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

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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.