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great and the Roman Empire, then sacked by the Huns, rebuilt by Byzantine Emperor Justinian, became an independent empire for a short time, was re-conquered by the Byzantine Empire, was in turn conquered by the Ottoman Empire, etc. etc.

Finally, in March 1878, Bulgaria gained independence (temporarily) at the end of the Russo-Turkish War (March 3rd is the major national holiday -- see below.) During World War II, Bulgaria was at first allied with Axis Powers, but then in 1943 switched its allegiance to the Allied side. Post WW II, Bulgaria, like the other Eastern European nations, became a communist country and did not become a democracy until the 1990s.

Today, Bulgaria is one of the newest members of the European Union. In present day Bulgaria, one can still see evidence of all these cultures ranging from Roman ruins to 12th century Christian Orthodox icons to Baroque Austro-Hungarian architecture to Soviet postwar block housing. Slavonic languages also have their origins in Bulgaria, from where the monks Cyril and Methodius spread the Cyrillic alphabet to Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

After practice on Tuesday, we went to downtown Sofia to do a bit of sightseeing. First on our list was the beautiful Alexander Nevsky Memorial Church. Located in the center of the old city, this church was built from 1882-1924 to honor Russia's contribution to the Bulgarian War of Independence (Prince Nevski was a famous medieval Russian ruler). The Orthodox Icon museum located in the Church's crypt was especially impressive, with examples of icons created over a span of 500 years. From there, we strolled past the National Museum, the Presidency (where there is an elaborate changing of the guard each hour), numerous other churches to the Banya Bashi Mosque, the only remaining religious building from Bulgaria's time as part of the Ottoman Empire. Last stop was Sofia Synagogue, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

It happens that there are several national holidays taking place while we are here. March 1 heralds the beginning of spring and is celebrated by wearing Martenitsas, which are red and white tassels, named Pizho and Penda (or any sort of adornment that is red and white). For good health in the coming year, the tassels are worn from March 1st until the first sighting of a stork or swallow, at which time the talismans are then tied to a blooming tree. Buy a Martenitsa from one of the street vendors located throughout the city, give it to a friend and say "chestita baba marta," as I have done to my teammates. March 3rd marks Bulgaria's liberation from the Ottoman Empire and is memorialized by Alexander Nevsky Church.

Here's some fun news from the rest of Team USA:

Adam Rippon dined at a restaurant near the rink called Evergreen, where he found the menu quite intriguing. Among his favorites were dishes called "fairy," "baked magic," "Viagra" and "tasty wood." He was quick to report that his food contained neither pills nor pieces of wood, and that it was actually quite delicious.

The Dirty Dancing soundtrack has been playing 24/7 in the practice rink. (Before practice, Caroline Zhang wanted to know, 'is that a movie or something?'), Shania Twain and Celine Dion are quite popular as well. I've also heard at least three different versions of "Fields of Gold," which always makes me think of Michelle Kwan -- my favorite skater!

The Skating Club of Boston's Scrabble craze is spreading. It's a great distraction before competing. I'll give you a list of our top words later.

We made the adorable Czech skater Petr Coufal a "Happy Birthday" t-shirt, adorned with three generations of Team USA pins and some Starburst candy. Let's hope he likes it!

WARNING! If you ever visit Sofia, make sure you only hail an "OK" taxi, not a "CK" one. Many of us found this out the hard way -- when a trip downtown cost 4.80 Leva and a trip back cost 50.50 Leva! Believe it or not, this is legal. Both brands of taxis look identical, you need to read the microscopic print. After futile negotiations, we decided to pay the fare, rather than risk imprisonment.

Vocab:

I've been struggling trying to understand the Cyrillic alphabet, and have made slight improvement! I am pleased to report that I can now flirt in Bulgarian!

You are a very attractive man: Vie ste mnogo privlekatelenmazh
Hello: Zdravei
Goodbye: Dovizhdane
Please: Molya
Thank you: Blagodarya (but everyone just says Merci, because it's shorter!)
You're welcome: Pak zapoviadaite
Pardon: Izvinete
No: Ne
Yes: Da

It's been a great competition so far. Good luck everyone!
Katrina