Knitting Class in Dublin, Ireland

Hi, everyone! Did you miss me? I am back to blogging after a full two weeks off. It’s been nice to have time away. I spent my spring break in Ireland with Whitney, my childhood friend.

I got to Dublin on a Saturday afternoon. Whit arrived the next morning (Easter Sunday) from Los Angeles. If it were me I would have been dead tired, but Whit was a real champ and arrived ready to see the city. She had a surprise planned for me and I had no idea what it was.

But first! We had to stop for a drink at Dublin’s oldest pub.

brazen head pub.jpg

Next up was the surprise. I had kind of thought it would be a facial or massage or something. I was wrong, though! Whitney took me to a loom knitting class where we got to make our own Merino wool scarves. (How cool is that?!) We took our class with Liadian Aiken.

knitting class
Knitting class
choosing yarn
Choosing our yarn colors
plotting colors
Plotting colors on a grid
loom
Setting up the loom …
threading the loom
.
sample
Starting with a sample

Things went well at first but then my yarn kept falling off the hooks. Righting it was a tedious process where our instructor had to re-hook each loop back on the loom. My yarn fell off about five or six times. 😦

knitting going well
When things went well …
knitting mistake
When things did not go well 😦 !!!

But FINALLY we finished and I am really happy with the result.

Now I have a beautiful, warm scarf that I handmade and that will remind me of Ireland and spending time with Whitney. 🙂 I love it so much! I wore it all week.

Here’s a little video of some live pub music that evening:

I’ve got lots more to share about Ireland. Four upcoming posts will be about my trip.

Friday Gratitude: Anibar Animation Festival

August 14-20 was the best week I’ve had in Kosovo. HANDS DOWN! I volunteered at the Anibar Animation Festival in Peja, Kosovo.

The Anibar Animation Festival began eight years ago. It was founded by my friend’s counterpart, when he was only 17. (What was I doing at age 17? Certainly not founding international film festivals.)

My friend had asked me if I would be the festival’s Jury Coordinator. I told him I would think about it. The next thing I knew, I was having a meeting with his counterpart, where we discussed my role as the Jury Coordinator. I walked out of the meeting thinking, “Wait! Did I ever … agree … to be the Jury Coordinator?”

Anibar Film Festival Peja Kosovo 1.jpg
It was the end of the week, and we were still smiling …

I’m not going to lie, I was dreading the whole thing. I pictured a bunch of high-powered Hollywood types who would call me in the middle of the night to make strange demands. Turns out, I was wrong to be so worried.

The jury was comprised of five lovely people who came from Spain, Switzerland, Poland, the Netherlands, and the United States.

2017 Jury Anibar Peja Kosovo.JPG

I met many new people from all over the world. At one point, I was at lunch, and all four of us spoke different native languages (French, Chinese, English, and Albanian). I love that my native language is the one used to facilitate communication between people who speak other languages.

I also saw many films. The festival had two theaters, plus two screens they set up in a local park.

Anibar Animation Festival

Anibar Peja Kosovo

I loved some films, and hated others. Below are two of my favorite films shorts that were shown at the festival. (Warning: Don’t watch these if your boss or your kids are in the room!)

Volunteering at the Anibar Animation Festival also meant I got to spend time in Peja, which is my favorite city in Kosovo. I mean, would you look at this view?

Peja Kosovo.JPG

Even the weather cooperated, by backing away from the 100-degree mark.

I miss the little routine I developed every morning, where I bought iced coffee (!!!) and went to the Anibar theater to hang out with my friends (and the newly rescued theater kitten) before the start of the festival’s daily activities.

theater kitten.JPG

It was a week full of friends, film screenings, workshops, talks, a gallery opening, and free food and drinks.

Puppet Anibar.JPG

The pouring rain on the night of the closing ceremony forced people to abandon the after-party at the park and stay at the theater. Group karaoke broke out across the theater’s stage and balcony. The night ended with a group of people dancing in the flooded streets of Peja.

Yeah, it was my best week in Kosovo …

Anibar
Thanks to Todd and Stephanee for this pic. 🙂

Learn How to Play Te Rrethi, a Card Game

Do you like to play cards? Would you like to learn a card game from another country, so that you can impress your friends and family at your next barbecue, party, or picnic? Read on, because I will give you step-by-step instructions (with pictures) for how to play Te Rrethi (meaning, “to the circle”), a popular card game in Kosovo.

Te Rrethi Card Game 6

Number of Players: Two to as many as you like. You can add additional decks if you have a large group. (Note: This demonstration uses three players.)

Objective: To be the first player with no cards.

Important Thing to Note: Cards are played “up,” or in ascending order, starting with the Ace and then building 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King, and then starting over again with an Ace.

Another Important Thing to Note: Cards are played first in the center of the circle, and then on the other players’ stacks.

Rule: If a player makes a mistake, all of the other players must give him or her a card from the bottom of their own stacks.

  1. First, take a deck of cards and remove the Jokers. Next, shuffle the deck and lay the cards face-down, in a circle.
    Te Rrethi Card Game 1.JPG
  2. Go around the table. Each player draws a card from anywhere in the circle, and lays in face-up in front of himself or herself. Keep going around the table until someone draws an Ace.Te Rrethi Card Game 2
  3. The person who draws the Ace lays it in the center of the circle.
    Te Rrethi Card Game 3
  4. The person who lays down the Ace gets to play again. He or she can either play the top card from the face-up stack in front of them, or draw from the circle of cards at random.
  5. The player will either first play off the Ace in the center of the card, or will add to another players stack, or will have to discard into their own stack. (Example: I lay down an Ace in the center of the circle, and then draw a 2. I will play the two in the center. Then I draw again. Or, I lay down an Ace in the center of the circle, and then draw a 5. I see that a fellow player has a 4 face-up on their stack. I will lay my card on top of their card, adding to their pile. [Remember, the object of the game is to get rid of all your cards.] Then, I draw again. Or, I lay down an Ace in the center of the circle, and then draw a 10. I don’t see anywhere to lay the 10 [none of my fellow players have a 9], so I must discard the 10 face-up on my own stack. My turn is over.)
    Te Rrethi Card Game 4
    Remember, always play on the center FIRST, if you have the appropriate card.

    Te Rrethi Card Game 5
    If you DON’T have a card to play in the center of the circle, you will THEN look to see if you can discard your card on another player’s stack.
  6. The next player goes.
  7. When all of the cards from the circle have been picked up by the players, the game still continues. Each player will flip over the stack in front of them (so that the cards are now face-down) and will pull a card from the bottom of the stack to continue playing. (Keep repeating this step as long as you have cards. Once you have played them all, flip your stack over [face down] and again, play the first card from the bottom of the stack.) You will continue to place cards on the center stack (which was the middle of the now-nonexistent circle) first, the other players second, and your own stack last.
    Te Rrethi Card Game 7
    .

    Te Rrethi Card Game 8

    Te Rrethi Card Game 10

  8. Continue until one player has no more cards in his or her stack. This player is the winner!
    Te Rrethi Card Game 9
    No cards in front of me … I win!

    (Note: I first played this game with my counterpart months ago, but I couldn’t remember all the rules. Special thanks to my site mate and her co-worker for agreeing to play with me and allowing me to take photos.)

The Last Few Weeks Before Summer Vacation

I fully expected that the last few weeks of school would drag by. I thought I’d be eager for the school year to be over, so I could visit home and then enjoy my summer vacation. But surprisingly, the last few weeks went by quickly.

Above: One of my fourth graders wrote me a sweet letter, and drew some pictures for me.

It is a tradition in Kosovo for the 9th grade to have a prom. I’ll admit, I didn’t want to attend (I don’t even teach the 9th grade). In my experience, celebrations in Kosovo can go one of two ways: they’re either fun, or they drag on forever. I tried to get out of going to prom by saying I didn’t have any money (because everyone had to pay their own way). Well, then my host father insisted on paying for me. So I kind of had to go.

The prom turned out to be pretty fun. My experience was in no way the night-long marathon my friend Chester experienced and wrote about here.

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My counterpart, another teacher, and me
circle dancing
Circle dancing (of course!)

The only “bad” thing that happened is that I was unexpectedly pulled in front of a microphone and asked to give a speech. Not only do I hate being put on the spot (who doesn’t?), I also don’t possess the language skills to spout off an impromptu speech in Shqip (Albanian). I managed to say, “Urime!” (congratulations), and then I ran away.

And last, my host family threw me a little birthday party before I left for the States. (I spent my actual birthday at home.) My host mother made all of my favorite foods: mish pule me patate (literally translated: meat chicken with potatoes), sallat shope (a salad with cucumber, tomatoes, and cheese), homemade cheese, and (not pictured), petulla (pronounced “pate-la”), which is fried bread with sugar on top. They also got me a chocolate cake.

Kosovo food
Kosovar food

chocolate cake

My host family invited my two site mates (Peace Corps speak for “other volunteers who live near you”) for dinner. Rachel brought Hello Kitty party hats.

happy birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me

Spring Break: There was a city called Berlin, in a country called Germany …

After planning to spend the first half of spring break in Rome, I debated what to do for the second half of the week. Before joining the Peace Corps, I hadn’t traveled around Europe much. Looking at the prices of flights from Rome left me feeling dizzy and giddy. I could go anywhere, for less than 100 Euro!

I thought about doing some city-hopping, but that just seemed overwhelming, given the little time I had. I finally settled on Berlin, because:

  • I had always wanted to go there.
  • I knew some other volunteer friends would be there, so I wouldn’t be totally alone.
  • There was a cheap flight directly back to Pristina (rather than having to fly to Skopje or Tirana).

Again, I like to travel with only a loose itinerary. Here’s what I ended up doing in Berlin:

  • Wednesday: Arrive in Berlin at night
  • Thursday: Free walking tour through SANDEMAN’S. Best thing I did in Berlin! We hit some big tourist spots: Brandenburg Gate, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and Checkpoint Charlie. Dinner with friends at a German restaurant (cannot recall name)
  • Friday: (only day with okay weather) Walk through Tiergarten Park (behind the Brandenburg Gate), and visit the Berlin Wall. Dinner with friends at an Indian restaurant.
  • Saturday: Visit Deutsches Historisches Museum. Dinner with friends at Leander.
  • Sunday: 6 a.m. flight back to Pristina!
Memorial to Murdered Jews
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
april and rachel
April and Rachel: At the end of our walking tour!
Rachel Tim April 2
Rachel, Tim, and April: Smiling despite the cold!

Trying beer in Germany, just to say I did it:

Brandenburg Gate at night
Brandenburg Gate at night
Brandenburg gate 3
Tim, Rachel, and April
berlin park
Visiting Tiergarten Park
rachel april tim park
Rachel, April, and Tim, at Tiergarten Park

At the Berlin Wall:

german history museum
Entrance to the Deutsches Historisches Museum
german history museum 2 inside
Inside the Deutsches Historisches Museum
german history museum american influence
Learning about the American influence on German culture

One interesting new thing I learned:

Hilter medals for women
Hitler’s medals for women
Hitler medal for women 2
Hitler’s medals for women

Sierra and Chelsea arrived on Saturday. It was nice to catch up with them and hear about their travel adventures.

April Chelsea Sierra
Last night in Germany! April, Sierra, and Chelsea

Tips and Observations about Berlin:

  • I’m going to be honest — Berlin is one of my least favorite places I have visited. To be fair, I had just come from a beautiful, Roman spring to cold, rainy Germany. Every day, I would put on as many layers as possible and go out into the wind. I tried to like the city, but I just couldn’t. I had pictured Berlin as this young, hip, vibrant, grungy city. But it is quiet and empty. I learned from our tour guide that Berlin is the only city in Western Europe that has declined in population, from 4 million residents to 3.5 million. Walking its wide streets and long blocks, I got an eerie feeling. Where were all the people?
  • I know Berlin has a reputation as a big party city. It’s the city of Cabaret! It’s the city of Hedwig and the Angry Inch! I cannot remember the last time I went to a club, so maybe if I had participated in the nightlife scene, I’d have a different opinion of Berlin.
  • Berlin is a very clean city. (As a friend pointed out, there are no people to mess it up.)
  • The subway system was extremely easy to navigate. I was able to get around with no problems.
  • My favorite part of my trip was the free walking tour. I’d definitely recommend it if you plan to visit.

Oh, well. I’m glad I was able to see Berlin, and check it off my list. I am also glad I visited while I am living in Europe. Had I paid a lot of money to fly over from the U.S., I probably would have been more disappointed.

(Thanks to Rachel for allowing me to post some of her photos here.)

The Food in Rome

I am usually against taking pictures of food. But, my friend Nicole and I had some truly awesome meals while we were in Rome. I wanted to share a few of our best experiences.

1. One night, Nicole wanted to check out Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood. I did a Google search for the best restaurants in Trastevere, and came across La Prosciutteria. I was all, “Look at the pictuuuuures! Please can we go thereeeeee?” And Nicole said yes. 🙂 So, we went.

food in rome
La Prosciutteria

It was a fun experience. The restaurant is small and busy. We managed to find a table in the basement. The food came quickly, because there isn’t anything to cook. Also, it was a reasonably priced meal. We each had a glass of wine, and we still paid less than 20 Euro per person.

2. Nicole and I got a million suggestions on places to eat/things to do in Rome. A friend of mine had suggested visiting Costanza, which is a restaurant in an old cave where the gladiators used to practice. We went for lunch, and I am so glad we did. The food was outstanding. And the ambiance was great — a quiet place, prompt and friendly service, and did I mention its a cave?

cave restaurant rome
Costanza Restaurant
cave restaurant rome 3
Costanza Restaurant
cave restaurant rome 2
Costanza Restaurant
April Nicole
April and Nicole at Costanza Restaurant, Rome
food cave restaurant
Gnocchi

3. On our last night in Rome, we were tired from so much walking. We decided to check out a restaurant in the neighborhood (Pigneto) where we were staying. Nicole found Qui Se Magna.

My family will tell you I am capable of eating my own weight in spaghetti. While Qui Se Magna was a small, neighborhood restaurant, the food was outstanding. I loved my spaghetti!

spaghetti in rome
Spaghetti dish at Qui Se Magna, Rome

If you are planning a trip to Rome, I would highly recommend these three restaurants.

Spring Break: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

April in Rome Favorite
My favorite photo from the whole trip!

Hi, Everyone! I am back in Kosovo and so happy to be blogging again! I missed writing while I was away. This week, I’m going to be sharing photos and experiences from my recent trip to Rome and Berlin.

I spent the first half of the week exploring Rome with Nicole, my friend from Boston. We had a loose idea of what we wanted to do while we were in Rome, but mostly, we played things by ear. Below is what we ended up doing.

Rome Itinerary

Saturday: Arrive, have appetizers at Necci, meet our airbnb host, and settle in. Eat dinner in our neighborhood.
Sunday: A walk around Rome, including all the major tourist spots — the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, and the Roman Forum. Eat dinner on our patio.
Monday: the Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica. Eat dinner in the Trastevere neighborhood.
Tuesday: reading/snack at Piazza Navona, lunch at Costanza, a long walk through the Villa Borghese. Eat dinner in our neighborhood.
Wednesday: Quick brunch in our neighborhood and then, goodbye, Rome! 😦

Triumphal Arch
Triumphal Arch
Colosseum
Colosseum
IMG_1901
Because you can never have too many photos of yourself at the Colosseum …
Nicole and April
Nicole and April at the Colosseum
Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain
April at Trevi Fountain
Spanish Steps 2
Spanish Steps
Looking down Spanish Steps Rome
Looking down from the Spanish Steps
pantheon
Pantheon
inside pantheon
Inside the Pantheon
inside roman forum
Inside the Roman Forum
roman forum
Inside the Roman Forum
Orange House Rome
Orange Glow
IMG_1935
Vatican City
vatican ceiling
Vatican Ceiling
st peter
St. Peter’s Basilica
april in rome
Piazza Navona

Tips and Observations about Rome

  • We downloaded the Rick Steves’ free walking tour app for the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. It provided a context for what we were seeing, and despite the cheese factor, both tours were informative.
  • We went to the Colosseum first thing in the morning, and planned to visit the Roman Forum right after that. But, the line was very long and didn’t appear to be moving. I suggested we hit all the other major tourist spots and return to the Forum in the evening. When we came back, there was no line at all, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.
  • I learned taking photos of the Sistine Chapel is not allowed. 😦 But, I saw it! 🙂
  • Rome is dirty, compared to other major cities I have visited.
  • I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that all of this was real, and not some American, Chuck-E-Cheese approximation of history. As Rick Steves pointed out in his tour of the Roman Forum, “You are walking on stones Julius Caesar walked on.” WOW.
  • I loved the trees in Rome as much as anything else, and learned (from Rick Steves) that they are called “umbrella pines.” They remind me of a child’s rendering of a tree — long, bare trunks with a mass of squiggles at the top.
April in Rome Umbrella Pines
Umbrella Pines

Stay tuned! I’ll be posting about food in Rome, Berlin, and thoughts/tips on travel this week!