Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Germany Vacation

So for a week over spring break, the men in my family made the big trip across the pond to do some traveling with me!  We planned for a quick visit to Berat and then on to see the grand sights of Munich, Germany.  Allow me to take you through a photo diary of our vacation.

Here we are in Berat, The City of 1000 Windows.  Can you guess why?  Standing on the foot bridge that connects two of the historic neighborhoods in Berat, you can get the most unrestricted views of the city in its entirety.  The boys were only able to make a short trip here, really about 24 waking hours, before we took flight for our trip to Munich.

This is a shot of the inside of the Tirana airport.  Yeah, we have FREE wireless internet!  Unfortunately, the way that our flights ended up, the boys had a three hour wait at the Tirana airport, followed by a two hour layover in Slovenia, before they landed in Germany, whereas my flight left before theirs and was a direct (hour and a half) trip to Munich, where I then waited about five hours for them to arrive!
Once we all arrived in Munich, about 9pm, we made the mistake of renting a car.  Trying to navigate the way to the hotel in the dark, in an unfamiliar rental car, with Mark reading the map, without his glasses, was not the best way to start the trip.  This is just one of the many shots of Dad perplexed by the street maps of Munich.  Image, making spaghetti, drain the noodles, and then pour the noodles out randomly all over the floor... I think that is how they came up with the street "plan" for this city!  The car was returned after one day, and we were all about the public transport after that!
First stop, the city center, MarianPlatz.  Behind the boys is a shot of the Old Town Hall.  Across the street (not able to see in this photo) is the New Town Hall.  Funny thing, because the whole city was bombed out during WWII, they had a little rebuilding to do after the war was over.  They constructed the New Town Hall first and then proceeded with the reconstruction of the Old Town Hall.  So, in fact, the New Town Hall is actually older than the Old Town Hall!  We got all this information and more when we decided to join a free tour around the city center.  After a three hour walking tour, we had a greater appreciation for the history of Munich and Germans, and a better feeling for the layout of the city.
Dinner on our first night in Germany was celebrated at the legendary Haufbrauhaus!  Great beer drinking and lots of meat eating could be the theme of this trip.  I think I did more of both in one week than I had in a long time.  And yes, that is a beer in little Stevie's hand!  In Germany the legal drinking age in 16, so he was able to join in with a little celebrating, too.  Most of the nights, however, he chose to drink the Radler Beer, which is a mix of Beer, lemonade or sometimes a sprite-similar beverage.  This is what the bicyclers drink when they are out on the town, so that at the end of the night they are still able to safely see themselves home without incident.
We were lucky enough to have our friend Austin Engel, who is living in Munich as a tour guide and English teacher, take time from his busy schedule to show us around.  He was gracious enough to take an afternoon and lead us on a private tour around the Dachau concentration camp.  Used as the "model" camp during and before WWII, Dachau is now open to the public to enter and to act in and of its self as a memorial to all the prisoners who died within its walls during this dark time in history.  

We made a visit just outside of town to the BMW factory and its neighbor across the highway, the Olympic Park!  The boys took a tour of the BMW museum, home to old Bond cars and other fascinating things, I'm sure.   Then we all enjoyed the inside tour of the BMW factory, where we were able to see the full construction of a car, from start to finish.  Really cool!  Only bad part, no door prizes or giveaways at the end!

The BMW headquarters building is in the shape of a four cylinder engine, and it was constructed for its grand opening the same time as the summer olympics (remember, literally right across the street)!  Somebody was thinkin'!  And no Steven did not teach an 80's step aerobics class that morning, nor is Mark the unibomber.  Apparently, those are just cool looks now-a-days!
Towards the later days on our vacation we boarded the train with another private tour guide to head out into the countryside to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle of King Ludwig II.  Unfortunately, about two hours into the ride, our guide informed us that he had put us on the wrong train and we needed to turn around and head back to Munich to re-board the correct one.  After catching the right train, and riding it for another two and a half hours, we reached our destination, only to find that we were too late in the day to buy tickets to take the tour inside in castle!  Huge bummer!  I was really disappointed to have come all this way to find out we were not going to be able to go inside.  As a consolation prize, we did get to go inside the parent's castle, the lesser of the two in that town.  We also did make the trek up to the Neuschwnstein Castle a stalk around the outside.  This picture captures the view of the castle from Mary's bridge.  Oh, and to add insult to injury, yes, that is snow in the picture.  It began to snow really hard as soon as we stepped of the train and stopped again as soon as we got back on to head towards Munich.  Not the best day!

Our last day was spent shopping, eating and catching up on the last minute things that we wanted to see before out departure.  The picture above was the inside of the super-ornate Asamkirche, or Asam's Church.  Dad found it in one of his travel books and we went buy on our last day to check it out.  It was truly awesome!
The picture below was a site that had the boys captivated for hours.  We heard about a place in the English Gardens where the river had a spot surfers could ride a wave that was permanently created by something on the river floor.  So we went to check it out, not sure we would catch anyone in action on this 30 degree day.  But, sure enough, we were able to watch the dedicated few shred the wave as they tried out new tricks and "performed" for their fans.  I think if it had been a few degrees warmer we wouldn't have been able to keep Mark on dry land.

After a busy week, it was back to the airport were we said our goodbyes!  Dad and crew went home to Dallas, and I departed for my Tirana bound plane.  All in all, we had an excellent trip.  I would recommend Munich to everyone!

Friday, February 27, 2009

How much is too much?

What started out as a simple rain boots purchase has spiraled out of control.  Now it's up to you to decide.... how much argyle is too much?  Thanks mom for my Valentine's presents.  The fleece is really warm!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Winter Hits Hard

We were tricked here in Berat.  For several weeks the weather was very pleasant for the winter months, highs in the 60's and lows in the 40's... until this week!  Temperatures plunged into the lows 40's and has been rainy.  Then this afternoon, a surprise!  A snow storm blew in.  This was not like those silly Dallas snow flurries,  this is like a CO style snow storm.  Unfortunately, so far the snow has not stuck to anything, except cars, but we are entertained by the large snow flakes. Somehow, a little snow makes the cold feel better!  

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Clara update

Clara Update:

She is doing fine.  It has been almost a month since her surgery and she is making  a full recovery, although to the surprise of my neighbors and co-workers, she still only has three legs!  Maybe they think she is like a lizard and someday that stump will turn back into a full functioning leg!  Who knows!  She is learning how to get around with just three legs and doesn't really seem to mind her handicap.  She runs, jumps and can climb stairs with the best of them.  Also, I think that she is becoming more accustomed to her new (mostly) indoor lifestyle.  Inside it's a little warmer by the fire and food and belly rubs are more easily accessible.

Nothing else is really happening here in Berat.  The weather is rainy but luckily not too cold, usually in the low to mid 50s during the days and low 40s at night.  I am becoming better at lighting my wood stove, just as spring is around the corner. Hopefully I can retain my new fire building and starting skills for next winter season.  Still working on tourism projects, as the Tourism Information Office prepare for the busy summer season. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Back in Berat

Happy New Year 2009!  Hard to believe that my time her in Albania is already into the new year, and that I have 9 months under my belt.  Still feels like just yesterday when we first stepped off the plane.  Speaking of getting off a plane, I should let everyone know that my plane rides back to Albania went much better than the ride home.  No delys, no airline problems, no missing luggage, just an easy ride all the way back.  Perfect end to a great trip home for Christmas.

Things however were not so great when I got back.   The little dog the I have semi-adopted was not well upon my return.  I had received a message from a friend, while I was in Dallas, that Clara had been bit by a dog on her leg and that she wasn't doing very well.  Well.... that was a huge understatement!  I expected to come home to find her with an ugly cut on her leg that maybe should have had some stitches, but instead, her back leg was so mangled I knew that it would have to be removed, and quickly.  

I called my friend in the next city over, about 1 hour and 30 minutes car ride away, and the home of the nearest vet office.  We set an appointment for the next morning for her to have the leg amputated.  Sounds easy, but getting her there would prove to be challenging and, as it turns out, expensive (by peace corps standards).  I ended up hiring a taxi to take us and just wrapped in a towel, not knowing how she would react to her first car ride experience.  She did fine, although she did throw up about half way through our trip.

Got to the vet in Fier, and laid her out for an "examination".  Let me also say that this is nothing like taking your dog to the vet in america.  In fact, I'm not sure that this vet had examined a dog in quite some time.  Anyway, so there she is laying on the cold floor of this one room vet office, and Gensi (the vet) let's us know that he is not comfortable doing the amputation, and that he would just put her down.  That not being and option at this point, I ask if there are any other alternatives.  He calls his professor from university, and he agrees to do the amputation.  So we are off to Tirana, yes, in another taxi!  At least this time we have a dog cage. (Jack is my friend Stephanie's dog from America and he had his create from the plane ride that we borrowed)

So, once in Tirana, the vet there looked at her and listened to her heart and was worried that due to the infection spreading in the body, she may not make it out of the anesthesia.  Without any alternative, that was just a risk that we would have to take.  Stephanie and I left for about an hour and return to find Clara, leg cut at the mid thigh, u awake and ready to go home.  Albanian after patient care is also much different than in the states.  She would go home to Fier and get antibiotic injections from Gensi over the following 6 days, then we would be able to return to Berat.  

The next week she did a little better everyday.  Eating and drinking were big steps and she started to get more strength back.  She also started to hate going on her daily trip to the vet more and more, and with more energy was able to show us just how she felt about getting that injection!  At the end of the week, we returned to Berat.

Since being home, she seems to continue to make good progress towards recovery.  I think that she likes her warm inside bed at night, which is a new luxury, post surgery.  We are going to go back to Fier this weekend for the stitches removal, create return,  and final checkup.  Hoping that she will be a good patient and get a clean bill of health! 

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thanksgiving (s)

Some Friends at our Berat Thanksgiving

Karaoke in Tirana after our Thanksgiving Meal with the Cristina's.

This is the first time the I have been out of Dallas for Thanksgiving, so I thought that I would make up for that by having two, here in Albania.  Our first Thanksgiving was on Thursday.  Embassy and Ex-Pat Families invite Volunteers to their homes on Thanksgiving for some real food and heat... not sure which one I appreciated more! I ate dinner with the Cristina Family and seven other volunteers.  Steve Cristina, basically the Vice-Ambassador, and his Finnish wife Lea, had their cook prepare us a wonderful meal, with Turkey, stuffing, Pies, and even sweet potatoes that Steve brought back from his last trip home to NO, LA.  Everything was fantastic!  The night was topped of by a trip to the Karaoke bar with friends.  We spent the whole long weekend in Tirana with some of our friends from the Embassy and then on Sunday hauled a 15 lb. frozen turkey (from Macedonia) back to Berat on the furgon.  

After letting it defrost for a few days, on Tuesday we began to prepare for out Berat after-Thanksgiving day feast.  Me, Marisa and Corrine, invited Albanians that we work with or teach, or just friends.  We thought that it would be a nice time to share some American culture and get to eat more stuffing!  Corrine helped me prepare the turkey Tuesday morning.  Bear in mind, this is the first time that I have ever cooked a turkey.  I don't even remember the last time that I even watched my mom prepare one.  So the pressure was really on not to ruin this big bird. In the oven at noon and out about 4, the turkey was a success!  Accompanied by stuffing, cranberry dressing, pumpkin pie and pecan pie bars (all from the USA), we laid the table and our guests started to arrive.  

Our Turkey feast got mixed reviews from our Albanian friends.  This is some thing that we are used to by know, after offing up many baked treats, then often times told that they need more salt, or the my banana bread taste too much like banana!  We were just glad to have everyone over and, for the most part, everyone enjoyed the meal.  We sure did!   And in typical thanksgiving style, there are plenty or left overs for turkey sandwiches for days to come! 

Monday, November 24, 2008

My Hands are like Ice Pops!

My back yard...view from my kitchen window.

This week it got really cold!  We had very little power (outages from 9 am to 6 pm), but lots of rain! I am really glad that I have my wood stove to keep me warm.  Sometimes I think that (with out heat) it is warmer outside of my house than inside!  Looking forward to my trip home to American, where there is central heat!