Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 27 and so far it seems to be going well. In honor of being a year older, I thought I'd take a stab at writing a few more posts than I have in the last few months. Which shouldn't be too hard.
My birthday started a few days early, first with a girl's afternoon to see Snow White and the Hunstman, and then for frozen yogurt after. Everyone enjoyed the movie, especially having no naysayers along to insert complaints about Kristin Stewart.
Jordan also took me out for a fondue dinner, with fries on the side La Swise style.
We also enjoyed some fancy tea at a coffee shop after dinner.
On my actual birthday morning we had a delicious breakfast of donuts and Doug's special potatoes.
And what's that present?
It's the only Cap'n Crunch in Amman!
Jordan also gave me this beautiful collection of jewelery, picked up here and there on our travels.
We enjoyed a hamburger dinner, and then who showed up?
It's Brendan! And see how happy Toby is for everyone to be home. He's singing!
Here we are enjoying Brendan's birthday present, which he brought himself from the states.
Yes, I'm looking worried. But it's okay, because there were still birthday cupcakes leftover.
What else did Brendan bring from the States? A beautiful Kindle from everyone!
Look, it matches!
A few days before we left Korea, Jordan and I started a "Photo of the Day" project. Amazingly, it was only a year ago that we left Korea which we can now celebrate with a set of 365 photos. Our accomplishment I feel is only ho hum, since most people who accomplish this project do so without visiting half of Europe and SouthEast Asia. Next time perhaps we'll focus more on the everyday side of life.
I got a new dress. This is very exciting because for the last year I've been limited to about two outfits. Before that, I was trying to wear out my clothes so that when we left Korea I could leave them and not feel bad (I didn't). So I haven't done any real shopping since before I can remember. This has been kind of a big change and can be contrasted with my freshman year of college when I had so many clothes that I didn't do laundry for three months.
However I have recently added the first of some new things to my wardrobe.
Check out those stylish chaco tans!
Let's revisit what I've been wearing for the last year. A long time ago, Jordan conviced me that I should wear normal traveling pants.
Eventually I decided I really wasn't a traveling pants kind of person. Also that flannel shirt really didn't fit. I traded in my traveling pants for these excellent ones that were made in Vietnam.
Sadly, they ripped, so I traded them in for these stylish polka dot shorts (shirt courtesy of my mom).
Also, in Malaysia I bought this nice shirt:
which you have to admit is perfect for petting goats in.
When it was cold I looked like this (thanks Mom for that fleece):
or this (also, thanks for that nice black scarf):
And when it rained I looked like this:
This was my outfit when we were on the go:
It also worked well when you want to blend in:
or stand out:
And this outfit worked well for a picnic:
And a hike:
Jordan looked like this:
He takes traveling outfits seriously.
A little movie I made about our trip.
Or: That Time We Went to Bulgaria
The trip to Bulgaria was much more exciting than I had anticipated. It was our last train ride in Europe, heading out from Belgrade in Serbia to our final destination Sofia. Based on our other train rides through the Baltic states I imagined that the ride would be very hot and rather long. It turned out instead to be full of smugglers.
We were sharing a compartment with a couple from Australia, when a little more than half way into the trip two old ladies barged in with lots of bags. They had lots of bags. And they were sharing the room with 4 backpackers, so that's saying something. Despite helping them to get all their possessions stored in the racks, for the next hour or two the ladies would take turns jumping up and doing something, whether going out into the hallway for two minutes and then coming back, or trying to rearrange their bag. Of course rearranging the bag required them to stand on the seat, and they would sometimes shoo us out so they could thoroughly move their bag from here to there. And back again. At one point one of them took a smaller bag out of their bag and stuffed it behind Jordan's backpack, giving him a wink and putting her finger to her lip to indicate that it was "their little secret."
It was all a little disconcerting when compared to the peace we had been enjoying earlier.
Eventually we reached the Bulgarian border, which meant we were headed back in the EU which we had been out of for a few countries. The nice thing about going over the border on the train in Europe is that they don't make you get off the train. Instead, the customs officials come to you. What an idea! So you can just keep watching the movie on your iPod while they try and figure out what's going on.
In this case we were still sitting around long after they had run off and run back with our passports. So I looked out of our cabin into the hallway and realized the officials were back and they had taken the ceiling off from the neighboring compartment. Quick discussion amongst our cabin, with a tip from a fellow German traveler from a different compartment, determined that they were checking for cigarettes. The ladies sharing our space at this point were looking very nonchalant.
Eventually the officials came and kicked us out of our room so they could take the ceiling off and check for illegal contraband. One of them was holding a small bag of confiscated cigarettes. They didn't find any in our ceiling. Once the train started moving again though, it became apparent that a) just checking the ceiling was perhaps not very thorough and b) everyone on the train was smuggling cigarettes. As the train chugged into Bulgaria the hallways and compartments took on the feeling of an Easter morning with everyone going around and reaching their hands into unnoticed nooks and crannies and pulling out cartons of cigarettes. The ladies in our compartment pulled back their stash from behind Jordan's backpack, untied nylons stuffed with their spoils from around their waists and then relaxed and made no more movements for the rest of the ride, having successfully smuggled their goods over the border.
Unfortunately for Belgrade, someplace had to come after Sarajevo and it was unlucky enough to be the next stop. It was another hot and long train trip, but instead of ending up in a surprisingly wonderful place, this time the unknown turned out to be less desirable. To illustrate this, all over Europe I've been taking jumping pictures in front of famous monuments. This is the one I took in Belgrade:
It's not really fair to the city, as they did have some more scenic places than these smokestacks, but they were my first impression of the city. The place we were staying was a little out of the city center in a new apartment development that looked like it had been airlifted right from Korea, which had a nice homey feeling, but the downside was that it was surrounded by flat, empty land and those smokestacks. So after the beautiful hills of Sarajevo it was a bit of a downer.
Once we managed to get into the city, it was nice. We took a little boat ride across the river and had a nice dinner, since food had gotten significantly cheaper as we travelled south and east through Europe.
They had a very nice citadel which we walked through at dusk, watching the sunset over the meeting of the two rivers (Danube and Sava).
Overall, not really a bad place, definetly with some interesting moments. Is it a coincidence that my least favorite place in Europe came right after my favorite? It could be, but then the same was true in Asia with Taiwan being our standout and then Vietnam becoming notorious as my least favorite place on the planet. There was probably little hope for either Vietnam or Belgrade coming in the trip plan when they did, but Belgrade at least tried to redeem itself.
We arrived to Sarajevo after a long and very hot train ride. The train ride was long enough and hot enough to make me doubt my true desires to visit such a place. I didn't know much about it. Our planning process for this trip consisted mostly of finding the biggest cities and going to them. Then, Jordan snuck a few obscure places in because he likes the road less traveled. I prefer the road to be air conditioned.
However, sometimes a little sweat is in fact worth it (don't tell Jordan I said so), because if you were to ask, "Of all the places you visited, where would you most like to live?" Sarajevo would likely be my answer.
Sarajevo, it turns out, is something like a Superhome, hiding in the mountains of the Baltic. I dubbed it Superhome the first morning we were walking around because it reminded me of many places I think of as home. It remineded me most strongly of La Paz, since the city sits in a valley and sprawls upward and at night the lights glisten from the hills.
Also, the minarets popping up all over the place reminded me of all the wonderful time I've spent in Jordan (with Jordan).
And the European flair reminds me of the home I didn't really know, but have overly romanticized in my head, in Slovenia.
The hostel we stayed at, despite claiming to be up a small hill, was in fact most of the way up the side of the mountain. However, the hike was really worth it when you got to look out this window whenever you wanted.
We even had a pleasant time eating with the locals some mysterious food, which turned out to be sausages.
Yum, is it dinnertime yet?
Also, Sarajevo had the most delicious water we encountered. Always really cold and they had fancy fountains all over town to get a drink (also lots of misters).
Overall, definitely a highlight of our trip.
Most of days during our two months in Europe were cool, even cold at some points. This was good because I've become somewhat incapable of withstanding heat, particularily if the sun is out. If I'm honest, I don't even really like the sun. I mean I like it fine when it's far away, but I don't really appreciate when the Earth tilts and it comes closer and tries to burn the brain right out of your head. This is why in Zagreb I behaved mostly like a vampire and refused to go outside during the day and instead hid inside where the sun could not find me.
A picture I did not take because you'll notice the sun has bleached the sky with it's intensity:
Instead, I come out at dusk when the sky is nicer:
Things get even better when the sky is black:
If you must go outside during the day, head for the cathedral to cool off. I have been known to attend a church service just to sit in the cool air.
Also, Tangerine Schwepps can be delicious and cool:
And I've even been known to eat salad when the mercury on the thermometer gets high enough:
One of the most unifying things as we traveled across Europe this summer was the takeover of the Smurf movie. Everywhere we looked we could see blue. The weirdest thing about it, was despite Smurf being a made-up word, most countries seemed to enjoy making up their own word for small, blue creatures.
Czech totally wins.
They seemed to know it too, because in Prague they had so much love for their smous that they filled their old square with a giant blue ball and people, do you see them, dressed accordingly.
I feel that making a joke about being hungry in Hungary is pretty lame, but I really can't seem to help myself. So here are some pictures of me eating in Budapest.
Nestea is really delicious.
So is cake.
This is a giant plate of delicious meat. It's not as giant as the plate of meat we once had in Korea, but this one had really delicious potatoes too.
This is a castle that they built in 1898 for the World's Fair out of cardboard, and then everyone liked it so much they built it for real. This is a great tip we've picked up while traveling. People like to go to Europe for all their cute, old buildings, however a lot of them seem to have been built about 100 years ago, but no one really knows this, and everyone loves them anyway. So if you build something that looks old, in 100 years people will think it's really old.
This is an entrance to the world's oldest metro. It looks a lot like a normal metro, but older.
This is the ceiling of the basilica, which was finished in 1905. See what I mean?
This is me and the Parliament. I believe this building is actually old.
You can see it better here. Actually, I take back what I said because I googled it and it was completed in 1904. Could have fooled me. I thought it had been there forever.
For our anniversary Jordan got a new toy which let's him take pictures at night. I'm always up for a good pose.
We ate schnitzel.
This is the best sundae I've ever eaten. The magic ingredient (along with 4 kinds of ice cream and strawberries) was plain yogurt. Which is secretly perhaps the best ice cream topping.
This is coffee. I did not drink it. There is a traitor amongst us who sometimes acts like he likes coffee.
Vienna also has lots of nice architecture. I will prove this to you by posing with it.
After all that, somebody needed a bit more than a cup of coffee.
It was really cold the first day we were in Prague. See:
I am wearing all the clothes in my bag.
Also, sometimes the ceilings are rather low.
It's a colorful city with walls of grafitti
And rainbows sometimes too.
They have a house that dances
And the costumes of their palace guards were created by a Hollywood designer.
And they really have a lot of great views.
You may be wondering what else there is to do in Berlin besides ponder an invisible line. It turns out there is lots to do. This is what I did:
Shared a victory jump with Victory Column.
Posed with my umbrella.
Photo taken right before I took a bite out the chocolate Brandenburg Gate.
Tried to decide what Haribo flavor is most delicious. Decided they all were and bought them all. True Sauter!
Stood by a hippo.
Petted a goat.
Looked at a panda.
Kissed a fish.
Enjoyed dinner with a revolving view.
Visited giant historical building rebuilt inside a museum.
And drank a beer.
Despite the fact that it ended within my lifetime, it's quite hard for me to imagine the craziness of the Cold War. And it's not like I haven't experienced its after effects, traveling through Vietnam's once ravaged countryside and trying to imagine a worse place to have a war. I know there are terrains that are perhaps as unhospitable as the jungles of Vietnam, but of all the people I've met, I would definitely not want to fight against the Vietnamese. Or living in Korea and visiting the line that splits the North from the South; one of the last real remnants from the Cold War, a country so cut off from the rest of the world I can't imagine what life is like up there despite the fact that I lived amongst their brothers and sisters for two years.
And it's that experience that helps me imagine what I would have experienced if I had been in a position to understand what the fall of the Iron Curtain meant when I was four. I know if I woke up tomorrow and someone informed me that there had been a bloodless revolution overnight and the North Korean regime had fallen, I'd be shocked. And yet, North Korea is only one small country and despite it's posturing, I loose no sleep from fear of them blowing something up, even when I lived a few hundred miles from its border.
So when I visit places like the border between East and West Berlin I remember my trip to the DMZ between North and South Korea and imagine it bigger. And it's amazing what twenty years can do to something that seems so permanent, because unless I had Jordan spouting stories and facts at me about European history as we walk along its streets, I'd really have no idea. The biggest dilemma I faced while staying in (formerly) East Berlin was which bag of Haribo to buy.