Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chill Time

So, here I am in my hotel room, doing my chill thing. There have been some crossed wires and logistical glitches which have culminated in me not having to work today. Or yesterday. Nice! Well, actually, I feel like there will be lots and lots of non-teaching time, though I'm going to be in my "office" setting from 7am to 6pm. That's rough. So I'm going to enjoy my lounge time here.

Hmmm, well, I got to see some of Riyadh yesterday as I was going to the University and back. As aforementioned it is not a tall city, the traffic is atrocious and everything is very brown. Cairo was brown, but in a different way. It was kinda fake desert, cause the Nile ran through it. This is real desert. We have a mall right across the street, which is nice cause there's a big Wal-Mart type store (called Carrefour) in it, so we can get groceries and other stuff. My roommate and I snuck in just before the final prayer time of the day, but didn't quite make it out before they closed the store for prayers. So we wandered around for a while and of course ended up buying more than we had originally intended. One of my first purchases was lotion, because it is SO dry, I could just wither up like a little plant without water (which, speaking of water, is not drinkable). So far my exercise option seems like doing laps in the mall, though I'm definitely planning on asking about a gym.

I'm glad I got my abaya in Bosnia, cause its definitely a necessary clothing item. I've gotten some funny looks because mine is a little short, so I might have to get one that's a little longer. I think I'm going to have to invest in some long skirts, because it seems that pants are frowned on in the teaching setting, but I'll have to see.

The facilities at the university yesterday were very modern and up to date. The girls all seemed so young though! I felt like I'd walked into a high school instead of a university. It doesn't help that I'm a giant among women here. Most of the women I've passed here come to about my shoulder, or maybe my chin if they're tall. Ooof. So maybe I'll teach tomorrow, and maybe not until Saturday. We'll see how this all pans out. :)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sun and Sand, Part I

And I have arrived! We got into Saudi very early this morning (why do I not enter Gulf states during the day?!), and are now ensconced in the hotel. Flying in, the city just kind of appeared out of the desert as a grid of blue and purple halogen lights. It's quite flat, and rather dusty as one might expect.

This morning was filled with an unexpectedly early wake-up knock on the door and trip to the company office to fill out some paperwork, and then lunch at the mall which is right next door to the hotel which I will be calling home for a while.

As far as first impressions go, there seems to be lots of construction and development going on here, especially in terms of high rises. The city seems to be pretty low to the ground, which I think is a concession to the heat. There is, of course, not much green, but the palm trees help to break up the desert-scape.

I'm going off to teach tomorrow, so we'll see how the first day of "classes" go. :S I think I'm going to go study grammar now...

Saturday, September 25, 2010


So near, and yet so far. I'm off to Saudi tomorrow, but first I have to mail this stupid box. The post office informed me today that they only mail boxes that weight under 2kg, and that mine was over so I should go to Maoiruisoiursou (sp?!) office on Monday. Well, that might be a problem, I said, as I'm leaving the country tomorrow. Lame. So now in addition to the rest of my crap, I get to haul a box to the airport as well. No, no I'm not bitter or anything. It didn't help that it was pouring down rain the whole time...

Okay, rant done. I'm consoling myself with some exceptionally delicious baked chips. Lays, you should export this flavor to the States.

I've been in Greece now for two weeks. That's longer than I've stayed anywhere in a long time. And I'm getting antsy. I know that as soon as I start to work I'm going to look back and think, those were the days, but now...I need a purpose. I feel like I should've been doing something with all of this free time.

Well, I'm going to do some strategic repacking now to allow for a stress-free morning tomorrow!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Oh woe is me. I'm still in Greece. Sigh. Yes, the visa process to go to Saudi has taken rather longer than anticipated. But I now have my visa, and am just waiting for plane tickets, then off I go! The semester officially begins on Saturday (remember, ME Saturday and Sunday is Thursday and Friday), so we all will be cutting it rather close. In the meantime, I must content myself with more ruins and baklava.

So I guess I left off on our train trip to Athens. Well, it departed Thessaloniki at 11pm, and we thought it was only supposed to take 4 hours. We also didn't understand why one lady at the train station said all trains were full, and another lady sold us tickets. We were triumphant, but that was only until about 10:50pm, when some guy told us that we were in his seat. And we asked, where are out seats? And he said, you don't have seats. And we were like, oh. No wonder the one lady said all seats were sold.

So we sat on the floor of the car by the bathroom with about a dozen of our closest friends. Apparently they sell tickets until there is just no more space left anywhere. At one point, some dude came barreling back, and started to smoke and make a rumpus. Then, he reached over and started stroking Lauren's leg. Oh, that did not go over well with either of us. But we got no back up help from the Greeks, who conveniently all decided to try to sleep at the same time. Lame. Then, the guy next to us turned out to be Moroccan, which meant of course that he wanted to speak to us. I need to stop being so friendly. At around 2am, he informs me that I am very beautiful, and he thinks his parents would love me. I was like, I am so not in the mood to be propositioned right now. An hour later, when we thought we were supposed to be arriving in Athens, we were informed that actually we were only about half way there, and had another three hours to go. Sitting on the floor. Oh, dear. Well, it was an adventure. Thank GOD our hotel was only a short walk from the train station.

Then for a few days we did all the Athens sights, and then went to Santorini for a couple days. It was very lovely, and the ferry ride was half the fun. We frolicked around on the black sand beach, and then took a bus to on of the towns to try to get the iconic shot of Santorini. We didn't do too bad for ourselves. We came back last Saturday, and Lauren left me on Sunday.

Since then I've been just bouncing around Athens, loathe to get too far away in case I finally got my stuff, which I did on Tuesday. Yesterday I went to the Embassy, and today I'm just trying to combobulate myself to get ready to go. I'm ready to be getting back to work. If I were still traveling, that would be one thing, but I'm pretty much done with all of this sitting around business. :)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Greece, Greece, Greeeeeeece, Greece lightning! Hahaha. So we’ve been here for a few days now, and boy what an adventure it’s been! It all started when we tried to leave Macedonia. Oh, Macedonia, thou art both lovely and cheap. Until you try to leave. We were in Ohrid, which seemed like a relatively big town. But then you try to go to Greece, and it all goes to smash.

Let me just say right now that the Greeks, while generally lovely people, are collectively troublemakers. They don’t like the Bulgarians, despise the Macedonians (which involves excluding them from the EU and not converting their currency ANYWHERE in Athens. More on that later.), and generally loathe the Turks. Seriously, Greece? Seriously? This makes some basic things difficult. Like traveling.

Anyways, our poor hostel man in Macedonia was super patient with us, and spent forever and a day trying to help us figure our business out. We eventually settled on taking a bus to Skopje, and from there bussing to Thessaloniki. What we did was something entirely different. We missed the bus to Skopje, which meant we would’ve missed the train. This was a result of the Macedonian bus lady not accepting Euros, which was ludicrous because everyone else in the country LOVED Euros. Whatever. So we missed the bus, and ended up taking a bus to the next big town down called Bitola. Once there, they informed us that the next train was leaving at 3am. It was then 3pm, and we were like, we ain’t hangin’ round here for 12 hours. So the train man, who spoke very little English, called his son to help translate and I ended up trying to make new travel plans with the help of this random dude who was calling all of his taxi driver friends. That did not work out so well, but we got some info and proceeded to take a taxi to Greece.

This began our transportation issues with Greece. The taxi man stopped by his house on the way out of town because he needed to take the taxi sign off his car. Apparently, it's tough to get through the border in a taxi. Who knew? He threw the sign thingy into his yard. Special. Then off we went, zoom zoom zoom, and into Greece. We did not have any problems at the border, but it seemed like our driver was buddy buddy with some of the guards. He also spoke pretty good German, which was handy cause Lauren was able to communicate.

We then hopped on a train with these two uproariously hilarious English guys. Oh my God, they were hilarious, mostly because they were telling us about the exploits of university rugby players as they were scrap-booking. Priceless. When we finally arrived in Thessaloniki, we managed to figure out the bus system and arrived at the hostel, only to find out that we had booked for the wrong night. And for the male dorm, no less. Whoops! They managed to squeeze us in, though they were completely full. Lauren and I shared a bunk, because we ended up taking the spot of someone who hadn't shown up.

Thessaloniki itself is an interesting city. It's not particularly pretty, but it has ruins scattered around liberally, which I very much enjoyed. We felt like we covered the city pretty well in one day, and that included the epic struggle for train tickets. That is a story for another post.

When I started this post, we'd only been here for a few days. We've now been here for just about a week, and Lauren today abandoned me to go start her job in Kiev, Ukraine. I'm still waiting on my visa, so I'll be in Athens for a few days, anyways. I'll continue the epicness that was our train trip, as well as our time in Athens and Santorini another time.

Friday, September 10, 2010

It's good to be brown

Here we are in lovely Ohrid, Macedonia. We arrived at about 5 am after leaving Kotor at about 8pm yesterday evening. We were happy to leave, because we sort of ran out of things to do in Montenegro. But it was beautiful and relaxing, so those were two pluses. We crashed for a few hours upon arrival, and then were up to go to Sveti Naum, which is the spiritual heart of Macedonia with a Serbian couple who were staying in the same guesthouse. It was a beautiful drive, and the monastery and its grounds were lovely, as they are situated right on the lake. It also abuts the border with Albania, which we drove through last night (but they didn't give us a stamp! :( )

I stopped at one of the many vendors that lines the road out of the monastery, and the man started speaking to us in Macedonian. Lauren and I were clearly speaking English, but he kept on in Macedonian. Finally he asked me a question, and I just stared at him and was like, "I don't understand." He looked surprised and said, "English?!" "Yes!", we said. "I thought you were Macedonian. Maybe Macedonian who lived in America." Me: "Do we look Macedonian?" Man pointing to Lauren, "That one, no. You...maybe, yes. Yes you look Macedonian. Usually I can tell Americans a kilometer down the road, but you could be Macedonian." I was pleased, and got a good deal. :)

When we came back to Ohrid, our taxi man drove us to the top of the hill for no extra charge (which was awesome of him!) and we poked around the old city, which is also a UNESCO site. There was a fortress to conquer, and another self-guided church tour which lead to a great church/ruins pointed out to us by the taxi man. He had the knowledge. There was more wandering and lake time, and sampling the local street food, which was very delicious.

Our biggest quandary now is where to go from here. Straight to Greece, or back through Albania? It seems that it is hard to get in and out of the country, and that their public transportation system is a little, um, spotty. But Greece is so expensive! We'll see where the buses are running tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Passport stamps and words of wisdom

We are now ensconced in Montenegro for a couple days, after spending the night the Herzegovina part of Bosnia. It was cool, but we were ready to get a move on. And boy did we move on! Our bus went from Mostar to Dubrovnik, Croatia before heading down the coast here to Montenegro. So there were passport stamps everywhere! Our evening felt very European, as we sat in a plaza drinking a beer and watching soccer while there were soccer chants and church bells in the background! :)

The people of Bosnia were interesting, because they were very blunt. If they didn't like something, they did not hold back. It was rather startling, but we kind of got used to it. What was really interesting though was the willingness of people to say what was wrong with the country and express their dissatisfaction with the way of life in Bosnia. Our hostel guy in Sarajevo told us about how the government couldn't care less about the people, and that he hadn't had a job since the war ended (15 years ago), so he started the hostel. It seems to be working well for him. Our second hostel guy told us how he couldn't wait to leave Bosnia for good and go get Dutch citizenship. It was interesting how one guy wanted to stay and help rebuild his country while the younger one wanted nothing more than to get out. It was also interesting that the older guy said that a lot of the rebuilding that has been done has been to religious structures. He said that it's time for people to stop praying to God for a job and money in a newly rebuild spiritual place, and time to start building factories and things that will be people work and reasons to go give thanks. I thought it was very practical of him,, and put the Bosnian mindset in perspective.

Anyways, the countyside here (as I've said), is just love lovey and the coastline especially is phenomenal. I can see why Croatia is quickly becoming a destination hotspot. I'm glad that we fled the tourists, though Kotor still has more than its fair share. The town is one of the few left in the area that still has the old wall/fortress compound intact, and it's a UNESCO world heritage site. We're off to the beach tomorrow!!

My abaya has been procured, and I am now outfitted and ready to go for Saudi. It's coming up quickly, but Lauren and I still have to see Macedonia, Albania and Greece before our time's up! Yay adventures!!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Travels and Travails

I'm sitting in my hostel in lovely Sarajevo, enjoying the night breeze and grapes fresh off the balcony. Bosnia has been love at first mountain, and boy have there been a lot of mountains! The best word to describe the countryside is bucolic (or maybe idyllic), as it has been lush and spacious, dotted with red roofed cottages and the occasional herd or flock.

Sarajevo itself is incredibly beautiful, taking up a valley floor and surrounded by Lord of the Rings-esque mountains (which of course Lauren and I felt compelled to conquer). The city is lovely, and its people rather quirky. The ravages of war are still apparent in the pock-marked pavement and buildings--they have filled in some of the shell marks with red paint and call them the roses of Sarajevo, which stand in stark contrast to the real roses which beautify the city.

It is not an uncommon sight to see men and women dressed in the height of fashion sharing a cobblestone street with women in abayas and men with long beards. The call to prayer here is very melodic, and shares air time with the church bells. Oh Sarajevo. :)

Serbia was very different, with a very widely varying landscape. There were mountains and craggy cliffs just over the border with Bulgaria which gave way to flat plains filled with corn fields and streets lined with wheelbarrows full of watermelons. Belgrade showed its communist roots very blatantly, and there was a pervasive air of poverty and oppression. I think that probably had lots to do with the rather oppressive blocs of grey, crumbling apartment buildings. On the plus side, we had a self-guided Orthodox church tour which was lovely, and the food was both cheap and delicious!

The hardest part of Belgrade was getting from the bus station to the hostel. I ended up walking there, bag and baggage. It wasn't too bad (once I pulled myself together and did it), but neither was it the most pleasant experience ever. I'm going to have shoulders of steel by the end of this trip, that's all I'm saying.

Lauren and I have had a splendid time catching up and travelling around. Our next stop with be Mostar, Bosnia and then off to Kodor, Montenegro. We'll figure things out from there. The hardest thing so far has been trying to convert Serbian Dinars into anything else. The Serbs are still very much loathed in this part of the world (they obviously didn't make themselves any friends), so people aren't willing to change money.

Yay adventures! I've gone abaya shopping, and have procured an appropriate scarf/under-bonnet, and will try to get the robe tomorrow in preparation for Saudi travels. Woot!