Sad…

When thinking of a title for this blog,  “sad” was the word that kept resonating in my head so hence the title.

I am slow with an update on what is happening with our lives right now. As with the whole world, our lives have been turned upside down over the last two weeks. At the end of February, Randy returned to the USA to get started on prepping the taxes and to touch base at home. He was scheduled to return to Albania on March 11th. Six months ago Elizabeth had made plans to come visit Randy and I in Tirana arriving on March 19th and staying for 12 days. All those plans changed with the coronavirus.

On Monday, March 10th school was called off at Albanian College because of two diagnosed cases of coronavirus.  Randy and I decided that it was not smart for him to return to Albania so he stayed in the States. It was also decided that Elizabeth would not travel to Albania. So then I had to decide what I was going to do. Since I had not seen Elizabeth and her family since July, 2019 I made the decision to go to South Africa. I really thought I would only be there for a month at the most. With everything escalating so quickly, Randy and I had several discussions within the last few days about whether or not I should return to the States. Ultimately, I decided that I did not want to take a 24 hour flight back home at the risk of getting sick and then exposing Randy and Josh. I am staying in SA for the long haul. South Africa now has 225 cases. Elizabeth’s family and I are self isolating. School was canceled last week and we are choosing to leave the house on a very limited basis. The rest of South Africa is preparing to shut down on Thursday, March 26th. Just like all over the world we will all stay put in hopes of slowing down this virus.

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Here are a couple pictures from Tirana as I was leaving. So surreal! Probably similar to many of your communities. I have actually been very proud of Albania for quickly reacting to COVID-19. Considering how closely tied they are to Italy in many, many ways it was a good decision to close everything up quickly. Here is a link to Albania’s current restrictions. Albania’s Restrictions

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The airport monitor as I flew through Istanbul.

IMG_4439I arrived in Johannesburg on Friday, March 13th.

I love seeing and being with my grandchildren and their parents even though the circumstances are far from optimal.

For the last two weeks I have been spending 3 to 4 hours a day with distance learning for my Albanian students. My technology skills are improving daily as I learn to use one new app after another and then get my kids (and their parents) familiar with them. I am sure I am speaking for thousands of teachers around the world when I say it is a challenge to keep the children engaged and to make sure they  are learning the skills they need to move to the next grade level. I miss my students and being in the classroom very, very much.

I start each week with a short video just to get the kids (and me) prepped for the upcoming week. Here is the video I sent out last week.

Before I close this post I want to give you a quick update on our son, David. As many of you know, he is finishing up his residency in cardiothorasic surgery at New York University in Manhattan. As expected, there have been fewer and fewer surgeries over the  last week. David is expecting to be assigned to a COVID Unit soon. He has been told that all the healthcare workers should expect to be infected. Prayers for the safety and health of all healthcare workers worldwide.

I am so sad, sad, sad to say this may be my last blog post because I am not sure I will get to teach in Albania again. I would not be surprised if Albanian College closes down for the rest of the school year.

I am praying for peace and health for you and your loved ones as we move through this very difficult time in our lives.

A Long Weekend in London

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With an upcoming three day weekend in early February I checked Skyscanner (similar to Travelocity only for Europe) and looked for the least expensive flights. London was by far the least expensive on an airline called Wizz Air (a Hungarian airline) plus it was a direct three hour flight. We flew into Luton Airport which is an hour and 40 minute train ride from the center of London. Luton is where most of the discount airlines fly in and out of.

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The price of the flight was great but the downside is the long train ride into the city.

The next day we went to the charming Covent Gardens area to meet up for a free walking tour. We had breakfast before meeting the tour and the bill was 38 pounds ($50) for a relatively small meal. Yikes! It might be inexpensive to fly to London but it is very expensive in most other ways.

Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, the London Eye, Westminister Abbey and Big Ben (with scaffolding) were a few of the places that we saw on our free walking tour.

We used the Underground to get around London. It was easy and economical. I snapped the picture of the Way Out (instead of Exit) and Mind the Gap signs because it seemed so English.

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That evening we went to the top of the Shard. The building was built in 2012 and at 95 stories it is the tallest building in the United Kingdom.

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I cannot take credit for taking this picture but I am adding it to my blog because I think it captures the size of this building.

Our view from the top…

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The next morning I ran over this bridge (crossing the Thames River) to St. Paul’s Cathedral where Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married.

As I was running around the outside of the Cathedral I came across this progression of signs. I never could found where it went after the word “to”.

St. Paul’s is undergoing some construction to add ramps into the sanctuary allowing the church to be more accessible for all. Yay! Seeing this construction made me proud to be an Episcopalian.

If you were to look at Randy’s playlist on his phone you would notice that 90% of the music he listens to is by the Beatles. We decided to take a tour that showed us where John and Ringo lived, the place where Paul and Ringo were married and a few other Beatles landmarks.

Abbey Road was probably the most iconic Beatles spot we visited. We were not brave enough to go out in traffic to take a picture but I did get a picture of Randy on the sidewalk next to Abbey Road.

Abbey Road Studio has been functioning as a recording studio since the 1930’s. The graffiti in front of the building is painted over monthly.

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Now we have arrived at the Tower of London which was built in 1078 by William the Conqueror. Over the years the Tower has served as an armory, a royal palace, a prison, a menagerie, a treasury and Royal Mint. Currently it is the home of the Crown Jewels.

As part of our entrance ticket to the Tower of London we took a tour given by a Yeoman Warder also known as a Beefeater. A Yeoman Warder is a ceremonial guardian of the Tower of London. To be a Yeoman Warder a person must have served a minimum of 22 years in the armed forces, be a former warrant officer and hold the Good Conduct medal. The 30 minute tour was well done by this very engaging tour guide.

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Guarding the Crown Jewels…

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After touring the Tower we took a water bus down the Thames back to within walking distance of our hotel.

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That evening we went to see the musical School of Rock. The theater was located on Drury Lane which made Randy and I smile since the college we went to had a main street with the same name.

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During the finale of the show they made an announcement that if the audience wanted to get their phones and record the finale they could do so. So Randy took this video. It highlights what fabulous instrumentalists these 9-12 year olds are in addition to being singers, dancers and actors. We REALLY enjoyed the show!

 On Sunday morning we attended a Eucharist at Westminister Abbey.

We were scheduled to fly back to Tirana on Sunday afternoon however London was experiencing 80 mph winds. Trees were down on the train tracks and the buses were not running because of the bad weather. Our only option was to take a black taxi to the airport. It was horribly expensive but we had no other choice. Anyways, the one upside to the very expensive taxi ride was our delightful cabbie. Two years ago, along with three other cabbie friends, he decided that their job as cabbies was too sedentary. They decided to loose weight, get in shape and climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. Talking to him on the long taxi ride to the airport was SO interesting. Here is link to their accomplishment if you want to read more. Cabbies Do Kilimanjaro

Our quick trip to London was a wonderful way to spend a three day weekend. Someday we hope to go back and explore more of this part of the world that has so much to see.

Randy left for the States this morning. He is going home to deal with the taxes and will be back in Tirana in two weeks. We are looking forward to hosting several visitors over the next few months. Hoping and praying that the coronavirus does not cause problems with our guests’ travel plans.

Holiday Travels (feeling so fortunate)

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The week before we left Tirana for our Christmas travels our son, David, arrived for a visit. Here we are visiting Tirana’s city center which is full of lights, carnival rides, coffee shops and a Christmas tree to celebrate the season.

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My friend, Dana and I go to a local park called Artificial Lake to run every Saturday morning. So glad David could join us!

Just like last year, David visited my grade one class to show the children a real heart (from a sheep) and to explain how it works. He also brought his loupes (glasses used in surgery) so the children could try them on and understand how they are used.

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On the first day of my holiday school vacation David, Randy and I flew to Budapest, Hungary for a four night stay. Our younger son, Josh, flew from the States and met us in Budapest. I LOVED being with our two sons for a few days. Elizabeth, Ben and their children are celebrating Christmas in South Africa so unfortunately we were not with them for the holidays this year.  😦

After settling into our AirBnB apartment we went for a tour of the Christmas markets of Budapest which were voted the best in Europe this year. The Christmas market pictured above was our favorite. It was located in Buda, about a 15 minute tram ride from the city center. You may or may not know that Budapest is actually two different cities Buda and Pest. The cities are divided by the Danube River. Buda is a more residential area and Pest has more businesses and more tourists. As you can see by the pictures, Buda was so charming!! Josh is sampling a traditional food called lango that consists of something similar to fried dough with cheese and sour cream, not sweet like in the States. Yum! Also all the Christmas markets we visited had hot mulled wine, really delicious especially on a cold day.

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This is one of the Christmas markets in Pest with the centerpiece being St. Stephen’s Basilica, a gorgeous Catholic Church.

Listen to the church bells! 🙂

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I had never seen advent wreaths used as Christmas decorations. It seemed so appropriate! In fact, for our whole two week trip we only saw nativity scenes, Christmas trees, angels and wreaths. We never saw Santa with his reindeer, stockings, snowmen or other similar Christmas decorations that we are accustomed to in the States.

Crossing the Danube River over the Chain Bridge.

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Thanks to Peter for getting our family started on this tradition of taking a photo by a local manhole cover when we travel.

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The view from the other side of the Danube.

David could not pass up this opportunity to interact with this amazing bird.

Arriving at the Széchenyi Baths for an afternoon enjoying the 3 outdoor and 15 indoor thermal pools. Szechenyi Baths are the largest medicinal baths in Europe. Its water comes from two thermal springs, their temperature is 74 °C and 77 °C. The water has to be cooled to allow people to get in. What a fun, different experience!!!

This is the gorgeous Parliament building. The nativity scene and Christmas tree were prominently displayed in front of the building. We were not able to tour it because I did not reserve tickets far enough in advance. If you go to Budapest, reserve Parliament tour tickets at least a month early.

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We were walking along the Danube one evening when we came across several bronzed shoes like the ones above. This memorial is called Shoes on the Danube and is in remembrance of the thousands of Jews who were shot along the banks of the Danube River during WWII. The victims were forced to remove their shoes at gunpoint (shoes were valuable during World War II) before they were shot in the back, falling over the edge to be washed away by the freezing waters. This was a powerful reminder of the horrors of WWII.

Street art was everywhere in Budapest. A bit of trivia, the Rubik’s Cube originated in Budapest.

We had brunch at this ruin bar. A ruin bar is a bar built in the ruins of abandoned buildings. They are located in the old Jewish quarter. We loved our meal in this really unusual setting.

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These are the same brass plates we have seen on the sidewalks throughout Europe. They are about five inches square and are placed outside of homes or businesses where Jews were taken and sent to work or extermination camps. The first date in the birthdate of the victim and the second date is the date the Jewish victim was unjustly arrested. It is so startling and powerful to randomly come across these stark reminders of the horrors the Jewish population experienced during WWII. We found out while visiting Budapest that Hungary was never Nazi occupied, only 125 German Nazis came to Budapest. The other terror mongers who did most of the damage were Hungarian citizens who were part of a group called Arrow Cross, a far right Nazi-like organization.

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On our last evening in Budapest we took a tram over to the the less touristy Buda. We went to a jazz concert at a charming small club that had great music. It was a wonderful way to close our visit to this beautiful, history-filled city.

We are now headed to Bratislava, Slovakia on a three hour train ride. We LOVED traveling by train. There was lots of room to relax, free wi-fi and the enjoyment of watching the countryside pass by.

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Bratislavia is a fairly small city and the capital of Slovakia. Slovakia was part of Czechoslovakia until 1993 when Slovakia and the Czech Republic agreed to a peaceful separation of the two countries. We spent one night here and only had an afternoon to explore the city. It rained most of the time we were there. Here we are on a walk from our hotel to the Old Town part of the city.

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Unfortunately, the Christmas markets closed for the season the day before we arrived but we still enjoyed the Old Town charm.

Every city we have visited in Europe has at least one gorgeous church, either Catholic or Protestant.

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Good bye to charming Bratislava! The next morning (Christmas Eve Day) at 8:00 we were taking an eight hour train ride to Krakow, Poland. One of the reasons I am excited to visit Krakow is that my great-grandmother, Jeanette Kratchowill McCann immigrated to the US sometime during the late 1800’s. Unfortunately I know no more information about her life in Krakow.

On our first evening (Christmas Eve) in Krakow we walked to the city center where we saw these Christmas decorations. It is hard to tell in these pictures but the city square in Krakow is the largest square in Europe.

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Christmas Eve is celebrated in a bigger way than Christmas Day in the countries we visited including Poland. We went to this gorgeous church for a midnight Christmas Eve service. We did not stay for the whole service because it was all in Polish but that being said, we enjoyed the spiritual feel to the service.

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Outside of the church was a live nativity scene and a wonderful performance by some local priests.

The next morning (Christmas Day) we went on a free walking tour of Krakow. Krakow is an absolutely beautiful city. During WWII the Germans moved many of their offices to Krakow which meant there was not nearly as much bombing of this city as happened in other European cities.

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On the walk up to the Krakow Wawel Castle you can see the brick wall on the right. On the brick wall are individual cement plaques with names of people fromnaround the world who contributed to the rebuilding of the castle between WWI and WWII. Loved seeing the names of two people from Buffalo who made contributions.

More views of the Wawel Castle…

A popular symbol of Krakow sits between the Vistula River and the castle and is know as the Wawel Dragon.

As you probably know Pope John Paul II came from Poland so it was common to see tributes to him throughout Krakow. 86% of Poles are Catholic which is an impressive number since the country was under Communist rule for more than 40 years until 1989.

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Even the trams in Krakow were decorated for Christmas.

One of my favorite parts of our trip was seeing these nativity scenes (szopka) in Krakow. There is a 200 year old tradition of a yearly competion held the first weekend in December to build szopkas similar to the ones pictured. A characteristic part of the scenes is the use of historical buildings as a backdrop for the nativity of Jesus. So gorgeous, colorful  and unusual!

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These are the only 4 pictures I took at Auschwitz. For much of my adult life I thought I never wanted to visit a concentration camp. The thought of visiting a place with so much horror involved was just too overwhelming to think about. However, with time I came to think that as a citizen of the world I needed to experience going to one of these camps. Auschwitz is an hour drive from Krakow so we decided to go. It was just as horrible as I was afraid it would be and brought me to tears even as I write this. How could a group of people treat another group of people like this?

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This was the only picture I took at Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz 2. Auschwitz 1 was a concentration or work camp where some people survived. Birkenau was an extermination camp. No one survived Birkenau. There were no records of who died here. Thousands of Jews were unloaded and taken immediately to the gas chambers. When the gas chambers were too full or busy people were put into buildings waiting for their turn to be gassed.

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We visited this factory which you may be familiar with from the movie “Schindler’s List”.

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These are just some of the people Oskar Schindler saved with his factory.

This is the park we walked through on the way to our Airbnb along with the name of the street where the Airbnb was located. We found out that our Airbnb was located next door to an apartment where Oskar Schindler lived.

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We are checking out the train schedule as we get ready to board a train to Prague in the Czech Republic.

Here are some views of the countryside as we travel between Krakow and Prague on the train. Randy figured out all the logistics involved with train travel for this trip. He is officially an expert on Eurorail!!

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We arrived in Prague at nightfall to these beautiful scenes. We all thought Prague was the most beautiful of all the cities we visited. However, it was also by far the most crowded with tourists which meant we did not enjoy it as much as we had hoped.

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My friend, Kelly, who teaches with me at Albanian College was traveling in Europe for the holiday break and met us in Prague. We all shared an Airbnb and the Prague sights together. Kelly was a welcome addition to our group!

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This is the oldest operating astronomical clock in the world, dating back to the 1400’s. The Walk of the Apostles happens on the hour in the windows at the top of the clock.

Here is some of the beautiful, unusual and varied art of Prague.

We saw these delicious desserts called chimneys in several cities throughout our trip. I liked them plain which means just a type of bread with cinnamon or you could have them filled with ice cream, nutella or many other fillings. Josh choose one with the works!

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Loved seeing this yoga studio as we walked around Prague.

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We took a four hour food tour to a few secluded (less touristy) areas of Prague to taste some traditional Czech food. The other people on the tour were from Australia, New Zealand and Dublin. As usual, we thoroughly enjoyed getting to know some new people.

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Kelly and I climbed up to the castle to see the beautiful views of Prague.

Prague had the same brass plates we have seen throughout Europe, indicating where Jewish individuals and, as seen on the right, whole families were taken from their homes to concentration or extermination camps during WWII.

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Prague is full of gorgeous churches as pictured above. 80% of people from the Czech Republic have no religion so the churches cannot sustain themselves financially without a congregation. In an effort to maintain these beautiful buildings it is common for one or more concerts to be held in these churches on an almost daily basis. The money received from the concerts goes to supporting the maintenance of the churches.

This is a snippet of the concert we attended one night.

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We enjoyed the concert so much that the following night we attended a second concert.

We felt so very fortunate to enjoy this beautiful music in an equally gorgeous setting.

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On our last afternoon in Prague we went to see the new Star Wars movie. It was New Year’s Eve afternoon so the theater was fairly quiet. The movie was a relaxing change of pace plus Randy and Josh were especially happy to see the movie.

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We are now at the train station waiting for an overnight train to our final destination, Ljubljana, Slovenia.

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Our sleeper car was three berths stacked on top of each other. It was close quarters but a fun and reasonably comfortable way to travel from one city to another.

We were traveling on the sleeper car overnight on New Year’s Eve so there were lots of fireworks going off through the night as we whizzed along. Josh took this video.

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This is what we saw on our first evening in Ljubljana as we walked around the city, so beautiful!

On my run the following morning I came across this almost life size nativity scene made from straw.

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Look at this unusual tree near our Airbnb.

More brass plates on the sidewalk outside of a Ljubljana residence. 😦

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The dragon symbolizes Ljubljana’s courage, grandeur and power and is seen as the city’s protector.

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Slovenia is very proud of the fact that their country recycles almost 70% of their trash which is more than any other EU capital city. Impressive!!

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We took a day trip about an hour outside of Ljubljana to see Predjama Castle which was built in the 1200’s in the mouth of a cave. We took an excellent audio tour of this castle full of secret passageways and history.

More pictures from the castle…

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Our next stop on our tour outside of Ljubljana was Lake Bled. We boarded a  pletna boat and headed to a small island with a church on it. The oarsmen, who stand as they row, are part of a traditional profession that has been passed down for generations.

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These pictures were taken at the church on the island. In the picture on the lower right I am ringing the church bells using a rope hanging at the front of the church. What a treat to get to do this!

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Do you see the red roofed castle situated up on the cliff? That is where we are headed next.

Views of and from the castle …

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This picture was taken at the castle. The Lake Bled island with the church can be seen in the background which is where we just came from. We are so, so fortunate to experience all this beauty.

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Good bye to the beautiful country of Slovenia. We are now flying back to Tirana after a wonderful, sometimes exhausting, 15 day trip. We have used four different currencies, heard five different languages and had so many varied experiences. It is truly a gift that we were able to take this trip. It will be good to settle back into life in our apartment in Albania. We arrived back on January 4th and school started on the 6th.

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Josh came back to Albania with us for a few days before going back to the States. Here we are going to coffee with our good friends, Edlira and Aldo, and a friend Josh met when he came to Albania last year.

My students just finished a unit about how cities evolve over time so Josh came to school to teach the children how to use Google Earth on the tablets provided by the school. Thanks, Josh! The children still choose to use this app on a regular basis.

Thanks, as always, for reading through this very long blog post. I am never sure what to add or leave out which usually ends up with a long post. It is early February and I am just now posting from our holiday trip. As you can imagine, it takes awhile to sift through our pictures and to figure out how to present them and to add some verbiage. I really do enjoy documenting our experiences and I thank you again for reading.

We have spent the rest of January in Tirana and will spend most of February here in town. We have a three day weekend coming up soon. I searched where the least expensive flights were for that weekend and found a three hour direct flight to London for next to nothing so we are headed to London on Thursday for three days.

School is going well. I feel like I need to post a school update plus something about living here in Tirana. Stay tuned… I hope all is well with our friends and family. Thanks so much for staying in touch.

 

 

 

 

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.