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