Friday, March 26, 2010

In Pittsburgh

I now live in Pittsburgh. Supposedly in Highland Park. But everything about the space I live in says East Liberty (which borders Highland Park).
Pittsburgh is cheap. People here have horrible accents and fashion. There are a lot of drunk people and people in tennis shoes with bags of fast food walking around downtown in the middle of the afternoon. And this winter was really cold. But, I have found my Pittsburgh routine to be a good one. Just under the surface there are some exceptional ways to spend the day. I finally managed to get a bunch of jobs. One here, here, and here. And those few days that felt like spring were fabulous. I even found a $10 bill on the ground one afternoon when I decided to walk instead of take the bus.
Every Wednesday Jocelyn and I go to modern dance at Dance Alloy.

And before we go we do things like eat salads in the kitchen in our leotards.

When I am not going to modern dance I go to Amazing Yoga which is now a donation based studio and my favorite place to be. I promise I am going to stick a big bill in that wooden chest when I finally get paid.
And when you live in Pittsburgh there might be a dumpster in front of your house one day and a kid standing on top of that dumpster.

And I can take a deep breath and put my hands on my hips and say, "I get this weird city I grew up in."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Catching Up

I stole these ideas from a book that Rachel owns. The book came after the website Learning to Love You More. I feel like these are good ways to catch up on my blogging hiatus. I like these exercises of sorts because I feel like they can be incredibly personal without saying much and without the reader really knowing much.


This is what I was wearing my second night back in America after 14 months away. Everyone was so drunk and kissing each other. And I realized that being back home was not really going to change things between us.


This is what I was wearing when I fell in love with yoga.
This is what I was wearing when I dressed up as Pippi Longstocking for Halloween. I used pipe cleaners to keep my braids up. I drank keg beer, thought of no one but myself, and had an amazing night.


This is what I was wearing when I found out he has a baby.


This is what I was wearing the last day I had with an ESL student who genuinely seemed sad to say goodbye and the first time I had a boss go out of their way to tell me they would be more than happy to be a reference.


This is what I was wearing at an Americorps job interview in NYC. The man who was interviewing me interrupted me to smell his Subway sandwich for pickles. At that point, I started asking myself if I will ever get the things I feel like I deserve and I have not really stopped asking myself that since. I did not get the job.


I got this scar in a car accident when Brad and I were on our way to yoga. We were both already upset and angry about something and I did not really want to go to yoga. I was driving straight and I remember seeing the back of some woman's head as she looked right and made a left turn. I put my hand on the horn and slammed my foot on the break. She turned into me and my foot was smashed against my shoe and the break. No one was really hurt but both of our cars had to be towed away. Immediately after it happened I stopped being angry.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Worth It

On October 13th, while I was on the train to Celano, I wrote, "there are just so many things I want to take with me that I have learned."
train station in the early hours
Among many things, I think what I wanted to keep was knowing how generous people can be. We met so many people that gave us their stories, food, places to stay, and advice without expecting anything in return. I want to have such traits and keep those kind of people in my life.
Outside of the Vatican

Here are links to the entries about the trip. From Japan to Beijing, Italy to New York City and everything in between:
The Bus Out
Heat in Beijing
Pick Pockets
Border Crossing
Familiar Soviet
The Train
Cats and Cigarettes at Galina's

Four Year Old Birthday Parties
International Hostel
High on a Mountain Top
Kitsch and Drama in Slovenia
The Food

The Food 10/12-10/16

Once we found a hostel in Rome we walked to a restaurant across the street. The waiter insisted that we order wine. At first we felt ripped off. Then we realized that is just the way in Italy. We drank the wine and ate our two pasta dishes. I never knew that pasta can taste fresh. Like eating a fruit that is perfectly in season, the pasta tastes fresh. We then had coffee and tiramisu. It started to pour rain and it felt really good to be so close to the hostel. There were women behind Brad sitting at a red checkered table, playing cards, drinking coffee, beer, and wine. We commented on how the entire restaurant felt like a prop. Saying "grazie, bonjouro, and ciao" felt almost phony. We were afraid Rome would be cheesy and too touristy. But these prop like restaurants, phrases, and people were all real. And it was wonderful.
It was almost like a stage prop

That was the beginning of eating in Rome. We never looked at prices, we only thought about how amazing the food would be. And we were never let down.
Center of the City
Lip Bites

We took a side trip to the town of Celano, where Brad's paternal relatives come from.
We ate more delicious food. Eating that ravioli was like making love.
Mouth wipe
We met more characters. And through the help of google translator found a place to stay.
We sat through a Tuesday evening mass in an old church to stay warm.
There were wooden confessionals and the ceilings were painted. When the mass ended we wandered into a dress shop. The owner told us it was the oldest dress shop in Celano. I splurged on an Italian dress. In my fantasies, Brad's great-grandmother had bought dresses from the same shop.

Once we had returned to Rome we had big plans for our last meal in Italy. At this point, we were really good at scoping out the atmosphere of restaurants. We decided on one with retro decorations, including a motorcycle. Wine, appetizers, pizza, pasta, and desert. We were there for well over two hours and spent about fifty euros. We had done a good job staying within our $50 per day budget for most of the trip. We gave up in Italy and it was all worth it. We got back to the hostel and did our final pack, a little drunk.
Last night of packing
We ate chocolate croissants as the sun was rising the following morning. Then we stood in line at the airport with other Americans for a nonstop flight to New York City. I watched a woman eat a hot dog with too much ketchup while she was on a bus to the gate and I wanted to vomit. Brad talked to an eccentric woman with a puppy who, in American fashion, felt no need to keep any secrets about herself. We were going home to unpack our backpacks. On the plane, I noticed the ownership that one does not feel when they have lived out of a backpack for three months. And then there we were in New York City.

Kitsch and Drama in Slovenia 10/3-10/11

We took the train from Prague to Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg was full of expensive things and people that were staring at my knee socks and Brad's shorts. It was Sunday and no grocery stores were opened. Luckily, we had some left over food and managed to eat without spending money in an over priced restaurant. We got the train to Slovenia and took a sigh of relief.

We arrived in Bled, Slovenia and sat down with a pizza and red wine. Italy is famous for such delicacies, but Slovenian wine and pizza was, perhaps, even more amazing. We then took a bus to Bohinj to do some hiking in the Julian alps. We walked to the youth hostel and drank two large glasses of red wine. Our hostel was empty and reminded us of The Shining.
drinks at the bar
The next morning as we started the hike a dog followed us up the mountain. And continued with us for the rest of the walk.
Brad continued to walk ahead of me. The dog seemed to be more concerned if I was keeping up.
Best Dog
We got close to the peak were we had our standard bread, cheese, and tomatoes lunch. The ascend had taken us longer than expected and it was clear we needed to get back.
We arrived at a place where the path diverged at 4:15 p.m. A post said that it would take 2 hours and 50 minutes to reach the bottom of the mountain. That was discouraging to say the least. The dog stayed by our side the entire time and my legs felt like jelly. Brad stayed ahead of me and we held onto the hill side as we descended the steep mountain at dusk. When we finally got to the bottom we both talked about the emergency scenarios we were going over in our heads if the sunlight had beat us. At this point we were starving and tired. But the dog was still with us. I insisted on knocking on strangers doors to find out where she lived. No one knew and everyone looked at me like I was crazy. The dog sat under our table as we ate in a hotel.
dinner in the hotel
Our last day in Bohinj was spent eating pizza, drinking wine, and marveling at our surroundings.
Bohjin map
Wine to match my hat

Then it was off to the capital city of Ljublana where we would meet our Slovenia friends from Russia that we made promises of visits to. Gasper and Klavdija were perfect hosts. They are both theater stars in Slovenia. We got to see free shows and we seemed to be perfect guest cast members in the theatrical life that is Gasper and Klavdija. We had a beautiful Sunday road trip on our way to the Italian border. We made stops along the way and learned about Slovenia, a country that is 40% forest, much of that land being untouched to this day.
Disappearing Lake

Our last stop was at the border town of Piran. Gasper and Klavdija continually referred to it as a "kitschy town." It was sunset over the Adriatic sea. We sat down at an outdoor restaurant. Gasper and I indulged in some herbs and my feta stuffed calamari arrived. It was the most delicious meal I have ever eaten, the definition of perfection. We barely made it to the train on time. The weekend ended with appropriate drama. Brad and I jumped on the train bound for Rome and waved goodbye to our hosts.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Milanska 9/25- 10/3

Originally, Brad and I were going to take the train from Beijing to St. Petersburg and fly to Prague. But why fly when you can travel by land? And the further we traveled the longer we wanted to stay in each place. I finally decided that I would arrive in Prague on September 25th and Brad would meet me there on the 28th. I had first come to Prague in September of 2005 as part of a study abroad program. I stayed with 11 year old Kristyna and her mother, Jitka. I lived with them for four months. They are some of the most loving people I know. I probably gained about 15 pounds while I lived with them. I drank wine and wine and wine. Jitka made plates of meats, cheeses, and savory treats that we would snack on as we watched the first season of VyVoleni or the Czech Big Brother.

Jitka brought food in my room when I studied. We went to the country house, something all Czech people have. Kristyna could speak little English but she became my sister. I loved the bed I slept in in their apartment. I took a bath every night and went to bed early. I lived further out of the city than most people in my program but I began to love public transport. I could sit on the metro and buses without looking up at every stop. I knew the city. When I left Kristyna, Jitka and I cried. I promised I would come see them again. And I cannot believe it took me four years to do so.

I meet them at the train station. Kristyna was holding flowers and Jitka was holding the hand of her new daughter, Karolina. Kristyna was wearing make-up and spoke to me in English. When we got home Jitka opened a bottle of champagne and we toasted to our reunion.
Champagne welcome
sweet Czech sister
Czech family
This home was familiar. That night I slept in the bed with Kristyna. For the first time since I had been in America in 2008 I woke up feeling like I was somewhere permanent.
During the trip my anxieties revolved around how I was going to get somewhere and then where I would slept once I got there. Or how long a hike would be and what kind of food I could get where. When I woke up in my Czech home that morning I knew I did not have to worry about any of those things. So for the first time in a while I started to think about a magnitude of other things that come to the surface in familiar places.
That day we went to the country house. Their dog came with us and Jitka's new husband, Peter met us after work.
front yard scene
The first evening we were there Kristyna and I watched Troy. Then we talked about feeling at home in a country that is not your own. We analyzed culture and our feelings in English. I had grown to love Kristyna without really being able to speak to her. But here I was, talking about and analyzing things that I am not sure many people could understand.
looking sweet

When the weekend ended we went back to Prague and Brad met us there. That night Jitka, Peter, Kristyna, Karolina, Brad, and I all slept in the apartment.
During the week Brad and I met up with my academic adviser from when I studied there. We talked to her a lot about being expats over Czech beers. She pointed us in the direction of some interesting art museums and a performance art piece.
We went on walks around my old neighborhood and rode in the elevator.
Brad and Kristyna
family hugs
karolina elevator
On the second to last night we drank with Peter. He does not speak English, but him and Brad managed to talk about music while they drank secret liquor on the balcony.

I think it is something about that family not being my own that allows me to love them so much. I came into their lives as a person. The only way they have shaped me has been in a positive sense.
holding her nose
on the way up
moje sestra
Everyone drove us to the train station on Saturday. And everyone told each other that we loved each other. These were people I did not want to say goodbye to. Sometimes I miss the city of Prague, but mostly I miss Jitka and Kristyna and that familiar apartment.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

High on a Mountian Top 9/17- 9/24

Our tickets home were purchased while I was in Warsaw, Poland. On October 16th we would fly from Rome, Italy to New York City. It was September 17th so I had one month left on the trip. I arrived in Warsaw after an uncomfortable overnight bus all the way from Estonia.
I was alone for the first time on the trip. I walked in the wrong direction for a while when I left the bus stop. The first hostel I got to was full and at the second I was yelled at by some jerk with a sleeve of tattoos. Finally I went to Nathan's Villa where the receptionist was so nice to me. The day got better as I discovered the city. I stopped in a used clothing store for the first time on the trip, things like this make independent travel necessary. It was an end of summer sunny day. I went to the former Jewish Ghetto which is now the largest Jewish Cemetery.

headstones and trees
shadow in cemetery
It was another beautiful cemetery day. I wish I had had all day to walk around there.
I got on the train to Krakow on the 18th. I was getting closer to the High Tatras, something I had been looking forward to the entire trip. There was a picture of some people on the High Tatras in the fall in my Eastern Europe Lonely Planet. This photograph made it a must go to destination for me.
I stayed at the Nathan's Villa in Krakow which was basically the biggest party in the city. Days in Krakow were spent in an amazing cafe with vintage furniture and photographs. I could not have dreamed-up a more interesting coffee shop.
tea and cake
beautiful coffee shop
full of amazing antiques

Ever since Anne Frank had stolen my heart back in Mongolia the only must-do I had in Krakow was to visit Auschwitz. As expected, it was horribly depressing. Luckily, I meet an older couple who befriended me. The man had a walker and they told me all about their many travels. They were in Poland because they had just always wanted to come there. There son had gone to CMU and they were familiar with the JET program.
these elderly people told me I reminded them of their daughter in law
man on the right was my buddy
When we were about to leave the woman told me I reminded her of her daughter-in-law who, she told me, was a redheaded Quaker.
I was planning to go to the town of Zakopane, at the base of the High Tatras, on the morning of the 22nd. On the afternoon of the 21st I decided I was done with Krakow and in the spirit of independent travel I picked up my bags and got on a bus. When I got off the bus I was so happy to be in the mountains. I hiked the following day for about eight hours and meet various people along the trail. One Polish woman asked who I was hiking with and when I said I was alone she looked me up and down and said, "brave girl."
high on a mountain top
taking a rest
The hostel I was staying in was closing for the season the following day. I was told about the hostel, Ginger Monkey not too far away in the small town of Zdiar in Slovakia. I took the bus there and it was, by far, the most fantastic hostel I have ever been to. There is not much to do in the town of Zdiar other than hike. Getting to the hostel involves two buses and walking across the Poland/ Slovakia border. Everyone that was staying there were genuinely cool and interesting travelers.
butterfly on laundry
The second day I was there I decided to hike through the mountain pass. As I was beginning my hike I ran into a French girl, Nadine who I persuaded to hike with me. Luckily she agreed. I had no idea how empty and difficult the trail would be. The hike resembled other mind trips. We began talking non-stop and giggling a lot.
face wipe

The closer we got to the top the more beautiful everything was. We made the occasional comment about how amazing this mountain pass was. It was foggy so we could not see the view that I am sure was spectacular. As we were walking through the fog we came upon a mountain goat. He was huge and so close to us. All three of us stood there and looked at each other.
Nadine and flowers

Nadine then vocalized all the feelings I have about traveling. She said, "I wish everyone I know could be here with me and see what I am seeing." We both agreed that moments like this always have some sort of guilt involved. But then again, "if everyone I knew where here, this would not nearly be as special."
The giggles had stopped long ago and the high we had from climbing down from the top was beginning to wear off. We walked through forest, getting totally lost in our own thoughts. Just as it started to get dark we got off the mountain and managed to get a ride back to the hostel. That evening everyone drank and I met three people from Asheville, North Carolina. This was one of the most exciting things that happened to me the entire time I was traveling.
of liquor
Nadine, my hiking friend
After a twenty year old Australian boy failed in his determined effort to sleep with me I went to bed, setting an alarm for just three hours later when I would have to wake up to get my bus to get to Prague.
I woke about twenty minutes after my alarm. I put on my backpack, and ran to the bus stop in the early morning dark. I had missed the bus and there was no way I was going to call my host family and tell them I would be late. I was still a little drunk, I was in Slovakia, it was dark, hitchhiking was my only option. But I got to my train and was finally on my way to see Jitka and Kristyna.