вторник, 15 септември 2015 г.

Rila Monastery - the biggest monastery on the Balkan peninsula part 1 Or - general rules for visiting Eastern Orthodox churches and monasteries

Hello everybody,

Today I'm gonna take you to Rila Monastery - the biggest monastery on the Balkan peninsula. It is situated in the Rila mountains next to the Rila town. If you are traveling from Sofia - you'll have to drive for about two hours - there is a new motorway. In case you don't know where to turn - at the point together with the brown road signs (which indicate a place of cultural significance and hence - a tourist attraction) there is a big stone statue of St. Ivan Rilski - the patron saint of the monastery, a miracle worker and patron saint of Bulgaria as well. I can't show you a picture because it never crossed my mind that I should. Next time, maybe. Since it is a favourite place of mine, you will see several posts about it - I will try to tell you different things about it each time. 

How the monastery looks from the outside

The first thing you need to know is that is an ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN (EASTERN ORTHODOX I mean - think of Greece and Russia and you'll get the point) monastery so there are a few things you should know BEFORE you go there.

What to wear?
When you are traveling, you want to be comfortable, right? Well, when you go to a monastery or church in Bulgaria there are a few restrictions:

- Shorts, strapless tops or dresses (or such with straps altogether), short dresses are STRICTLY FORBIDDEN. It is considered an offense to God and the church to go in like that so they will either give you a scarf to tie around yourself or tell you that you cannot enter. You need to be wearing a top with sleeves (short at least but sleeves). Low cut clothes are also forbidden for the same reason. THE WHOLE THING ABOVE GOES FOR BOTH SEXES AND ALL WEATHER CONDITIONS!!! It doesn't matter if it is 40 degrees Celsius outside - you should show respect no matter what.
- Unlike Greece, where they will make you wear a skirt, even if you are in long jeans, or Russia - where they make you cover your hair - here no such things are needed. You just need a skirt at knee length at least or long pantaloons and a top with at least the hint of sleeves and no low cut neck line. 

Snapping is a disease sometimes so you should be careful where do you take your camera out!
- Taking pictures INSIDE MOST CHURCHES AND MONASTERIES IS FORBIDDEN UNLESS YOU ASK FIRST. Sometimes they will say it's OK as long as you do not disturb the other people (which means - NO FLASH) but in most times it is strictly forbidden unless it is a very big holiday (when everyone has a camera) or a wedding/ christening etc.  In Rila Monastery you cannot take pictures inside. 

In Church:
Orthodox Christian churches have very little to do with Catholic ar Protestant ones. 

- You will see chairs in the church along the walls but they are NOT for sitting. They are intended for those who cannot stand on their own or are too sick to do so. Unlike Catholic churches - here you pray on your feet, not on your knees. So, don't sit unless you feel faint.
The chairs I told you about - only these are OUTSIDE the church - just below a window

- BEWARE OF CANDLES - everyone who goes inside the church to pray lights a candle or many. The custom is that uneven numbers (1, 3, 5 etc) are for the LIVING and even ones (2, 4, 6, etc.) are for the DEAD. Keep that in mind if you want to do what everyone else is doing. For the living you place you candles on your eye level - there are many candelabras, don't worry - and for the dead - above ground in SAND (In Greece it's all in sand - guess it's because it's easy to clean and they have a lot of it).
What I was trying to say is that candles are most often made of wax which is very hot as it melts and can ruin your clothes and gear if you are not careful. Also - if it is a big holiday - there are a lot of people with candles around you so BEWARE OF CATCHING FIRE - hair and clothes from artificial materials are prone to that. 
- Be respectful - don't get in the way of monks/ preachers etc. They have their won work to do and tourists are none of their concern - there are tour guides for that. DON'T LAUGH AND TALK IN A LOUD VOICE INSIDE! You interrupt others and make noise and it is generally bad behavior. 
- Icons and frescoes CANNOT (in most cases) be touched! You can ruin them by accident. 

Some of the frescoes with a fountain.

- Be careful with oxygen - when candles burn, they use up the oxygen in the room so if you feel dizzy - go outside IMMEDIATELY. carbon mono-oxide is not to be trifled with.

Here you can get water - it's not only potable but one of the best tasting in the country.

So, after we got trough the preliminary - what about the monastery itself? Or the saint? 

You'll learn about that in my next post :)

сряда, 2 септември 2015 г.

Kiopoolu - or why many countries quarrel for the same dish

The Balkans are famous for many things - these days most of them are not nice at all - the financial crisis in Greece; the influx of refugees, corruption, low standards of living, high crime rate and so on and so forth. But, on the other hand, the Balkans have amazing landscapes, great food and hospitality (according to foreigners) to offer those who dare venture into that.

Point is, that very few people do so. And even if they do - the food is normally out of the question to taste. To us, the natives, there is nothing better for breakfast than a loaf of bread with sudzhuk (dried sausage that tastes way better than a salami), luitenitsa which is better than any ketchup you can come up with (or ajvar, or pinjur - or whatever the name in the country). 

It seems that, however, foreigners look at those the way an European would look at a table in the Sahara or with an exotic tribe somewhere in Oceania and there offered to eat roasted scorpions or dried slugs for breakfast. 
Some of the dishes do look weird or dangerous for your health, but trust me, any of those is 1000 times healthier than a hamburger. 
And here we come to the question - why is that so?
First we have to start with a little bit of history and geography. 
The Balkans = The Balkan Peninsula (in case someone doesn't know) are situated in the southeast of Europe - if you have the map - start from Spain and count the peninsulas - the Balkan is the third one from left to right. The name comes from the longest mountain range (Stara Planina in Bulgaria also known - for some reason - as Balkan)The climate is relatively warm and in most parts allows for four seasons to appear. That means that there is an abundance of spices, products and times of the year that give birth to some very strange results. 
The second factor, as I mentioned, is history. The Balkans are at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Because of that many nations wanted to rule there or just traveled through and people came in contact with many different cultures, races and of, course - cuisines. 
So when the Ottoman Turks invaded and conquered the peninsula at the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century, there was a lot there already. The conquerors, as all others before them, brought their cuisine with them. 
For most nations on the Balkans the existence within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire lasted between 400 and 500 years. For that time, of course, the conquered had enough opportunities to get to know the new trends and they started adopting some Turkish words. 

So here we come to the problem - who invented kiopoolu? If you ask any of the Balkan nations, they will all proudly declare it was them. Judging by the name, however I am more inclined to think that it was the Turks that brought it to the Balkans. And it is not only that dish - nearly half of the cuisine on the Balkans is like that. I will keep that track in later posts. 

So, how do we prepare kiopoolu?

In case you want to taste that dish you'll need:

- baked and peeled RED and GREEN peppers (you can bake raw ones in the oven of you don't have them ready)
- baked and peeled eggplant (same as above)
- garlic (put as much as you can tolerate)
- parsley (same as above)
- black pepper
- salt
- olive oil (or whatever else you prefer)

So the first thing you have to do is to mash the peppers and the eggplants together - I prefer to have more peppers than eggplant but it is up to your preference. There are no strict rules - each one does it differently. DO NOT USE THE BLENDER - you'll get a ketchup - like substance that has NOTHING  to do with the original. The point is to get a paste in which you can see the ingredients. 
Then you add in the garlic, parsley and the spices and can eat that on a loaf of bread.


Lesson 2 - Get moving -part 1- Aperture

Lesson 2 - Get moving -part 1- Aperture 

Image taken from https://sites.google.com/a/sduhsd.net/mr-jordon/photography

Welcome to lesson 2 where we'll look at another very important aspect of photography - aperture and shutter speed. If you have read lesson 1 you already know that aperture is important for getting the correct exposure but you may wonder what it is. But first things first. 
So what is aperture and why do we need it? According to Wikipedia (again!) aperture is:
'The iris of the lens that controls the size (diameter) of the aperture is called “diaphragm” in optics. The sole purpose of the diaphragm is to block or stop all light, with the exception of the light that goes through the aperture. In photography, aperture is expressed in f-numbers (for example f/5.6)' 
OK, we started with the Chinese again... Still, let's try to break that into pieces - meaningful bits if possible. 
But before we do that we have to know ho the camera works...

Image taken from https://blog.cameralends.com/2014/07/21/8-photography-terms-that-commonly-confuse-beginners/

In the picture above you see a normal lens (OK, I know that some of you who have compact cameras can't exactly imagine what that is but don't worry - the built-in lens of your camera has the same thing). So - see that strange shape in the middle - pentagonal - like hole? Well, in plain English the HOLE that is formed is called the APERTURE of the lens and the  THING  that forms it is called the  DIAPHRAGM
Remember in lesson 1 where I told you about exposure and there was a diagram? If you don't - here it is again: 

Image taken from http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-exposure-diagram-photography-image25034157

So - in that diagram under APERTURE it says SIZE OF THE OPENING THROUGH WHICH LIGHT TRAVELS TO THE SENSOR. Basically the aperture controls how much light would get to the sensor and the diaphragm controls the size of the aperture. So far, so good. But as with anything else in photography (I guess in anything else as well) there is a catch. 
THE LARGER THE APERTURE THE LESS THINGS ARE IN FOCUS! In our diagram that is said in photographic as DEPTH OF FIELD  or as photographers love to abbreviate things to get people confused - DOF. Chinese again, hah?  Here is the point - aperture is measured with F numbers. THE BIGGER THE F NUMBER, THE BIGGER THE DOF. You still don't get me, do you? 
OK, imagine you're shooting a portrait - and you know, portraits have those nice blurry backgrounds - so you'll need a SMALLER F NUMBER (say f/2.8; f/3.5 or something of the sort) to GET THE BACKGROUND OUT OF FOCUS. Here it gets a little messy because SMALLER F NUMBER MEANS BIGGER APERTURE. That is so because you need a lot of light to go through the lens in order to blur the background (in photographic that's called 'out of focus'). See what I mean below:

Image taken from Google images - forgot where I downloaded it from, sorry to the author - meant no offence - If you recognize the author - contact me to change the caption

By analogy, if you want to take picture of that vast landscape you'll want everything in focus (photographic for that - 'pin sharp'). So you'll need a BIGGER F NUMBER (normally ranging between f/8 and f/22) to GET IT ALL IN FOCUS. Confusion continues because BIGGER F NUMBER MEANS SMALLER APERTURE. That is so because the hole needs to be very small in order for the sensor to get it all OK - like the method of camera obscura (I'm not gonna explain that here, just Google it).

Image taken from http://www.freelargeimages.com/landscape-2332/

So let's try to recapitulate what we know here:
Image taken from http://www.robertmackin.com/tutorials/photography/camera-aperture-explained/
Image taken from http://www.crafthubs.com/f-stops-apertures-for-beginners/12520

If you wonder where to find that in the camera menu - look below:

There is only one thing you should know about aperture - THE BIGGER THE APERTURE THE MORE THE LIGHT AND VICE VERSA. That means that at f/2.8 you'll not need abundance of light whereas at f/16 you'll do.

Lesson 1 - Understanding light - Exposure, ISO sensitivity

Lesson 1 - Understanding light - Exposure, ISO sensitivity

Image taken from http://7-themes.com/6876390-photography-wallpaper.html

In Greek Photography literally means 'painting with light' so if we're going to learn a few skills, the first thing we need to get acquainted with is light. Don't get panicked - no Physics involved here - at least no equations. I am hopeless at Physics myself so I'll try to stick to plain English and leave that particular science out of our work. 
So what determines whether the shot (that's photographic for 'picture') you've taken is light or dark? No. not only the light outside or wherever you are. It is (sorry about complicating things a bit but it can't be helped sometimes) how much of the light you see you let to get to the sensor of your camera (if you are old-fashioned - to the film). The photographic for that is EXPOSURE. That comes from how much you EXPOSE the sensor/film to light.  Here is what Wikipedia has to say as a definition of exposure: 
'In photographyexposure is the amount of light per unit area (the image plane illuminance times the exposure time) reaching a photographic film or electronic image sensor, as determined by shutter speed, lens aperture and scene luminance.'
Frankly, I don't get much of that myself so let's break that into meaningful bits  - it's the amount of light that gets to the camera sensor - we arledy got that. Shutter speed is the speed in which you camera can take pictures, lens aperture stands for that opening in the shutter (the thing that actually takes the pictures in your camera) that lets the light in and the luminance of the scene simply means how light it is. 
Here is a diagram explaining things in pictures - don't worry if you don't understand things now - it would get clear later.
Image taken from http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-exposure-diagram-photography-image25034157

No, don't tell me that your camera doesn't have that - ALL cameras do - whether they let you change it yourself is another matter. Even if you don't have a full manual (displayed as the letter M in the menu or on the control button of your camera) you'll still have some semi- manual mode available. 
So how do we control exposure then and what does it mean for us and our pictures?
Say you have a camera that has full manual (or something close to it) - when you turn on the screen (I am assuming that you have a digital camera) you'll see something like that:

OK, maybe not exactly something like that but still - you see the grid line? If you are taking picture through the screen it would appear at the bottom of the screen. 
Let's take a look at the grid line itself - you see the arrow there? It is normally set at 0. That means that the sensor of your camera 'sees' relatively the same amount of light you do. (I'll keep repeating throughout that the human eye is the most sophisticated photographic equipment on earth but still I'll use that for convenience's sake.) So that 0 is called - or at least I will call it - NEUTRAL EXPOSURE. Other photographers, however call it CORRECT EXPOSURE - assuming that when the arrow is at 0 there are no light issues. 

So - what happens if you move the arrow LEFT then? You see there are numbers there (in some models they are written with a minus: -1;-2;-3 etc.) each number means that the picture will be ONE TIME (Stop in photographic) DARKER than the neutral one. So thus a picture shot (photographic for 'taken') at exposure -3 (they call it 'stops') is 3 times darker than one shot at 0. 
If you go RIGHT - you'll notice the same numbers (written with a plus in front of them in some models - +1;+2;+3 etc.) Here the situation is the opposite - the shot gets LIGHTER than the neutral one. 
So - why did I post that awful diagram in the first place? Because the exposure is closely linked to other functions and is in a way dependent on them. The longer the exposure, the slower the shutter speed (the speed with which your camera can take pictures) and vice versa (you need more light and in order to provide it for you things slow down). 
Basically, photographers say that any picture that is TOO dark is UNDEREXPOSED  and any picture which is TOO light - OVEREXPOSED

Since a picture says a thousand words - here is one to make things clear: 

Image taken from http://photoinsomnia.com/photography/shoot-bracketed-for-better-landscapes/

The picture on the left is underexposed, the one on the right is overexposed and the correct exposure is in the middle. As you can see there is a red number on the shots to the sides indicating how much do they differ - in our case - two stops from the neutral. 
What's ISO?
Another thing that is closely linked to exposure is ISO sensitivity. No, it's not a spy code but even I don't know what the ISO abbreviation stands for. In plain English ISO sensitivity stands for the sensitivity of the sensor to light. Those who have used film know that films have limited or fixed ISO (say, one or two numbers). Well - good news - cameras have many. 
The rule is that THE HIGHER THE ISO THE LIGHTER IT GETS - IF ALL THE OTHER SETTINGS ARE THE SAME. So the higher ISO is determined by the bigger number - some cameras have options to have ISO of 12000 and even more.
Image taken from http://www.macrominded.com/iso-settings.html

OK, so here's the catch - THE HIGHER THE ISO THE LOWER THE QUALITY. When the sensor is more sensitive to light the quality of the picture gets worse. That's so because the sensor has to compensate for the lack of light - and you see the poor quality by seeing differently coloured pixels in the image. Photographers call that NOISE. THE LOWER THE ISO THE LOWER THE NOISE. Generally, it's recommended to use the lowest possible ISO in the circumstances. However, LOW ISO MEANS SLOW SHUTTER SPEED AND LONG EXPOSURE. 
See the difference below:

Image taken from http://www.exposureguide.com/iso-sensitivity.htm

So let's sum up ISO:
Image taken from http://www.suggestkeyword.com/cGhvdG9ncmFwaHkgaXNv/