A Visit to the Christmas Markets in Rome

We had a three day weekend in early December because it was National Youth Day so some friends very kindly invited me to go to the Christmas Markets in Rome with them. I hesitated because I knew I would be visiting southern Italy the week before. But then I thought, when am I ever going to have this opportunity again so I said “yes” to the invitation. A round trip ticket to Rome cost around a hundred dollars and I shared a room so the cost of the trip was minimal which also made me take advantage of the chance to go to Italy again.

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We arrived In Rome around 3:00 and after settling into our hotel we started a walk to Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square). You can see the Basilica in the background of this picture.

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A view of the Vatican City Christmas tree and a couple of gorgeous almost life-size nativity scenes.

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After walking around St. Peter’s Square we headed here. You may know that I collect nativity sets so this display was perfect, loved it!!

Here are a few of the nativity scenes we saw:

The nativity set on the left is made of styrofoam while the one on the right is made of macaroni. Amazing!

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These were my two favorite…

On the way back to our hotel we spontaneously stopped to tour the Castel Sant’Angelo built by Roman Emperor Hadrian in 123AD. It was originally built as a mausoleum.

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Look at the view from the top of the castle!

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The next morning we headed to the Piazza Navona where the biggest Christmas Market was opening that day. What a beautiful setting for a market!

Here are a few pictures of what was being sold at the Christmas Markets. I thought there would be lots and lots of vendors (think Fairport Canal Days). Instead there were probably a total of 20 vendors, many with very similar items for sale. I did not buy a lot but enjoyed wandering around and simply looking.

In the afternoon we walked some of the small streets around the Piazza Navona and saw lots of evidence of the upcoming holiday.

That night we toured Rome at nightfall on a golf cart. Beautiful and such fun!

Window shopping…

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The next morning on my run I went back to St. Peter’s Square. I know I keep overusing the word “beautiful” but I can’t think of enough adjectives to adequately describe the above scene. Also, although I am not Catholic there is definitely a spiritual feel when you enter this Square, particularly early in the morning when there are not many people around. God is good and God is present.

Thank you for continuing to read and comment on this blog. I do feel so very grateful to have these experiences and then be able to share them with friends and family. Right now Randy, Josh and I are in Bratislava, Slovakia. We took a train from Budapest this morning and will be taking another train to Krakow, Poland tomorrow morning. We will then spend a few days in Prague and then end our trip in Ljubljana, Slovenia. School starts again on January 6th. David joined us for a few days in Budapest but now has returned back to NYC for work. The Chervenaks stayed in South Africa for Christmas. It is hard not to be altogether for Christmas but this is just how we could work it out this year. Since Randy and I will be moving back to the States in July we felt like we wanted to take this opportunity to travel.

Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or simply Happy Holidays! We wish all the best to you and your loved ones in 2020!!

 

December, 2019

 

 

 

Matera, Alberobello and Bari, Italy

 

We had a four day weekend break at the end of November because it was Albanian Independence Day (celebrating when the Ottoman’s left Albania in 1912) and Albanian Liberation Day (celebrating when the Germans left Albania in 1944). A friend and I flew to Bari, Italy and then took the bus to two smaller Italian towns. Randy is still in the States hunting.

These were the signs that greeted us when we deplaned in Bari. We visited two regions of southern Italy, Puglia and Basilicata.

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After arriving in Bari we took an hour and a half long bus ride to Matera where we spent the night. Matera is the third oldest continuously inhabited city in the world dating back to the 10th century BC. This is by far the oldest city I have visited. Matera is known as “the underground city” and contains ancient cave dwellings. In 1993 Matera was named as a Word Heritage Site by UNESCO.

IMG_0744 The movie “The Passion of the Christ” which was released in 2004 was written and directed by Mel Gibson. He choose the city of Matera to film much of the movie because he felt it depicted the Biblical time period. The hole in the foreground of the the picture above is where the cross was planted for the filming of Christ’s crucification.

Matera by night…

We slept and ate dinner in a cave since Matera is known for it’s cave dwellings.

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Artwork in the streets of Matera.

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Matera is known for this type of bread. The bumps on the top of the bread stand for the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.

I was especially intrigued by the rock churches which were carved right into the side of the hill.

Matera by day…

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The next day we took an hour long drive to our next destination, Alberobello. This is a picture of our AirBnB host, Pasquale. He is the fourth generation in his family to own the home that we will be staying in while visiting this charming village.

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Alberobello is known for these charming small buildings called trulli. Trulli are dry stone  (without mortar) huts with conical roofs that were originally constructed in the 15th century as temporary field shelters and storehouses.

More pictures of the charming trulli of Alberobello.

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Delicious dinner in a lovely neighborhood restaurant.

Alberobello up close.

My Fairport friend, Ann Wolanski’s mother and grandmother were born near this gorgeous cathedral in Alberobello. I tried to find the exact house but was unsuccessful.

We took a train and a bus to get to our next location, Bari, which is on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Dana is an expert at figuring out the train and bus schedules. Yay!

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Arriving in Bari at night and trying to figure out where our Airbnb is located (a common challenge and adventure in itself).

Trip Advisor recommended this delicious salad and sandwich restaurant.

Pics from a run on the following morning.

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We visited the fish market where Dana was a very adventurous eater.

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While walking the side streets of Bari we came across several different women making pasta. This area of Italy is known for making orecchiette “little ear” pasta.

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The Basilica of St. Nicholas was gorgeous. St. Nicholas was born in Russia and died in Turkey. This church holds both Catholic and Orthodox services within it’s walls which I found to be so interesting! The statue was given to the city of Bari by the Russians as a sign of good will.

Exploring a bit of southern Italy was a treat. This part of the country is not nearly as opulent as the northern part of Italy but definitely has a charm that we thoroughly enjoyed visiting.

 

A Short Trip to Macedonia

The weekend before last three friends and I joined an Albanian tour group that traveled to Lake Ohrid, Macedonia. Randy and I spent time in Skopje, Macedonia last summer but I wanted to return to Macedonia to visit the beautiful lakeside cities of Ohrid, Struga and Pogadrec, Albania. We were not disappointed with the beauty of the area.

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We left Tirana at 6:00 AM just in time to see the sunrise. Randy is not traveling with me because he is in the States for hunting season.

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We arrived at Lake Ohrid after about three hours of driving.

The first thing we did was take a 30 minute boat tour. We saw a church and castle (from a distance) that we would visit later in the day.

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On our walk up to the castle…

Do you see the trellis growing in front of the house on the left? It produces kiwis which you can see in the close up on the right. Kiwis are widely available in Macedonia and Albania. This is the first time I have ever seen how they are grown.

Views from in and around the castle.

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IMG_0280After visiting the castle we shopped for some Ohrid Pearls which have been popular (even in the royal family) for the last 80 years. The pearls are made from ground shells formed into the shape of pearls and then painted several times over with layers of emulsion made from the scales of Lake Ohrid fish.

We then got back on the bus and drove to another lakeside village called Struga where we explored the beach, city center and several bridges.

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Dana found a friend on our early morning run the next day.

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Another gorgeous monastery, St. Naum.

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Headed out on a 30 minute boat ride around the lake.

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Look how crystal clear the water is! The lake had a white sand bottom, no mud, and was full of various green plants. Beautiful!

Can you see the white sand bubbling in this video? The lake is spring fed and the bubbling sand is where fresh water enters the lake.

This was a lovely spot for lunch in Pogradec, Albania on our way back to Tirana. My Albanian assistant from school had her wedding pictures taken here last year.

As always, thanks for reading my blog. Next up is a four day weekend to Bari, Alberobello and Matera. Looking forward to visiting these relatively small towns in southern Italy.

Happy Thanksgiving to family and friends. I am so very grateful to have each of you in my life.

November, 2019

Earthquake #2 was Stronger and Scarier

This morning a bit before 4:00AM my bed started shaking and I could hear breaking glass and a big bang coming from another part of our apartment. I jumped out of bed but it was not easy to stand because of the shaking. 😦  I felt disoriented, partly because of what was happening and partly because I was woken from sleep. Randy is currently in the States for hunting season so this time I was by myself for the earthquake.

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I quickly put on my robe and slippers, grabbed my phone and purse and started walking down the seven flights of stairs to get outside. Just like last time there were lots of people gathered on the sidewalks crying, hugging and huddled in small groups to stay warm since it was about 45 degrees. I connected up with a few teacher friends who live in the same building and after an hour or so we went to a coffee shop to sit and wait and figure out what to do next.

a8fa6819-5e63-4d85-bdc0-d9ddae9d5aaeWe all look happy but actually we are really quite freaked out inside. :O

After a couple of hours we returned to our apartments. During the last earthquake our overhead light swung back and forth, the houseplant leaves moved and an empty plastic bottle fell over. This time our water dispenser fell over (the big bang sound), some glass bottles fell to the ground and several things on some shelves either fell off or were knocked over. Here are a couple of pictures.

I also took this video which is entirely too long.

 

Cracks in the stairwell walls like last time only bigger now.

If you look at the images on TV about the earthquake in Albania, it all looks pretty horrendous.  Those images are coming from other towns that are 30-40 km from here. Please pray for these Albanians who are having much more severe earthquake damage. The streets and city of Tirana look fine. We walked around some today and really noticed very minimal damage.

The hardest thing about the earthquake is the number of aftershocks. There have been two major ones so far, measuring 5.0 and 5.1. Each time they happen I go down the stairs wait for an hour or so and then go back upstairs. I am definitely okay but the whole thing is just plain unsettling and scary. Of course, school was cancelled for today and tomorrow.

Thanks so much for all your texts and calls expressing your concern.  XOXO

 

November, 2019

Croatia, Montenegro and Northern Albania with Friends

Albanian College had a week long break in October. Our lifelong friends, Sarah and Marty, came to visit from Nashville, Tennessee. What a treat it was to have them here! We spent our time visiting Croatia, Montenegro and northern Albania.

Sarah spent time collecting close to a hundred pounds of books to bring to Albania to donate to our school. Wow, how very thoughtful!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

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We rented a car and started driving north on our first full day together. Here we are in Montenegro overlooking the Sveti Stefan which is an islet with a 5 star Aman Resort on it. Elizabeth Taylor, Sofia Loren, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are just some of the celebs who have stayed here. Rooms go for an average of 800 euros a night. Just to go over the narrow causeway cost 20 euros per person so we simply admired it from a distance. 🙂

Next we took a 20 minute ferry ride before leaving Montenegro and heading to Croatia.

Good bye to Montenegro and hello to Croatia. With the two border crossings it took us about 8 hours to drive from our apartment in Tirana to Dubrovnik, Croatia.

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Our first night in Dubrovnik enjoying Italian food in this charming setting.

Then we wandered around Old Town enjoying the beauty of the area at night.

The next day we went on a free walking tour of Dubrovnik. It was given by a retired police officer who also served in the military. He did an excellent job! In addition to telling us about the history of the city he pointed out several spots where Game of Thrones was filmed.

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As part of the tour we heard, once again, about the aggression of the Serbs in the early 1990’s. Montenegro was also part of the aggression which killed 20,000 people and resulted in massive damage to Dubrovnik as shown in the map above. The bottom picture shows shrapnel damage to one of the churches.

After the tour we enjoyed a delicious lunch in another beautiful setting.

That afternoon Marty and I climbed to the top of the wall surrounding Old Town Dubrovnik and took a two hour walk all the way around. Beautiful!

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That evening we did an AirBnB Experience called Eating with Locals. The Croatian couple who welcomed us to their home were featured in National Geographic Traveler a year ago.

 

Our hosts, Zlatko and his lovely wife Marija.

The food and drink was delicious and plentiful!

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The following morning, on a run, I took this picture of the sun rising in Old Town. I feel so very, very fortunate to get the opportunity to see sights like this.

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Look at the sweet little church I came across on the same run.

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Locks on the bridges like almost everywhere else in the world.

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Of course this picture was taken in honor of my firefighting husband.

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Enjoying some fresh fruit for breakfast in one of the city squares on our last morning in Dubrovnik.

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I took this picture as were leaving this beautiful city. On the day we left 5 cruise ships had just arrived and dumped hundreds (or maybe thousands) of people in Old Town. The people of Dubrovnik are happy to welcome tourists but are concerned with the amount of people the cruises bring to their community.

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We have now headed south from Dubrovnik and re-entered Montenegro. We stayed in the city of Kotor which is another town on the coast of the Adriatic Sea with a population of about 15,000 people. It has a medieval old town full of narrow winding streets, squares and several churches dating back to 900 AD.

Narrow winding streets…

Beautiful churches…

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We enjoyed a delicious meal in one of the many squares with our friend, Jesse, who teaches with me at Albanian College.

The next day at least two cruise ships pulled into the port of Kotor. We did not need to deal with the crowds because we are now headed further south to Shkoder, Albania.

Our first stop when arriving in Shkoder was to visit the Rozafa Castle which dates back to 167 BC. The castle sits on top of a hill providing beautiful views of the Montenegro Mountains and the city of Shkoder.

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Leaving the castle

This monument was built in a Shkoder park to commemorate “the dedication to the persecution, resistance and sacrifices of the people of Shkoder during the communist dictatorship.”

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Look! We were surprised to see advertisements for Kodak products knowing the history of Kodak in Rochester.

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This was the view out of our hotel window in Shkoder. The mosque was complete with frequent calls to prayer. Living in a country where there is widespread acceptance of different religions is refreshing.

After spending the night in Shkoder we hired a driver with his 4×4 vehicle to take us two hours to the village of Theth which is in the far north part of Albania. The road is unpaved, very steep, one lane and not suitable for us to drive there with our rental car.  If you have read my previous posts then you know this is my third trip to this gorgeous little village high in the Albanian Alps. Randy and I were so glad we could share this part of Albania with Sarah and Marty.

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The road to Theth is in the process of being paved and widened which will make it lots easier to get to.  At the same time, some of the locals have expressed concern that Theth will be overrun with tourists.

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IMG_9729Beautiful Theth!

We loved spending time with our good friends. It was wonderful to experience the countries of Croatia and Montenegro for the first time and to introduce them to Albania. We so appreciate the Karpies effort to come visit.

It has been awhile since I have updated the blog. School has been super busy including two 12 day stretches of work where we were required to do 15 hours of International Baccalaureate training for a weekend in September and then complete another weekend training in October. It is really hard to sit that much and to work for that many consecutive days. 😦 Glad the weekend trainings are complete. It is also the time of the year for parent teacher conferences, end-of-term reports and lots of extra work to prepare for a visit from the IB to Albanian College. I am looking forward to my school life slowing down a bit.

November, 2019

 

A Visit from Randy’s Sisters

We were fortunate to have Randy’s two sisters visit us in Albania the second week in September. Carol lives in Oklahoma City and Ellen lives in Springfield, Missouri. They spent a few days in Rome before heading our direction. We are grateful that they took the time and money to come visit for a week!

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We picked Ellen and Carol up from the airport on a Friday and headed straight for Apollina, a two hour drive south. I have written about Apollina a couple of other times on my blog when we have taken other visitors there. Just as a refresher, Apollina is an ancient Greek city dating back to 600BC. Julius Caesar declared Apollina a “free city” as a reward for supporting him in a civil war that was fought with Pompey. Julius Caesar’s nephew, Octavius (also known as Caesar Augustus) studied in Apollina in the 1st century BC.

More of Apollina…

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After we finished in Apollina, we drove another hour to Berat. Once again we stayed at Guesthouse Kris. The charm, comfort, delicious breakfast, welcoming host and price has brought us back here several times. Guesthouse Kris is located within the castle walls of Berat Castle which adds to the ambience of the whole experience.

More pics of Guesthouse Kris.

Taking a tour of the Berat Castle grounds.

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That evening we left the castle grounds and went down into the town of Berat for dinner. Berat is known for the 1,000 Windows which is shown here. Thanks for sharing this great picture with me, Carol!

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The next morning we drove along the Albanian Rivera towards Himarë.

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Here we have stopped in Vlora at Proper Pizza for lunch. Yum!

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The big brother and the little sister with our Himarë hotel in the background.

Putting our feet into the Ionian Sea.

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Sitting on our hotel balcony enjoying a gorgeous sunset.

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Before we left Himarë we made arrangements to take a two hour boat tour along the coast ending at Pirate’s Cave.

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Waiting for the boat captain so we can get started on our tour.

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…and we are off!

We visited a few isolated beaches where we were the only swimmers. It was amazing and magical! Every time I think I know a lot about what Albania has to offer, another opportunity presents itself. We loved this experience!

Our final stop was Pirate’s Cave where the boat actually went into a cave and we took these pictures.

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We are now driving back to Tirana along more curving, twisting roads. Can you see the road up on the mountain as it zigzags back and forth?

As we drove along we watched a paraglider float along beside us, very cool!

The following Monday I went off to work and Randy took his sisters on a walking tour of Tirana…

…followed by lunch at Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC came to Albania about a year ago. Last spring Burger King also came to Albania. There are a limited number of international businesses willing to open stores in Albania because they have a hard time getting clear title. When communism fell almost 30 years ago it caused up to three different groups of people to claim the same piece of land:

  • the people that re-claimed land that the communists had taken away from them
  • the people that were given the land to use during communism time
  • squatters that claimed the land as theirs after communism fell

The government is still working to figure out what land belongs to which people. So when an international company wants to build their business on a piece of land it is very difficult to get clear title so they are hesitant to build.

Randy is becoming very well versed on Kruje because he has taken so many of our family and friends there.

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We took this picture of Ellen Wilson standing at Wilson Square in Tirana (no relation). You can see a statue of Woodrow Wilson in the background. Wilson (and the United States) are well loved in Albania because after World War I, President Wilson said the borders of Albania would stay the same even though Greece, Yugoslavia and Italy wanted to break Albania into parts and keep the land for themselves. There are a few schools named after Wilson plus it is not uncommon for people to name their sons Wilson.

Of course a visit to Tirana would not be complete without coming to visit Albanian College.

Carol and Ellen (and me too) were intrigued by the traffic lights that lit up all the way down the light pole. These are not common throughout Albania but do show up on a few streets.

Thanks again to Carol and Ellen for making the effort to get over to visit us. We loved hosting you!

No more traveling until October when we have a week off of school. Our good friends, Sarah and Marty, are coming to visit at that time. We will be headed to northern Albania, Montenegro and Croatia. Looking forward to it!

As always, thanks for reading my blog!

September, 2019

Earthquake!!!

Yesterday afternoon Randy and I were sitting in our 7th floor apartment visiting with a friend who had dropped by. Then the whole room started to shake, the overhead light was swinging back and forth, some empty plastic bottles fell over and the leaves on our house plants started moving. Randy said, “I believe we are having an earthquake.” Randy and our friend seemed quite calm but I was not. I said, “what should we do? This is so scary.” etc., etc. We decided to move to the doorway because we had heard that was the safest place to be. It seemed like the earthquake was going on and on but it probably only lasted a minute or so but that seemed like a very looooong time!

When the movement stopped we left the apartment. We took the elevator down which was not the right decision. Usually our apartment elevator is fast and quiet. As we went down the elevator was really slow and made a lot of horrible sounds but we made it down. If you are ever in an earthquake, don’t take the elevator!

When we got outside, the streets and sidewalks were full of people, some of them crying but no one appeared to be hurt. After standing around for 30 minutes or so we went to a nearby coffee shop where we sat with a group of school friends and exchanged earthquake stories. The police were driving up and down our street using a loudspeaker to tell people not to re-enter their buildings.

After a couple of hours we weren’t sure what to do and everyone else appeared to have re-entered their buildings so we all headed back to our apartments. As we walked up the seven flights of stairs we noticed many new cracks in the walls along with broken plaster on the ground but other than that everything seemed okay.

Last night as I was brushing my teeth to go to bed I noticed the towels in the bathroom started swinging. It was one of several aftershocks that continued through the night. None of the aftershocks was as powerful as the initial earthquake, thank goodness!

Here is a link to some coverage of the earthquake on the Weather Channel.

Weather Channel link

Thank you for all the calls, texts and messages of concern. We appreciate it so very much.