I made a sneaky trip home to Pennsylvania to surprise my family and some friends during this holidays season. I decided back when I had been home in August that I would try to make it home for the holidays this year. Many thanks to my amazing brother, we were able to make it possible.
It’s been great to be able to catch up face-to-face with family and spend some quality time together. I’m thankful for the time to be able to come home and fully enjoy this season since it’s been a few years .
I was also able to make a few surprise appearances for some friends too since very few people knew.
I even made a familiar megabus quick trip to Harrisburg to surprise my college roommate. I’m a fan of the megabus and think nothing now of a 2 hour trip with comfortable seating, a bathroom on board, and free wifi. I’ll take this public transport over the public transport in Moldova any day.
Thanks to the ninja-planning skills of my friend’s sister, we were able to spend some short, but great quality time together pampering ourselves and catching up on life. Texting every couple of days on what’s going on is great, but being able to catch up in person is much, much better. I was also able to meet up with two friends I hadn’t seen since I had left in 2013. I feel so full of happiness since I’ve been able to visit with all of these friends although for a short time, but incredibly sweet.
It’s been a good, low-key time of being home and fully enjoying being able to spend it with loved ones. I’m thankful for last minute Starbucks dates, baking with mom, playing board games, and puppy snuggles.
Next up, bringing in the 2017 new year this weekend with friends before making my way back to Moldova.
Today marks 30 days until I will be home for special home leave for a month! I will get to spend quality time with friends and family before I return to complete a 3rd year with Peace Corps in Moldova. In honor of this occasion, I have made a list of the top 30 things I want to do while I am home for 30 days.
Naturally, the #1 thing I want to do while I am home is to spend time with loved ones. That goes without listing it in this list. However, if you’re not from the State College, PA area, a lot of these things may not make much sense to you.
So here goes, the top 30 things (in no particular order) that I want to do while I am back home in Central PA for a month… who wants to join me!?
Attend a Calvary service (preferably more than once)
Visit Harvest Fields during sunset or sunrise
Make waffles and eat them with friends!
Eat at all the local restaurants I miss (yes, there is a list)
Visit the crew at the Central PA Visitors Center (where I used to work)
Get my drivers license renewed
Go to the Arboretum at Penn State and play in the new children’s garden
Visit one of the many local farmer’s markets
Eat ice cream from the PSU Creamery
Walk around downtown State College and drink bubble tea
Start running again
Game night at a friends house
Go for a hike at Mt. Nittany or Shingletown
Get a haircut (Recommendations? My favorite hair stylist is booked already)
Have a cookout/BBQ with friends and/or family
Share Moldovan wine with local cheese with friends and/or family
Journal and do some writing while at a local coffee shop
Listen to live music
Sit around a campfire with friends and/or family
Attend a local community event
Do some shopping
Read while enjoying the outdoors (even better if in a porch swing or in a hammock)
Go on a picnic at the University duck pond
Surprise someone (or multiple people)
Eat ice cream from Meyer Dairy
Take a lot of photos
Run errands with a friend or two
Play outside in the rain
Prepare Moldovan food and share the culture with friends and family
I’m anxious to see how many of these things can be accomplished while visiting with family and friends. Until then, I have a bit of a whirlwind month of July ahead. More to come on that soon!
My mom and brother visited me in Moldova a few weeks ago. After an amazing time together in Moldova we embarked on an adventure that I don’t think we’ll ever forget. This was our first time traveling internationally together as a family (minus my father who was unable to make it).
My mom made all the plans where we started out in Venice, Italy for a day and a half. We wandered the streets, got lost a few times, tried some new tasty Italian foods, toured the city by water bus, and visited some fun sites. I’m looking forward to going back and exploring this city a little more again soon.
We stayed a super cute and authentic apartment while we were there…
My favorite was walking around at dusk and in the evening.
Masks could be found everywhere!
Top of St. Marks Basilica in St. Marks Square
The famous clock tower in St.. Marks Square, Torre dell’Orologia
I enjoyed all the canal lined streets
A romantic gondola ride
Evening falls and the canals and streets look a little different
We tried some tapas one evening
After our adventure in Venice, we boarded a cruise for some quality family time at sea. Sunrises and sunsets from the balcony, playing shuffleboard with new friends, reading and relaxing in the open sea air, and enjoying the random activities and entertainment provided. It was a fun time.
Sun set one evening at sea
Mom enjoyed the little characters that greeted us each evening
Mom taught me how to play shuffleboard… and also taught some of our new friends as well.
Our first stop for a day-trip was on the island of Malta where we did a quick excursion of seeing the “best of” all things Malta. I had been there previously last winter, where I had fallen in love with the sea and was eager to visit again since I enjoyed it so much. I’m glad that my mom and brother at least got a chance to see and experience it since I raved so much about it last Christmas.
The view from Valetta looking into the port where ships enter/exit Malta
The city of Valetta.
Our next stop took us to the island of Palma Mallorca for a quick tour around the center city and a few historic sites.
Mom and I along the coast of Palma Mallorca
The gothic style Cathedral of Mallorca
Coast line of Palma Mallorca
If you know me well… you know these are a few of my favorite things… in many colors.
Cute display of toys in Palma Mallorca
Leaving the island at night complete with full moon
The next day we ended our cruise along the Mediterranean sea in Barcelona where we spent a day and a half and soaked up the last of our adventures in Europe together.
We really liked trying real legit churros
Freshly made churros
Mom and I outside of the Sagrada Familia
Just take off the a… and vioila “Hoy”
At Guell Park, designed by Gaudi
I enjoyed these beautiful birds, even though there were pretty noisy
having some fun with the camera at Guell Park
One of the many decorated tips of the Segrada Familia
We checked out a few of the popular sites of Barcelona and on the last day we participated in a fun cooking class where we learned how to make an authentic 4-course Spanish meal. It was complete with a visit to the famous Boqueria market where we went with the chef to pick up fresh ingredients and sample some delicacies of the area. This last part was my most favorite part of the trip — quality time with my mom and brother in a fun, creative, and tasty atmosphere!
At the Boqueria Market with the chef before the cooking class…
A stand that has been at the market and 3 generations of this family still work here each day together.
So many fresh lettuces to choose from… Oh how I miss this.
These were a tasty treat that we tried and became my mom’s new favorite chocolate in Barcelona
Salt keeps the fish preserved
Fresh fish and smiles anyone?
Fresh fish will stare you down
Creating the fancy appetizer
My brother creating the other fancy appetizer
Paella for 15 anyone?
Biggest paella pan I’ve ever seen!
After our time together I made my way back home to Moldova while my mom and brother made their way back home to PA. I realized on this return flight at how normal it felt for me to travel back to Moldova and didn’t think twice of referring to it as ‘home’.
The colors of fall were beginning to pop with bright yellows and deep reds as my mom and brother came to visit me in Moldova for a short visit. This was something we had talked about even before I knew where I was going as a Peace Corps volunteer. Thankfully, it became a reality a few weeks ago.
They met both of my host families, ate a lot of traditional food, took public transportation, tried house wine, learned some Romanian words and phrases, and followed me around as I translated my current life before their eyes.
It was a wonderful time, although it rained most of the days they were here and we weren’t able to make it to my host family’s village house. But we made the best of our short time together in Moldova.
Did I mention that this was their first time traveling outside of the US?! I am so proud of them for their willingness and bravery in stepping beyond their comfort zones. I know it was not an easy feat for them and hope that the memories and laughs we shared together were worth it for them.
I was so grateful to both host families and their warm hospitality. My host family from pre-service training (PST) met me at the airport to greet my mom and brother when they arrived. After we loaded up their car with the luggage, they took us to their home where a warm bowl of zeama (chicken soup) was waiting for all of us.
My mom and brother were overflowing with stories from their travels and their excitement of finally being in Moldova was apparent to all. After we warmed up with zeama, my PST host family whisked us all off to a popular touristic site, Orhei Vechi. All within the first couple of hours of their arrival and going on little to no sleep, they had a traditional Moldovan meal (especially prepared for when traveling) and visited one of the most popular touristic sites in Moldova.
Orhei Vechi as we approach it along the rocky, uneven roadway
Random goat along one of the hills at Orhei Vechi
After an evening with my PST host family, we made our way the next day to my permanent site in Balti where we stayed with my host family there. Between traditional Moldovan meals that my host mom prepared each day and the autumn rain that periodically fell each day, my mom and brother followed me around as I gave them a tour of the city and got some work done. They met some of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, my office-mates at my primary organization, a group of local youth, and some dear local friends. I was so grateful that they got the opportunity to meet so many people here who are part of my life in Moldova.
The students from the new tech club I meet with weekly presented a sweet gift to my mom for their visit
All of us together with the tech club
My host nephew with his new winter hat my aunt sent along — GO PSU!
My family with my host family in Balti
Although it was a whirlwind and quick stay for them during their visit in Moldova, they now have a better understanding of where I am living and what I have been doing for the past year and a half now.
Dessert prepared by one of my dear friends for my family’s visit
The aftermath of the table after we finished one of the many meals my host mom prepared
More zeama but this time without the chicken IN the soup… on the side because it’s easier to pick apart that way (that’s the reasoning my host family tells me now that I don’t get meat included in any soup, but added on the side)
There was so much more I wish I could have shared with them and more people they could have met, but we had to keep moving as more traveling adventures awaited us… I will share more next time from our travels as we explored mostly Italy and Spain for the remainder of our time together.
For the past 2 weeks I got to spend some good quality time with my mom and brother. They came to visit me in Moldova for 5 days, where they got a little taste of my life here as a Peace Corps volunteer (literally). Then we explored a bit of Europe and my favorite sea, the Mediterranean for the rest of our time together. I’ll be sharing more soon — and who knows, maybe they will share a little bit from their experience as well. More to come soon!
…and now you know why it’s been so quiet lately on my blog. 😉
My host family recently had a celebration in honor of the baptism of my host nephew. After the baptism (botez) at the church the family gets together for the cumatria, which is the celebration party in honor of this momentous occasion. There was a lot of food, toasting, and dancing. I will be sharing more later, until then…
It’s summertime here and it is HOT. When it gets in the high 90’s and you need to take public transportation to get to your destination 2-3 hours away, it can be the biggest challenge to your day this time of year. You see, most Moldovan’s have a strong aversion to the current, which means that most if not all of the windows in public transportation stay closed, and if they are open they won’t stay open for long. If you’re lucky, maybe one will remain partially open and you’ll be situated in the perfect spot to receive the little breeze that comes your way. A few weeks ago it had to be way over 100 degrees in the rutiera (think big over-sized van) full of people and I’m surprised that I or anyone else didn’t pass out from the 2-3 hour ride. It was like riding in a smelly steamy sauna. Last week I got to experience a mini-bus ride in the village with 50+ people on it in 90+ degree heat. I think that my definition of personal space by the end of my service will look very different.
In June, 68 new Peace Corps Moldova volunteers arrived and they have been going through pre-service training, which has brought back all kinds of memories for me from a year ago. (How is it a year ago already?!) I helped with some training sessions for 4 weeks which had me traveling back and forth from site a lot and left me exhausted by the 4th week. Lots of hot 2-hour rutiera rides in those weeks.
In Balti, we said goodbye to 3 of our site mates who we spent the last year with. It feels different with them not being here and they are missed.
The kids in our apartment complex area put on a concert for us, especially for Leah and Paden who at that time were leaving and going back to the US in a few days. It was incredibly touching and so sweet. The evening consisted of dance performances, singing songs, reciting poems and skits in a mix of Russian, Romanian, and English.
Since then, I have had the opportunity to play games outside with them in the evenings. We’ve played dominoes and UNO in a mashup between Russian, Romanian, and English. It’s been a lot of fun to get to know these kids and also challenging as we try to communicate between 3 different languages.
At the end of June, I traveled to a friend’s village to celebrate her birthday with her host family along with a few other volunteer friends. Moldovan’s celebrate well, check out this incredible spread of food!
In July, we celebrated America’s Independence Day in Balti with a BBQ at another PCVs apartment complex outdoor area and invited our host families. You can read more about that experience HERE. Of course, I brought bubbles for the kids that would be there and it was a big hit for some of the neighborhood kids, especially this little guy pictured below.
A few days later in July, my primary organization I work with celebrated their 10 year anniversary. We had a big celebration with some of their partners and beneficiaries with a lunch at a really fancy banquet hall complete with speeches, certificates, gifts, and an abundance of delicious food.
We have a children’s park in our city with old soviet style amusement park rides. One Saturday in July a friend and I decided to go for a ride on the ferris wheel as we were passing through on the way home… because, why not?
I met up with some the girls from my Technovation Challenge team to see one of them sing in a choral concert. I enjoyed the concert and spending time with them afterward hearing about what they have been up to this summer.
Later in July, we had a fun get-together/meeting at another volunteers site. He just moved into a new apartment and we made pizza cake and ate amazing food all day because he’s quite the talented cook. I thought they were joking when they said we were going to make a pizza cake for dinner… no joke, it happened. Best meeting ever!
A few times between June & July, I went to my host family’s village house and enjoyed learning more about their honey bees, helped collect the fruit from the trees and potatoes from the ground, assisted my host mom on some home decorating, and saw a bit of the process that goes to making homemade rachiu with fruit (more on all that another time).
August is going to be a busy month with a friend’s visit from the US, beginning the work for a grant project for two communities in the North of Moldova, and helping out with a summer camp focusing on IT skills for young girls. I’m really looking forward to the next month ahead! PLUS… I recently received fun news that my blog has been selected as one of the finalists in the Peace Corps Third Goal “Blog It Home” contest! Voting on Facebook will happen August 3-10. I will share more details soon as I receive them. Stay tuned!