Greece – At long last.

So as most of you probably know, Kristi came to visit me in June. In memoriam of our Honduras blog, I will be typing up the original day-by-day breakdown of our adventures, and then Kristi will add her bits at the end of each day. (…I don’t remember agreeing to this)

Day 1: Having planned out our first few days in Albania, I set off for Tirana at 6am so I could make it in time to pick Kristi up at the airport at 11:35am. After rushing to the airport shuttle and paying my fare, I got a message from Kristi telling me she wasn’t going to be at the airport, that she’d gotten waylaid in Italy and wouldn’t be in until around 7. Luckily, the airport shuttle hadn’t left yet, so I managed to get off before I took the 45 minute trip to the middle of nowhere for nothing. I puttered around for awhile in Tirana, trying to re-work the plan I’d had in my head that pretty much had depended on us leaving Tirana at 2pm, and eventually ran into Chris (another volunteer living in Tirana). Being the nice guy that he is, Chris offered to let us crash at his house for the night and I gladly accepted. At 6:30 I headed back out to the airport where lo-and-behold Kristi’s plane was listed as DELAYED on the monitor. Lovely. So I waited around, trying to power through Crime and Punishment until she finally arrived. We then did something I try to avoid at all costs. We paid for a taxi to take us into Tirana. Luckily, the guy didn’t try to rip us off, which was nice since the shuttle had stopped running at 7 and he was really our only option. After getting our bags settled at Chris’s we went out to get dinner at an Albanian restaurant where Kristi would have her first Albanian meal. It was delicious, but being exhausted, the food pretty much induced a state of coma, so we headed back and went to bed.

Kristi – I’d like to think that spending 7 hours in Rome counts as me being to Italy…but I never left the airport and only saw the scenery from the window I parked my jetlagged/half asleep/trying-not-to-freak-out self by to read. I had a 55-minute layover in Rome and while I had been assured by airport staff that it would be fine, I ended up having to pick up my bags and needed to recheck them in a super long line. I tried going through security because that’s what I’d been told to do, but that nice gentleman had to explain to me that whoever told me that was mistaken and if I wanted to get through I’d have to leave behind all of my liquids. No deal. I had schlepped food presents for Pattie in my bag and I wasn’t giving those up. Pattie needs her soy sauce. So after several ticket windows and waiting an hour for someone to show up at the last one, I finally bought another ticket to Tirana that left before midnight. Of course, as Pattie said it ended up being delayed an extra hour, but I finally made it to Tirana, accidentally cut in front of some people for the passport line because I was following the crowd and didn’t see the maze of lines separate, and then ran slow-motion lovingly into Pattie’s arms…or just said hi and walked outside to find a ride. The food that night was yummy — how can melty cheese with peppers not be? Food coma + jet lag = wonderfully knocked out sleep.


This picture was taken in Thessaloniki, but since we didn’t have one of the first day, consider this us reunited!

Day 2: After a decent night’s sleep, we left Tirana in the morning to head to Pogradec for lunch. I had originally planned to spend the previous night here, but that fell through with flight delays. Regardless, Pogradec is beautiful, sitting on a lake on the border with Macedonia, so we stopped in for lunch. We had pizza lakeside with one of the new group volunteers Alex then dropped by her house for awhile. She’d taken over a previous volunteer’s house and had a stash of goodies in her pantry as a result. She laughingly told me that she wasn’t sure she’d be able to do anything with any of it, so I reassured her that I would come and take care of that for her. Win.

Kristi – The trip to Pogradec was my first furgon ride! It was definitely an experience, slightly reminiscent of the taxi/mini-bus rides in Honduras except with mountains and windy roads, but there was an awesome pilaf stop on the way. The view driving into Pogradec was gorgeous – the lake is such a pretty color surrounded by mountains. The furgon driver was nice enough to slow down on the hairpin curves to let me take some pictures of the view.

Anyways, after lunch with Alex we headed to Bilisht where Kristi got to see my new apartment. She didn’t know it, but it’s a huge improvement over the old one. She even had a bed to sleep in. ☺ Later that night Laurie and Chris (my new sitemate) came over for dinner (we made stuffed eggplant and pilaf) and then we headed out to a “party” at the local near my old house. The party was fun, we got free wine from the owner and we taught Kristi how to circle dance, and although I later heard that it was actually not a very good party, I had a good time nonetheless.

Kristi – Circle dancing! Albanians sure do love their circle dancing, and I’m sure I broke plenty of rules about not smiling, laughing, stumbling, etc. It was a great time, and I’ll never forget the pitying looks from the small children as they took over being the end of the line from me because apparently I was not doing it right?

Day 3: In the interest of seeing a little more of Albania, Laurie and I took Kristi to Voskopoje, Laurie’s site. Voskopoje is a beautiful small site outside of Korce with a ton of history. It’s one of the few places in Albania that holds an actual draw for tourists with its 18th century churches and beautiful landscaping. We were only there for a night, but we managed to go see a few of the churches and hike around a bit. It was great.

Kristi – Pattie failed to mention that somehow jetlag skipped a day and after being wide awake and dancing the night away the day before I turned into zombie Kristi that day. I was pretty much unconscious and walking around the Korce market, managed to sleep on the extremely bumpy/winding dangerous furgon ride up the mountain, and then passed out for another nap shortly after getting to Laurie’s cute mountain house. One thing that was interesting for me was seeing how houses are set up and the different appliances/wood stoves. Laurie and Pattie were talking about which room would be the warm room for the winter, and after seeing several apartments/houses in Albania I understand now what Pattie was talking about when she said she spent most of her time in the kitchen last year. You stay where the wood stove is, and if you have multiple rooms, you shut off unnecessary rooms and make your warm space as cozy as possible. Laurie’s house had a bedroom, a living room with a twin bed and furniture, and a kitchen. The wood stove was in the living room, so she will shut off the bedroom and move into that room with the twin bed for the winter.

Day 4: After hiking around Voskopoje a bit more with Laurie, we headed back to Bilisht to rest up, pack, and get ready for Greece. I spent the majority of the day working on med-school applications, so this is a rather short entry.

Kristi – We drank out of mountain spring! It was super cold and tasted crisp and clean. There was a little brick wall built around it on 3 sides, and a spigot directed the constant flow out to where you could get to it and drink. It was just out in the middle of a hillside!


One of the churches in Voskopoje

Day 5: This is it folks. The day we headed to Greece. We decided to take the morning bus to maximize our day, as well as to try and avoid congestion at customs on the border. It was a good choice, even with only one other bus there it took us at least 40 minutes to get through, the entire time mimicking what everyone else was doing because we didn’t speak Greek and I wasn’t paying enough attention to the Albanian. After getting through customs we started our three hour bus ride to Thessaloniki. Immediately after we passed the border we decided that Greece looked exactly the same as Albania, at least the landscape. I know, that should have been obvious, but I think we just wanted something slightly more spectacular to happen.

After we got off the bus, we weren’t quite sure where to go, so we called the hotel from a nearby travel office. Eventually we found the hotel and got to our room, which was essentially the size of a closet. There were two twin beds with about 2ft of space between them and a small window looking out into a small shaft between buildings. Directly across from us was the window to the next room over, we kept the blinds closed.

Not wanting to stay in the hotel room for more time than was necessary we struck out into the city to find something to eat. Initially, on the bus ride in, Thessaloniki looked dirty and gross. I was not terribly excited about it. But once we started walking towards the coast, things started looking up, and although there was still graffiti EVERYWHERE, the town didn’t look quite so rough. We decided to stop off at this restaurant down a small street that had a bunch of tables outside. For lunch we ordered a half liter of house wine, snails for an appetizer, and a plate of croquettes for the main dish. The wine wasn’t bad, the snails were delicious (Kristi’s first), and the croquettes were…FRIED. There were a variety of them, not half bad in flavor, but So Fried. After we ate they gave us a complementary dish of Greek yogurt, a godsend to combat all the oil I’d just ingested. We decided after that that it would be best for us to walk around a bit. Sitting after all that could only have ill-effects. After strolling the town for awhile we walked down by the boardwalk where there was quite a persistent young man that wanted to talk to us. He was from Nigeria and had come to Greece for work, but work had dried up with the economy so now he was selling bracelets. He told us that he loved America and that he wanted to give us each a bracelet as a gift from his heart. Eventually he ended up getting a red, white, and blue bracelet on each of us and then telling us that if we decided we had a gift for him, that would be nice. Of course I hadn’t wanted to buy a bracelet in the first place, of course I could have just walked away and been done with it, but I felt guilty so I went to buy a bottle of water to break a big bill and then handed him a few euros in exchange for the bracelets. Kristi and I commiserated a bit over the fact that if we had originally bought the bracelets we wouldn’t have chosen the red, white, and blue ones, but they did offer quite a bit in entertainment value as we continually flashed them at each other whilst shouting (in low tones) “Amurikah!” What can I say, we’re just classy like that. Our croquettes stuck with us (literally) for the rest of the night so we chose to have fruit smoothies from Starbucks for dinner. It was delightful. Then spent the rest of the night strolling the boardwalk with hundreds of other people, enjoying the night air.

Kristi – When she says graffiti was everywhere, she means every possible surface – buildings, poles, signs, every angle of stairs including the handrails, etc. I think the leaves of plants would have graffiti if they were large enough to write on with spray paint. Maybe we should send people paint pens.
SNAILS! I ATE SNAILS! They were delicious and buttery, and after struggling with getting the first one out (I swear I was doing it the way Pattie instructed) the others popped out easily and I could have eaten at least 20 more. Walking on the boardwalk that night was great. So many people were just out and about socializing, people-watching, buying roasted corn, and just walking up and down the length of the waterfront.Image

Kristi and her snails!

Day 6: Our second day in Thessaloniki we decided to take the walking tour outlined in Kristi’s Lonely Planet travel guide. The time estimate was 3-4 hours by foot, so we started at about 8 to try and beat the heat. Rather than taking a bus to our starting point, we decided to walk. Totally doable, but uphill, the WHOLE way, and it was HOT. So by the time we reached the viewing platform at the top of the city I looked like a drowned rat, red-faced, and out of breath, while Kristi looked amazing as usual (Pattie lies. I was sweaty and gross.). We definitely got some stares from the other tourists, wondering what on earth had happened to us. So we spent the next SEVEN hours on this walking tour seeing a lot of the things we’d walked by the day before, but acknowledging that they were historical at this point. I’ve decided that the only way you could have done that walking tour in 3-4 hours is if you didn’t stop or go inside any of the sites. Regardless, we saw a lot of churches and ruins, and it was all pretty neat. We ended up at a restaurant called the Kitchen Bar on the pier and ate lunch. The food was tasty, if a little overpriced, and we relished the time to rest our feet. We spent the rest of the evening walking along the boardwalk and then called it an early night since we had an early flight to catch the next day.

Kristi – I think we calculated that day’s distance at around 12 miles based on our walking speed and the hours spent walking. We had actually planned on getting up early that morning to run along the waterfront. Ha. We would have become paralyzed halfway through the walking tour if that had actually happened. Two things  that really got me throughout the day were 1) ruins in Greece are OLD. I had the same reaction my first time in England since we don’t really have ruins in the US like other countries, but Greece ruins are on an entirely different level. 2) Ruins are EVERYWHERE. Walking between two apartment buildings, looking at some awesome graffiti, and BAM. Ruins. Nice street of shopping? Ruins take up a block before continuing with more swanky shops. It was just so strange to see these historical ruins in the middle of everything and only blocked off by a short cyclone fence. I don’t know why I was expecting every site of ruins to be a historical attraction, but I guess when they’re everywhere only the truly important ones get the site-seeing designation and protection.ImageWaterfront in Thessaloniki with the White Tower

Day 7: In an interest to make the most of both our time and money, Kristi managed to book us the earliest flights possible throughout our trip. As a result, 3am found us waiting for a bus in front of our hotel to catch our flight to Lesvos. The bus ride was pretty long, and a few times I wondered if we were even on the right bus, but eventually we made it to the airport and to security. At security, I was asked to remove my camera from its case and remove the lens cap. I did as directed. After I removed the lens cap the attendant looked at me and asked “Camera?” …. Uh, yeah, what else would it be? That was weird. I was sleep deprived enough that I just nodded and stumbled through to the gates. All I could think was “You told me to remove my camera from its case, then asked me if it was a camera. Must have been a weird language thing.

After a super speedy flight we landed on the island of Lesvos. Now everything we’d read about this island talked about how great it was for hiking and camping, how great the wineries were, and how beautiful it was. I will be the first to say, Lesvos was not what I expected. Maybe everything was just yellow and dry due to the heat, but I was expecting green, and this was not it. After arriving at the hotel and taking a short nap, we decided to walk around the city of Mytilini to see what it had to offer. There were a few old churches and some interesting looking stores, but mostly it was just hot. So rather than stick it out in the heat we decided to head back to the room and cool down for a little while and go back out in the evening.

When we finally decided to stick our heads back out and get some food we ended up at a restaurant on the bay that had what seemed to be a promising menu. Unfortunately, the food was not at all what we expected. My stuffed “pumpkin flowers” ended up being breaded and fried, reminiscent of the croquettes we had eaten in Thessaloniki, and the “shrimp salad” we ordered was mostly just a plate of mayonnaise with a few stringy pieces of shrimp thrown in. We ended up discreetly feeding a good portion of our food to some stray cats and the fish while the owner wasn’t looking.

Kristi – Oh Lesvos. I had such high hopes. I think we just weren’t able to see all of the great parts of the island I had read about. Without a rental car and staying a night or two in each part of the island it’s hard to get around. The buses only ran at inconvenient times (middle of the day with 2-3 hours before heading back), and it is a large island that people spend at least a week or more exploring.
At the restaurant I decided I wanted some fish (island = fresh fish right?). However, as much as I have fished I didn’t know most of the types listed on the menu. I asked the waiter about a few that sounded promising, and the one I chose was “red fish like salmon and about this big”. Sounded like a good choice. What he meant was “The fish’s scales are red, we fry it whole, and you get 5 of them.” Plate of fried whole fish. I’ll admit I was startled. They were tasty though, and the cats like the tidbits leftover.Image

Lesvos. Was. Dry.

Day 8: We had been debating renting a scooter or a car and traveling around to the hot springs and wineries, but as it turned out we didn’t have the correct licenses for either, so the next day found us on a bus to the town of Molyvos to see the cobblestone streets and the castle. It was a nice little day trip in a cute town and this time we knew to avoid the “shrimp salad” at lunch, or in fact, any salad that didn’t explicitly state that it had lettuce. Fortunately, our lunch menu came with photos of the food, so we did better with a platter of different types of meat, potatoes, and cabbage. When we got back to Mytilini we decided to hike around and check out some of the churches and such. We found ourselves on a hiking path up the side of a hill that reinforced my doubts about this island being good for hikers. Once again, maybe it was just the time of year, but it was dusty and prickly, and I was happy when we made it to the top.

Kristi – Who knew so many people in tiny villages on Greek islands had pools? From the castle we saw at least 6 or 7 in the surrounding houses. Walking through the village on the hillside below the castle was more like the picturesque winding cobblestone and stairs we were thinking of, and the view over the water where we ate was nice. The weather was interesting in that it was super bright and sunny and pretty warm when we were walking up to the castle, but if you stopped in the shade, the breeze and actual temperature dropped dramatically.Image


Day 9: We decided to spend our last day on Lesvos checking out the castle in Mytilini and then heading to the beach. The castle was pretty cool, with the biggest cisterns I’ve ever seen in my life. Not that I can claim to have seen many…but it led to a fun new high five that I’m choosing not to explain. ☺ After seeing everything there was to see, and reading…most of it, and escaping some feral dogs that had made camp in one of the outbuildings, we left the castle, checked out of our hotel, and went to the beach. Although the rocks hurt my feet a bit, the water was beautiful and it was nice to relax there while we waited to board the ferry that would take us to Athens.

This was the second time in my travels that ferry pretty much equated to cruise ship, though, unlike the one from Scotland, this one did not include live entertainment. In the interest of sleeping sometime during the night, Kristi and I booked two beds in a cabin for the night. When we boarded the ferry they took us to our room, where they left us, but did not give us a key to the room. I went back up to the concierge to ask for a key where he told me that he couldn’t give me one because they only had 2 keys. I proceeded to explain to him that Kristi and I were in fact, half of the cabin, so it would be alright for him to give us one of the two keys. He wasn’t having any of that. Eventually we figured out that there were 3 different parties in our room: Kristi and I, an Albanian woman and her small daughter, and another girl about our age. Because there were three parties, he couldn’t give anyone keys, so we would just have to come to the desk and have someone come with us to lock or unlock our door as necessary. Strange. I finally gave in, what else could I do? So we went to one of the large lobbies we had access to as a result of our cabin purchase and ordered some drinks and proceeded to read and chat for the rest of the night until we finally called it quits and headed to the cabin.

Kristi – It was cool to see the cistern and finally figure out how it works. Plus it was huge and there was water collected in the other side of it (I’m guessing from rain) so you could see how the water would fill up the structure. The ferry was interesting as always, and there was more great people-watching.Image


Day 10: Our ferry docked in Athens at around 6am, at least an hour before we had anticipated waking up. When they started calling over the intercom and knocking on doors I woke up so disoriented I immediately stood up, and walked up three decks to the concierge station to ask where we were. They told me that we were in Piraeus, which I didn’t understand because I thought I was going to Athens. They then told me that if I was going to Athens, this is where I wanted to get off. Not that it mattered anyways since Piraeus was the last stop. Still pretty sleep addled, I walked back to the cabin where Kristi and I gathered our things and then we headed to the Piraeus metro station to get to Athens.

After finding our hotel and taking a short nap, we decided to head up to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon, and other temples. We took our time walking around and reading the signs, trying to see everything that there was to see, but we realized our mistake by the time we made it up to the top. There were SO many people up there. Tour groups from Athens and from Cruise ships, student groups, etc. We should have headed straight to the top to avoid the crowds in the morning and then seen everything else on our way down. Oh well, it was still neat and we got some good pictures. I just wish there hadn’t been so much construction going on, it ruined the effect somewhat.

Kristi – As with most roads in Texas, it seems most historical sites in Greece are under construction. There were different groups at various sites doing restoration work on the sites (which is great and all, but scaffolding covering the marble pillars doesn’t have the same visual appeal as the Parthenon uncluttered). Side note: it was crazy windy up at the top, and there are chunks of smooth stone where everyone walks. Wind + slippery stone = lots of people getting knocked over. Lots of lost hats too.


Being tourists at the Acropolis

Day 11: Our second day in Athens we walked around town to see the sights that weren’t up on the Acropolis. We went by the Olympic Stadium, and Parliament, as well as a variety of other historical sites and monuments. Weird thing about Greece, there are ruins EVERYWHERE. The city has just developed around them. So we’d be walking through a completely innocuous neighborhood when all the sudden we’d come upon another set of ruins cordoned off with a little sign, or sometimes without one. I enjoyed seeing Athens and all the history, but I think I liked Thessaloniki better. I’m just not made for big noisy cities.

Kristi – Ha can you tell I didn’t read ahead before writing my comments? Same thing as Thessaloniki, RUINS. Athens is huge, and I agree with Pattie that I’m more of a small town (well relatively smaller since Thessaloniki is still a large city, but I guess <500,000 people compared to millions is small).Image

Athens was HUGE

Day 12: Yet another early morning found us on a 5:15am flight from Athens to Santorini. Probably the most looked-forward to part of the trip. (At least for me). We landed at 6:30 and got into a shuttle designated for our hotel. Thankfully, they managed to get us into a room where we could sleep for a bit since we hadn’t gotten much the night before, and eventually we were ready to face the day and explore Santorini. Due to a mix-up with the map we started heading down the back side of the island and I became increasingly confused as to why people liked this island so much. There was not much to see and everything was brown and unimpressive. I was starting to wonder what in the world was going on with this trip when we finally figured out that we had the map backwards and should have headed to the other side.

So, hot, dusty, and tired we headed to the “touristic” side of Santorini and things started to improve from there. The inner side of the island that faces the caldera is beautiful, the part of Santorini that people actually take pictures of. We decided to head down to the Old Port to see what there was to see. There was a gondola, and donkey rides, but we thought we could probably walk down. There actually wasn’t that much to see when we got to the bottom, but we sat and had some drinks in the shade to cool down before heading back up.Image

The pretty, touristic side of Santorini

On the way back up we chose to take the donkey rides. BEST DECISION EVER. I don’t understand why anyone EVER chooses to take the gondola (unless maybe they’re infirm) when they could take a donkey. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was slightly terrifying. But it was hilarious. And so much fun. Kristi’s donkey decided that it wanted to lead, but that it wasn’t going to take the straight way up, so it kept swerving back and forth across the path. Occasionally, mine or one of the other donkeys would try to pass, but Kristi’s donkey would have none of that and would cut us off every time. Every once in awhile the donkeys would just decide that they wanted to stop for a bit and there was pretty much nothing you could do about it. At one point I decided to start yelling “Ella!” and bouncing up and down (while laughing hysterically) and that got them moving a couple of times.  My donkey was also a feisty little thing and tried to bite all the other donkeys when they came close. Haha. And even though I was afraid I was going to lose a leg every time we came too close to the wall, it was so much fun. One of the highlights of my trip.ImageThis picture perfectly displays Kristi’s donkey, cutting me off, and then stopping. Kristi is probably saying some variation of “Why?” “I don’t know what to do” etc. Haha

Later we decided to take a bus to the “underground winery” that we had seen advertised. This was also a hit. The whole museum was just a riot. Each exhibit was meant to show the history of the winery and to show how the wine was produced, but the dummies or mannequins they used to represent people were absurd, hilarious, and slightly frightening all at once. After we were done with the museum tour we got to try three of the wines produced by the winery.  As proud as they were of their wines, I just didn’t like them that much so we didn’t end up leaving with a bottle.

That night we went to get sushi at a restaurant we had looked up online. We didn’t know what to expect since a lot of people had said that it was pretty expensive, but most people agreed that it was delicious.  If we had gotten the pre-made menus it probably would have been pretty expensive, but we just ordered 3 rolls, some wine, and a dessert, and it didn’t end up being any more expensive that sushi in the States. However, it was GOOD. The reviews were correct about that. There was an eggplant tempura recipe that I was pretty much obsessed with and am looking forward to recreating in the future.

Kristi – The hotel in Santorini was one of the best places I’ve stayed, and it was one of the least expensive on the island. In addition to airport transportation at 6:00am both arriving and leaving, they gave us a room to sleep in before even bothering to check us in, freshly laundered beach towels to take with us for the day, great advice on what to do and where to go, and the guy pushed breakfast cake/orange juice/tea/coffee on us every time he saw us. Add to that the fact it was super clean with nice beds/linens/bathroom (OMG hot AND cold water at the same place?!) and we were sad to leave that hotel behind.

The underground winery museum was hilarious and we got some fantastic zombie vineyard children pictures as we walked through. The wine this place is known for is a sweet desert wine where the grapes are left in the sun for 2 weeks before making the wine. So yes, it tasted like raisins. Not bad, just not my cup of…wine. I also try not to spend 30 Euros on a small bottle of wine I only kind of like.

Pattie failed to mention our sad sushi experience in Athens. We’d agreed to try to find her a few restaurants for food she’d been craving/missing, so of course we figured Athens would have to have a good sushi place. Well…they were out of most ingredients needed to make most of the menu. So I ended up with what I swear was a ramen noodle brick with curry powder and oil poured on top, and Pattie’s sushi roll was small, sad, and dry. Santorini’s place was amazing. Who would’ve guessed a small village on an island would have great sushi?Image

BEST zombie wine mannequin

Day 13: This was the day that had pretty much sparked the whole idea of taking this trip. This was “DIVE DAY.” We were all set to take 2 dives in the caldera and were pretty excited about it. We met a car from the dive center that took us to the other side of the island where all our gear was set up with our names on it. I was a little nervous. It had been 2 years since I last dove in Honduras but other than having to remind myself how to maintain neutral buoyancy, I did fine. The first dive was labeled as a “caldera dive” which essentially meant we’d be diving inside the caldera of an extinct volcano. We were supposed to swim around the crater for a bit and then they would take us to a small cave. The crater was pretty cool. Definitely different from Honduras in that it was pretty muted in color with the occasional random patch of bright yellow coral. But it wasn’t a reef, it was a bed of lava rocks, so it was different. The cave was a pretty tiny little thing, only accommodating one diver at a time, so that was a little bit of a letdown, but oh well. The second dive was supposed to be a “wall dive” where we would swim along the sea wall and see all the fish and coral and what not. It was a pleasant dive, but there wasn’t nearly as much to see as there had been in Roatan. I know, they told me when I was there that I was spoiling myself with one of the most beautiful sites in the world, but I guess it took diving somewhere else to realize that they might not be exaggerating.  Also, on the wall dive in Santorini the dive master gave us all bread to feed the fish… the whole time I was sitting there thinking “Never feed the wildlife!” HahaImage

Sexy totally attractive wetsuit pic!

That evening we decided to go to the other side of the island to the town of Oia to catch the sunset since that was reportedly the best place to see it. So we caught a bus and walked around for awhile, then found seats at a café where I ordered a smoothie and Kristi ordered yogurt so that we could sit there. The sunset was really beautiful and I must have taken fifty pictures of it while messing around with the settings on my camera. After which, we pretty much ran back to the buses so as to beat the crowds and not have to wait an hour for another bus.ImageOia. Would have been better with some light, but it was the wrong time of day.

Kristi – Yay diving! Greece was definitely a different diving experience than Honduras. The water was colder (thank goodness for those hideous full body wetsuits), the bottom was lava rock instead of light colored sand, and as Pattie mentioned, not quite the same level of colorful sealife. I had actually just gotten back from another trip to Roatan about 3 days before flying to Albania, so I had some fresh memories of warm clear water with thousands of brightly colored coral and fish and lobster. Diving is always an awesome relaxing time though, no matter the scenery, so overall it was a great experience for me.Image

Sunset pic

Day 14: Our last day in Santorini we decided that we couldn’t very well come here and not go to the beach, so at the suggestion of our hotel owner we headed down to the black sand beaches near Perissa for the day. The beaches were beautiful and the black sand felt awesome (when it wasn’t burning my feet) and we spent most of the day there on our comfy beach chairs under our large umbrella. I apparently spent too much time under the umbrella because upon returning to Albania everyone kept asking me why I didn’t go to the beach. I must not have gone because I was still white… oh well. It was better than being painfully sunburned! Anyways, between all the topless sunbathing and our waiter in his tiny pink shorts, there was a ton to AVOID looking at, but the beach view was fantastic.

Our last night we decided to head back to the sushi restaurant. It was again, delicious, and this time they gave us a complementary…dessert maybe? It was a shot glass filled with ice, ginger, black pepper, and champagne, and it was super tasty.

Kristi – The beach was fantastic! Laying out and reading in the hot sun with dips in the cool/cold crystal clear water was super relaxing. I got a little more color than Pattie, mostly because I can be exposed to sunlight for more than 5 minutes without burning…but overall I was surprised we didn’t come back with a better tan.ImageKristi, lying in luxury on the beach in Santorini. Please note the waiter with the pink shorts. He was the one with the LONG shorts…

Day 15: Because Kristi doesn’t believe in sleep, 6:55am found us on yet another early morning flight back to Athens. After landing and spending a frustrating couple of hours trying to make our way to the correct bus station, we finally boarded a bus for Meteora and spent most of our day in travel. When we pulled into Kalabaka (a town below Meteora) we were tired and a little hot, but the cliffs surrounding the town were beautiful and we couldn’t help but take a small hike after dropping our luggage off at the hotel.

Kristi – I lost faith in my travel abilities a bit that day. After checking my Lonely Planet book and as much as I could find online (not much because apparently Greece no longer posts up-to-date information on transportation online), the plan was to take a certain bus from the airport to a certain bus terminal in the city to catch the right bus to Meteora. Well when you barely make it to the bus station in time for the scheduled bus to Meteora and walk into buy tickets and don’t see the city you’re looking for, there’s a moment of confusion, then defeat when you confirm you’re in the wrong place by asking the information desk and they look at you like you’re stupid for not knowing that bus isn’t departing from that location. Sigh. So after 1.5 laps around the bus station to find the bus stop going to the other bus terminal and a 30-45 minute wait for that bus, we finally made it to the right terminal and managed to catch that next bus out to Meteora. Crisis mostly averted…and only 30-45 minutes spent waiting on the feeder road of a major Athens highway. The views coming into Kalambaka were gorgeous, though, and really made the day of travel and miscommunication worthwhile.Image

One of the cliffs by our hotel at Meteora

Day 16: The next morning found us up and ready to catch the morning bus up to Meteora where we’d see all the monasteries that had been built at the top of the cliffs. Some of them would be closed for the day but we figured we could get to at least 5 or 6 of them, so we got off the bus and headed for the largest of them: The Great Meteora.  Approaching the monastery I saw a big blue sign which read: “SHORTS ARE NOT ALLOWED. LADIES IN SLEEVELESS DRESSES, SLACKS OR PANTALOONS WILL NOT BE ADMITTED.” I then proceeded to look down at my own outfit consisting of a tshirt and long shorts and wondered if this whole portion of the trip was about to be ruined because I hadn’t actually packed anything that would allow me into this monastery. We decided to go ahead and walk as far in as possible, which was a good thing because we figured out that at each monastery they provided wraps that could be used as skirts or as shawls for those of us that were unaware of the dress restrictions.  They really should advertise that on the big sign that made me feel so unwelcome… Anyways, Kristi and I put on some very lovely skirts and proceeded inside.  After walking a few miles between the nunneries and monasteries that we visited I can say that the first one gave us the most “bang for our buck.” Most of the others were pretty small and didn’t have much to see or read, though they were all beautiful. But the Great Meteora had a museum and lots of information etc. Overall though, Meteora was probably one of the more beautiful places I’ve been and I thoroughly enjoyed it.Image

The Sign.

Kristi – This was another day that I was glad I was travelling with Pattie, someone who likes being outside and doesn’t mind/actually enjoys hiking long distances. I think we got a lot more out of the Meteora experience by actually walking between all of the monasteries/nunneries and back down to town. The views were unlike any other place I’ve seen, and we actually got to see it all instead of driving by in a bus and trying to peer out the tinted windows. Plus, I think we planned out the itinerary well to where we broke up places with tons of walking with the islands where we spent more time relaxing.Image

One of the monasteries on the cliffs. Pretty cool.

Days 17 and 18: The next day we finally headed back to Albania, Meteora being our last stop in Greece. It was an awesome vacation and I enjoyed myself, but I was happy to get back to a country where I could communicate with people. (I know, who’d have thought I’d feel that way about Albania.) We made it to the border and then hopped a couple of rides until we ended up in Permet to visit with Maayan. We were pretty much exhausted from our trip, so we didn’t do much, just hung out and watched movies and such, but it was nice. I was happy for Kristi to meet some more Peace Corps volunteers.

Kristi – I’m so glad Pattie could communicate with the furgon/taxi drivers at the border. After walking across from Greece to Albania (a good 10 minute uphill walk), she found us a ride to the next town to catch a furgon for a reasonable price. I’m sure the Canadians that were on the bus to the border with us had a tough time and paid waaay to much to get where they were going. The ride to Permet was unexpected, this part of Albania has tree-covered mountains and light-blue/white rivers and was so pretty. Hanging out with the other Peace Corps volunteers was a great end to the trip – I finally met some of the people Pattie is always talking about, plus they were amazing!

Day 19: Kristi’s last day in Albania, we headed back up to Tirana on a 6 hour bus ride. After dropping our stuff off at the hotel, we went out to eat Albanian food one last time. The food was delicious, one of my favorite places, though I did manage to eat a super spicy pepper in my last bite and I had no water left. Haha. We called it a pretty early night and slept a bit before getting Kristi in a cab for the airport around 4am. I was sad when she left, but ready to get home. Wish she could come every month!

Kristi – Hahaha, that spicy pepper looked like a bean. Poor Pattie’s mouth :) Of course I had to get up super early for the last flight, why break a pattern? Luckily we found a taxi that early and Pattie made sure I knew what the fare would be before I left. The guy was super nice and tried to communicate with me with his few words of English and my few words of Shqip. It was weird to go to the airport alone and leave Pattie behind. I texted her that I made it to the airport, but apparently she didn’t get it and started to worry that I’d been abducted. I got in touch with her on facebook once I was in Detroit, so only 16 hours or so of worrying.Image

A parting ode to young Michael’s winery career… :)


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Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Uncategorized


Birthday Celebrations in Macedonia

For Elsi’s birthday we decided to go to Ohrid Macedonia. I wanted to go somewhere he hadn’t been, but on a small budget and with a limited amount of time. So back in the beginning of the summer I booked a room at what appeared to be a cute little hotel called Villa Jovan, and then we waited. On the 21st of August we left Bilisht at 9am, caught a furgon to Korce, and then another from there to Pogradec. In Pogradec we had coffee with a couple of friends of Elsi’s while we tried to figure out the best way to get to Ohrid. It looked like we were going to pay about 18 euro to take a tax to the border, and then from there to Ohrid, but later in the conversation one of his friends mentioned a bus that would leave from the checkpoint closest to Pogradec. Always trying to find the cheapest way, I asked him about this bus and he told me that it would leave at 2pm, with a cost of about 2 euros per person. I thought this was a much better plan, so Elsi and I killed a little time by getting pizza and then we caught a taxi to the border. Once we got to the boarder, and walked across on foot, we realized that the Albanian and Macedonian customs offices did not back up onto one another. In fact we would have to walk a short distance (about 5 minutes) to get to the Macedonian side. This wasn’t really a problem, except that by this point we were running low on time and were afraid we’d miss the bus. This worry turned out to be unfounded however as the bus didn’t show up for about an hour after that. After waiting around in the heat, we finally found, to our dismay, that the tickets were going to cost us 9euro altogether. Still not a large amount, but not the 2 that we were planning on. Then, after a long and uncomfortable bus ride we got to Ohrid, where I belatedly remembered that I hadn’t printed off a map to the hotel. We then had to take a taxi to the hotel, which brought our trip costs to about equal the amount of money it would have taken for a cab from the border, and having thrown in an extra hour of travel time. Later we would find out that we had been overcharged for the bus tickets, which could have been a result of using euro rather than Macedonian dinar. Oh well.

Waiting for the bus

Anyways, we finally got to the hotel and to our room, which was rather unexpected in and of itself. I had seen photos online, and it seemed kind of fun and cute with slanted ceilings and a bathtub in the floor, but in reality the room was just smaller than I had thought. Elsi isn’t a short man by anyone’s standards, so he had to duck around a few places and the “tub” ended up being about a foot deep, simply intended to catch the water from the showerhead, not for baths. And since the ceilings were sloped, this meant that Elsi got to sit down in the tiny little tub everyday to take his showers. It was slightly hysterical. ;) However, the room was clean and air-conditioned, had a great little balcony looking out onto oldtown Ohrid, and the hotel was ideally located, so aside from being a little small, it was really not a bad choice.

Our slanted room

Our first night we just walked around a bit down by the lakeside. There were lots of people and vendors out so there was a lot to see. We ate at the restaurant owned by our hotel and we ended up sitting right next to where the band would play. Awesome for romantic music, not so much for conversation. The menus ended up being in Macedonian and English, so rather than have me translate everything for him, Elsi just had me order dinner each night. The first night we got a mixed salad (which wasn’t actually mixed together, it was all the ingredients separate on one plate), a traditional Macedonian dish with red peppers and beans, and “village” pork with mushrooms. I thought it was all pretty good, but apparently Macedonian food isn’t much different than Albanian food, so Elsi didn’t think it was anything special. We did order a bottle of the house Muscat (something) wine. It was really good and it was nice to just sit and drink wine and listen to the music by the lakeside. Afterwards we walked along the lake some more and got some donuts/petulla/fried dough covered in powdered sugar and chocolate for desert. They were delicious, but probably not something you should eat every day.

First night’s dinner

The second day was Elsi’s birthday and I wanted to do something really fun and special, but I really had no clue what, since there’s really not that much information on Ohrid out there. Unfortunately, I woke up that morning with a bad stomach and spent most of it in the bathroom, so we didn’t leave the hotel until almost noon. (I blame the pizza we had the day before in Pogradec. It had egg on it.) After we finally got out of the hotel room we walked around the city a bit going through the open air market and back down by the lake. We went by the half-McDonald’s (they had no fries) and had BigMacs and a diet coke for lunch and then sat in the park for a bit where Elsi got pooped on by a bird. I told him that was good luck, but I don’t think he believed me. From the park we could see the big fort on the top of the hill so we decided to walk up to it and check it out. It was quite a walk, all uphill, and it was hot out, but we finally made it and paid the entry fee to go in and check it out. It was essentially just a wall, not much inside it, which is unfortunate. I think they could probably do some cool things with it to attract more tourists, but as of now the only worthwhile thing up there is the view. So we walked around the top of the wall and took some pictures, then headed back down into town. For dinner we went to this restaurant that I had seen reviews for on the internet. Al the reviews raved about the wine and the appetizers, but said that the main courses were not great. So of course, I decided to ignore that last part and head there anyways. Much like the first night, we had a bottle of their house Moscato (something) wine, and ordered the Macedonian appetizer plate that everyone had raved about. It came with 6 dishes: olives, 2 types of red pepper and tomato dishes, white beans, red peppers and onions mixed with cheese, and some type of pureed garlic spread. The olives were good, if a bit salty, and the pepper and tomato dishes were pretty tasty along with the peppers and cheese, but the beans had no flavor whatsoever and I just could not eat the garlic paste to save my life. I tried it, lots of people like it, but it made me gag. Not sure if it was because it had the texture of mayonnaise or if it was how strong the garlic flavor was, but I couldn’t do it. Elsi liked it though, he smelled like garlic for two whole days. For the main dish I chose the house special chicken with bacon and cheese. It was…really sub-par. I should have known from the reviews, but I didn’t listen. Essentially, Elsi’s birthday dinner was the most expensive and the least worth it. Oops. Afterwards we stumbled upon what looked to be a Balkan music award show. Admission was free, so we went in to watch a bit, but by the time we’d actually found it we only got to hear two songs before they started handing out awards and talking the whole time.

Birthday dinner appetizer plate

The third day we were there we decided to head down to the lake for the day. We paid a small fee for two chairs with an umbrella and spent the day in an out of the water, relaxing, and (for my part at least) reading about psychopaths. [See: The Psychopath Test by Ronson] While we were in the water, little fish would come and nibble at our legs and feet. I told Elsi I felt like we were getting an expensive spa treatment for free, since I’d seen all these signs in Greece for spa “fish” treatments. It was kind of fun and ticklish until a big daddy fish decided to chomp at my heel. That was unexpected and I may have squealed like a little girl. Dinner on our third night was undoubtedly the best. We had a Shopska salad (which is really the same as a Greek salad, except the cheese is grated over the top instead of in cubes), stuffed red peppers, pork with honey sauce, and another bottle of Muscat (something) wine. The pork could really have been listed as barbecue pork ribs, but it was really delicious and the portion sizes were big and well worth what we paid. The red peppers were stuffed with cheese and herbs and were kind of sweet as well, they might have been my favorite thing I ate while there. After dinner we headed back down to the lakeside where there were a bunch of choral groups singing. I guess they were having a festival during the day somewhere and were just out to sing at night. It was really nice and made me pretty nostalgic. Also there was a traditional dance festival going on with all of these youth dance groups from around the Balkans, so that was really fun to watch too.
We went home on the fourth day after hitting up a supermarket for some tahini (which we don’t have in Albania) and I gave in and just paid a cab driver to take us directly to the border. We were tired and it wasn’t worth it at that point to find another way. Elsi wanted to stay in Pogradec for the night, but I convinced him we should just go home. He didn’t want our vacation to end, and I didn’t blame him, but I didn’t feel like spending money on a hotel only an hour from home, so I was the party pooper. No worries though, we had a great time and are already looking forward to traveling together again.

Last night, blurry picture of a genuine smile from Elsi!


Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Uncategorized


Mountains Beyond Mountains

During PST for the new group I told Allison (a new volunteer) that I would come visit her in Peshkopi. The thing about Peshkopi is, it’s like forever far away. I mean, it’s only about 9 hours from Korce, but I’m tired by the time I get to Burrel, and Peshkopi is 3 hours past Burrel on windy mountain roads. But I sucked it up and went, and it was awesome. After my fairly long set of furgon rides to get there I finally made it and we spent the first evening just chatting it up and hanging out with her sitemate Joe, who I now love. The second day we went down to the river and hung out for a bit. On the way back, Allison left her phone in the furgon. As a result we spent the next hour or so walking around Peshkopi trying to find the furgon we were in and asking other drivers if they had that guy’s number. We finally figured out that he’d left to go to a village about 3 hours away, but that he’d left the phone back at a lokal by the river. So Allison and I headed back out there to get her phone, and in my haste to get out of the furgon and to wish everyone a wonderful day and good health, we forgot to pay the guy. We were discussing how we’d find him the next day and pay him while we were sitting at the lokal drinking bottled water and waiting for another furgon to take us back to Peshkopi when a couple of guys showed up and started talking to us and offering us beers. One guy had lived and worked in England for 8 years so we mostly spoke with him in English, and then when a furgon came and he tried to get Allison’s number we hustled to the furgon so fast we forgot to pay for the bottled water… oops. We weren’t very good girls that day.

Joe and Allison on the bridge across the river

The next day Joe, Allison, Stella (another volunteer), and I decided to hike up one of the mountains Joe had been eyeballing for a few weeks. We took a furgon out to the nearest village and then proceeded to walk another 30 minutes to an even smaller village where we would begin our ascent. We didn’t really know where we were going as there wasn’t really a trail and our only goal was “up,” but we started trekking and about three hours later we came to the bottom of a dried up streambed that we decided looked like more fun than the loose rock and bushes we’d been tramping through. The streambed was fun at first, it was like rock climbing, requiring the use of both hands and feet. Then, before we knew it, we were climbing up the last 50 yards of loose gravel at a 50 degree incline. It was intense. I felt like I was going to fall off the mountain and I kept hearing Allison asking Joe how the heck we were going to get DOWN.

Sittin at the top of the mountain we conquered

Luckily, we made it over the crest of the mountain and it was beautiful, and then we found a sort of goat path down an easier way. It was awesome, but exhausting.

The first week of September I finally got myself up north for the infamous Valbona/Thethi hike. I’d seen numerous photos of other groups on their respective hikes and had been planning on going for awhile, but somehow never managed to make it up there. Lenae and Laurie hadn’t been yet either and we knew that if we didn’t get up there by the end of the summer we’d never make it. We headed to Shkoder two nights before the actual hike so that we could catch the ferry to Bajram Curri in the morning. The plan was this: one night in Shkoder, an early morning furgon to Koman, take the ferry from Koman to Fiers, a furgon to Bajram Curri, one night in Bajram Curri, another furgon to Valbona, hike from Valbona national park through the mountains to Thethi national park, and then another furgon back to Shkoder to complete the circuit. The plan sounded solid, after all, it was how many of the other volunteers had done it. What could go wrong?

Our first hitch presented itself in Koman. Apparently, the large “airy” ferries stopped running a couple of weeks before we got there, so we got to ride the little ferry…more of a boat, actually. It wasn’t bad except there must have been 80-100 people on this tiny boat and I was pretty sure we were going to sink the whole time. (This fear wasn’t entirely unfounded, one of the Koman ferries actually did sink last year) We also ended up standing outside the entire 3 hours, but that wasn’t really all that bad since the only place with seating was inside an extremely stuffy cabin. Anyways, after the ferry we took a furgon from Fiers, which was…dusty…haha, to Bajram Curri to meet up with the volunteers there. We had a great time hanging out there for the night and then got up bright and early to head to Valbona in the morning. Here’s where we hit our second hitch, the only scheduled furgon to leave for Valbona was at 2pm, so we spent nearly an hour attempting to wrangle a furgon, most of which wanted some absurd amount of money to take us there. Eventually, we found a ride and made it to Valbona, a beautiful piece of land , and the beginning of our hike. After eating some pilaf with eggs and cheese, Laurie, Lenae, Denis, David, Elson, and I began our trek.

Our Ferry/Boat! It was completely full with people standing up to the outside railings

It started out fairly easy, a nice little walk through what looked like a riverbed. Unfortunately, our third hitch came with the weather. There had been wildfires throughout the countryside for the previous few weeks and it had rained the night before, so between the two the visibility was not the greatest. On the upside though, the rain cooled it down significantly so the temperature was perfect for hiking. Once we started going uphill, even the cooler temperatures didn’t keep me completely dry. I found out that my pack was definitely heavier than I wanted to be and it was getting heavier by the moment. Every time we thought we’d finished the ascent, there was more to come. Finally, after scaling the mountainside and walking along some fairly nerve-wracking ledges we made it to the top, took a group picture, and started heading down. The trip down into Thethi was equally beautiful as the hike up Valbona, but it was entirely different. Nearly the whole way down we walked through some absolutely beautiful forested lands. After a couple of treacherous declines, we made it down into Thethi, where we distracted ourselves for nearly an hour picking and eating wild blackberries.

The area we hiked.

Our fourth hiccup presented itself when we finally managed to get into Thethi proper. We had planned to stay the night in Theth, camping, but when we got there it turned out that there was not really a place to set our tents and start a fire, so we ended up having to pay for a site. The owner’s son assured us that we would have a fire and showers, so we agreed to stay and Laurie and Dennis started setting up their tents. A little while later while trying to find wood for the fire we were told that it wasn’t certain if we could actually make a fire since there was wind, and the owner was concerned about starting another wildfire. Eventually he agreed to let us make a small fire, which was nice because then we got to eat, but then proceeded to tell us that we were burning more money’s worth of wood than we’d paid for our camping site. This was really just irritating, especially because I buy my wood for the winter and knew that this was not true at all. Especially since we were burning torn down fencing, and not decent firewood….but whatever. After a chilly night’s sleep under the stars (Lenae and I didn’t have a tent) we managed to wrangle a furgon for the “local” fare and headed back to Shkoder. It was a beautiful hike and I’d love to do it again, given another chance, but I would definitely take a smaller pack next time, I was sore for days!

The crew at the top!

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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Uncategorized


All the Small (but maybe not SO small) Things

Because my Greece trip post is taking FOREVER and a day to write up, I’m going to take this chance to post on some of the other little things I’ve been doing this summer.

Beach Week
In July a bunch of us girls (and Sam) made our way to Orikum for our self-proclaimed “Beach Week” that lasted 5 days. The original idea was that we would all come to Lauren’s house, and then kind of do our own things, coming and going as we felt, and doing what we liked. There was an idea tossed around that we would do “theme days” some of which were pretty silly, but we mostly just shouted out everytime something happened that might have pertained to one of the themes. We had a lot of fun, went to the beach a few times. I completed three 1000 piece puzzles, we colored on national geographic coloring pages Erin’s mom sent, talked about psychopaths, and ate a ridiculous amount of dessert. My favorite dinner was on “salad night” where we each made some sort of salad and then just demolished them. We had some spicy beans, a pasta salad, potato salad, green salad, French onion dip (from America) and veggies, and then some chicken to throw in a little protein. It was all delicious and I want to do it again. Oh, and then Sam made brownies. Delicious.

Our Beachweek activities!

What Beachweek is complete without Peach Cobbler!

Burrel Basketball Camp
The end of July /beginning of August held Burrel’s first basketball camp for girls. It was SO AWESOME. Lenae did an amazing job setting everything up and getting people registered as well as obtaining a bunch of donations in the form of balls, nets, and prizes. All the volunteers for the camp arrived on Sunday night so we could start bright and early on Monday morning. It had been literally over a decade since I’d played basketball so I volunteered to help Lisa with registration, but before I knew it I was helping out with drills and running around with all the girls. I kind of floated between the groups, figuring out which volunteers needed help with instructions since I’m more comfortable speaking Albanian than some of the others. The girls were amazing, they pretty much all started from scratch, and double dribbling was a slight problem, but they were super enthusiastic and willing to learn. We had girls from ages 8 to 17, with the smaller ones barely able to reach the basket when they shot. This camp gave the girls a chance to escape from their daily lives and their imposed gender roles and really let loose. I was super sad when it ended and I kind of wish I could just do that every week.

Action shot

It was determined that there were enough funds this year for a midservice conference held in Tirana which I attended in August. I think the conference was helpful for some people, but maybe not so much for me. Much of the conference was based around “planning for the next year” and “goal-setting” things that might have been talked about earlier, and most of the rest of it was “how to make a resume/CV” and “applying for jobs.” Since I’ve already finished my med school applications, my mind wandered a bit during these presentations. It was really fun though to see everyone and to hear what everyone had been up to, so I’m glad I went. We also spent a good amount of time watching the Olympics in our hotel rooms. I’ll tell you what, nothing makes me more patriotic than the Olympics. Go America!

GenEq Campout / Meeting
Before our first meeting, John (our GenEq president) thought it might be fun to get our committee members together for a fun “bonding” experience through camping. To get to know each other I guess. So we headed up to Voskopoje for a night to hike to the reservoir and camp out. It was really fun, and the hike was beautiful. Even though it had rained the day before and we had a few problems with the mud, the trail was well-shaded by pine trees and we walked alongside a stream making for great scenery. I almost felt like I was back in Idaho. For dinner we ate sausages, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, and cheese, along with some awesome wholegrain bread I’d found in Korce. For dessert I even pulled out a bag of marshmallows I’d been hoarding and some chocolate chip cookies I’d baked. They were delicious. Jen and I had both made zucchini bread for the trip, so we ate hers as snacks on the first day and mine for breakfast in the morning.
After the campout we headed back to Bilisht where everyone got a chance to shower and nap and then started in on our first meeting of the year. We had a lot to discuss, and it took us something like 4-6 hours, but I think in the long run we got a lot accomplished and I’m looking forward to or committee work this year. More on this to come…

GenEq goes camping! And yes, I did build that fire with the tree coming out of it. We didn’t have an ax…

Korce beerfest came and went again this year much as it did last year. A few girls stayed at my house and we went in for the festivities and hired a furgon to take us back at about midnight. We would have stayed longer, but he was the only driver we could find and he had to work the next day. Regardless, we were there for plenty of time and much fun was had by all. Chris (my new sitemate) had to stay home that night because he’d gotten food-poisoning from the chicken he’d eaten at beerfest the night before, so he served as a cautionary tale to the rest of us and we mostly avoided the chicken, opting for sausage instead. The fries they had there we decided must have een sprinkled with crack, we couldn’t stop eating them. It was lucky they were only 100 leke. Throughout the night we just ate, drank, chatted, and sang along with the bands that played English songs. At one point System of a Down’s Toxicity came on, and we of course donned our air-guitars, air-basses, and air-drums, and rocked out, to the amusement of most of the Albanians surrounding us. Towards the end of the night we decided to head over to the park for some quality bumper-car time. Emily Olson and I partnered up, but it was chaos. The way that it worked was that when the music stopped, the cars would stop, then the floor would be flooded with people trying to get a car. Not everyone got out of the cars, you could stay in as long as you had tokens and some of these kids had like 10 of them. I will never forget running across the floor of this communist-era bumper car pit with Emily as she screamed “Get out of the car! Get out of the car!” at these teenage boys. It was hilarious. She sounded like one of those cops on a TV show. At one point one boy got out so that his partner could slide over to drive, but before he could get back in, I’d already gotten in the car. He looked so startled when he looked over and saw me there that I almost couldn’t breathe I was laughing so hard. We finally got a car and made some havoc on the floor and then it was time to go. Next time I’ll know to buy more than one token at a time…

Jamming to Toxicity by System of a Down. By far the best picture of the night, and Erin and I didn’t even drink any beer. Haha

Maayan’s Birthday
Little shout out to Kristi Johnson for making Maayan’s birthday a lovely success complete with a food-induced coma. Maayan came down to Bilisht to celebrate her birthday so I decided that we would make some amazing food. The menu included egg rolls, sushi, and carrot cake. Two of those three completely not available in Albania, and carrot cake I’ve only seen once. The meal was a process. I must have had 8 recipe tabs up on my browser for egg roll wrappers, sushi rice, teriyaki sauce, eggplant tempura, carrot cake, etc. Elsi was a champ, as usual and rolled out all the egg roll wrappers and assembled the rolls which were delicious and then we each tried our hands at rolling the sushi (seaweed and soy sauce donated by Kristi). We attempted to make sushi using canned tuna (I know) which I was not a fan of, but Maayan liked it. I was happier with the eggplant tempura sushi, which was delicious. Our rolls were not the most beautiful, and Elsi’s didn’t even close it was so big. But they were delicious. We pretty much ate ourselves sick. After dinner we played a few card games and then watched Magic Mike (worst movie ever, and I’m not sure how Elsi felt about it. Haha) and ate carrot cake. Yum!

Not the most beautiful sushi, but it sure was delicious! Take note of Elsi’s roll, the one exploding out of the bottom of the picture.

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Posted by on September 10, 2012 in Uncategorized


Playing a little catch-up


After I took the MCAT on the 5th of April I pretty much just wanted to shut down and disappear for awhile. However, for better or worse, I had a bunch of small things lined up to keep me going. First off, I was signed up for 4 more presentations for the new group at their Pre-Service training. I went first for the GAD (Gender and Development) Committee presentation on the 13th, gave a training on how to develop lesson plans and materials on the 20th, and gave a couple of language lessons on the 24th-25th. It was all pretty standard, but following the GAD presentation they had site-announcements and guess what? I got a sitemate. His name is Chris, he’s a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) volunteer, he’s from Oregon, and he’s bald (voluntarily). I’m sure more info on Chris will pop up in further posts.

On the less routine front, I attended a seminar in Pogradec on Internet safety in the Korce region. Now normally this wouldn’t really be my cup of tea, but I was invited by Sister Clare (a nun out of Korce) and she’s done a lot of work on anti-trafficking so I thought I’d check it out. It actually turned out to be really interesting and by the end of the presentations I was pretty much convinced that we needed to do something about this internet situation, like now. None of the information was terribly new to me, but it all came from a different perspective. I had never considered before this, the dangers of the internet in a developing country. The problem is basically this: The internet is new here, no one has really been introduced to what harms could possibly arise from using unsecured sites, or from putting all your information out there for whomever to find. The parents as a general rule aren’t well-versed, and for the most part don’t have any idea what their kids are doing on the internet or even that they’re on the internet at all. Internet cafes are on every corner, and they don’t monitor what kids are looking at. The statistic from this particular study that really kind of grabbed me was the percentage of kids that had gone to meet in person someone that they’d met online, usually alone. In a country in which human trafficking is still such an issue, and with girls and boys that think it’s cool to put inappropriate pictures of themselves on the internet, this could really be a serious problem. Needless to say, I’m currently tossing around ideas on how to address this issue with a few other parties.

Finally, on the 22nd I was involved in a flash-mob in Tirana to raise awareness for the “Clean Albania” movement. It was a blast and you can see the video here:


May was a fairly productive month. I spent a lot of time at Kolegi Preka in Korce, a private high school where all the students speak English. A friend of mine that teaches there was going to be on vacation so I agreed to cover her classes while she was gone. We started out the month giving a class on Body Image and Eating Disorders. Kind of a grim topic, but the classes ended up being so much fun. I got Maria, the new Health Education volunteer in Korce to come out with me, and I covered “beauty” while she went over the facts of eating disorders. For me, the best part of the class came from the “What is beauty?” portion of the lesson, where I had found pictures of different cultural definitions of beauty and we discussed them. Of course, I started out with a male model and Victoria’s Secret model in all their photo-shopped glory and we all agreed that those two were pretty attractive. Then we moved onto larger bodied people, tribal tattoos, neck stretching, lip plates, ritual scarring, and burkas. It was pretty cool to see them kinda start to think about these people in a different way. Initially it was all giggles, but after awhile they seemed to be truly interested and I was kind of sad that I didn’t have any more examples.

Over the next two weeks I gave first aid classes. The idea was that Kip would come and help me teach CPR for the first set of classes, and then Emily would come for the second set and we’d talk more about home remedies and splints and such. What ended up happening was we spent most of both weeks covering CPR. When Kip and I started the first week we went of the process of what to do if you see a car wreck, how to determine if you need to remove someone from a vehicle, and then how to properly remove them. There was a lot of laughing at the “removal” demonstration, because let’s face it, teenagers trying to take other teenagers out of chairs using what essentially looks like a chokehold is pretty awkward and funny. We had some more cooperative classes and some less cooperative, but by the end of the sessions we had gone through the whole process with each class. The next week I had them pair up and demonstrate proper CPR technique as far as they could using a live human subject. And while I definitely had to call a few kids out and even told one kid that he could either stop talking or leave, the majority of the students were attentive and tried their best to learn what we were teaching. Working with the kids was awesome and unfortunately I was so focused on the teaching process that I didn’t take a single picture. Oh well. Next time maybe.
The 17th of May was a pretty exciting day here in Albania. It was the first ever “Festival of Diversity” held on the International Day Against Homophobia in Tirana. There was supposed to be a parade, but last minute they changed it into a series of small events to celebrate the day. In the morning there was an informational gathering where a whole bunch of organizations came out to share information on homosexuality and other topics, and the American Ambassador and the Ambassador from the Netherlands gave some speeches, along with a few other officials. Later there was an art exhibition and a film shown, but unfortunately the film was held too late for me to attend since I had to make it to Durres before dark. It was really awesome to see the movement come together and there were more people out than I had thought there would be. There was also a protest about a block away, not surprising, but I was happy to see that too. In my eyes, the protest just brought more attention to a cause that just isn’t addressed in this country. I have been told several times that “We just don’t have homosexual people in Albania.” People have to know that this lifestyle exists before they can make any progress on the human rights front. So here we go!

Elsi and I at the Diversity Festival

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Posted by on August 12, 2012 in Uncategorized


Gezuar Festat!

Teacher’s Day
We recently had a slew of holidays occur that I got to be a part of. March 7th was Teacher’s Day. It was the celebration of the opening of the first School in Korce, the ABC school. It was a holiday for all the kids and teachers, but the kids went to school for the first few hours of the day to wish the teachers a happy teachers day and celebrate with them. Then all the teachers congregated at lokals and restaurants and had dinner and dancing. I know that the one in the lokal next to my house lasted until the wee hours of the morning. I know, because I heard it.

International Women’s Day March 8
I was a little confused about the next one. I was under the impression that March 8th was Mother’s day here in Albania (mainly because that’s what Elsi told me) so I was a little confused when I was invited to the luncheon with my co-workers. I eventually figured out that it was Women’s Day (more specifically International Women’s Day) and that most of the women in town would get off of work at some point and go to a lokal or restaurant to celebrate. Unfortunately, I was unaware that I would be going to a party that day, so I was seriously underdressed. These women had come dressed in their best and I hadn’t washed my hair in 3 days, and was wearing a fleece headband to hide that fact (that and it was cold and snowing). But since I was invited I wasn’t going to say no, so I headed to a lokal with the rest of the women from the Health Directory and the nurses from the hospital and surrounding health centers. It was kind of fun to see all the women out and free from their standard roles. This day was for them, they were not obligated to care for their husbands or children during the party and since there weren’t any men in attendance (save for the waiter) it just felt like everyone was a lot more free and relaxed. We ate the standard three-meat fancy meal, broke out the wine and the beer (and some women even smoked, which is not common in my town) and we talked, laughed, and danced until we were tired enough to head home. For Sofika and I, that point came a little earlier than some others and for the second day in a row I got to hear the sounds of celebration pulsing into my house from the lokal next door until about 4 in the morning. I will give them this, these women have STAMINA.

Sofika and I at the Women's Day Luncheon

Diten e Veres 
On March 14th we celebrated Diten e Veres, or “Summer Day.” I was a little confused about this one too, since it was only March and there was still more than a foot of snow on the ground, but I went with it, who am I to argue? I reconciled this misnomer in my head by renaming it “Wine Day” since the word ‘vere’ can be either summer or wine in Albanian and it just made more sense to me. So I drank wine and pretended that it was warmer.

For the actual festivities, Elsi and I headed out to Sul, his hometown. (Sul is a village about 30 minutes down the road from Bilisht.) Per the norm, when we got there his mother encouraged me to eat far more food than I should have and we ended the meal with the most terrible corn I’ve ever had. Talking to people afterwards, I wasn’t able to find anyone who was familiar with the kind of corn I had eaten, but I will tell you it isn’t uncommon in Sul. The kernels were solid. You know how usually when you bite into corn, the kernels kind of pop and let out juice? This didn’t happen with this corn. I think it might have been a little reminiscent of hominy, but it’s been so long since I’ve eaten hominy, that could be inaccurate. Honestly, I just didn’t like it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t my last time to eat it, upon our visits to see more of his family members, it was served again and again. Special for Summer Day. I’m not eating it next year.

When we were finally done with home visits and nasty corn, we headed out into the village for the bonfire(s). There was a small one up the road by Elsi’s parents’ house so we stopped off there first, and then headed down to the big one in the center of town. Before they lit it, it just looked like a big Christmas tree. I swear all they did was pile fresh branches on top of each other. All I could think was “That’s gonna smoke like crazy”…and it did.

The bonfire

All in all it turned out to be really fun. There was a tractor parked nearby that was blaring music, and the whole town came out. Even people from Bilisht headed on out to Sul for the bonfire so we had a pretty good crowd at the height of it. Apparently there’s a tradition that the newlyweds (or people that have been married in the last year) jump over the embers of the bonfire at the end to rid themselves of lice or bedbugs or some such and send them on to the people that get married over the next year so that the new newlyweds can’t sleep. I told his uncle that they probably weren’t sleeping much anyways if they were newlyweds and he smiled at me and told me that was the point. Oh….I get it now. Haha

The next morning for breakfast we had a traditional bread called Kulace, lakrore with beans, red-dyed eggs, and some other things. Baked inside the Kulace and the lakrore were two 50 leke pieces (one apiece), and both were cut into equal pieces for the number of people present. At breakfast we each searched our pieces for the leke, with the understanding that whoever found them would have good luck for the rest of the year. Happily, for me, I found the leke in my piece of Kulace, and Elsi’s brother Aldi got the leke in the lakrore. Yay for us!
Right before we left to head back to Bilisht Elsi’s mom wound together pieces of red and white embroidery thread to make bracelets for all of us. I still have yet to figure this one out completely. Apparently we wear them until we see a bird…do something? And then we cut off the bracelets and leave them in a tree for the bird to carry away. For what purpose I’m still not sure. I’ll get back to you on this one. Needless to say, I’m still wearing my bracelet almost a month later…


Posted by on April 11, 2012 in Uncategorized


The Winter I Went Into Hibernation

So I’ve been told that this winter was the worst in 30 years, and I believe it. It was COLD. I bought 5 cubic meters of wood for my wood stove and I thought I was going to run out. If you’ve never seen 5 cubic meters of wood stacked up, it’s a LOT. Not really sure how to describe it otherwise. Luckily, I made it through.

The snow piled up at my front door

The snow was beautiful, at first. Then, it just made it difficult to leave my house. I want to say that at one point we had about a meter and a half of snow piled up. Essentially, my calf high snow boots, as warm as they were, stopped being sufficient when the snow was high enough to fall inside them. Ignoring this fact, Elsi and I did have one snow day where we actually went out and played in the snow. A little nostalgic for my childhood, I wanted to roll a snowball that was bigger than me. (Harder to do now that I’m not 3 feet tall). We tried, but unfortunately, we failed. So, since we couldn’t roll our snowball any farther, what else could we do but climb on top of it and jump off? The snow was deep enough at that point that jumping off superman style and landing face first in the snow didn’t hurt at all. This of course resulted in a snow photo-shoot. It was hysterical and so much fun, and we were SOAKED by the time we came back inside. As much fun as it was, it was my last day to play in the snow, it was just too darned cold without a steady source of indoor heating!

Jumping off the Snowball

The snow and the cold also affected my electricity and water as well. There was one point where I had to travel to another town to take a shower because my pipes had been frozen for so long. Of course, as per the norm, my water came back on while I was gone. I was also very thankful for my wood stove when my power went out sporadically during the evenings. I cannot imagine relying on an electric heater, I would have frozen.
Sadly, in the beginning of February, my counterpart Sofika slipped on the ice outside of our office and broke her arm. This put me out of work for another month. So I spent most of my winter days studying for the MCAT and baking various foods that I’d never had the time before to make from scratch. One morning I spent 5 hours making orange cinnamon rolls. They may have been the most delicious things I’ve ever made. I’m going to have to see if I can alter the recipe to make it an overnight venture. I’d like to eat them for breakfast next time. Then for Valentine’s day Elsi and I made a feast including homemade french bread, pumpkin ravioli, spinach ravioli, broccoli, and 2 types of sauce. Delicious. I will be sad when I can no longer use my stove to cook in the summer.

Our Valentine's Feast


Posted by on April 11, 2012 in Uncategorized


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