Guess which country?

I’m currently on Day 4 of my Balkan road trip, and we’ve all sort of nonverbally agreed to a siesta in the hotel in Shkoder before venturing out. Since I already briefly siesta’d in the car (today was my turn in the back seat), I thought this downtime would be a good opportunity to sort through my photos so far and post a few.

The theme of the trip so far is mountains, and since we really have been driving around and faux-moaning, “Oh God, please stop torturing me with these gorgeous mountain vistas,” I thought I’d post a few and let you guess the country. Your choices are: Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo (no pictures of Albanian mountains yet, other than maybe the ones that they share with Kosovo).

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Onward and upward

Today was my last day of work in Bulgaria. Saying goodbye to people for the past two days has been really difficult. I spent a lot of today wobbling on the verge of tears, and maybe a couple spilled out. Just a couple.

So since that’s too sad to dwell on, let me instead post the projected itinerary for the road trip I will be embarking on with two friends, H and J, in a mere 10 hours’ time:

July 3 – Sofia to Kopaonik, Serbia
July 4 – Kopaonik to Podgorica, Montenegro
July 5 – Podgorica to Peja, Kosovo
July 6 – Peja to Shkodra, Albania
July 7 – Shkodra back to Podgorica and then on to Sveti Stefan, Montenegro
July 8 – Sveti Stefan to Kotor, Montenegro
July 9-11 – Kotor to Sarajevo (I AM SO EXCITED) for 3 nights
July 12 – Sarajevo to Mostar
July 13 – Mostar to Dubrovnik
July 14-15 – Dubrovnik to Korcula for 2 nights
July 16 – Korcula to Sibenik
July 17 – Sibenik to Plitvice
July 18-19 – Somewhere in Slovenia (we’re leaving this flexible for now; will make plans from the road)
July 20 – Slovenia to Novi Sad, Serbia
July 21 – Novi Sad back to Sofia

With the distinct possibility of an extra day in Slovenia because I’m guessing it will be hard to leave. I also don’t know how we’ll drag ourselves out of Korcula, but we’ll deal with that when we come to it. Since we’re driving and I don’t have to worry so much about packing, I’m also bringing my laptop so hopefully there will be some pictures and posts from the road, instead of waiting till it’s all over and then rehashing.

Then it’s back to Sofia for a few days and then flying out for good (well, for now anyway) on July 27!

Moving blues

I’m in a very strange position of having both 1 week only and 1 month left in Bulgaria.

Next Tuesday is the last day of school for teachers and next Wednesday, two colleagues/friends and I are embarking on a crazy 19-day Balkan road trip. This means that for all intents and purposes, I need to be packed up and done in 1 week.

However, I’m returning from the road trip around July 21, and not flying out until July 27. So in my brain I keep thinking of July 27 as the real D-Day, even though I won’t be in the apartment for the most of the time between now and then.

Most of me is SO READY TO BE DONE. All teachers out there will relate to how just plain worn out you are at the end of each school year. It’s an exhausting slog and at the end of it you sort of just want to roll over and die for a little bit. As bad as the kids get, the adults are ten times worse. The international colleagues have practically been drooling through their daydreams about the things they’re looking forward to about returning home (iced coffee being a big one in the midst of the crippling heat last week and weekend). I have been eagerly counting down the days along with the rest of them as a kind of mystical chant to Just Get Through. I posted a makeshift senior countdown calendar of sorts in my office from a wad of sticky notes – each note has a decreasing number on it, so that at the end of the day you can rip off the top one and celebrate the fact that you have only 6 days of work left.

Except that I’ve failed to rip off the top sheet at the end of the day every single day since I made the calendar last week. I just forget. I’ll even look at it somewhere around 3:30 and I think about ripping it off but then think, “No, I have to wait till it’s actually the end of work hours,” and then by the time I’m actually walking off campus I’ve forgotten to do it. I do it at the beginning of the next day, which is arguably just as satisfying, if not more. But it’s like some small part of me doesn’t actually want the day to be gone, doesn’t want to leave.

Needless to say, this schizophrenic approach does not work well when you have to be packing up your apartment and selling off/giving away your stuff before everyone scatters to the four winds after school ends. I have bouts of productivity where I’m just like, THROW AWAY ALL THE THINGS!!! and then I go to pee and come back to the room and just can’t be bothered anymore.

I know it will all get done because it has to. And in the end, it doesn’t really matter if I completely strip and purge my apartment of all my belongings, because new teachers will move in and will either use or throw out (or leave behind themselves) anything they don’t want. But as is usually the case, moving is not just about the logistics, the physical act of moving. And this makes the process itself as hard as the associated emotions to pin down, box up, seal in, label, and set aside.

Occasionally, I am a stupid American

When my ex-pat colleagues and I travel, we pride ourselves on not being the typical American tourists: the loud, ignorant, intolerant ones who need to be handled with kid gloves or else they will explode from all the Otherness going on around them, even while they feel the need to comment constantly on all the Otherness (“Oh, look, Frank, it says YOO-bahn. I wonder if that’s like the subway? But then what’s the ESS-bahn? Oh, this is so confusing”). However, I’m embarrassed to say that I’m about to embark on a trip where I may have made a stupid American mistake.
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In defense of Sofia (sort of)

Berlin is sprawling, clean, efficient, quite navigable and friendly, but not really a place I think I would choose to live.

Granted, Sofia is not really a place I would choose to live either, if given other options (I am aware, of course, that I DID choose to live in Sofia, but I’m talking about a more settled-down, permanent sort of way). If it came down to it, though, I would still pick Berlin over Sofia for certain ease and quality of life factors. Berlin is by far more cosmopolitan and has an interesting nightlife and student scene. It’s not necessarily a place I’d return to for culture and beauty. But it’s a highly liveable city – unlike, at times, Sofia.

That’s not to rag unnecessarily on Sofia. It does have its positive qualities, and there are certainly worse places to live. This led to a discussion with my colleagues here about which cities in Europe and the U.S. we would rank BELOW Sofia in terms of desirability. Keep in mind these are personal opinions and certainly not meant to insult anyone. Also, we restricted our criteria to capital or major cities; otherwise we’d be opening ourselves up to every backwater town imaginable.

This is what we came up with (in no particular order):
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Token (and other) photos

Earlier I posted about some of the memorable characters from our trip (there are a couple of updates, namely the photo of Dr. Sherif and the correct spelling of Saleh), and I’ve had a chance to poke around at some other photos in between trying to get caught up on work (I fell short by 8 essays today – already behind!), so here is a smattering of token touristy photos from Egypt.

Here is a pyramid:


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Of cabbies, conductors, and cafes

Finally the Belgrade travel story (only one week late). 

 The first line in my journal from 29 October is, “I’m kind of amazed that I ever get anywhere.”

 I wrote that at not quite 9:00 pm, after I had

  • worked a full day – taught 4 periods and then had a Bulgarian lesson with a student 8th period, during which I asked for travel terms I might need for my trip, then promptly forgot my notebook at school
  • graded for 2+ hours AFTER school, literally up until the minute I had to run out of my apartment because I knew I’d never make my train otherwise
  • packed in about 20 minutes and simply prayed that I wasn’t missing anything vital, like, you know, my passport
  • hailed a taxi on my own because somehow there were none lined up at the gas station like there usually are
  • correctly instructed the driver on where to go – not only initially (“централна гара), but also once we got there (“не автогара, влак), then made brief conversation with him, clarifying that I was not студентка but rather “работя. учителка съм” AND tell him “искам единайсет лева” back as change from my 20 — booooooyahh!! He was a very sweet older man, and probably the only cabbie in Sofia who drives under the speed limit (though this gave me cause to bite my nails for a while, worrying that I would miss my train)
  • asked for a “билет за Белград at one of the ticket windows, then understood the woman’s directions to go to the Rila international ticket office at one end of the station. The Sofia train station, by the way, definitely feels very Eastern European – high industrial ceilings, cold cruel breezes wafting throughout, sad-looking people sitting morosely on seats.
  • purchased my ticket in Bulgarian even though I think the woman was just playing with me about not knowing English (either that or I completely misunderstood her – I thought she said “no” but I think she said “само” as in, only a little). I thought she was being mean at first but then she started flipping through my passport to look at the pictures on each page, which was sort of cute, and she wished me a good evening and safe travels
  • found the correct platform despite it being written confusingly backwards (they give the track number first, followed by the section, but when you go to the platform area, they list the section first, then the track number)

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