One Month In – Lima Recap

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Well here is your long overdue update of how I’m settling into my new life in Lima!  I’ve been here for just under a month now, and have had time to marvel at my ocean view, get car sickness from my commute, fall completely in sync with my boss and coworkers, and spend a scary couple of hours trying to get home on a Friday night.  As you can see, this has been a mixed bag, which is completely normal.  One day I’m on cloud nine, can’t believe my good fortune for getting this assignment, and even a few hours later I’ll find myself cursing this place, my lack of Spanish, and this whole crazy life.  So here it is, the good, the bad and the ugly of my first few weeks in Lima.

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Housing – My apartment, in a word, is incredible.  It’s directly on the coast, modern, spacious, close to shops and restaurants and bars, and is directly on a walking path that includes cute puppies, hundreds of joggers, bikes, couples walking hand in hand, and more cute puppies.  It is, however, LOUD.  My housing reps at the Embassy made this very well known in their review of the neighborhood, but naively I thought it wouldn’t bother me.  The car alarms, the sirens located on the parking garage doors that go off every time someone enters and exits the lot, the youths yelling to their buddies as they walk down to the mall…ooof.  I’ve found my dehumidifier is a decent white noise machine, but even that can’t drown out the sound of a 98 Taurus.

lomo-saltado

The Food – When I told people I was moving to Peru, everyone went on and on about how much I’d love the food, and they were right.  If you don’t eat seafood (which I only recently started doing) it could get old quick, but there’s no shortage of delicious, innovative, fresh, flavorful dishes to try.  Restaurants range from Gastón Acurio establishments to Chifas, local Chinese/Peruvian takeout restaurants.  Peru is well known for their ceviche, which I lovingly refer to as “fish cooked by science,” but admittedly none of it has looked appetizing to me.  Hopefully when the weather turns warmer, a cold bowl of essentially raw fish will look more appetizing.

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Traffic – I was warned that Lima’s traffic was bad, it was everyone’s loudest and most consistent critique of life in this city, so I was prepared for madness.  Since I’m new to the Embassy and it takes a while to get my license plates, insurance, etc, the Embassy offers a shuttle to and from work for 45 days at the beginning and end of your tour, for a small fee.  I’m picked up before 7 every morning by a large passenger van, and our driver carefully dodges through Lima traffic to get us to work, typically an hour later.  Did I mention I only live 6 miles away?  Going home is usually worse, and on more than one occasion has resulted in me getting sick upon exiting the vehicle – the starting and stopping, quick acceleration and swerving to avoid oncoming, belligerent drivers are unavoidable, I don’t blame the Embassy drivers for this one bit.  Hopefully my car will be street legal soon, and I’ll start navigating these crazy roads for myself.  It will likely be much more stressful, but hopefully will make me less sick in the process.  Think of all the audio books I’ll be able to finish w/ 2 hours in the car per day!  Tons of people hire drivers and just rely on taxis to and from work every day, and its entirely possible I’ll end up doing the same if the commute becomes too threatening, but for now I have every intention of driving myself, thankyouverymuch.

hola

Not speaking Spanish – Because my job supposedly does not require me to know Spanish, the Foreign Service did not send me to language training.  It was the same for Bosnia, I didn’t need it for work, so they shipped me off to a foreign country and basically told me to take classes when I got there.  One problem – this place absolutely does require Spanish for my job.  I will be spending late nights and early mornings at the airport, dealing with customs and baggage handlers that only speak Spanish, I have meetings with telecom providers to prepare for upcoming visits, and they only speak Spanish.  I am required to set up my own home water deliveries for my apartment – in Spanish.  The warehouse and facilities workers I work closely with in the Management section seem to only speak Spanish…whoever decided this position should not be language-designated was sadly mistaken.  I’ll enroll in language classes once things aren’t quite so new, but for now I struggle through each daily interaction with my head hung, and a quiet “Lo siento, no hablo Español.” (And that is probably not even grammatically correct, but whatevs.)  Happily I’ve made some friends WHO ALL GOT LANGUAGE TRAINING FOR THEIR JOBS, and they are kind enough to do a lot of translating for me, excited for the practice.  The DoS really needs to change this policy, its insane.

culture-shock

Culture shock – This is nothing new, and happened to me about 10 days into my first post.  My pattern this time goes something like this:

  • Enjoy a delicious restaurant with new Embassy friends!
  • Home phone goes out and causes alarm system to chirp in the middle of the night for no reason for several days 😦
  • Kick ass at work and knock out a bunch of projects!
  • Take two hours to get a taxi home from work, leaving you on a dark street corner with a dying phone, wondering if you’ll get kidnapped or mugged 😦
  • What a lovely apartment, with a fancy new stove!
  • None of my pots are compatible with this stove, guess I’ll buy new ones 😦
  • Wow, look at these interesting items at the grocery store, I get to try so many new things!
  • None of this stuff at the grocery store looks familiar 😦
  • Living in Lima will be such a great opportunity to learn a new language!
  • For the love of god would someone just speak to me in English? 😦

You get the idea.  The things that make me happy one day are the same things that nearly kill me the next.  It’s getting better, the more I’ve had a chance to settle in and get accustomed to my new normal, the easier it gets from here.  I’ve made some new friends, am expecting my household effects as early as next week (!!!), will soon be able to drive my own car, and I can see this grouchy fog lifting after each tiny victory.

That’s it for now!  Hope to do another posting after my weekend trip to Paracas next month.

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Onward Assignment

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So when I was hired, it was made very clear that while my personal preferences would be taken into consideration, ultimately the “needs of the service” were going to dictate where I went, especially for my first and second tour.  For my first assignment, I got my one and only “Flag Day,” complete with a dramatic and exciting presentation of my flag for Bosnia.  Sarajevo was my #1 choice by a landslide, and I was surprised and thrilled to get assigned here.  This tour has been everything I’ve wanted and more, and though not without its problems, I have absolutely no regrets about my time spent here.  If I remember, I’ll do a nice recap before I depart in July.

flag day

My second bidding process was significantly less dramatic, and gave me the tiniest view into how this is going to go for the rest of my career.  My Career Development Officer (CDO) emailed everyone that was going to be bidding on a Summer 2016 assignment with a list of open positions, what languages were required (rare in my line of work,) the approximate hardship (ranging from 0 for places like Sydney, all the way up to 45 for Beirut) and the date they’d need us at our onward assignment.  Ultimately I would have been fine with any of the choices, I did my research and saw the merits and drawbacks to each of them.  I submitted my list and waited to hear back.

Happily, a few weeks later I got an email from my CDO congratulating me on my new assignment for LIMA, PERU!  I’m thrilled to say Lima was my #1 choice, so I need to start playing the lottery immediately to cash in on this run of good luck.

So, what made me pick Peru?  Here’s a brief synopsis of the country I’ll call home in August 2016!

*Machu Picchu – this one is a no-brainer.  This Incan treasure built high up in the Andes was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.  I have a feeling I will have a lot of visitors who pass through Lima on their way to see this site.

machu picchu

*The food & drink – Peruvian cuisine has only recently exploded onto the international culinary stage, but its made a big splash.  I’m looking forward to sampling fresh ceviche and trying every pisco sour I can get my hands on.  (Even though I’m still a little freaked out by ceviche, it’s fish “cooked” by citrus juice, which is frankly just creepy if you let yourself think about it too much.  Never been much for raw or nearly raw fish.)

*The weather – while it’s never going to be all that sunny on the coast where I will likely live, that’s quite ok with me and my very pale skin.  It’s never going to be all that cold or all that hot, think 70s most of the time.  I’ll genuinely miss snow and rain, but am looking forward to putting away my snow boots away for this tour.

miraflores

*Time Zone Benefits – Lima will either be either equal to or one hour ahead of St. Louis, depending on daylight savings.  It’s going to make a world of difference when trying to keep in touch with family and friends back home, not to mention getting support from Washington DC when I need it for work stuff!

historic lima

*Alpacas – no explanation needed.  Just look at them!

alpaca

There are a ton of little reasons why I’m excited about Lima, though there’s plenty of reasons to dread it.  Terrible traffic, scary drivers, plenty of crime and shady taxi drivers, a very busy Embassy environment with high level visits already on the horizon, etc.  But it’s all part of the adventure, isn’t it?

So for now I’m making the most of my tour in Sarajevo: scheduling my last visits to the coast, soaking up all the Krompirusa I can handle, and spending all of my free time with the amazing friends I’ve made here.  It will be over before I know it.

M & P and their trip to the Balkans

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The past few months have been just insane.  Summertime in the Foreign Service appears to kind of be a mixed bag.  Kids are out of school so of course it’s the ideal time to take vacation, some EFMs take the opportunity to take LWOP for the summer to go visit family back home (a move that I am deeply jealous of, because it is brilliant.)  The weather is sunny and warm and our proximity to the coast means a lot of people take long weekends or even weeks at a time.  Awesome, right?  Well…not so much.  Summer is also known as TRANSFER SEASON, which means our dear coworkers are leaving post, newbies are arriving daily, every section is short staffed and the Management Section in particular is up to their ears with make-readies, account transfers, moving desks, shuffling offices, issuing phones and radios, you name it, we’ve done it.  We’ve also been having VIP visitors, the Embassy supported an FPOTUS visit (Former POTUS, natch), we need to finish end-of-the-fiscal-year purchases, I’m still short a staff member in my office (going on over a year now!) and for some reason I decided it would be a good idea to become acting Certifying Officer (yay finances!) and spearheaded a wellness program that I have yet to actually lift a finger on.  Hello overtime!

Sigh.

So if you’ve noticed less activity on my FB page and this blog, that’s why.  Work has been insane, and after pounding away on a keyboard all day I have a hard time wanting to do so when I get home.  I’ve been distracting myself with Netflix marathons, lots of sleeping, and not nearly enough exercise.  Oh, and very few adventures!  I like to spend my weekends exploring new places, trying new things, hitting up exciting restaurants, and things like that.  But honestly I’ve been too exhausted to do things that require much more effort on my part.  The good news is that transfer season is slowly winding down and I’m starting to get my life back.  Yesterday I went to an outdoor market, went to a BBQ at a friends house, went to a bar, and did normal Brenda things.  I’m coming back to my normal life, and am very happy about it.

*****

So, instead of focusing on things that have been stressing me out about my past few months, lets talk about some things that were awesome and fun that happened in MARCH!  Yes, this recap is from march.  #NotSorry.  My sister Melanie and her husband Phil decided to take a truly-whirlwind trip to Europe, using up airline miles and free hotel nights and truly putting my trip planning skills to shame.  They started in Vienna and met up with my cousins Melissa and Aaron, then took a train and headed to Zagreb.  I did the 5 hour drive from Sarajevo and met them at the train station, and we stayed overnight at the Westin in Zagreb, for free because of hotel points.  Impressive.

The next morning I introduced M + P to burek, and we grabbed some breakfast and coffee and made our way to the Plitvice Lakes.  This was definitely the off-season, and we were met with empty parking lots, info booths that weren’t even open, NO food anywhere on the grounds, and half of the lakes closed to the public.  But what we did experience was truly awesome.  The paths were mostly ours, the water was gorgeous green, and we enjoyed wandering around the lakes and seeing some lovely waterfalls.

Amazed

Amazed

My family!

My family!

View from the overhead path

View from the overhead path

Classic Phil pose

Classic Phil pose

After a day at the park we headed across the border into Bosnia to overnight in Bihac (please pronounce it beee-haatch for me) at Hotel Kostelski Buk.  The drive there was, in a word, bonkers.  I made the mistake of listening to my GPS “Karen” and she took me down a scary dirt road, riddled with potholes, under heavy construction, and oh yeah, blocked by about 300 sheep.  After some hysterical laughter and a minor freakout, we headed down a PAVED road to get to the hotel, eat a delicious dinner of local Bosnian cuisine, and cuddled up in the hotel room with a movie for the night.  The next morning we ate the complimentary breakfast and explored the strange little zoo out back before heading back to Sarajevo for a few days.  Mel and Phil loved the gorgeous scenery and we had a much less eventful drive home.

As I headed back to work, Mel and Phil explored Sarajevo with a guided tour, took the opportunity to sleep in, eat way too much, and relax.  Oh and they did all of their laundry.  We celebrated St. Paddys Day at the Brew Pub, I introduced them to my fave restaurants Noovi, Kibe and Dveri, and they introduced ME to a burek shop that Rick Steves recommended. Luckily I got to take a few days off towards the end of the week, and we headed down to Dubrovnik for a few days.  On the way out of town we stopped in Mostar to see the historic bridge and grab a MASSIVE lunch.  And to get cursed by a gypsy or two.  Oh and we found some more freaking livestock blocking the roads.

Pretty people and bridge

Pretty people and bridge

Oh Bosnia

Oh Bosnia

Keeping in the theme of awesome free lodging, somehow the Reinhardt’s got a free night at the Hilton in Dubrovnik, a gorgeous hotel RIGHT outside the Pile gate of old down.  The place was seriously amazing, its normally way out of my price range so if you have any free nights to burn, do it here.  Holy cow.  We walked the walls of old town, got some delicious seafood at Dalmatino, found a cliff-side bar called Buza where we drank beer and wine out of plastic cups…who could ask for more?  In true Brenda-vacation tradition I was sick as a dog the whole time.  Every time.  But I powered through and we had an amazing weekend!

Buza, a cliff-side bar

Buza, a cliff-side bar

Rick Steves never lets me down.  Ever.

Rick Steves never lets me down. Ever.

I love these two!

I love these two!

The awesome Hilton

The awesome Hilton

Enjoying the city walls

Enjoying the city walls

Lovebirds

Lovebirds

We drove home after what felt like WAY too short of a trip because I was headed to Budapest for work training, and the lovebirds were headed to Paris for another free hotel and another country added to their trip.  I had such an amazing time hanging out with two of my favorite people on the planet and continue to be amazed how my loved ones go out of their way to spend their precious vacations with me.

Love you guys, thanks for coming!

R&R, otherwise known as the time when I ate everything in America

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So within the Foreign Service there are perks for signing up for a post where there is a certain level of hardship.  For instance, those in warzones make a ton of money, people who live in remote areas with limited groceries get a “consumables shipment” and certain posts get a number of R&R’s – paid flights to go home (or to a designated point in the world) to get out of dodge for a while to rest and recuperate.  While I won’t pretend Sarajevo is anywhere near as dangerous or inconvenient as it could have been, we do get two R&Rs that are to be taking during my time here.  This spring I took my first, and decided it was time to go home to see the family and get back to America for a while.  (Cuz I seriously love America.)

In April I hopped a long flight back to the states and flew into St. Louis to stay with baby bro.  The next day we went and got some brunch at Pastaria (complete with bloody mary’s and a pitcher of screwdrivers) and the best breakfast pizza I’ve had maybe ever.  Happily my friends and family indulged my desire to attend a Cards game, so we got a group of us together to see the Cards beat the hell out of the Reds.

My gorgeous friends!

My gorgeous friends!

My amazing family!

My amazing family!

Spent the next 10 days bopping around St. Louis, Philo, Chicago, and Fayetteville, NC (I know that last one doesn’t make sense to you yet.)  I enjoyed getting back to a bit of normalcy in my life, including sleeping in my childhood home, catching up with friends I’ve barely seen in years, and of course eating at ALL of my favorite restaurants.  Monicals, El Toro, The Philo Tavern, Pappys BBQ, etc.  I may have over-indulged a bit.  And by a bit I mean a ton.  But honestly, when I get to eat those things so rarely I can’t say I regret anything.  I hear this is completely normal for R&R and home leave.

I fit in a quick trip to Chicago to see my college friends who have big exciting lives of their own going on.  Started with lunch and a brewery tour at Lagunitas and ended with a big group dinner at…a place who’s name is escaping me.  Red Fire Grill?  Something like that?  Anyway I bored my friends to tears with stories about the Bosnian political environment and did my best talking them into all becoming diplomats.  It was SO great catching up with these wonderful women!

Starting a tour with 8 samples is a poor life choice

Starting a tour with 8 samples is a poor life choice

A civics lesson with dinner

A civics lesson with dinner

My awesome family offered to throw a party at the house to invite the family over so I could catch up with my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents.  Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate, and while we planned to grill out, it poured rain all day and night.  Lucky for me, Paul Cain is a boss and could not be deterred:

My Wonderful Papa

My Wonderful Papa

I loved catching up with my loved ones, chatting with them about this crazy life I’m leading, and hearing all about the things going on back home, like babies, weddings, new houses, new jobs, retirements, upcoming trips, etc.  But unfortunately with all of these happy stories, I must throw in a sad one.  On this trip home I had to say goodbye to my wonderful Aunt Tammy who had been fighting cancer for years.  She was truly an amazingly strong, kind, thoughtful, WONDERFUL woman who touched everyone she met.  While of course I was terribly sad to say goodbye, I consider myself very lucky to have been a part of her life, and even luckier still that I was home to say goodbye and get one of her famous Aunt Tammy hugs and tell her how much I loved her.  Her memory lives on today in the lives of her loving husband, devoted children and adorable grandkids. We love you, Aunt Tammy! ❤

I bid my family a very fond farewell and spent a few days in North Carolina catching up with some friends of mine that had left Sarajevo + a great friend from college who had relocated to the East Coast.  We ate, drank, baked a lot of things, caught up and I realized how lucky I am to have such great people in my life, even if it means missing them when I leave.

With a heavy heart I left for Sarajevo again, glad to have seen my friends and family but also newly depressed.  When you’re gone and you STAY gone, you get used to your friends and family not being there.  You get used to only speaking via Facetime, texts and emails.  You don’t see all the little moments happening at home and therefore you forget what you’re missing.  But being home….man every little happy moment was like a tiny little twinge of sadness.  I saw how much my nieces are changing, how my parents are getting closer to retirement and will soon be off traveling the country/world, my siblings are building lives with their loved ones…it’s hard to be reminded of all that I’m missing in their day to day lives.  But what a lovely thing, to have someone to miss.  I loved my time and home and can’t wait to go back for Christmas!

home13

Recap of some weekend trips

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So let’s see, I posted about my weekend in Montenegro, since then I’ve done a bunch of different little road trips so instead of posting about each individual one how about I just hit you with the highlights?  The Balkans are seriously awesome, I’m 5 hours away from a whole different world in every direction.  I’ll do separate posts for my biggest recent trips (my R&R at home, Budapest for training, my friends and their visits, etc.  Here’s some weekend recaps in no particular order:

Banja Luka, BiH

We have a branch office in Banja Luka so I needed to head up to the office to check on the phones, radios and general computer systems.  It’s a long, boring drive but happily I got to share the road with some other colleagues.  We settled in, got a KILLER lunch at Vrbas (I think that was the place?) and then headed to the office.  One of my local staff ordered for me, a huge platter of things wrapped in or surrounded by bacon.  The. BOMB.

All the pork!

All the pork!

Attended to a little more Embassy business by supporting a friend while he gave a speech about Volunteerism to a group of excited young people at the American Corner.  Grabbed some dinner at Kazamat and went back to the hotel.  A short and sweet trip, hopefully I can get back up there to explore a little more before this tour is over.  They have more to offer than just awesome pork products.

...like pretty churches!

…like pretty churches!

Belgrade, Serbia

My friend Em and I wanted to explore the nearby city of Belgrade, spent a shocking amount of money on plane tickets (we could have EASILY driven) and picked out a cozy hotel called Hotel Excelsior that just so happened to be hosting a cat show that weekend.  Em is deathly allergic to cats so this was an unhappy surprise, but turns out it was a non-issue and I reported zero cat sightings.  The hotel was great, an awesome location with fantastic breakfast, I’d happily stay there again.

While the local food in Belgrade was certainly delicious, what we really loved was getting a chance to enjoy some other options.  We had Thai at Thai Time, Mexican at Burrito Madre and Brunch at Supermarket.  All amazing.  We explored the beautiful buildings, churches, and museums.  An awesome weekend!

National Assembly Building

National Assembly Building

Enigma machine

Enigma machine

St. Sava Temple

St. Sava Temple

Tesla Museum!

Tesla Museum!

Herzegovina, BiH

The Embassy CLO organized a trip to tour wineries throughout BiH, and happily I got to attend.  We started in Mostar with a lunch at Sadrvan and then made our way from one winery to the next.  Our first stop was Andrija, who was chosen to provide the wine for the upcoming Papal visit to Sarajevo.  I got a bottle of “pope wine” and enjoyed a tour of the winery.  Our next stop was not my favorite, as they are mass-producers and didn’t have that cute rustic feeling the other spots had, so no recap or link necessary.  We spent the night at a nice hotel and walked across the street to Brkic, a gorgeous and very interesting winery.  “The most interesting wine from this cellar is called Mjesečar, or Sleepwalker. It is the first biodynamic wine produced in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As the name implies, this Žilavka – a Herzegovinian white wine – is seductive, passionate, and mystical. That personality comes from its maker, Josip Brkić.”  Enjoyed learning about the process!  We stopped briefly (and I do mean briefly) at Medjugorje, where Mary is said to have appeared.  Our final stop was my favorite, Keza.  This wine is featured heavily at one of my favorite local restaurants in Sarajevo so I loved touring the facility and meeting both the owners and the winemakers.  I left with a few bottles and most of my dignity.

Pope Wine!

Pope Wine!

A convenient way to hold booze and food

A convenient way to hold booze and food

Nose in the glass (and a ghost?)

Nose in the glass (and a ghost?)

The Tara River, Montenegro

A small group of us took a weekend to go rafting in Montenegro (well technically right on the border of Montenegro and Bosnia.)  We stayed at Tara Grab in a large bungalow suited for up to 12 people (maybe even more!)  Food was incredible, the river was emerald green, and we enjoyed drinks around a campfire.  The next day we headed out to the rafting, sporting some incredibly sexy wetsuits, life jackets and helmets.  The rapids were a little calmer than they had been a few months prior (when the snow in the mountains is melting) but it was rougher than my last trip on the Neretva in Bosnia.  We had quite a full raft, so I was thrown in the middle (zero complaints here as I didn’t have to paddle.)  We pulled over to the side for a few cliff jumps, stopping at an amazing waterfall for some beer and rajika, and one rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.  (It was the 4th after all.)  We got back to the camp, enjoyed more awesome food and a night of card games, bonfires, and catching up with friends.

This is the life, eh?

This is the life, eh?

The next day my car headed out on an adventure, we drove around Durmitor to see some amazing countryside, ended up in Kolasin to visit our favorite restaurant Vodenica (for kacamak!!) and then did an insanely long drive home that evening.  Why we felt like driving 10-12 hours on a random Sunday, who can say?  But it was a fun adventure with my pals anyway.

Take a scary tunnel and you will be rewarded

Take a scary tunnel and you will be rewarded

Happy cows come from Durmitor

Happy cows come from Durmitor

Worth the road trip

Worth the road trip

If you came to visit me and you don’t see your trip here, don’t worry!  I will get to it.  Probably by like, uh…December.  I’m seriously the worst.

Reggaeton Montenegro

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Long overdue post about another trip.  Just more proof that I am working way too hard and having too much fun to take the time to post these updates.  While it does seem like I play all the time, it’s truly not the reality.  I’ve been staying very busy at work, it’s just not fun (or appropriate) to blog about.  So trust me, it’s not ALL fun and games.  About half and half.

One of the biggest perks about this part of the world is the proximity to nearby countries that I wouldn’t have necessarily visited otherwise.  A good friend had served in Montenegro previously and offered to play tour guide, so a small group of us hopped in a couple cars (Poor Cami the Camry worked hard that weekend) and headed off for a weekend of relaxation and fun.

We headed down tiny, barely enough room for one car roads, and I clutched the handle of my door for dear life.  This is in no way a statement about the drivers, the roads themselves were dirt, elevated, with no rails.  I was petrified.  We finally made it to our first stop of the trip: Žabljak, a small village at the base of MIGHTY DURMITOR, a mountain that may or may not have dragons inside.  (No, I still can’t pronounce Žabljak

Polar Star Cabin

Polar Star Cabin

We moved into a cozy cabin at Polar Star, made a fire, and took a trip out to a nearby restaurant for some awesome, hearty winter food. Kacamak now ranks very highly as one of my favorite things ever ever…what’s not to like about cheese-infused mashed potatoes?

The next day we headed to a gorgeous hike to a frozen lake.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Good thing I brought my snow boots!

Bliss

Bliss

After our hike, falling in the snow a few times in the process, we were off to our next stop: Bianca Resort & Spa in Kolasin.

Swanky resort!

Swanky resort!

We treated ourselves to fluffy robes, massages, pedicures, and in general a very relaxing evening including a visit to a local bar before heading out to the ski slopes the next day!  I was with one expert skier and two ladies that had never been before….we decided to opt out of paying for lessons and I’d teach them the basics.  (And I do mean basics, I’m no pro myself.  Not even close.)  We did a couple passes on the bunny slope with moderate success, then decided we would ultimately be much happier with sitting at the bar with mulled wine, sunshine and snacks.

Ski bunnies

Ski bunnies

Eventually my fellow skiier got me off my butt and coaxed me out onto the slopes.  Ever since I took a nasty fall earlier in the season I’ve been a big chicken, so I am a little ashamed to say I only did one run the whole day.  I hate getting old.  I miss feeling fearless!

Yes, I'm wearing a helmet.  I'm too old and fra-gi-le not to

We caught a cab and headed back to the resort for more pampering, then headed to the best dinner of the trip at Restoran Vodencia.  Truly one of the best meals I’ve ever had!  Simple, rustic, flavorful food with some of my favorite people…what’s not to love?  We slowly made our way back to the hotel on the ice-covered sidewalks, and enjoyed our last evening at the lovely hotel.

Yum!

Yum!

On the drive home the next day we took a couple detours to visit two Monasteries: Moraca and Ostrog.  While Moraca was lovely, Ostrog knocked my socks off.  We found ourselves at the base of a mountain, and we were instructed to look up…see that tiny speck of white built into the top of the mountain?  Yeah.  We’re going up there.  And yes, we will take a tiny, not even truly one lane, switchback-filled road.  That was not my favorite drive.  One of my biggest regrets was not taking better pictures of this place, especially from the base so you could truly see how far up it was!

We decided to grab some lunch at a nearby restaurant, then we notice something is a bit…off.  Well what do you know, the side of the mountain is on fire.  We’re not sure if it was a controlled burn that went awry or something else entirely, but we found ourselves at a completely abandoned restaurant, with employees running outside every few minutes to check and see how close the fire was getting to their restaurant.  We ate our delicious lunch in a bit of a tense environment, and when we finally finished and got back to our cars, the fire was just about ready to cross the road and block our path home.  We rushed out of there and got to safety immediately!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We finished our drive home, and I was so thankful to have great friends and tour guides along for this adventure.  This won’t be my last trip to Montenegro, I can assure you!

b montenegro

Christmas with Baby Sis

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So this week I’m preparing for some more visitors (Mel and Phil!) and I realized I hadn’t yet recapped the time spent with my last visitor, Shannon!  No time like the present, eh?

So I was truly dreading my first Christmas away from home, but as it turns out, my little sister was going to have a break from school so she’d be able to spend the holidays with me, YES!  She flew in a few days before Christmas, I got us thoroughly lost on the way home from the airport, and gave her a quick tour of Sarajevo.  She crashed early from jet lag and we prepared for the busy holidays ahead of us.

Her 2nd night in town was Christmas eve, and we spent the evening over at Frank and Lita’s annual Christmas Eve soup/bonfire/mulled wine/scotch drinking extravaganza.  Shannon got to meet my work friends, we ate some incredible turkey stew and pumpkin/shrimp bisque, and we also introduced her to the ever-popular Bosnian beverage: rakija.  You know when someone pulls out an old water bottle with a stick inside that is filled with homemade moonshine, it’s going to be quality stuff.

Vinegar or booze?

Vinegar or booze?

The next day was CHRISTMAS!!! We opened gifts, watched Christmas movies, and made an absolute feast from the comfort of my apartment.  It was so weird not being home but felt wonderful having Shannon here to continue carry out Cain family traditions with.  Christmas Vacation viewings, making sugar cookies, and stuffing our faces silly with turkey (with BACON, natch), scalloped pineapple, broccoli rice casserole, and pie.  So great.

christmas cookies

bacon turkey

Facetime with my parents, I miss them so much!

Facetime with my parents, I miss them so much!

The next day we hit the road very early, on the way out of town for our next adventure…to Dubrovnik!  I had been to the Croatian coast but not this particular city so I was excited to have someone to explore the city with.  Every single one of my upcoming visitors wants to go too, so this will not be my last visit I’m quite sure.  We hit the road and passed through the gorgeous city of Mostar for lunch, shopping, and looking at pretty bridges:

Mostar

Mostar

After about 5 hours in the car and one gorgeous drive along the coast, we made it to Dubrovnik, checked into our hotel, and then headed into the city to meet some friends for drinks and dinner at Pupo then drinks at a nearby irish pub.  Great night, we grabbed a cab and headed back to the hotel for some much needed rest!

We had an absolutely gorgeous view of the ocean from our room when we woke up, and enjoyed a complimentary breakfast at the hotel before heading into town via the bus.  It was a jam-packed day, and we started with the cable car!  We rode a tram from the bottom of the hill to the top of a nearby peak, and I was quite proud of Shannon for not freaking out along the way.  Our view:

So. High!

So. High!

We headed back into the city and had an awesome seafood lunch at Wanda where I had an AMAZING spicy seafood dish, I’ve discovered I am getting less and less creeped out when I’m served seafood with their heads still on.  Next on the list was walking around the city walls, which turned out to be my favorite part of the trip.  Got some amazing views of castles, coastlines, gorgeous blue water and great views of the city itself.  A must for any trip to Dubrovnik!

So pretty (and not just the girls)

So pretty (and not just the girls)

Such a cool city

Such a cool city

By the end of the day we were EXHAUSTED, grabbed some dinner, and were probably in bed by 8:00pm.  We are a couple of wild and crazy girls.  We knew we had to hit the road early the next day to beat an incoming snow storm, so we rolled out early to make our way back to Sarajevo.

The drive home was significantly less enjoyable than the drive there, because it was either snowing or raining the ENTIRE DRIVE.  By the time we got past Mostar It was actually snowing pretty heavily, and the mountain passes were getting pretty dangerous.  I kept getting concerned texts from my guy friends asking if I was ok, if they needed to come pick me up, and to keep them posted of how the roads were.  I love my friends.  We FINALLY made it home after an amazing trip.

I had to work (boo) for a few days, so Shannon took in the sights of the city.  She did a tour to learn about the seige, and also took a trip up to the top of Jahorina to eat Bosnia’s version of the doughnut.  I worked.  Why must I always work?  I introduced Shannon to some of my favorite restaurants and wines, and we had a great couple chill days in the city.

Before you knew it, it was New Years Eve.  Sarajevo takes this holiday VERY seriously, and has a huge party in the street right outside of my apartment.  Instead of battling crowds and the cold, we decided to throw a party at my place with drinks, snacks, and fireworks visible from my window.  Had an AWESOME night, in fact we all ended up sledding in the park outside my apartment.  Had such a fun night ringing in 2015 with my baby sis.

Before you knew it, it was time for Shannon to go home 😦  I was SO EXCITED to have my first visitor in this part of the world and very sad to see her go.  Thanks for coming, baby sis!  I love you to pieces.

Love this girl

Love this girl