Just Around the Riverbend

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Hoping that at least some of you recognized the Pocahontas song in the title, my family would frequently break into song while on canoe and rafting trips back in the day, that tended to be our song of choice.

I was thrilled to discover that the Embassy was organizing a rafting trip on the Neretva River, which flows through BiH and Croatia.  A quick google search turned up images of gorgeous emerald water, jagged cliffs and lovely scenery, so I signed up immediately.  Then I found out that a coworker of mine had already signed me up, he had a hunch I’d enjoy it so he went ahead and did it for me.   I like working with these people, they get me.

We started bright and early, meeting in Konjic.   I hitched a ride with our community liaison officer (CLO) who organized the trip, and she pointed out antique shops, furniture stores, and the stands along the side of the road selling honey, jams, and rakia (booze.)  I loved getting out of the city and out into the country, it’s clear that Bosnia has plenty to do and see during my tour here.

We met our guides and were served a fresh breakfast of coffee, local farm cheese, rolls, jam and ajvar (a roasted red pepper and eggplant relish – yum!)  We were given the option to grab a wetsuit, or take our chances and wear what we came in.  Based on the bright sun and the fact that I didn’t plan to do much swimming, I opted to risk it in what I wore.  (Side note, I was not well prepared as far as rafting clothes, but made it work with some workout capris and a tank top.  I hadn’t planned on doing much swimming here!)  We all loaded up into the double decker bus out front, and headed toward the village of Glavaticevo.

NO YELLING ON THE BUS

NO YELLING ON THE BUS

Our journey to the launch site was a treacherous one, with steep grades, sharp turns, and terrifying drop-offs.  I may have been clutching my Oh Shit handle for dear life the entire ride, though it was very clear that the drivers knew exactly what they were doing.  They drove this bus with amazing precision, narrowly missing guardrails and oncoming cars by what felt like millimeters, it’s not the driver’s fault that I kept picturing myself tumbling down the side of a mountain.

We loaded up into our respective rafts, and headed down the river.  This was my first time rafting (as opposed to floating) and I was told this was going to be Grade 1 (scale of 1-6).  A local sat in the front and served as the coxswain (really?  That’s what they call him?!) and was in charge of telling us when to paddle, and steering us away from things that might try to kill us.  He was the strong and silent type, his motion for us to row/not row was simply glancing back at us and either nodding or shaking his head.  He also had a delicate heart tattoo on his shoulder.  He did a great job though, and would warn us when we should expect an impact, when we should paddle, when we should STOP paddling, etc.  There were a couple times when we were asked to move to the middle of the raft, because we expected to rebound off a large rock during rapids.  He was always right, and none of us died.  Nice job, coxswain.

Why describe the scenery when I can just show it to you?

Emerald water

Emerald water

My coworker Will and me.

My coworker Will and me.

Calm and clear

Calm and clear

Some of the not so rapid rapids

Some of the not so rapid rapids

People jumped in here and floated down

People jumped in here and floated down

Cliff jumping!

Cliff jumping!

We stopped a couple times for drink/swimming/cliff jumping breaks, and I loved spending time with my coworkers in a social setting, away from work stress.  We ended our journey in the village Dzajici, where we loaded up the rafts and headed back to where we started.  Once we got back to Konjic, we changed into dry clothes and enjoyed a fresh lunch.  We were served fresh sausages, fish, bread, veggies, and fruit.  The rafting company took really good care of us, for anyone that plans to visit me in Bosnia during the summer, I’d be happy to do this again with you.

I’m off work today, to celebrate Ramazanski Bajram.  An interesting perk of the Foreign Service – we typically get off not only American holidays, but local ones as well (to a point.)  It makes sense, if none of the other businesses are open in town, we wouldn’t really be able to get anything done.  Plus it shows cultural sensitivity to the city we’re in.  I’m certainly not complaining.  Stocked up on grocery essentials yesterday since most things are closed, looking forward to a lazy day!

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Da li govorite engleski (Do you speak English?)

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Figured it was about time to update the blog, I tend to put off blogging at this point because I don’t know where to start.  I thought about it, and figured that perhaps it would be easier if I just kept to a couple topics at a time, so as not to overwhelm you with information.  So here we go.

The city:

There are a couple different parts of the city, with TOTALLY different atmospheres.  The portion I’ve only really explored so far is Bascarsija.  One certain street, Ferhadija, is for pedestrians only and is lined with shops, cafes, gelato stands and huge historic places of worship.  (Fun fact: you can find a Synagogue, Mosque, Catholic church and a Orthodox church all within a two block radius.  Sarajevo is sometimes referred to as the Jerusalem of Europe by people other than me.  As for me, I guess I never realized Jerusalem wasn’t Europe….I’m not great with Geography  I have since looked it up and noted its location.  Moving on.)   

Great people watching here

Great people watching here

The further you walk down Ferhadija, the more Turkish the surroundings become, and you find yourself surrounded by cobblestones, copper and crafts.  (Alliteration….oh yes.)

IMG_4618

I have every intention of buying a Bosnian rug and some copper pieces, but am taking my time because apparently it’s really easy to overpay and get mass-produced stuff…I’m holding out for something awesome.  Found a couple very expensive glass Turkish lamps that I need to own immediately.  I like strolling around the area, and feel very safe doing so.

I live within walking distance of the Embassy, and walking in that direction is a whole other world.  I want to touch on that at a later date, once I’ve taken a proper tour of the area.  It’s the part of the city that was heavily affected during the war, and I want to give that neighborhood the proper summary it deserves.  For now I simply marvel at the bullet holes remaining in buildings, numerous memorials for the fallen, entire pieces of the sidewalk missing from explosions and never ending graffiti.

The Work:

I actually feel pretty good about working at the Embassy, I have a great boss who’s looking out for me, and coworkers who have answered every question imaginable.  The hardest thing is just getting used to the daily tasks, and the norms that are expected from my office.  The technical stuff actually seems very well run and easy to maintain, the hard part is remembering how to get around the building.  And all of the combos I’ve been forced to memorize in a short amount of time.  The locals working at the Embassy are quite honestly fantastic.  Many of them have worked there for 15+ years, are total experts in their field, and have a tremendous amount to teach me.  Most of my interaction has been with the IT staff, and they’re awesome and I am thrilled I get to work with them for 2 years.  They do have difficult names for me to pronounce, and so far I’ve only called one person by the wrong name.  (I confused Sepy with Sasa, and felt awful about it.  You must admit their names are similar.)  I apologized to Sasa and he forgave me.

The Language:

So, everyone here keeps telling me “Ohhhh everyone speaks English” and I’m sorry but that is NOT THE CASE.  The people all speak English within the Embassy but once I leave those walls, I’ve literally not met a single person who speaks English.  (And why should they?  If I was a Bosnian I wouldn’t have learned English either.)  German, however, is common enough, so I’ve been getting by with my broken German and plenty of hand gestures.  And smiling.  Smiling helps quite a bit.  The Embassy is offering a “Survival Bosnian” course that I plan to take, that will help me with things like shopping, talking to cab drivers, and things like Hello, Goodbye, and Do you speak English?  Grocery shopping has only been possible because of my limited German, most of the labels are in Bosnian and German.  And as always, photos are very helpful, and even just the shape of the container itself.  I could find sour cream just based on the shape of the plastic tub.  Perhaps that means I spend too much time studying sour cream?

The Food and Drink:

In short, the food here is not the healthiest thing I’ve ever seen.  Lots of meat, cheese, bread, and creamy sauces.  Salads exist, but the dressings here are not my favorite, so I’m excited for my latest Amazon order to get here so I can mix up some Italian dressing.  Grocery stores have just about anything you’d need, but the produce left something to be desired.  The best looking produce appears to be sold in the open air markets that I haven’t gotten around to visiting yet.  I miss baby carrots, green beans, broccoli, and spinach.  I haven’t found any of those yet, and am genuinely sad about it.

One of the iconic Bosnian dishes is Ćevapi, little sausages served in delicious bread, served with onions and sometimes kajmak, my new favorite condiment.

This was the smallest size available, and I only ate half

This was the smallest size available, and I only ate half

My coworkers took me to Mrkva, a local chain that offers delivery (heyooooo) and who’s name means carrot, apparently.  I got the smallest size they offered (5 pieces), and it was delicious.  You rip up the bread, cut off a chunk of sausage with your fork, dunk the thing in the kajmak and onions, and eat with your hands.  Apparently the fork is not to be used except to cut things up, and knives are right out.  It was greasy and delicious, and several hours later I am still full.  I look forward to trying different versions around the city.

I’ve been able to get certain things at the Embassy itself, things that Bosnia doesn’t seem to understand.  Things like peanut butter, Sweet Baby Ray’s, Club crackers, salsa, and microwave popcorn.  Eventually I might be able to live without them, but for now I’m taking comfort in having a few familiar things around.   I placed a massive Amazon Pantry order to stock up on Asian food ingredients, because I miss Thai food already.

***

That’s all for now!  Looking forward to a three day weekend, and more chances to explore Bosnia!  Missing all of you, find me on WhatsApp and let’s text, mmmkay?

 

 

 

 

Moja lebdjelica je puna jegulja

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Greetings from Sarajevo!  I apologize, I’ve taken very few photos since I’ve been here but hope to remedy that by the end of the day.  So far my time here has been spent doing things like unpacking, going grocery shopping, and meeting my coworkers, none of which I felt like documenting at the time.  Something I’ve already noticed here: nobody just sits around with their phone out all the time.  I plan to behave the same way.

So my flight from Munich to Sarajevo was uneventful, in fact I fell asleep for the whole trip.  We landed at the SJJ airport, where I was met by a local Embassy employee (holding a sign with my name on it, that’s like my favorite sight in the whole world for some reason), and he whisked me through the Diplomatic passport line where I gathered my first stamp on the thing (no visa required by the way, come visit!), and we gathered up my many pieces of luggage.  (1 massive overweight suitcase, another large suitcase, one carry-on and one backpack full of my electronics and important documents…and peanut butter M&Ms.)  I was glad to have help dragging this stuff around, I walked all of those pieces into the airport in DC and it was comical to say the least.

We went out into the lobby where I met my boss, who was easy to spot in his Hawaiian shirt (a Friday tradition.)  He drove me to my new apartment and showed me all of the different features.  I am 100% pleased with the place, it’s considerably larger than my apt back home, and while the couches aren’t my particular taste (green and gold jacquard!) I am not in the business of complaining about free things.  Free things are awesome because they are free, if I get tired of looking at them I will cover them up.  Boom. 

You are probably wanting to see pictures of my apartment, and I promise to post a few, but I am NOT posting any that will give away my specific location, or the specific security features of my apartment.  No pictures of doors, windows, alarm systems, furniture, etc.  So that really limits what you will see here, but that’s just what will make me more comfortable.  And keep me out of trouble.

View from a friend's balcony

View from a friend’s balcony

Favorite decor in the apartment, I love this kitchen!

Favorite decor in the apartment, I love this kitchen!

A close up of the kitchen floor, my favorite feature

A close up of the kitchen floor, my favorite feature

Massive closet!  A nice surprise

Massive closet! A nice surprise, there’s another half not shown here

Guest bath / laundry room.  Tiniest washer in the land.

Guest bath / laundry room. Tiniest washer in the land.

Enormous grey bathroom!  With no usable power outlets.  Damn you, Europe

Enormous grey bathroom! With no usable power outlets. Please notice the bizarre pink toilet paper.

Bath / shower combo.  The glass door swings outward to convert it into a normal bathtub.  Great water pressure!

Bath / shower combo. The glass door swings outward to convert it into a normal bathtub. Great water pressure!

On Saturday morning, my social sponsor took me grocery shopping to Mercator, a nearby superstore of sorts.  I stocked up on a new hair dryer (110v appliances can sometimes be converted to work on 220v, but hairdryers just seem to turn into flamethrowers.  I’d rather just buy a new one), cleaning supplies, and groceries, though I got home and realized I forgot to get a ton of things.  My first grocery trip was mildly stressful, as I forgot to bring my dictionary/phrasebook and wasn’t able to look up what certain words meant.  Overall I did ok, only because many of the labels were in German and I could figure it out.  I also learned the process to get receipts stamped/signed in order to reclaim my VAT (value added taxes) once I get my Diplomatic ID card.

That evening, my sponsor and I went to a BBQ at my boss’s house.  He fried up some wings (SO GOOD), smoked tons of chicken, ribs, and pulled pork, and I tried some local beer called Sarajevsko and a strong local liquor named rakija (tasted like moonshine, this one was pear flavored).  I met a bunch of my new coworkers (all of them super friendly and gave me great advice on what things to see in/around Sarajevo), and I received my first Hawaiian shirt, so I can join in on Aloha Fridays at the office.

Got home and promptly slept for 11 hours…I haven’t quite beat this jet lag yet but I’m getting close.  Today I’m off to go wander around Bašcaršija, the old part of town that’s right near my apartment.  If only I knew how to pronounce it.  So far so good!

 

 

 

Ja, naturlich!

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The title of this post is my favorite German expression ever, as I patiently wait here in the Munich airport, I promise I shall use it before I leave. So far my ordering coffee did not warrant such an exclamation.

So I really wanted to do a post before I left, summarizing the Brain Trust visit in DC, my pack out and my final weekend at home with the fam, but I clearly over estimated how much free time I would have. I had little to none, so I’ll have to do that later.  I had more logistical arrangements than I anticipated, the good news is that things went smoothly and so far it appears I haven’t made any glaring errors. YET. Give it time, this is me we’re talking about.

My flight to Munich was mostly uneventful, I’m great at sleeping on planes so I probably got about 4-5 hours of sleep on the way here.  I had quite a large dude sitting next to me that I could have done without, but at least he was a NICE large dude. It’s about 9am here, it should feel like 3am but so far the jet lag is minimal.  I need to power through until about 8 tonight then I will crash HARD and finish resetting my clock.

Emailed my very friendly and helpful future boss who will be picking me up at the airport, I feel really lucky to have someone who’s looked out for me so far.  He will meet me at the gate, whisk me through customs (flying on a diplomatic mission comes with different customs rules, they send someone to help you the first time which is awesome), and drive me to my new apartment in Sarajevo.  I was assigned a social sponsor who grabbed some initial groceries for me, and who will take me grocery shopping and will accompany me to a cookout on Saturday with my future coworkers. Overall I’ve been nothing but impressed with how the Embassy has looked out for me, I hope to return the favor someday.

That’s it for now, hope to update you all later with photos of my new city and my new apartment!!

The stars at night are big and bright

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*clap*clap*clap*clap

DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS!

And to answer your question, yes I do only know that song because of PeeWee’s Big Adventure.  Thank you for asking.

I had never been to Texas, I missed Kiva and KT terribly, and I love any excuse to see this great nation, so I headed to Dallas to see my pals.  I’m happy to report that my travel experience was MUCH better than the last time I flew, and thank goodness for that.  I could not have handled another disaster like my STL trip.

I headed off to Dallas, Kiva picked me up and we headed to their gorgeously renovated new home in the Dallas METROPLEX.   (This is what they call Dallas metropolitan area…it sounds like a movie theater.  Or a transformer.)  Kiva asked what I wanted to do on my trip, and I told her I wanted to eat BBQ, and see cowboys.  So off to Ft. Worth we went.

YeeHaw!

YeeHaw!

Longhorns.  Their horns are...well they're long

Longhorns. Their horns are…well they’re long

We walked around, had some slushy wine (well, I did, Keevs had just a normal slush!) and shopped around at the local stores.  Got all sorts of goodies, including hot sauce, my standard travel Christmas ornament, and some awesome smoked sea salt.  It was a little too early to hit up the bars, but we stopped by Cowtown Winery to do a tasting.

Generous tasting!

Generous tasting!

After my fill of delicious fruity wine, we decided it was BBQ time.  Now Texas is known for their brisket.  I will admit that when I want good BBQ, my go-to is pork.  But I was willing to bend my rules to do as the natives do, so bring on the beef.  (That sounds filthy…I am referring to cow.  Shut up.)

We stopped by Hard Eight BBQ in Coppell, and it was everything I hoped it would be.  We approached this massive grill where you could pick and choose the items you wanted, I have no idea how the employees could stand in front of the thing without melting, so mad props to them.

1 of each, please

1 of each, please

I couldn’t logically pick everything on the menu (or could I?) so I settled on the brisket and jalapeno sausage, with jalapeno creamed corn and mac and cheese on the side, served with freshly brewed sweet tea.  There were two types of sauces, one warm BBQ and another spicy apple cider sauce…wow.  I loved how you could just walk down the row of food, picking and choosing what to throw on your tray.  My kind of place.

YES!

YES!

Jalapeno sausage was by FAR the highlight, and while the brisket was totally fine, I am sticking with my rule:  pork = BBQ.  I refuse to be convinced otherwise.  Because this is America.

We headed back to the house to do some swimming, and then headed to meet KT and Bryan at their gorgeous house for drinks.  We explored the Bishop Arts District (hipsters everywhere!) and then headed to our final destination, Smoke.  The food here was incredible, we started with hummus and smoked broccoli (who knew that was a thing?), various sausages (pictured below), and our dinners were rock solid.  Highly recommend it for anyone in the area!  We ended the night by watching Bryan basically inhale an entire container of tiramisu.  It was majestic.

sausageActual signage: Rabbit – Cow – Lamb – Pig

What we thought the signs looked like: Rabbit – Coyote – Sheep – House cat (hoping this one was inaccurate)

***

The next day we shopped a bit, ate cupcakes, got pedicures, and laid by the pool.  Kiva and Joel’s sweet pup has a habit of freaking out a little bit when swimmers in the pool go underwater (what a good rescue dog!) but has an even funnier quirk when someone gets on a raft.  He sits on their lap.  To save them, or something.

Don't worry Dad.  I'll save you.

Don’t worry Dad. I’ll save you.

Kiva and KT drove me to the airport and we said our tearful goodbyes, so glad I got to spend a weekend with some of my favorite Texans!! (I have to say SOME OF because I do have other Texas friends who I did not visit on this round and who may never forgive me for being so close and yet so far away.  Sorry Stuebe!)

Enjoyed my first trip to Texas, hopefully won’t be my last!