The fact that I am writing this blog post during a couple days off of school for Thanksgiving Break is a clear indication of the organized chaos that has been this fall. However, Thanksgiving provides each person with the much-needed time to reflect on what we are grateful for. When I think back to the end of this past summer, deep gratitude is what I feel.
When we left you with our last post, we had been in Greece for (nearly all) July; living the Corfu beach life but also training daily for Ironman. We came back to Bulgaria for a much-needed one week transition (physically and mentally) to Estonia.
The main reason to travel to Tallinn, Estonia was Ironman (August 7, 2021), but we ended up having quite a time in this charming and historic city. My mom and sister came over from VT, USA. One of our best friends that we met when teaching together in China, Sam Gray, came over from the UK for the race. You might recall Sam was the main reason Alison got into triathlon in China. It is safe to say that we can blame him for all the Ironman shenanigans that have, and continue to, ensue. Sam’s daughter, Olivia, and friend, Tabea, flew out from Holland. Our Airbnb home consisted of a GREAT group of people.
Ironman Tallinn (August 7th, 2021) was an unforgettable and immensely tough experience; a day I will remember as long as I live. Now, nearly four months after the event, it is still challenging for me to completely process what happened and how it all unraveled. I am not being dramatic or kidding in the slightest when I write that I almost did not finish the race that I had prepared and dedicated 8 months of my life to. Sam and I crossed the finish line together at 21:36; for me, this was 14:30 hours from the start. Some day, I will record everything that happened from the moment my feet touched the water until the finish line was behind us. However, that day is not today. Everyone has their own unique Ironman story, and I am no different.
What I do know about Ironman is that Sam and I are the LUCKIEST people in the entire world because we had the most amazing cheerleaders! My mom, Sarah, Olivia, Tabea, and Grant cheered the entire day for us (15+ hours); until their voices were lost from screaming, their legs tired from standing, and their arms fatigued from ringing the cow bells and holding the signs. They are the real heroes because they pushed us to keep going; even when we lost faith in ourselves. To all our fans, both online following us through the Ironman Tracker and in Tallinn, I am eternally grateful.
After Ironman, we enjoyed ourselves in Tallinn. We found ourselves walking (a couple days after Ironman…when Sam and I could walk again) along the old Tallinn cobblestone streets, and under the city for the historic bunker tour. We also went to some old antique shops; very interesting artifacts from the USSR days. We got educated at the Tallinn Maritime Museum. We highly recommend this museum; it was informative yet highly interactive about the importance of Tallinn as a port city throughout the history of Estonia.
With a heavy heart, Grant, Sarah, my mom, and I said goodbye to Sam, Olivia, and Tabea. They headed back west, and the four of us headed south to Bulgaria. One of the toughest things about being an international teacher is that your strongest friendships are from a distance. However, if Sam thinks he can get rid of us easily because he lives in the UK now, he is definitely wrong. Sam will always be stuck with me and Grant; we are lifelong besties.
Sarah was able to visit Bulgaria for only a couple of days, but this didn’t stop us from making the most of this time. In one day, Sarah, mom, and I visited the historic/beautiful town of Koprivshtitsa and then stayed at the Starosel wine spa. Starosel is a MUST-SEE in Bulgaria; it is basically a combination of the best things in the world. Good food. Great wine. The multi-building spa is complete with a workout room, sauna, pools galore (indoor, outdoor, kid pool, you name it they got it), and hot tubs. Laying in the sun underneath the vineyards was second to none. My highlight was playing pool (billiards) with Sarah late at night. When the three of us got back home to Sofia the next day, homemade pizza awaited us, courtesy of Grant.
Thankfully, mom was able to stay longer in Bulgaria, and we passed each hot August day with a grateful heart. We had an epic road trip to Varna; accompanied by Michelle Obama’s soothing voice in the car. We ate polenta in Veliko Tarnovo, and wandered into a church that could only be inspired by Dali. We got lost looking for the God’s Eye Cave (“What? You didn’t see that small piece of cardboard that signified the entrance to the cave?… It was obvious…”). We made Shopska salad on a daily basis. We saw the oldest lighthouse in Bulgaria. We drove down the sketchiest road you have ever seen; only because someone told us good mussels where found down there. And guess what? … They were right. We ate mussels until we were stuffed to the brim. We “rang the bells” at the Children’s Park in Sofia. We walked along the sandy coast in Varna, and swam in the Black Sea (actually less salty than you think a sea would be). We ate vegan food at Sun Moon in downtown Sofia. We got rained on in Balchik gardens while inspecting the local cacti. Mom made us prize-winning eggplant lasagna. Grant, mom and I walked around Pancharevo lake, and then went to our favorite local coffee shop. I begged them, and Grant and mom humored me with an Old Time Bulgarian photo shoot. For a solid twenty minutes, mom and I watched jellyfish the size of hubcaps swim in the Black Sea. We treated my mom to a Plovdivian birthday dinner. We surprised my mom with a birthday firework in her Czech dessert in Plovdiv. We reflected in Alexander-Nevsky’s Cathedral in Sofia. Mom and I threw Grant a chicken wings “hot ones” birthday party complete with Cally’s carrot cake.
It is safe to say that August was… amazing. Unreal. Unprecedented. Challenging. Delicious. Adventurous. New. Inspirational. When we look for it, and accept it, gratitude comes every day and every moment of our lives. I am grateful for every moment in August.