"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain

Monday, December 10, 2012

Home Sweet Home !

Since the last time I posted many things have happened.  First of all, I am back home!!  It was hard saying good-bye to all my friends and students in Macedonia.  But as I kept telling them, it's not good-bye, it's until next time.  I would love to go back and visit; and as they have all told me, I will always have a home in Macedonia.

After I left, I went on a 21-day tour through Europe.  It was a great way to wrap up my time living overseas.  I was able to see many of Europe's great cities such as Paris, Rome, Vienna, Prague, and Amsterdam.  I also spent time in some smaller places as well.  Then it was a ten hour flight back home.  And perfect timing too since I ended the tour with a cold and was coming home for mommy to take care of me  --haha -- she was thrilled.
The day after I landed (Sat Nov 25), the family came over and we had our "delayed" Thanksgiving dinner.  Everyone was glad to see me and curious to hear stories about Macedonia.  Now, its back to the "real world."   I have been taking it slowly, trying to do one or two things each day.  Of course, a haircut and manicure and pedicure were first on the list!  I got my drivers license renewed and have been driving around the neighborhood and to local places.  I have not tried tackling the beltway with all its new and wonderful (sarcasm intended) changes.  Next step is getting back into teaching.  I have already been in contact with both Fairfax and Arlington Counties for substitute teaching positions, so once those are up and running I think I will be back to normal.
I want to thank everyone who has followed this blog over the past two years.  It was an amazing experience and journey and I was so glad that I got to share it with you.  I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed living it! 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Apple Picking

I know it has been a while since I have posted, but before now there really was nothing to report.  My time here in Macedonia is coming to an end, and I have been trying to do things that I did not have time to do before....like apple picking.  Resen's main product is apples, there are trees everywhere and everyone has their own trees.  I was not able to help pick last year because it got cold very early.  So this year I was determined to pick an apple before I left.  We helped Irena's cousin, Tony, and his family at their orchard.  They have 800 trees and normally they can get about 1,000-2,000 boxes of apples a year.
 Irena picking apples.  If there are any spots or cuts on the apples you throw them on the ground. Later they come and collect those apples and they are bagged up and sold to make juice.
 Just getting started.
 Happy helper!!!
 Don't they look delicious?

The last picture of the day!!!  We filled up 63 boxes of apples.  And as a reward for our hard work Irena and I were both sent home with a box.  The family did not get the concept that I was going to be leaving a few days later.  They kept suggesting that I take them back to the United States with me.  I don't think Dulles customs would appreciate me trying to bring in about 10lbs of apples! 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

COS Conference

Last week, I went to my COS (Close of Service Conference).  It was the last training session that my group of volunteers had.  We all traveled to the eastern side of Macedonia to the lovely town of Berovo.  The conference was held at the new Aurora Resort (see picture below).
 Not bad for being in Macedonia.

On the first day that we arrived, it was the moment we all had been waiting for.....the lottery to see what day we will be going home.
They had written specific days that we could COS (Close our Service).  Our names were drawn out of a bag and we came up and wrote our name under the date that we wanted to leave.  I had a specific date in mind when I went to the conference since I had already planned what I wanted to do after I left Macedonia.

A fellow volunteer and I had planned to go to London, leaving on Nov 1st.  We would stay in London for two days; and then I would go off on a 21-day tour of Europe, starting on Nov 3rd.  The first day that we were allowed to leave Macedonia was Oct 31st, which is the day I needed, and there were only 3 spots available.  Luckily, I have some wonderful friends who were willing to leave later so that I could go on my trip and I was able to get the spot that I wanted.

SOOOOOO..............as you can see by the newly added Countdown Clock, located on the right hand side......I will be back home in Northern Virginia on November 24th!!!

As for the rest of the conference, we learned about adjusting when we get back home; and it was a nice time to hang out with the other volunteers that have been my family for the past two years.  It was bittersweet because you don't know if you will get to see some of them again.  But as we keep saying....it's not good-bye, it's until next time.

The MAK 15s (my group) that made it all the way to the end of their service!!!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Budapest and Looking for Dracula

After GLOW, I was off traveling again, but this time to Budapest.  I had heard from some volunteers that went last year how pretty it is; and I moved it to the top of my "places to see" list.  I spent about two full days there, which was not enough. This was also the first time I had gone somewhere by myself and I realized that I don't like traveling by myself, I need someone to eat with. But luckily after Budapest, I was heading to Romania and was going to meet up with thee other volunteers.
 Matthias Church, located on Castle Hill.
 Fishermen's Bastion. This part, that looks like a sand castle is actually a restaurant.
 View from Fishermen's Bastion looking out onto the Danube and the Parliament building.
 The Royal Palace, now the home of several of Budapest's museums.
 Me!!! The view from the Citadel looking out onto the Danube.
 Gellert Hotel and Thermal Baths.  It is the oldest spa in Hungary that has hot springs that have been active for 2,000 years.
 Central Market Hall  has many vendors selling fruits and vegetables along with meat and other specialty items.
 The Citadel is located on top of the hill.  The statue on top is called the Liberty Statue.
 This statue has an interesting story.  It is in memory of a religious figure that was captured and thrown off the cliff while in a barrel covered in nails.  The waterfall represents his fall.
 I took a boat ride down the Danube!!!
 Parliament building, the picture does not do it justice.
 The Royal Palace and the Chain Bridge.
 The Hungarian State Opera House. I did not have enough time to see a performance.....so next time.
Heroes' Square.

After Budapest it was off to Romania and our hunt to find Dracula.
I met up with the other girls in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, and we spent a day there.
Then we went to a town called Sighisoara. It is know as the birthplace of Dracula; and while we were there, they were having a festival.
 The clock tower.
 A cute little house on the top of the hill. Dont know why but it reminded me of the story "the little old lady that lived in a shoe".
 Can't have a Dracula hunt without a trip to the graveyard.
 Center of town where the festival was.
The restaurant we ate at which also happens to be the house where Dracula was born.
Then we went to a town called Brasov and stayed there for two nights.
 The center of Brasov.  You can see the Dark Church in the background. Interesting story- there is only one statue on the roof and it is of a man hunched over.  The story behind the statue is that the architect that designed the church did it in a special way and no one besides him was to know how he did it.  The architect's son figured it out so the architect killed his son by throwing him off the roof because he wanted to be the only one who knew how he did it.  The statue is in remembrance of his son.
Another shot from the center of town
Is the street small or am I too big?

We also took a day trip to the three main sites: Peles Castle, Bran Castle, and Rasnov Fortress.
Peles Castle. We were only given an hour to look around so we had to do the quick tour. 
 This was the dining room of the castle.
 The entrance to Bran Castle, also know as Dracula's castle.....we are getting close!!!
 I found Dracula!!!! Or at least a picture of the man that Dracula was created after.
 Rasnov Fortress.

 It was a great last trip and we had a lot of fun. Next week I will be going to my COS (Close of Service) Conference, where I will learn what day I will be leaving Macedonia. The end is coming near, so next time I post, the Countdown Clock will begin!!!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Camp GLOW 2012

In the middle of July, 80 girls from all over Macedonia came together for a week long summer camp. This year we held the camp in Tetovo at a new school that had just opened.  It gave the camp more of a conference feel, but the girls still had fun doing typical camp activities: singing songs, eating s'mores, playing games, attending classes, etc.   Myself and two other PCVs were the ones running and organizing the camp this year; and we were pleased by the outcome. The girls had a great time!

Here are some pictures:
 Our great staff all waiting for the campers to arrive.
 Welcoming the girls to camp.
 Singing songs, a daily activity.
Tie- Dye!!! The crazy girl in the front is Valbona, my girl from Resen.
Each group got to pick a night to have s'mores under the stars.
 The American Ambassador for Macedonia came one day.
The Ambassador addressing the girls.

It was a great week; and I am so glad that I got to be a part of it and GLOW in general.  GLOW has been a big part of my Peace Corps service.  I have meet some amazing girls that will become great leaders.  I am sad that my time with GLOW is over, but can't wait to see what these girls will do in the future.

Until next time.....Keeping GLOW-ing!!!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Where in the World is Michelle?

I got back from GLOW on Sunday and headed off for my last trip ---Budapest, Romania and Transylvania on Tuesday.  Will be back the first of August and will post then.  Sure will have alot of catching up to do!!! 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Balkan Trip 2012

I'm back!!!  I know its been a while since I have written, but there was a good reason....I was on vacation.  Another volunteer and I  just got back from touring the Balkans. We had a great time, little fast paced, but that is what you have to do in order to see everything in a limited amount of time. I am not going to put up every detail of the trip, since that will take a loooooong time, so I thought I would put up a picture for each place we hit and write a little summary.
So here we go...........
 Our first stop was to the Plivice Lakes in Croatia.  It is a beautiful national park that has tons of waterfalls.  We spent two days walking around enjoying the wonderful weather.  The first day we got there it poured....
and even though I am smiling the picture, I was not a very happy camper.  I don't like being out in the rain; but then the next day we went back and it was beautiful and well worth the trip.
 Then we were off to Split, Croatia.  It is a nice old town, located on the water.  It has historical sites and lots of shopping.  We spent most of our time wandering around looking at the palm trees.
 Then we left Croatia and headed to Bosnia.  Even after all that Bosnia had been through, it was still a beautiful country.  This is the bridge in Mostar.  It was destroyed during the war and then rebuilt. There is even a club of men that dive (more like jump) off the bridge.  While we were there we saw two men jump off the bridge.
 Then it was off to Sarejevo, Bosnia.  Even though it had been awhile since the war, you could still see the remains.  This is the tunnel that "saved" the city.  It started at one ladie's house and went all the way under the airport.  The Bosnians say that if it was not for that tunnel they all would have starved.
 We took a tour of the city.  This is our tour guide.  She was fantastic and we really learned alot.  It was nice to hear about everything that happened from someone our age that actually lived it.  We were surprised to see that the Bosnian people are so hopeful after all the horrible things that they went through.
 Once we left Bosnia, it was back to Croatia.  This is Dubrovnik.  The Old part is a tourist destination. We took a cable car up the mountain to get the areal view of the whole city.
 After Croatia, we went to Kotor, Monetnegro.  This is one of the small centers that makes up the Old Town.  Do you see the mountain in the background?.......
 We hiked all the way to the top to see the old castle. The guidebook said that the hike was for the "adventurous traveler".  Why I decided to go, I will never know.  Guess I had a burst of energy because up we went.  All the way to the top.
Our last stop was Budva, Montenegro.  This was our beach day.  At some of the other places we also took some time away from siteseeing to go to the beach; but in Budva all we saw was the beach.  I got my chair and my umbrella and I was good to go.  No shoes, no shirt, no problem!!  It was a wonderful trip and when people ask me my favorite part, I have been giving a political answer: Croatia has beautiful cities, Bosnia has wonderful people, and Montenegro has great beaches.  That pretty much sums up the trip!

Now that the vacation is over, I am off to camp.  Will write again when I get back!!!