After Bulgaria trip, Elk Grove closer to getting new Sister City
Two Elk Grove Village officials who returned this week from Bulgaria brought back a few souvenirs and mementos, and even a couple of bottles of wine.
But they also have lifelong memories and new friendships that could lead to a more formalized Sister Cities arrangement between towns some 5,000 miles apart.
Trustee Pat Feichter and Police Chief Chuck Walsh traveled to Pernik, Bulgaria last week to attend a major cultural festival, meet governmental leaders and visit historical sites.
A delegation from Pernik -- the second largest city in western Bulgaria -- visited Elk Grove in November to ink a friendship agreement and get ideas and advice about creating an industrial zone like Elk Grove's business park.
"They wanted to show off their country and culture. They wanted us to be really happy with it," said Feichter, who returned Monday from the four-day trip. "We told them we'd like to continue this relationship."
The trip revolved around Pernik's annual Surva festival, which featured parades of masked performers in elaborate costumes who danced and performed rituals. The fest regularly attracts revelers throughout Bulgaria and other southern European countries.
Feichter and Walsh attended opening ceremonies where thousands of spectators came to see hundreds of costumed performers -- some carrying torches, others drumming and singing -- followed by a laser-light show, fireworks and a bonfire. The next day, busloads of masqueraders arrived to parade through the streets and have their folk groups judged by a panel.
Feichter and Walsh also met with U.S. Ambassador Eric Rubin, his wife and Bulgaria's Minister of Interior Mladen Marinov, who heads the country's police force. Walsh plans to meet with Marinov in June when they attend an international law enforcement conference in Chicago.
Pernik Mayor Vyara Tserovska arranged for a translator/tour guide for Feichter and Walsh during their stay, taking them to a historic Orthodox monastery in the mountains and an old coal mine that serves as a museum below the city. The Bulgarian hosts also feted the Elk Grove officials at several dinners featuring local cuisine.
"Everywhere I went, there was food, food, food," Feichter said. "I took tiny pieces and did as best we could so as not to offend anybody."
Elk Grove funded their airfare, while Pernik paid for their hotel stay, meals and all other expenses, Feichter said.
Elk Grove also has a friendship agreement with Ixtapa Zihuatanejo, Mexico, which was signed in 2015. The village's only official Sister Cities partnership has been with Termini Imerese, Sicily, Italy, since 2000. It's led to an annual student exchange program, and exchanges involving local medical and business personnel.
"The more we understand each other in the world and not fight with each other and know people in different cultures, I think the chances of wars and hostility between people is lessened," Feichter said.