All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.

Robert Kennedy

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lyndsey, Me and a bunch of Asians.

Looking forward to a trip for many months can be tricky as sometimes it doesn't live up to your expectations. Lyndsey and I started planning our Christmas vacation back in early October when we were wondering what it would be like to be away for the holidays for the first time in our lives. We chose two cities, Vienna, Austria and Prague, Czech Republic, that neither of us had ever been to. It seemed to take forever to get here and now it's over. Isn't that the way it always goes?
Our train compartment
We decided to leave from Chisinau. Sure, Bucharest is closer to Cahul, where I live, but we decided to meet in Chisinau. Our friends Conrad and Lindsay had left the day before for Argentina and they needed some stuff to be done around their apartment so we volunteered and stayed there for a few days before departure. It was a good break between site and vacation so we weren't completely culture shocked. We arrived in Chisinau on Sunday the 18th and spent a few days getting some last minute things done. We had to get our final Hepatitis shots from Medical, get our travel medical cards from Admin, get a few things for the trip etc. It was a nice relaxing few days before the travel extravaganza. We were taking an overnight train from Chisinau to Bucharest, Romania. The train left at 5:30pm on Tuesday the 20th. We got to the train station way early and walked around trying to find a place to exchange some of our Moldovan currency for some Romanian currency. We had been told prior that Romania was always hesitant to take Moldovan Lei as no one really needed it there. We struck out multiple times and just decided to risk it. The train itself was pretty comfortable. We were in a 4 bed car and had 1 Romanian roommate. It wasn't too roomy but it was nice to have a place to sleep. There were two things that I didn't like about this 12 hour train ride, one - it was freaking hot and two - the border cross. For some reason, they pumped the heat on this train like it was 40 below outside. It was SO hot that it was hard to sleep as I kept waking up sweating. The border check took 4 hours. Yes, you read that correctly. For one, they have to switch the wheels going from Moldova into Romania as Moldova trains are still on the Soviet system and Romania is on the European system. So they have to remove and replace the wheels. 

The train stops in Moldova and the Moldovan border patrol boards the train and checks everyone's passports. Being an American traveling from 2 non-native countries they asked us a lot of questions. After about 2 hours, the train starts moving again, crosses the border then stops and the Romanian border patrol boards the train and does the same thing. Then the baggage/customs people board and checks everyone's bags. It was a long process. Finally we got moving again. We had met a fellow American, Nolan while we were waiting. He was traveling through Europe by himself on his way down to Turkey. For the first few hours he was fun to talk to, but as the night went on, we realized it was time to go our separate ways. As we had spent months being schooled in how to not stick out as Americans, Nolan had not had such training and was loud and asking too many questions, being sarcastic to people who spoke little English who thought he was just being rude and just wanted to keep talking all night long. We all finally fell asleep although it wasn't a solid sleep as the compartment was inexplicably hot. We arrived in Romania at approximately 8am. From the train we took another train to the airport. The instant we walked into the airport it was a different world. There were restaurants and stores and we were very happy. We had breakfast at Burger King (a luxury these days) and waited for our flight. We boarded Austrian Airlines and it was like every seat was first class. There was plenty of room, it was comfortable, not incredibly full and the flight was only about an hour. We landed in Vienna and followed our explicit instructions to our hostel, Wombats at the Naschmarkt. I had never stayed in a hostel before so I was really interested to see what it would be like. The moment we stepped up out of the underground we new we were in a different world. Hell, even before we exited the train. Everything was SO CLEAN! I think we were in shock. We were pointing at everything and smiling and giggling and being stupid. We arrived at the hostel and it was beautiful. Lyndsey, who had stayed in hostels before, remarked that it was probably the nicest hostel she had ever seen. We were placed in a 4 bed room but no one else ever showed up so we had it all to ourselves, even with a bathroom en suite. Lyndsey was so excited to pee in a toilet. It's the little things really. It would've been easy to hole up in our room all day and just enjoy sleeping on a comfortable bed but we decided we should probably go out and see Vienna. We got a map from the front desk (which wasn't the greatest) and headed out to find a Christmas market. It took us a while as we were still a little star struck by all the pretty buildings. We finally found one and had some delicious eats.  
My homemade waffle with whipped cream, cinnamon and chocolate. (I asked for caramel, but what am I gonna do? Complain????)
We walked around the commercial part of Vienna and found a Starbucks. (I know...sacrilege where there is world famous Viennese coffee to drink at Starbucks was still really good!) 
Starbucks! Nothing says Christmas like Gingerbread Lattes!

 We walked around for a while but it had been a long few days of traveling so we headed back to our hostel. The hostel had a laundry room on the basement floor...WITH DRYERS!!!!! (A big luxury to us) So we decided to do some laundry while having some drinks in the bar in the hostel. We met a new friend, Ty, who was from Japan and traveling through Europe. He was hilarious and we enjoyed his company. There were a LOT of Asians traveling and Ty agreed with me and said that there are always a lot of Asians, Indians and Americans wherever he travels. I mean when we make up so much of the world population, I guess your always bound to run into those three ethnic groups. After our laundry was finished we headed to sleep. We woke up the next morning. We walked through the open air market across form our hostel and it was beautiful. We decided to treat ourselves to a heart meal and settled on an Italian place that had the biggest homemade raviolis I had ever seen. I had Caprese soup which was basically Tomato Cream soup with basil and mozzarella balls floating in it and then Truffle and Garlic Raviolis in a butter sauce. They were ridiculous. 
My raviolis!

The Naschmarkt!
The rest of the day we had the intention of going to Mozart's grave. We went to the Belvedere Palace which was huge and beautiful. 

Belvedere Place
We never did find the damn cemetery. I'm sure we walked around in circles for hours but we missed it somehow. I was disappointed but it couldn't ruin the day. So we headed back to the center of town and found the Haus of Musik museum which was really cool and I got to virtually conduct the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra. It was a big ego trip, especially after the 'excellent' review I got from the computer.

Me admiring Mozart at the Haus of Musik.

We wound up eating dinner at Subway. Not what you'd call exotic but still delicious after 6 months of no sandwiches. We headed back to the hostel and had to say goodbye to our friend Ty as we were heading to Prague in the morning and he was going on to Prague. He was good people.

Me, Ty and Lyndsey.
We woke up the next morning and had to find our bus to Prague which turned out not to be too easy. We took the right train but NO ONE at the train station had any idea where the "Student Agency" was. Our bus left at 10:30am and we found the station at 10:28am. Luck was on our side because the bus was AWESOME! There was a bus attendant who brought us cappuccinos and hot chocolate whenever we wanted and there were TV's at every seat where you could watch movies, TV shows or play games with other passengers.

My seat on Luxury Bus.

It was luxurious. The bus ride was 5 hours long but when we arrived in Prague it felt like no time had passed. We arrived in Prague on the National Day of Mourning for Vaclav Havel. He had passed away a few days earlier and it was an international state event. The Clintons were there for the funeral. Thankfully, coming in by bus, we avoided the airport nightmare. When we stepped out of the train we were right in Wenceslas Square and were in the middle of the candlelight vigil. It was really nice to see an entire nation appreciate one of their leaders. When you're always surrounded by negativity, it's really nice to see an entire country show their respect, regardless of political views.
Vaclav Havel candlelight vigil.
Prague was beautiful. It had a different vibe than Vienna, but it was beautiful. We headed to our hostel which wasn't far from the square. It certainly wasn't as luxurious as the Vienna one but it had it's own charm. We were in a room with 6 other people. There was a loft with 2 beds so we claimed that quickly. There were 3 New Zealanders and the rest, of course, were Asians. We headed out into the city and went to Old Town Square. There was a huge Christmas Market.

Christmas Market view from the Tower.
I got Kielbasa on a roll and it was delicious. I could really get into this Bohemian cuisine. It was raining slightly and a little chilly and unfortunately I had walked a hole in the bottom of my boot so my feet were wet. I was not happy. We went on a search for a pub but I was pretty tired so I hit a wall pretty hard. I don't really remember getting back to the hostel after the pub search failed but I crashed out pretty hard. When I woke up the next morning, I felt a million times better even though my boots were still wet. Lyndsey had the same problem so we were both a little cranky. Walking around with wet feet isn't enjoyable at all! But it was Christmas Eve and we wanted to see the city. We headed up to the Prague Castle and it was a beautiful view of the entire city. We walked up what seemed to be a million steps but it was worth it. It was a tiny city on the top of the hill. We watched the changing of the guard and took in the sites and slowly got over our crankiness. I couldn't help thinking about Stripes because the guards still wore similar uniforms as the Czechoslovakia guards at the border patrol in that movie. 

Changing of the Guard.

The Steps leading out of the Castle.
Lyndsey had some mulled wine and I decided to try some 'Grog' mainly because I like the word. I didn't know what it was, it tasted like a warm glass of whiskey, which may have been exactly what it was but it was really good and I felt warm all over. We went back down to Old Town Square and were going to partake in a "Beer Tour" that we had found online. We got there really early so we spent some time in an Irish Pub and had some more Mulled Wine. What is mulled wine? It is warm wine and they float oranges and different nuts and berries in the bottom. It is ridiculously soothing. We went to wait for the beer tour but the guide never showed up. An American couple from DC showed up too so they were equally disappointed. Since it was Christmas Eve, everything was shutting down early. The only place we could find that was open was a Chinese restaurant which was actually great. We made it an early night. When we got back to the hostel, we decided to watch a movie and relax. While we were watching, another Asian arrived, Alex. He was from Korea and was traveling through Europe while he was on break from school in Canada. He spoke really great English and was adorable. He asked what we were doing for Christmas and we told him we were planning on taking a free tour of the city so he asked if he could join us. The next morning, it didn't feel like Christmas exactly. Elliott, the New Zealander, got a morning phone call from his Mom and he said "Meery Christmas, mum" and that's when we realized that it was Christmas. Alex was already up and said that another Korean, Ku, had arrived after we had gone to sleep and he would be joining us too. As per usual, it was Lyndsey, Me and the Asians. Alex and Ku were hilarious and we greatly enjoyed spending the day with them. We found this website called Prague Free Tours where they don't charge you for the tours, you just tip them at the end of it. We had a guide, Karel, and he was AWESOME! I usually don't enjoy tours but this guy was a theatre major and involved everyone in the tour, we re-enacted King Wenceslas murder, he joked with everyone, learned where we were all from, even had Lyndsey participate in a portion of history.
Karel and Lyndsey re-enact some Czech history.
The tour ended and Alex and Ku decided to continue on to the "Pub Crawl" tour but we decided against it. We said our goodbyes and we decided to go back to the hostel and dry off as it was raining again and again we had wet feet. Grrrrr. On the way back, I was hungry so I grabbed some McDonalds. We decided to have a big Christmas dinner but it wasn't for hours away so I just wanted a snack. On the way to the hostel, there was a random open shoe store and both Lyndsey and I found great deals and bought new boots. With dry feet, the world was better! Back at the hostel, the Wi-Fi was down so we decided to head back to McDonalds were there was free Wi-Fi and Skype with our families. It was sad to see everybody in the familiar place without me but it was really nice to get to talk to them at all. We all joked around for as long as we could. I was in McDonalds (surrounded by Asians). After about an hour, Lyndsey skyped with her parents, her boyfriend and me with my family so we decided to head out to dinner. We walked around and found a little restaurant that was serving Christmas dinner. It was this cool little Jazz bar and the food was ridiculous! We took our time and ate every course and just enjoyed it. We headed back to the hostel and had to pack again. Alex and Ku returned from the Bar Crawl after we fell asleep. The next morning Alex was really anxious to tell us about the Bar Crawl but we had to catch our bus back to Vienna. So he walked with us so he could chat with us. Ku was still passed out. We said our goodbyes and got back on to our bus of luxury. Again, the bus ride went way too fast and was way too awesome. Since it wasn't raining like the last time we were able to see the beautiful Czech and Austrian countryside. Inexplicable.
We arrived back in Vienna at Wombats. This time we were in an 8 bed room so we didn't have the luxury of our own room. We did some more laundry, went out for one last fantastic dinner and got a good night's sleep. In the elevator, I saw this sign and it amused highly:
We're not what you'd call "loved" around the world...
We had to wake up at 4am to catch our flight. We waited for a lot of trains but made our flight on time. It was a really quick flight to Bucharest and we headed to the train station. It was 8:30am and our train didn't leave until 7:40pm. So we checked our bags and spent the day in Bucharest. It's a cool city. It was a little chilly though so we found a movie theatre and they were only showing "Tower Heist" which was good. I don't know if it's a great movie, but after not being in a movie theatre in 6 months and being in a warm was good.

Tower Heist in Romanian.
We got back to the train station at about 6 to have dinner and ran into Jamie and Michael (two other volunteers). They had just returned from Madrid and Barcelona. They, however, were taking the bus back to Moldova so we just chatted with them for a bit and they headed out. The train was once again ridiculously hot and full so it wasn't a great night's sleep. The border cross this time was at 4am so it was even more annoying. But we arrived and survived the entire week.
It was really nice to get away for a while but there are certain things I will never understand about traveling. 

  1. The shoes that people choose to walk around in all day fascinate me. I saw more girls in high heels on cobbled streets and it is just fascinating to me that they don't die.
  2. Photos are way more important than moments.
  3. Why do people feel the need to update their status that they 'in Prague' more than just be in Prague? Don't get it. The lobby of the hostel, where there was free Wi-Fi was way more crowded than any attraction we were at in any city. Depressing.
  4. Phones on vibrate and silent is a thing of the past. Now it's the loudest ring possible, and oh, people will ANSWER!
  5. If a restaurant doesn't have Wi-Fi, it has way less foot traffic.
  6. Anyone sensing a theme here?
Yes, I'm sick of technology. I'm sick of it being the most important things in our life. Yes, I'm guilty of it but it's just taken over our lives. Get the phones out of your hands people and enjoy what's around you! It's out of control! (Stepping off soap box...)
Mostly what I enjoyed was just seeing different people and meeting nice people and have conversations with people I'll more than likely never see again. Staying in a room with 6 strangers may sound like a nightmare to some people but it was actually really fun. I'm sure there are horror stories from hostels as well but I had a really good experience. It's also really important to find good people to travel with. Lyndsey and I don't have a lot of the same interests but we're also both open to trying things. And we're pretty easy going and get along well and that's pretty important. I think the times we wanted to kill each other were kept to the bare minimum. Traveling with someone you're not compatible with sounds like a nightmare. 
So that was Vienna and Prague. I would go back to either city in a heartbeat, wouldn't even mind residing in either one. I will definitely be back to Vienna because I will at some point see the grave of Mozart, plus I really want to go to Salzburg so I can do "The Sound of Music" tour.
But now, it's on to prepping for the next trip to London and Paris with some Too Faced girls from CA. I'm pretty excited for it.
Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Crăciun fericit and С Новым годом

That's Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I can't believe how fast the end of the year has gone. November and December have flown by in the blink of an eye.
Christmas season around here is just plain delightful. There are few Christmas decorations and only within the past few days have Christmas carols been creeping up. It has made me not only like Christmas, but look forward to it. Isn't it amazing what non-saturation can do for your spirit?
Work wise, it's been a slow month. Towards the holidays everything rapidly slows down. (Rapidly slow?) My work partner, Victoria and I have become good friends as she, her husband, Oleg and I share the office together so we are in very close quarters daily. I helped out in a few training on human trafficking and the facts are very upsetting. But much like the US, when we are telling the facts to teenagers, it doesn't really scare them or upset them, they just take the information and go. It's like watching it on TV and 'it will never happen to me' which is frightening. But I understand the importance of the education of it now. In the new year, we will be tackling a project to create a sports center for youth here in my town. There is no real place where the kids can go after school. She was trying to explain to me what they were trying to build and I referenced the YMCA and she had never heard of it. I proceeded to show her the website for the YMCA and performed a little of the song. They think I'm pretty weird.
I have mostly stayed in Cahul lately and avoided Chisinau. There is an element of the American population who like to travel to Chisinau on the weekends and just go nuts. I am not one of those people and avoid it as much as I can. I'm past that stage in my life where 'partying' is the best way to spend a Friday night. Conversely, my friend Lyndsey's birthday was last weekend so we all traveled to our friends apartment and spent the weekend cooking homemade meals for her. Friday we had Mexican, Saturday I busted out all the family Italian recipes and made homemade gnocchi, sauce, meatballs, bruschetta and cheesecake. And Sunday we had good old fashioned cheeseburgers and fries. It was a great, relaxing weekend with friends. We barely left the house, barely anyone knew we were there. We just enjoyed each other's company, ate and relaxed before the holidays. Lyndsey had made it explicitly clear that she didn't want anything big for her birthday so I think we succeeded.
Wednesday was my last day of work and I've pretty much been sleeping since then. I've justified it in the fact that it has been one hell of a long year and I've been sleeping it off for 3 days. I should be preparing for vacation but the rest was obviously well needed. 
So, Tuesday I leave for Christmas vacation to Prague and Vienna. I have been to neither city but have always wanted to go. It feels weird not going to a Too Faced Christmas party. Christmas as never really my thing but they sure love to celebrate it there. Even though I would probably be rolling my eyes and hating it, I'm actually a little sad that I won't be there. I guess now I'm just another face that got crossed off on that boat. ;) But thankfully, there's a handful of people there that still keep in touch so well. Didn't realize how I had made actual friends instead of colleagues and bosses. I sure do miss you guys...even you, Andrea. (I'm gonna regret putting that in writing...)
It will be the first time I have ever spent Christmas somewhere other than Honesdale, PA. Quite a change. But I'm pretty excited. I will greatly be missing those cinnamon rolls and Polish Borscht and especially the laughs around the table during dinner. Last Christmas was incredibly hard but I think with a year's time, we've all grown stronger and happier so I'm sad to miss the happy times. But thinking of my family laughing and having fun will have to suffice.
So, off to Vienna, city of Mozart, where I'll see classical concerts, opera, graves and great coffee. Off to Prague, where I'll see beautiful scenery, great food and beer and meet new people and spend Christmas with strangers in a foreign land. Lots of pics to take.
С Рождеством!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Take One and Pass It..

Here is what I've learned about Thanksgiving: When you don't have to do anything besides show up and eat, it is a wonderful holiday. When you have to spend days preparing and have to get up at the crack of dawn the day of, to make sure everything gets done, it kind of blows. 

On Saturday, we held a big Thanksgiving dinner for our Moldovan counterparts. There were 12 volunteers and 2 Fulbright scholars to represent 'the Americans' and everybody brought 2-3 guests. We worked all week to prepare for a dinner for 50 people. Our goal was to cook a traditional American meal and explain the history of this holiday. (I mean of course we taught them the fun/loving history we learned in 2nd grade, not the reality...but I won't go off on that tangent...) As with everything, this was misconstrued as the volunteers in the South of the country trying to be elitist and have our own private Thanksgiving and not invite everybody. Yes, even in Moldova there are internal political struggles. Regardless, it was a success. After days of baking pies, killing and baking turkeys and chickens, making 5 Kilos of mashed potatoes, the dinner was a success. We had to explain the American buffet style of the dinner as Moldovans are used to having Masa's where all the food is on the table. Getting up, standing in line and fixing your plate and then going to the table was very foreign to them and they were quite shy about it. Not like the Americans who went up time and time again filling their plates. It was nice to have a taste of home for just a few hours. But it was exhausting. We were all wiped out for a few days. But we had achieved our goal. Many of us didn't feel well afterwards because even though the food was good, we just weren't used to stuffing ourselves like that anymore.
For the most part, the Moldovans I have met here have been pretty overwhelmingly kind and open. They also wonder why we would willingly come to their country when we could stay in the US and have everything. They wonder why everyone in the US is always fighting over who gets the most stuff. They like to hear about the weather and my family and how I can be away for so long and why I like to go out to eat instead of cooking and English slang. I've been here for 6 months and I would say about 95% of the natives here have been pretty great. The biggest challenge has been the Americans here in country. You can take them out of America...I won't get into it now. I'll tell you privately if you ask, but I'm not going to put them on blast publicly.
Also have really enjoyed learning a bit of basic Russian. I've learned the Cyrillic alphabet which was a big battle but now I can at least sound words out. I may not know what they mean but it's a start. I am being taught by a University student who has been studying English for four years. He speaks very well but I still have to speak slowly and enunciate. What I have really learned in learning a foreign language is that English is TOUGH! All the little rules and idiosyncrasies are ridiculous. And I pride myself on my speaking skills but I was a pretty lazy speaker. I've had to cut out contractions when I speak because they are confusing for foreigners.  
Other than that, I attended a seminar on Formal vs. Non-Formal Education. It was an informative seminar but also brought some heated debates as the older generation likes to focus on formal education in classrooms, degrees, etc. whereas the younger wanted to validate that non-formal education such as NGO's (non-profit organizations), the internet, seminars and lectures are also valid. There is an ongoing problem here with academic honesty. Kids in school are encouraged to cheat to get the highest grade possible. They are encouraged by the teachers, their parents and fellow students. There are no penalties for cheating, it is encouraged. In trying to explain how unaccepted this is in other parts of the world many were very surprised. It is just the way it is here. My fellow volunteers are up in arms about this, which I guess they should be. But it is also easy to see that in this world it's harder to justify that kids need to actually learn things when they can pull a tiny computer out of their pocket and look something up. (Don't get me started on how iPhones are ruining the world...) But I digress...
In this seminar, the lady leading the seminar handed a stack of papers to a student and asked her to take one and pass it. The young girl of 16 or so, took a paper for herself, took one for her neighbor then passed the stack to her neighbor. Her neighbor, already having a paper, took one for her neighbor, then passed it on. It fascinated me. They weren't taking something for themselves. They were making sure there neighbor had what they needed before passing the stack of paper. Wouldn't it be an amazing world if that was the mentality of people living in it? Let me make sure that my neighbor is provided for before I pass it along. I think that it would sure help people remember what was important and that it wasn't always about material possessions or money or making sure that you had the best stuff and the most of it, but more that the people around them in their community were provided for and that everyone was equally happy. Wouldn't it be nice?
Or maybe it was just a stack of paper.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Giving thanks in a strange land...

So obviously, Eastern Europe doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving. (Yes, a few friends actually asked me if they did...they shall remain nameless...and will also soon be deleted out of my life.) And since it isn't a holiday here, it was just another Thursday. It wasn't too hard since I haven't been home for Thanksgiving in about 15 years but I did miss my annual 'watch all the Friends Thanksgiving episodes in a day' marathon with my best friend, Chris. I was going to do it here but it didn't feel right without him. 
This typical Thursday was a little different though because I got to Skype with my family. I can't even tell you how much my sister's children make me laugh. They are so much fun to talk to, I forget they're teenagers in high school and college. They were at my Mom's house enjoying the traditional cinnamon roll and Borscht (which I now know is just a family recipe because actual Borscht is not NEARLY as delicious as Mom's.) breakfast that Mom puts out every holiday. After that crew left I got to chat with Mom and Leroy for a while and they caught me up on everything else. And then in the evening (here) and the afternoon (there), i FINALLY got to talk to my brother, Bob. I have barely talked to him since he dropped me off in Philadelphia 6 months ago. He doesn't have Skype, he's been switching jobs and we've had trouble connecting. So to see his face pop up on my computer screen made it an awesome day. We chatted for about a half hour. I showed off my new Russian words, which are actually swear words and I forgot that his girlfriend, Bozena, speaks fluent Russian. Whoops. She enjoyed it heartily though. It was so good to talk to him.
For the weekend, the majority of volunteers went up to the Peace Corps headquarters where they had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. However, the office building is pretty small and there are almost 150 volunteers so a few of us decided to stay here in Cahul and have a Mexican feast instead. We invited a few volunteers and some Moldovans and had a sort of anti-Thanksgiving meal. It was quiet and nice and we avoided the chaos of the Capital. 
This coming weekend we are holding a "traditional" Thanksgiving. We are holding it for our Moldovan work partners to introduce them to American customs. It's going to be a lot of work, including killing turkeys for the dinner. I may leave that one up to some others...
But it will be good for us to share some of our traditions before the Christmas season arrives. It is really nice here because there is not one mention of Christmas yet. They do not buy into the commercialism whatsoever. It is strictly religious. The majority of Moldovans celebrate on January the 7th, the Orthodox Christmas so December isn't even all that crazy. 
But I leave for Vienna in 22 days and I'm really excited to see that and Prague. We have to travel from here to Bucharest, Romania to catch our flight. I'll be using 4 currencies during the trip; Moldovan Lei, Romanian Lei, Euros and Czech Koruna. If I can survive the fraud calls from my bank who will be going nuts, I think it'll be a good trip. (Not that I don't applaud banks for being so careful with theft and fraud these days but if I call them and tell them where I'm going, do they really still have to shut my card down for 24 hours until they verify I'm the one using it, EVERY SINGLE TIME?!?!?! #firstworldproblems)
The weather is steadily getting cooler but it's still not bone-chilling cold. And that's okay. Today was in the high 50's and it was beautiful. Also just received an amazing Christmas care package from Mom including a bunch of warm clothes that are about to be desperately needed. I don't remember the last time I owned this many pairs of socks. Haven't exactly needed to lately. Am truly grateful for the box though. I'm amazed at how comforting little touches of home can make any day. That being said, I am on my way home now to have a big cup of Starbucks coffee. Thanks, Mom. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Holidays Approach...

Things here in Cahul have suddenly started moving at a very quick pace. 2 weeks ago, a gang of us went to the local orphanage and played games with the kids for a few hours. When I think of an orphanage, all I can think of is Annie Warbucks and that awful place she grew up in NYC while she and a bunch of young girls in tattered clothes cleaned all day and sang jaunty musical numbers. Turns out, that's not reality. I was pleasantly surprised at this orphanage. It was actually a pleasant place to be. I'm not saying that I didn't feel for the kids, but they certainly had formed their own families. The women who ran the place cared for them each deeply, the kids were very much 'siblings' in the traditional sense. The older boys clearly had control and if they said something the younger ones listened but they were also their protectors. One of the little girls was shy about participating and the older boy went over and talked her into it and stayed with her until she felt comfortable. (Pause for political snide remark...isn't it amazing that families in the non-traditional sense sometimes still work?) 
We were there for a few hours and it was nice. Dylan, another volunteer, ran the project and is trying to make it a monthly thing. There were 7 of us volunteers there that day but he would like to get more as well as some Moldovan youth volunteers to make it sustainable .
Since then, Holly and I have been trying to make our apartment seem more 'homey' furnishing it with rugs and personal items and we have proudly held some actual dinner parties for the Cahul people. We have adopted the Fulbright scholar from the University, Erin, as one of our group. She's only here for a year but her boyfriend is from Moldova so I have a feeling she'll be staying longer. I've also made friends with a few Russian students from the University and they have agreed to teach me conversational Russian in exchange for help with their English. This pleases me greatly as I have learned Russian is a necessity for survival. 
I am insanely lucky to have such a great group of volunteers with me here in the South of the country. 
As for the impending holidays, I think it will be strange but okay. It will be my first non-traditional Thanksgiving in my lifetime. The majority of volunteers are throwing a traditional party in the Capital this weekend but we 'southies' have elected not to go. Instead, we are throwing the 'anti-Thanksgiving' which means Mexican food. (I don't know why). On December 3rd, we are throwing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for our work partners to educate them on what the holiday means to us in the U.S. This of course has been misconstrued amongst juvenile volunteers as an exclusive party that only certain people are invited to and not a professional event in which we are doing our job and promoting peace and friendship among Moldovans. Sometimes I am in Peace Corps High School. 
November has flown by and it is less than a month before Christmas. I have never spent a Christmas away from Honesdale, PA in 38 years so it will be strange. Thankfully Vienna, Austria and Prague, Czech Republic will help with that. Last Christmas was a pretty hard day in dealing with the aftermath of the death of my nephew but it also showed what a strong family I have. The end of Christmas day last year didn't feel like a holiday was ending, it felt like we had all survived together. I'm sad that I can't be there this year where there will be some laughter and happiness again but on the same level, knowing that everyone is so much better now gives us all the strength to be happy wherever we are. I never thought last year at this time that i'd be celebrating Christmas listening to Mozart in Vienna but I'll be doing it. 
One thing I am TOTALLY psyched for is the lack of Christmas commercialism here. There is no Black Friday, there is no 'shopping season.' There is not marketing shoved down your throat on TV commercials and store windows and billboards, it's wonderful. Plus, the Orthodox religion celebrates Christmas on January 7th which means I will be in country to witness their traditions and have no work for a few weeks. I think I may enjoy the Christmas season this year. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

It Only Takes a Moment...

So we got summoned back up to Chisnau for a few days for some more language trainings. We were back in the school we were in all summer but it's a little bit different in the's freezing. They don't use a lot of heat here and since all the students were off for the week on Winter Break, they certainly weren't heating the school. We all sat in the classrooms in our winter coats and gloves and tried our best to stay warm during classes all the while desperate to look forward to the coffee breaks. Because of our love of coffee, well yeah, but also to hold the warm cup. We were all in the hotel for 3 days. The English Education and Health Education volunteers were there for a week. But the weekend was the first time we had all been together since the summer. It was evident that people had become more comfortable now and the groups of friends had been established. In summertime, it was all politeness and pleasant greetings but as with any situations, now there were groups. I hesitate to use the word cliques because it wasn't a vicious thing, there wasn't a competition or anything mean spirited, you just migrate towards the people who make you comfortable. 
Lyndsey and I met up right away when we got into town and headed out to lunch at a greek restaurant with Brittany. The food was a little pricey but it sure was delicious. We met up with Maria and Maryam and we all headed to the hotel. Maria, Lyndsey and I decided to share a room and since we checked in so late, we were on another floor from all the volunteers which proved to be quite nice. Another volunteer Craig was COS'ing (Close of Service) the next day so everyone was meeting up with him at a local restaurant. I usually don't like to go places where EVERYBODY is going because I don't like being a part of a loud group of Americans. However, I did want to say goodbye to Craig so worst case scenario we would just go and then leave shortly after. As suspected, it was a LOUD group of Americans and Lyndsey and I couldn't wait to get out of there. Fortunately, as we were trying to leave, a table opened up at the opposite end of the restaurant so we grabbed it. We were joined by Pat, Sarah and Dahnika and then Brendan and Natalie. I had spent a lot of time with Pat during the previous training and he's fantastic. His wife, Sarah and he are both from CA and I had met them at the farewell dinner. Dahnika is in Sarah's program and Brendan and Natalie are English Education. Brendan is down in the South near me so I had already known him but I didn't know Natalie too well. Regardless, it was a nice, low-key group and we had an enjoyable dinner. We headed back to the hotel soon after as we were pretty tired from the day. Lyndsey and I met up with Maria there and wound up just hanging out in our room and doing nothing. We had to wake up early the next day for language class. It was a long day and hard to focus in a cold classroom but it was good to see everybody. For lunch we headed to the delicious, Italian place we had discovered the last training. That night I wound up going out with another huge group for dinner against my better judgment and again wound up going back to the hotel early. There was a bunch of people in my room watching Dirty Dancing and I could tell they were quite impressed that I knew every single word and dance move to the entire movie and its soundtrack. (FYI; impressed = annoyed). 50% of them weren't even born when it came out so I didn't really care...
The next day we had more language and then most people decided to take off. Lyndsey and I headed over to Lindsay and Conrad's new apartment. We had been planning for weeks for a 'cool down' dinner after training and it was awesome. When we got off the bus, Lindsay M. ran to the piazza to pick up some vegetables and Lyndsey R. ran down the street to get some water. So I was just standing there at the bus stop with my luggage. 
This man in very broken English came up to me and asked if we were Americans as he had heard us speaking English. I told him we were. He asked what we were doing in Moldova. I explained to him that we were all volunteers and we moved here for 2 years to work on community development. His eyes widened and said "Why?" I didn't know how to respond so I smiled and said "Why not?" The man smiled at me with tears in his eyes, took my hand and said "Thank you. Thank you for helping me and my country." I smiled. And he walked away and got on the bus. I just stood there and got teary eyed. Lyndsey returned and asked what was wrong and I said "absolutely nothing" and I told her the story. She cried too. By the time Lindsay returned she was convinced something horrible had happened but we assured her it was quite the opposite. Because after 2 days sitting in a cold school and learning a foreign language, it took one moment to be reminded what we're doing. 
From there we headed back to their apartment and Lindsay made Buffalo chicken dip and Conrad made us blue cheese burgers. It was so awesome and just the night we all needed. 
But now it's back to reality. Headed back here yesterday on the cold rutiere. Although can't lie, I much prefer that to the hot summer ride. I can bundle up enough now to be comfortable. Summer was insufferable. When I got home Jesse was visiting along with Rachel (who lives in a neighboring village) who had missed her bus and Holly was making Tortilla soup. Home at last.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Month #5

And so November begins. Have I really been here 5 months? It doesn't seem possible. In some ways it feels way longer and in others it feels like I just got off the boat (metaphorically). I moved into my new apartment this past weekend with the help of my friend, Jesse. My new roommate, Holly, had been there for a week. Of course I would move halfway around the world and end up with a roommate from Huntington Beach. Our apartment is pretty big and we're really getting it at a steal but the lady really wanted to rent it out so she didn't haggle to much with us to get us to pay more. It is on the 8th floor and thankfully, for now, the elevator is working. We don't have a refrigerator just yet but it's ok because the porch is cold enough to keep things cold. The landlady is supposed to deliver a fridge any day now so it won't be a problem either way. I think the only downfall to this new found independence is having to do hand washing. I have been spoiled the past 5 months living with host moms who not only had washing machines but liked to do my wash for me. Boy am I paying for that now. I did it for the first time last night and it is a giant pain in the ass. Not only do my hands ache from scrubbing and ringing clothes out, the detergent tends to burn your skin if you touch it before it dissolves in the water. I'm sure I'll become an expert at it and for the first round I don't think I did too badly, still sucks though. And since the weather is getting colder now, they are going to take forever to dry. After hanging them out the window (on the 8th floor) last night, I touched them this morning and they are still sopping wet. Should be interesting. I'm still nervous to have them fly away as I don't have a lot of clothes and finding pants that fit here would definitely be a challenge. I have lost a lot of weight so the pants I brought are way too big now and I have to use belts to keep them up. But I'm not nearly skinny enough to fit in to the European skinny jeans that I swear are tailored only for 12 year olds. 
The Cahul crowd have definitely found our regular hang outs that we go to as now when we walk in we are greeted by the staff members. When I walked into one yesterday, the owner not only greeted me with kisses but didn't even take my order because she knew what I would get. It's nice to have that familiarity. I've also been trying to pick up some Russian. Cahul is mainly a Russian city so I'm not sure why I was taught Romanian. I mean most people speak Romanian but EVERYONE speaks Russian. And just for basic things like ordering food, buying something in the market or greeting people, basic Russian is good to have. Plus it's a really fun language; tough, but fun. 
Thursday I have to go back up to the capital for 3 days of in service training. I'm dreading the trip but at least I get to hang out with Lyndsey, Lindsay and Conrad. I only see them when I go to the capital so it'll be fun in that respect.
Lyndsey and I have finalized our trip to Vienna/Prague for Christmas. It's really creeping up on us quickly. I really can't believe it's November already. We are planning our Thanksgiving dinner already and plan on inviting some Moldovans to teach them how we disguise the reality of the holiday with a feast. (Soapbox alert...) 
And I also booked my trip in May to Paris/London where I'll be meeting up with some friends from CA. It'll be so nice to see faces from home and I'm so excited to explore London again and see Paris for the first time. 
On the work front, it's still pretty slow at my organization. I hope that things will pick up soon. In the meantime, I went with Dylan, Brad and Holly to visit one of the local orphanages here in town. It was actually really nice and the conditions were impressive. The kids were all pretty excited to see us and we are trying to set up some sort of monthly program where we can go in and do a day of activities for them. 
And I also did 3 TV reviews and 1 film review for the upcoming issue of Hai Davai, the PC Moldova magazine. It translates to "Let's Go, Let's Go" Hai, being Romanian and Davai being Russian. That issue will come out in December before the holidays. 
And that's about it from Cahul this week. I'm trying to keep up on this more regularly and stop being distracted by the creativity sucking internet.
And one last thing (Soapbox alert...), I hope that the defenders of the sanctity of marriage are real proud that one of their own, I refuse to type her name, dropped $20 million on a sham wedding to get 3 months of publicity. If that isn't sanctity, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I've been here about 4.5 months now and you would think that things would start to make sense a little bit. But quite the contrary...I never know what's going on from day to day. For a control freak who's obsessed with planning and details, that's something that's a little hard to get used to. I think I've gotten pretty good at it, going with the flow but there are still days when I'm like 'what the hell is going on?'
So training ended at the beginning of August and we were told all throughout the summer that the first 3-6 months at site were going to be pretty slow. I mean you are now a stranger in a new community and you have to take the time to get to know people and have them trust you before you can start doing things. I mean I guess it's the same at any work place. I can remember a workplace where a new person would start and we would all be cold to them until we made the universal decision on whether "we" liked them or not.  (you know who you are...) Imagine that on a city wide scale. I'm one of the lucky ones, there are always Americans here in Cahul so it's a little bit easier. But on an individual basis, I still have to get a few people in my corner before I can make things happen. For one thing, I haven't lived in a 'cold' climate in nearly 15 years. The weather has begun to get cooler here now. Don't get me wrong, it's WAY better than the scalding hot summer days with no A/C but it's still unpleasant. But the interesting thing is, when it is too cold, people just don't go to work. Work is so secondary to personal safety, health and family it's inexplicable. And it's lovely. It's an interesting case study. Why do we risk life and limb just to go in to the daily grind. There are still things that we can get done from our homes when the weather isn't satisfactory. But I digress...
So, it is a few months of going into the office, getting to know people but not really doing anything. It's hard to explain this to people back home. I constantly am questioned, what is your day like, are you teaching, what do you do and I never have a good answer. There's an American mentality where you have to be in the grind working your butt off to be productive. Whereas here, I can walk downtown and say hello to 10 people. If 2 of them, say hello back because they know me and trust me? I've done my job. Part of my job is promoting peace and friendship, having people know and trust Americans so yes, that was part of my job. I know there are many of you shaking your head right now saying that's bullshit and 'this is what my tax dollars pay for?' But if there are 120 of us in this country and each of us get 2 people to trust Americans today, we just changed the minds of 240 (right?) people. Now imagine that effort all over the world. If all we did was that. But that's not all we do. We are in NGO's (non-profit organizations), we are in schools, we are holding seminars and starting clubs with more than just 2 people a day. That's all to come. However, in the meantime? What am I doing? I'm earning trust and it is a full time job.
In other news, the weather is getting really cold which is a shock to my system after nearly 15 years in Southern California. But I do have to say, I like it. I'm sure I'll be singing a different tune in February. 
On the good news front, I am moving into an apartment. As much as I love my host mom, being a 38 year old woman, I would rather live somewhere else. I will definitely keep in touch with her and invite her over for meals though. I will be living with Holly, another volunteer here in Cahul. She and I were roommates at staging in Philadelphia so it's funny that we will be living together here. Holly and my lives are opposites as she grew up in California and moved to the East Coast whereas I grew up on the East Coast and moved to California. But we both love to cook, especially Mexican food and we get along really well. She's in her early 20's but has a good head on her shoulders. While I was at training over the past few weeks, she went and found us a great apartment with 2 bedrooms, a huge living room, a kitchen, bathroom and the most challenging's on the 8th floor. And the elevator works...sometimes. Well, worst case scenario, I'll have a finely tuned asset by the end of this service. Holly's host mom moved to Bulgaria so she'll be moving in to the apartment this weekend whereas I have to wait a few weeks since I paid my host mom for the whole month. We're very excited especially since we have a great group of people here in Cahul and have started a Sunday Dinner tradition. You have to create your own family overseas I guess.
And lastly, the latest is keeping in touch with friends from back home. I know I have it pretty good being away in this day and age with all this digital technology but I'm still surprised at how hard it is to keep in touch with people. Being from a huge family, I'm pretty proactive at keeping in touch with people. Or at least I think I am. But there are some people who just aren't like that and learning to accept that is difficult. I know that people have lives and are busy and sometimes Facebook and email aren't their first priority but it still saddens me when I don't hear from people. Then again, I remind myself that it isn't always about me. And life does go on. I know they are not all sitting around missing me and waiting for the second that I send an email or a chat. Maybe they're thinking of me but they have problems too. Long distance relationships are hard, whether it be romantic, friendships, family or what. I'm grateful for this medium to be able to keep in touch as frequently as we do. But I would like to thank people who go out of their way to keep in touch. Especially those certain few who I talk to more now than I did when I was there. Your messages and emails and chats mean the world to me. Just seeing a familiar name in my inbox is so comforting. You may think that news and tales from back home seem minuscule to me but they are heartwarming and enjoyable. I appreciate them so much. 
This was another midnight ramble brought to you by Starbucks Via. 

Monday, October 10, 2011


Yeah, it's been a while. Sorry about that.
Buuuuuuut, in my defense, I had to go back to training for a few weeks. This had been something to both look forward to and to dread. The pros being I got to go back to Stauceni with all my original friends as well as live with my original training family. The cons...having to go through more language classes, traveling on public transportation with awkward luggage and being stuck in between seasons so do we dress for summer or cold? Minor inconveniences, I know.
Anywho, so I went up a day early on September 24th. Our security officer, Alex, had gotten married and was moving to the Philippines and his last appearance with his band was that night. So a bunch of volunteers were going to support him. I had seen him perform previously, he's a harmonica player, and the band was fantastic. So I got in around noon and met up with pals Jamie and Tom and we went to go get some lunch at the Kebab House which is pretty infamous with volunteers as it is DELICIOUS! We had rented an apartment in Chisinau for the night. It is cheaper than getting a hotel room and we usually load in about 10 people minimum so it winds up being pretty cheap. The other draw is that they have full kitchens so we're able to cook instead of going out to eat. We had a group of 11 people joining us and even though there were so many, everyone had a bed to sleep in thanks to the inventive furniture that all pulls out in to beds. Quite clever. So for dinner we all went shopping and decided to make a Mexican feast. It was challenging since only one burner worked so it was a group effort. I made guacamole, Tom browned the meat, others made desserts, chopped up vegetables, sauteed onions and peppers, etc. It was delicious and we all had a wonderful big meal before we headed out. Alex's band was playing at a bar called "the Flying Pig" which is a pretty American style bar. There were already tons of volunteers there as Alex was pretty popular amongst the volunteers. We heartily enjoyed the performance and all danced and Alex thanked the volunteers as well as all the Americans (the Embassy guys came too) for always supporting him and we said goodbye. He played some American songs for us including "Wild Thing," by the Troggs, "Light My Fire" by the Doors and "Surfin, U.S.A." by the Beach Boys. It was very enjoyable. The night in the apartment was interesting as various drunk people wandered in and passed out but we all survived. 
The next day we had to head back to our respective training villages. I went to the Peace Corps headquarters with Andrea and hung out for a while. She didn't feel very well and since it would take some serious effort to travel to Stauceni. After a few hours, we made the trek to the bus tugging all of our luggage up the hill. It was unseasonably hot out so that didn't make it any better. It took a while to get to Stauceni but we made it. I walked into my family's house and was showered with kisses. I truly do love these people and for some reason they love me. Mama Gazda told me to go shower while Papa Gazda took my luggage upstairs and she cooked me dinner. Yeah, it was awesome. When I got to dinner, it was a feast. Mama yelled at me for losing so much weight and she needed to fatten me up. She is so wonderful. I ate a LOT before going to bed.
From there we had a week of language classes and tech training. There was one new feature in Stauceni that made it fun though, we had a bar. While we were there this past summer, whenever we wanted to hang out socially with the rest of our trainees, we had to travel to their sites because there was nowhere to go in Stauceni. They were building this new place but it wasn't open yet. But it was open now...and it was across the street from our school. (Not a lot of zoning laws here...) It was a BEAUTIFUL open wall bar, a coffee shop upstairs and a huge supermarket. It was amazing. And that's where we ended up every day after class. It was just so nice to sit and socialize with these people who 4 months ago were strangers but now are friends. We had to go into Chisinau once for a "gallery walk" where each volunteer presented their organization to all the others so we could all get a sense of what everyone was doing. The boys from Ciorescu in the ARBD program were ALL sick. They were dropping like flies so all of my 'bees' that I was looking forward to seeing were all out sick for the first 4 days of training.
Our first weekend was pretty low key. We mostly hung out at the bar in Stauceni and Lyndsey and I spent some time in the coffee shop using their free Wi-Fi. Another great thing about training was Lindsay and Conrad weren't eating lunch at their host family's house so every day they went to Lyndsey's house. So after I would eat my delicious lunch at home, I would wander up there and the four of us would sit around and bullshit for an hour between classes. It was quite enjoyable. It was anything from us watching stupid You Tube videos for an hour to planning vacations. It was really fun. Lyndsey and I decided to go to Vienna and Prague for Christmas and invited our other friend Maria to come along. Then in the spring, Lyndsey and her boyfriend, Art along with Lindsay and Conrad are traveling to Amsterdam for a music festival. Yes, all that got planned on our lunch breaks. 
The second week, the ARBD boys had recovered a little bit and all was well. On our trip to Hub Site we had some sessions of training. On one day me and some of the boys decided to trek to the Kebab House for lunch. It was risky since we only had an hour and it was a 15 minute walk one way and they're usually not the "quickest" at customer service but we were starving. We arrived back late and were chastised but the tastiest of kebabs were worth it. That night in Chisinau, we participated in a trivia contest. I was on a dream team with 3 of the smartest guys i know; Michael, Pat and Jesse. I wanted to do well as I love trivia, but my main goal was to beat my friend, Rich, from the Embassy as he is from my hometown and was the valedictorian of my brother John's class. When I told John I was competing against him, John had said "good luck, that's the smartest dude I've ever met in my life." There were 8 categories. I know my strength was in pop culture so I was happy to see a music category. And we did kick ass in that category. But there was also a 'pictures' category which you don't know what the pictures will be of but they turned out to be stills of movies so we got 9 out of 10 of those. The only one we missed was a Russian movie so I think we did pretty amazing. However, the rest of the categories were pretty difficult. So we wound up placing 5th. Not the greatest, but still the highest of the Peace Corps volunteers that were there. And yes...we beat Rich's team. A small victory, but I'll take it nonetheless. Rich is a great guy. He's been in Moldova for a few years with his wife and their 3 small children. I don't know him very well but it's still nice to have someone from home to be around. 
Our last day of school we were given an LPI (Language Proficiency Inquiry) where we had to speak in Romanian for about 20 minutes. We find out the results in a few weeks. I don't think I did too badly. I think with a tutor, I could do quite well. So that was our last night in our training village. The next morning I had to once again say goodbye to my wonderful host family and promise that I would visit over the next few years. They truly are great people. From there we had to go into Chisinau to check into a hotel. Yes, they were lodging 60 of us in a hotel in downtown Chisinau for 2 days for a conference. It was obvious right away that it was basically dorm living. We were all on the same floors so everyone was just sitting in their rooms, listening to music, drinking, doors open, people walking from room to room visiting...and yes, one bathroom shared by all; dorm life. But it was pretty fun to hang out with everybody. The seminars were on Thursday and Friday from 9am to 5:30pm. We got to learn what everybody was doing, secrets of surviving the winter, project opportunities to try out, clubs to join, travel tips, safety and security, etc. Our last night in the hotel, a small group of us decided to stay in and just chat and have some wine. This lasted until about 4:30am. It was a small group; me, Lyndsey, Courtney, Jessica, Jesse and Maryam so it was enjoyable and we all got to know each other a little bit better. 
So training was officially over and we could leave on Saturday. However, the annual Moldova Wine Fest was that day so we all decided to get an apartment for that night. Wine Fest was amazing. It was like a county fair. Tons of food, tons of crafts and homemade trinkets (I bought a homemade scarf) and of course wine!  Lyndsey, Courtney, Jessica and I headed there in the afternoon after a lunch at the (what else?) Kebab house. It was beautiful. Not to mention that this is the first time I have experience "fall" in about 13 years. So walking through this atmosphere, with colorful leaves blowing through the air, walking with my great new friends, at that moment I was truly in love with Moldova.One of our favorite moments was when Natasha's host dad invited us into the VIP tent so we could taste some 40 year old Cognac. The Moldovan man who was the President of the Cognac company poured us all a glass and toasted to the US and Moldova. It was amazing. The worst part was that earlier in the day it was sunny and hot but as the evening approached it was getting quite cold. Me, only wearing a T-shirt and my new scarf (well and pants and stuff...) was starting to get quite cold. People kept giving me pieces of their clothing so I could stay warm and I wound up looking like a second hand super hero. Regardless, it was fun. After the wine fest we met up with some other volunteers at another bar in Chisinau. While we were in there, the rain started which made for an AWESOME walk back across town to the apartment. Sunday morning the rain was in full effect so we walked in it to Peace Corps where all our luggage was. Since pretty much everyone was in town for Wine Fest, Peace Corps was filled with volunteers. It was a little overwhelming. I located Rachel (who lives down South by me) and found Tom and the three of us shared a cab to the bus station. The bus ride was a little chilly and of course long but it is good to be home. I got here and Rachel and I met up with Jesse and Ryne for some dinner. 
So we survived. It was interesting this time around because through our first training session this past summer we were all strangers and this time around we were all friends and knew each other pretty well. There were some clear segregation as the groups of friends became established. However, conversely, I was able to get to know people I never really got a chance to before. Courtney, Jessica and Maria suddenly became very endearing to me and I barely knew them prior. I was hoping to spend time with some of the boys and but their illness and time constraints prevented that from happening too much. Overall, I am glad it is over even though I miss my friends even more now. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

19 reasons why I'm happy today...

Today I received a care package. It's been a freaking long time since I have gotten to open one of these; since college! And this one was a doozie. It comes courtesy of my dear friends at Too Faced who haven't forgotten me even though I've been gone for 3 months. It's pretty clear that we worked together for a long time because they all know me so well.  Here are just a mere 18 reasons why...
1 - Mexican Seasonings - There is nothing here in Moldova that equals the flavoring of Mexican seasoning. Sure we can doctor some things, come up with similar tastes, but just to have these simple packets of heaven certainly will make some up coming dinners incredible.
2 - Game of Thrones - My friend, Kathryn has been annoying me to watch this show for months now. So much so that she sent me the DVD...
3 - Lily - Kathryn's dog who she thinks I love but I really don't like.
4 - Tissues - Seems pretty random, but so needed! Plus, there are cute sayings on the box. I brought them into the bathroom with me last night (TMI?) and the side of the box I'm looking at? I'm here for when you run out of toilet paper. Destiny?
5 - Beef Jerky - Meat is my favorite thing and I'm pretty sure this is the only type they could air mail me without paying thousands of dollars in overnighting something. It is greatly appreciated.
6 - Starbucks Via - Brewed coffee isn't too big here, instant is. I've never really liked instant coffee until Starbucks came out with theirs which is strong and delicious. 3 flavors; Italian Roast, Vanilla and Caramel.
7 - Crushed Red Pepper - You never know how much you miss this until you don't have it. Went out for pizza today, brought it with me. It was heaven.
8 - Del Scorcho - Ah, Del Taco. Voltaire saved up (and stole...) a bunch of Del Taco sauce for me to flavor my meals with here. Plus the packets make it easy to travel with!
9 - Hot Sauce - Oh how I love my hot sauce. Juli was thoughtful enough to find one made in California so I have a little 'taste' of home.
10 - Dirty Chips - The night before I went to Chisinau to pick up this package, I dreamed about these. And in the morning I thought, 'that'd be funny if they sent me some' and lo and behold they did. They are my favorite brand of chips ever. The one bag in the pic is empty...I ate them on the way home...
11 - TF Bag - One of the latest of Too Faced's glamour bags that is the perfect size to carry my lunch to school in every day. I'll be the 'envy' of all the girls there.
12 - Love Lisa - The best lip balm in town.
13 - Logan Book - Jules sent me a tiny picture book of all of her newborn son, Logan's, pictures of his first few months of life. He is adorable and it sits by my bed.
14 - True Blood Comic Book - One of my favorite TV shows and they sent me a comic book of it.
15 - Lollipops - Comfort food that I can pull out of my bag at work when I need that sugar fix.
16 - iTunes Gift Cards - Jeremy, sweet, Jeremy knows how I love my iTunes. Gift cards to this website will be used quickly! (In the interest of full disclosure, I used them last night...)
17 - Where's TF - It's actually a Where's Waldo book but Juli and her husband Jason went through and superimposed photos of me and my TF buddies all throughout. They are so silly but have no idea how much joy it brings me.
18 - Cards - Juli, Jeremy, Andrea and Eileen sent personal notes to send their love.
19 - The people that it is from. I've worked with these people for years and they are truly great people and I miss them so much. They were what made it hardest to leave Too Faced. And here it is a mere 4 months later and they are still making me smile. I am in great debt to you all; Juli (and Jason, of course!), Jeremy, Kathryn, Jules, Andrea, Eileen, Marion and Voltaire.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Travel Plans

On these slow days at work my mind tends to wander. So a fun thing I have found to do is to plan my vacations. I realize what a terrific opportunity I have being where I am to see the world. That was definitely a contributing factor in joining the Peace Corps is the ability to travel. We get 6 weeks of vacation over our two year stint. It sounds like a problem everyone would love to have but my biggest issue with all of this is where to go? I am in a position where I can literally go anywhere in the world. Where do you begin? It's a little overwhelming when you think about it. Granted, money is a factor. Isn't it always? But it's way cheaper over here to get around and I'm 38. Who needs a savings account? It's not like the States is any kind of financial trouble that I should be saving for, right?
Anyway, the best thing I could think of to do was a wish list. Without money factors or time constraints, where do I really want to see? Not because I've been told to go somewhere or because someone wrote a book about places to see before I die (which duh, of course it'd be before I died...that one's for you, Diehl!) but because I have a genuine interest in seeing them. (In the interest of full disclosure, most, if not all of these have to do with pop culture references, but hey, it's my list so just deal with it.) So here's what I came up with:

  1. Austria - Numero Uno. I have wanted to go to Austria forever. (Figuratively). The Sound of Music is one of my favorite movies of all time and Mozart is, without a doubt, my favorite composer. Austria is a country dedicated to these two things. I want to explore Vienna and Salzburg to my heart's desires.
  2. Greece - I am a sucker for theatre, no big shocker there so of course i have a desire to see the original Greek Theatres and worship at Dionysus altar. But yes, Mamma Mia also played a key role in the desire as well.
  3. India/The Maldive Islands - I have always been fascinated by the culture. The heat is a big drawback as I hate heat but the thought of seeing the Taj Mahal in person is still very attractive to me. (Yes, Slumdog Millionaire helped in this desire...) The Maldive Islands are a pipe dream and I'm fully aware of that as even from here it costs thousands of dollars just to travel there but I can keep it as a dream.
  4. Ireland - Yes, I'm a sucker for my heritage. I love everything about it. And the though of seeing all that green is very appealing. Not even a pop culture reference here, just a genetic one.
  5. Bangkok - I have never been anywhere near Eastern Asia but this city is tops on my list. I'd love to visit Vietnam, Cambodia and Japan too but Thailand has always been tops. (Fine...The King and I.)
  6. Egypt/Casablanca - Very touristy destinations, I know but still a desire nonetheless. 
  7. New Zealand - Lord of the Rings...
  8. Sicily - I was in love with Italy even before I went a few years ago. I visited the tourist sites in Rome and Florence and the not so touristy Naples to have the best pizza of my life, but I'd still like to get South to see some more of this fascinating country. 
  9. England - I've done London and Stratford on Avon, but I'd really like to get to Canturbury, Salisbury to see Stonehenge and Liverpool to see where it all started. 
  10. Peru - Machu Piccu. Enough said.
So how many, if any, of these are going to be feasible while I live here in Moldova. I research pretty much daily what is affordable and possible and no, not all of them are. (I guess I should say not probable...anything is possible.) I can safely cross Peru off the list this time around. Can't even imagine the cost for flying to South America from Eastern Europe.
I figure, we can start traveling in November so I can plan a trip every 3 months until I leave. So I guess the best thing to do is to take it one day at a time and remember that I don't have to do everything all at once. I love traveling and seeing the world and know just how fortunate I am to be able to. 
The first project will be the Christmas trip. It will be the first time I have ever been not at home with my family on Christmas in my 38 years. I don't know how that will be. Some people rarely spend Christmas with their families but we always manage to come together.  The last two years at Christmas have been particularly emotional with losing Selena then Dad and Cris so it would've been nice to get back to a regular holiday where we all just tease each other and argue about who hates/loves Penn State and of course the usual political wars. However, it wasn't in the cards. So instead, I am looking to find somewhere fabulous. Lyndsey and I decided we would try to travel together and hopefully get another few girls to go with us. At first we were looking into the island of Cyprus which is nestled in between Greece and Turkey. It is still an option on the table. Also, we're looking into Barcelona. 8 days in a beautiful seaside city with delicious food doesn't sound too shabby. Another option was going Nordic and exploring Finland and Sweden although the thought of going somewhere colder than where we were didn't really overwhelm us. Although the thought of seeing the Northern Lights was pretty appealing. My first choice was to go to India but it really is expensive. I'm still going to push for that as much as I can but I don't think I can convince her. Lyndsey is much more frugal than I am. I know you're thinking, "the majority of these are not even on the top 10 list." I realize that but I want to travel alone just yet.
The other factor is that I have people from back home who say they want to visit or meet up somewhere. So say someone says "oh I want to meet you in Ireland" I have to 'save' that destination for that person. However, if that person (s) decides against it, I'm out a wish destination. But then, is it really a bad thing to go to Ireland twice?
These are such first world problems.
Anyway, that was my day today. Exploring Austria/Prague adventures, looking for the best way to see a bunch of cities in England/Ireland, comparing and contrasting Barcelona and Cyprus (so cliche, I know), finding the cheapest way to see Cairo and Casablanca on one trip. It hasn't been a bad Thursday, must say. There are definitely worse things in the world.
Side note, Cahul has no gas for 3 weeks. Yay! They can just shut the gas off on an entire city. That means no hot water, no stove, should be interesting. Guess I should be grateful it isn't winter and the heat is gone.