Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Readjustment: Redux

Hey everyone,

I'm settled in okay in Ohio. Grad school is going fine, but it is not for me, so I won't be going back next semester. I just got a call back from a tutoring center here in Toledo and might be getting a part-time job there, and I've got some applications floating in the education sphere for full-time gigs.

So I guess that's it. I'm "readjusted." Of course, I still sometimes want to speak Mongolian at inappropriate times and to people who won't understand a thing I say (or even acknowledge it as a real language). I miss the mountains that I could see from my window every morning and I miss walking to several little stores everyday for my groceries. I miss my friends and my school and my job, but I'm happy to be back and I'm getting to that good place where I can see myself continuing here (most of the time).

Since this blog was dedicated to my life in Mongolia and my time in the Peace Corps. I think it's time to shut it down. Maybe I'll start a more general blog some other time, but since I did such a poor job updating this one, that's probably not likely.

For those of you reading this who are considering the Peace Corps, I want you to know that I loved my service. I know I posted mostly about bad things on here, but that is for entertainment value. No one wants to read about the sappy happy times, that's why the movies always end with the marriage and don't follow the blissful honeymoon.
My school was wonderful, all the teachers were friendly, helpful and full of good-humor. When I was couldn't understand them, they kept trying. When I was tired or sick, they were understanding and concerned. I met some wonderful people and have a whole new family half a world away. Peace Corps was a life changing experience that has left me a child of two worlds. While I was gone, I missed my mother, sister, brother, apartment, climate and grocery stores; now that I'm back, I miss my students, my "goe" boots, my "bagsh," my foreigner's free pass, and my friends. I even miss the climate sometimes (constant sunshine is really nice...even in freezing temperatures). I missed out on the birth of my nephew while I was gone, but now I'm missing the milestones and accomplishments of all my Mongolian friends and families. My village connected to Facebook after I left, so I'm 'friends' with many of my students and teachers. So I see the pictures of the parties and the events and the fun, and regret not being a part of it anymore.
That's what Peace Corps does. It brings you great happiness and great friends. If you're considering joining, know yourself. Know how much you're willing to miss while you're away; realize that life will go on without you and that you'll probably lose contact with a lot of your weaker connections; you'll be lost in a lot of conversations and you'll be incapable of explaining a lot of your stories; you'll feel lost in this crazy country of flushable toilet paper and central heating, because whether you love or hate your host country, you'll be come accustomed to it; you'll learn to be alone a lot...and you will learn to love or hate that solitude.
Whether you join or not, best of luck to anyone reading this. Do your best to live without regrets. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Updates

Hey everyone!

Long time, no update. Well, I don't know what my last post was and I can't be bothered to check, but I'm going to assume a lot has happened since then.

The semester is in full swing, in fact Spring break is in about two weeks. Mid-term exams (which my professors insist on calling quizzes) are coming up fast and I'm making progress in all of that fun stuff.

I'm also settling into life in my new house. It's too big for little ol me, but I guess that's supposed to change eventually as I start accumulating stuff and people to fill it up. I'm thinking that a tv, wii and maybe a big dining room table will make good birthday/house warming gifts to myself.

I'm still super busy with all the school work and work-work. I've been working at a local grocery store deli to make the bills (Gas heating is expensive...I don't know how you northerners do it).

I've got stuff to do now, but I felt like I'd left this thing unupdated for too long.

Have a great start of Spring!!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Readjustment

I know I haven't finished updating with all of my travels yet because I'm a terrible blogger. But I'm in the mood for a different kind of post today.

I've been back in the states for almost 2 weeks now and I'm floundering. Nothing feels real. I'm floating between houses, crashing in my mother's spare room and on my sister's couch. I meet up with old friends and do activities but I'm "off". I don't talk as much as I used to; I don't react the ways that I used to. People don't mention it, but I feel like they notice it.

I don't have a car, so I rely on others to go anywhere which means I'm never away from the house on my own. I haven't gotten a chance to find something solid. I'm not really and truly connected to anyone or anything. If I up and left the country again, I don't feel like my absence would affect anyone. While I was gone, everyone - friends, family, work - moved on and adjusted to me not being here. And it will take a while for them to make space for me again, for me to become a part of everything that I left again. For now, I'm just extra.

It'll get better. I'm sure it'll get better...but for now, readjustment sucks. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Balkans: Bosnia i Herzegovina and Serbia


I finished up my trip with Jo and only had a week remaining on my Balkans tour with the most important stops still to come.

Mostar and Sarajevo in Bosnia and Hertzegovina
and
Belgrade in Serbia

I chose the Balkans because I wanted to learn about the wars that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia. BiH and Serbia were the two main combatants in my picture of the war and so I was very interested in visiting these two countries more than any of the others. One week for two countries is a terrible schedule, but I tried to make it work.
I left Montenegro by bus. I traveled all along the Montenegrin coastline and it was stunning. I highly recommend that drive to anyone who has the opportunity. Take a car so that you can stop at any of the beautiful little coastal villages along the way. The bus arrived in Dubrovnik in the early evening and I settled down in a hostel. Went out for dinner and a little sight seeing after sunset. Dubrovnik's old town is lovely all lit up. Morning boat ride plans were ruined by rainstorms, but the silver lining was the start of my real Balkan war tour. I'd seen fliers for a war photography exhibit and made my way to the gallery through the rain. The exhibit had blurbs explaining the different conflicts and photographs from many different photographers. Some were black and white and very bleak. They showed families trudging down long muddy roads and the refugee trail. Others were red...filled with fires and blood. They were disturbing and frightening. I've become accustomed to the war photography of the World Wars. GIs and civilians in the hospitals and on the fields, doomed to die or to live ages before I was born or thought of. Their uniforms, hair styles and faces identify them as part of a world that doesn't exist anymore. Those pictures don't ring of the real world. The exhibits in this gallery did. Bottles of coke littering the streets, children wearing Nike or Adidas and the color. I spent a few hours staring at the still photographs, watching the slide shows and listening to the radio broadcasts before heading into town and catching my bus to Mostar.
Mostar has a lovely old town, especially when you consider that the entire old town has been rebuilt since the ceasefire. I must confess that the famous bridge in Mostar looked like a bridge to me and that I cannot fathom how it earned its fame. The jumping competitions off of the bridge would be a sight to see though. The river looks stunning running through the city, and Mostar is home to the only mosque on my trip that allowed me to climb a minaret for a gorgeous view. The town's entire tourism seems focused on that one bridge though and I really would have liked to see what else it had to offer.
The train from Mostar to Sarajevo is supposed to be one of the most beautiful train routes available. The river Danube flows alongside the tracks almost the entire way. And it was lovely, but definitely not more so than the Adriatic had been on my earlier bus ride. I arrived in Sarajevo and met up with my host for my few days in Sarajevo.
First stop was the "Tunnel of Hope". Apparently it's a very famous museum which I'd never heard of before planning this trip. The museum tour begins with a short movie which follows the war from start to finish. The first shots fired to the peace talks in Dayton, Ohio. After watching film of people running from snipers and tanks destroying homes and schools, the video shifts to a conference room where old men sign a piece of paper with expensive pens and simply end the war and the violence.
The museum used to be a private residence. The community members in this small outskirts town in Sarajevo decided to dig a tunnel to filter supplies into the beleaguered capital and this home was the starting point. Only a small portion of the tunnel is still open. The parts that ran under the airport obviously had to be boarded up for security reasons. It's a short tunnel in which I can barely stand straight. Thousands of people traipsed through that tunnel carrying food, water, arms and other necessary supplies. Others traveling the other way, evacuated children and the elderly to safety.
Inside the museum they have artifacts from the war. Tools used to build the tunnel, meal boxes that were supplied by the UN forces and old shells that fell in and around the area. Also they have photographs and notes from some of the museums most famous visitors...whose names I no longer recall, but they were very famous.
More museums the next day and more very depressing videos coverage of the war, but also a lot of inspiring exhibits of how Sarajevo survived the siege  Posters from plays and concerts performed during those four years, paintings from children doing school projects.
I met up with some couchsurfers for a bit of non-depressing time and attended a free concert of famous Balkan performers. No one that I had heard of...but I loved it.
Bus from Sarajevo to Belgrade arrived early in the morning and I stored my luggage for a few hours of exploring the city. Not enough time to do anything too extensive, but I enjoyed walking around downtown Belgrade with two of Belgrade's walking tours: the free walking tour and the underground Belgrade walking tour.
The free tour was great, as they always are. We explored the main sights like the fortress and the Republic square. Friendly guides and interesting stories: ask me about Silicon Valley. Underground Belgrade was kind of short and disappointing. It was a new tour and not as much was available as might be in the future. We explore some (formerly) secret military bunkers, an arms storage area turned night club turned museum and a cave turned wine cellar. Enjoyable, but they'll probably have more available on it if you go sometime in the future. After the tour, I got the best souvenir of my trip from the National Bank of Serbia: a bank note for 1684 Serbian dinars with my smiling face on it! I grant you that in America we can get these fake bills printed at any mall photo booth...but mine was printed by the National Bank and that makes it legitimate in my brain. This option is also available in Hungary from the Hungarian National Bank (so I hear, never tried there).
The war with the rest of the Balkan states rarely came up in the tour guides information except when discussing the inflation or difficulties brought on by the UN sanctions.
         Caught the train out of Serbia and landed in Budapest the next morning. More on that later...if I feel like it. I'm back in the States now and so visiting with friends and families and getting my life in order has taken precedence over updating this blog on my travels

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Another behind the times update


So, I'd left Romania one wallet poorer, but a lot of new friends richer. Next stop was Macedonia to meet another new friend, Jo. Jo and I had exchanged messages through CouchSurfing and decided to share the road for a while. Once again, the great country of Bulgaria stood between my origin and my destination points. This time however, I had at least a few hours to spare for the capital city.
Bulgaria was never on my original tour list, but neither were most of the countries that Jo and I decided to see together, so I decided to give Sofia a day's chance to impress me. Bulgaria started on a high note when we drove through the border check and cyrillic letters returned. I grew quite fond of cyrillic in Mongolia and seeing it again boosted my opinion of the entire country. I used my wonderful skills during my day walking around exploring Sofia. It is a beautiful city. Nice narrow winding streets filled with shops and restaurants. Public transport is everywhere, but walking is also quick and easy with streets that have visible signs at every corner. I enjoyed a pastry breakfast with my host before heading off to catch Sofia's free walking tour.
The tour was great, as they usually are, and filled with fun and informative stories about all the important parts of Sofia's history. Like Bucharest, Brasov and every city in this region, the tour focused largely on the big two: Communism and Orthodox religion. Unlike most of the cities, it had a little more to offer. Sofia added Islam, Judaism and Catholicism to the religious tour. In one spot in the city all four religious buildings are in sight at the same time. Just below that point is the other special part of Sofia: the roman ruins beneath the city. Roads, gates and even and ampitheatre sit just below the modern roads, houses and restaurants. It's interesting to see and walk around in. There were excavations going on while I was there, so maybe when you visit there will be more to see and read about it. Unfortunately, the descriptions were usually written in Bulgarian without English translations.
I had less than 24 hours in Sofia, but it was enough to decide that I would like to go back and explore some more. If you get the chance, I'd say check it out.

I skipped straight through the capital of Macedonia (Skopje) and arrived around 2 am in Ohrid. No room available at the hostel that I'd had prepared for the next night, so I camped out in a hotel lobby and watch Thor with the night guard. Good times...woke up and walked to the lake where I promptly sat down pulled out the computer and stole wifi from a nearby cafe, while enjoying the beautiful sunrise by the lake.
Checked into my room and dropped off the bags and then went exploring some more. Struga (a village on the north end of the lake) is small and without great big tourist attractions. Luckily, I can make a tourist attraction out of nearly anything. The market was great fun and I got some lovely peaches for practically nothing. Denari (the currency of Macedonia) is wonderfully cheap compared to the Euro/Dollar/Pound. Pastries, local drinks and more fruit still didn't hurt my budget at all. Saw and art show with some beautiful paintings...I wish I could have identified the artist. Then got a call from my landlord saying that Jo had arrived.
With Jo, I wandered through the countries of Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro. We swam in lots of different bodies of water, climbed a mountain or two, and lay down on some sandy and some pebbly beaches. But we're gonna skip over most of that just for the sake of brevity. I'll just throw out some of the best bits, in case anyone is reading this for advice on what to do and see.
Macedonia: Do - if you like boats, take the ferry across lake Ohrid from Ohrid to St.Naum. It was 10 euro for a return trip and it's a lovely ride. About 1:30 each way with a monastery and some springs on the St.Naum side.
Don't Do - the Struga international poetry festival. It was boring...The best events were organized just for the actual poets, not for spectators. And the great reading at the end was in Macedonian. The poets read in their native language and everything was translated into Macedonian. I'm not saying that it should have been English, but if you want to understand the poems, just giving you a heads up.
Albania: Do - Pellumbas cave. It wasn't spelunking in the proper sense. No crawling on the ground or lowering yourself through holes in the ceiling/floor. But it was a fascinating cave that I wanted to spend more time it. Take your swim suit with you and go for a dip in the river at the bottom of that mountain, great water and a free fish massage.
Don't Do - Petrella Castle/Fortress. It's an old fortress which has been completely turned into a restaurant. If you're looking for a tea and fancy a climb up a lot of stairs, have fun. But if you want dungeons and towers, look elsewhere.
Montenegro: Do - visit Ulcinj and the 14 km sandy beach. It's beautiful to the ocean side, if a bit rubbish filled to the land side. Also, do take one of the lessons offered by the schools on the beaches. I did windsurfing, but there's also kitesurfing, parasailing and more. Also, do wear watershoes to avoid the weever fish. He stings.
Don't expect buses to run frequently past the 1st of September.
And with that we'll wrap up the post for now. Sorry for the lack of details (or you're welcome), I'll introduce you to Bosnia i Hertzegovia next time.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Travel Update

It's been brought to my attention that I don't update this as often as a traveler probably should, so here goes!

I'm no longer in Turkey. It was an amazing place, but I rushed out to catch a CouchSurfing event in Romania.

A group of CouchSurfers created an "activity" on the website of hunting down Dracula's tomb. It was a trip that had everything. Not only vampires, but a vampire's tomb...in a secluded monastery...on a forested island...surrounded by a lake and more forest. So the event was sightseeing, hiking and swimming - i.e. exactly my kind of trip.

After taking a late bus from Istanbul, I arrived in Romania (Bucharest) at around midnight. I hadn't gotten a Romanian phone yet and I didn't have wifi access, so I couldn't contact my Romanian host. I ended up sitting in the bus office from midnight to 7 am just watching old TV shows on my laptop. I love my laptop; the battery life is simply amazing.

Then the great WiFi/internet cafe search of 2012 was underway. I walked for hours around that crazy city without success. I inquired for internet cafes at local newstands and from random strangers, but no luck at all. No WiFi stickers in the windows of restaurants, nothing. McDonalds and KFC don't even have the stickers. Eventually a man on the street tells that the McD does have WiFi. So my first Romanian meal = McDonalds Pancakes (anytime you see pancakes while I'm still in Eastern Europe, read Crepes).

So internet problem solved, I contacted my host and walked over to his apartment. Octavian (that's his name) helped orient me around the city, gave me a bus pass, and helped me figure out what to do while I was there.

---I'm being far too detailed.

I took a walking tour in Bucharest and met someone who was also going on the hike the next morning. Great tour with lots of information about how the city was during the communist times (also saw lots and lots of churches).

I got up early the next day and packed my things in a little bag for the hike, just the essentials - camera, sun screen and Hayley Bear - in a little backpack that Octavian lent me. Unfortunately, it was my day to be a careless tourist and my wallet got swiped on the bus while I wasn't paying attention. I really want to stress how careless I was being, wearing a back pack on my back and standing near the door (it might even have been unzipped), because Bucharest and Romania in general get a bad rap for crime and I don't think they really deserve it. If I'd been so irresponsible in UB my wallet would have been taken as well.

So I didn't make the hike, I got off the bus, noticed my wallet was gone and went to the police. I guess I've been trained right, my automatic response was to file a report. But that was the silliest thing I've probably ever gone through and I knew it was pointless the entire time I was doing it. Octavian came down to the station to help me fill out the report since the police didn't speak/write/read English.

No hike for me...:(. That was my saddest feeling at the end of that day.

But light on the horizon!! I check the CS page and there were others who'd really anticipated the hike and missed it. So I met up with Noah and we agreed to go the next day on our own.

The hike was great, we saw the tomb that may or may not hold the headless remains of the Romanian prince who enjoyed impaling the wicked and drinking their blood. We saw pretty ponies hanging out on the island and we went swimming in the lake. It was a good day, then we met up for a game of Catan and a home made meal at Noah's apartment. I've finally learned Catan!!

The next day I met up with some more CouchSurfers for a tour of the natural history museum in town and then a walk around some parks. And we agreed to meet up again to take a trip out of the city to do some hiking in Brasov (Jason's old Romania site for the Mongol PCVs reading this).

They bailed on me at the last minute of course, but introduced me to yet another person who wanted to go hiking as well. Jo and I took a train out of Bucharest and went to Busteni where we climbed up and saw a tiny waterfall (with a cafe right next door).

Next day the museum group from before showed up (with the addition of my host for Brasov) and we all took the cable car up to a giant cross on the highest mountain in the area, then hiked back down. Great day ended with everyone heading back to Bucharest and me heading on to Brasov with Alberto.

Brasov was beautiful, just like Jason always said it was, it has a nice old town that is surrounded by communist apartment blocked. But these blocks aren't the ones I remember from Mongolia. They're tall, they've been updated and renovated. Inside Alberto's apartment was anything but spartan. And he had a gorgeous terrace with a view of the whole city. We took a night time walk around the city and then went up on of the mountains to get a view of all the lights from above.

Next day Alberto had to work, like a grown-up, and I was on my own to explore the city. I met up with another CSer from Brasov and he showed me around the city a little bit and then we took a short drive out to one of the places I most desired to see in Romania - the seven ladders waterfall. Jason had so many pictures of this waterfall on his computer that I was entranced. It was a fun climb all along the waterfall. Then that host had to work, so I joined up with the Guided Brasov walking tour and saw some more of the city (oh...I also climbed up to the big Brasov Hollywood sign). Brasov was less communism and more ancient history, a fun change.

And...the 1am train to Constanta! I really missed my Mongolian train that night. Romanian (and eastern Europe in general) oversells the tickets in 3rd class. But they sell the correct number of seats, then everyone else just has to stand or sit on the floor. I couldn't believe that...for a 7 hour train ride through the middle of the night, people were standing. I fell asleep on my bag on the floor and slept marvelously.

Sea bathing in the black sea with a big fire raging on another beach near me. And then back to Bucharest. I spent the next day arguing with the card companies and delivery companies trying to find out when/where my replacement cards would arrive. Success with FedEx and the card arrived promptly the next afternoon. Had a goodbye night on the town with my museum/hiking group and then hit the road for Sofia (1 day) and Macedonia/Albania/Montenegro.

----Really tired of writing now, so more later, I should be exploring Vienna.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Turkey

             Border control is an interesting experience. This is my first time in a long time crossing an international border by anything other than airplane. It's cool that it's almost a continental border. As I type, a Bulgarian official is going over our bus for illegal goods. I don't know what it is illegal to bring into Bulgaria, but judging from the other people on the bus, I'd guess there is some rule against cigarettes. One woman ran into the duty free shop at the Turkish border and bought several cases which she passed out among the passengers who promptly stuffed them down their shirts, pants, bras, bags and anywhere else they could find. I can't believe that Bulgaria doesn't have cigarettes, but I guess they might simply be cheaper in Turkey.