Reflections on Moldova

It’s been a little quiet on here the past few months. I left Moldova 9 months ago, and I’m still adjusting back to life in the United States and figuring out my next steps. I’m working as a long-term sub in a 5th grade classroom (which I’m enjoying and which is keeping me quite busy!), but I’m not yet sure where I’ll be/what I’ll be doing come fall.

This time last year, I was inching toward the end of my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. To be honest,  at that point, I felt I was really ready to go home and leave Moldova. Things that had been exciting during the first year of service had begun to frustrate me. I missed American food and ingredients, I missed doing activities that were more accessible in the United States (hiking, walking without people asking where I was going, going to the movies, meeting up with friends, etc.), and I missed my family and friends. I still tried to focus on enjoying every moment I had remaining in Moldova, but I was mostly looking forward to leaving.

The last couple of months of my service, however, was full of reminders to stay focused on the present. I began to finally feel closer to my colleagues at school. I worked on some projects I was proud of. As I began to say my goodbyes, I felt the love of so many wonderful Moldovans. I appreciated the natural beauty surrounding me.

Now, nine months later, I miss Moldova and her people more than I had ever imagined I would. I knew I would miss some people, especially my host family. But I miss so much more. I miss the earlier spring, with flowers blooming everywhere and fruit trees blossoming every few yards. I missed the holiday traditions around Christmas and New Year. I miss my students and the teachers at school. I miss walking to and from school on quiet roads lined with plants and flowers and the smell of nature. I miss sitting on the swing in the courtyard sipping on tea made from the mint leaves my host mom had planted and then dried. I miss “my” cat (he was really my host family’s, but everybody called him mine because he was rather partial to me). I miss the random adventures and visits I made with my host mom.

In the United States, I am hesitant to talk to someone I don’t know or throw myself into the unknown, but in Moldova I thought little of accompanying my host mom when visiting a friend unannounced or walking to the next town over to visit her friends. I ate food prepared by almost anyone (that only registered as unusual when I returned to the U.S. and realized once again that it was not common here).

Some things have stayed with me from my time in Moldova. I feel like I’m rebellious if I wear shoes inside someone’s home (even my own home- Moldovans never wear shoes, excluding slippers, inside homes as it’s seen as unclean). I feel the need to make sure my shoes are always clean (Moldovans take great pride in making sure their shoes are clean). I wear a robe around the house when I’m cold (my family thinks this is weird, but it’s warmer than a sweater and easier than a blanket). I drink more tea than I did before I went to Moldova (Moldovans drink tea with most meals).

I’d really like to return to my “other home” soon to visit my host family, friends, and students, but so far scheduling such a trip has been difficult. Perhaps I’ll be able to make the trip in the summer. But regardless of when I get to “go home”, I think of Moldova almost every day.

Top Memories of 2018

I’m sure we all say this most years, but wow! What a year 2018 has been! Before we leap into 2019, I thought I had better wrap up 2018 with some of my top memories from the past year (in years past I’ve limited myself to 20 or so, but there were so many great moments in the past year, this list is longer than usual!).

  1. Went cross-country skiing with my mom. Winter seems like such a better season when you actually get out and enjoy the snow and cold, and this is one of the best ways to do that!
  2. Made it home to my village just in time to celebrate Christmas with my host family. After a VERY long journey back to Moldova from the United States (I got stuck in JFK airport for 24 hours), I was so happy to celebrate Christmas with my host family and snuggle with my host nieces.
  3. My students coming to our house for caroling, uraturi, and seed-throwing. It was nice to see the various Moldovan traditions for both Christmas and New Year.
  4. Found out when my last day in Moldova would be. We had a COS (Close of Service) lottery with all of the volunteers in my group and selected the days we would finish our Peace Corps service.
  5. Visited Andrei with my partner teacher, Liuba. Andrei is a man from my village who suffers from health issues that leave him bed-ridden, but had been asking for some time to meet the “American girl”. We had a really nice visit.
  6. Got ambushed by some neighborhood kids (my students) in a snowball fight. I’ve determined Moldovan kids are ruthless when it comes to snowball fights!
  7. Celebrated English Week at school. This year, English Week was actually two weeks and combined with Russian Week. We held lots of competitions, played games, and organized fun activities with our students. At the end of the two weeks, we had a dance for the older students, which they always really enjoy.
  8. Attended my host cousin’s wedding. It was a simpler affair than my first Moldovan wedding, but this time I could actually speak Romanian and everyone had a lot of fun dancing the hora (Moldova’s traditional dance).
  9. Organized a week of activities for Peace Corps Week. We held a mini “International Film Festival”, skyped with an American class of 5th graders, and hosted several other Peace Corps Volunteers at an event about what home means to each of us.
  10. Successfully completed our “control” (audit) at school. Each year, the education officials come to the school and observe every teacher, class, and audit the records. It’s a stressful week, but I enjoyed working together with my partners on some really good lessons. On the last day of the audit, my partner teachers and I didn’t have any lessons, so we were responsible for cooking a meal for the auditors in the school cafeteria.
  11. Celebrated Easter with my host family. Easter is the most important holiday in the year for Moldovans, and I celebrated it with my host family.
  12. My host niece, Valerica, visited and we celebrated her birthday. I can’t believe the little 6-year-old that was my first friend when I moved to my village is now 8! We had lots of fun playing together and spending time together over the Easter break from school.
  13. Celebrated one of my partner teacher’s birthdays. I was so happy to go to my partner teacher’s birthday party. It was moments like these that I felt like I had found my place in Moldova and in my village.
  14. Attended our COS conference in central Moldova. To help prepare us for closing out our service and returning home to the United States, Peace Corps held a 3-day conference for the group of volunteers I arrived in country with. We had a great time reminiscing and reflecting on our two years of service.
  15. Held an American meal at English Club. To thank my students for coming to English Club regularly for 2 years, my site mate and I prepared several American foods and had a small party with the regular participants. They especially loved the tacos (we had taco seasoning mailed to us from the U.S.) and mac and cheese!
  16. Attended the Peace Corps Moldova 25th anniversary celebration. My partner teachers and school director joined Peace Corps in the capital for a celebration of 25 years of work and service in Moldova.
  17. Went to my final Last Bell celebration at school and celebrated in the forest with my colleagues. I gave a short speech, received lots of flowers, poems, and letters, and said goodbye to many of my students on the last day of school. After lessons had ended, the teachers gathered for a barbecue in the forest, which lasted for several hours.
  18. Accompanied the dance ensemble from my village to an International Traditions Festival. I helped chaperone the students and afterwards, I enjoyed a meal with the other chaperones while the students had some free time to explore the festival.
  19. Had a farewell dinner with my fellow English Education volunteers. We all spent the first 10 weeks in Moldova living in the same town and completing our training together, and remained close throughout the two years. It was a bittersweet dinner, since for many of us it was also goodbye, but we had a good time and enjoyed each others’ company.
  20. Held two day camps in my village. My site mate and I held a week-long Leadership Camp for our older students, and I held a week-long English Camp for the younger students.
  21. Milked a cow! This was one of my goals while living in Moldova and just before I left, I was finally able to milk a cow at my host aunt’s house.
  22. Said goodbye at farewell parties both at school and with my host family. My colleagues, students, and partner teachers surprised me with a farewell party at the school, complete with some of my favorite foods, a gorgeous cake, and gifts. My host mom’s sisters and brothers came for a farewell party at home as well.
  23. Rang the COS bell, marking the end of my service in Moldova. I was proud to have made it all the way to the end, and excited to figure out what was next.
  24. Traveled to Iceland with my family! On my way home from Moldova, I met my parents and brother in Iceland for a week-long trip. Some favorite highlights were swimming in a hot spring pool, visiting a greenhouse combined with a restaurant, and all of the beautiful sights we saw.
  25. Picked blueberries! Blueberries don’t grow in Moldova but are my absolute favorite food, so I was so happy to make it home in time for blueberry season!
  26. Spent lots of time with family. Cousins, aunts, and uncles visited this past summer and we spent a lot of time hanging out and soaking up this rare time together. The reason for their visits was bittersweet, as we were also saying goodbye to our Grandma Jeri, but I treasured the time spent with them and with Grandma Jeri.
  27. Went to my cousin’s wedding! My cousin got married and the whole family came for it. We had SO much fun celebrating her and her new husband!
  28. Went to Rochester to visit some friends and have a girls’ weekend. We hung out, went mini-golfing, and spent some time on a beach.
  29. Baked a crazy amount of recipes with pears. Our pear tree produced a ton of pears this year, so my brother, sister, and I made just about every possible recipe with pears: pear cider, pear sauce, pear pie, pear crisp, pear cake, baked pears, etc. It was fun to bake together with my siblings and everything was delicious!
  30. Went on an apple adventure with the family. We drove a couple of hours and visited an apple orchard known for its hard cider and wood-fired pizza then headed to another orchard to pick a bag of apples.
  31. Took a short trip to Vermont. We spent a couple of days in Middlebury, Rutland, and Bennington.
  32. Traveled to Scotland and Ireland! It was my first ever solo trip, and I fell in love with Scotland and enjoyed spending time with my sister in Ireland.
  33. Helped out at the family’s Christmas Tree Farm. My parents took over my grandpa’s tree farm a couple of years ago, and I helped out each weekend for a few hours.
  34. Published an advent calendar of activities for our town together with my brother. We provided ideas for things to do at home or in our community for the 24 days leading up to Christmas. It was a success and we had fun doing the activities.
  35. Spent a quiet and simple Christmas Day at home. We had a lazy, slow morning of eating breakfast and opening presents, then some family came over in the afternoon for good food and conversation. We ended the night with my birthday cake and gifts, then after our guests left watched a funny movie.

I could probably add more to this list, but that might be a little excessive. What were some of your favorite memories this year? Here’s to a happy, healthy, and fresh New Year!

Ireland: Dublin

After my trip in Scotland, I flew to Ireland, where I would be meeting my sister the following day. My sister was moving to Dublin, and I met her there to provide some support her first few days there when searching for an apartment and such. We also did a bit of sightseeing and walked around Dublin quite a bit. I arrived the night before, grabbed a bite to eat, and spent the evening at my Airbnb since I was pretty tired.

The following morning, I met up with my sister at the hotel we had booked (they kindly let us store our luggage there until our room was ready). We grabbed brunch, then planned the rest of our day.

We had debated between visiting Guinness or Jameson, and ultimately settled on doing the Jameson Whiskey Bow Street Experience since we’re not really beer drinkers. The tour was very good and entertaining! After the tour, you get a free drink, and while we were in the main bar area, we met a woman from Dubai. We talked quite a while and made arrangements to meet up with her the following day. We stopped at a cafe and had scones and hot chocolate/coffee before meeting up with one of my sister’s friends in the evening.

The following morning, we checked out an apartment bright and early, then headed to the Liffey River, where we had booked a kayak tour of Dublin. It ended up being just the two of us, a young man from Hawaii and our tour guide. The river’s current was a bit stronger than usual, so the tour guide dragged us up the river in spurts with his motorized boat. The good thing was that this meant we were able to go further up the river than usual. The guide gave us some information about the different sights from the river and some Irish history.

After our kayak tour, we grabbed lunch at a pub, then met up with our new friend from Dubai for a short walk through St. Stephen’s Green. In the afternoon, we toured a co-working space for my sister (it was really cool), walked around Trinity College, and went window shopping in the city center.

The following day was my last full day in Ireland. We went to a late brunch, then hopped on a bus to the National Botanic Garden. We spent a couple of hours there, walking around the greenhouses and grounds.

Later in the afternoon, we headed back to the city center and went to the Chester Beatty Library, which is more like a museum. We saw some of the oldest maps that include all 7 continents as well as the some of the oldest known pages of the New Testament of the Bible (the handwritten pages are written on papyrus and the oldest dates to 150 AD). Photography was allowed in almost all areas of the museum, and there were so many cool things to see! We stayed until closing time and still didn’t get to see everything!

The following morning, we grabbed a late breakfast, then I got a bus to the airport. I definitely want to go back to Ireland sometime to see the rest of the country, but I was thankful for the time spent with my sister and exploring Dublin.


Scotland: Edinburgh (Part 2)

Sorry for the radio (or blog) silence the past month. Life got busy, but I do have two more posts to share about my trip to Scotland and Ireland this past October. You may remember that during my trip, I used Edinburgh as a home base from where I took several day trips. I also spent two full days (and another half day) exploring Edinburgh. I wrote about the first day here. My last day in Scotland was likewise spent in Edinburgh.

St. Gile’s Cathedral, Royal Mile
Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, Royal Mile

On my first full day in Edinburgh, I mostly just wandered around, but there were a few places I knew I wanted to visit, so on my last day, I tackled those places. I started off at Edinburgh Palace. This palace and its grounds overlook Edinburgh and make up one end of the famous Royal Mile. I walked along the Royal Mile up to the castle, then spent a couple of hours wandering around the grounds.

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle
St. Margaret’s Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

There is a lot to see here, including some of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh. The oldest part of the castle, St. Margaret’s Chapel, was built in the 1100s, while the newest parts were built in the 1900s. While definitely an interesting tourist attraction, it is also one of the most popular attractions, so it is usually very crowded. The main attraction, other than the castle itself, is the Crown Jewels of Scotland. These have been used in the coronation of several Scottish kings and queens and are really quite stunning, though you generally have to wait in line to see them.

Palace of Holyrood
Palace of Holyrood
Abbey ruins at Holyrood Palace
Abbey ruins at Holyrood Palace

From Edinburgh Castle, I walked all the way down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace. Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the queen of England and is open as a museum when she is not in residence. It’s a pretty palace and it’s definitely interesting to get a peek into the spaces the royal family uses when in Scotland. Photography is not allowed inside, but is allowed on the grounds and gardens. There are pretty abbey ruins in the gardens.

Greyfriar’s Bobby

After visiting Holyrood Palace, I walked towards a couple of other tourist attractions: Greyfriar’s Bobby and Elephant House. These two attractions are close by one another in the Old Town. Greyfriar’s Bobby is a small statue outside a pub with the same name. In the 1800s, this dog became well-known in Edinburgh after he visited his owner’s grave every day for 14 years following his owner’s death.

Elephant House is well-known because it is supposedly where J.K. Rowling wrote most of the first Harry Potter book. It’s a small cafe and generally very crowded. I didn’t go inside, but walked by it. I also walked down two well-known streets in the Old Town: Candlemaker Row and Victoria Street.

The Elephant House
Candlemakers Row
Victoria Street

I spent the evening with some new friends from my hostel. We went to dinner together, then to a traditional Scottish pub for a drink before turning in for the night.

Out at a pub with new friends from Germany, France, and Chile

The following morning I had an hour or so before I needed to be at the airport, so I joined a new friend from Germany for a walk to a farmer’s market. We walked through Princes Street Gardens and checked out the market, then I caught a bus to the airport to catch my flight to Dublin.

Princes Street Gardens
Princes Street Gardens
Princes Street Gardens

I’m so thankful for all that I got to see and do in Scotland, and I hope I can visit again sometime soon! On my next trip, I’d like to go to the islands and northern Highlands, but I just didn’t have time to do it all this trip.

Scotland: Day Trip to Loch Lomond and Stirling

As I mentioned before, I did a couple of day trips out of Edinburgh with Rabbie’s Tours. The first was to St. Andrews and the Kingdom of Fife. The following day, I went to Loch Lomond and Stirling. These two locations are actually part of the Highlands but still pretty close to Edinburgh and Glasgow, so they are a popular day trip option.

Stirling Castle from below
Below Stirling Castle
Below Stirling Castle

The weather forecast was looking good in the morning but rainy later in the day, so our tour guide rearranged the schedule a bit to give us decent weather while we were at Loch Lomond. We therefore started out by going to Stirling, but just stopping below the castle to take in the views, then returned later in the day to visit the castle. The sun was shining and the grass was very green below the castle.

Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond

From Stirling, we went on to Loch Lomond, stopping near Aberfoyle. From where we parked, there was a trail that led along the lake and then some stones that led up a hill. Our tour guide took several of us up that hill, where there were stunning views of the lake below. It was a slightly overcast morning, but we could see the lake quite well. It was so peaceful! After enjoying the view from the top, we walked down the hill and then had time to enjoy the peaceful lake and walk around as we wished.

Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond
Dukes Pass and the Trossachs

We stopped in nearby Aberfoyle for lunch (I grabbed a panini at Liz MacGregors), then took the Dukes Pass back toward Stirling. This is an incredibly winding road, but the views were wonderful, especially with the leaves changing colors. We could see the Trossachs in the distant.

Highland cows
Highland cows
Highland cows

At the bottom of Dukes Pass, we stopped at a farm to try to get a view of some “hairy coos”, or Highland cows. We were lucky and were able to call the cows over to the road to take pictures and feed them some treats. Though they are very hardy and look somewhat dangerous because of their horns, they are actually very friendly.

We went back to Stirling, and had a couple of hours to explore the castle. Stirling Castle is one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland. The castle dates from the 1100s, but most of the current buildings were built between the late 1400s and 1600. Built atop a crag and surrounded by steep cliffs on three sides, it had a strong defensive position and guarded a key crossing of the River Firth. Although it is a fortress, it has been used as a favored royal palace for centuries of Scottish kings and queens. Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here, as well as several other kings and queens, while others were born here.

What is unique about Stirling Castle is that much of it has been restored to its former glory, so that visitors can see the castle as it likely would have been several hundred years ago. This has been done based on extensive and careful research and more renovations continue to occur. The rooms really are stunning, and there are several exhibitions showing what life would have been like in the past. One of the largest undertakings has been the recreation of tapestries that once hung in the castle. They are truly impressive!

After walking around Stirling Castle, we headed back to Edinburgh, stopping for a bit at The Kelpies, massive metal sculptures just outside of Edinburgh. Keplies are mythological creatures from Scottish lore. Though they look like magnificent horses, according to lore if you get on the back of a kelpie, they will drag you into the water and eat you! These sculptures are also an homage to the strong workhorses that were a critical part of Scotland’s industrial past.

After walking around the Kelpies, we returned to the city for the evening. It was yet another beautiful day visiting sites!