Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Croatia - part 3 (finally) has only been 2 months ago that I took a road trip from Bucharest to Croatia (mainly Split). It was a memorable trip.  We did a big loop, driving first north overnighting in Belgrade, then through Zagreb and the second night we stayed at a campground just outside of Plitvice National Park. We hiked around this spectacular park the next day and then headed to Trogir, just west of Split, where were were super lucky to have the use of a friend's apartment for the week. We did day trips from Split over the next 6 days, including a couple of days of climbing.  It is so beautiful there with the crystal clear blue water and lazy beaches. Unfortunately it was just a little bit too cold to swim.  We hiked and ate and shopped and checked out the Roman Ruins. On the drive home, we took the South route through Mostar and Sarajevo in Bosnia and then through Serbia again and the tip of Bulgaria.  So in a 10 day period we traveled through 5 countries - only in Europe. As usual, I wish we had more time because for all the driving we did on crappy one lane highways (except some of the N route), we should have spent at least 2 weeks away.  Otto's dad was with us on the trip, so we can check off another successful vacation with one of our favorite travel companions!  I know, I please already...

Plitvice National Park - land of the waterfalls. Serene walk through a magical landscape.
More cascading waterfalls in Plitvice
Central square in Split - former Diocletian's Palace from 4th century AD - yes, that is old. It is in really good repair. Love this stuff!
Another view from the central square in Split.
Clearly I could not get enough pictures or capture the magnificence of a 4th century AD palace
From the top of the bell tower at the Trogir Cathedral.  You can see that beautiful blue water in the distance. Only in Europe can you climb on poorly protected, sketchy steps at your own risk to the top of church bell towers. Way too much liability in the US, it takes away all the fun...
Trogir Cathedral doorway. Very famous sculpted entry (Romanesque style) by a 13th century artist Radovan. Very elaborate...sorry the photo isn't that detailed.
This is my favorite photo and the most memorable day.  Can you see the 14th century fortress to the left of the photo, well, we were climbing just below it in the gully that is middle and right of the photo. It was one of the coolest places I have ever climbed being in the shadow of a castle.

Another waterfall wonderland near Trogir. Krka National Park. We came here for a quick look and hike after our day climbing below the fortress.

So, if you were ever wondering if you should take a trip to Croatia...the answer is absolutely. Everything about it was great. Okay, the only thing that made us a little crazy is that they do not have a clear ferry schedule. We wanted to take a day trip out to one of the islands just off the coast of Trogir but the ferry schedule was very confusing and then when we went to find the ticket office, it was no where to be found.  Oh well, next trip.

That is is for my series on travels in Europe.  I am headed home in a couple of weeks for a month in Portland and the surrounding areas visiting family and friends. Need to start planning my travels for the coming year!  I am told Venice, Garmish, Amsterdam, S France, a drive to Greece, Black Sea Coast, N of Romania to see the painted churches.  Need to quit my job so I have time to enjoy all the things to do in my back yard! Otto and I will be going to Switzerland to visit a couple of schools he is interested in going to for his 11th and 12th grade.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Portugal - part 2

I have been so busy traveling I haven't had time to update more photos. I was lucky and went to Lisbon in March for my annual medical training.  My core group of colleagues (most of whom I went to training with), specifically request the same training times each year, that way we can reconnect and travel a bit after conference. This year, one of our colleagues had to head back to post, but another who was not able to come to our conference took a week off and came to travel with us anyway.

We traveled down south to the coast (Lagos) which was beautiful and we went to the most SW corner of Europe where the Atlantic and Mediterranean meet.  We rented a cute older house for the 6 of us.  From there we went to 2 old inland cities to wander around the castles and within the fortress walls.  The food was amazing and we had a fantastic time. Here are the photos to prove it.

The beach at Lagos. Too cold to swim, but we didn't have to deal with many other tourists.
We took a boat trip that drove us all around these interesting rock formations. Would be a great place to climb (although the rock seemed like it might be a bit crumbly)
The SW end of Europe. Yes, I know just another cliff overlooking the water. But it was still cool to be there.
The city of Evora. A very well preserved city with Roman ruins and an intact city wall and aqueduct. We had a lovely time just wandering around here. Stayed in a super old hotel that was just lovely with big windows and high ceilings and a sitting room for guests that looked like it hadn't changed for 100 years.
Stork nest (I believe) on the top of an old crumbling church.  I cannot imagine any government having sufficient funds to maintain and restore all of the old beautiful buildings, but it is too bad.  Good for the story I guess!

This is the amazingly restored/intact Moorish Fortress at the very top of Sintra. It sits next to a castle (next photo), that was used by royalty until recently. I can't get enough of this stuff and I love when the fortresses are built into the existing rock.
Pena Castle also on the very top of the hill in Sintra.  The bus up here is almost the most exciting thing about the visit, the road is super steep and narrow with many tight turns. You feel like at any moment you will just tip over.  
I want this for my house!
Oh the detail...I think this is why I never get bored with looking at this older architecture. The designers paid attention to the smallest details. I think this is subtle, but beautiful. This is just an entry way to a shop in town. Not even a 'special' building.
Looking up toward the main square in Sintra. The upper white building was another royal palace that is now a museum.

Looking up the hill from the main square. You can just make out the Moorish Castle walls at the top of the mountain.
Well, it was a wonderful trip with some of my favorite people in the world. I am already looking forward to seeing my friends again next year. Wonder where we will get to explore. This annual trip has become a must for my sanity and happiness in the Foreign Service. I really miss having colleagues near by to lean on for support and share stories with. I am super lucky though that I have my good friends/colleagues back in Portland as well, so at least twice a year I am energized by people I adore.

Next stop Croatia by way of Serbia and Bosnia (we drove). I have already been and am back, but will give you all a chance to digest this and then post the next trip. Equally as good!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Places in Europe I have always wanted to see, part 1


After Munich, Otto and I spent 3 days touring the city. I cannot imagine what high tourist season would be like since we went in February and it was very crowded. I waited in line 2 hours to get into the Vatican Museum. It was painful, but worth it...once in my lifetime anyway.  The Sistine Chapel was an amazing room of painting (no photos allowed), but dodging the crowds made it less than meditative. We stayed in the Navona district which was perfect for easy access to all the sights and food.  Otto and I ate so much - I even found a locally brewed IPA, yum! On to the photos (a fraction of what I took)...

The night view from our room in a lovely guest house
The Parthenon, just a few blocks from where we stayed. The building is lit by a large hole in the roof. At first Otto and I couldn't believe that it was truly open, so we went back after a rain shower, and sure enough there was a puddle of water on the floor!
One of the coolest churches (Sant'Ignazio) we saw. The paintings were 3D - seriously. I would not have believed it if I hadn't seen it for myself. Otto was even impressed, even though he hated me dragging him into so many churches.
Lovely outdoor cafe after a full day of sightseeing.
Of course we had to visit the Colosseum - it was truly impressive.
Ancient ruins at the Forum right next to the Colosseum. I never get sick of the history and wandering around the sites imagining the people that actually lived hundreds of years ago, doing all the normal things we do (minus the internet...)
Another one of my favorite activities in Rome.  These are coffee bars. You go to the register around the corner and pay for your coffee, take the receipt to the bar, they make it for you and you drink it right at the bar. Starbucks has it all wrong.
While I am not a religious person, I couldn't help but go into every possible church I saw.  Each and everyone was like an art exhibit. I wish I had traveled to Rome during the time I was in art history at University. On the one hand the opulence makes me ill thinking of all the Catholics around the world that cannot afford food and shelter, but it is hard not to appreciate the beauty of the art and architecture. 
 Just a little taste of Rome. I look forward to visiting more of Italy.  Next stop Portugal...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I like Munich

Never thought of Munich as a vacation spot...but oh how wrong I am.  Munich ended up being the transit hub for Otto's dear friend Nasser headed back to the E. Coast for school from his holidays in Tbilisi.  Otto and I were lucky to find good friends in the same family while posted in Burkina Faso. So we met for a quick weekend to catch up. Otto hadn't seen Nasser for 2.5 years, but it has only been a year since I saw his mother (we met in Antalya). It was a fantastic trip to be together and reconnect, and Munich ended up being really fun. Here are the photos to prove it.

They used to be so young...and much shorter. Handsome boys!
Marienplatz, the main square
We had beautiful weather and did a bike tour which was a fantastic way to see the city.
Random beautiful church (Theatinerkirche). I have never seen an all white interior like this before.
Maximilianeum building on the Isar river. I think it is a school for gifted youth (or was) and had something to do the Max Planck the famous German physicist, but obviously I wasn't paying that good of attention to our guide. It was beautiful!
Our ride on the train back to the hotel. We ended up staying at a place near the airport since we all had different flights in and out of Munich. It was so much fun to be together.
One of the advantages and disadvantages of the Foreign Service. You meet amazing people you want to spend the rest of your life being friends with, yet you are spread out all over the world. From here we all dispersed - US, Georgia, and Otto and I are headed to Rome. Lovely photos to follow...

Monday, February 9, 2015

A little winter in Bucharest

I took most of these photos in December, but since then I have been home to the U.S. for a couple of week, then back here to a very busy 'cold' season (I prefer the term viral upper respiratory infection). I think over the past 3 weeks, I have seen 40% of the Embassy in the health unit.  Wish I had the magic wand to make them all feel instantly better.

I thought of these photos because we just got snow again over the past few days. I was finally thinking it was about time to get back on my bike again because the weather was more mild, we  have even had a partial day of blue sky here and there, but instead I am still driving and sitting in traffic...

Here is lovely Bucharest, and this doesn't even scratch the surface. I need to get out there and take photos of the amazing old buildings, but that will be for the next post.

One of the Christmas markets. There are a few of these at different public spaces all throughout December. The best part was getting a glass of vin fiert (warm spiced wine) and wandering from booth to booth looking at all of the crafts and food.
A beautiful old/old church in the center of the hip pedestrian area (Lipscani), inside it is like a tomb it is so dark.
The park across the street from my house after a fresh dusting of snow.
One of the large traffic circles near my house, we call it the Batman circle. I was trying to get a photo that would show the beauty of the lights, but of course hard to put that in a photo (at least for me).  For December they light up the city with tons of decorations and fancy lighting. It was really beautiful and festive. Since this is a Christian country, Christmas and New Years are big holidays.
This photo is really for me and my memories. This is just outside the gate of my apartment building. This is what I see every day...mostly minus the snow.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

October Tour of Transylvania

Here are some photos of our trip to the Transylvania region.  We did a big loop going over a beautiful mountain pass, the Transfagarasan (the 2nd highest pass in the Carpathian mountain range) that has been made famous by the British show Top Gear (  On our way to Sibiu we stopped at Poenari Castle, where Vlad the Impaler lived, and it is sometimes called the real Dracula's castle.

It sits high up on a hill. There is no road and one must climb the 1480 steps to get to it. This is a view down the valley from the castle.
From here we stayed in Sibiu a quaint old town with German heritage, with winding streets and a beautifully restored pedestrian only town square.

We headed to Brasov and Sighisoara two similar old cities. On the way we stopped at a bunch of fortified churches.

Otto in the top of one of the clock towers
One of the greatest things about the trip were all the castles that littered the country side, although Otto got sick of it pretty fast. We used a guide book to try and find the recommended ones, but while driving we would just see them on the hill tops. This one, the Rupea Fortress, was one of the most impressive. It was build into a black rock formation high up on a hill.  It was first documented in 1324 as a fortress. It has been mostly restored.  Of course the photos do not do it justice. It was hard to capture the awe of seeing it on the hill top as we were driving on the highway.

I LOVE this stuff! Can't wait to get out and explore more...

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The life (or lack there of) of a doctoral student

I hardly know I live in Bucharest, except that life is very easy compared to our last 2 posts.  I could pretty much be living anywhere in the world since all I have done since the day I landed is sit in my chair in front of my computer and read/write for school when I am not at work. I am just now coming out of the shackles of my most brutal semester back at school. I apologize to those of you who actually follow this craziness (and fun!) that is my life in the foreign service. I have now been in Bucharest exactly 4 months and today was one of the few days I actually went out and explored (darn...I didn't bring my camera).  It is a freaking beautiful, happening city!!  It has been of course busy moving and getting settled in our new home; adjusting to a new health unit and school for Otto. Otto has adjusted very well, but he is a new person now that he is a teenager (not always in a good way).  School was rough for him at first after 2 years of doing nothing in school in Bishkek, but he has made great progress and his teachers all see what a bright (but lazy) boy he is. I am really happy with the school and it is a perfect place for him.

I am working in a very organized, fully staffed, new health unit.  And even better, we are busy. I am actually seeing lots of patients each day. Nothing like my ER days, but busy enough that I really miss electronic health records for the charting support.  I have been lucky enough to have already stitched 3 people up (their injury misfortune is my joy!).  I am running into the usual early adjustment with the new staff, we are all feeling each other out, but honestly, I feel mostly bad for them having to deal with a new 'boss' every 3 years...and I am not the easiest person when it comes to insisting on high clinic standards. People have been welcoming and there is so much going on in the Embassy community being in a big, European city...the sad part is that I have not been able to participate.

I hope to do some city exploring (with camera in hand) over the next week. Otto flew out today to visit his dad in Portland and I am a free soul.  I do have some great photos from a trip Otto, his dad and I took to the Transylvania region in October.  Famous for everything Dracula. It was a lovely trip, so many castles. I will post photos soon.

In the meantime, I have updated my blog background and permanent photos to reflect my current post.  I had to include a picture of Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) since he is the most famous part of Romania to tourists.  I have also put an open book as the background since I will be in school for another year so do not feel like I can honestly lure you in with a beautiful scenic photo of something representative of Romania since I know most of my time here will be spent at my desk...for now. Once I have completed my studies, I will put up a representative background and get back to more regular blogging. In the mean time, I will do what I can.

Something to look forward to...I will only take one class next semester so I can actually try to enjoy my life here and in March I go to Lisbon, Portugal for my annual medical training.  Did I mention life is good :)