There's Something about Mary

Stories and thoughts about my time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Moldova

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Chateau Vartely

Back in September my parents came to visit me in Moldova.   Along with visting my host families and seeing where I live and work, we visited 2 wineries.  The first was Cricova, one of the largest wine cellars in the world, and the second was Chateau Vartely.  Chateau Vartely is about an hour north of Chisinau in a town called Orhei.  I had seen signs for it, and heard wonderful things about their tastings.  So on our last morning in Moldova my host parents offered to drive us to Orhei since they were driving past the town for their work day.  We got out at the sign and started walking.  We realized later that it wasn’t the most effective way to walk and after 2 hours we finally made it to the winery.  They gave us a great tour right away and then we tasted 6 of their wines.  And one of the best parts about the tasting is that you get to keep the bottle after it is opened for your tasting.  So we had 6 bottles that we walked away with.  After our wine tasting we had lunch in their restaurant and drank 2 of the white wines we had just tried.  We then made our way to the bus station so we could catch a ride to Chisinau and then catch our train to Bucharest.  I highly recommend Chateau Vartely, their wine is delicious and the service great too

O zi buna!


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Last Stop-Croatia

The last stop of my trip was Croatia.  I started in the capital, Zagreb, and arrived around 9 PM.  I then followed the poorly written directions to my hostel.  I finally arrived at the hostel around 10:30, tired and frustrated because of the poor directions.  All I wanted at this point was to shower and sleep, but that was not in the cards for me. The owner told me that they didn’t have space for me and I should have made my reservation sooner, I made my reservation before I left Slovenia while I was waiting for my train, thinking that I wouldn’t have a problem since they still had space available on hostelworld.  Instead the owner told me that there was no space and it was my fault since I didn’t book enough in advance. (Note: Funk House Hostel has awful customer service) Eventually after complaining enough she called another hostel and paid for a taxi for me to get there.  The hostel I ended up staying in, wasn’t bad, just pretty far away from the center of Zagreb, I did get a room all to myself though.  The next day I spent the day in Zagreb exploring.  It wasn’t an amazing city, but parts were really pretty and I would have enjoyed myself more if it hadn’t been raining all day.

I took a night train to Split, and arrived in Split around 6 AM. I wasn’t sure what to do at first, but was so pleased with the beautiful weather.  I had some time to kill before I could check into my hostel, so I stored my backpack, grabbed a coffee and started walking.   It was so peaceful since almost nothing was open and there was not a lot of people around.  I found a bench along the water and read my Kindle for a few hours.  Sitting there reading was where my vacation became exactly what I thought it was going to be.  Around noon I collected my backpack and checked in to my hostel.  The Tchaikovsky Hostel was probably one of my favorite hostels I have ever stayed in.  It was really clean, had super comfortable beds and the owner was fantastic.  Since I forgot that Easter was the next day a few hours after I checked in I added an extra day to my stay since I heard that nothing was going to be open Sunday.  That night I met some interesting people, a couple of Americans, a guy from Britain, one from Mexico and one from France, we all went out and had a few beers.  The guy from Britain was my favorite, he was killing time in Croatia before he went down to work in a nudist colony in Montenegro.  Easter Sunday was pretty relaxing, in the morning it rained and later in the afternoon I went for a walk around town, met a couple of guys from my hometown who went to WSU and had some homemade wine with the owner of the hostel.

Monday morning I made my way to the bus station to catch the bus to Dubrovnik.  I had made reservations at a hostel in the old walled city.  They had amazing directions to their place and when I arrived I was welcomed with a shot of homemade alcohol.  It was delicious and had a nice nutty flavor.  One of the other people on my bus showed up a few minutes later and we decided to go out and find some seafood.  We went to a place recommended by our hostel and I got a pan full of little fish, while she had some fresh mussels.  The hostel also did a happy-hour at 7 so you could meet some of the other travelers.   I ended up going out to a nearby Irish Pub with a few.  The next day the weather was awful so I spent most of my time inside, but did get out to have some excellent Bosnian food.  I then went back to the hostel to dry off since my shoes were soaked from all the rain and I was cold.  From there I learned how to make a balloon dog and watched one of the other travelers make all sorts of flowers and hats with balloons.  Later that evening it finally stopped raining so I went out for dinner with 2 people.  We got a seafood platter with shrimp, squid, mussels and octopus.  The next day I made my way back to Zagreb so that I could catch a flight to Chisinau.  I felt blessed to see some amazing places, meet some great people and eat some great food.

To see photos from Croatia, check my Facebook album

O zi buna!

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I left Belgrade at around 9 PM on a bus headed for Ljubljana, Slovenia.  Along the way we cut through Croatia and got to stop at 4 different border crossings.  Two weren’t so bad, but the other 2 everyone had to get out of the bus, show your passport and open your bags, they wouldn’t have been bad except the bus was so warm, and outside it was not.  The first time we had to get out was when we were entering Croatia.  As the passengers were inside the border patrol was inspecting the bus and they were doing a thorough job.  The assistant to the bus driver got caught trying to bring about 30 cartons of cigarettes (I am not sure the rule for Croatia, butin the European Union you are only allowed 2 unopened cartons per person).  He had them hidden under the bus seats in the back row of the bus.  The border patrol took his cigarettes and fined him before the bus was allowed to continue on.  We also had to exit the bus again at the Slovenian border (which is an EU country) and the 2 ladies behind me did not have proper visas to get in so we drove the bus back into Croatia and left them at a gas station.

The bus arrived in Ljubljana around 7 AM and from there I bought a train ticket out to Bled.  While I waited for my train to leave I had a delicious Egg McMuffin from McDonalds (I never ate McDonalds in the US, but something about it here tastes delicious :)).  When I arrived at my stop I didn’t realize the train didn’t actually to the town of Bled, but a town about 4 KM away, so since I didn’t want to pay for a taxi I started walking to my destination.  I made it to Bled, grabbed something quick to eat and then went to find my hostel.  The hostel was pretty easy to find and one of the owners checked me in, she was so sweet and friendly and gave me lots of options of things to do and also gave me a cheaper price on my room since it was the off season.  After settling into the hostel I went for a walk around the town and then up to the Bled castle. My original plan for the day was to ride one of the bikes free for use  at the hostel to a waterfall that the hostel owner had told me about.  I ended up changing my plans though when I realized I was not tall enough for the bikes 😦  Instead I took a nice walk around the lake and also got really excited when I saw a bar advertising IPA and stout beers.  I made my way back to that bar later in the evening and talked to the bartender for a few hours about Slovenia and how it was changed since its independence from Yugoslavia.  Bled was an amazing beautiful place, I wish I had more time to explore it, I also want to see it in the summer and really be able to enjoy all the outdoor activities it has to offer.

The next afternoon I took a bus back to Ljubljana.  The weather in Ljubljana was beautiful and sunny, which was a change from what I had been seeing.  I walked around not having much of plan, stopped for a delicious lunch and then headed up the the castle area. After the castle, I continued to walk around and see what I could before I caught a late train to Zagreb, Croatia.

To see more photos from my trip check out Facebook.

O zi buna!

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Adventures in Serbia

When I was planning for my trip, I used some information from 2 other volunteers who had traveled through the Balkans last year.  Sadly some of the bus/train information had changed.  Instead of a direct train from Bucharest to Belgrade, Serbia, I had to take a train to Timişoara, Romania (a town pretty close to the Romania/Serbia border), then from there I bought a ticket to Vrsac (a town on the Serbian border).   Vrsac was very intimidating for me since the lady at the ticket counter spoke no English or Romanian, and didn’t accept any debit/credit cards or Euros.  Finally with enough pointing she was able to direct me to the nearest place to exchange money so I could buy my ticket to Belgrade.

When I arrived in Belgrade about 2 hours later I was completely lost, since the train stopped at a station at the edge of town, not the main station.  I got on a bus and hoped it was going in the direction I wanted.  Since I didn’t know how to pay for the bus, or if I was going the correct way, I got off after a few stops when I saw a map of the city.  As I stood and stared at the map trying to figure out my route to the bus station so I could leave my backpack and a go explore, a nice young guy stopped and asked if I needed help.  He then walked me to the bus station and told me about some things I should see in Belgrade.   He also hold me that I should stay longer than just a day because Belgrade has an excellent nightlife.  I promised him I would be back again.

I left my backpack in the luggage room, bought a ticket for the night bus to Ljubljana and then went off to explore.  My first stop was Belgrade Fortress.  The Fortress was large and looks over the connection of the Danube and the Sava Rivers.  After walking around for a bit, I decided to find myself some lunch and also get out of the rain for a bit.  After lunch I walked around some more and found a delicious coffee shop.  About an hour before my bus was scheduled to leave, I decided to walk back towards the bus station.  I got my backpack from the luggage room, made a stop at the bathroom and then went to find the correct platform.  As I was making my way through the gate a security guard stopped me, I showed him my ticket and he proceeded to ask me something in Serbian.   He could tell I was confused, so he asked his coworker to talk to me and another guard asked me in English about a token I needed to go through the gate, he also told me it was given to me when I bought my ticket.  I started searching my pockets and pulling out all the change, and none of the coins were the correct one.  He finally let me through, and today while emptying my backpack I found the token that they wanted.  I guess now I have a souvenir.  🙂

O zi buna!

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Visiting Friends in Romania :)

I got back from my last vacation before COS (Close of Service) about a week ago.  My vacation started in Romania where I visited my friends from college, who are serving as PCVs in Romania.  They came and saw Moldova and where I live last June, so I figured now it was my turn. 😉  I took the night bus from Chisinau to Bucharest and arrived in Bucharest around 6 in the morning, I waited a few hours and then took a train to their site which is about 2 hours away.  There town has a population of 8,000, and even though that is half of what Riscani has, it seemed much more developed.  My friend told me I would know her town by the large cement factory that I would pass on the train.  She was correct.  My friends who excellent hosts, we played Settlers of Catan and ate some delicious home-cooked food.

On the Saturday of my arrival we met up with their Italian friend who lived in the next town over and went to visit Sinaia and Peleș Castle about an hour away.  Peleș Castle is in the Carpathian Mountains and was built in the late 19th century.  We paid for a tour of all 3 levels and I was rather impressed with the interior.  The exterior reminded me of the castle in Beauty and the Beast.  After our tour we walked around Sinaia before catching the bus back to town.  Sunday we had some delicious fajitas and walked around the town.  And on Monday afternoon I caught a bus back to Bucharest so I could catch a night train to Serbia.  (which I found out doesn’t actually exist anymore, that is another story).

To check out more photos, look on Facebook.  O zi buna!

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Vacation pt2

Sighișoara was our next stop.  We arrrived in the late afternoon and took a taxi from the train station to our hostel inside the citadel.  Sighișoara is considered to be one of the most well preserved inhabited citadels in Europe.   Jon and Abby had visited before so while Abby washed some clothes, Jon took Theron and I on a short walk around the area.  After the walk we decided to have some dinner at the hostel next door and watch the Euro Cup game that was playing.

The next morning we got up and parted ways, Abby and Jon wanted to search for some Geocaches and Theron and I went to explore the town.  All the watchtowers in Sighișoara were guarded by different guilds, and the main one in the center was guarded by all.  At the top of the main watchtower you can see all of Sighișoara, and it was a beautiful day to take pictures.  After the watchtower we walked to the outside of the citadel to find some lunch.  The first place we stopped wasn’t serving food so we sat on the terrace and had a drink.  There was a father and son also sitting on the terrace, and when they heard our English they wanted to know where we were from.  He also heard me spea some Romanian and complimented me on how well I was doing. (Nice, but really not true).  Him and his son were visiting from Canada, but he had spent part of his childhood in Romania.  After we left we met back up with Abby and Jon and walked down to the train station to catch our train to Bucharest.

We arrived in Bucharest around 10, and went straight to our hostel, which was also connected to a bar.  We all went to bed early because we had to leave at 6AM to catch our flight to Istanbul.  As we were leaving our hostel we all got a good laugh about the guy passed out at the bar.  He looked like he had had a good night 😉  We got to our hostel around in Istanbul around noon, checked-in and then had some lunch at the restaurant on the roof of the hostel.  It had an awesome view of the water.

After lunch we walked to the Aya Sophia (Hagia Sofia).  It was so pretty and interesting to see all the history inside the building.  It was also full of tourists.  Our next stop was the Blue Mosque, which is right across the courtyard from Aya Sophia.  The Blue Mosque is a working mosque, so men have to wear long pants to enter and women must cover their knees and shoulders.  Because I didn’t pack appropriate clothing I was given 2 blue smocks to cover myself while inside.  The inside was covered entirely with tiles.  I preferred the Aya Sophia to the Blue Mosque on the inside, also I was disappointed about how loud people were being inside, it didn’t seem really respectful to me.  We then went on a walk, saw a smaller version of the Aya Sophia, an old market and then ended up near the water, the Bosphorus Strait, where we ate fish sandwiches and then explored the Spice Bazaar.  While walking through the Spice Bazaar I found it funny listening to the shopkeepers trying to sell their products, they all had about the same lines they would use.  My favorite was “spend some money on your hunny,”  they were talking to Theron and we just laughed because I am not his “hunny” 😉  After exiting we went to find Abby and Jon, which was kind of difficult with the amount of people around the bazaar.  Abby had told Theron and I we were easy to spot with our bright clothing, that was the opposite for Abby and Jon because they blended in more.  We then went back to the hostel and had some baklava and tea before bed.

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Vacation pt 1

(Sorry this post is long and has lots of pictures)

I took my second vacation from Moldova at the end of June.  This time it was with some friends.  I was very blessed to have one of my best friends, Theron come all the way to Eastern Europe!  We also traveled with two other friends that we both met in college who are also PCVs.  They serve in Romania and have been teaching English there for a little over a year.  The vacation started with Abby and Jon picking Theron up from the airport in Bucharest and then taking the train to Moldova.  I suggested they take the overnight train because I thought it would be more comfortable for them, and it probably would have been if it wasn’t like a sauna inside and had windows that opened.  I met them all in Chisinau and we began our Moldovan leg of our journey.  First stop being at the PC office so they could drop off their bags.  We then got some food then took off to find a Geocache.  (It was my first).  After spending several hours in Chisinau, we left to go to my site so everyone could meet my host family.  My host mom prepared some traditional Moldovan food for us (mamaliga and sarmale).  We then relaxed and planned out what we were going to do the next day.

On Sunday morning we woke up, had some breakfast and my host mom called us a taxi to take us to a geological site called “100 hills.”  It was about 45 minutes from where I live, after walking to the highest hill our driver tok us out to the border town called Costesti.  It is situated along the Prut River, which also borders Romania.  It is a popular Moldovan spot for swimming and relaxing in the summer.  After we went back to Riscani we stopped by the piata, bought some vegetables and then had some lunch at a local cafe.

The next morning we headed to Suceava, Romania.  Suceava has a lot of similar things to Moldova.  I think part of this is because about 700 years ago it was the capital of the Moldovian state, which did include part of Moldova for some time.  Stefan cel Mare (Stefan the Great) is also a principal figure for town.  He built many churches in the area around Suceava.  He is very important to Romanian history as well as Moldovan.  I took no pictures while in Suceava because while packing I was not thinking well and forgot to pack the battery to my camera, I did buy one in Cluj though, so all wasn’t lost :).  While in Suceava we stayed with another PCV, she was a excellent host and tour guide.  I also met 3 other PCVs in Romania. One stop on our way to Cluj was the Voroneț Monastery.  It was beautiful and was situated next to a cute little town.  Check out this link if you want to learn more about it.

*Random sidenote about Romania, unlike in Moldova, it is not legal to drink in public.  I bought a beer and was drinking it at the train station and 2 policeman came by and told me they were going to give me a fine.  I promptly put it in the trash and apologized, they did not end up giving me a fine, but they did scare me.

We then took the night train to Cluj.  It arrived in Cluj around 5:30 AM.  The town was quiet.  We spent some time looking around and when the shops started opening up, we got a map from the tourist office, found a camera shop to buy me a battery and Abby and Jon found another couple of Geocaches.  Around 11 we bought some food and made our way to the botanical garden to eat it.  After we walked around it, then made our way to highest point in Cluj to get some pictures of the city.  We walked up about 250 stairs, took some photos then rested before making our way down and back to the train station to go to Sighișoara.

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O zi buna!