Give Your Vacuum A Hug

Our year mark has past, and instead of writing out a contemplative reflection of my time here, I’m going to try something different.

I’m inherently a list-maker and I notice a trend in Top whatever-number-of-things-there-are-to-list on other blogs I’ve been reading. So here are my Top 5’s.

Top 5 Things I Miss:

(Editorial note: this does not include the people I miss, I haven’t forgotten you)

1.  Toilet Paper We have toilet paper…err..crepe paper here. Life is rough.
2.  Vacuum   We have one of these too, one that requires me to get on my hands and knees and just moves         things around so I know how much I’m really not picking up.
3.  Band-Aids that Open in Less than 10 Minutes…really…

4.  Variety of Food   Meats (pork, beef cuts, salmon), veggies (sprouts, kale, …), convenient condiments              (peanut sauce)…all available year round. What a dream. Thanks, mom, for making life a little easier for the      next few months.
5.  Seafood   Gets its own line, so now I will have 6 – oops.
6.  Good Wine   …every night, enough said.
7.  Dogs   that can be pet and loved…oh no, now it’s 7.
8.  Amazon  …for some reason the ideas keep coming. Imagine that.

 

And Then the Top 5 Things I Don’t:

  1. Morning Commute   I walk 20 minutes to work three times a week…when I’m in town…and stay for 2-3 hours and then walk home. That’s it. Where I do the rest of my work is up to me.
  2. Meeting Minutes, Action Items, Recurring Calls   …essentially anything that can be managed via Outlook. Haven’t opened that since March 2014.
  3. Having to Accomplish Anything at Work,   ever. Between becoming a pre-natal yoga instructor overnight, completing a grant to install TVs in my clinic that show health education videos (did I write about that before?…For another post), planning a ‘it-better-be-the-best-camp-ever’ summer camp, being responsible for updating my region’s emergency plan (Warden is my title), and getting to know the new volunteers, it’s nice not to have anything really pressing. I just do what I can.
  4. Having to Be on Time,   ever. Sitting outside my office right now waiting for my counterpart to come unlock the door. Gives me an excuse to not worry so much if I am running late.
  5. Supervised Children I love that I am greeted by a hoard of unsupervised children every time I walk into my apartment’s courtyard (courtyard is a generous word). They like to practice saying, “Hello,” and then they go back to playing games with rocks, making parachutes out of empty bottles and plastic bags, and jumping over string (there must be rules that I don’t quite understand – this is most definitely a team activity, but I don’t get it).

 

Top 5 Things that I’m Loving:

  1. Finally Making Some Local Friends   More to share:

o   Had a moment at work the other day where I thought, “This is why I am here.” A woman I know came in and, after chatting about summer plans, family, and my work, she asked what she could do to help with stress and no sleep. She ended up breaking down in our conversation, sharing her worries about finding work and supporting her two kids on her own. We made plans to do yoga together twice a week to help with stress, and to work on business ideas in September. Even if neither of these happen, that conversation at that moment seemed to make her hold her head higher. I realized I truly care about her and hope I can continue making life easier for her however I can.

o   Reconnected with my tutor and now have plans to make salads, pies, and cookies at my apartment so she can learn about different spices and recipes. This is right up my alley. Maybe I’ll learn a little more Kyrygz by doing this too…maybe…

o   After a chance introduction to a local man looking to improve his English, I met his wife. She is amazingly smart, articulate, and interesting. My conversations with her (only a few to date) have made me see some of my experiences in Kyrgyzstan more clearly, made me appreciate my frustrations more fully, and made me hopeful for Kyrgyzstan’s future. This country is lucky to have her.

  1. Getting Creative with What to Make for Dinner   using what we have in the fridge – our budget requires this.

3.  Time to be Creative,   to think about what’s next for me professionally when I get back – it’s so exciting!
4.  Skype   Had the realization the other day that I was not actually there when my sister got a new puppy. I           just remember so vividly my dad holding her up to show me. The puppy is six months old; I definitely wasn’t       there. Video chat is amazing.
5.  Getting to Travel   to places I would have never imagined – places in Kyrgyzstan and places like                      Kazakhstan, Serbia, Montenegro…Albania to come. See Eric’s blog posts for these – the travel is as                amazing as it looks.

6.  Being Here with Eric   There I go again, adding a sixth. Can’t help but appreciate that he keeps up with          our blog, plans our more adventurous excursions, cooks with (or for) me every night, and is here to share in      the ups and downs of this whole thing called Peace Corps.

 

Which of the things I miss have you enjoyed lately? Don’t post a picture, that’s just cruel. But please enjoy them just a little more next time, especially the Band-Aids.

Kotor – the Not-So-Secret Gem on the Adriatic

Top of Kotor Town Walls

Ah, Kotor.  Somehow this tiny little town in a country I couldn’t place on a map a year ago has popped up again and again as travel bloggers I follow visit.  Based on little more than a photograph I saw last summer, I googled ‘How to get to from Belgrade to Kotor,’ learned about the Belgrade to Bar train and planned the rest of this trip around it.  Did Kotor live up to it all?  Yep! Cheap (and delicious) food, friendly people and spectacular views.  There’s not a lot of secrets left to tell in Kotor, everyone seems to write about Kotor now.  Avoid the cruise crowds midday, bring water when you hike up the town walls and eat a lot.  Maybe it was just because I’ve been living in the most land-locked country in the world for the past year but man, the food here was excellent.  I don’t have anything else to say but I took a lot of photos, here ya go!

Belgrade to Bar Train

There’s many reasons to visit both Serbia and Montenegro but let’s skip all those for now – they are awesome and I know you’re already planning a trip there.  If you are trying to figure out how to get from Belgrade, Serbia to Montenegro you may be skimming Tripadvisor forums and finding all the suggestions about renting a car or taking the super convenient and cheap bus.  Ignore that. Take the train.

The (somewhat infamous) Belgrade to Bar train opened in 1975 some 23 years after construction began (15 years more than expected according so some sources online.)  The massive delay to the opening was perhaps a sign of the problems to come.  In the 1990s the train systems were chronically underfunded resulting in deterioration of the line.  In 1999, UN bombing destroyed a large section of the train line and the 6 mile stretch that runs through Bosnia was blown up by UN ground forces whose mission was to maintain stability in the region.  The track was rebuilt however in 2006 just north of the Montenegro capital of Podgorica, a southbound local train derailed killing 45 people and injuring another 184 (this was not the same train as the Belgrade-Bar but they shared the same route in this section.)  Following the accident the maximum speed permitted was further reduced and a ride that originally took 7 hours now takes 11 assuming no delays.  Lastly, in the summer of 2014, serious flooding in the Balkans damaged the track again.  This was also rebuilt and as of May, 2015 the train is back on the normal daily schedule.

Graffiti on Train
Graffiti on old trains we passed. According to our couchette-mate, these trains stopped working after UN bombing in 1999.

During summer months, there are 2-3 daily trains in each direction (the schedule changes depending on the year) with at least one day and one night train.  We opted for the day train after hearing it’s one of the most scenic train rides in Europe.  Leaving the train station shortly after 9am there was immediately scenery, but not the type I was expecting.  Lining the tracks as you depart from Belgrade are a large number of inoperable, graffiti-covered train cars.  Are couchette-mate, a talkative man in his 60s, was quick to point out these have been inoperable since being bombed by American and England (knowing we were one of the two but not knowing Taylor’s father could understand his German.)  True or not, it definitely set the mood for the rest of the trip and is a sentiment for the rest of the trip.  The older folk in Serbia tend towards being reminiscent about the past and seem to gloss over the atrocities of the 90s, stating things as fact, not judging you if you come from a country that participated in the bombings.  True to form, after returning from a smoke break the man brought George and me a beer.  No hard feelings, the facts just are what they are.

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Belgrade – Forget the qualifiers, it’s just awesome.

Belgrade sunset

Reading about Belgrade before our trip I kept reading about how despite the ‘grit and rough edges,’ Belgrade is ‘actually a pretty decent city.’ We were going to Belgrade based on the recommendations of friends so I suspected we’d like it more than the lukewarm praise online made it sound.  It took about two minutes of walking outside our apartment and I knew my friends were right – Belgrade is awesome.  There are a handful of cities around the world that Taylor and I loved it instantly and this is definitely one of them. Great people, awesome food, plenty to do, easy transit system, super cheap, the list goes on.  Everywhere you go people are eating outside, you can drink anywhere you want in the city and enough people speak English there is rarely a challenge trying to order food or get a drink.  Throw in the fascinating history of Yugoslavia and I already can’t wait to go back.  We actually flew in and out of Belgrade, travelling a large loop in between, and had nearly a week there total.  Here are our favorite parts (and lots of pictures.)

Belgrade Fortress

Rising above the rest of the old city and set in Kalemegdan Park is Belgrade Fortress.  The Balkans are covered in castles and fortresses but this one is unlike the rest (or any other I’ve been to.) The entire fortress is a multi-use facility now and open 24 hours a day.  There’s a museum, several restaurants, public basketball and tennis courts and pretty killer views the Danube & Sava River confluence.  Some sections such as the Clock Tower are an extra cost to enter but most of it is open for exploring.

Belgrade Underground Tour

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