Friday, July 4, 2008

On my last day...

Well, finally in Sarajevo with one day left to go. Had a pretty emotional (but good) week, so I might not have a whole lot to say right now...

Got to Sarajevo early Monday morning and hopped directly on a bus up to Vares. Got there right as school was starting, walked in, and was swarmed by kids almost immediately. The students all remembered me, and it was so amazing to see so many of many of the students I got to know and love last summer. Was a little emotionally overwhelming....

Spent the week helping out the students who are in the program this summer with their lesson plans, teaching, and classroom control (7-15 year olds are pretty wild - who knew?) and really enjoyed seeing them go through everything I remember feeling last year. Laughed a lot on the inside, but all in all, they're a good group of students and I think they'll get a lot from their experience, just as I did last year. It was really nice to be back for a number of reasons, but I think being there with another group helped me get some perspective on my own experience - I've known for the last year that it really affected me, but to see it all again... being in that community and getting to know the children at the school was truly an amazing opportunity that I am so grateful for. And to go back and be welcomed and remembered... yeah, it was a pretty good week.

Also spent a lot of time with Vjeran and Vedran, two of the locals who help out with the program that I got to know last summer, and Jo, the program coordinator that pretty much made my summer last year. It's been a really nice way to end my trip... spending time with people that I care about in a beautiful place that I've really come to love. Funny story about my last night in Vares... but not one to be posted in a public place. Call for details. :)

So back in Sarajevo again... had a fantastic dinner with Jo last night, had great conversation, and watched the parade of people on the main drag. Jo has really helped me gain some perspective on this trip as well, and I feel truly fortunate that I've gotten to spend more time with her. Planning on just walking around the city today, eating lots of gelato, having a 4th of July dinner with a few other Americans in town, and then spending my last night relaxing with Jo and the Filipovic boys. Then a 6:40 am flight tomorrow!!

While I'm excited to be going home and looking forward to all the new things happening in my life, I am definitely sad to be leaving... this month has by far been one of the best of my life. I've had fun, seen amazing things, gotten to know myself better, and created some memories that will hopefully get me through any tough times (like when the Packers & Rockies lose or Jamie drinks all the champagne.) And hell, I think I've gotten myself a non-English speaking husband out of it all!

Will post pictures soon... wish me safe travels home!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Best. Week. Ever.

Back in Croatia now, heading down to Sarajevo tonight, but thought I'd take a few minutes to write before I completely forget the past few days...

Budapest was absolutely fantastic as well, and the past five days have definitely been some of the best of my life. Wandered the city Thursday night, saw the Parliament and lots of other sites, then hung out with some of the others at the hostel watching the semi-final game of the Euro cup. (Kind of like our Super Bowl.) Headed to bed fairly early (1) and caught up on some much needed sleep. Overnight trains = not the best idea. I say this, yet will be taking another one tonight... hmm...

Spent all day Friday on the Buda side exploring the castle and the old town. Absolutely amazing views, and lots to see and take in. Budapest has so much character - theres all this history and beautiful sites, but it still feels like a city, and not a tourist trap (Athens.) Relaxed on Margaret Island, which is in the middle of the Danube, in the afternoon, and just had an all in all fantastic day playing tourist.

Had a phenomenal bowl of Goulash at a sketchy little pub on the recommendation of the hostel staff - num. Hung out at the hostel with some fellow Americans and Canadians, and had an absolute blast. Went for kabobs around 1:30 and ended up at Budapest's only rooftop dance club. Definitely walked home as the sun was coming up. I paid for it in the morning, but it was such an amazing experience, and it felt good to be out and about where actual Hungarians were. Plus, got to drink and dance under the moonlight all night. Not bad.

Slept in Saturday and didn't make it to the baths as planned, but oh well. Went to a Mongolian BBQ serving questionable varieties of meat with a few others, and had a great meal, good conversation, and more than a few included drinks (had to get my moneys worth after all.) Headed down to Heroes Square (which is beautiful as well - picking up a theme here?) and got to see Santana play a free show. So much fun, and then relaxed at a few local cafes before heading back to the hostel. Walked along the river and saw the city all lit up at night, then headed to bed around 2 so that I could catch my 6 AM train. Good times.

Wandering around Zagreb again today, planning on seeing a movie later to test just how good my Croatian is, then catching my train to Sarajevo around 9. Immediately hopping on a bus to Vares, then teaching for the next four days! One more day in Sarajevo to see all my favorite sites (and by sites I mean restaurants and gelaterias) then heading home next Saturday. :(

While I'm looking forward to being home, and to starting the new job, I am definitely glad I got the opportunity to take this trip... Being around so many new people and immersed in other cultures really tests how comfortable you are with yourself, and I think I've done pretty well. I've had a lot of fun, met some great people and seen some amazing things. Oh, and got a nice tan and good pictures to prove it! Will definitely spend some time posting them all next weekend...

So I'll be off the grid for the next week or so, but will write again when I get home... pout...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

From Budapest (finally!)

Well it's Thursday night, and I finally made it to Budapest after a fantastic two days in Croatia. I forgot how much I really do love it there.... even the capital is beautiful, the people and lifestyle are great, and maybe its just my own comfort level, but everything just seems so much more enjoyable. I ended up being there for their Independence Day, so I got to watch the military parade in the morning, wander the city, read and relax for a few hours in the Botanical Gardens, and see all the major tourist sites. Spent the afternoon at the beach where the locals hang out, then hit the town with a bunch of the group staying at the hostel. All in all, probably the best day of my trip so far (though Mykonos was a close second.)

Caught an early morning train with a couple that I met from Finland, managed a few hours of sleep, and saw some of the most amazing countryside. Yep, definitely prefer this to Greece - its so nice to see green again!

About to wander out in Budapest now.. planning on exploring tonight, seeing Castle Hill and Margaret Island tomorrow, then the baths and more exploring on Saturday (with plenty of socializing and cafe pub sitting squeezed in between.) Will write again before heading down to Sarajevo... I cant believe I only have 9 days left!!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Quick Update from Croatia

Thought Id take a few minutes to write before heading out on the town...

Currently in Zagreb, Croatia, which was a little bit of a change of plans. After a relaxing night in Kalambaca, I headed up to Thessaloniki, Greece, to spend a day or two. Got in much earlier than I expected and kind of wished I had just slept in instead of taking the early train, but oh well. Checked into my hotel and wandered the streets for a few hours, but all was fairly quiet considering it was Sunday. Had one of the most amazing meals of my life... grilled swordfish and sauteed spinach, all drenched in lemon, olive oil and oregano... all washed down with some tasty house wine... yum. Blockaded myself in the hotel room for the night with Greek beer and Friends reruns, and got some much needed RnR.

Ventured out again on Monday morning, and it was a much different Thessaloniki. It was nice to see the city in action, and I walked through lots of markets and saw all the main tourist sights. Intended to catch the overnight train to Budapest at 4:15, but it left about an hour and a half late.

Note to everyone out there- if I am ever making travel arrangements with you, and suggest public transportation, shoot me down. Between this experience, the Greyhound bus to Vegas, and the 6 AM Manhattan to Conneticut train, I think it is safe to say that I do not make good travel decisions. The train was hot, I sat in the car with the broken window, and it was very crowded. I did make friends with a Macedonian guy about my age and a bunch of teenage girls who spoke a little English, so at least it was fun. Beautiful countryside too - Macedonia is definitely getting added to the to see list.

So got into Belgrade, where I was supposed to change trains, about 3 hours too late. Next train to Budapest wasnt until that evening, and there was no way I was going to spend a whole day wandering Belgrade (again.) So hopped a train to Zagreb with an Irish and Scottish girl, and here I am! Had a fantastic dinner with them last night and am very excited to wander and see the city today. Turns out it is Croatian Independence Day, so it should be quite the party. Was offered a job at my hostel... have to say I am strongly tempted! Will head to Budapest tomorrow morning, then back to Zagreb and onto Sarajevo Sunday night.

Thats all for now... keep your eye out for postcards, because I managed to find a post office before leaving Greece, and keep your fingers crossed that I make it back home! :)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Here I go again, on my own...

Quick update while I'm enjoying free internet at my hotel..

Spent last night in Athens and had dinner with the two remaining girls in town. It was so sad, having everyone leave, one by one... but we enjoyed free wine and watched the sunset from a rooftop underneath the Acropolis, so I got over it pretty quick. Woke up early and headed out on an 8:20 train for Kalambaka ... to stand up for the first 3 hours because I didn't realize how to actually purchase a seat, but at least there was beautiful landscape on the way. Saw lots of vineyards and plenty of green, which I missed on the islands. Relaxed around town and enjoyed the beautiful view. It feels nice to be in a city where people actually live, and to get the real "Greek experience." Hardly anyone speaks English, and it's been a nice day of downtime and detox. Heard an American next to me at dinner, and turns out he's from Boulder (45 min outside of Denver.) So I've now come to Greece to meet two Coloradans. We had dinner together, and I'm heading to bed early. I am thoroughly ready to enjoy a bed where I don't fall through the cracks and a room to myself!!

Definitely starting to miss my friends from the cruise... Liz, the Aussie who entertained me through song and dance and her love of men in uniform... Karin, my crazy Kiwi "Jim Bame" chugging roommate... and Jack, my American / Australian / Zambian sunset-watching / drinking / deep meaningful conversation buddy. But, it's nice to be "off" for a few days....

Will write more from Budapest in a few days, but hope all is well at home.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Finding my land legs again...

Well, I'm back in Athens for the night and found a little more time to write.

Picking back up, Tuesday night was our "Greek night" on the ship. Everyone on our group wore togas around the ship, much to the amusement of all of the other guests. We were quite the life of the party. Had a great time, drank too much (again), and got up to general shenanigans.

Had all day Wednesday to enjoy the island of Rhodes. Shopped, toured an old palace and most of the old town, then had a fantastic lunch with some of the group. Not Greek food, but there were primarily Greek people in the restaurant, so that counts, right? Was nearly sold into slavery by Australian tour mate (long story) then wandered down to the beach for a few hours. Didn't feel comfortable swimming in the salt water thanks to the open wounds on my legs and feet, but enjoyed a few hours in the sun none the less.

Back on ship for kareoke night. Drank entirely too much to prepare self for kareoke night. Made an ass out of myself anyways. Sobered up after dinner, danced the night away, then stayed up way too late talking. Deep meaningful conversations just seem so much better when had by moonlight on the Aegean Sea!

Thursday... wow. Missed the morning excursion (see above paragraph) but had a nice relaxing afternoon on the ship. Played some more trivia and finally beat the old school teachers we've been challenging all week, largely due to the fact that one of our teammates downloaded the entirety of Wikipedia to his iPhone. I love nerds. Got to the island of Santorini in the afternoon and saw two of the prettiest spots I've ever seen. Like Mykonos but without the drunkenness. Views of the blue sea and adorable village for miles from the top of a volcanic mountain. Was there approaching sunset and absolutely did not want to leave. Rode a donkey down the mountain (!) and then back to the boat for the last night!

Took it easy on board... watched the sunset, had a few more drinks at all of our favorites spots and headed to bed early, since we disembarked at 7:00 AM. I'm back in Athens now and have had a lazy day with a few of the girls, and I miss the boat already. Though there were slight annoyances within the group and the need for a significant detox by the end of the trip, all in all, one of the best weeks of my life. Everything I was able to see was beautiful, romantic, awe-inspiring, etc, and I got to know some pretty amazing people this week. Re-reading this blog I realize it sounds rather boring, but once you see the It'll be hard to top this experience, but I am definitely in need of some me time. One of my tourmates pointed out to me that just having amazing experiences doesn't make you get in touch with yourself, but that you actually have to work at it... and I think I'm ready for a few days of doing that. Lots to think about.

So I'll be spending tonight in Athens for a little RnR, then off to Meteora in the morning to see some amazing architectural feats, then Thessaloniki in Northen Greece on Sunday. Will write more then...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Greetıngs from Turkey...

So I'm a week ınto my trıp and fınally got some downtıme to stop at an ınternet cafe. Here ıs a quıck summary of the last week.. and do not mınd some of the typos, I am currently ın Turkey and the keyboards are a lıttle wıerd.

Left around 2 PM on Wednesday, after sayıng a fınal goodbye to all my school frıends. (Pout.) Had no problems on my flıghts, thought I dıd not get a lot of sleep. Got ınto Athens at around 1 PM the next day and took the Metro to my hotel. Had some tıme to walk around before meetıng my tour group, and everyone ıs rıght - Athens ıs a hot, dırty cıty. There were amazıng thıngs to see, but ıt ıs stıll a major metropolıtan cıty wıth traffıc everywhere, anımals on the streets, and lots of tourıst traps. Met the group, and everyone has been great so far. There are 15 of us - 4 Amerıcans, 1 Kıwı (who ıs my roommate), 5 Aussıes, and 5 Canadıans. One of the gırls ıs actually from Denver! Most tour groups wıth thıs company are much larger, and usually composed of young drunken Amerıcans, so thıs worked out pretty well.

Had an amazıng dınner wıth the group, watched some tradıtıonal Greek dancıng, and had a few drınks before bed. Spent the mornıng explorıng the Acropolıs and the Plaka (the shoppıng area near the Acropolıs) wıth a few of the gırls, had another amazıng meal, then off to the boat!

Our shıp ıs ıncredıble - 10 decks, lots of bars and restaurants, and lots of great vıews. The room I share ıs basıcally just a small hotel room, but there ıs so many staff takıng care of everythıgn we need, and ıt ıs all ıncluded. We dıd all pay extra for the all ınclusıve drınks package, but let me tell you, ıts been worth ıt. The pool ıs small, but there are lots of decks for sun bathıng, and hey, I came to swım ın the Medıterranean, not a pool. We spent the fırst nıght hangıng out together and drınkıng all nıght at the dısco - agaın, I have been pleasantly surprısed but how well everyone gets along, and I actually lıke everyone! (Though of course I am closer wıth some more than others.)

Our fırst stop on the shıp was Istanbul, whıch was quıte the experıence. We went to two markets whıch were extremely ıntımıdatıng - the sellers are all very pushy and let's just say the phrase sexual harrassment does not apply ın Turkey. Went to a Turkısh bath, and laıd around naked on a hot rock beıng scrubbed down by half naked turkısh women wıth boobs down to theır knees. Quıte the experıence! Overall, Istanbul was a beautıful place, and we saw some amazıng sıghts on Sunday lıke the Blue Mosque and an old palace, but I much prefer Greece!

Back onto the shıp Sunday nıght to set saıl for Mykonos. More dancıng, sun bathıng, and love of the all ınclusıve package. Watched the show on the shıp, whıch ıs HILARIOUS!! You haven't enjoyed comedy untıl you'ver watched a bunch of foreıgners wearıng sparkly outfıts sıngıng showtunes, and havıng everyone take ıt serıously!

Monday was Mykonos - WOW. Defınıtely one of the most gorgeous thıngs I have ever seen ın my lıfe. Blue water, whıte washed buıldıngs, quaınt shops and cafes... Walked the ısland, then headed to one of the beaches where there was a really cool bar / cafe / atmosphere. Swam ın the ocean, and cut my leg and foot up pretty bad on a reef. Cussed out my tour manager, Ryan, when he sprayed antıseptıc whatever all over my foot! Danced on a platform for free shots, got quıte a nıce tan, then headed back to the maın cıty. Saw one of the most amazıng sunsets of my lıfe over the ocean, then hung out wıth one of the others of the group at a cafe people watchıng and drınkıng wıne. The rest of the group went to a bar, but I fıgured I can hang out wıth them on the shıp and drınk for free - how many tımes wıll I get to people watch on the shores of Mykonos!!!

Headed to bed early, slept ın a bıt today, then had some tıme to explore the ısland of Patmos. There was a hıstorıcal church to go see, where apparently St. John wrote the book of revelatıons, but I belıeve we all know how I feel about relıgıon (not to mentıon 7 AM hıkes.) The group ıs defınıtely of two mınds - those really ınterested ın the hıstory, who want to tour ruıns, and explore old museums, and those of us there for the vacatıon, culture, and beauty of the place. Can you guess where I fall? :)

In Kusadası Turkey now... agaın, some of the group went to Ephesus to see ruıns, and me and a few of the gırls have walked the cıty, stopped for ınternet, and are plannıng to head to a cafe for apple tea ın a mınute. Thıs cıty ıs a lot lıke Istanbul - lots of pushy salesman, and predomınantly just all shops. Oh well.

Greek nıght tonıght on the shıp, meanıng we all wear togas... should be a long fun one. All day ın Rhodes tomorrow, then two more ıslands Thursday, then back to Athens Frıday! I don't want ıt to end already!! It's been so amazıng and surprısıngly fun, and I'm really glad that I was able to have thıs experıence.

Wıll wrıte more ın a few days...