Friday, January 31, 2014

EuroTrip Adventuretime 2013/2014! Part II

(Part I here)

Remember The Best Christmas Present Ever? The reason I found myself crying on some Hungarian side street at 5AM Christmas morning? The reason I left Budapest a day early (and missed both the hot springs and ice skating that the other three did that day)? Well, as I was freaking out about leaving The Best Christmas Present Ever all alone in Vienna on Christmas day because I'd be so late, The Best Christmas Present Ever was also crying about leaving me alone in Vienna on Christmas day because she would be so late.

We had agreed to meet at our hotel at 9:00 Christmas morning. (My train would arrive in town at 8:30 and her flight would land at 8:00.) But the best-laid schemes of Mice and Men (and Optimists) oft go awry. When I got to the hotel at 1PM, I logged into the wifi to discover that The Best Christmas Present Ever's flight had be cancelled. CANCELLED. Thankfully, she managed to get on a flight to Dusseldorf (to at least get to the continent) where she would try to find a connection. And that was the last communique we had. I settled into our hotel room, raided the mini fridge, and prepared for an interminable wait until I heard from her. Which she had no chance to do until she walked into our room at 6PM (just when I was getting absolutely desperate for food).

Obviously, there's no recording of what happened when she walked in the door. But it looked a little bit like this:

And some of this:

And all was well in the world.

Emily had to go through four airlines, a ten-hour layover in Dusseldorf, and her luggage was no where to be found. But she made it, and we were together for the first time in nine months, one week, and one day. And she really was The Best Christmas Present Ever. And we snuggled, and we talked, and we fell asleep holding hands.

EuroTrip Adventuretime 2013/2014! Part I

This past holiday season, I went on a trip with three other volunteers: Megan (aka best-site-mate-ever), Kate, and Danielle. (Shoutout to Danielle for planning the whole thing, which was a Christmas miracle gift in itself.) We were out of Albania for two whole weeks, exploring and travelling and walking and eating and playing and getting lost in three gorgeous countries. But first, we had to get out of country.

In perhaps one of the best photos of the trip, Megan captures a candid moment between Kate and Mary while waiting for the airport "shuttle" (come on, I can't actually call it a shuttle when it's a hot pink Italian mini bus) to depart.

We made it to the airport! Be aware, however, that that is not a Christmas tree but a New Year's tree.

As the Oregon fan said, Sad Wisconsin Fan is Sad.

Thankfully, regardless of football rivalries, we still like each other. See: back rubs. Because our flight was late and because I'm pretty sure that it was only late because it was someone's coffee break. 

Due our flight out of Tirana departing late, we missed our connection. We were stuck in the Vienna airport for a few hours, whereupon Megan and Kate celebrated being out of country for the first time in 9 months with real Austrian beer! Look at those excited faces! Also, there was the cutest puppy I've ever seen and we made fools of ourselves playing with it on the floor of the cafeteria. 

(Also, side note: when you miss a flight, please, just be nice to the folks who have to try and make another connection for you. Because honestly? This may shock you, but they had nothing to do with you missing your flight in the first place. And they're trying to help you. So stop being an ass and acting like you're more important than the other fifty people in line and be thankful that in a foreign country, everyone speaks your language so you don't have to learn theirs. I think all four of us were actually cringing as we witnessed this, and wanted nothing more than to run up to the counter and apologize for all idiot Americans in the history of idiots in airports everywhere. But I digress.)

We finally made it out of Vienna to our final destination: 

BUDAPEST midnight. Which was totally fine, because we got to explore the city light beneath millions of Christmas lights in the brisk non-Mediterranean winter weather. Although I'm pretty sure I'm the only on who really enjoyed the latter.

And why go out of country if not to celebrate with disgusting delicious American food? Guilty. None of us actually enjoy double cheeseburgers from McDonald's in the States, but those burgers were divine.

First morning out in the city! We stayed in a great hostel right downtown by the Christmas markets. Behind us (and in the pic above) is St. Stephen's Cathedral (which you'll see more of in a bit) but more importantly: STARBUCKS.

Artisan shops in the Christmas market, selling everything from those amazing fruit/cinnamon good-smelly things to hand-tooled slippers and purses. And chocolate. 

In the midst of such a beautiful city, I must admit I was most taken with these fantastic food stalls in the markets. Every single surface was decorated with festive charm - so even though the lines were often 15 minutes long, at least you had a crap ton of beautiful stuff to stare at. (Getting a giant brat or a giant bread bowl of hot goulash at the end of the wait didn't hurt either.)

Some mulled wine, which smelled heavenly. I even - gasp! - tasted some when one batch was so sweet that the girls didn't think there was any alcohol in it. (Lol, there was. Oops.)

Because, obviously.

The first day we took an awesome walking tour through Buda and Pest with our guide, whose name was Rudolph (he and I bonded over our Christmas-themed names). The little chubby guy (not our guide) will allegedly give you good luck in love if you rub his belly or twirl his mustache. (The jury's still out on that one.)

St. Matthias Church on the Pest side, overlooking the Parliament building and the Danube. All the churches and cathedrals in that part of the world are topped with the most stunning designs in multi-colored ceramic tiles. Seriously gorgeous.

The Hungarian Parliament Building on the (beautiful blue) Danube. It's the second largest parliament building on the European continent.

Stopping for coffee and pastries to warm up after our walking tour. Budapest's poppy seed Christmas rolls are insanely good. And I need to find a recipe, because, dang.

Oh hey, look who we ran into! Another PCV! (Sorry for the awkward picture, James...) Our second night in the city we found a great little pub, and everyone else tried the raki of Hungary, palinka.

Palinka being much more enjoyable than raki, apparently.

I just need a second to give Danielle another shoutout, because she could understand the city. I have never in my life been so turned around in a city. I was completely unable to orient which the girls can attest, because it freaked me out and I complained about it constantly. (Sorry, girls.) But seriously, it threw me for a serious loop and I hated it. But Danielle had that city down!

 Christmas Eve was my last day in Budapest (the other girls stayed a day longer while I went on ahead for The Best Christmas Present Ever), so Megan and I attended Midnight Mass at St. Stephen's.

Insanely full, but spectacular. Of course we couldn't understand the service, but the idea of celebrating Christmas in a storied old cathedral with hundreds of others was comforting and heartwarming. And then they ended the service with the Hallelujah Chorus, which of course I freaked out about and loved.

Merry Christmas morning (2AM)! Megan and I heading home after mass...where we got locked out of our hostel. Because the night guard fell asleep and the bell wasn't working. True story.

(Don't worry, we made enough noise to attract others inside who woke him. We were only outside 15 minutes, which was plenty enough time to make us go crazy, uncontrollably laughing at the absurdity of the situation. "Hey Megan, remember that Christmas in Budapest when we got locked out of our hostel at two in the morning?")

I was going to catch a 6AM train to go to my next stop (yes, an insane idea), but remember that whole part about me not being able to navigate in that damnng city? I kept ending up at the river - opposite of the direction I was supposed to go - and so I ended up crying on the side of some street at 5:50AM Christmas morning when I realized I would totally miss my train.

Regardless of all that, though (I caught another train at 9:30), Budapest is the city from the trip that I would totally live in. If only to get the directions down.

Thanks for a magical Christmas, Budapest!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Death Comes...


...For the Archbishop. Doesn't that sound like a horror story or something macabre by Poe? Really, it's an adorable book about the Archbishop of New Mexico (based on the real-life first Archbishop of New Mexico, Jean-Baptiste Lamy) reviewing his life as a pioneer, written by one of my very favorite great American authors, Willa Cather. Seriously, her writing is meant to be read out loud. Listen read:

"It was early when the Spanish Cardinal and his guests sat down to dinner. The sun was still good for an hour of supreme splendour (sic), and across the shining folds of country the low profile of the city barely fretted the skyline - indistinct except for the dome of St. Peter's, bluish grey like the flattened top of a great balloon, just a flash of copper light on its soft metallic surface...this time in the later afternoon, the vehemence of the sun suggested motion. The light was full of action and had a peculiar quality of splendid finish... It bored into the ilex trees, illuminating their mahogany trunks and blurring their dark foliage; it warmed the bright green of the orange trees and the rose of the oleander blooms to gold; sent congested spiral patterns quivering over the damask and plate and crystal." (pg. 4)

Emily is such a good sport and let me read aloud to her in the airport at one in the morning...more on that later.

"One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love... [Miracles] seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always." (pg. 50)

Ok, so Cather's a bit of an early American romantic, but when you write such amazing works of literary beauty, you can afford to. (Also, props to using big words and long phrases yet somehow avoiding to sound pretentious.)

"North of Laguna two Zuni runners sped by them, going somewhere east... They saluted Eusabio by gestures with the open palm, but did not stop. They coursed over the sand with the fleetness of young antelope, their bodies disappearing and reappearing among the sand dunes, like the shadows that eagles cast in their strong, unhurried flight." (pg. 235)

She is not without fault, and romanticizes the intrusion of Americans into the areas of New Mexico, Arizona, and southern Colorado as "progress". But at the same time, she demonstrates an appreciation for the unique culture of the area and her desire for it to be preserved, and does not fail to represent the full spectrum of humanity as portrayed by Hopi and Navajo, Rancher and Priest alike. So, needless to say, I'm a bit torn about how I am to interpret this book because it's sorta heavy on the "white man's burden" but it's also freaking BEAUTIFUL.

I also just realized that in order to read 75 books in a year, that's more than one per week, and I'm already behind. Oops.

P.S. Wondering wtf is an ilex tree? Me too. Apparently it's just the fancy Latin for the holly tree.

P.P.S. I tried to read Chuck Palahniuk's "Choke" next, but jk lol why did I think that was going to happen? I mean, the dude wrote "Fight Club" and I was surprised by how, um, nasty this book was. I got four and a half chapters in before I threw in the proverbial towel. Just, no.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Bibliomania 2014, or How I Plan to Spend Too Much Time Reading Again This Year

Seeing as I read a moderately insane amount this past year, I've decided to up my game. Fifty books is weak. (Although each Game of Thrones should count for at least two books each, which would put my count at sixty, but I digress.) We're going for 75 books this year! Which is an entirely insane amount. Most of the books on the list below are titles that I am either embarrassed or ashamed (or an awkward combination of both) that I have not read. Oops.

1. A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking

2. The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon

3. The Brother Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

4. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller (fun fact: it was almost called Catch-18, but it was too much like something else that had just been released. How serendipitous, then, because Catch-22 is definitely, um, catchier.)

5. The Cider House Rules - John Irving

6. The Color Purple - Alice Walker (fun fact: I once wrote a paper in high school about synesthesia called The Color Eight. Or was it The Number Purple? I can't remember. But it was clever and I was obscenely proud of it.)

7. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

8. Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather (My Antonia is one of my favorites. Except as I was reading it I found out I was pronouncing "Antonia" wrong, and now the title sounds all awkward in my brain.)

9. Everything is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer (fun fact: the most I have ever cried during a book was when I read Safran Foer's other famous work, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, when I was 16 and in Destin for spring break. ANGST. And hormones.)

10. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

11. Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes

12. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

13. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (Somehow I've made it through East of Eden but have managed to avoid this one for years...)

14. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

15. The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton (or I could just buckle down and finish The Age of Innocence.)

16. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou (fun fact: she's 6'3" and wears high heels to all her speaking engagements which is totally badass.)

17. In Cold Blood - Truman Capote (because Breakfast at Tiffany's is so cliché, ugh.) (sarcasm font)

18. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo (because I can recite the entire musical and so I owe the original book some love.)

19. The Mill on the Floss - George Eliot

20. On the Road - Jack Kerouac (fun fact: I DO NOT WANT TO READ THIS. Caps for emphasis. But I'd be a horrible bibliophile if I never read any Kerouac.)

21. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey

22. Oryx & Crake - Margaret Atwood

23. The Second Sex - Simone de Beauvoir (fun shamefully embarrassing fact: I'm a Gender & Women's Studies major and I haven't read this yet. FOR. SHAME.)

24. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

25. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen (I've already read Persuasion, P&P, Emma, and Mansfield Park. Two to go!)

26. Slaughterhouse-5 - Kurt Vonnegut

27. The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner

28. The Stranger - Albert Camus

29. Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

30. Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston

So that's thirty. Which means I've only got to find another 45.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Numbers of 2013

ONE (1)
brand-new language
parent's wedding (congrats, Dad!)
hole in the ground

TWO (2)
jobs (I miss you, WWHF!)
months preparing for the craziest adventure of my life

languages (tres lenguas) (tre gjuhas)
missed weddings (sad face)
visitors from home

FIVE (5) (give or a take a few)
new crazy wonderful counterpart/coworkers

SIX (6)
hours hitchhiking down south for the Fourth of July
countries (and 10 planes and 3 trains)

care packages

new Facebook friends

books (since I left the US)
...or about 30,000 pages

blog views (!!!)

...speaking of which, I need a new url. Heck, I'd even change the name of my blog. Any suggestions?