Tag Archives: Travel

What’s Normal, Anyway?

Some people have this idea of a “normal” life. They just want to live a balanced life, loving their job, loving their spouse (or partner or roommate, whoever), maybe even aspire to buying a house in the burbs, filling it with happy golden retrievers and children’s laughter, and having enough time to go to the gym, cook a 3 course dinner for your family, and have passionate sex in the evenings.

But what if “normal” isn’t normal for everyone? Or what if your idea of normal is someone else’s idea of crazy? My fiance and I live our “normal” routine. Normal consists of him catching a flight once a week for 3-4 days at a time to whatever normal1destination his client happens to be in (lately, that’s been Frankfurt, but it changes up from time to time.) Meetings change, appointments change, so those days, inevitably, also change. Normal for me is about half a week of living la vida single – drinks with friends, going to the gym, chatting on gchat til 1 am. The irony is that I also travel for work, usually about 3-4 weeks at a time (depending on the needs of my project and how long I’ve been away from the project site.) So “normal” for me is always needing a cat sitter, always adjusting to new hours and time zones and changes in weather – i.e. never falling into a routine.

I think what most people consider to be comforting, i.e. routinized days filled with breakfast and dinner at home, lunch with colleagues, typical Tuesday, Wednesday, or Friday activities – to me sounds stressful! How can I possibly know on Monday what I will want to do on Friday? How can I tell you that in two weeks time I will be in Berlin for the weekend – what if I want to go to London instead?

I think everyone defines their own sense of normalcy and what makes them feel balanced and stable. As I’ve learned over the years, I feel most balanced and stable when everything is in motion. Monotony scares me and forward motion keeps my batteries charged, always ready for action.

What is your comfort zone like? How do you define normal?

Friends Get Married

I’ve hit that age when everyone you know starts getting married. Some even start having (gasp!) babies! In the last year alone I’ve been to weddings in Serbia, the U.S., Germany, and Paraguay (oh, and there was that time I met my BFF’s baby in the Bahamas.) It’s expensive to keep up with so many friends and their love lives, but it’s also so much fun!

Every country has their traditions – some of them seem weird (actually, no, they ARE weird, but let’s not debate semantics here) but they are all equally as crucial for the couple getting married and for the guests in attendance. Here is a list of some of the things I found to be the strangest, or most unique, in the “foreign weddings” I attended this year:

SERBIA

Vladi and Ive

Vladi and Iva

  • The first wedding is in a church (pretty standard) and not all wedding guests are invited to attend – this is usually a small, intimate ceremony that lasts about half an hour – the couple must accept congratulations and smile and pose with every guest who came to the church for the photographer
  • When you walk outside the church, there are local gypsy brass bands that come up to the wedding party and play music – their music becomes more insistent the longer they play, often putting the horn of the instrument directly in your ear and playing at full volume until you give them some cash (at this particular wedding the best man also brought the gypsy band to the party, much to the delight of all the guests) – keep in mind, these guys can pull in thousands of dollars a night for a big wedding
  • When you arrive to the reception, the couple once again stands outside and poses with every. single. guest. (in this case about 350 people) Only after every guest had their photo op does the party begin.
  • Lots and lots of different cakes.
  • Oh, and the photographers have printers on hand and walk around the party distributing photos that guests can buy on the spot (this is not so much weird as awesome!)
Brass Band

Gypsy Brass Band

GERMANY

(This was a mixed wedding: half East German half Northern England, i.e. Geordie)

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Ali and Neil

  • Straight from leaving the church the friends of the bride and groom hold up an old bedsheet which has a giant heart drawn in the middle, and the name of the bride and groom inside of that. The bride and groom are each given a pair of tiny scissors and they must work together to cut the heart shape out. Once complete, the groom then carries the bride through the opening they’ve created in the sheet.374396_10152077898159278_1848781778_n
  • German tradition is that as the first true test of marriage, the newly wedded couple must work together as a team to saw apart a foot in diameter log using an old school, massive saw. The first marital row, if you will, ensues.995734_10152077899664278_1485770867_n
  • This might just be East German, not totally sure, but the bride and groom are each given two giant loaves of bread – they must create a pair of shoes from this bread. The first one to walk across the stage (or room) in their new shoes wins!
  • Each guest is given a balloon filled with helium and a postcard pre-addressed to the bride and groom. Each guest writes a message to the couple and ties the postcard to the balloon. Everyone releases the balloons at the same time (great photo op!) Once the balloon finally lands (wherever that may be) it’s up to any random stranger passing by who finds it to mail it back to the couple. (Strangely, our postcard made it back to Ali and Neil from the Czech Republic!)

PARAGUAY

(This was a mixed wedding half Paraguayan half Colombian – so the traditions may be a bit mixed up – at least in my mind)

Nati and Luis

Nati and Luis

  • There is a traditional Paraguayan dance at the beginning of the reception and every guest must dance for a few minutes with the bride and groom (men with the bride, women with the groom) and smile for a photo op!
  • Ligas – this took me a while to understand! The bride has about 20 garters under her dress (one garter for each single woman at the wedding). One garter is special (i.e. a different color) and the rest are traditional white. The bride sits opposite the single women (one at a time) and they each lift their right leg and touch the souls of the shoes. The groom then takes one garter from the bride’s leg and must slide it across their legs and feet and up the thigh of the single lady. His “last chance to touch another woman” if you will! The woman who gets the colorful garter is the next to marry. Ligas in Paraguay
  • Masks/hats/whistles/glow sticks/silly string, etc – Boxes of costume-like hats and whistles, (see list above) are distributed to guests to liven things up. I have to admit, this makes the party a hell of a lot more fun!
  • Whiskey – easy as that, the drink of choice for the night is whiskey, the nicer the better
  • For the Colombian tradition that stood out most, aside from sharing a bottle of whatever they were passing around, is some dance where a woman lies on the floor (or I suppose it could also be a man?) and all the party guests dance feverishly over her. (See example of Mapale here.)

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As I continue to grow my international network of friends, I will continue to observe the oddities of culture, which are never more openly displayed than in time-honored traditions such as weddings!

Diving the Adriatic

What more inspiration do you need?

What more inspiration do you need?

On our third day in Bol, an island off the coast of Croatia, we decided to try our hand at diving in the Adriatic – a first for us both! A is a an Advanced Diver (with about 60 dives under his belt) and I am merely Open Water Certified, this being my 6th dive! For those of you who remember when I learned how to dive last year in Indonesia, and how big of an accomplishment it was for me given how scared I had been initially, I will tell you – I was almost just as scared this time!

Having been “out of the water” for about a year, I started to panic if I would remember all the right signals, how to inflate my BCD (the vest you wear when diving), how to equalize, how to descend. The thoughts were floating through my mind, and the dive school where we were was not particularly helpful in easing my concerns. Since I wasn’t taking the course with them, they assumed I knew all I needed to know and were ready to let me charge in the water and flail! (Okay, not really – they would not have wanted me to fail at diving, but they weren’t quite the coddlers I had gotten so used to at Diversia Diving in Gili Trawangan!)

So I un-confidently put on my wetsuit – full body including hood (apparently the water remains at a cool, even 15°C (59°F) through winter and summer, and the deeper you go the colder it gets, (logically!) I didn’t believe we’d really need it actually (after baking in the sun before we got into the water, but of course once you are about 20 meters down your hands and face are legitimately cold and you are grateful your core is snug and warm. We were putting on the wetsuits when my panic first arose – the suit was too small and tight and I couldn’t figure out if it was the right size or not. It took much help from A to pull and contort to fit until I finally decided maybe the larger size would be easier. It was, but not by much!

Image courtesy of dipndive.com

Image courtesy of dipndive.com

Then we fitted our shoes, fins, masks, and placed our BCD on the air tank, (I forgot how to even do this! The dive master had to help me remember the basics for how the straps went on, etc,) and we walked it all out to the boat. In the boat were about 10 other divers of all different levels of advancement (some at the very beginning and others with years of experience behind them.) A and I were placed in a group with another man from Germany, who had been diving about 7 years, but who wisely chose the “shallower” group as there was more to see and the water was less frigid. As an Open Water diver you really aren’t meant to go below 18 Meters, however we were aiming for 25.

While on the boat A refreshed my memory of the basics, how to inflate and deflate, the symbols for “OKAY” and “Let’s go up”. The dive masters reminded us to tell them when we had 100 Bar and then 50 Bar remaining in our air tanks (you always start out with 200 Bars of pressure and monitor closely as the dive continues to make sure you don’t run out of air – plus, the lower the air in the tank, the harder it is to maintain them, apparently.) So I spit in my mask (to avoid fogging) rinsed it in the salt water, put on my fins, tested out my breathing tubes, and fell backwards into the cold (but clear) water.

I was feeling disoriented, but calmer once I put my face under the water and reminded myself that I could, in fact, breathe and all would be okay. We three divers awaited our Dive Master and began our descent.

Descending upon clear blue waters

Descending upon clear blue waters

I didn’t realize this at the onset, but the Adriatic is not particularly known for it’s abundance of wildlife. Either the water is too cold, (or maybe too salty!) but you tend to see more lobsters, cuddle fish, octopi, and I’m sure nameless other fish lacking in color, but not in diversity. Compared to my previous dive experience filled with brightly colored fish and coral, giant sea turtles, and Nudi Branchs, the diving was somewhat unspectacular. It was, however, a great experience to get back in the water and familiarize myself with the weight of the BCD, the feeling of breathing air from a tank, the sights of fish and water around you, and the knowledge that this is really f*cking awesome!

It took me a while to neutralize my buoyancy and find a place in the ocean where I neither sank nor drifted up. In fact, I probably spent a lot more energy than usual doing just that – swimming instead of floating – and breathing in deep, satisfying breaths. So much so that I was down to 100 Bar in no time. With no watch of my own, I had no way of telling how quickly I was using my air, nor how my fellow divers were doing on theirs, but I let the dive master know and continued on my way. Within what seemed like mere minutes, I checked my air again – 50 Bar. How was time passing so quickly? Or was it… I once again let the dive master know and continued to follow his lead through the ocean, all the while closely watching my air pressure decline – 50, 45, 40, 35, 25. When I was down to 20 I let him know (the PADI books warn you to aim for an exit close to 50 Bar so you don’t risk running out of air and so you don’t damage the tank.) He was calm. I was trying to remain so.

Finally, he must have realized it was time to take me up and alerted the other divers to wait below while he helped me to the surface. I inflated my BCD, a little too enthusiastically, and began to free float to the top. He grabbed my vest quickly and pulled me back down to his level for a minute to decompress – then we floated up together. Once on the surface I could see exactly where were in relation to the island and the boat that brought us there (something about being underwater is so disorienting that you never really know where you are or where you’re going!) He mentioned something I didn’t quite understand involving “run out of air, swim to the boat” and asked if it was clear, I said sure, and he quickly popped below the surface. Wait, what did he say?!

Still a bit confused, I realized I still had about 10 bar to get me safely to the boat (and of course I could float above the surface of the water if I ran our sooner.) Not equipped with a snorkel, I put my face under and continued to use my air, while floating with the current and paddling gently to see if I might be missing anything special underwater. I wasn’t. Well, not if you don’t count other divers below the surface! So I ventured forward and eventually found my way back to the boat.

All in all, the dive was cool. I use the word cool, because it’s the perfect descriptor for the cold water, the relaxed nature of the staff, the fact that I did actually remember how to dive, and that I was officially a diver with more than one location under my belt!

For my next adventure, I’ll look into locations with more sea life and colorful coral. I may just work towards my Advanced Certification sooner than I thought!

At Home Wherever I Go

At Home Wherever I Go

World Travels: Croatia and the Adriatic

I have long been dreaming about a visit to the Croatia, to see the crystal blue waters of the Adriatic and to feel the soft, white pebbles between my toes. Well, in reality, the “soft, white pebbles” are quite painful without sandals, and you jump from your flip flops into the water as quickly as possible, but let’s not ruin the image, shall we?

Living in Berlin has many perks, but one of them is not proximity to the ocean. Granted, the North Sea or the Baltic are a short 3 hours away, but as long as we’re traveling, wouldn’t we enjoy seeing a bit of our neighbors to the south? Croatia has long been hailed for it’s cheap flights (thank you, EasyJet) and relative un-discovered-ness. To be honest, until I began dating a Serbian man and moved to Europe, I’m not sure I could have placed Croatia on the map!

So here we are, 2.5 years in Europe, and I was dying to see what it was all about. We booked our flights direct to Split and took a look around Google Maps and Trip Advisor to see where we should stay. One look at the map showed us the abundance of islands off the coast, and I knew a quick flight was not all we were in for. So we researched buses and ferries and settled on Bol on the island of Brac, just off the coast of Dalmatia.

The flight was easy, just under 2 hours, and then came the fun part – a 40 minute bus ride to town, a long wait in the ferry line, 45-60 minute ferry ride to Brac, and a taxi on the other end for about 45 minutes to our destination. I’m pretty sure you could imagine our relief and excitement when we came through the mountainside (or were those just really large hills?) to see turquoise waters and gorgeous white beaches!

Arriving to the Island of Brac, Croatia

Arriving to the Island of Brac, Croatia

We dropped our things at the hotel, grabbed a couple of towels (and some sun-block) and headed for the beach. It’s still summer here in Europe, which means that the beach was pretty packed, and surprisingly, not just with Croatians. The license plates revealed some had traveled as far as the UK, Russia, Poland, Spain, and even Portugal! So much for Bol being “undiscovered”!

Bol is most famously known for it’s gorgeous Zlatni Rad beach, a triangular shaped beach at the edge of the town’s strip with beautiful white beaches surrounded on both sides by a lovely light blue wading area which quickly drops off to ocean just a few meters out. It’s a haven for sun bathers, wind surfers, kite surfers, and snorkelers – and with good reason.

Image Borrowed from www.zlatni-bol.com

Image Borrowed from http://www.zlatni-bol.com

While we didn’t partake in any of the surfing activities (though we did consider it) we enjoyed the sun and the beach restaurants and bars lining Zlatni Rad. You have your pick of cocktails, burgers, smoothies, crepes, fruit, etc and can spend a glorious day in the sun or shade. When you grow tired of the sun it’s an easy 20 minute walk to the center of the town which is bustling with restaurants of all kinds and, of course, ice cream.

We had found, at least for a long weekend, our slice of heaven and European beaches 🙂

Stretches of White Against a Blue Sky

Stretches of White Against a Blue Sky

Lunch and Graveyards

A day or two into my trip (which was only 3.5 days, after all,) when scouring for another delicious meal option before hitting the recoletta cemetary and the Sunday Feria, I came across Tea Connection, which I had never heard of before, (but seriously wish they would import to Berlin!) I was staying in Recoleta and planning to hit the Sunday Feria later in the afternoon, so I decided to stop in to one of the few locations near my apartment and enjoy some more healthy grub.

First order of the day – fresh juice! I simply cannot get enough tropical flavors, (and yes, I know BsAs is not tropical, but they seem to have much better access to the good stuff than those of us stuck in the northern tundra!) So I placed my order for juice and yet another inventive and delicious salad. The trend was catching on! Lo and behold, my food arrived and I had my very own bottle of juice!

It’s like they knew everthing I wanted before I even had to ask! Even down to the healthy bowl of breadsticks – ha.

My own bottleajuice!

My own bottleajuice!

So I chowed down, regretfully too full to have a tea, (but knowing I needed to save my resources for the lattes and ice creams to come later in the day when my legs were too tired to carry me,) and wandered my way over to the cemetary for what I always remember to be my favorite Feria in all of South America! Every Sunday the park in front of Eva Peron’s eternal home is cluttered with street vendors offering all variety of goods from leather bags to hand knitted scarves, paintings, pottery, jewelry, stones, and knick knacks a plenty. And on the sunny and warm days the grass is filled with people sipping mate and catching up with friends, often with some kind of live music to accompany their afternoon.

It’s just a happy and peaceful place to be. And lucky for me I found just what I was looking for!

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

I spent a lot of time looking for a Tree of Life that I loved over the years, and never quite found one. So as I passed by this man’s stand who had created this piece of work personally, I told him how beautiful it was and continued on my way. Only to realize a few minutes walk away that, wait – what was I thinking, it was perfect! So I quickly walked back and tried it on, along with 4 or 5 other beautiful pieces of jewelry he had on display, and made my selection carefully.

After a successful morning I decided to treat myself to a mid-afternoon capuccino and a snack. I wandered away from the park in the direction of my apartment and stumbled upon a quiet cafe with white trimmings – L’Avant Garde. A nicely designed place to catch a break. I saw someone munching on some type of yogurt parfait and decided it was a healthy enough alternative to all the ice cream I’d been eating, so I opted in.

Capuccino and a Parfait

Capuccino and a Parfait

Another afternoon complete, and it was off to the pool to catch some of those rays my poor pale skin had been so severely deprived of!

Buenos Aires Lunch Style

After a 14 hour flight from Frankfurt to Buenos Aires (not including the previous travel time from Berlin to Frankfurt,) arriving in Buenos Aires only to discover they do actually now charge American citizens a “reciprocity tax” of $160 dollars (i.e. a “visa” to enter the country,) and an hour drive to my apartment from the airport, I was exhausted. I debated never leaving the apartment, ever, and just staying put to sleep away the day. But then I remembered, I was in Buenos Aires!

So I ingested some caffeine (Excedrin people, nothing strange here!) to knock out my headache, put on a new, cute summer dress I acquired in Berlin, and hit the streets. The minute I stepped outside into the sunshine and busy streets of BsAs (Buenos Aires), I couldn’t hold back my smile. I felt like skipping along the roads and shouting that I had made it!

For a girl who loves to shop and doesn’t often get to do it (it’s a non-profit world I’m in these days,) Buenos Aires is heaven. Fashion and style abound, and for the less noble (like myself) the leather is simply gorgeous. You cannot hold back from drooling over purses, shoes, and jackets galore.

So to me, a perfect day in Buenos Aires consists of wandering the streets of Palermo, popping into shops to my heart’s content, stopping for a mid-morning espresso or fresh squeezed juice, wandering some more, and finding a delicious place to hole away for mealtime. That is one thing there is absolutely no shortage of in BsAs – food! And it is the best you could possibly imagine. Fresh ingredients, crisp salads, delicious pastries, mouth watering steaks – and not to mention the more exotic choices which have found their way into BsAs kitchens such as Japanese or Moroccan.

I managed to find my way into a few new restaurants that have popped up in the last few years since I was here. On my first day I was lucky enough to stumble upon B-Blue Deli & Natural Bar where I delightfully realized my mango juice would be served my favorite way – freshly squeezed and oversized! Accompanied by a side of carrots and some healthy dip I couldn’t quite identify, but was delicious all the same.

Fresh Squeezed Mango Juice!

Fresh Squeezed Mango Juice!

Knowing I was in for a few weeks of eating meat almost exclusively, (Paraguay does not have quite as prevalent a vegetable market in local restaurants as one would think given their extensive agriculture,) I eagerly ordered a salad. And once again, I was wide eyed at the largess of the bowl put in front of me. After two years living in Germany, I have yet to find a place that does salads right by me, and by right, of course, I mean like this!

Salad Deliciousness!

Salad Deliciousness!

Mixed greens, avocados, almonds, tomatoes, and some type of honey vinaigrette – muah! Perfection. Knowing I had plenty of steak ahead to fill my days and nights, I relished this fresh and healthy delight, (and took note of the ingredients with a promise to replicate the same at home!) And this was the beginning of my quest for yummy delights throughout the city.

Warmth, sunshine, and delicious food – indeed I had arrive in my beloved BsAs!

The “Mosquito” Problem

Have you ever noticed this about mosquitoes – when you search for them you can never ever ever find them, but when you don’t pay attention and think everything’s cool and you are mosquito free they come up and bite you! Or even worse, they buzz in your ear so you know they are there but you still can’t catch them!

While the mosquitoes in Argentina piss me off because I hate to be itchy, (and this sucker just bit my toe…my TOE! Come on!) the mosquitoes in Paraguay also terrify me because they carry Dengue. And while people think Dengue is no big deal, (especially if you ask a Paraguayan because they have most likely had it and survived it – TWICE,) I’m pretty sure you can actually die from it, or at least feel very much like you might die.

So with all my happy triumph for being in summer when the northern hemisphere is still suffering in a sad, lonely, gray, I am suffering due to inconsiderate insects. And I must admit, while I’m very much a “live and let live” kind of person, the exception to this rule for me is mosquitoes. They are fine living until they threaten to bite, and then they are done for. If I can catch them!

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