Travelogue: An Artist's Journey

Robin Ann Walker's Trip to Eastern Europe, October 2003 - Page 1.

How It All Started:

In 2002, I went to France for 16 days. It was my dream to go to Paris, and I really don't know why it took me so long to go there. What prompted the decision was the $600 voucher from American Airlines that I received due to an overbooked flight from New York City. Yay! Free ticket to Paris.

After that trip I could not get enough of everything French. I spent endless hours online researching possible artist's workshops in France. That's how I found Phil Levine. He added me to his mailing list, and a few months later I received an email announcing several new workshops. One was a FREE art collaboration in Bulgaria. I responded immediately, with a letter of interest and my website address. One email came back to me telling me they liked my work and I would be presented to the jury. The announcements of the chosen artists would be made by June 30, 2003, for travel in October. I followed up with a few more emails, just to be sure they knew I was really interested.

But I didn't hear a thing back from them.

I spent 4th of July weekend with friends on the lake in Austin, and as we drove back I told them about the "plenary" in Bulgaria. We all agreed that it sounded like a terrific adventure, but it was a long shot that I would be selected to attend. In checking my email on Sunday, July 6th, I was surprised to find a message from Bill Bartelt saying "looks like we will be traveling to Bulgaria together!" I didn't know Bill, so I went to the workshop website, and there was my name! Amazing. Here is Bill's message to me:

"Dear Robin, I see that we have been selected to participate in Valerie Tsenov's painting workshop in Bulgaria this fall.  Congratulations to you! I look forward to painting along side of you in that beautiful part of the world.  Perhaps as the time of the workshop draws near, we can communicate and share information and insights. I will look forward to meeting you in the wilds of Bulgaria!  Sincerely, Bill Bartelt"

early July, 2003

This is Gela, Bulgaria, the small village where I will be staying. The highlighted structure top right will be my home for two weeks.

Old stone houses, typical of the region

I am going to Bulgaria!

I can't quite believe it. There must have been hundreds of entries, why would they pick me? Oh boy! What an adventure. I have so many ideas....and so many questions.

early July, 2003

I set up a Yahoo group for all the artists traveling to Bulgaria. I just added everyone's email, and tried to get everyone to respond. Not so easy. I wonder why everyone is not as overjoyed as I am at this opportunity. Really, how many chances could an artist get to travel to a foreign country for an all-expenses-paid workshop? And this is an ex-communist country - poor, and not part of the tourist circuit. A land that time left behind.  I'm sure that means that amenities will be few, but culture abundant.

early July 2003


The bookstores in Dallas are lacking in the Eastern European travel department. I have ordered books from But I did buy a rail map of the area - which helps orient me, and see where else I can visit in the area. I am thinking that as long as I am in Bulgaria, why not take some extra time to travel around? I posted the thought on the Yahoo group. Not much response. There is some sense of nervousness in most people, since we are not hearing much of anything from the Bulgarian sponsors. We are wondering if this is a real deal. I have emailed Phil Levine, and two of the Bulgarians. I hope for some positive response.

July 2003

Good news from Bulgaria! The "plenary" will start on Oct. 3 and we are all to meet at the airport in Sofia, Bulgaria that day. All painting equipment, paint, canvases, and brushes will be supplied. Rooms with private baths are provided for us, and there will be a cook on-site. It is sounding better and better.

Some of the 10 chosen participants will not be attending. That's sad to me. There are very few things that could keep me from going. One member said that October is her artist husband's busy season and she can't leave him. One person's son is getting married.  One person just said she can't go.

I took a survey of various artist friends that I thought would want to - and could - go, but none of them were interested. Again, that confuses me. As an artistic opportunity it is unsurpassed. All expenses two week trip in a foreign country with other painters, working together collaboratively with no outside distractions. Heaven.

July 2003


The group is beginning to come together. We are sharing what we have learned about the region, and a little about ourselves so we will know each other before we get there.  Some of us have traveled extensively, and some not at all. Those who have not traveled to Europe are taking extra time after the workshop to explore further.  I have decided to go to Istanbul, and hopefully north to Budapest. Bill has suggested a cruise from Istanbul in the Black Sea. Everything sounds so wonderfully romantic. I wish I had a travel partner, but that won't keep me from taking off to parts unknown!

I take my books and maps to bed with me at night. I am trying to absorb all I can about the region.

July 17, 2003


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