Wednesday, December 28, 2011

There is Always Time

When planning my travels in South America, I had made the decision to focus my time in Argentina solely on studying Spanish due to the fact that the "intensive" program I chose would take a decent amount of commitment. I wanted to be sure I dedicated enough time to truly get the most out of the course.  Then I started learning a little more about this country and it's history (most recently the economic crisis in 2001 and it's devastating aftermath), and everything changed.

When spending time in Buenos Aires, it is very possible, even easy, to overlook the fact that poverty is a serious issue in Argentina.  Yes, there are some very swanky neighborhoods in BA with high-end shops, classy cocktail bars and elegant restaurants.  But there are also poor neighborhoods in this city and an even greater need in the many villages beyond.  I began stumbling on statistics that truly surprised me (for example - 60% of children in Argentina live below the poverty line). At that point I decided I wanted to reconsider my plan of solely studying while I was here.

After much research, I was able to find an organization that was flexible and would take whatever time I was able to commit rather than requiring a certain number of hours per week.  It's a non-profit group that works with soup kitchens/homeless shelters/community centers in Buenos Aires.  They focus their efforts on children living in socially marginalized and extremely impoverished areas by providing recreational, educational and social activities as well as food, clothing and school supplies.  I've been helping out once or twice a week and it's been working out great.  There is a trip next month to a village in northern Argentina to deliver donated supplies, food, etc. that I may also join if I can work out the timing with my classes.

My research also extended beyond Buenos Aires and as of right now it looks like I will be heading north when I wrap up my studies.  First to visit Iguacu Falls, then to visit Salta where I will hopefully also be volunteering a bit with a unique NGO in that region.  One of their projects is a really cool concept that you can (and should) read about at the following link - Wichi/H20 Project. In the meantime, here's a very basic description... 

(The following excerpt is taken directly from

We take the digital cameras you're not using and put them in the hands of children from a Wichi village near Hickmann in the Salta province of Northwest Argentina. The Wichi are an indigenous Argentine group who have a rich history and culture. Many currently live without electricity, potable water or enough food to sustain them.

All profits from photo sales go directly to buy tools, hoses and whatever else is needed to develop the 300 hectares of land belonging to the Wichi of Hickmann so they can grow crops to support the village.

Pretty neat, isn't it? Definitely take a few minutes to click on the link above and read more about this and other projects currently in progress. If you are interested in buying pictures, click here for more info and the link to the gallery: Wichi/H20 Pictures

I have other touristy type updates and some cool news but it will have to wait for my next post.  (Mom, I know you just made that exasperated/annoyed sound followed by "Na-ance!" but you actually already know the news, we talked about it at Christmas.) For everyone else, take a peek at left hand side of the blog.

~ N

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Irrational...? Who, me...?

All is well here in Buenos Aires and I'm enjoying my imaginary life as a Porteño. (I have also discovered how to type with accents, tildes, etc. on my keyboard.) ¡Qué bueno!

Hard to believe I'm in my third week of class already. There was another holiday last week which meant extended days again, and with Christmas / New Year's coming up there will be more of the same.  Nevertheless, I realize that if my biggest problem right now is having longer days of class because I happen to be in Argentina during the holiday season, I am a lucky girl.

Class has been going well but you know me.... little Miss Impatient wants to be able to speak fluently.  Now.  I was explaining to a friend the other day that what I find slightly frustrating is that I don't think when I speak Arabic, I just speak.  When it comes to Spanish, I have to think - a lot.  Yes, I am fully aware of how absolutely irrational it is to use a language I have spoken my entire life as a reference point for my progress in a language I have studied in total... um... about 5 weeks.  In any case, I've been attending additional workshops offered by the academy, watching movies in Spanish (with English subtitles...let's not get carried away), taking tours conducted in Spanish, etc. in an effort to really immerse myself in the language and it is helping.  If only they would all just slow down!

My friends from Ireland ended up stopping back in Buenos Aires last weekend (further evidence of how this city just draws you in) and we got together for dinner and a tango show on Saturday.  I have to admit, while I was definitely planning on seeing tango while I was here I wasn't really in a rush because, well, they just dance, right? It turns out my perception of tango was a complete underestimation. (ATC family - insert a "hmmh" here.) At one point, the dancer in the picture above was lifting and throwing his partner around as if she was a feather, it seemed completely effortless.  Bravo, tango dancers of the world.  I stand corrected.

 ~ N

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In an Instant

I've been in Buenos Aires for one week and the gut feeling I've had since I left for South America has turned out to be true - I instantly felt at home when I arrived here.  In many ways, the city reminds me of NYC... but in South America.  Each barrio (neighborhood) is unique and I find myself walking through an area and thinking "this feels like Soho", "this feels like Midtown", etc.  Following through with that theory, I am currently living in what feels like the Brooklyn of Buenos Aires. San Telmo is an incredible neighborhood and it is the reason I fell in love with this city.  Yep, I said it. I'm in love. When it comes down to it, I'm a city girl. As much I enjoy and appreciate chilling out on a beach, hiking in the mountains, or zip-lining through a forest, I can feel a city and I absolutely love that.  It's hard to explain but I know there are a few of you who understand, and the rest are smiling and shaking their heads at yet another "Nancy-ism".

So, my apartment is in the heart of San Telmo (this picture was taken from my street corner) and basically any direction you walk you will find cafes, restaurants, vintage shops, art galleries, bakeries, etc.  There are always people out and about and it has a great vibe or "buena onda" as they say here. Every Sunday the streets are closed for a huge street market filled with antiques, art, handmade jewelry, leather stuff, live music, tango demonstrations, and delicious empanadas (for the equivalent of $1 US). It is a perfect lazy day activity. I spent this Sunday with two friends from Ireland and it basically went like this: walk, browse, listen to music, stop for a beer, walk, browse, have a snack, stop for another beer, walk, browse, listen to more music.  You get the idea.

On to real stuff.  Class started this week and the first few days have been a little intense due to the fact that there was a holiday this week so we added the missed hours to the other days. Ouch.  My brain is slightly fried but it was in need of a little workout so no complaints.  The school itself is in a great location downtown right off the main square (Plaza de Mayo for those of you who know BA) and only a 15 minute walk from my apartment. Yes, the Spanish is slightly different here but... less conjugation - yay!  I am sure my Spaniard friends will chastise me for not speaking proper Castellano when I see them next but I secretly love the fact that it is a little easier to learn.  Or maybe not so secretly considering I just posted it on my blog. 

~ N

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Adeus Brasil

It's amazing how fast a month can pass. The second half of my stay in Brazil was gone in the blink of an eye.  It was rainy for a decent amount of the last 2 weeks which made things tricky.  My last day of project was raining which meant my kids didn't come to class (Cariocas don't like rain) so I didn't really get to say goodbye. I did make it to Sugarloaf on a relatively clear day for sunset and a fantastic night view of Rio, and I had one final sunny day before I left to see Escadaria Selaron. Wow. Absolutely amazing. I met the artist briefly as he was working and I spent some time talking with his co-worker who is from Argentina. I could spend half this blog post writing about this staircase, but just google "Escadaria Selaron" or "Jorge Selaron" if you want the background story.  (For my hip hop heads...does this picture look familiar? Name that video.) 

It is basically a continually changing work of art and I was blown away by how many tiles I connected with.  The first winery I toured in Porto when I began my trip... a favorite painting that I finally saw in person for the first time in Spain... the lizard at the entrance to Gaudi's Park Guell... the Camino de Santiago in Spain which many of friends have done and one is currently walking, etc. It was a series of flashbacks and connections of my travels and memories of home. I spent an hour there just taking it all in. I was really happy that I was there on the last day of my stay in Rio because it brought it all together for me and reminded me that moving on means making new connections and memories.

I did get to escape Rio last weekend with a few friends to a little coastal town about four hours away called Trindade.  Although it wasn't sunny, it was a great few days of relaxing and leaving the constant buzz of the city behind for a bit. It also served as a transition of sorts for me because I was returning to Santa Teresa for just 2 nights before heading to Argentina. 

As always, leaving was bittersweet because as excited as I am about moving on, it means leaving behind some great people.  Fortunately I headed out to the airport very early this morning and you guys know how little I process in the AM so it didn't really hit me at the time.  Then I got stuck in Uruguay because all flights to Buenos Aires were being delayed or canceled due to volcanic ash (that's not something you hear every day) and it hit me a little bit more there.  I did finally get out of Uruguay and by the time I touched down in BA the excitement that comes with each new place had settled in.  I'm here, I'm happy, but I do miss my Brazilian family. I really hope you guys all make it out here over the next few months.   

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the States!

Georgys - it will be a difficult day for you, not because you will be missing me, but because it will be the first time in years that my sausage cranberry stuffing will not be on the table.  It's okay, I understand. I mean, it is really good stuffing.

Avenel crew - throw some pictures on twitter/facebook for me of the deep fried goodness that I will be missing at Ann's and have a High Life for me. 

Missing you all.
~ N

p.s. I will get my pictures from Brazil up this week.  Really, I will.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Difference A Day Can Make

A quick story from this week:

My class is usually about eight kids of a similar age. The other day I randomly had thirteen kids...ranging in age from 5 to 14... several of which had never come before... five of which were 10 year old boys. Needless to say, it was a challenging day.  I was trying to keep the older kids from getting bored, while keeping the younger kids entertained, while keeping the attention of 10 year old boys who basically just want to run around.  Have I mentioned that I still don't speak Portuguese?  So yeah, it was an adventure and pretty much just one step below chaos.

I left the favela feeling a little defeated. Just as I was about to reach the main street, I heard "Cheecha, cheecha!" (In Portuguese, the letters te are pronounced che so Teacher comes out Cheecha.)  The littlest boy from class that day came running up to me and gave me a piece of candy and hugged me.  Okay, okay, I get it. I need to remember that what they get out of our time together is not necessarily about learning English.  Still, that was only one little boy and I felt like I had let the others down.  I had no idea how to handle the class going forward if it was going to be this large and varied.

The next day, I walked over with slight trepidation and was relieved to find that I had only six students, all around the same age, who I know by name. We had a great class, and in conversation (if you can call it that), one of the little boys asked me when I was leaving.  I told them that next week would be my last and to my complete surprise they all yelled "No!" followed by a lot of Portuguese I didn't understand.  He slowly explained to me that they all like me and want me to stay. Wow. Definitely didn't see that one coming. 

So that's my feel-good story for this week. Kind of corny, I know but it made me smile.

~ N

Monday, November 7, 2011

Santa Teresa and Beyond

Hard to believe I have been here for 2 weeks.  In some ways it feels like I just arrived, but at the same time this neighborhood has a way of making you feel like you have been here forever.

Santa Teresa lives up to its reputation of being a "can't miss" stop when visiting the city of Rio de Janeiro.  It's a very artsy neighborhood and I am enjoying soaking it all in.  Just down the street from the house there is live jazz every Tuesday night so a few of us headed over last week to check it out. Absolutely incredible.  It is definitely earns a spot on the list of favorite nights so far.  The place (where coincidentally I will be staying for my last few nights in Rio) is a huge colonial mansion that has been restored and converted to a small hotel.  It has a funky, eclectic vibe and is the perfect venue for a jazz night.  The house was built by the family of a Brazilian novelist/journalist/playwright and the aim of the current owners is to keep that spirit alive by having local musicians play there once a week and local artists display their work there as well.

Speaking of local artists, I stopped into an art gallery that I pass on the way to Portuguese class every day and ended up chatting with the artist whose paintings of favelas I had been admiring in the window.  The two pieces that I love were unfortunately too large but he had just started a small one so it was deemed mine upon completion.  So cool.

This place has a really great "small neighborhood" vibe as well.  The other day while a few of us were sitting at a small cafe on our street - the jazz singer from Tuesday night walked in, one of the managers of my guesthouse was at the restaurant across the street, and a former volunteer who has now moved to Brazil walked by.  It's a really nice to be able to enjoy a small town feeling in a city as large as Rio de Janeiro.

So as far as touristy stuff goes, I've been up to Corcovado and the statue of Christ the Reedemer (the opening picture of this post is the view of the city from the statue), and I finally went to the beach at Ipanema yesterday for a nice relaxing Sunday afternoon.  Planning to head to Sugarloaf Mountain for sunset one day this weekend and then I will get some pictures up on the blog.

So sorry to hear about the snowstorm disasters last week. Hope everyone's power and downed trees are all sorted and things are back to normal now.

~ N

Editor's note: It was brought to my attention that the list of countries in the last blog post was incomplete.  To my two great friends from the UK and Israel - my deepest apologies for the erronous omission. (Leigh, does this earn me a gengibre...?)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

One Month in Rio Begins

Disclaimer:  Before I begin this post, let me clarify that there are favelas, and there are pacified favelas.  Pacified favelas have been "cleaned up" and are patrolled by police the same as any other neighborhood. They are basically just communities which are poorer than neighboring areas.  In one favela where we work, the police are actually involved in our project and play sports with the kids, etc.

So, my project involves teaching English to a group of kids in a pacified favela nearby. The kids range in age from 8 to 14 and have varying levels of English so it's really more of an extracurricular activity to keep them busy, teach them something new, and engage them in something positive.  We have lessons twice a week and then sports twice a week (which here always means soccer).  The kids in my group are great and they are so excited to interact with us, even after being in school all morning.

The walk to my favela is through an absolutely gorgeous neighborhood of hilly streets with estates on either side that are lined with ivy covered walls and picturesque doorways and gates. The street zig-zags down the hill and there is one corner where you turn and are greeted with an unobstructed view of the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Pretty spectacular. 

After project, I head to Portuguese lessons for 2 hours.  *Sigh*  This language is currently my nemesis.  I read through my phrase book before I arrived and was happy to see that there are many similarities to Spanish and was hoping it wouldn't be too hard to pick up some basics to get me through the month.  Wrong.  If I just had to read/write then maybe I could get by, but the pronunciation is so different than the written words that I am at a complete loss when it comes to conversation.  It turns out this is partly due to the fact that I am in Rio De Janerio. "Cariocas" (inhabitants of Rio) have a specific accent which apparently does not penetrate the force field around my brain. There is a couple here from Sao Paulo and their accent is definitely easier to understand.  That's great, except they are not the ones yelling Portuguese words out at me at project every day.  (It's actually kind of funny to watch the kids just yell louder when I don't understand them.)  I keep saying things in Spanish without realizing it and I receive blank stares in return.  In any case, I will figure it out and I will manage until I get to Argentina and can go back to focusing on the language I love. Yeah, I said it. I love Spanish and I don't really like Carioca Portuguese.  So there, it's out.

Anyway, on to people, food, and other good things.  There are volunteers here from the US, Canada, Bulgaria, Switzerland, New Zealand, Germany, Hong Kong, and even from another part of Brazil.  We all had a huge dinner together at the house the other night which was pretty cool. As far as the cuisine, there are lots of beans, rice and meat...which make that walk every day more of a necessity than just enjoyable.  And along those lines, here is an amusing little observation: clothes in the stores here fit me.  Hmm...I wonder why that is...?  I'm sure most of you know where I am going with that, but for those who don't - let's just say I blend in fairly well in Brazil.

Until I open my mouth to speak, that is...

~ N

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Intermission...and on to Brazil

Stopped in the states for about 2 weeks to get my visa for Brazil, have my root canal redone correctly, take care of the various things that come up when you leave the country for an extended amount of time, and see family and friends before moving on to South America.

My first morning back I was walking through Manhattan and the city seemed completely different to me. The beauty of places I've walked by a hundred times hit me as if I was seeing them for the first time. Incredible old churches I had never noticed, parks where I've sat and read but somehow missed how beautiful they were. You'll often hear people who live anywhere in or around NYC say that they sometimes take it for granted. I've said those words, but never realized the depth of that truth. After 3 months of exploring new cities, I unknowingly walked into NYC with the same approach and was rewarded with a completely different view.  For those of you who have never been - go. For those of you who live it every day - make sure you take time to truly experience it, enjoy it, and appreciate it. It is still my favorite city in the world.

With my paperwork squared away and my tooth finally feeling back to normal, I arrived in Rio de Janeiro yesterday and got settled into the guesthouse where I will be staying for the next month. It is in Santa Teresa, a charming neighborhood at the top of a hill with amazing views of the city.  Beautiful old architecture, a working tram, cobblestone streets, and quaint restaurants/bars all add to the charm.   I have orientation in a few minutes, and then head to my project tomorrow to meet the staff and get started.

Oh, and it's 80 degrees and sunny....


Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Deep Breath

Sometimes when the sun sparkles off the ocean it is even more beautiful than when fireworks light up the night sky.

Thessaloniki was the perfect choice to end this portion of my trip.  After my rather difficult week on the HFH build, this has truly been an oasis.  Yesterday I walked through the center of the city heading towards the sea and the minute I caught the scent of the ocean floating through the air, I felt my shoulders relax.  I sat on the sea wall for almost an hour just breathing. The weather this week is picture perfect.  A little brisk in the morning, warm and sunny all day, then cool in the evening.

I am staying in Ano Poli (the old city) in the most amazing guesthouse I have had the pleasure to stay to date.  It is a brand new, family owned place in a residential neighborhood and the young brother and sister who run it, Vicky and Harris, are amazing.  They are so energetic, hospitable, genuine and just all around good people. They live here as well and you really feel like you are staying with friends.  Their mom is always baking something or other that we get to enjoy with breakfast, and often times family members come over and sit in the beautiful courtyard area with us at night.

There are several people staying here who are relocating to Thessaloniki so I've made more contacts over all the world.  We are lucky enough to have a terrific little restaurant right around the corner that seems like it was just dropped in the middle of the homes here.  Several of us have walked over for dinner a few nights now and each time is better than the last.  It's nice to be able to enjoy a fantastic dinner outside of the busy center of the city. 

The update on the tooth situation is that it is still bothering me a little (as the medicine works, I guess?) but I've been emailing with my great dentist at home and they are going to see me the day I get back to get everything sorted during my short stop there.  You have to love technology.

I've been using this time to do a lot of prep work for South America (while sitting in the courtyard drinking delicious frappes that Vicky and Harris make all day long...), and I'm starting to get excited.  I'm really looking forward to being in Spanish speaking countries again and continuing to learn the language. I still found myself answering people in Spanish whether I was in Italy, Macedonia, or Greece...I have obviously fallen in love with the language.  It's amazing the difference between learning a language in a classroom at Rutgers and living the language day to day.  That being said, I feel like I am losing my Arabic because it's been so long since I've used it regularly so Mom & Dad - we are speaking only Arabic while I am home!
Love and miss you all.
~ N

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Round Two

Well Georgys... as of yesterday I am no longer the only member of our family to never have a root canal.  (I will, however, be the only one to have a root canal started in one country and finished in another.) The story goes like this -

After another sleepless night, I forced myself to go to the work site in hopes that the distraction would help take my mind off the pain while I waited for the antibiotic to do its job.  It was a very long day, and by that night I was in even more pain than the day before.  Not good.  After a third night of little to no sleep, I went back to the dentist yesterday.  Now the pain was in the upper right side as well as the lower.  When they x-rayed the top it turned out that sure enough, I needed a root canal. Oh joy.  The first part was done yesterday (wow...pain), and today I went back for round two where they put in the medicine that should work to completely resolve the issue over the next 2 weeks.  In the meantime, I emailed my dentist back home and they have scheduled me for the day after I arrive so I will have the finishing work done there.  Always an adventure.

I've missed volunteer days and I'm frustrated and tired but these things happen. The most disappointing part is that my team spent the day at the HFH build site in Veles today (about 1 hour from here) and they got to see the work that is being done there.  I got to see the inside of the dentist office...for the 3rd time this week. Boo.

All in all, I am thankful that it is (mostly) resolved and that it didn't happen anywhere that I didn't have access to proper care. Tomorrow is my last day in Macedonia and Monday morning I head to Thessaloniki, Greece. 

Since I've received a few emails expressing concern about the strike situation in Greece I thought it would be good to let everyone know (ahem...Mom & Dad) that I have been keeping in touch with owners of the guest house where I will be staying as well as following a website that is updating tourists with all strike information.  Greek air traffic controllers have been on 'white strike' since September 4th which involves strict adherence to air regulations and no overtime, but is only causing occasional minor delays (no cancellations).  So don't worry, you're going to see me in October whether you like it or not!

Love and miss you all.
~ N

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Little Rain

"...Into each life a little rain must fall..." -Longfellow

In this case, both figuratively and literally.  I arrived in Macedonia just in time for a huge festival in the city center.  The square was full of people, there was music, food, random entertainment. Really great first night in the city.

The build, however, got off to a rough start. We had been told just recently that we would be working at the SOS Children's Village instead of Habitat's build site in Veles due to the fact that they were just about to wrap up Phase 1 of building and they weren't yet ready to begin Phase 2.  No problem, but when we arrived at the new work site, it seemed apparent that they were not ready for us. We are a pilot team for this new partnership between HFH and SOS so there are definitely some kinks to work out. The immediate need there is renovation of the bathrooms due to major leaking in all the houses, but it seems the contractor for that job was not secured in time.  Disappointing, but these things happen.  Instead, we split into two teams - one team is stripping the weathered windows/doors and re-caulking, staining and sealing them, and the other team is repainting the interior of two of the homes that need it the most.  Unfortunately, we got the impression that the house mothers were not expecting us and in all honesty, it was a little bit of an uncomfortable and frustrating start. The second day on the build was a bit better, but working where people are already living brings on an entirely different set of challenges than a normal HFH build. Thankfully, our team is great and we have been trying our hardest to be open minded and accommodating. 

In addition to a rocky start on the project, my tooth started randomly hurting the night before. By the end of that day, I was really uncomfortable, taking ibuprofen regularly, and to add to my unhappy state it was raining fairly heavily most of the afternoon/evening. That night the pain was unbearable and I decided I would need to go see a dentist the following day. Not high on my list of things to do while traveling, but the 600 mg of ibuprofen that I was supposed to be taking every 8 hours was wearing off in about 1 hour. Not good. Interestingly enough, I found out that Macedonia is a destination for dental work (weird).  Many people come here for veneers, etc because the work is good and very inexpensive. There were several dental clinics listed on the US Embassy website so I picked one and hoped for the best.

I was able to get an appointment this morning, and the English-speaking dentist was great.  She did x-rays and determined that there was no infection in the bone, which was exactly what I wanted to hear because the idea of doing my first ever root canal in another country was not exactly appealing. It appears to be an infection in the tooth, so she prescribed amoxicillin and I headed back out in the rain (which at this point was really making me miserable) to fill the prescription.  It will take at least 24 hours for the antibiotics to start making a difference so I am in for another long night but at least now there is an end in sight. Let me just add that I went to the dentist right before I left for a cleaning and exam to make sure that this didn't happen.  One of the lessons I am learning while traveling is that there are some things you just can't control.  (Interesting little side note: The cost of my exam, which included two x-rays, was $19.  The cost of Amoxicillin for five days was $2.)

Ok, back to the build.  My team is made up of 11 people from the US, the UK, and Switzerland. Many of them have traveled extensively so we've had some really great dinner conversations and I'm learning a lot.  Speaking of dinner, the food here is incredible. It is similar in many ways to Greek food, and there is an abundance of fresh vegetables due to the fact that Macedonia used to be the agricultural source for all of Yugoslavia (22 million people) and are now the source for their country only (2 million people).  Remember my complaint about no salads or vegetables? Yeah, I've made up for that here. 

So I am off to bed in the hopes that I can sleep for more than an hour at a time.  The forecast for tomorrow is supposed to be clearer and I am hoping that will be the case both figuratively and literally.

~ N

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sevilla to Rome

After spending only three nights in Sevilla, it is definitely in the running for one of my favorite cities in Spain.  While Granada was warm and friendly, Sevilla took it to the next level.  It has such a charming, old country feel to it that is reminiscent of the Spain you remember from old movies.  In other cities, it took a few days to discern if it was a place where I felt I was on vacation or a place that felt like home.  In Sevilla, I had the same at-home feeling I found in Madrid but it was almost instant and maybe a little bit stronger.

I arrived in the afternoon and headed out to find an outdoor cafe. I had a terrific lunch and ended up chatting with two of the waiters who had a break when I finished my meal and sat with with me.  We spoke solely in Spanish and they were so patient, helpful, and encouraging. After lunch, I wandered through the streets of the center city (which like Granada, had so much character and were so full of life). Strolling along, I thought I recognized someone and as I got closer - sure enough it was my friends Diego and Ariceli, a couple I met on the first program I did in Spain - hours away from Sevilla and months before. They were spending the weekend in the city as well. Crazy!  We agreed to meet up later that evening and I walked away shaking my head in disbelief but smiling ear to ear.

For the next few days it was more of the same.  Anywhere I was sitting or walking, I met people.  Everyone sits, talks, and laughs together.  Meals are long and enjoyed with new friends and old.  I understand now what people were trying to describe to me in regards to the "slower" pace of Sevilla. I think what I appreciated most was that it was a combination of the old and the new, a perfect balance.

I visited some sites, saw an authentic flamenco show with new friends, caught up with old friends, and at the end of it all I left Spain with a very heavy heart.  I still feel like it wasn't time yet, but this is why I planned my volunteer work in advance.  If I didn't have something to push me forward, it would be too easy for me to stay in one place and possible miss out on what's to come.  That being said, I will definitely return. Maybe sooner than later...

Fortunately, leaving Spain meant heading to Rome for 3 nights where my friend Damian also happened to be traveling due to a friend's wedding a few hours from the city. He has been to Rome a few times already, speaks some Italian, and thinks the same way I do so I was able to take a mini vacation from planning, map-reading, searching, etc. and just follow him around. Awesome. We went to the Basilica at St. Peter's (and all the way up to the top of the cool), the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Trajan's Column and other random stuff that we happened upon while wandering in the city. I have one day left here on my own so I'm heading to the Colosseum and that will be the extent of my whirlwind tour of Rome. 

I'm going to close with a great story - a recap of our dinner last night, which we agreed was one of the highlights.  We got a recommendation for a local place (outside the downtown area) and even though almost every other place we passed was basically empty, this place was packed. Good sign.

Sat down and the owner came over, greeted us, and simply said - "What do you want to eat"? Damian and I looked at each other in confusion and Damian asked for menus. The response was - "No, no, just tell me meat or fish". Um, okay...we both decided on fish and he said - "Good. White wine then. Ok". Off he went, and then it began...

1st - Seven different appetizers came out.  Shrimp, calamari, escargot, ceviche, spelt fish, salmon, and one thing I can't remember
2nd - Seafood risotto
3rd - Linguini with white clam sauce
4th - White fish (that was excellent but I can't remember the name), grilled langostino, grilled shrimp, fried calamari, and salad
5th - A tray of melon, pineapple, oranges, strawberries, plums, watermelon, prickly pear, grapes... Cake... Limoncello, Grappa, Mirto (sp?), Espresso

So yeah, that happened. Wow.

~ N

p.s. Photos from Granada and Sevilla are now up on Picassa (links on the left).  Rome pictures will be up soon.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Last few days in Spain... *sigh*

Andalucia is a truly wonderful region of Spain. I spent last week in Granada continuing with my Spanish classes (while unfortunately battling a bad cold that I caught at the end of my last volunteer program).  There was definitely a lot of resting, but I did enjoy the city.  I listened to all my Spanish friends and booked my ticket to visit La Alhambra in advance, but apparently if your head is cloudy from all the cold medicine and you are struggling to focus during your classes all day, it is possible to get your days mixed up.  I showed up on Wednesday to find out that my reservation was for Tuesday. Very "un-Nancy-like".  After going back to bed for several hours, I was able to book another visit on my last night in the city. It was really beautiful to experience Nasrid Palace at night, but I didn't get to see much else of La Alhambra due to the timing.  Looks like I will just have to come back!

I am in Sevilla now for the end of my travels in Spain and it is bittersweet.  While I am excited about what lies ahead,  I am having a hard time with the concept of moving on.  My heart (yes, believe it or not, I have one) is telling me that it's not ready to leave yet.  Finishing in Andalucia makes it even harder because the people here are so friendly, so warm, and genuinely welcoming. I spent 20 minutes talking with the woman at the "lavanderia" when I dropped off my laundry! She spoke Spanish and a little Arabic, and I speak Arabic and a little Spanish so it was a little bit like a comedy skit but we made it work.  Even being in Sevilla for only a few hours, I already have a similar feeling here.

Ok, before I start getting all sad, here's the plan for the next few weeks -

Because my flight to Macedonia was booked back when I was planning to spend some time in Italy, I need to head to Rome next week.  Coincidentally, a friend of mine will be in Italy for a wedding at the same time which is awesome because he's been to Rome a few times (and I believe speaks some Italian) so not only will I get to see a familiar face, I also won't be completely lost. Transitioning from Portugal to Spain had been a little tricky after only 10 days so I can only imagine what I'm going to be like when I head to Italy after being here for 2 months. 

After that little detour, I will be in Macedonia for 10 days working with HFH again.  I found out this week that we will be working at SOS Children's Village.  It's a non-governmental organization for children with no parents, who live in a community of houses, each with a "mother", in a home-like setting.  We will be doing some rehabilitation work on the facilities to improve the living conditions.  After what may prove to be a challenging week both physically and emotionally, I will head to Thessaloniki, Greece for a week before returning to the states for a quick pit stop to get ready for the next phase of my journey.

I can't believe how fast the time is going!

~ N

Monday, September 5, 2011

Never Enough

Less than 2 weeks left in Spain and I'm already having separation anxiety.  How can you miss a place you haven't left yet? 

Last week's program was intense, exhausting, rewarding, and more than I think any of us truly expected.  Our group was a little over 50 people in total, so at first glance it seemed highly unlikely that we would really get to know each other.  I assumed we would just have a good program and that would be the extent of it.  But 7 very full days later, we all found it very difficult to part ways.  What an amazing week, with an amazing group of people.  I definitely have some friends for life here in Spain.

So, on to Granada.  I arrived yesterday and began my next round of Spanish classes today.  It's amazing how quickly you lose what little you learned when you spend a week speaking nothing but English!  (It's coming back though.  There's still hope.)  Granada is absolutely beautiful and I'm looking forward to visiting La Alhambra and seeing a Flamenco show in the caves of Sacromonte.

However, at this moment there is homework waiting for me so I will write again soon with stories and pictures of my Andalucian adventures.  Just wanted to say that I am here, safe, and missing you all.

~ N

Monday, August 29, 2011

A(hhh)ntoni Gaudi

After a relaxing few days in San Sebastian, I headed to Barcelona to take in as much of Antoni Gaudi's incredible work as possible.  For the record, Barcelona in August = Hot + Crowded. 

I managed to visit La Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera, Casa Battlo, and Park Guell (as well as Museu Picasso and a few other smaller galleries). Pictures are up on Picassa, the link is on the left.

The first night our Barcelona guide (a friend of Alys') took us to one of the best tapas restaurants I have had the pleasure of enjoying yet.  It's called Tapas 24, and if you are in Barcelona you owe it to yourself to go there.  Here's the menu, be jealous -

It was a nice start because the next few days were pretty hectic but incredible all the same. While I don't really enjoy rushing around, there is too much to see and do in that city to sit still.  If my time wasn't limited, I easily could have stayed for another week and still not seen and enjoyed all Barcelona has to offer.  That being said, it felt great landing back in Madrid and hopping on the metro with confidence and understanding a little of the Spanish that was being spoken around me again. I actually slipped and told a friend who was meeting me - "I'll be home around 6:00".  Hmmm...

I am now in La Alberca which is a few hours west of Madrid, almost near the border of Portugal, for my other English immersion program.  This group is really big (52 people in total) so it's a different feel but again, the Spaniards I have met are really great people and there are a few other volunteers taking similar trips as mine so we've been comparing notes and sharing info.

I know this post is short and not entertaining but I have a promise to my adorable little mother that I will post once a week and I missed my cutoff.  Being on another continent when a hurricane is hitting your hometown was quite a challenge for me so these last two days my free time was spent following news on the internet or trying to contact friends and family.  Glad I was finally able to get through and everyone is doing okay now.  Miss you all.

~ N

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Semana Grande

And "grande" it was!

Spent the last week in northern Spain and was lucky enough to be in San Sebastian during their annual week-long fiesta called Semana Grande (Big Week).  As I mentioned in the last post, each night there is a fireworks display by a different country.  You know how the grand finale of most fireworks shows can give you the chills?  (No? Just me?) Well in any case, these shows were basically one big grand finale. The show that South Africa put on was unlike anything I've ever seen.  From what I understand, it's the same company who did the fireworks at the end of the World Cup when they hosted. It was sort of drizzling/raining that night, but the show was just unreal so neither I or the thousands of people sitting on the beach cared that we ended up soaked. 

Ok, I'll stop now. You know me and fireworks.  So anyway... San Sebastian is a beautiful little city that is known for its beaches and its pintxos (tapas).  We stayed in the old city which is just rows and rows of pedestrian-only streets that are filled with tapas bars, restaurants, gelaterias, etc. so we would bounce around all afternoon trying different places and each was better than the last. Since it was Semana Grande, there was also live music, street vendors, and all types of events that we would just stumble on as we were walking. It wasn't really beach weather but that was okay because it gave us a chance to really enjoy the city.

One more quick "Nancy tries to speak Spanish" story and I promise I'll stop doing that.  When we went to buy our train tickets to Barcelona, the woman behind the counter had a necklace with the Eye of Horus as a charm.  It was definitely Egyptian gold with the signature blue stone so she either went there or someone brought it back as a gift.  I decided to ask her in Spanish if she visited Egypt and she replied emphatically that she had been there in 2005 and loved it, it was so beautiful, etc.  We proceeded to have a pseudo-conversation and I know my conjugation was completely off and I probably sounded like a child but we actually communicated.  At one point I apologized for my awful Spanish and explained that I'm just now learning. She asked me how long I've been studying and I told her I've done 2 weeks so far and she kept saying "Es increible! Solo dos semanas?" Heehee. Yay!

And now I am in Barcelona...and they speak Catalan... and I can't understand a thing.

Talk about a let down!

~ N

Monday, August 15, 2011

La Turista

I spent this weekend catching up on some touristy things in Madrid...made it to Museo del Prado, Museo Reina Sofia, Plaza Mayor, the Teleferico, and Templo de Debod at sunset.

The Prado and the Reina Sofia were unreal. I spent hours in each, and could go back tomorrow and do it all again.  Art History happened to be a class I really loved freshman year in college, so having the opportunity to see so many pieces I studied by Goya and Velazquez at the Prado was amazing.  I spent the next day at the Reina Sofia and saw so much work by Dali and Picasso that I didn't even know existed, as well as discovering some other artists that made quite an impression on me.  That afternoon/evening was probably one of my favorite days so far.

A few friends and I took the Teleferico (a cable car that goes out of the center of the city) in the late afternoon one day and had some drinks on the terrace and enjoyed the view as the sun was setting.  On the way back, we stopped at the Temple of Debod just after the sunset and it was stunning.  It's kind of an amazing story - due to the construction of the Aswan dam, it was in danger of being flooded, so it was dismantled in the late 60s, and moved from Egypt by ship and train to Madrid where it was reconstructed brick by brick. (Dad, how proud are you of me right now? haha)

Tomorrow I leave for Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Barcelona before my next volunteer program starts and I need to get myself organized and packed tonight so I'll finish with a quick, amusing (to me) little anecdote - I went to the bus station today to purchase my ticket for tomorrow and I did without a single word of English. The very patient, nice old man at the ticket counter smirked through the whole exchange, and as he handed me my ticket he said "Muy bien" with a wink and the look you would give a child that just recited their ABCs without missing a letter.  I'm pretty sure if there wasn't glass between us he might have reached out and patted me on the head.

~ N

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Castles, Cathedrals, and Cochinillo

Finally got a few pictures up from my volunteer program in Valdelavilla, as well as a day trip to Segovia.  Madrid pictures will be coming soon...

So, Segovia...what a beautiful little city.  The Roman aqueducts are just plain amazing and the cathedral and castle were really incredible to see as well. It was significantly cooler than Madrid so I might have wandered around just a little bit longer than I really needed to simply to enjoy the gorgeous day.  For lunch I tried the traditional cochinillo asado (suckling pig) for which Segovia is famous, and I have to say I was not a huge fan.  Maybe I'm just missing pulled pork really bad and was disappointed.

I'm enjoying "living" in Madrid. I've figured out the metro, bought a cell phone for 14€, can order my meals or pay for things at the store without sounding completely clueless, and I am no longer mesmerized at the selection of Mentos each time I walk into a store. (Strawberry-lime...? Mojito...? Yes please!) Class is going well, but I wish I could take a few months to really focus on learning the language.  I'm hoping to continue elsewhere, but for now at least I am building a base. My school actually has a branch in Argentina so maybe I can pick up my studies when I reach South America. Although...I will be in Brazil before Argentina...and will be learning a little Portuguese while I'm there...yikes, overload! There's a chance no one will be able to understand me in any of these countries by the time I'm done.

Next week I will be heading north with a friend to San Sebastian and then on to Barcelona.  It turns out that next week is "Grande Semana" in San Sebastian. It is a week long festival which hosts ‘Concurso Internacional de Fuegos Artificales’ (The International Fireworks Competition).  Each night, firework specialists from all over the world  compete to give the best show. Um, what?? Alys might have to drag me to Barcelona...

~ N 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Day In The Life

So I'm back in school for the first time in... um... let's just say "several" years. I enrolled in a language school in Madrid for 2 weeks and they have several branches so I am considering continuing with them when I am in Argentina as well.  It's amazing how much more you get out of a class when you actually WANT to learn the subject matter. Both of my professors are great, and my class is a mini United Nations - the US, Germany, Holland, Italy, Russia, Taiwan, and the UK.

I've met some really great people in Madrid through one of the volunteers in my English immersion program last week (hence the decision to take the course here instead of another city in Spain).  He is an American currently living in the south of Spain, and I swear he is a celebrity of sorts here.  Both he and his wife are very involved in many different programs helping Spaniards strengthen their English and every place we walk in to they know him by name. He introduced me to several people/places in Madrid and the other day I actually bumped into someone I know on the street! That was definitely a moment for me. 

So a typical day here starts with a 10-15 min walk to school where I attend class until 1:30pm.  In the afternoon I explore different parts of the city, visit some of the sites, or find a park to read or do homework.  In the evening, I head to a bookstore/cafe/bar a block from my place that has become a "home base" of sorts.  It is owned by Americans and there are a lot of English speaking people currently living in Madrid who come by regularly.  It's a Spanish sort of "Cheers", and I find it fairly amusing that I can walk into a place over 3000 miles away from home and be greeted by name as if I have been coming there all my life.  It has been invaluable in the way of information, connections, as well as just good company.  One of my daily companions is an older gentleman who has retired in Madrid from London, but is originally from Iran and has lived in both Cairo and NYC. He has a daughter my age, and we have become fast friends. (Georgy family: His name is Morad... I almost fell off my chair!)  The bookstore hosts something called Intercambio nights where Spaniards and native English speakers can work on their language skills.  I am not brave enough yet to work on my Spanish with them, but the Spaniards that attend are very happy to have someone to practice their English with. 

There is another spot owned by two guys from the UK and NYC that I am heading to for the first time tonight with my celebrity friend so I am looking forward to meeting more people.  Two of the girls from last week's program have been here in Madrid with me this whole week which has been great, but unfortunately they are heading out tomorrow to continue their travels.

Time for a siesta... (I'm embracing the culture!)

~ N

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Summer in Spain?

Back in Madrid after a great week in Valdelavilla. I met some truly amazing people and walked away with so much more than I expected.  There is something indescribable about what happens when you put a group of people who are essentially complete strangers in the middle of nowhere and give them very limited access to "the outside world".  Valdelavilla happens to be the only venue with that type of isolation, and in a strange way I am glad it worked out to be my first program. The rest of the venues are either in a city or within walking distance of a city, and while I was slightly skeptical of the limitations of our little village at first, it actually worked in our favor.  The volunteers and participants got to know each other really well (while joking about the fact that we had no choice but to spend time together), and we all left with more than just the accomplished goal of stronger language skills.

As I was hoping, the time I spent there gave me a wealth of information on this country and where I definitely need to travel.  The participants came from all over Spain and they were more than happy to tell me about their little piece of the country.  In my very loose original plan, Spain was the place I was planning to spend the most time and for several reasons I am now considering staying here until I head to Macedonia.  Since I can't sit and chat with you guys about it, here are some of those reasons:

1) I am discovering that I prefer slow travel as opposed to the rush of seeing as much as possible in one or two days of staying in a city. Yes, you can spend 4 nights in Madrid and hit the major sites, but if you spend a week, you really start to appreciate and understand the city.

2) I am looking into taking a Spanish course to refresh the little bit I remember from Spanish 101 at Rutgers and give me a base for my time in South America as well.

3) The south of Spain is hot in August. Very hot. If I shift that part of my trip to the beginning of September, I can actually enjoy Seville, Granada, Cordoba, Cadiz, etc. without hiding indoors between 1pm and 5pm.

4) The thought of skipping Italy to allow myself extra time in Spain is actually a relief in some ways.  The whirlwind tour I was planning to accomplish in under 2 weeks was going to be slightly stressful/rushed which is probably not the best idea right before a 10 day build with HFH in Macedonia, in addition to being rather expensive since I would need to get from one city to the next quickly. (Also, see item #1 regarding slow travel.)

5) I really like tapas.

So, we'll see.  I am looking into a few different programs and talking to several people over the next day or two and I'll figure out the plan from there.

~ N

Monday, July 25, 2011


Volunteering in an English immersion program in Valdelavilla this week. The short description is - Spanish companies send their employees here to strengthen their English.  There are also several masters students attending the program this week who are completing their studies so their English is quite strong.  The venue is a small restored village in the mountains in the north of Spain and the landscape is amazing (pictures soon).  I was definitely right about the change of pace…the closest civilization is a 20 minute car ride.  The volunteers are from the US, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Brussels, and Scotland and the age of the entire group (volunteers and attendees) is 19 to 65.

We’re just really getting into the program so more on that later but for now I can say this much – the food is amazing and there is way too much of it.  Every meal is a sit down affair with multiple courses and each one is an exercise in self-control.  Pretty thankful for all the hills I’m hiking up here right now…maybe my hips will have a fighting chance of still fitting into my jeans at the end of the week.

~ N

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Next Stop: Middle of Nowhere, Spain

Arrived in Madrid to head north and I can't wait to be back here in a week to really spend some time in the city.  So beautiful.

I am spending the next week in the mountains of Soria in a small rustic village called Valdelavilla that was abandoned in the mid 1960's then restored in the 1990's.  Not sure what the WiFi situation will be there as it is quite remote so if you don't hear from me, no worries - I am fine. (Mom & Dad, that is for you!)

Here's the link to the place I am staying, it's about 3 1/2 hours outside of Madrid and I think the ride there will be quite scenic.  As most of my trip will be in major cities, I am really looking forward to the change of pace.

~ N

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Few Random Thoughts

Hard to believe more than a week has gone by.  I truly enjoyed the nice, slow start to my trip. I've spent the mornings visiting museums or touring sites, and the afternoons sipping sangria by the river and just reading or talking with other travelers. I have made some great connections here and will be a little sad to leave. The Portuguese people are so warm and truly make you feel like family. 

In any case, tomorrow I head to Madrid to meet the group for the first of my two volunteer programs in Spain. As I pack up and get ready to move on, here a few random thoughts rolling around in my head...

- European license plates are awesome.

- Port wine and dark chocolate make a delicious lunch.

- I love the sound of young children speaking foreign languages.

- The Portuguese are not fans of vegetables.

- In some cases, there is a little "magic" button that you need to hold when you turn on the faucet so that your shower has hot water.

- Is it really necessary to have 1¢, 2¢, 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢,1€ and 2€ coins?  I pretty much need one of those old school train conductor coin dispensers at this point.

- I have found the holy grail of ice cream bars (for me), and I am thankful that I did not discover it until yesterday. There are not enough stairs to undo the damage that could have resulted if I found it on day one.

~ N

p.s. I added a few more pics to the album (the album link is now on the top left side of the page)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pictures Posted

Link to album:  Portugal 7/2011

A Purple Tree

Yesterday I took a full day boat ride down the Douro River.  Rather than trying to put into words how breathtaking it was, I am posting the pictures. I'm fairly certain even they won't do the view any justice.

Since it was a weekday, the group on the boat was small which was great.  The morning was spent floating through the vineyards, then we had an incredible lunch followed by gorgeous countryside all afternoon.

Side note: One of the really neat things (geek alert) was getting to see how they move ships through the dam when the river is at two different levels.  They put us in a "hold" of sorts, drained the water, let the boat drop to the lower level, and opened the opposite gate.  Sounds really basic, but it was really cool to see, and they had to drop the boat really far. The pictures are in the album.

The scenery was (of course) beautiful, and every once in a while amid the lush green there would be a single tree with bright purple flowers.  There was a really nice family from France that I ended up spending most of the afternoon with, and the kids were entertaining themselves by trying to be the first to spot a purple tree.  During that time, Marie (the mom) and I chatted in somewhat broken English about my trip, her family, life in general. As we got off the boat she told me how much she enjoyed our afternoon, kissed me goodbye and said - "You are a purple tree".

Awww. What do you say to that?

~ N

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Spent the day in Gaia, the town just across the river from Porto.  There is a famous two level bridge that connects Porto and Gaia which was designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel so the ironwork has similarities to the Eiffel Tower.  I'll post pictures soon, but in the meantime - wow! The view walking across the top level is spectacular.  As it turns out, if you take the lower level back, you need to walk up concrete stairs on the Porto side. A lot of concrete stairs. 210 concrete stairs to be specific. Yes, I counted.  Today's lesson learned: always take the top level back.

Okay, back to my great day before the 210 stairs.  Most of the vineyards in the northeastern part of Portugal have their wine cellars in Gaia, some for hundreds of years. I toured a few today, and while the beer nerd in me didn't find them quite as intriguing as brewery tours, the cellars are really incredible structurally and it was interesting to learn the process and the history.

Tomorrow I'm heading north to take a boat ride through the Douro Valley (where all the vineyards are located). From what I understand, it is one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world, and I'm sure seeing it from the river will be amazing. 

~ N

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Arrived in Porto this afternoon and I am so glad that I chose to start my trip here. The weather is unreal right now (this week's forecast: upper 70s during the day and 60s at night), and although it's the second largest city in Portugal, it has a completely different feel than Lisbon. A little slower..? Older...? Hard to describe just yet.

My head is still spinning a little from the last few days and I haven't actually slept yet since flying out of NJ so putting together my plan of attack will need to wait until tomorrow. I'll post again later in the week when I'm not a groggy mess...just wanted to touch base that I have arrived safely.

~ N

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Getting ready...

3 weeks from today I head to Southern Europe for the beginning of my trip.  I wrapped up work this week and the focus now is packing up my place, finalizing travel details, tying up loose ends, and spending as much time as possible with friends and family.

I will have wi-fi access pretty much everywhere the first 3 months so email will be the best way to reach me, and I'm going to try my best to keep this blog updated as a I travel. I also discovered that I can send email to text so you may get some of those here and there.  Phone-wise, I am not going to have an international plan in Southern Europe so if you feel you will miss my voice terribly, set up a Skype account and download Skype mobile to your cell phone. My skype name is nancy_georgy to find me/add me as a contact.

Huge thanks to everyone who is letting me put my stuff in their attics and basements.  Between selling a few things to the neighbor who is moving into my place, and my awesome friends storing things for me, I have completely eliminated the need to pay for a storage unit while I'm traveling. Living in a studio apartment = less stuff.  And in even bigger news (for those of you who grew up with me) we actually cleaned out my parents garage *gasp* and I'm storing my car there.

That's all I have for now.  Off to get my extra passport pictures and international driver's license....

 ~ N