My Favorite Photos from the Second Quarter

Without further adieu, here are my favorite photos from December 2017 until now. By my own method of counting, I have completed my second quarter of Peace Corps service.

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Peace Corps conference in December
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At the Po-E-Ze Competition

Vacation has started! #pristina #butnotforlong

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Eiffel Tower

London calling! #cheesy #tourist #london #england🇬🇧

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Chelsea and April, at a London Pub
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With Charlie, Chelsea, and Sierra, in Prizren, Kosovo

Serbian monastery in the snow. #peja #kosovo

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A walk in Pristina in February
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Happy kitty!

#Skopje #Macedonia #church 🇲🇰

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Fortress/castle from the Ottoman Empire, Skopje, Macedonia
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Traditional Kosovar clothing
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Visiting the Ecological Museum

April in Rome Favorite

April in Rome Umbrella Pines
Umbrella Pines
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Inside the Roman Forum
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April and Nicole at Costanza Restaurant, Rome
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Tim, Rachel, and April, in Berlin
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Easter Eggs
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Budapest

I am so excited to be able to send my grandpa a postcard from his mother's home country! #budapest #hungary #motherland

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My village in Kosovo
April Mirusha Waterfall
April at Mirusha Wateralls
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April, under a waterfall
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Anniversary dinner! Shay, April, Christian, Val, and Charlie

As always, thanks for reading! You can see my favorite photos from the first quarter here.

Friday Gratitude: Reflections on Travel

April Gardner Rome Italy
Contemplating Rome … (Thanks to Nicole for taking this photo.)

This week, I am especially grateful to have the opportunity to travel. I didn’t start traveling internationally until I reached my 30s. I’d always wanted to, but I didn’t have much money when I was younger. And, many of the jobs I had in my 20s were contract positions (meaning, time off = no pay).

Once, I had a boss who made the comment, “I’ve already done Europe.” At the time, I’d never been to Europe, and I thought, What a stupid (and privileged) thing to say. (How does one “do” Europe, exactly? Check it off the list with a plan to never return?)

I had a conversation with several friends last week, where we discussed travel and being able to appreciate it. (As we were climbing the Spanish Steps in Rome, Nicole heard a kid protest, “I’m tired of traveling!”) I didn’t grow up in a family that took fancy trips abroad. And if I had, how much of that would I really remember now?

I am grateful for travel even when it isn’t fun. Like that time when my brain was fuzzy from consuming half a bottle of wine and prosciutto with the texture of butter, and I stuck our key in the wrong door. (Insert whatever joke you want here.)

That time Nicole and I (well, I) got our Airbnb keys stuck in the neighbor's door. #rome #springbreak2017 #shumeproblem

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Oh, and that time Nicole and I tried to stop someone from slipping into our building without a key, and got screamed at in a colorful mix of English and Italian. (How considerate of you to use the F-word, lady, so that we could understand you!)

But overall, Rome was a dream of a vacation. Our airbnb had a private, enclosed garden, where Nicole and I would have our morning coffee and our evening wine (and write postcards). I have always fantasized about living in a city apartment with a private garden. 🙂 This place was perfect.

Postcards from Rome
Postcards from Rome

While Berlin wasn’t my jam, I am privileged to be able to have an opinion about which cities I like and which cities I don’t.

The ease with which I am able to move about the world is astounding. Twice, I stopped people on the street to ask for directions in Berlin, and they were able to speak English. One man was on his bike at a stoplight, and the other was walking down the street in the rain. And both took the time to kindly point me in the right direction. I am lucky to have the money, time, unrestricted passport, and language to be able to explore other parts of the world.

***

I read three books while I was on vacation:

  • Pretty Girls by Karen Slaughter. This was a terrible, violent book. Don’t read it.
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbury. While I’m all for an existential crisis, this was a bit too much pontification for me. I did like the two main characters, though.
  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. She’s one of my favorite authors, and this novel didn’t disappoint.

I also watched the series finale of Girls. Was anyone else disappointed by that slap-dash ending?

***

I am grateful to be back in Kosovo. And I am grateful for a host family that will come and pick me up on the side of a two-lane highway, where the bus dropped me off (because the bus directly to my village wasn’t running on Sunday.)

Finally, one last note (and a plug!). My friend Crystal wrote a novel and got it published (by a real New York publishing house)! I am so impressed that someone I know published a book (which has long been a dream of mine). Crystal’s novel will be released this Tuesday. You can pre-order it on Amazon here. (It’s an historical fiction story set in ancient Rome — how appropriate!)

Feast of Sorrow

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.

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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?

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Costanza Restaurant
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Costanza Restaurant
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Costanza Restaurant
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April and Nicole at Costanza Restaurant, Rome
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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!

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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

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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
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Because you can never have too many photos of yourself at the Colosseum …
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Nicole and April at the Colosseum
Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain
April at Trevi Fountain
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Spanish Steps
Looking down Spanish Steps Rome
Looking down from the Spanish Steps
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Pantheon
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Inside the Pantheon
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Inside the Roman Forum
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Inside the Roman Forum
Orange House Rome
Orange Glow
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Vatican City
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Vatican Ceiling
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St. Peter’s Basilica
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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!