Sunday, December 20, 2015

Thanksgiving dinner

I cooked my very first complete Thanksgiving dinner this year.  This was the first year I have been at a post that I wasn't invited to at least two different dinners. I miss the small, tight-knit communities of my posts in Ouagadougou and Bishkek. Here in Bucharest, people are more spread out and self-sufficient. At first I was a little sad and nervous about pulling off an entire meal, but since I love to cook it ended up being an amazing day. One that I will likely choose to do again with or without invites to others' turkey dinner.  Yes, I could have just skipped it, but Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I think it is important for Otto and I to keep up the tradition. Plus, it his only time of year for him to get turkey, dressing, cranberry, and pumpkin pie. I will admit, I didn't cook a whole turkey...fortunately here turkey is very accessible and you can buy breasts already cleaned and ready to go from the market.  I brined it overnight (because that is what google told me to do!) and wrapped it around the stuffing. I found some great recipes from different sources on the internet - I even made my own crispy, breaded onions for the green bean casserole. I tried a new brussel sprout recipe where you grate them and then flash cook them - yum. I also made broccoli for the boys since I am the only one that loves brussel sprouts.

Otto invited a couple of his good friends over for the meal. One of his friends, from Romania, had never has a Thanksgiving meal and his other friend hadn't had a proper American turkey dinner. It was nice to share a part of our culture with Otto's friends. I only took a couple of prove I had cooked.  The other very satisfying thing is that Otto loved the food - he asked if I could make a Thanksgiving dinner again, but before thanksgiving :)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Catch up. Summer tour in Bucharest

I hope to restart more regular post to the blog next year.  I just finished my last regular class for my doctorate. I have one independent study class next semester to finish up my project. I am so excited, no more 100 pages of reading/wk, no more weekly posts to the class discussion board, no more papers formatted using APA.  I feel like a new person. The only problem now is I am so used to being busy with school after the past 2+ years, not sure what to do with myself :)

Over the next couple of months I will try to catch everything up. Since the summer, I have traveled to Baku, Azerbaijan, Sofia, Bulgaria, Brasov in Romania, Lugano, Switzerland, and a quick trip to Germany. In a couple of days Otto and I go to Amsterdam for a few days. Yes, I lead a hard life!

First off though I wanted to share some more photos of Bucharest. This summer, after living here for a year, I finally did the free walking tour with a colleague at the Embassy that had recently arrived. I highly recommend it. I did a similar tour in Sofia that was great. It is usually run by college students who are practicing their English. Although I have been to all the places we went to on the tour, it was very interesting to hear the history.  One interesting fact is that Michael Jackson is loved here.  He came here for the first major concert by a US star in the early 90's after the fall of Ceausescu (communist leader in Romania 1967-89).  The funny side note from the tour is that many people came from all over the world to see the concert and purchased tickets for Budapest, not Bucharest. So, when they went to see the concert, they got a big surprise!

Here are some photos from the old town area (Lipscani) which is a great pedestrian walking area with lots of shops, restaurants, and old buildings.  Also a photo of a modern statue in front of the music hall.

Check back again for more...

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Holidays in the US = my friends!

The best, best thing about my summer vacation home is reconnecting with my friends. They keep me grounded and it is as if I haven't even been gone a whole year.  I missed a couple of visits with good friends this year - extra time was needed hanging out with my mom. I love you gals, thanks for everything!

The OHSU ED NP crew. BFF!
Okay, that first photo is from a few years ago, but here is some of the crew at our annual summer gathering. We haven't changed a bit
Just like fixing a bike tire...just bigger.
Biker girl. Got to take a ride up to the mountains in LA with Julie and her friend. It was hot (I thought my boot was on fire at one point), but super fun. Nice to be riding in back with someone who has tons of experience. Thanks James!
Happy girls, hanging in LA
Crazy hot in J-Tree, I think we are both a bit sun-mad!

Monday, August 10, 2015


Back in PDX on holidays.  Can't rave enough about this city.  I went on my annual camping trip with my dad to the Metolius River area, near Sisters. I think this will be our new summer camp destination. Unfortunately it wasn't close to Bend so we could not do the usual brewery tour (with Boneyard being the highlight), but still very scenic and peaceful.

Now I am in Hood River, another spectacular spot which highlights the amazing beauty that surrounds us in the Pacific North West. I am staying with a friend in White Salmon, which is on the Washington side of the Columbia River. We had such a great w/e. Yesterday we hung out with another friend and did some urban hiking and shopping in Hood River - a little wine tasting thrown in. Today we did a 'real' hike at Coyote Wall and then we went down to the river to do some stand up paddle boarding (SUP). Sadly, I do not bring my camera with me when I travel to the US, so here are some images from the internet.

Hood River is a great spot about an hour east of PDX. Full of active, healthy people, but small community feel.  And some good breweries...we are in the PNW after all.   Close to the city (PDX) and the mountains (Mt Hood). This is high on my list of possible places to live once I retire.  This is the land of kite boarding, wind surfing, biking, hiking, living the good life, etc...

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...