Tag Archives: Travel

The Start To a Very Busy Summer

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So my summer vacation started off with a nice trip to Bucharest to visit Good ‘ol Dr. Dan. I think i have previously mentioned how my ankle has been bugging me more than usual lately and I needed to finally figure out why. I arrived in Bucuresti at about 8am to find out that it was going to be another hot as hell type of day. After cooling off from the early morning heat and hanging out in the PC lounge for a while, Lili, the medical assistant escorted me to get an ultrasound done. A short half an hour later, I was sitting back in Dr. Dan’s office while he was telling me that he wants me to stay off of it. Needles to say I laughed at his advice and told him there is simply no time for such a thing. The next plan of action is physiotherapy. GREAT!! [read: shit!]. apparently I have tendinitis along with what looks to be a possible cyst on my ankle and the sooner it gets taken care of the better. Please note my 20 free days this summer have now gone down to 15 due to the therapy which will require me to spend several days in Buc.

After a delicious Mexican lunch with a group 27 PCV Sara, I headed to Targoviste to visit none other than the best gazda family EVER! I walked in and was immediately greeted with hugs from the entire family and got to meet Denisa’s college roommate, Arletta, a 21 year old spunky Polish girl with a badass British accent. I spent Friday night catching up with the family and being in great company.

Saturday the girls and I headed off to Bran Castle so Arletta could experience some Dracula lore firsthand. We left hot and humid Targoviste and after a two hour car ride arrived at Bran only to be caught in the middle of the worst rain storm I’ve seen in country. We tried to wait out the rain for about an hour at a caffe but decided to brave the storm and head up to the castle. We got to the castle completely soaked and shivering but this was not going to stop us from having a good time. After touring the castle we headed back down the hill and that was when the hail started. When we got into the car we looked like we had just gotten thrown into a pool. After laughing at our misfortune we decided our best option was to strip to our bare essentials and slowly start on our way home. Most of our trip was driving through Arges county which is absolutely gorgeous. It is serpentine roads passing through mountain passes and quaint villages nestled next to flowing rivers. Since we were at such a high altitude we were driving through nothing but hail for over 2 hours. By the time we made it towards the end of the storm, we were passing former green pastures that were now covered in a sheet of white from the little ice balls of fury. 4 hours later, we made it back home only about 45 minutes before the storm.

Sunday was spent celebrating Iza’s birthday. After spending a majority of the morning and early afternoon getting ready and packing up everything that was needed, we headed off to Mamitica’s (grandma) house for a gratar (BBQ). We spent the day enjoying each other’s company over food, drinks, and later in the night some very… colorful folklore music.

This post finally brings us to today. I said bye to the gazda fam around 4 pm and hopped on a train to Bucuresti. I am now on my overnight train to pick up the girls in Budapest and can’t wait to reunite with them and show off the country that I have fallen in love with over the past year.

Total time spent on train this weekend: 18 hours, 11 more to go!

Until next time,
Va pup!

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Turkey

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So my trip to Turkey started off with me almost missing my flight from Belgrade. I kept on thinking the flight was at 4:55pm and it wasn’t until about 2pm, when I looked over my email, that I realized it was actually at 4:15pm. Without any hesitation I jumped up and started yelling to my aunt that we have to leave NOW. After a congested half hour drive through Fruška Gora’s one lane mountain roads, we finally made it to the highway and then to the airport exactly one hour before departure. Phew.

When I arrived in Istanbul I got my bearings and headed on the metro to the old historic part of the city, Sultanahmet, where our hostel was located. On my way to the hostel, I met a young Serbian man that was on my flight from Belgrade. As we kept talking, we discovered that we were staying at the same place which immediately made finding it that much easier.

I got to the hostel around 9pm and the girls and Aran were already there sitting on the rooftop terrace enjoying some traditional raki (Turkish liquor when mixed with water turns cloudy and tastes like black licorice). After settling in, we headed to dinner to celebrate Megan’s birthday and see the town a little bit. This is when we all learned how much Turkish men love blue eyes.

Day Two: Mosques and the Grand Bazaar

Day two started off with a short 5 minute walk to the Blue Mosque. To say this thing is big is an understatement. This was the first mosque I’ve ever been in so it was an interesting experience. We put our shawls on our heads, took off or shoes, and the ones that had bare legs were given skirts to put over themselves and headed inside. One of my favorite things about religious places is the wall art and there was no shortage here. I’m used to Orthodox churches that are covered with frescos of saints, apostles, and martyrs. The mosque walls were covered but with beautiful floral patterns in every shade of blue imaginable. The whole place gave off an air of calm and serenity even with the crowds of tourists everywhere.

The Hagia Sophia sits directly across from the Blue Mosque so naturally, this was our next stop. The thing that struck me the most about the Hagia Sophia is the sheer size of it. It was at one point the center of Christianity but i just never thought it would be THAT big. It was really interesting to see the mix of both religions present throughout the structure. There were frescoes of Jesus and St. John the Baptist right next to Islamic scriptures.

After leaving Aran and our new friend Srdjan, the girls and I decided to head back to the hostel and grab some lunch. When we got back to the hostel we ended up befriending a girl named Rebecca from Canada. We had some lunch and washed it down with apple tea (my newest obsession) and started off for the Grand Bazaar.

The Grand Bazaar was just as massive and congested as I imagined it would be. There was everything and anything available for a decent price if you could haggle for it. Here was when we first realized that all of the shop workers, which were male, used charm as their tactic of choice. We got called Spice Girls a countless number of times along with God only knows how many various celebrity names.

The rest of the day was just spent moseying which was followed by some dinner and more moseying.

Day Three: Baths and Birthdays

This day was our new friend Rebeca’s birthday so the only natural thing to do for your birthday would be go to a spa and we did just that. Just turn spa into Turkish bath. Entering into the location didn’t look very promising until we got inside of the women’s section. There were three floors of couches and different areas for pampering. The attendant gave us some bikini bottoms to put on and sent us upstairs to undress. When we got into the bath area there was a large circular heated marble plateau where a few women were already laying on. There was also a jacuzzi, mini heated pool, and areas for self bathing. Some of the girls decided to go for the full service and have an attendant bathe them but, as you all know I hate being touched, I decided to just bathe myself. We spent about an hour in the sauna of a room and then enjoyed some mud masks and finished it off with apple tea.

After the bath we made our way through the intertwining side streets of the city and ended up on the other end of the Golden Horn at the Spice Bazaar. The Spice Bazaar is just like the Grand Bazaar but not so…grand. We perused around and found a shop where we could buy some Turkish Delight and tea for a good price. After talking with the very nice store attendant (the only woman attendant that we saw) we learned that she was Romanian from Suceava. Talk about a small world!

Our last stop for the day was the Basilica Cistern. We did the most touristy thing we could think of here and that was to take a “Turkish” group picture. Aran dressed up as a Sultan and the girls dressed up as royalty. The best way to describe the cistern is to compare it to the dungeon in the Harry Potter movie when Harry battles the Basilisk.

By the time we got back to the hostel we had enough time to change and get ready to go out and celebrate Rebeca’s birthday. We went to Taksim which is known for it’s nightclubs and found a place for some more traditional Turkish food. After about an hour and a half and a large bottle of raki split between the seven of us, we started our search for a particular club of interest. An hour later, when we finally found it, it was closed. Bummer. We didn’t let our setback stop us at all. The rest of the night was spent bar hopping and trying out the local street food like muscles and Kokoreç aka sheep’s colon sandwiches which are actually extremely tasty!

Day Four: Asia

After a slow start due to the previous night’s late arrival, we got on a bus that was to take us to a boat for a Bospherus Straight tour. The tour lasted about 90 minutes and we got to see a lot of scenic buildings, great views, and learn many interesting facts about the city such as the fact that in Istanbul alone there are roughly 3,042 mosques, 120 churches, and 16 synagogues.

When the tour had finished we hopped off the bus at the harbor to grab some fish sandwiches. These aren’t your ordinary sandwiches. The fish is freshly caught and they are made on floating boats that act as kitchens. These boats aren’t very big so when one of the big ferries ports, they get thrown around in the current. I don’t know how those cooks manage to not get seasick everyday.

Our main goal for the day was to make it to Asia and we did just that. After a 15 minute ferry ride across the straight we reached another continent. Since Lindsay is part Japanese, we made sure to get our fair share of “motherland” comments in. After a short hour or so on the Asian side, we decided Europe was cooler and headed back.

Day four was a rough one so we took it easy that night and relaxed and went to bed early to prepare for  our last day in Istanbul.

Day Five: The Final Countdown

We were woken up to some awful weather that looked like it was sticking around but we powered through it and visited my most anticipated part of the trip; Topkapi Palace. The palace was turned into a museum a long time ago and holds some amazing historical treasures. What we thought was just going to be an hour long visit turned into about three hours. Some of the highlights we saw were Moses’ staff, Ștefan Cel Mare’s sword, and several artifacts that belonged to Muhammed the Prophet and his family. A fellow volunteer said it best when talking about the palace by saying that it is truly remarkable that someone so many years ago thought it was important to save items that represent the start of what was to become one of the world’s largest religions. Towards the end of our visit, as we were taking a group picture on a covered terrace overlooking the straight, a covered woman came up to me and asked me to take a picture with her. I was confused but then the 10 men she was with said I was a star. Um okay? After I took a picture with her, we asked her to take a picture with us and this is when the photo shoot started. Every single one of the men asked to take a picture with me and Aran managed to capture all of it. Who knew I would cause such a stir in the palace! We got to talking and I learned this group was from Iraq and was told that if I ever come to Iraq, I have a husband waiting for me. Super.

After leaving the palace we made our way back to the Grand Bazaar to pick up some knickknacks we had our eye on from our first trip and grab one last kebap and freshly squeezed cup of pomegranate juice before we packed up all of our belongings and said farewell to such a gorgeous city.

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Târgoviște

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Before my medical appointment in Bucharest, i decided to stop by my gazda’s in Targoviste for a few days. During this short visit, I have realized there are many things I love/miss about Targoviste.

the cafe on the corner where we uses to buy covridogs. It has now turned into a pizzaria/shaorma-ria

The familiar smell of my bedroom

My gazda bunica and how freaking cute she is

How hysterical my gazda dad is

My gazda mom’s cooking

The army of stray dogs hanging out on my street

The old city center

Hanging out in Chindia park

Picnics by the lake

And finally PST. It was such a great time being here with my entire group for 2 whole months. Now that the summer is coming, I’m starting to get homesick for all the great times we had together.

La Sfârşitul Lumii

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La sfarsitul lumii means at the end of the world and that is exactly where I went to celebrate my Thanksgiving weekend. Kelly lives in a little village called Focuri which literally means fires. She is about 45km outside of Iasi, the second largest city in Romania. I left for my adventure immediately after school on Thursday. With my backpack in tow, I headed to the main corner where one picks up rides that are leaving the city. I found a ride within 10 minutes and headed to the train station in Ilva Mica. After waiting for about 40 minutes for the train to Pascani, I finally got on the train and then proceeded to defrost my body for the next hour or so. Nothing unusual came out of the train ride, random bunicas (grandmas) talking to me and inquiring where i’m going, why i’m going then finding out i’m not a native speaker which just opens the floodgates to even more follow up questions. Since I was not going to be able to make it to Kelly’s site in one travel day, my stop, 5.5 hours later was Pascani, the home of two very wonderful volunteers that would also be attending our Thanksgiving feast name Theron and Sarah.

The following morning, the three of us got up around 8 and headed for the train station to meet the others in Iasi. Our train arrived 1.5 hours later and we were greeted on the platform by Kelly and another volunteer Matt. Our first order of business was getting a little taste of America by patroning the McDonald’s that is right next to the train station. The rest of our time spent in Iasi was shopping at the ginormous grocery store that Carrefour has made at the edge of the city and being astonished that they actually carried sweet potatoes since no one knows what sweet potatoes are and they assume they are regular potatoes you just put sugar on. We caught the last bus out of Iasi at 5pm and headed to Focuri. After about half an hour on the bus, the asphalt stopped and we knew we had officially entered no man’s land. The last hour of the bus ride was spent bobbing up and down and trying to figure our exact location based on the minimal outside lighting.

Saturday rolled around and the last two members of our Thanksgiving Day Extravaganza arrived which brought our party’s total to 9 PCVs in a house that was built for far less and for hobbits under 5ft tall. Since the kitchen we were to use was a very cozy 6×6 foot space, and the stove could only accommodate about 1 item at a time, we had to start cooking fairly early. at 11am, we started off with the apple pie to get it out of the way. When we started our cooking, we did not anticipate that we would be cooking until 8pm ish. After the turkey had been taken out of the oven and the side dishes were underway, we were graced by the wonderful Thanksgiving Gods and the power went out on the whole street. Since we didn’t really have a choice and Kelly’s host’s oven/stove runs on gas, we continued cooking, mainly in the dark with the only light being from the flashlights on our cheap first generation Nokia phones. We managed to carve the Turkey, set the table, finish all the sides, and dish out the food all in the dark and we finally sat down to dinner around 8pm. Eating in the dark was definitely an interesting experience.

I don’t know if it was because of the lack of light, the fact that we all missed our friends and family back home, or the fact that we actually made delicious meals, but the food was extrodinary. Everything was made from absolute scratch and every bite tasted even better than the last. We went around the table and said what we are thankful for and I shared with the group that this was my first real American Thanksgiving. Being foreign and what not, my family doesn’t really celebrate Thanksgiving that much. The reason why we started eating a turkey for the holiday was because my dad would get them free from work. Every Thanksgiving that I have been to was never a dinner but more of a lunch, which to me, just didn’t seem quite authentic. On top of that, every single one had at least one Serbian dish that just didn’t fit the typical Thanksgiving menu.

Travelling a total of 24 hours within a 3 day span was quite exhausting but so worth it. I’m so happy I got to spend the holiday with such great people that have become my Romanian family.

 

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Moldova Language Weekend

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This year, PCRO is trying out a new thing when it comes to language and cultural training. The staff in the Bucharest has opted to give us the option of creating our own language weekends and to structure them how we see fit which I think is a great idea. This weekend, about 8 PCVs from groups 28 and 27 descended on to Suceava for a language/culture weekend that Melissa put together. Our plan was to make our way around Suceava county visiting as many famous painted Monasteries as daylight would allow. A little history about the monasteries: During the late 15th to 16th centuries when the Ottoman Empire was trying its hardest to conquer as much land as possible, Ștefan Cel Mare (Stephan the Great), the ruler of Moldova at the time, was the one who withheld the Turks for the longest period of time. Winning 46 out of his 48 battles, he would erect a church after every battle since the war was so heavily guided by religion. There are 8 churches within Suceava county that are UNESCO world heritage sites. The locations we visited were Putna, Sucevița, Moldovița, and Voroneț.

Putna

Putna – Ștefan Cel Mare built this monastery in about 1466 and it was then later rebuilt several times due to fires and other events that destroyed it. This monastery is very important because it houses the tomb of not only Ștefan Cel Mare, but also many of his family members. The legend of Putna Monastery has it that after defeat that left him severely wounded, Ștefan Cel Mare wandered the land until he reached the home of Danil the Hermit who took him in patched up his wounds. One day, Danil took Ștefan outside and pointed to a spot amongst the mountains and asked Ștefan if he saw anything. The third time the hermit asked, Ștefan said that he saw lights. The hermit told him that those were not lights but angels and if he was going to defeat his enemies, he would need to build a monastery on that very spot.  The next day, Ștefan headed to the top of a mountain and shot 3 arrows. Where the arrows landed, he built the alter, belfry, and gate.

Marginea

Marginea –Along with its many artistic monasteries, the northern Moldova region is also known for his black ceramic pottery. On our way to Suceavița, we stopped at a ceramic workshop in the sleepy town of Marginea. We got to browse around around a bit take in the beauty of the dark clay.

Sucevița

Sucevița – Another UNESCO site, built in 1583, this monastery was one of my favorites. The ornate paintings on the wall were absolutely beautiful. This church is actually the only church in the area that was not founded by a ruling prince but was rather founded by 3 brothers. Although related to Petru Rareș ( the illegitimate son of Ștefan Cel Mare) on their mothers side, these three brothers ended up becoming well known rulers within the country after the building of the church. The church is dedicated to the resurrection and the main color used for the outside paintings is sea foam green. One of the large side walls shows St. John’s ladder into heaven that is very impressive and one of the attraction points of the church.

Moldovița

Moldovița –  Moldovița was founded by Petru Rareș (the illegitimate son of Ștefan Cel Mare) in 1532. This church is dedicated to the annunciation and one of the side walls contains the entire Tree of Jesse. The predominant color used on these walls is a rich golden yellow.

Voroneț

Voroneț –This monastery was our final stop and we definitely saved the best for last. When walking onto the grounds, there is nothing all that special about the church or surrounding areas. the church itself has become prisoner to some torentious wind throughout the years and most of the pictures have faded with the north wall nearly all washed away. The saving grace to this church is not only that it is dedicated to St. George, only the best saint ever in my book, but the mural that is very visible on the west wall of the church. That mural was the most extravagent and interesting peice of artwork that I saw the entire weekend and I was stunned. With its main color a shade of blue that has become known as Voroneț blue, the whole wall depicts the last judgement with such great detail one can stare up at it for hours without a falter in amazement.

To see the rest of the pictures for this past weekend, click the link below:

Moldovan Language Weekend Pictures

Traveling

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In the past few days I have spanned close to 600km. I set out on my journey to Piatra Neamț at 9:30am Sunday morning where I hopped on my first train of 4 for the day that would take me 8km south to the station in Ilva Mica that acts as a hub. I was on the train with another elderly couple. The old man got to talking to me and in typical Romanian fashion, started asking me personal questions right off the bat. He was very nice and told me that if I am ever at the seaside, to give him and his wife a call and I could stay at their house. He wrote down all of his info including name,address,home phone, and cell and handed me the paper while his wife just looked on like he was crazy. After buying my ridiculously expensive train ticket to Piatra, I waited in the station for about an hour and a half. My train pulled up and I found a free spot in a compartment that already had two younger men in it. I sit down and before I even got situated, the 30something looking man that was sleeping when I walked in immediately sprung to life and I entered the four most annoying hours in Romania that I have experienced so far. The man had a really thick Moldovan accent and he sounded like he was speaking half Romanian half Russian at the time. After some basic conversation I kept on telling him I didn’t understand what he was talking about but that didn’t seem to bother him. He asked me how to say things like you are beautiful and I love you and told me he has never seen an american before. About an hour in, he left to go smoke and I took the opportunity to not just put my earphones in to show that I didn’t want to talk to him anymore, but also pulled up a book on my phone and started reading. In a normal world, a person would not usually disturb someone when they are reading let alone when that person does not actually know the individual. Well… Not in Romania! He started talking to me and I turned the other way and pretended like I didn’t hear him. He then tried playing with my fingertips and poking my hand, I gave him a nasty look and continued reading. He did it again and I gave him another look and said (in english) stop already! He didn’t… I had nowhere to move since the train was full and I knew I was in it till the end. About 2.5 hours into the 4 hour ride, an old man carrying his only piece of luggage which was a two foot long salami came into the compartment and this man’s presence occupied annoying man for the time being. During their conversation, I noticed annoying man was telling salami man about me. He tapped me on the foot and said to me “tell me you love me in English.” I responded with a no and then he asked “de ce?” which means why and my response was “nu vreu” which means i don’t want to and went back to listening to my music while salami man was now laughing at annoying man. Salami man left shortly after and annoying man asked me when I’m going to tell him I love him and I responded with “niciodata” (never) and that was the end of the conversation. He didn’t talk to me much the rest of the time he decided he was going to lay down and just stare at me as I read which was fine by me as long as he didn’t talk anymore. Below you will find a picture of annoying man as he was staring at me.

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When I got off in Suceava, I only had a half hour wait at the station for my next train so luckily nothing too interesting happened. My ride from Suceava to Bacau took about two hours and it was on a very nice intercity train with a/c and all! I got off in Bacau and had about an hour wait until I was to board my last and final train that would take me to Berta’s site. While i was waiting in the station I struck up a conversation with a girl who looked like she was American. And she was! She was a PCV from Ukraine on vacation and was on her way to Brașov by the most ridiculous way possible. She had about 5 hours to kill do I got in touch with a PCV from group 27 who came out and I’m assuming met up with her since I had to leave shortly after meeting her.

On my train to Piatra, I had my last and final meeting of the trip. I was on the phone with a PCV when I noticed the two little children in front of me kept on looking back at me and giggling. Later on in the ride, their grandma came over to me with them and started telling me how they live in the states and know english. The little girl whom the grandma told me was 5 years old didn’t want to speak English so I asked her in Romanian why she didn’t want to speak English with me and she got so shy and scarred, ran behind grandmas leg and shook her head while saying “nu”. The boy, who was 6.5 did speak with me and I found out they are from New Jersey and are returning back to the states in a week. The rest of the ride was spent with the little girl peaking over her seat to look at me and giggling.

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That’s all the stories I have for you now. I’ll post a separate post about my adventures in Piatra Neamț.

Va Pup!

Back to Civilization

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So here I am, sitting at my kitchen table listening to Prince, and waiting for my pasta to boil in the apartment where I will spend the next two years of my life. Looking back on since the last time I posted, so many amazing things have happened! I left off telling you all about swear in and how fun that whole event was.  I returned to Targoviste Friday afternoon hung out, napped, and packed. I treated my host family to a goodbye and thank you dinner that night. I let them pick where they wanted to go and we went to a restaurant called Panorama which is up on very large hill that overlooks the entire city. The view was phenomenal and I felt like a local when I ran into Jeremy’s host sister who is a waitress there. When we got back, they  came into my room and gave me a goodbye present and that is when the waterworks started flowing. To think, three months ago, a family took a random American stranger into their house in hopes that she will somehow benefit their country.  During my time with the Ionescu family, I have experienced a great deal within the city and southern region of Romania. They have taught me so much and I consider them my Romanian family.

 

My host parents, Ion and Mariana dropped me off at the train station at 4am and I, along with Ester, Nick, and Jessica set out on our train ride to Ploiesti.  After about a 2 hour train ride, Ester and I got off at Ploiesti sud and there we waiting for our train that was going to take us to the GLOW camp. We had a blast riding the various trains that were constructed most likely during the 60s or 70s. After a total of 11 hours of traveling, we finally made it to Simbrea where we had Miha, one of the amazing host country nationals that organized this camp along with Gretchen, a 26er pick us up.

 

The next week was spent with some of the most amazing girls I have ever gotten the privilege to meet and work with. The girls came from all over the country and it was so refreshing to see such energy and potential in all of them. Throughout the week we worked on things one would work on in a leadership camp; girl power, communication, leadership skills, sex education, teamwork, and project development.  Sheila, our Country Director, and Libby, the U.S. Ambassador’s wife joined us for two days to work on our community project (mosaic in front of the local high school and sprucing up the main hall) and teach the girls about project development and how to implement what they have learned. By the time Friday night came around, and the girls were having to say bye to each other, everyone was sad to go, including the counselors. I am so glad to have met Gretchen and Chelsea, the group 26ers which are on their way out and wish we could have been able to work together more. I did get to know Miha, and her friend Ale which are both very creative and are the backbone of the GLOW camp. I hope to work with them so we can have a repeat next summer.

 

After another 11 hour train ride, I arrived in Ilva Mica at 4:09am where my community counterpart’s husband picked me up. As soon as my made it through my apartment door I crashed. When I woke up I started to unpack and take care of some housekeeping. I learned that I did not have a gas tank for my stove yet, and only had water in the kitchen sink. I finally found the valve for the bathroom water and as i turned it on, i heard a loud ::whoosh:: and got soaked. Apparently, the random little faucet that sticks out of the wall that was used for the previous tenants’ washing machine does not close all the way and not only did I get a surprise shower, my entire bathroom, floor to ceiling, and part of my hallway did too.  After 3 days, I finally got it fixed so i was able to take a proper shower yesterday which was the most glorious thing I have experienced in the past 2 weeks. Today I finally got someone to help me with hooking up the butane tank to my stove and I was able to cook my first real meal! No more bread and zacusca (ajvar for you serbs) for me!

 

My First Real Meal

 

I am slowly but surely starting to move get aquainted with my town. Tonight, if the rain lets up, my community counterpart, Loredana, and I have a date to take a walk around the town away from the 2 main streets that I have already learned. Below you’ll find some pictures from swear in and camp.

 

Until next time,

Va Pup!!!!

 

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