Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas from Kosovo!

Charlie and I are spending Christmas in Kosovo. We will be thinking of all our family and friends as we toast you on Christmas Day. Health and Happiness to you all! You make our lives so special

We began getting into the Christmas spirit in Vienna and continued it onto Prague. Then I spent last week in Dublin with Maggie, Robin and Lyla making Christmas cookies, shopping, enjoying all the decorations and being immersed in the Christmas tide.

On Christmas Day we are having some fellow Americans (and one really great German guy) over for dinner. We are having ham! Unbelievable in this Muslim country! One of our friends got it from the US Embassy so we are set.

It is always fun to try to replicate US holiday feasts here. I was looking for cream of tartar for cookies and two really nice men at the grocery store kept bringing me various packaged mixes to make pudding (cream?). It may be a challenge to get things here but the people are always so nice and try so hard to help you.

We have five more weeks here. I have LOTS of packing to do. How did we accumulate so much stuff! And I do have several adventures to post for you readers. We are going to Italy for New Years so, hopefully, I'll get those posts written in 2012 before we leave for home.

May your Christmas be fun and happy and your New Year healthy and full of happy surprises!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Vienna: November 2011

We just got back from weekend in Vienna. What a beautiful city! And it was all decked out for Christmas so that made it even better. We stayed in the inner city near everything we wanted to see. The pedestrian walking area was just outside out hotel door. Every street had a different light display. Some were quite elaborate. It was so beautiful at night. I definitely got into the Christmas spirit! (You might note the McDonald's sign in the upper right. McDonald's is everywyhere...and there was a Starbuck's right across the street.  I think it's quite cheeky of Starbuck's to establish itself in Vienna - the home of European coffee.)

The Christmas Markets were open and we enjoyed them so much. Here are some photos of the three we were able to get to.

Our first Market was in a small neighborhood and had some really unique offerings. I found a lady who made rose "liquer" for use in baking...and drinking. It's fantastic. 

This market had the most unusual things to see both in the stalls and out...

The biggest market is held on the plaza just outside the Vienna City Hall. The City Hall is a beautiful backdrop for it and it is big. 
There are stalls offering everything! Decorations, gifts, foods, drinks of every kind.  Of course there are every kind of sausage you can imagine to eat and... the very special hot mulled wine. Yummy!

What would a Austrian Christmas Market be without a gingerbread house.
In the evening we went to another market in the Maria Theresa Square. It was especially fun at night and they had a stage with musicians playing.

Charlie liked the candy stall...
I thought these hats were interesting and a fun display. There were lots of stalls with hats. They are a very necessary article of clothing in the Austrian winter.

After being dragged all over the Markets, Charlie was happy to sit in a typical Vienese cafe and have some hot chocolate. The hot chocolate there is indescribly delicious. Definitely NOT Swiss Miss.

I loved this window display in the Lanz store. It is a "drindle"which is a traditional Austrian woman's dress. They had them in different styles and a wide array of colors.

As we strolled the streets, Charlie was happy to find his link to Austria: the Rosenbeger Market. He had Rosenbergers in his family tree.

Our hotel was beautifully decorated, too. I loved this table in the entry.

And the hotel's Chef had made his own gingerbread house for the lobby.

One of the highlights of our trip was my birthday dinner at the Grand Hotel. It was truffle week in Vienna so we had truffles with every course...including dessert! Absolutely unforgettable.

Here is Charlie in the hotel's lobby right before we left for the airport to go back to Pristina. I think it describes how we both felt after our whirlwind trip to Vienna...tired, ready to sit awhile, but happy!

I am going to try to catch up on our adventures this week. I have to tell you about our wonderful time in Lucca and other stuff. I will get busy on that.

Charlie has definitely decided that he will not "re-up" for another year so we will be heading home the last weekend of January. So...I better get caught up before this adventure is over!

Friday, October 14, 2011

It is a beautiful day in Pristina. After cold, rainy weather and serious electrical and water problems, this is a welcome change. It is interesting to be in a country that is trying so hard to improve. They are installing fiber optic cables so our internet connection is on-and-off. They are trying to improve the electricity grid so our power is off way too much. But ...a few inconveniences for the better.

One huge improvement made this summer is sidewalks!!! Every time I go downtown I just want to skip along the beautiful paved sidewalks! Can you imagine walking on dirt/mud, broken rocks, with missing manhole covers. It is such an improvement. Now if they will just shovel them when it snows.....

We are going to a beautiful winery this weekend in Macedonia. We have been there before and really enjoy it. Several EULEX people will be joining us so it should be fun. It will be good to get away.

The situation in the north with the Serbs is still a problem. Along the border the Serbs have dumped gravel over 6 feet high on the roads leading into Kosovo's border crossings to deter any traffic coming into or leaving. Groups of them are camped out near these huge hills of grave to guard them. Last weekend they even had a wedding at one of the campsites! It is a problem that could become more serious quickly so I do hope some resolution is reached soon. It is especially difficult since the courthouse in Mitrovica is in the north. Now no one from Kosovo can get to the courthouse so it makes for a very disjointed administration of justice...if any. We shall see.

I have so many photos to post! I will begin working on catching up with our travels. I am leaving Monday for Dublin for two weeks. Maybe then....

Here are some photos of our home here.

Here's our house. There are four flats. All but ours are occupied by Romanian police men.

Here is our "street". We now have some gravel on it so it isn't as muddy as last winter. This is the street with no name.

Our entry door.

The living room. It's very comfortable. The windows and light are great.

Our cosy fireplace.

My wonderful kitchen!

Dining room/office.

Balcony off the dining room.

View from the balcony down to Pristina.

My trusty car. I just found out that the previous owner had diplomatic plates (which came with the car) so I can park and go wherever I like! No wonder the others drivers have been so nice to me.

Home of our landlord's family and our housekeepers. They ( mom, dad, four adult sons and one adult daughter) live in the bottom floor which is competed. They will finish the house and move up to the other floors and money and needs dictate.She is quite a gardener. You can see all the fruit trees and a plastic "quonset hut" where they grew vegetables.

We are very comfortable here and feel fortunate to have found such a nice place. Sadie loves running in the hills behind us.It's a good place.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I'm Back!

I can't believe it is almost October! Where has the time gone?!

We have had quite an eventful summer. My last post was about our trip to Ireland in March. Since then so much has happened. In April we spent a wonderful week in Paris. In May we returned to the US to celebrate the birthdays of our grandsons. Leo was one on May 14 and Charlie was two on May 19. I then stayed on in Council Bluffs until early June.

Shortly after retuning to Pristina in June, Charlie's mother was moved to hospice care. We came home again to visit her and I stayed on until her death. She was an exceptional woman and died August 4 on her 99th birthday. Charlie's brother and two sisters, along with me, as Charlie's "representative", sang Happy Birthday to her that day. She passed on just a couple of hours later. It was a good and peaceful passing for a good and loving woman.

We were all home for the funeral. Charlie had to get back to Kosovo but Maggie and Lyla stayed on until the end of August. They left on the 23rd and I left on the 24th. Now I'm back and not planning to return to the US until the end of January. And that return will be for good!

The last week of July there was some unrest in northern Kosovo which caused some concern. The border crossings from Serbia into Kosovo are tense because the Serbs there refuse to recognize Kosovo's independence (There are many reasons behind this) Unfortunately, a Kosovar police officer was shot and killed at a border crossing. Things have settled down a bit but nothing is really resolved. The governments are talking but the issues remain. Hopefully, they will reach meaningful agreements very soon so the borders can function properly and goods and people can travel without incident. Unfortunately, the barricades remain up. We'll see what happens next.

I have been wanting to show you some everyday sights in Pristina. Now seems like a good time so...

This is Pristina. The city is located is a pretty setting surrounded by mountains. Much of the architecture is of the old communist Yugoslavian era. The large building on the left with the "spires" is of that era and houses a small shopping center and a large youth center. The new "skyscraper" is the new European Union building.

This is the Supreme Court building where Charlie works. It is located on a main street downtown. I'll do more on Charlie and his work in another blog.

This is a pretty typical downtown street. Since there is not enough parking cars park just about anywhere including the sidewalk.

This is Mother Teresa street. It was converted into a pedestrian walking mall and on weekends in the spring and summer various merchants set up stalls to sell their wears. That's a popcorn wagon on the left.

Last weekend we went strolling along Mother Teresa and saw some such merchants. This stall sold traditional Albanian costumes. The ones below are for boys.

This is a girl's costume. These items are supposed to be handmade, even the shoes. The embroidery and hand sewing can be very intricate, often with much beading. The shoes are interesting, too.

This man is making traditional hats for men. We were told that these hats are worn by the head of the house to signify his place in the family

Here is a man wearing his hat. They are usually older men, often in suits. In the winter they will wrap a scarf around the base for warmth. It looks a bit like a turban.

This man was carving flutes.  He has his hat on, too. He ws so happy to get his picture taken!

Honey is quite the product here. There are lots of different types and flavors.  This stall was selling honey made from pine trees. It had a unique flavor but I prefer honey from flowers.

 We enjoyed the market. It is nice to have a a pedestrian area in the city for this kind of activity.

Just off Mother Teresa there is a new hotel going up - a nice example of improvements.

Kosovars love their coffee! This is one of my favorite coffee shops, Amelie. In the afternoon it is full of students from Pristina University. It is very modern and the coffee is really good!

 Our local pet store. There are two vets here who take great care of Sadie.

I had to take a photo of this sign. 3M in Kosovo! My father - who worked for 3M his entire career - would love it!

This is Pristina's electricity plant.  It burns soft coal so the pollution is terrible. They do have a few wind turbines set up on the hills near the airport but electricity is a big issue here.

This sight is not really too uncommon here. Oftentimes the horses are decorated with ribbons and bells. And the different variations on wagons is very interesting. 

Spring is very beautiful in Kosovo. The fields are covered with flowers like this, especially the beautiful red poppies. The locals call them "blood flowers" because they are said to  have sprung up from the blood shed at the battle of Kosovo in 1380 when the Turks defeated them.

I'll end for now with this lovely photo. More later on Charlie's work and our place. It's good to be back.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dublin Bay and Glendalough

During my last week in Dublin Robin and I took Lyla to her favorite place - Dublin Bay. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed the sea so much. We went to Sandymount which is just a few minutes from their home in Donnybrook. Lyla loves the sand, water and ships.

On my last weekend there, we went to Glendalough in the Wicklow mountains. Glendalough is an ancient monastery founded by St. Kevin and one of the most famous ancient ruins in Ireland.

The stream as you enter the grounds.

Remains of the church

Daffodils brightening one of the many headstones.

 More headstones and the remains of "St. Kevin's Kitchen"

 Celtic cross in the graveyard.

Glendalough is in a beautiful valley of the Wicklow mountains

Lyla in the church window

The upper lake at Glendalough. There is a beautiful national park here with trails and areas for family picnics.
 Some signs of life in the wall ruins.
It was a great experience. Can't wait to go back.