Exploring Chattanooga, Tennessee

Pedestrian bridge overlooking the Tennessee River and Coolidge Park

A few weeks ago, my family traveled to Tennessee to celebrate my cousin’s marriage. It was a beautiful wedding and so much fun to be together with extended family that, despite our best efforts, we see far too little of.

Coolidge Park Carousel Ticket Booth
Coolidge Park Carousel

It was a quick trip- just 3 1/2 days- but we had a free day on a cold but sunny Friday, so we headed to downtown Chattanooga to see some of the sights, along with some of our extended family. My aunt and uncle moved to Tennessee about 28 years ago. We’ve visited them many times, and I remember going to the Chattanooga Aquarium (we didn’t stop there this time, but it is a phenomenal aquarium!) several times as a kid, but I’m not sure I’d ever walked around downtown before.

Coolidge Park Carousel
Coolidge Park Carousel

We started off at Coolidge Park, which is right next to the Tennessee River. We walked around a bit, then stopped at the Carousel. This indoors carousel is a restored 1894 Dentzel carousel, with 52 hand-carved animals and a calliope band organ. Despite being a group of adults, we payed $1 per person to ride the carousel. It is really stunning!

Coolidge Park
Me- at Coolidge Park
My mom- at Coolidge Park

We then walked across the Tennessee River on the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge, built in 1891, to the Bluff View Art District. We saw some of the outdoor sculptures at the Hunter Museum of Art, then walked through part of the art district, including a sculpture garden.

Coolidge Park with Walnut Street pedestrian bridge in the background
View of Tennessee River from the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge

There was a crew competition, with thousands of participants and teams, taking place on the Tennessee River. It was really cool to be able to watch as the teams rowed, and before heading back to my aunt and uncle’s farm, we walked along the riverfront to see them up close.

There’s plenty more to see in Chattanooga, but this was a perfect way to spend a few hours on a Friday afternoon!

Travel in Moldova: My Village

My host family with my parents
My host family, my parents, and me

After flying to Moldova, my parents drove their rented car to my village, where we spent the next three days.  This was one of the best parts of our trip, not because of all the cool sites we saw (although there were visits to our public library, my school, and walks to some sunflower fields) but because my American parents were able to meet and spend time with my Moldovan family and see the place that has been my home for a year.

My dad with one of my host nieces
My mom with another host niece

They got to see what my daily life is like, see firsthand how lucky I was to be placed with my host family, and visit the places in town I see every week.  They got to experience the joy of no running water (I usually do have running water and since living here, my host family has even installed an indoor toilet and shower, but there was a problem with our village’s water system while my parents were visiting, so it was all outhouse and bucket bathing for us!), eat the food my host mom prepares, play with my host nieces, and drink house wine.

Sunflowers on a drive through my village the first day
A dinner toast

Three of my young host nieces (ages 2, 4, and 7) were staying with my host parents when my parents were here, and we spent a lot of time playing with them and coloring.  Each night at dinner, I could barely get a bite to eat because I was so busy translating all of the conversations from English to Romanian and Romanian to English.  There were exchanges of gifts: my host parents gave my actual parents bottles of wine to take home and some little trinkets, my actual parents gave my host mom some oven mitts and an apron and my host dad a multi-tool.

My parents with the librarian and an assistant in the public library
My parents with the public librarian and an assistant, in the Casa de Cultura

We visited the public library, where my parents were treated like honored guests.  The librarian and an assistant presented them with the customary loaf of bread with salt, welcoming them and wishing them health and happiness.  We also toured the entire casa de cultura (cultural house), including the auditorium, music and dance school, and wedding hall, as well as the library.  After, we shared tea and cookies with the library staff.  Later, we visited my school and I got to show them where I spent a large chunk of time each day during the school year.

Our walk to the sunflower fields
Our walk to the sunflower fields
Overlooking my village

We walked through my village, and I showed them where the stores are, as well as the mayor’s office, preschool, sports fields, post office, church, and cemetery.  On our last evening, we walked to some fields at the outskirts of town to see the views of the village and the never-ending fields of sunflowers and wheat.  As we returned, we ran into one of the women who cleans my school and we chatted for a short while.

My mom, host mom, and the girls before saying goodbye

Though it was wonderful to see my parents interact with my host family, it was also a bit bittersweet.  When it was time to say goodbye, there were plenty of teary eyes.  We all knew that this is likely the only time my real parents and my Moldovan parents will ever meet.  I’ve been so incredibly lucky to have a host family that truly treats me as if I am their daughter.  As we said goodbye, my host mother thanked my parents for raising me in the way that they did, and my real parents thanked my host parents for welcoming me into their family and treating me so well.  And then we went on our way.

Travel in Moldova: Overview

Our trip to Romania was book ended by time spent in Moldova, where I live and work.  Because our time in Moldova was split into two parts, the posts will not be in any particular order.  When my parents arrived, they first came to my village for a few days to spend some time with my host family and get to know my community.

During the rest of our time in Moldova we saw a lot and traveled quite a bit: visiting Soroca, Orhei Vechi and Ţîpova Monastery in the north of the country, Purcari Winery and Comrat in the south-east and south of the country, and Chisinau and Cricova Winery in the center.  Thankfully, Moldova is a very small country, so you can see a lot in a short amount of time.

Although I had been to several of the places we visited, there were a few that I experienced for the first time, including Soroca, both wineries, and Comrat.  And although it was wonderful to travel to Romania, our time in Moldova was particularly special to me.  After living here for a year, I really enjoyed the opportunity to show my parents around the community and country that have become home for me.  As cheesy as it may sound, I’ve fallen in love with this place and these people, and to be able to share that with my parents was really special.

To My Dad

dadbirthdaycolllage

Back in June, for my Mom’s birthday, I posted a bunch of reasons I love her.  Today is my dad’s birthday (Happy Birthday Dad!) and I figured it was only fair to write a post to him as well.  So to wish him “Happy Birthday”, here are some of the reasons I love my dad.

1. He has always been there with open arms when I was upset, angry, or just needed to feel loved.  One of the hardest things about being away for so long is that when I’m upset, angry, and need a hug, my dad isn’t there to provide it.  He has always been there for me, and has always comforted me when I most needed it.

2. He never told me I couldn’t help because it was something “men” do.  As far back as I can remember, the thing I most wanted to do was whatever my dad was doing, whether that meant painting walls, sanding cabinet fronts, building things or stacking wood.  He always let me help and taught me how to use all of his tools.  My brother may not be able to use an electric drill (just kidding, Chris- I think you maybe have learned by now!), but I certainly can, as well as the circular saw and table saw.

3. For allowing us to choose the sports we wanted to play even though they weren’t “his” sports, and for being there at every game, meet, and match.  For several years, my dad taught my booster club basketball team, only for me to switch to an entirely different sport in high school.  He never once second-guessed my decision, and continued to be at every sporting event to cheer for me.  Even the many-hours long track meets where I competed for less than five minutes or the soccer games that were a couple hours away.

4. He has always encouraged me to chase my dreams.  I have never wondered if my parents supported me in my dreams.  When I told him that I had applied to the Peace Corps, he was a little surprised and then told me he was proud of me.  When my siblings and I talk about opening our own business, he sends us links of similar businesses or how-to guides.

5. He encouraged us enthusiastically to be involved in music from a young age.  And then he spent hours upon hours researching instruments and then spending even more hours finding excellent instruments to buy for us at prices my parents could afford.  Seriously, if you know him personally and need help purchasing instruments (well, violins and saxophones to be specific), he has a lot of knowledge (and I played those instruments while he did not)!  Also, he put up with my sister and I learning to play the violin at 5 and 7 years old, and that is not a pretty sound!

6. He (along with my mom) ingrained in us a love of travel, new experiences, and exploring.  Throughout my life, they have made sure we traveled and experienced new things.  They saved, went without other things, and planned carefully so that we could travel each year and see new places.  I can’t wait until my parents visit me here in Moldova and I can be the one to plan their trip after all these years of them planning my trips.

7. He taught me the basics of spending time outdoors: squatting in the woods, thrashing through briar patches, and appreciating the natural beauty that abounds around us.  I can’t remember the time before I knew how to squat (a skill that has been very useful here!), and he taught me that both literally and figuratively, getting off the path can be more adventurous and (sometimes) more fun.

8. He let me “steal” from his secret stash of peanut M&Ms and bought me ice cream on occasion behind my mom’s back (sorry for telling on you!).  It may not have been the healthiest thing, but it made me feel special and we often had the best discussions while eating the ice cream in his truck.

9. He made my birthday special by taking me on an annual father-daughter Christmas shopping trip.  I am a Christmas baby, and just like any other Christmas baby, it is easy to feel like your special day is overshadowed by the amazing holiday that we share our day with.  When I was five, my dad decided to take me Christmas shopping for my mom and siblings as a way to make it a bit more special.  This year will be the first year since I was five that we won’t be able to continue this tradition, and I’m missing it.  More than the actual shopping (I’m not big on shopping, actually), it was a special time to just spend time together, as well as get a nice lunch/dinner (though that first year when my dad asked me where I wanted to go I proudly told him “the place with the little girl”, which happened to be Wendy’s).

10. For sharing his love of houses and architecture with me.  For as long as I can remember, we have driven around talking about which houses we liked, and he even occasionally has taken me to check out houses he has for sale and took me along on a couple of his showings.  For the past few years, we have gone to historic home tours in our town.

There are so many more things I could add to this list.  He has supported me, loved me, has shown me what a good husband/dad should be.  He has spent time with me, was patient with me as I learned new skills, and was simply there for me.  Dad, I love you and hope you have an amazing birthday!  Thank you for everything you have done for me!

Day 10 in South Africa: Elundini Backpackers and Hogsback

We got up pretty early.  The host at the backpackers made us “breakfast in a tin cup”- eggs, vegetables, and bacon.  We ate out on the porch of the communal space.  After breakfast, we packed the cars up and headed to Hogsback.

View from lookout on trail in Hogsback
View from lookout on trail in Hogsback
Our hike in Hogsback
Our hike in Hogsback
The two little dogs that accompanied us on our hike in Hogsback (photo cred to Todd Ogden)
The two little dogs that accompanied us on our hike in Hogsback (photo cred to Todd Ogden)
Our hike in Hogsback (I'm on the right)
My mom, friend Isabelle, and me on our hike in Hogsback (photo cred to Todd Ogden)

We stopped at the only grocery store in Hogsback to grab some snacks to take with us on our long (4-hour) hike, then started hiking.  We started on the trail towards “Big Tree”.  Just as we were coming to the trail head, two small dogs dashed across the street and headed to the trail.  They ended up staying with us the entire four hours we hiked, and acted as though we were their owners- which we found quite funny.  This part of the hike took us less than an hour and was a bit hilly.  The terrain here was mature, dense forest, which isn’t super common in the other areas of South Africa we travelled.  The trail was very muddy and therefore pretty slippery as well.  Big Tree is a pretty big tree (though small if you’re used to huge redwood trees).

Madonna and Child Waterfall in Hogsback
Madonna and Child Waterfall in Hogsback (photo cred to Todd Ogden)

From there we continued on the trail to the waterfall “Madonna and Child”.  This part of the hike was longer- about 2 hours.  The waterfall is beautiful.  After the waterfall, there is a very steep incline to a road.  This was definitely the hardest part of the hike.  We thought there was a trail that cut across from a small village to Hogsback, but we either couldn’t find it or it doesn’t exist.  We therefore ended up walking along a dirt road for about an hour back to Hogsback.

Me and my sister after our hike in Hogsback
Me and my sister after our hike in Hogsback (photo cred to Todd Ogden)

We were pretty tired and hungry by the time we made it back to Hogsback, as it was about 3 PM.  We grabbed lunch at The Lighthouse Restaurant, then headed back to Grahamstown, as you don’t want to be on the road there after dark.  We made it back to Grahamstown just as it was getting dark.  We had leftovers for dinner, and hung out as a family for a bit, then went to bed pretty early, as we were very tired.