2009 vacation recap

My out of country travels have ended for 2009, as i am out of vacation days. I suppose now is a good time to recap on what I did all summer since I am stuck in the Sofia airport for another 6 hours waiting for my baggage to meet up with me. i made my connecting flight from frankfurt to sofia by the skin of my teeth- but my baggage did not. there were no stairs to leave the plane for 10 minutes and we had to be bussed together to the terminal.
supposedly, the airport will not deliver luggage over the border, so my options are: 1. wait til 11pm for the next flight from frankfurt with my bags, 2. meet them at the bulgarian border (whenver that would be?), or 3. have it sent to vienna on a different airline and flown into the skopje airport at some point in the next week (...sounds like a disaster). i take option #1, patience and hoarding the only eletrical outlet in the whole airport. if only i had missed my flight too... i could be chilling in frankfurt instead.

well anyway, lets catch up!

At the end of June, Kait and Alison came over to visit me and Rene. We took them Ohrid and Struga, with David playing excellent hostess and patient tour guide in spite of our deliberate attempts at misinformation. We saw some cool cave churches. Next, we spent a night in Dihovo, a small village outside of Bitola, where we learned the basics of homebrewing beer and then headed on to Thessaloniki, in Greece.

The plan was to catch a 12:19 train out of the border town Florina, however that particular train did not run on the weekends... good to know for future reference. Once we got to Thessaloniki, checked into the hostel, we faced a tough decision, as framed by the man at the hostel desk. "Do you want culture or drink?" Hm. Our solution: Binge drink culture! We took one of the floating pirate ships around the port as we drank imitation corona. (We were much dismayed to realize we wasted 20 mins of time on a pirate ship before even saying 'i'm on a boat!') We went in search of a nice dinner place and found a nice italian place that suited our needs on many levels- seafood, cheap tasty wine, and a trio of greek eye candy providing sweet tunes in the background. Ha! Culture and drink are not mutually exclusive after all. When the greek instumentalists finished their night, we tried to follow them to no avail. We lost them in the crowded cafe street but got to see some real time property defacemant by someone whose grafitti skills need some work :-\.

The next day, we hit the beach! Thessaloniki beaches are oozing with self confidence. I certainly did not feel the slightest bit embarassed to be chubby in a bathing suit with old women walking around in bikinis. We had buckets o' beer on the sand and Rene schmoozed a nice Greek lady who helped us order beer and her family happens to own the hotel/bar we were at. While Kait and Alison checked on tickets to Athens at the train station, Rene and I hit up starbucks (again) to indulge and stock up. I can't say I was the hugest fan of Starbucks in America, but now, it is like a lighthouse, its green black and white cirlce beckoning me to comfort.

After assessing the slow-developing sun burn and dressing accordingly, we went out for dinner. We settled on a lovely restaurant with the White Tower lit up behind us and a random mariachi band crooning to us. We walked around a bit more and then rene and I bid adieu to Kait and Alison, as they headed on to Athens on an overnight train.

The next day, we missed our own morning train back to the MAK, which left us with time for shopping and pizza hut. we saved some slices to eat once we crossed the border back in macedonia, as a last hurrah.

Based on my short amounts of time spent in Thessaloniki in this trip and the one nighter for Opeth in April, I would say Thess is my 2nd favorite city, with Berlin still holding strong at number one. Maybe its because I was there off season, but there didnt seem to be an overwhelming amount of tourists, people were friendly and helpful, the people at the beach were genuinely curious about Americans, plus there is a wonderful selection of beers and an H&M. Better yet, its only 4 hours and 10 euros away!

About a month later, I headed to Romania with David for the artmania festival in Sibiu. Romania is beautiful. If you go, you really should spend a lot of time outside of Bucharest. Through the course of our trip, we pretty much circled Transylvania with the routes we took. To get there, we bussed to Sofia, Bulgaria, flew to Bucharest and took the train to Sibiu via a transfer in Medias. Total time leaving skopje - arriving in Sibiu: 29 hrs. The train ended up being uber late because a bridge was down and the train had to stop to let other traffic through or something. Bucharest train station is a place to watch out. It took us 2-3 tries to get the right train tickets to where we needed to go, since we had to transfer somewhere to get to Sibiu. And sneaky people will pretend to be train conductors/workers and 'help' you find your seat and carry your bags and then demand some euro compensation. he could have at least showed us the RIGHT seats...

the festival was cool. for those who didn't get to hear about it a million times already, it was a 2 day metal fest with tristania, my dying bride and opeth the first night and subscribe, pain and nightwish the second night. the stage was set up in the middle of the old city square. i couldnt believe a town would let that fly. during the day, there were other events. the one we went to was an art exhibit by the lead singer of my dying bride. we met a PCV and his girlfriend in romania too. i had asked him if we could couchsurf his house in brasov on the way back from sibiu so we could see one of the dracula castles. turns out, he was going to the concert too. also turns out he is a cousin of someone i knew in high school. bizarre!

the hostel we stayed at was really nice too. I don't remember the name, but the guy who ran it was german and besides the impression that he was a little anal about order and labeling, it was a good spot. we got there the night before the festival was supposed to start and I dont think the owner realized we were there for the fest until later. i remember he commented that the black brigade is coming tomorrow... i was thinking, we are part of that group...

we caught an early bus to brasov on our last day full day in romania. we caught a local bus to the Bran castle, the 'dracula' castle and waited for pouring rain to ease up before heading to the castle. the castle itself was pretty, but not quite what i was expecting. the exhibits killed my dracula loving spirits for a while, since there is no real tie in any romanian folk lore with the concept of vampires. there was something about babies born with a red hood (?) that were filled with evil spirits or something, but its unclear how the notion of vampires could evolve from that... apparently bram stoker had never even been to romania when he wrote dracula! poseur.

the exciting part of Bran for me was seeing the band Tristania chillaxing at a restaurant patio. I kept seeing the new singer in Sibiu too. we sorta walked past a couple times - totally not awkward at all! (joke) - and then the last time, we threw up some horns and got a small nod from the dudes.

we left brasov early enough to leave some time for walking around bucharest. the capital is really big. i often forget how small skopje is in comparison to other capital cities. we walked for 2 hours and still hadn't made a dent in the map. besides size and having a subway system, it wasn't that distinguishable from sofia or skopje as far as buildings and architecture, with the exception of the ginormous palace that now serves as a government building. it is quite remarkable.

I decided in February to go home to visit. I left saying, see ya in two years and not even 4 months in i had already started thinking about going home for marist alumni weekend or something where i could see a lot of friends at once. i ended up switching my dates so i could go to laurels wedding but i finally booked it in july and it is now coming to a close. as i mentioned earlier, i am typing this in sofia while waiting for my bags. my last leg of the trip is the bus ride home to skopje, now it will be at midnight, if im lucky :-X

now that i think about it, this trip has been... interesting. i left skopje at 3 in the afternoon because the flight times i had didn't line up well with bus times to sofia. i could risk cutting it really close with a 10pm or midnight bus, but i wanted to make sure i could avoid as many mishaps as possible. so i slept in the airport as best i could, with the floor cleaners going all night and loud balkan men talking behind me and kicking my bench. ahem.

i had a layover in frankfurt which i enjoyed thoroughly. unlike sofia, they had news on with SOUND and CAPTIONS! whats the point otherwise? i headed straight to the gate printed on my ticket just to be sure. when i got there, i started worrying that my flight gate may have changed because the waiting area kept filling up with women in saris with babies and lots of people who I assumed would be heading to India. (sorry, i profiled :-X) The monitors werent working, so they werent displaying the destination and there werent any screens with gate listings. i was afraid to nap in case i was at the wrong gate and i didnt have time to move. right about the cut off time i left myself to start panicking and ask airline people about it, i knew my flight was indeed going to atlanta- a man showed up carrying glenn beck's book and a lady with short highlighted hair carryng a vera bradley bag.

i had a good flight otherwise. the man sitting next to me was coming home after 6 weeks in kazakhstan, building a natural gas plant. we chatted for a while until i passed out.

tired and cranky, i was greeted at the atlanta airport by my mom and her camera, dad, steve and joanne. we went out to dinner and as promised, i got my sam adams oktoberfest.

i spent a day in SC before driving north, which was better than the original plan of going the next day to DC. i got some sleep and some errands done. the next day, i set off at 5-6am so i could stop and meet darren for lunch/hookah in d.c. after a nice chat, i kept going on to NY and crashed at sarita's place in queens pretty late. we shopped the next day, had some kickass sushi for dinner and then went out, armed with gatorade bottles filled with wine for the subway. we got to webster hall and about 20 mins later, sarita took matt home cause he was sick :-( but i hung out with megan cody and interrogated her about her life for a while. eventually, it sunk in that sarita was not going to be able to get back any time soon and i was fading, so i demanded that we get a slice of pizza before heading home. i then proceeded to tell everyone in line just how much i love america. many times.

i drove home home (wurtsboro) to pick up kozak and head to laurels wedding at the mystery place in glen spey that id never heard of. this was when my 'vacation' no longer felt like one and it was just reverting back to my life circa 2006. felt like slipping on old, gross looking but comfy shoes that i know i should probably throw out. having kozak in the passenger seat talking to me about current events was just like it used to be, except the topic of our past conversations wasn't economic crisis.

laurels wedding was beautiful. the ceremony was held on a wooden deck that wrapped around one side of the house, it was warm, sunny and just perfect. minus her brother wearing his sunglasses when he escorted her mom down the aisle. oops. i apparently look vastly different with long hair and no glasses because hardly no one recognized me at first until we sat at our seats for the reception. once her friends from oneonta remembered me, it was fun. i wish i had had more sleep though. i definitely tried to do too much. i had half a glass of wine ( a bee fell into it) and i got pretty sleepy. i did get a dance or two with the bride :-)

the next day, i woke up in time to meet fafa and betty for lunch at 2pm. they made me a photo album for my birthday with lots of old pictures of me and my cousin darren. loved it so much. after, i went to wander the bashakill with kozak. it is still the only part of wurtsboro i miss.

when i got to philly, i met gillian and brigid for delicious dinner at penang, which i never managed to go to when it wasn't closed for renovations. we met up with the rest of the gang at bob n barbaras, thinking it was spelling bee night, but no, it was monday night football. sigh. the bar was quiet and we had our half so i couldnt ask for a better situation. we drank enough philly specials (2$ for a shot of jim beam and a can of PBR) to earn free hot dogs at the end of the night, topped with mustard & bran (?)

I made it to my meeting with Prof/Dr. Gomez, 15 minutes late like clockwork. I sold the peace corps experience to the incoming IPSD students and answered all of their questions about it. its interesting to see what parts concern people. i met the guy from last year's group who is going to albania in february 2010 and he will do just fine. i told him that the only word he needs to know in the beginning is 'mire'. had another sushi lunch with gillian, grabbed a case of beer, and headed to Alisons for rock band. they tried to get me into the Beatles rock band, but i didn't care for it. we rocked out some janis joplin, pat benetar and *ahem* dixie chicks.

i caught up with Joyce from my PPSNJ internship on my last day in the nj/pa area, walked around my old neighborhood and chatted it up with bill, who lived in the house behind mine. got some last drop coffee and it was at this point i decided that my life post-peace corps will start in philadelphia. thats it. i will make it happen.

i picked up sarita at the trenton train station and we all met up at doc watsons for quizzo, which we joined in 2 rounds late and STILL got 4th place! MUHAHAH. we were going to hit up the karaoke place but decided sleep was more important for the long drive to SC the next day. i did have the energy for a slice of pizza ;-)

caught breakfast with brigid and sarita at sabrinas before leaving the north. dropped brigid off at work and then set course for 'home'. made it back fine, 600ish miles and all.

the next day did not end as well.

my car's check engine light had turned on in baltimore on the way up and stayed on all week. we took the car to get it figured out and the technician said it was fine, i could drive to atlanta for fright fest at six flags. we got there and it was pretty empty, so i dragged poor sarita on all the intense roller coasters i could - many many times. there was a good ozzy cover band and an awesome 'freakshow'. the gotham city part of the park had guys lurking under the walking bridge leaning out to grab you or just harass you. love it. it started to pour at exactly at 1059pm, when the park was closing.

an hour out of atlanta and an hour away from the house, lost control of the car on the wet road when trying to avoid someone merging into my rear passenger side and ended up totaling the car. the car spun 360 on the tires, getting over to the right shoulder, but there were two large ditches, the second of which put the car into a roll. we had slowed enough at that point where the car wasnt smushed, but the frame was definitely out of whack. we were both fine, just bruises and soreness. the passenger window broke in the roll and there was a stream of crap in the wake of our tracks. the policeman was nice enough to lend me his maglite so we could find things like: saritas i-phone (still working!), the gps weighted holder (the gps was tethered in the car by the charger), some of my european currency that i stashed in the console which fell apart, the ezpass, etc. while retrieving the stuff, sarita's foot got attacked by fire ants.

needless to say, there was an awkward drive home once my parents came to get us at 130am.

and another fun tidbit, the airbags did not deploy.

the rest of the week's plans changed slightly, since we were then homebound and at the mercy of my mom for rides. it was still great. we got some arts and crafts to do, tried to carve pumpkins (definitely out of practice), played skip-bo, watched discovery health tv just like the college days. my parents took us to Asheville NC to see the Biltmore estate, the one day we had great weather, played with the dogs.

the leaving was hard. not so much for leaving SC, its nice to visit but its not really my true home, but to leave close friends again for another year. it will go fast enough, i think. i hope.

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