Friday Gratitude: More Travel

This weekend, I am going to Tirana, Albania to attend a wedding. I am traveling with a bunch of Peace Corps friends, as it is a mutual friend who is getting married. While I’ve only been to three Balkan capital cities (including Pristina, Kosovo and Skopje, Macedonia), Tirana is my favorite. I flew out of the Tirana airport back in April, but I haven’t been to the city center since this time last year.

Again, I am so glad I was able to travel to Sweden this past weekend. It was a lot of travel packed into a short amount of time, but it was worth it to see Jose Gonzalez in concert. If you’d like to learn more about him, here’s a performance/interview I really like:

I am fascinated to read about the creative processes of my favorite artists, so I also really enjoyed this interview The Telegraph did with Jose Gonzalez.

When I was leaving Sweden last Saturday morning, I saw this bus go by. I was amused by the name. (This bus is “angered.”) πŸ™‚

angered bus in Sweden

Also, I am glad to have some point of reference for Sweden beyond just Ikea and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Visiting did little to dispel my idea that it is utopia, though. Gothenburg is a beautiful, clean, bike-friendly city full of beautiful, friendly people.

Sweden was the ninth country I have been to this year. I hadn’t done much international travel before joining the Peace Corps, and I am so grateful I’m able to do so now.

On another note, my parents are on their care package game! I got this in the mail this week. πŸ™‚ Thank you, Mom and Dad!

peace corps care package

Media consumption (a combo from the last few weeks):

  • My friend, Lisa, suggested I read Eleanor and Park. It’s one of the best books I’ve read all year. It is a teenage love story, which is not something I’d normally read. However, the characters were believable and likable. The story was great.
  • When news of a Billy Idol autobiography came out a few years ago, I got really excited. Then I forgot to read the book. I finally did! It was an interesting, honest account of his life and musical journey. He really does not pull any punches.

Okay, I am off to Tirana! If you’d like to read more about my previous trip there, you can read these posts:

national-art-gallery-of-albania-1
My friend, Val, and me in Tirana last November

 

Two Days in Gothenburg, Sweden: Day Two

Things I did in Gothenburg, Sweden, day two:

  • Ate my free breakfast at Hotel Royal (best spread I’ve ever seen at a hotel free breakfast)
  • Walked to the Opera House to make sure I knew how to get there
  • Stopped at Cafe Husaran for one of their famous giant cinnamon rolls
  • Visited the Gothenburg Museum of Art
  • Ate lunch at Feskekorka (literally, the “fish church”)
  • Visited Nordstan Mall
  • Had a bowl of tomato soup at a cafe a block away from my hotel
  • Saw Jose Gonzalez in concert! (My reason for the whole trip!)

(Keep reading for some tips and observations about Gothenburg, Sweden.)

sunrise in gothenburg sweden
Sunrise, Gothenburg, Sweden
The North Sea
Kattegatt
bikes in sweden
So many bikes in Gothenburg, Sweden!
broken lion dog
Aww … what happened here?
Cafe Husaran Goteborg Sweden
Inside Cafe Husaran, where I ate a giant cinnamon roll
stripper pole art sweden
Gothenburg Museum of Art
Edvard Munch Vampyre
Edvard Munch Vampyre
Patrik Adiene Altarpiece
Patrik Adiene Altarpiece
art sweden
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Olof Sager-Nelson Nocturne
Olof Sager-Nelson Nocturne … or as I call it, “Mew Mew Kitty”
feskekorka sweden goteborg
Inside Feskekorka fish market … it is actually pretty small
feskekorka gothenburg sweden
Mmm, fish
gothenburg sweden 4
Ship in Gothenburg, Sweden, across from the Opera House
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Gothenburg Opera House … about to see Jose Gonzalez perform for the first time!
Jose Gonzalez performing in Gothenburg Sweden with String theory 2
Third row from the stage … Jose Gonzalez!
Jose Gonzalez performing in Gothenburg Sweden with String theory 1
Jose Gonzalez performing with String Theory

I first started listening to Jose Gonzalez’s music a few years ago. Bored with all my music, I asked my work husband, Paul, who I should be listening to and he said, “Jose Gonzalez.” I’ve been a fan ever since. His music has come to mean so much to me.

Being able to see an artist I admire perform live is something I appreciate. You can’t watch your favorite writers write, and unless your favorite actor happens to be in a play, you can’t watch them perform live, either. Music is amazing because you can actually watch an artist at work.

Also, Jose Gonzalez sings in English, so I was curious to see if he would address the audience in English or in Swedish. (Answer: in Swedish)

Tips and Observations about Gothenburg, Sweden, Day Two:

  • Hotel Royal provided the best free breakfast I’ve ever had at a hotel. I ate: homemade bread with nuts and berries, a piece of herring, two pieces of salmon with dill sauce, and yogurt topped with walnuts, cranberries, and seeds. Yum!
  • There is tons of public transportation available in Gothenburg. The city is also very bike friendly. There are bike lanes and public transit tracks everywhere. I was afraid to wear headphones while I was walking because I had a real fear of getting run over.
  • This is the first vacation I have ever taken alone. I wasn’t sure how I would like it. I felt lonely at times, but there are bonuses to traveling alone, too. I was able to do whatever I wanted, and change plans on a whim.
  • But … I forgot to take any pictures of myself in Sweden! In my only selfie, my face is blocked by a giant cinnamon roll (which you can see on my Instagram feed).
  • I didn’t know Sweden is famous for giant cinnamon rolls until I started planning this trip. The woman at Cafe Husaran suggested a quarter-size portion, but I declined. (Lady, don’t you know I need to Instagram this?)
  • Admission to the Gothenburg Museum of Art was only 400 Kronor (4 Euro). Once again, I appreciate Europe’s commitment to making art accessible to the general public. (In contrast, general admission to the Art Institute of Chicago is $25.)
  • I wanted oysters for lunch at Feskekorka, but they were too expensive. I settled on a much more reasonably-priced lunch of cold salmon + pasta salad + can of sparkling water, for the equivalent of 10 Euro.
  • Another sweeping generalization of Swedish people: They are really tall. I’m 5’9″ and am usually taller than most women. Not so in Sweden … I’d say I was on the shorter side of average there. I was so excited to be in the third row of the Jose Gonzalez concert, but then a monstrously tall woman sat in front of me. :-/ I let it irritate me more than I probably should have …
  • I am glad I brought my heaviest coat for the trip. The first day was mild, beautiful autumn weather. But, the second day was blustery cold and drizzling at times.
  • I don’t know if Nordstan Mall is always busy, but when I went on Friday afternoon, it was jam-packed, wall-to-wall people. I only stayed for half an hour and then I just couldn’t even.
  • While “hey” is a greeting English speakers use, it is pretty informal. “Hej” in Sweden seems to be used in more formal situations. It startled me every time someone greeted me with “hej” or “hej hej.” I would respond with hello,Β which was also my way of warning everyone: I AM AN ENGLISH SPEAKER. I AM ABOUT TO HIT YOU WITH SOME ENGLISH. I’ve commented on this before … it is amazing how many people in Europe speak English. Every person with whom I interacted in Sweden spoke English well.
  • I think I hit most of the major tourist attractions in Gothenburg in just two days. If I’d had more time, maybe I would have liked to take a boat trip out to sea. But I really do think two days was enough time there.

Two Days in Gothenburg, Sweden: Day One

Things I did in Gothenburg, Sweden, day one:

  • Took the bus from the airport to my hotel.
  • Ate Swedish meatballs!
  • Took pictures at a cemetery.
  • Visited Liseberg amusement park.
  • Walked through a park.
  • Went to Myrorna thrift store.
  • Went on a long walk through the city.
  • Stopped at a cafe.
  • Stopped at Flying Tiger Copenhagen store.
  • Ate elk for dinner at Smaka.

(Keep reading for tips and observations about my first day in Gothenburg, Sweden.)

gothenburg sweden from plane
View from the plane
Processed with MOLDIV
Near my hotel … on the hunt for Swedish meatballs!
gothenburg sweden 1
Another view …
gothenburg sweden 2
Cute sidewalk display
svenska kyrkan
Svenska Kyrkan
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View of Liseberg amusement park from Svenska Kyrkan
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Halloween display at Liseberg amusement park
tobleron roulet
Toblerone Roulet game
liseberg sweden
Liseberg amusement park
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View of Gothia Towers
Halloween liseberg sweden
More Halloween decorations at Liseberg Amusement Park
park gothenburg sweden
Enjoying the last bits of fall color
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Walking through a park in Gothenburg, Sweden
fish church sweden
View of Feskekorka “fish church” (I ate here the next day)
cool building gothenburg sweden
Cool building, Gothenburg, Sweden
violin maker gothenburg sweden
An actual violin maker … WHAT?!?
flying tiger copenhagen
Flying Tiger Copenhagen (similar to Five Below)

Some tips and observations about Gothenburg, Sweden:

  • For my trip, I created a custom Google map following this tutorial. It really helped me visually lay out the city and plan what I wanted to do based on proximity. This is probably the only time I’ve been on vacation where I didn’t get lost once.
  • Getting into Gothenburg from Landvetter airport was super easy. I bought a round-trip ticket at a kiosk at the airport ($23 USD), walked outside, got on the bus, and it took off. The bus driver was the nicest bus driver I’ve ever met. (I’m used to Chicago bus drivers, who are a bit … salty.) My hotel, which was centrally located, was near the third stop (Kungsportsplaten).
  • Since I was only spending two nights in Gothenburg, I splurged on a nice hotel, Hotel Royal (which I highly recommend).
  • Other than gettting to/from the airport, I did not use public transportation. I traveled everywhere on foot.
  • I had read about a food truck that served Swedish meatballs near my hotel. I went to one that didn’t have meatballs, and was kindly directed to another one nearby.
  • During the bus ride from the airport, I saw a beautiful old church and cemetery, so I walked back to take pictures. (I realize I post a lot of church and cemetery pictures to this blog … I don’t consider myself particularly interested in either, but maybe I am? They’re easy to take good photos of, I guess.)
  • Liseberg amusement park is a main attraction in Gothenburg. It is only open during the summer, Halloween, and Christmas. So, I got lucky and was able to visit. I was hoping to see kids in costume (struck out … no one was dressed up). I wanted to visit the haunted house but I was too wimpy to go alone. 😦 Instead, I rode the ferris wheel. πŸ™‚
  • I try to avoid making sweeping generalizations about groups of people. But, MY GOD, Swedish people are beautiful! (Imagine being surrounded by friendly super models, and you’ll know what my life was like for two days.) The man who waited on me at amusement park ticket office was the most beautiful man I have ever seen. I wanted to be like, “Sir, why do you work here? You are better looking than any movie star I can think of.”
  • I visited Myrorna, a thrift shop I had read about in an online travel guide. I had visions of finding beautiful Scandinavian items at a fraction of the cost, but Myrorna was like the Salvation Army back at home. I guess no matter where you are in the world, other people’s junk is just … other people’s junk. A woman made a comment to me in Swedish about the merchandise. I pretended I understood her and laughed along with her. πŸ™‚
  • I later walked by a store called Flying Tiger Copenhagen and ended up buying an impromptu gift for someone. If I were to compare the store to one in the U.S., I’d say it was similar to Five Below.
  • I was feeling extremely full after my lunch of Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, and ligonberries. I’d made a reservation at a nice restaurant called Smaka in the hope of getting to eat reindeer (I had elk instead). I wasn’t feeling up to another heavy meal of meat and potatoes, but I am glad I made myself go. I had a really nice time. I re-read parts of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Myrorna was mentioned! Haha!) and enjoyed a nice meal alone. Elk is very mild. It almost has no flavor. My favorite part of the meal was the whipped butter with caviar that was brought out with my bread basket. Holy cow … I ate all of it (the butter, not the bread basket). I had heard that dining out in Sweden is super expensive, but the total cost for my meal (elk entree + a glass of wine + a tip) was about 320 Kronor (32 Euro), which I thought was reasonable. It was the fanciest meal I had during my trip.

Stay tuned for more about my trip!

Friday Gratitude: If You’re Reading This, I’m in Sweden!

HallΓ₯! I am in Gothenburg, Sweden right now!

This trip has been the wind in my sails over the last few months. I’m a fan of singer/songwriter/guitarist Jose Gonzalez, and on a whim, I started poking around his website to look at his concert dates. I saw he was playing in Gothenburg, Sweden (his home city), and so I started thinking about a trip to Sweden.Β As luck would have it, I found a cheap flight ($109 USD) for a quick, two-night trip, and so I booked it!

My funds and my travel time are limited at this point, but I can think of nothing else in the world I’d rather be doing than attending a Jose Gonzalez concert in Sweden. πŸ™‚ The concert is tonight!

I know from my own research and from talking to others who have traveled to Sweden that it is an expensive place to visit. As you can see, my goals are pretty modest.

IMG_7202

Gothenburg is Sweden’s second-largest city (after Stockholm) and is situated on a branch of the North Sea called Kattegatt. If I take a picture of the water I don’t know that it’ll technically count as the North Sea, but I’m going to call it that. πŸ™‚

Stay tuned next week! I’ll be posting more about my trip.

A Light-Hearted Comparison of China vs. Kosovo

I was talking with my mom about my trip to China in 2012. She suggested I write a blog post, comparing and contrasting my experiences in China with those in Kosovo.

Please note that this meant to be a fun, light-hearted comparison of the two countries, rather than a deep cultural analysis. Also, I only got to spend 10 days in China, whereas I’ve lived in Kosovo for a year. I am more familiar with Kosovar culture than Chinese culture.

Having said that, here are a few fun observations about both countries.

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In both places, I’ve felt like this:

Going through customs.jpg

China and Kosovo are both mountainous countries.

Great Wall
The Great Wall of China
Novo Brdo, Kosovo
Novo Brdo, Kosovo

In both countries, I’ve used “squatty potties”:

We called these -squatty potties.-
Toilet in China
squatty potty
Toilet in Kosovo

There are scorpions in both countries!

Before I went to China, I was like, “I am totally going to eat a scorpion.” I imagined showing my friends and family a photo of me eating a scorpion, and all of them being suitably impressed by my bravery. Well, then I got to China and visited a night market. When I saw all the scorpions wriggling on sticks (they’re still ALIVE!), I lost my nerve. I have come to accept that while I am not a picky eater, that doesn’t mean I am an adventurous eater.

Yummy. Live scorpions on a stick.
Mmmm

For the record, I have never seen a scorpion in Kosovo. I’ve shown the following picture to locals here, and they claim never to have seen one, either. But! A volunteer living up in the mountains took this photo. I’m convinced.

Scorpion in a toilet
Don’t sit down!

American fast food. Yes, it exists.

The only American fast food chain that exists in Kosovo (as of right now) is KFC, although they offer a limited menu. What’s the point of going to KFC if you can’t order gluey macaroni and cafeteria-style mashed potatoes?!

I don’t remember what all I saw in China, aside from McDonalds. (No, I didn’t eat there.)

McDonalds!
McDonalds in China

I engaged with local superstitions in both countries.

In China, I hugged this tree to gain an extra year of life.

Tree hugging for an extra year of life.jpg

In Kosovo, I flipped over a tile on this roof to ensure I will get married.

IMG_2754

So, there you have it. A fun comparison of my experiences in China vs. Kosovo. I realize this post features a lot of toilet pictures. You’re welcome.

 

My Trip to Beijing, China 2012

This time of year (mid-August) always makes me think about the trip I took to Beijing, China in 2012. It was part of my graduate school program in social work. I traveled with 15 other students. Every morning, we attended classes on the topic of International Adoption Policy.

China was my first international trip (unless you count Canada and the Bahamas). I was 31 at the time, and had always wanted to travel internationally. Since my trip to China, I have been to nine other countries (Spain, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, France, England, Italy, Germany, and Hungary).

Before going to China, a friend told me, “This trip will change your life.” After I returned, it took me a while to see how much of an impact the trip had on my life. Sure, it was fun to travel and learn about another culture, but was it life changing … ?

Almost exactly two years after our trip, my professor lost her long battle with cancer. She was a compassionate woman, teacher, and social worker. She had this soft, sweet voice that mirrored her nature. BUT. She was totally capable of cutting right through b.s. (Not that I ever tried to b.s. her!) Since her death I have become very close to her family, especially her teenage daughter. I am so thankful to have them in my life. I don’t think I would be as close to them as I am were it not for our shared experience of going on that trip. So you see, the trip did change my life, just not in any way I could have predicted.

Lynn
My professor, Lynn Boyle

In Beijing, after we attended school in the morning, we would go on various excursions in the afternoon. Some were fun, cultural trips and some were work-focused. We met with several NGOs, visited an orphanage, and got to tour a medical facility where they performed minor corrective surgeries (to fix things like cleft palates and club feet) on orphans.

My second favorite photo
April and the Great Wall of China
View from the Summer Palace
A view from the Summer Palace
We took a ride in this boat.
At the Summer Palace
Me in the Forbidden City
April in the Forbidden City

Visiting the orphanage was an especially powerful experience for me. I have often thought I would be interested in doing some type of work with orphans. Well, an opportunity arose here in Kosovo for me to teach at an orphanage one day per week. I’ll start this fall. It is amazing how life brings us the things we seek, isn’t it?

At the Amazing Hands orphanage

Size, Travel, Home

I have struggled in writing this post. It was in my drafts folder for a while. I even struggled with what to title this post.

If I sound snobby in this writing, I apologize. (“Oh, Kosovo is so tiny, compared to my huge, superpower country!”) It is not my intention to come off that way. What I want to do is share some thoughts about Kosovo, travel, and “home.”

Another volunteer is from Texas. She recently showed me this photo, which kind of blew my mind:

Texas to Kosovo ratio

Before school ended, I talked about the United States with my fourth grade class. No one knew how many states the U.S. has. I told them 50, and I said, “Imagine 50 Kosovos.” But even that isn’t accurate. Kosovo is the size of one of our smaller states. The city where I used to live has a larger population than all of Kosovo, and Chicago isn’t even the U.S.’s biggest city.

Being in Kosovo has made me consider not only how big the United States is, but also how unreachable it can be. The average salary in Kosovo is equivalent to $9,600 per year. Kosovars also have the most restricted travel visas of anyone in Europe (the article I reference is from December 2015, but is still true today). When you consider these factors, buying a plane ticket to visit the U.S. seems near impossible.

I have talked to people here who have told me visiting the U.S. would be a dream for them. And I will admit, I sometimes struggle to relate. To me, the U.S. is just “home.” Having lived in Kosovo for a year now, it is strange to think many people I know have never been there.

Another volunteer friend of mine is from Arizona, a state I have never visited. She went home recently. She told me that while she was there, it was really important to her to visit the Grand Canyon. It is a big part of “home” for her. It is also strange to think that while she and I are both from the U.S., I have never seen the Grand Canyon, nor is it a place that signifies “home” to me.

Anyway, this is just a hodgepodge collection of some things I have been considering lately. Thanks for reading, as always.