Saturday, December 08, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

This year the Americans at our school hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for the non-American staff. We managed to bring in 6 turkeys along with the rest of the traditional good stuff: mashed potatoes and gravy, candied yams, cranberry sauce, 4 types of stuffing (inlcuding Stove-Top!...thanks to, green-bean casserole, jello, pumpkin bars, apple pie, and apple crisp. Our director hosted it in his house, and about 30-40 people showed up.


Here's a picture of the new love in our life...Scout. We first thought the cat was a "she" so we named her Scout after a beloved and famous novel character. Then we found out the cat was a "he". So now the name has taken on a more masculine, militaryesque tone. Now we have a boyScout instead of a girlScout.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Korca Itself

Ok, I got so frustrated trying to format that last post, I ended it. I couldn't get those last two pictures to separate. So I'm starting another one of Korca itself. And I'm not even going to try to find the correct 'c' for Korca anymore. So once in Korca, we visited the beer factory, the first Albanian school, Entela's family, the Orthodox cathedral, and the market. Pictures follow. (Can you tell I'm slightly frustrated

?) Korca is really a beautiful city, though. There are many lovely old buildings and about half of the city's streets are cobblestone. The traffic is far less than in Tirana, almost sparce. So it was a really peaceful weekend.

The Korca Beer Factory. It was nice, but mostly I'm glad to say I've been there. The beer at the factory wasn't as good, though, as it is in the bottle. I've heard that with Guiness, it's better the closer to the factory you have it in Ireland. I guess it's not the same with all beers. When Entela told our Taxi driver what I said about its been bitter, he blamed it on the German manufacturing process. Hmmm.

The first school ever in Albania, I guess, was not really open when we went there. There were men inside wearing dust masks and doing renovations. They were really friendly though and, although only construction workers, still offered to show us around. It is a museum now.

Here is a picture of the school's courtyard.

This is the new Cathedral. They were preparing it for a wedding, but we still got to go inside and see it. Certainly was lovely, both in side and out. Inside, there was a wooden chandelier about as big as our living room. Majestic, indeed.

This is probably the most famous of old buildings in the town.

Market pictures.

And one last shot of a lovely side street in Korca. They all looked like this. I like the blend of modern and traditional, too, with the In Accessories store on the corner.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Weekend in Korça

We had an extra day off from school for Mother Teresa Day (She was Albanian, you know) and went with our friend Entela to her home town in the mountainous south. She had tried to get us a room at a cosy little villa, but when an important politician decided to stay there the same weekend, we magically lost our reservations. So we stayed at a pretty nice hotel called the Grand Hotel (included decent breakfast in a very cold room). Here is a picture of the lobby.

The trip going to and from Korça was one of the most interesting aspects of the weekend. By some unforeseen luck, a car was provided for us so we didn’t have to take the bus, which was really nice, in retrospect, since on the way back we had to take the bus. That was quite an experience.
The winding road with hairpin turns and switchbacks up and down the sides of mountains were enough to make several of our fellow passengers lose their lunches (Did we tell you the bus driver always passes out plastic bags for that purpose at the starts of these trips?). However, both going and coming, the views were incredible.

Here is another view. These pictures aren't the best since they were taken out the window of a moving bus.

We also passed through several towns along the way. Elbasan is an industrial city. Tons of factories spilling out gray smoke there, but we also passed a nice market place. Again, not the best pictures since taken from the bus.

And here's a guy on his cart, driving through town. This seemed to be a pretty common form of transport.

The other cool town was Pogradec. It's beside beautiful lake Ohrid so I took a lot of shots there. Interesting man there selling peanuts off the back of his bicycle and selling the passerby a chance to see his or her weight. I guess that helps you decide whether or not you really need the peanuts.

There were some lovely swans on the pond too. I don't know, maybe it was a waterway that connected to the lake, somehow.
And here's a boat on the lake. The day was cloudy, it rained on and off, and we were chilly when we got out of the car to take photos on our journey to Korça, but the pictures still turned out nice.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Rainy Day in Tirana

This is the view from our balcony yesterday (kind of reminds me of our trip to St. Louis, see below). We had to stitch a couple of photos together to get this panaroma of it. Of course this picture doesn't do the real thing justice. It really was an amazing sight! I know that in the Bible God sent the rainbow as a promise not to destroy the earth with flood waters again, but hopefully this is God's promise to SEND some rain to Albania.

Return to Tirana

We arrived to a drought-ridden land facing a major energy crisis. Albania relies on hydro-electric power, many of the plants having been built during the communist era. The government placed restrictions on energy consumption this summer. We've heard that some people in Albania were going for days without water and there have been many reported food related poisonings in the hospitals due to the electricity/water crisis. The heat and drought didn't hit us as hard, but it was still intense. At first we were mainly living in our one room with air conditioning, even pulling our bed in there to sleep. Now, for the last few days, the rain has come, but it will take a lot more of it to get Albania out of it's woes. We're expecting a hard winter.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


I, Travis, have been playing with numbers. I have this addiction to Sudoku that I'm not even trying to buck. Also, I've had the opportunity to teach Middle School Mathematics for the last three years. I've really had fun with that. So I guess that's how my art is beginning to bend into the subject of numbers. The beauty of those nine digits really facinates me. I'm not sure exactly what it is about them, or where I'm going with all of this, but I don't want to stop just yet. I have a lot more to explore in this area. Please check out my other paintings at the link listed here. Thanks.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Anniversary, St. Louis, MO

For their 5th anniversary, Travis whisked Amy away to St. Louis, Missouri for two nights. Here's the view from the hotel room.

St. Louis Zoo

We went to the zoo. Travis stopped to rest.

Cathedral Basilica, St. Louis, MO

This Romanesque cathedral in St. Louis was begun in 1907 and houses 83,000 square feet of mosaic art

Birthday Bash!

In late June, we celebrated Joyce's (Travis' mom) birthday by partying it up in Indianapolis, Indiana. We ate at fun restaurants, went to the spa (ladies only), took a walking historical tour of Indianapolis (courtesy of tour guide Mark Vanest) and strolled the canal area by surrey. What a fun weekend!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Back to Durres

We had a good time going to Durres with friends. Arte (Arta) teaches with us at school. She and her husband (Bata) and son (Sokol) also go to the church we’ve been to many times. They are all fluent in English and, more importantly, a lot of fun and an encouragement to us. We really like their company. So they took us in their car to a lovely restaurant on the seaside in the middle of a strip of beach full of hotels and cafes. We had some great local grilled fish, salads, wine, and bread. Then they took us to a really nice hotel for ice cream. After that they took us down the road a little farther and dropped us off in a patch of hotels and we said goodbye.

Durres, Albania

We walked around looking for the right hotel and finally wound up where we started with a nice room and a decent view. We went out for a pizza for dinner at a place called Troy.

Beach Time

After breakfast the next morning we walked the rest of the way, about a kilometer or two, into Durres and hung out along the sea. The weather was fair: sunny with a breeze, but not quite warm enough. We watched some crabs blow bubbles on some rocks and then decided to get a taxi and go back out to the beaches for some beach time.
Finding a taxi, we got out there and had lunch and relaxed on beach chairs for a while and then decided to come home. We didn’t know exactly how to do that since we weren’t near a bus stop. So we crossed the highway and stood there for a while until a white delivery van flashed his lights at us and Travis held out his hand to say, “Yes, please.”The guy pulled over and asked where we were going. We said to Tirana and asked how much. He said, “No money, Pa Lek.” So we said great and hopped in. He took us near town where we caught another bus, which took us into the middle of Tirana where we got a taxi to take us the rest of the way. It was our little adventure. Travis particularly enjoyed the weekend, because I really focused on using Albanian and tried to use new words and our little phrase book. Amy particularly enjoyed the relaxation and just getting away from distractions at home.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sunday in Tirana

It's a rather noisy Sunday here in Tirana. As I'm working to update all of you on the last couple months of our lives, gunshots are ringing (have been ringing for the last 3 hours) at the shooting range RIGHT NEXT to our house. Ugh. This morning we were awoken to loud wedding music being played at the neighbor's house. Actually the music has been going almost non-stop for a week now. It starts about 7:30 am and sometimes doesn't end until 11:00 at night or so. We're headed to Golem Beach in Durres (the coast of Albania) to get away from it all and have some R and R for a couple of days. Stay tuned for pictures.

Wandering the Balkans with friends

I (Amy) think I’m going through empty nest syndrome. All the friends are gone and the house is quiet once again. We’ve had two fun-filled weeks of roaming the Balkans with Wes, Penni, Chris, Andrea, Matt and Entela. Here’s a recap:

Matt came to Tirana on Thursday March 29th. After a day’s rest or so he took off to the South of Albania. On Saturday March 31st, we picked Wes and Penni up at the airport. They were determined to fight the jet lag and stay awake until bedtime, so we strolled around Tirana and ate some good Albanian home-cooking at Petro’s Kitchen Club, one of our favorite little eateries owned by this guy who speaks about 4 different languages and has had 10 restaurants in the past 9 years. The food it traditionally Albanian and very well done, although the restaurant is more of a shack. The tables are wobbly and the outdoor seating is literally in his yard. We think he lives in the upstairs part. He has one other cook and one waitress working with him. And the bill always comes late. We love it, though. We sure hope this one sticks. On Sunday we took them (along with Entela) to the port city of Durres and had an amazing seafood dinner on the water.

Travis and Wes conquering one of Hoxha's bunkers-Durres, Albania

Entela, Amy, Penni dining by the sea- Durres, Albania

Ulcinj, Montenegro

Now on to Montenegro where we traveled up the coast, hitting the cities of Ulcinj, Sveti Stefan, Budva and Kotor. Monday we woke up bright and early and the six of us (Travis, Amy, Wes, Penni, Entela, Matt) grabbed a couple of taxis and headed to the buses. In Tirana, there are official bus stations, but many of the buses just congregate on major streets on the way out of town. We found the bus and headed to Shkoder, a northern Albanian city, where, during lunch at a totally local hole-in-the-wall eatery, met a famous Albanian actor who bought us all a round of Raki, a very alcoholic drink that looks and tastes similar to vodka but is made from grapes. He said he was celebrating because he just got back from the States where he'd landed some sort of contract or movie deal. From there, slightly woozy, we picked up a bus that would take us to Ulcinj, a coastal town where, even though it is in Montenegro, the majority of the population is Albanian. It’s a lovely city with a charming old town inside a fortress, long beaches and rocky cliffs. It’s said to have been a favorite destination of pirates and at one point even housed the famous writer Miguel de Cervantes (“Don Quixote”) who was held captive there for 5 years. While we were there, there were rumors flying of Adrian Brody (The Pianist, King Kong) in town filming “The Brothers Bloom”. On a stroll through the old city, we happened upon the production office for the movie. Travis asked if it was the movie in which Mr. Brody was starring and the women in the office dodged his questions fearing him to be a stalker. Travis took the hint. However, we remained vigilant, looking out for him around street corners or relaxing at a restaurant.

Ulcinj, Montenegro

Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

We stayed a night in Ulcinj and then continued up the coast on Tuesday. Our next stop: Sveti Stefan (St. Stefan). A treasure of an island in the mighty Adriatic, connected to the beach by a short walkway. It was once an old fishing village until someone snatched it up and converted the whole island into one giant hotel with rooms costing about 200 euros a night. Needless to say we didn’t stay there, but admired the view from afar. You actually couldn’t even go onto the island. It is closed for 2 years to “give it a rest” from eager tourists like us tromping through its historic cobblestone pathways.

Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

Budva, Montenegro

From Sveti Stefan we headed to Budva, evidenced to be one of the oldest settlements on the Adriatic. According to Wikipedia, a famous legend tells that Cadmus the Phoenician, who was exiled from Thebes, took up refuge in Budva with his wife, Harmonia. In 1979, a powerful earthquake destroyed much of the old city, which has since been restored. Once we arrived there, we needed a place to stay, so we walked around, knocking on doors, asking if anyone had rooms for rent. We found some in a house up on the hill, with gorgeous views of the sea and the old city. We spent our time there walking around the old city and the beaches. There was great eating to be done there, which we did.

The Old City and Marina- Budva, Montenegro

View from our Room- Budva, Montenegro

Kotor, Montenegro

On Wednesday we left for Kotor, the highlight of the trip. It rests in a little bay in a river canyon creating a dramatic landscape. The delightful old city is suggested to be one of the oldest medieval towns on the Adriatic and is kept in such good condition. It’s been declared an UNESCO world heritage site. After walking through the narrow cobblestone town streets, we hiked up the mountain to St. John’s fortress and to a church built by the survivors of the plague. The hike was intense, climbing 1,350 crumbling steps. Apparently it wasn't intense enough for Travis who decided to get off the beaten path for part of the climb and head straight up a grassy, rocky part of the mountain. he was detered from ever doing that again by a rather large black snake that seemed to be detered by him too as it scooted away quickly into the rocks. From the top, the view of the fjord was beautiful, with mountains surrounding a series of breathtaking bays, encircled by red roofed houses and other old buildings.

At the Church- Kotor, Montenegro

Left to Right: Penni, Wes, Travis, Amy, Entela, Matt

View from St. John's Fortress- Kotor, Montenegro

St. John's Fortress- Kotor, Montenegro

More friends arrive!

After Kotor we spent one more night in Budva and then headed home. It took us about 3 hours to get back to Tirana by the same way we came. The next Saturday, Chris and Andrea arrived! We were SO happy to see them! We spent Saturday trying to keep them awake and then Sunday we went to Kruja, a little mountain town about 45 minutes from Tirana which is the center for Albanian souvenirs and antiques. We visited a castle there, had lunch and shopped. We also had an encounter with a turkey which Travis tried to speak to in its own language. On Monday morning, we took a bus to the old Albanian city of Berat and stayed the night. The next day, Matt, Chris, Andrea, Wes and Penni headed off for the Greek isle of Corfu and Travis and I sadly journeyed back to Tirana without them (we had to teach the next day).

Lunching in Berat, Albania

Wes, Penni, Matt, Chris, Andrea, and Amy - For more on Berat, see earlier posts.

At Taiwan Fountain: Us with Matt and Chris- Tirana, Albania

Taiwan is a popular restaurant/bowling alley/dessert parlor here in Tirana.
In March our school flew us to Sanaa, Yemen where we completed our writing of the new Reading and Language Arts curriculum for our organization of schools, QSI. We stayed right in the beautiful old city of Sanaa. The buildings all look like wedding cakes, with their mud-brick facades and white frosted windows and decorations. Being in the old city felt in many ways like going back to the old west. The men and boys each wear a knife, called a jambia, around their waists and some of the men carry rifles or pistols as they walk through the streets. One man (see picture below) was very proud of his rifle and asked if we wanted a demonstration. Travis said sure, but Amy emphatically declined the offer. The women of Yemen, on the other hand are in stark contrast, quiet and elusive, wearing all black and covered from head to foot with only their eyes and the tips of their shoes showing. The head covering is due to family tradition rather than government mandate, so Amy didn’t have to cover up. However, a friend of ours who was writing curriculum with us, purchased and donned a balto (the full covering) and walked through the market just to see what would happen. The women were awed that a foreigner would wear it, actually stopping and turning their heads as she walked by (I’m sure they could tell by her walk and her shoes that she was a foreigner). The men had mixed reactions. Some of them would look at her, put their thumbs up, smile and yell, “Yemeni!” Some would gawk. It was an interesting social experiment. All in all, we loved Yemen. Travis was able to use his Arabic and Amy had fun seeing her husband’s more “Arab” side. Check out some of the photos below and click on the link for more Yemen photos.

Sanaa, Yemen

Big Blacksmith, Little Blacksmith