My Favorite Photos from The Third Quarter

On Monday, I mentioned how, by my own method of counting, I have completed my third quarter of Peace Corps service. Here are my favorite pictures from the third quarter.

I love pets! 🙂

pets 2
Check out the bear paws …

I got a lot of good family photos when I visited the U.S. in June, but for privacy reasons I don’t want to post them here. Instead, I will post this picture of me eating Del Taco. Want to know why I love Del Taco? Because I can eat tacos and French fries AT THE SAME TIME!

IMG_6654
DEL TACO!

This is about the zillionth time I’ve mentioned my rug on this blog, but who cares? It’s my blog and I’ll talk about my rug as much as I want to. 🙂

Albanian handmade wool rug
GORGEOUS!

My friend Chester and I spent a summer day at Batlava Lake in Kosovo.

Batlava Lake
Ridiculously beautiful view

Despite melt-your-face-off heat, Sierra, Chester and I made it to Pristina to have lunch together one day this summer.

These two … #friends #kosovo #100degrees 🔥

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

I volunteered as the jury coordinator for the Anibar International Animation Festival in Peja, Kosovo. I can easily say it was the most fun week I’ve had in Kosovo!

2017 Jury Anibar Peja Kosovo
The jury

And, of course, there was partying after the film festival. 🙂

Anibar
Thanks to Todd and Stephanee for this pic. 🙂

I crocheted this cute Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle for a friend.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 1
Totally radical

And I crocheted a minion trick-or-treat bag …

minion crochet kids trick or treat bag
Minion

Summer had me feeling a bit down, but encouraging words from Peace Corps volunteers serving in other parts of the world made me feel better.

While my visit to Kale Fortress in Skopje, Macedonia was a bit disappointing, I do like this photo:

kale skopje 4
Kale Fortress in Skopje, Macedonia

I loved this door at Mother Teresa Cathedral in Pristina, Kosovo.

door cathedral of saint mother teresa
Mother Teresa Cathedral in Pristina, Kosovo

I WENT TO GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN! Sorry for the caps but I got a little excited. I loved my trip!

park gothenburg sweden 1
Walking through a park in Gothenburg, Sweden
fish church sweden
View of Feskekorka “fish church” (I ate here the next day)
sunrise in gothenburg sweden
Sunrise, Gothenburg, Sweden

This photo cracks me up for some reason. There are so many stories it could tell. Did the one lion get mad at the other, and shove him off his post? Or, did a drunk person walk by and kick the lion?

broken lion dog
Aww … what happened here?

I GOT TO SEE JOSE GONZALEZ IN CONCERT! (More excitement.)

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

The following weekend, I attended a wedding in Tirana, Albania. Though it poured rain, I had fun with my friends.

Christian Val April
Christian, Val, and April visiting the National History Museum in Tirana, Albania.

The weekend after that, I went to a JFK photo exhibit with more friends …

IMG_7529
April, Rachel, Christian, Todd, and Stephanee, JFK photo exhibit in Peja, Kosovo

And then, it was Thanksgiving!

Giving thanks! #thanksgiving #kosovo #sharingculture #howiseepc

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

So, there is my photo summary of the last six months. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

The Final Quarter is Here!

By my own method of counting, I have finished three quarters of my Peace Corps service! (Although my method is a bit off … the first three quarters were six months in length, while the final will be 8.5 months.)

Still … only 8.5 months left of service!

My third quarter was full of ups and downs, with a big DOWN at my mid-service mark (August). According to the Peace Corps “chart of emotions,” that’s when most volunteers feel the worst. It was very true for me. I was bored with Kosovo, tired of teaching and living with a host family, and just generally feeling angry.

But then October came … I love autumn, I love Halloween, and I took some fun trips (Sweden and Albania).

Since then, there has been a big shift in my thinking and feeling, one that I think will last. Another volunteer and I were talking and we had both independently come to this realization: we can either accept things the way they are, knowing they are unlikely to change, or we can be miserable the last few months of our service. I would rather choose the former.

In this June post, I listed some of my personal and professional goals for the summer/fall. Let’s check on the progress I’ve made so far …

  • Finish the grant for my school and (hopefully) be awarded funds  Done! Though I still have follow up paperwork to complete, I cleared the biggest hurdle and actually got sports equipment for my school!
  • Host workshops this summer (narrative writing and essay writing are the plans for right now) I only hosted one workshop this summer … (You can read about it here.)
  • Present to Peace Corps volunteers in Albania about starting a poetry competition there No, we didn’t get approval to do this. I don’t totally understand the reasoning, but it seems like Peace Corps doesn’t like cross-work between countries.
  • Help my friend organize the national poetry competition in Kosovo this fall Currently working on this!
  • Start volunteering at an orphanage in Pristina this fall — I found out last week that my application was approved! I am meeting with one of the orphanage directors this week. I’m hoping this new opportunity fills the social work hole in my life. I’ve been teaching once per week there. It is my favorite hour of teaching during the whole week.
  • Possibly do another secondary project for the fall (most likely, teach another English Club at my school) Currently doing some copy editing for KosovaLive and helping my students prepare for Po-e-Ze.
  • Continue teaching. This is kind of obvious, since teaching is my primary role here, but I suppose I should add it to the list. Yep …
  • Get my stuff together and help my friends with their “Faces of Kosovo” project No, I haven’t done this.
  • TRAVEL THIS SUMMER! There are so many places I want to go in Europe. It’s hard to narrow them down. But if I had to list everywhere I want to go, they would be: Tirana/southern Albania, Greece, Bratislava, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Prague, Vienna, Croatia, Bruge, England/Paris (again), Florence … SO MANY PLACES! Other than my trip to the U.S., I didn’t travel at all this summer. Money (dwindling) and heat (intense) were the two major factors. However, I just went to Sweden, which was awesome and cold. 🙂 (You can read about my trip here and here.)
  • Travel around Kosovo. There are still places in Kosovo I want to see, including Mitrovice (major city), Brezovice (skiing), Dragash/Opoje (conservative mountain villages), Skenderaj (Adem Jashari memorial), Rahovec (wine), Batilava Lake (sounds pretty), the Bear Sanctuary (uh, bears) … So far, I’ve been to Batilava Lake and Rahovec.
  • Get my face painted like a Kosovar bride … This is an experience I really wanted to have while living in Kosovo. I’ve checked into it, and the price would be 150 Euro. That’s a lot of money for me right now … almost all of my spending money for a month. I need to think about it some more … I think this is just too spendy for me at the moment, as much as I would love to do it. There are other things I’d rather spend 150 Euro on, like travel (or this rug).
  • Continue writing this blog regularly, and enter the Blog It Home contest this fall, assuming Peace Corps still hosts it Doesn’t appear PC is hosting the Blog It Home contest anymore, which is a big disappointment to me. Past winners got to fly to D.C. to attend a conference on media. I would obviously have loved to do that, assuming I won. (And I would have.) 🙂
  • Learn to speak better Shqip (This is not going to happen. It’s just not. I know I’m going to leave service wishing I could speak fluent Albanian, but I won’t.) My Shqip is terrible, and at this point, I don’t see a real reason to improve. I can clearly get by in my life here with the amount I do speak. However, as fate would have it, someone put me in touch with a new tutor and we will start lessons soon.
  • Continue to build/strengthen my friendships here. I have made an effort to have a breadth of friendships here, to try to be friendly with my entire cohort. However, I feel like I don’t have a depth of friendship yet. It would be nice to have a “best friend” in the Peace Corps. I don’t have one “best friend,” but I have been working to strengthen the friendships I do have.
  • Think about writing a second grant for my school NO! Never again. But I did set the wheels in motion to possibly receive a book donation for my school, so at least that’s something.
  • Continue to consider options when I finish Peace Corps. I’ll likely return to social work, but where/in what capacity remains to be seen Always in the back of my mind…

I have yet to come up with a list of goals for this coming winter and spring. Two of my major projects (Po-e-Ze and hopefully, the grant paperwork) will be done, so I could potentially take on other projects. What other projects? I don’t know yet …

National History Museum, Tirana, Albania

This past weekend, I visited the National History Museum in Tirana, Albania.

National History Museum Tirana Albania 1
Front entrance
National History Museum Tirana Albania 2
Rendition of an Albanian home
National History Museum Tirana Albania 3
Front hallway
National History Museum Tirana Albania 4
Statues depicting gods
National History Museum Tirana Albania 5
Fortress
National History Museum Tirana Albania 6
Weapons
National History Museum Tirana Albania 7
Fresque mural by Fatmir Haxhiu
National History Museum Tirana Albania 8
“The stamp and the flag of the Albanian association”
National History Museum Tirana Albania 9
Onufri room

My friend was telling my about the artist Onufri, who is thought to be from what is now Berat, Albania. He is famous for the color pink. According to Wikipedia, “He was the first to introduce the colour pink into icon painting. The secret of this color was not passed on and died with him.”

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.”) 🙂

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. 🙂 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
?
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
IMG_7350
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, 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
svenska kyrkan 2
View of Liseberg amusement park from Svenska Kyrkan
liseberg goteborg sweden halloween
Halloween display at Liseberg amusement park
tobleron roulet
Toblerone Roulet game
liseberg sweden
Liseberg amusement park
gothia towers goteborg sweden
View of Gothia Towers
Halloween liseberg sweden
More Halloween decorations at Liseberg Amusement Park
park gothenburg sweden
Enjoying the last bits of fall color
park gothenburg sweden 1
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. 🙂
  • 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. 🙂
  • 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!

Hallå! 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. 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. 🙂 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. 🙂

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