"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
- Mark Twain

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring Break Day 9 and 10: Sarajevo, and the trip home

I woke up feeling like absolute crap. We wanted to see the city, so even though we were tired and hung-over, we forced ourselves out of bed and to breakfast. After this we ended up moving hostel rooms, and then wandering around old town as I tried my best not to puke everywhere. The first stop was at the corner where Franz Ferdinand was shot, and the second stop was in the Bazaar, which we quickly walked through to look at various items.

Then we stopped for lunch, but I was still unable to eat. I did sip on some sparkling water, which seemed to calm my stomach pretty well. I ended up purchasing a sandwich pretty close after this, as we stopped at the market to look at the delicious fresh fruit and veggies that were for sale. This stop made me excited to head back home and start eating healthy again.

We walked on, to the twisty tower to head to the top floor and have a coffee. I was lucky enough to get mocha (they never have it in Albania) and to get some pretty great pictures of the view. On the way back home we stopped to look at the memorial for all the children that died in the war. As I spun the memorial (it revolved) there were several chimes inside that made it sound as though children were playing. I almost began to cry at this sound, as Robert pointed out one of the dates said that the child was only alive for a year. 

We also stopped to look at the eternal flame. At this point we were already hungry and ready for some serious food. I had found a Moroccan restaurant online and was intrigued enough to try it out. There was beautiful scenery inside, but the food was very disappointing and average. I still stuffed myself full, mostly because I was still hungry from not being able to eat all morning. Walking home, we stopped briefly in a few stores in old town to do a little bit more shopping, and stopped to get some desert to top off the unhealthy eating. We called it an early night because we knew the last day would involve a very long and obnoxious drive.

We woke up early enough and after dealing with some annoyances from our hostel we got on the road only an hour past when we were supposed to be. We were fully ready, but the hostel was not prepared to help us that early in the morning.

The drive home was very long with few stops. We ended up stopping to get "to-go" breakfast at McDonalds, once to get gas and beer, once to pee after crossing the first boarder, once for lunch, and once to pee after crossing the Albanian boarder. I feel like we did pretty well considering there were 6 of us in the van. Of course once getting home, I had the difficulty of finding my key, and I had to basically take apart my whole bag to find it. It was a pretty stressful 20 minutes while it was lost. And now it is back to the reality of Grad school, getting stuff ready for my job next year, and preparing for my vacation home. 

Spring Break Day 8: Morning tour and afternoon shisha

We had to wake up fairly early to get some breakfast in before our 9:00 tour. The man who runs “Sarajevo Funky Tours” was kind, and picked us up right at our hostel. The tour began with a basic story of the Balkans war, and him pointing our various monuments and points of interest as we drove out to the famous tunnel.

Once there we got out there we were able to explore. We even got to walk through the tunnel. Families would walk 800 meters into the mountain to get food and artillery, and then walk back. We were able to walk through about 25 meters of the tunnel, and this was painful enough and all I had with me was a small purse. Skander (our tour guide) told us that without this tunnel they would not have survived the war. He explained that as a kid food was very limited and his family would find dandelions to eat for food if they were hungry enough. It is kind of crazy that I knew this war happened before, but I couldn’t remember any of it. After this trip I feel as though I’m never going to forget it, due to all the places I’ve visited, but more importantly because of all the stories I’ve heard about it.
Sarajevo Tunnel
After the tunnel we visited a tank hotel. Here we could see all the tank marks on the ground, and I was able to pick up a piece of shrapnel from the war, which was pretty cool. This was followed by the toboggan sled track from the Sarajevo 1984 Olympics. We got to walk inside, and look at the wall, which was completely full of graffiti. Our final stop for the tour was in the second largest Jewish graveyard in the world. You could see the bullet holes and pieces of the gravestone missing, due to damage from the war.

view from the tank hotel

Then we went out for lunch and had some byrek, and some more cevapi. After an hour of attempting to get some internet we decided to give up and go out for some hookah. We sat and talked about the technological age, and how different our lives would be if we had grown up any later than we had. This was followed by some shopping, and a stop for some Bosnian coffe, so we could prepare for our night out.

Inside the toboggan sled track

We mixed up some cocktails to taste, and after tasting several we realized that we didn’t need to drink anymore before we headed out for the night. I had looked up several restaurants with different food and wanted to try out some sushi, just because I know I can’t get it in Tirana. We found the place with little trouble and were surprised to find it was so tiny, and also empty. When I had looked it up online, the reviews said there was often a long wait. Score for it being the off season! The sushi was brought to us in courses and we shared everything to make it the perfect portion. Then we headed to Cheers bar to meet up with some other friends.

I loved this bar! Mostly because they had beer on tap, and had the best live music I’ve heard in the Balkans. It was still awful covers of popular songs, but it’ll hold me over until I can get some real live music at home. We drank, and smoked more than anyone ever needs to, and then we head out to find the gay club. This was where we ran into a few issues, mostly because apparently it is underground. We asked around and eventually found out that it was not open on Thursday, so we went to the club our tour guide had recommended. As soon as I walked in I knew it was not worth it. Everyone was standing around tables swaying back and forth. It was not my style, so we headed home to create our own club at our hostel. First we stopped for some pizza, and then we stopped for some beer. The night was spent dancing at our hostel. Eventually we grew tired enough to just go to bed. Apparently I was talking in my sleep, but I don’t remember this at all.

Spring Break Day 7: Travelling through The Balkan Alps

Sadly we had to leave the best hostel in the world today. I took a super long shower, which was phenomenal, and then spent a good portion of my morning catching up on blogging while waiting for everyone to get up. We took a quick trip into old town for some souvenirs and grabbed a “secret coffee.” Our hostel kept giving us coffee, but it just wasn’t strong enough, so we needed an espresso. Eventually everyone was ready to go and we had added a member to our group as Katie (we met her on the tour) was also traveling to Sarajevo and planning on taking a bus.

We rocked out to some old school music and were amazed by the mountains around us. The Balkans Alps are actually gorgeous, not as beautiful as the Swiss Alps, but if it had been sunny out they might have stood a chance. Eventually we hit some snow, and then I got really excited. Once we were hungry enough, we stopped at a very cute little restaurant on the side of the road. Then we found out they didn’t have power, and we were a bit nervous about getting food, however it turns out everything was cooked over a wood fire. I decided on the trout since we were right by the river, and I made the correct decision. Almost everyone else was disappointed, but it was some of the best fish I’ve ever had.

We got back on the road to jam out some more. Once in Sarajevo we stopped quickly to use the McDonalds wifi for directions, and I’m not gonna lie, I had another hot fudge sundae. Then we thought we had figured out where we were going, but as it turns out the one way streets in Sarajevo make it extremely hard to navigate in a huge van. After about an hour we all grew extremely frustrated, and screamed profanities at random pedestrians in the street. Eventually we were able to make it to our hostel, which was another fun mission because our room had a burst pipe, so we had to switch rooms. The frustration levels were so high that we quickly shared a 2 liter of beer, and several shots of whiskey. More frustration occurred as we tried to use the in and out wifi to find directions to go to the brewery for dinner. We did eventually find it on the map and successfully found it after asking for directions. I had a delicious dinner of beet salad and 4 cheese penne, along with 2 dark Sarajevsko beers and a dessert called Tufahije, which was like honey soaked apples. We asked about tours, but I guess they didn't exist :(

Inside the brewery restaurant

I also smoked like 3 cigarettes (this is getting to be a common occurrence on this trip) and felt like crap. Once home, I piled into a king size bed with Scott and Robert for a very interrupted sleep, due to load doors in our hostel, people playing music and ultra thin walls. Also me and Robert kept laughing uncontrollably for no particular reason. Eventually I was able to soak up about 5 hours of solid sleep. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Spring Break Day 6: Let's Kick it in Mostar

Wow! I’m wondering if I can put into words the experiences I had today. The kind of experiences that money can’t buy. The kind of experiences that you only get to have once. The kind of experiences, that, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to describe them to others. I will try my best, though I’m certain I’ll forget some parts, and in the end leave out many of my” much too personal” emotions.

We started off the morning with breakfast at the hostel. Majda (yes we were on first name basis with our hosts) cooked us some delicious fried squash on top of some bread. However, it wasn’t just any fried squash. It was in some delicious garlic sauce. After our coffee, we were able to pull the crew together to “kick it!” Bata introduced us to his girlfriend, or better named as a pimped out, sometimes 25 passenger van. There are only 9 seats, but he said one time in the heat of the summer he managed to cram 25 people in using stools, and allowing wives to sit on husband’s laps.

The tour began in the van as we listened to some music to “wake us and shake us.” Then we stopped just around the corner and listened to Bata talk for about an hour about the war in Mostar, his life, and the most interesting part for me, the politics of Bosnian beer.

 I’ll summarize: During the war, Croatia and Serbia claimed that the border lines of their country were right were the river in the center of Mostar is. Though Bosnia is now a free country, the Croats still lay claim to one side of the river. If you go into a bar on that side of the river they will only serve Croatian beer. It made me feel quite bad that I enjoyed the beer I had the previous night, but I vowed to give the Bosnian beer a chance.

After some more stories about the war and Bata’s personal life (you just have to experience them yourself) we headed out. Bata showed us some various items around the city. Places of controversy, places of importance, and some places that were just completely crazy. After this brief tour of the city, we headed out for the “real tour.” He first asked, if anyone wanted to be returned to the hostel, but none of us did.

The first stop was to get lunch. We got to watch a few ladies make Bosnian Byrek, which was soooooooo much better than the Albanian version, though also very different, and thus impossible to compare. Arielle and I split the minced meat “slice” and a piece of potato.

cooking my lunch

We then headed to Blagaj to visit a very small village where Bata’s parents grew up. There was a surge of water, and Bata explained that though people have tried to find out where the water comes from it is still a complete mystery. Here there is also a mosque, which we were lucky enough to visit. It was my first time in a mosque and though the gender inequality makes me a bit mad, I’m glad I got to have the experience. Bata explained that the mosque used to be used as a house, and explained many of the traditions. We also discovered that the house is also a Dervish house, which is too complicated and weird for me to even explain. While looking at the only remaining original ceiling in the house I grew incredibly fascinated for some reason. I felt in a trance. Eventually, after several minutes Bata got up and moved to leave the mosque, and we also followed lagging a bit behind. Then Bata told us the rumor that if you make a wish, drink the water from the river, and never tell anyone that it will come true. And that is just what I did. I bent down, made a wish, and though it still hasn’t come true I’m not going to tell you what it was.

Dervish House/Mosque/Rushing River

After this experience, us North Americans were ready for a drinky drink, so we grabbed a beer and hit the road once again. This time to head to the Las Vegas of Bosnia. Apparently about 30 years ago there were a group of 4 teenagers up on a hill in this tiny village with 4 houses. The story goes that while there they saw an apparition of the virgin Mary. Ever since then, people have been coming from all over (mainly Ireland and Italy) to pilgrimage to the top of the hill. Apparently it is the 3rd largest pilgrimage in the world. The village has grown into a place with thousands of souvenir shops, a few large shopping centers, 5 star motels, and large Beverly Hills-like houses in a matter of 30 years. Everything looks brand new. One of the teenagers still claims that she speaks with and talks to the virgin Mary everyday, and everyone has stuck with the story that was originally presented. This is crazy!

Next came the part of the trip that I was the most excited for: the waterfall. It didn’t live up to my expectations, mostly because I just had to change them. It was still a wonderful experience and one I was so glad I could have. Usually, people get to cliff jump off of a waterfall. Unfortunately we came during the wet season, so the water is much higher than normal, and it is impossible to get to the part of the secret path that Bata usually takes people to, so, we had to improvise. The sight of the large waterfall was enough to make me happy, but I also had come with the intention of cliff jumping, so I was cliff jumping. We walked up and around to a restaurant, and we climbed on top of the restaurant to jump into the large waterfall, and rushing water. Several men were fishing and looked at us in a strange way as we undressed and climbed to the roof. Robert and me decided to go together, because we love doing things together. It was cold, but not any more so than the other water we had jumped into before.

Kravice Waterfalls

I swam to the surface and out of the water to be followed in by 2 other girls. We all dried off and listened to Bata tell us about how happy we had made him. The fishermen commented on how crazy we were, and we were happy to leave.
Apparently I'm crazy. Who knew?
Next up were the shots of Rakia. I’ve tried the Albanian Raki and it sucks. This stuff still sucked, but was much better.  Usually it tastes similar to a fruity gross syrup, but this had some different spices in it and tasted much healthier, if that makes any sort of sense.

After we were warmed by the rakia we headed to a 15th century fortress. This was quite the culture experience because the place was empty except for 3 houses that are still occupied. Not only did we get to hear the call to prayer in the middle of nowhere, but we also got to climb up a tower. Even more important is that we got to visit a quiet old lady in the village who served us Bosnian coffee, fresh and dried fruit from her garden, and delicious baked apple pancakes. We also got to partake in a syrup tasting contest including sage, elder flower, and pomegranate syrup. We offered her a little bit of money for her trouble and were finally on our way home.

Pońćitelj Villiage

Once home we took a quick break from our lives to regroup from the emotional and life changing experience of the tour. Then we needed some real Bosnian beer. We took the recommendation of our hosts and headed out for dinner in old town. It was delicious. I shared octopus salad, shark chops, and trout. After a good beer, followed by a bad beer we were ready to go home.

I had no idea when I left for the spring break how much I would learn about the history of Bosnia and the Balkans. Life is crazy. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spring Break Day 5: McDonalds!

Upon waking up to my alarm at 6:00am I ran to the kitchen chugged some water and noticed there was still about a fourth of a bottle of wine left. I was glad we hadn’t finished it.

We quickly ran to the market to get some “juice” or sugar water, and grabed a hot dog stuffed baked item from the bakery. I finished packing (throwing my things in my bag) everyone piled into the car and we drove to go see a waterfall.

We passed a cave, which upon further discussion we decided was the waterfall. The water only flows right after it rains and since it hadn’t rained the whole time we were there, it was clear the water had dried up. We decided to stop briefly for a coffee, and I purchased the grossest chocolate milk in the whole world.

The ride was rough, mostly because I was just hung-over and my stomach was confused by the mass of items I gave it. At one point we stopped to pee and I got out and the song “pissing in the wind” came right to mind as I fought against the wind to make sure my urine didn’t stream right back toward me. Eventually we made it through the boarder crossing, stopped in a small city to have a look around, convert some money and pee.

At this point I was starting to get to the potion of a hangover when you just need to eat something greasy. Arielle and I passed the time discussing what we would want our dream homes to look like. Luckily, Scott had presumed there would be a McDonalds in Mostar (once you’ve been in a country that doesn’t have one it becomes a luxury) and I was getting excited. After stopping to ask for directions once we found it and parked in a parking ramp of a shopping mall.

This was an overwhelming experience that made me a bit nervous about coming back to America. There were several times when I thought I might either vomit (luckily my stomach was empty) or pass out from being completely overwhelmed. Everyone wanted to go to the supermarket and I couldn’t even bring myself to look inside of it. I ran toward McDonalds, which was also overwhelming. I looked briefly at the menu before realizing I knew exactly what I wanted. Double Cheeseburger, fries, and a hot fudge sundae. The sundae went first (with some fries) followed by the rest of the fries in barbeque sauce, and then the burger. Oh my god. It tasted so good, mostly because I was starving, but also because it had just been so long since I had those flavors in my mouth.

After calling the hostel they said they would come and pick us up, so we sat and waited. We passed the time watching people’s umbrellas break due to the terrible wind. After waiting for about 40 minutes I realized I was hungry enough for another burger. This one was so hot and juicy that it satisfied my needs.

We had quite the experience getting the van out of the parking ramp, and navigating it through the tiny side streets. The owner of the hostel and his sister and mother were so welcoming. They offered us coffee, and fried donuts with raspberry jam and some sort of cheese sauce. I was so full that I could only eat two, but I still enjoyed them. They showed us a map of the city, and we were quickly on our way to explore the town.

The Old Bridge

We walked through old town and stopped in some shops, as well as spending some time taking pictures of the famous bridge. Then we walked to the “sniper tower,” where, during the war snipers would stand guard shooting. I have mixed emotions about the experience. I got really bad vibes from the place for obvious reasons, but also kept reminding myself that this is an experience I will never ever have again. The place was covered in glass and graffiti, and the wind made the trip up and down the uncovered stairs quite scary.
view from sniper tower

Once down we headed to the Irish bar for a Croatian beer, and a glass of water. We ask about other bars nearby and headed to Hemmingway bar where I tasted probably the best Balkan beer I’ve ever had. Karlovako dark was a delicious beer that had a coffee flavor in the aftertaste. After this beer we were ready to head back to the hostel. We got a bit lost and confused, and the rain and wind were making everyone frustrated and angry. Once back we talked to the man about a nearby place for food and tried the Bosnian version of quofte. Robert decided to beat the record and ate 40 sticks of beef like a champion.

Croatian Beer

Once back at the hostel I took the best shower I have had in my entire life. Two shower heads, one straight above my head and the other from the side. If I could sleep standing up I would have stayed there all night long. Time to prepare for our crazy outdoor Mostar tour tomorrow. Potential for cliff diving! 

Spring Break Day 4: Our "beach" day

Today we headed to another small village to boat out to an island and see a very old church. We allowed ourselves to sleep a bit, but we were up  and to a restaurant in time to get some coffee. At this point we were told that the boats to the island did not run on Sunday, so we figured we’d just have to re-plan our day. The kind waiter told us he would call his friend to see if he could take us, which he did. Later, we decided, after seeing many other boats we decided this was a scam, but for 5 Euro each we were able to go explore the small island and church.

leaving the village on the boat

Then we headed back to the town, walked around, and purchased some items for lunch. I ended up eating a handful of almonds, some soup, a cucumber, and some bread. After this small lunch we decided to soak up the sun since the weather claimed it would be the last  we would see for our trip. After about 10 minutes of soaking it up, Robert and I decided that our bodies also needed to soak up the water, so we dived in. Beer, reading, and sun tanning on the “beach” was how I chose to spend the next hour of my life, followed by another dip in the bay and a shower. We headed into town to explore and find a place to drink a bottle of wine.

the crew in front of the church

We stopped at the restaurant that was rated #1 on trip advisor, planning on splitting an appetizer and some wine. The wine was too expensive for our budget, so we split some sparkling water, a pear and gorgonzola salad, and some squid ink risotto. Afterward we decided we were too full for any real dinner, but that ice cream seemed like an exquisite idea.

Once home I took a quick minute to regroup and partially pack my items (thank god) before “sitting on the dock of the bay” with Arielle drinking wine, and talking about life. It was a great chat and just what I needed. Eventually Robert and Scott joined us with another bottle of wine, which led to a trip to the market for a third bottle of wine. When we decided it was time for a 4th the market was closed, so we ended up checking the bakery next door to our apartment which happened to have bottles. We bummed a few more cigarettes of some of the judging men and sat in the driving drinking wine and singing Moulin Rouge, because why not. Please keep in mind that none of us ate a real dinner, so the fact that we drank 4 bottles of wine says a lot.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spring Break Day 3: St. John's Fortress in Old Town Kotor

Sleeping-in was a necessary point of our day. We all woke up around 9:00 am (yes, that is sleeping in) and then woke up to shower, and  make a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and bread. It takes quite a bit of effort to get a group of 6 people ready for the day, but we finally were able to head out of the apartment at about 11:15, for our long hike into the city. This of course included a beer, a stop for coffee, and some whiskey. By the time we made it into old town we were ready for an early lunch.
St. John's Fortress 

One man was kind enough to show us directions for how to get to the top of the fortress of Saint John, and for how to get to the seafood restaurant I had looked up on tripadvisor. Arielle and I split some sea bass, and a salad and we all shared some white wine. Then we set out to scale the side of the mountain up to the fortress. 1,350 stairs stood in our way, and to say we conquered it would be an understatement. Along the way we stopped several times to take pictures and catch our breath. Once we arrived at the top we spent a good 30 minutes relaxing in the sun, and decided to “moon” Montenegro. On our way back down the mountainside, a kind man pointed out a secret passageway to us, which brought with it beautiful views of a church and some nice rock hiking. Making it down was much easier, and Arielle and I spent the trip talking about marriage, traveling and our life goals.
At the top!
Our plan was to grab some water, coffee, and beer before heading back to the apartment. We stopped at the market to get water, and ended up getting some delicious ice cream while we were there. On the way back we did end up stopping for a coffee, and a beer for the road, and I stopped to do a gypsy squat on the way home.

The night continued at the apartment with take-out Chinese food (the first since I left America) and wine, along with a quick trip to the super market for chocolate.

All in all it was quite the successful day, as it is not 9:30pm and we are getting ready for bed. We will see you tomorrow Lady of the Rock!

Spring Break Day 2: Skader Lake National Park

We woke up super early to head into town and grab some breakfast before heading to a national park. Originally the plan was a baked good, coffee, and gone, But we ended up discovering a delicious restaurant called Venus. After looking at the menu I could not decide what I wanted. Luckily Arielle was willing to split the fried pancakes and the sweet pancake with me. It was just enough of both to fill me up and satisfy me. The fried pancake was deep fried and filled with cheese and ham, and covered with a yogurt sauce and some of the best pickles I’ve ever had. The sweet pancake was stuffed with a banana, chocolate and cream. Yummy! I also had a double macchiato to cure any form of a headache I had.

After breakfast I was ready for a beer, so we ran quickly to the supermarket to grab one before hopping back into the van and on the road to Shkadar Lake National Park. To say it was a rough drive would not do it justice. It was the worst of all the drives we have been on yet. There was a few points where I actually almost threw up. I just tried to close my eyes and pretend like it was a bad dream. The road had several random holes, looking a good half mile down to the ground, and also had plenty of rock slides for us to drive around. 
Skadar Lake National Park
No need to worry. Eventually we made it, and did a short hike up to a castle. The views were beautiful, and I quickly began to enjoy the mountain fresh air for my runny and stuffy nose. We arrived just in time to hop onto a boat tour filled with older German men and women. I spent the majority of the hour on the boat just trying to stay in the sun so that I could stay warm. We did get to see the “Alcatraz” of Montenegro while we were on it and I like to make believe that I saw otters. After the hour of cold and a little bit of complaining about when we’d be back, we were all ready for some more food, so we found a restaurant and grabbed some chicken, fries, and eel, along with a bottle of wine. We fed a few cats some of the bones from the eel, and before we knew it we had a whole group of cats by us waiting for more.
The jail in the middle of the lake

We were hoping to get in a short hike in the National park, but realized that sadly we would not have time if we wanted to get to our destination before night fall. Mostly we wanted to be sure we could see the coastline as we drove, and boy could we! It was beautiful. We stopped to get some pictures overlooking so incredible rocks in the middle of the sea. 
Our road trip stop.

Eventually, we arrived in Kotor only to realize that we had no idea how to find our apartment (Google maps sucks here since there aren’t really street signs to guide us.) Adam was nice enough to get out of the car and ask for directions at a market. The lady at the market called and the owner of the Apartment came and picked us up. The apartment was larger, with three bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room, and kitchen. After a quick hour of settling in, we were in desperate need of a walk and some food. We set out with the goal of finding a place nearby. In the end we ended up walking about 8km to find a restaurant. After a dinner of pasta and more chicken we stopped at the supermarket to get some items for breakfast the next morning, including real bacon, eggs, and bread with Nutella.
The Bay during the sunset 
Arielle and myself were craving ice cream and thankfully found some. Unfortunately it was very hard ice cream and it was still quite cold outside. I ended up only finishing 2/3rd of mine before I realized that I felt like complete crap(in terms of fullness.)

Once we ended up back home I went almost directly to bed because I was so exhausted from all the walking. 

Spring Break Day 1: Ulcinj

I just went skinny dipping in the fucking Adriatic sea….in March!!! Well, mostly it was diving in and then getting the fuck out of there as fast as I could. We went in the freezing cold, and at 10:00pm at night. What?!?! Okay, so we decided a long time ago that my life was insane.
Love You!

Today started spring break 2013! I had a rough day to say the least. It began with a slight cold and progressed into a kids running around during last hour of day. We had a random assembly, which threw off the schedule, a math test, and a bake sale. They were hopped up on sugar, generally crazy kids, who needed a break as much as I did. Then I got an email from Jakarta that made me very unsure of the job, and the schedule surrounding it. I left about 20 minutes after school, completely in the need of a break to remind myself of why I chose this career and lifestyle.

After arriving at home I spent a little while emailing my mom for support and encouragement followed by taking a few sips of whiskey, and shortly afterward I got a call saying it was time leave! Woohoo!!! Spring break 2013!

I drank a beer about 5 minutes after I got into the car. Like I said it was a rough day. 6 of us in an 8 passenger van seemed perfect. We had plenty of space to stretch our legs and still were close enough that we could all talk. Ahead of the trip we were told by our principal to drive safely and by a fellow co-worker who lived in Shokoder to drive safely (her city was on our way.) We had zero issues. The road was gorgeous, even in the pouring rain. We stopped in Shokder to get a quick coffee, and then got back on the road, hoping to making to Ulcinj in time for dinner. We also grabbed a beer for the road because, well, it was spring break.

Eventually we got to the boarder, and managed to purchase international insurance for a total of 30 Euro. After a rough and beautiful road through the southern part of Montenegro (seriously wish I could see it by day) we made it to Ulcinj. The roughest part was finding our hostel. We ended up stopping in a market to ask directions. The man we asked was so nice that he insisted on hopping in the van to take us to the hostel even though it was about 10 meters away. We checked in, and headed to a well deserved dinner at a local bar.

We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into when we asked for the mix of whatever, plus 5 Montenegrin beers. The beers were delicious (not to a Minnesotan standard) and the food was amazing. We had chicken, beef sticks(like American breakfast sausage) and a soup that tasted like beef stroganoff. I was very satisfied and ready to go when Robert and Scott suggested making a trip to see the beach.

This turned out to be a bit harder of a task than planned, due to either the high tide, or the heavy rain fall of the day, but eventually Ari found a way to get us across the small river using sticks and balancing poles. Once there, we finished off the beer we had purchased from the market, and shortly after me and Robert decided skinny dipping was a viable option.

We took off our shoes to test it, and though it was freezing we decided that we couldn’t pass up a chance to skinny dip in the Adriatic sea with the moonlight, so we went for it. And now I’m back at our hostel drinking gin and waters, getting ready for bed.
Great group for the trip.  
Have I mentioned that I love my life? 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

And the next job will be in.....

Jakarta! I'm so happy to say that this morning at 6:45am I accepted a job teaching at Royal Academy in Jakarta Indonesia. I will be teaching second grade, which I'm super excited about because it will be slightly different than 1st grade but I will be able to use the same classroom management strategies.

The school is new, and next year will only be its second year of operation, but I'm super excited to be on the cutting edge of something spectacular! Additionally it uses the IB IPC curriculum, allowing me to become IB certified, and the potential jobs for the future to increase.When I look at the pictures of the way they present the material to students I know I'm going to love it. They start each session with a field trip or day of exploration surrounding a unit. Units could be about food, inventors, or animals, and they might vist a grocery store, or a zoo, or the teacher may dress up as famous inventors for a day. Then they spend 4-6 weeks studying math, english, science, and social studies surrounding that idea/concept. How incredible that all the subject areas can relate!!!!

The job starts mid July, so I will be heading home briefly to get all my documents and my life together before heading there. I wasn't planning on going home, but it looks like it will be necessary to get my visa before I head out, and to get all my shots and medication to prepare for 2 years. It will be crazy busy, so if you are hoping to see me, you better book ahead. I'll be in Minneapolis for a stint and Marshfield for a while. I'm hoping to sneak in a few days in Milwaukee with my niece and nephew as well. Chances are if you pick a place I love (the Republic, 331 club, Al's, Hard Times, anywhere with cheese, cheese curds, beer, or burgers) you'll be in.

I've already started making a list of things to do when I'm home and things I need to purchase when I'm home. Rain proof items are essential, given the monsoons. The climate means I'll be wearing a lot of teacher dresses, and I'm not sure how I'll deal with the heat and wetness, but I'm sure I'll adjust.

Also, it is time to begin learning a new language. I'm not sure where to begin. The second language of the school is Mandarin, and I feel like that could be useful in my travels, but, Indonesian is apparently the official language.

Overall I feel as completely unknowledgeable and freaked out as I did when I decided to move to Albania. I've realized that you can't trust what any person or any web forum says, and I have no idea what to expect. But that is what make my life so fantastic :)

The best part about landing a job so soon? I'm able to plan for the next 2 year of my life. Well, sort of. I know that 4 months from now I'll be on a plane to Jakarta, and that 3.5 months from now I'll be home. I KNOW I GET TO SEE MY FAMILY!!!! And I can start planning some kick ass trips in southeast asia. I keep forgetting how many people I know who are teaching and/or live there. I have an insane amount of places to visit. And so I offer you my bucket-list. Knowing that I accomplished zero of the items on my last one, and that I'm almost okay with that because I don't care to see many of those place anymore, I made this one less specific.

Asia Bucketlist:
1. Go surfing. It's number one because it is realistic.
2. Bhutan, after reading Beyond the sky and the Earth I cannot resist
3. Burma: it is number 3, only because Scott and Robert plan on going there, but it would make the list no matter what.
4. Bali: I've been obsessed with this for a year or so now.
5. Thailand: I'd like to SEE bangkok( for like 2 days), and the explore some other countryside, or find some random waterfalls to jump into. I wanted to go to Thailand freshman year, for some very strange reason and I've been constantly intrigued.
6. Vietnam/Cambodia: This could be a fun combined trip. I've heard a lot about each and for awhile I thought eventually I'd end up living and teaching in Vietnam, so I feel a week long visit is necessary
7. India: I'll be close enough, and it has always been on the list, so why not. I need some indian food and a Sari.
8. Taiwan: for a little while I thought I was going to be getting a job here as well, so I've found a lot of things I want to see.
9. Volcano hiking: yep. This is an ex-pat group in Jakarta. For real.
10. Jakarta blues festival: don't judge. Live music? I'm in.

Why not Australia, China, Japan or New Zealand ? Because overall they seem a lot like Europe to me. Over rated and expensive. If I get there, great. If not, I'll survive. Let's be real, I thought I'd love travelling Europe and now I just cannot get the beauty of Asia out of my head, and I never want to see a church or museum again. This is obviously a basic list, and I'm very open to suggestions from anyone with experience :) But if you suggest a building then it better be spectacular because I'm in love with the natural world.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The story of what I hope will be my final tattoo

I knew when I got my tattoo in Minneapolis last August that it would not be my last. Almost as soon as I arrived in Albania I began contemplating what the next one would be. While me and Scott joked about each getting half of the double heading eagle on opposing but cheeks so we could put them together, I knew I’d be getting something with meaning behind it. This has been an unforgettable and life changing year.

The Birds: Unfortunately I don’t love Albania enough to get their flag tattooed on me, but, since I decided to start on this journey (teaching abroad) I’ve been obsessed with the idea of birds and the freedom they symbolize. Originally the plan was to get one bird for each country I ended up teaching in. However living with a partially completed tattoo, and the issue of constantly having to take care of new tattoos didn’t seem appealing. Plus I figured it would look disconnected and strange. So in the end I opted to get whatever looked best. Originally the birds I drew were those at the top of this blog, however my tattoo artist found some other ones that looked even better. The bird represent me flying away from the tree (home) into my future.

The Tree: The tree=Home. The idea for the tree was constructed sometime in the first few weeks of school when I made family trees with my students. When I made my own as an example, I “carved” a heart into the trunk with a letter C (for my last name) in the center. Also I desperately miss trees, camping, and the woods. I found a tree I loved online, and drew it up really badly, luckily my tattoo artist found a better one with all the same requirements. Mostly I wanted 3 main parts coming from the trunk to represent my main family members. One for my mom and dad, and one for each brother. Why not 4 you ask? Good question. My mom and dad are, of course, very special and very different people, but they will always be together, and I wanted to remind myself of how lucky I am to have parents who have stayed together. I decided that I wanted to swap the heart and letter c for something more original and dear to my heart. The state of Wisconsin, to represent where I’ve come from. I’ve always wanted to get a Green Bay Packer tattoo, and I hope this will satisfy that need.

The lyrics: “Oh my sweet disposition…..” These are lyrics from a song by one of my favorite artists. Since arriving in Albania I have listened to the song “Oh My Sweet Carolina” by Ryan Adams hundreds of times. Basically the song is all about a man who goes out looking for himself and he doesn’t understand why he ever wanted to leave home in the first place, but he just can’t seem to return home. 

So there you have it. After spending 4 hours of a gorgeous day bent over in a tattoo parlor, I think it is safe to say that this is my final tattoo. Although my tattoo artist did say that I have the perfect skin for tattoos, and that I was a very strong woman. They kept telling me it was okay if I screamed, but only one small scream escaped out of my mouth. Right when they were right on my vertebrae. My spine will never forgive me for the pain. Also, I ate pizza while I got it, because why not?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

oh my sweet disposition....

Oh my sweet disposition…

A few weeks ago I was really confused. One second I was in love with the idea of leaving here and the next I was in love with the idea of staying. Little things would sway my mind completely from one direction to the other.

I just remember when I first met Scott and I told him I was going to stay in Albania for two years. He told me about his life in China and how he just wanted to go home until suddenly he knew he wanted to stay.

That is what life was like 2 weeks ago for me. I realized how hard moving here was, and how used to my life I’ve already become. Sure there are things I dislike, but there are also things I love. Quite honestly, I think this proves that I’m going to fall in love with anywhere I go. There will always be new experiences, new people to meet, new places to travel to, and new life lessons. At 23, I’m still searching for who I am. And while I’ve discovered a little bit about who I am (bluegrass dancing, Packer watching, beer drinking, American girl) I have a lot of me to discover.

I have a lot to discover, especially as far as teaching goes. I could stay in Albania and learn a lot as a second year teacher. I could help this school transform a bit. Or, I could go somewhere else and try my hand a new experience and a new culture of learning.

For my 23rd birthday my mother sent me a package from home filled with pictures of those I love the most, 3 chunks of Wisconsin cheese, and a beautiful necklace with the letter T in it. When I skyped with her after receiving it she informed me she almost got me a Green Bay Packer necklace, but decided this was a lot nicer quality, and that she thought of me as soon as she saw it because T stands for teacher. I almost started crying.

During my year of student teaching I remember doubting if I could be a teacher. I kept thinking to myself that it was too hard of a job for me. I reminded myself that I wasn’t allowed to do anything halfheartedly. So if I wanted to be a teacher it would have to be who I would become. I think I’m starting to realized what being a teacher means, and I’m happy to say I will continue to figure it out  next year, wherever I may be. Who knows where I will be, but I’ve decided it won’t be Albania, and it won’t be America. 

…may you one day carry me home.