Friday, January 28, 2011

Fun in Kosovo

I thought you might like to see some video of a typical picnic in Kosovo. I think this link will work.

Fun in Kosovo for sure.

Speaking of fun, we've been having a lot of that lately. No picnics but...

This past week we had dinner with three Minnesotans: two judges and a prosecutor. It was so nice to be talking with native English speakers and Americans at that! Minnesota allows its judges to take a year sabbatical to work abroad making it much easier for them to join a Mission so there have been quite a few of them through here. We had a great time. Interestingly enough we ate at a Thai restaurant - and a really good one, too.

We also experienced "Cinema Civinni" on Wednesday night. Every few weeks a group of Italian judges and lawyers get together to have a bite to eat and watch a movie. Guilianna Civinni organizes this thus the name. Italians are the BEST people to party with. There is always great food and fun. We had typical Italian faro soup - it's kind of like barley - and it was yummy. It was a little odd though to find us Americans watching "Naked Gun" with a bunch of Italians. Seems like it should have been a Fellini flick or something like that but "Naked Gun" it was...and it was funny. The Italians got almost all the gags, too, even the obscure American-reference ones.

There was one other non-Italian there. She is a lawyer from Austria who speaks fluent French, English and, of course, Italian. She got most of the gags, too. Charlie wants them to watch "Blazing Saddles" next. Can you believe the examples of American culture we are exporting! I bet you anything "Dumb and Dumber" will be next. 

Tonight we are going up to the French Base near Mitrovica for dinner. There is a true French restaurant there  (obviously since it is a French Base) and Charlie said it is fabulous. We are meeting some of his Mitrovica friends and are looking forward to a great night. I hear they have true French pate de fois gras. Can't wait! I'll let you know how it goes.

Speaking of Mitrovica, here is my favorite photo of Charlie taken when he was working up there:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

We took a long weekend trip down to Lake Ohrid in Macedonia. This is a huge inland lake with beautiful clear blue water surrounded by mountains. I felt like I had found Shangri-la when we began our entry into the lake area. We left Pristina in cold, rainy, nasty weather and drove four hours in the same. But when we drove down into Lake Ohrid the sky suddenly cleared to reveal a clear, beautiful, warm day. It was amazing. The natives assured us that the weather there is always mild and beautiful. It was a welcome relief from Pristina - especially the fresh, clean, sweet smelling air.  (Pristina had a serious air pollution problem.)

We stayed in a small hotel right on the promenade with a view of the old town on the point.
We had a rather surreal moment when we registered at the hotel The woman at the reception desk was busy speaking Macedonian as we arrived but when we got to the desk to register she immediately switched to Australian accented English! It was weird to hear that accent in the middle of Macedonia. As it turned out, her family owns the hotel and they all spent many years as immigrants to Australia before returning to Lake Ohrid three years ago to buy the hotel.

From the hotel it was a  pleasant five minute walk to the main shopping/tourist area. There were some interesting shops and lots of people.

We arrived on the eve of the orthodox Christmas so there were decorations all around. The tree was up in the square and at night there were lights everywhere. Since I love Christmas, I was delighted to see it all since we had very few decorations in Pristina which is majority Muslim.

On Christmas Day our hotel served a special traditional Macedonian Christmas dinner. We had roast pork with vegetables which was delicious, a salad of chopped onions which wasn't, and a nice dessert.

The owner of the hotel makes wine and is a bee keeper. We brought some of both his wine and honey back with us. The honey is dark, dark brown and has a very distinctive taste - reminds me a bit of molasses.

We took a guided walking tour of the city. Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation on the lake since 6000 years ago. I guess we humans have always liked a nice climate! The city itself has a long history, too.

This is a typical street with stone paving. Our guide said that the original paved street is several feet below this one.

This is a very typical house of the area with a stone foundation and stucco-like upper walls. The upper stories lean over the street. The government is aggressively restoring the town and has set in place regulations governing reconstruction.

The Romans occupied Macedonia for quite a while. They had an important garrison at Ohrid with a significant presence. This is the old amphitheater where Romans watched games and gladiators and now townspeople watch concerts.

Legend has it that there are 365 churches in Ohrid. We didn't see them all but we did see quite  a few. This is one that somehow escaped the Turkish occupation without being turned into a mosque.It is quite small but did have some interesting frescos and icons. We weren't allowed to take any photos in the churches. They are all still used for worship.

The construction of the churches was pretty amazing. The Ottomans did their best to destroy the beautiful mosaics and frescos but we were able to see some pretty impressive remains. Our guide said that they used paint with crushed lapis lazuli for the blue in the frescos and, of course, gold leaf. They spared no expense.

The old city is surrounded by a wall. This is one of its two gates.

If you look closely at this photo you can see the interesting metalwork (scales) on the gate's door. 

As we walked up the hill towards St Clement's church we happened upon this musician playing a traditional Macedonian instrument. When he saw us he knew immediately we were American (can't imagine how) and began to play Jingle Bells. It was quite a moment.

One of the most important churches in Ohrid is the Church of St Clement. He is the patron saint of the city. Next to the church they are excavating an area where he founded a university in the 800's. According to our guide, the Cyrillic alphabet was developed at this university. Interestingly enough, this location was originally a pagan worship site.

Here is a closeup of the outside of the church with its interesting architecture and beautiful stonework.

A restored mosaic of St Clement. The church does indeed have a relic of Clement. At one point his entire body was housed there but now all they have is his arm...or so the story goes.

Ruins with a view.

Another important church is the Church of St. John the Baptist. They picked a beautiful site overlooking the lake.

Here we are after a long climb up the hill.

The city is built right down to the lake. There is a fishing industry here, too. There is even a trout specific to the lake, the Ohrid trout. It is an endangered species so Macedonia forbids any fishing for it. However the lake borders Albania on the western side and they have no such protection there and actively fish for it. Poor fish!

It is a beautiful place. In the summer is it full of tourists from all over the area and as far away as Germany and Russia.

There is an ongoing debate between Macedonia and Greece regarding the country's name. There is a Greek province called Macedonia so the Greeks refuse to acknowledge this country's name.

Macedonia is a big wine producer and has been for a long time. It was one of the major wine producers for the Roman Empire. Charlie visited a beautiful winery in Macedonia last spring. The wine is quite good, too. We still have lots to see in Macedonia.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Christmas in Italy: Part 2

Here is the continuation of our Christmas in Italy.

We went into Lucca to do some last minute Christmas shopping. The weather was chilly and rainy but it was still great to be back in this charming town. It was fun to see all the Christmas shoppers and decorations.

We came upon a flower stand in the Piazza with mistletoe for sale. Renata had already bought some for Casa Bianca and it was hanging from a beam in the living room waiting for kisses. International customs!

And guess who we saw standing on the corner just waiting for a Christmas wish from us.

Afterwards we went home where Charlie helped Renata prepare dinner. He is busy grating cheese while Renata is working her magic. To say she is an excellent cook is an understatement. Everything we ate during our visit was from simple, fresh ingredients and so deliciously and lovingly prepared.

That evening we had fresh greens, sauteed with sausages. Delicious...and beautiful!

We enjoyed many good meals and good conversations. Here we are with friends from down the lane, Sylvia and Nano. One of their daughters is a doctor in Boston. It's a small world.

Christmas Day
Piero and Renata's daughter, Anna, and her boyfriend, Alexandro, arrived with Piero's mother, Maria who is ninety and lives by herself in the heart of Lucca. We were later joined by their friend Franco, who is a retired pharmacist.

Piero made a savory panettone - a small tower of sandwiches with a variety of fillings including truffles, salmon, prosciutto, and tuna. It was delicious and beautiful.We also had a very traditional Christmas sweet which Renata, Anna and Maria make together every year. They make little balls of dough, deep fry them, and then toss them in honey and sugar sprinkles. They didn't last very long!

Renata set a beautiful table. For Christmas dinner we had a boneless capon stuffed with a traditional stuffing and lots of  other good things to eat. This was all followed by a flaming Christmas pudding  with brandied butter. Renata got the recipe for the pudding from a neighbor who is from the UK so it was the real thing - suet and all! Of course, this meal, as with every meal, was served with  a lovely wine and a sparkling dessert wine.

And we had panettone!  The ones from Lucca were made with candied fruit but Franco brought one form his hometown that was made with almonds. We got to eat them for dessert as well as breakfast. Yummy morning or night!

Piero received a vibrating neck rest which he clearly enjoyed.

In fact, it looked so comfy that Maria had to give it a try!

As is typical everywhere, some gifts had to be assembled. Piero received a mechanism for adding gas to water - saves on the Pelegrino bill. (They refer to carbonated water as "water with gas"). The assembly is shown below undertaken by Piero (chemist), Alexandro ( PhD in some sort of sophisticated medical engineering), and Franco (retired pharmacist). Needless to say, the assembly went well and we had homemade water with gas!

Unfortunately, Christmas night Charlie came down with a virus and ran a nasty fever until we left on Wednesday. He spent the rest of our visit on the downstairs couch reading, resting and absorbing Casa Bianca - one of his favorite things.

The day after Christmas we had a more traditional Italian Christmas dinner. Renata's aunt, Franca, joined us that day and helped to prepare the meal. They made a luscious broth of beef, tongue, cheeks, and chicken. In this broth  the traditional Christmas tortellini was cooked. The  meats from the broth were served along with a sausage and accompanied by mustardo which is a type of spiced fruits with a tangy, spicy taste, and mashed potatoes.

Since Charlie was down with the flu, one evening Piero kindly prepared him a special "medicinal" dessert of wine poached pears. They were delicious and did, indeed, make Charlie feel much better. All medicine should taste so good!

Hopefully this will give you some sense of our wonderful visit. It made being away from home much, much easier to bear and we are so thankful to our good friends for including us in their holidays.

Charlie is planning to return to Casa Bianca in the Fall to help with harvesting - either olives or grapes.  I'm planning on returning with him to watch them work!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Settling In

I'm still working on the Christmas in Italy, Part 2 blog.  It will appear sometime soon but I thought you might be interested in just a few day to day things going on here.  Once I perfect getting photos onto the blog, I will do a little photo tour of Pristina so you can see what the city is like.

We live in the heart of downtown Pristina only three blocks from the Supreme Court where Charlie works (photo to follow sometime).  We live in a seven story building with no elevator so I am happy to say we live on the first floor. There is one apartment per floor. Our landlord, Fadil, lives next door in his own home with his family. Over here it is usual for extended families to live together in the same house with each family having one floor. That's what Fadil and his family are doing. I see all ages of people coming and going from every door!

The local school is right across the street. There are so many children here that they have to go to school in shifts. There is the morning crowd and the afternoon crowd so there's lots of traffic and lots of noise around here which I don't mind but which really bothers Sadie. (She is having a bit of difficulty adjusting to all the new sights, smells and sounds here. I know she misses the Frisk family, especially the dogs.)

Just a block away there is a nice grocery store. A couple of days ago I went in and just spent time strolling up and down the aisles seeing what they stock. Grocery shopping has been a real challenge living over here so this gave me a chance to become familiar with Kosovar products. Never underestimate the difficulty of not speaking or reading the local language! I discovered that they actually do have almost everything I would need I just had to look a bit. I felt pretty confident after awhile and brought home ingredients for braised beef short ribs which I prepared for dinner. (They came out great.) Charlie can shop at the US Army base about an hour from here. He stocks up on Oreos, real US bread, Old El Paso Mexican food, Campbell soup, etc there. I can't go onto the base. EULEX also has what is referred to as the "Blue PX" (don't ask me why) in town and they stock hard to find items, mostly Western European. I can't go into the Blue PX either. So Charlie does all the "special" shopping!

Things got much better for us yesterday when EULEX finally gave Charlie got a brand new car for his personal use. It's a Nissan Pathfinder - you have to have a 4-wheel drive here - roads are terrible. I'm not allowed to drive it nor can we take it out of the country but it is our car and will make life much easier. We can't park it at the apartment because EULEX requires a secure parking lot. That means a 24 hour guard and/or a locked gate neither of which we have here. So we will have to find a lot. There is one about 3 blocks away which will hopefully have space for us. We are looking to buy a car but haven't found the right deal yet. Then I would be able to drive and we could travel around in it.

Last weekend we went to Lake Ohrid, Macedonia (story and photos to follow) so this weekend we are going to stick around here. There is a beautiful park on the outskirts of the city - up in the mountains where the air is clean - where we will take Sadie for some exercise. She stays in a boarding kennel when we are gone and I know she misses us. She did have an infected foot last week and we found a really nice vet here. He took great care of her and her foot is healed.

So I am beginning to settle in here. We have what we need: a roof over our heads (no earthquake yet), electricity (that goes out only occasionally), water (that is shut off from midnight to six in the morning), food (I have mastered the Kosovo market!),  a car (I can't drive), and each other (me, Charlie and Sadie).  Now if I can only get the Christmas, Part 2 and the Lake Ohrid posts done...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Christmas in Italy

Our good friends, Piero and Renata Smaniotto, invited us to spend the Christmas holidays with them at their home in Lucca, Italy. It had been eight years since we were last in Lucca and six years since we had seen the Smaniotto's so we were so happy to get the invitation and delighted to be going to Lucca again, especially for Christmas.

Casa Bianca is incredibly beautiful. It was originally a farm house in the hills above Lucca. Piero and Renata have restored and improved it so that today it is worthy of it's own issue of House Beautiful. Not only is the house beautiful but the surrounding land is also gorgeous. Piero has his own vineyard and olive groves and Renata has a multitude of beautiful flowers and plants in the gardens surrounding the house.

Here the drive in front of the house. The vineyard is down the hill to the left and the olive trees are everywhere.
A welcoming door.
The mountains in the distance were snow capped. Lucca is in the valley below.

The side yard. There are all sorts of flowers in this garden...everything from gardenias and roses to oranges and figs. Renata is wonderful gardener and it shows. We hope to go back in the spring to see it all in bloom.

The woodpile and view.
The terrace.
Piero's wine storage.

A jug they dug out of the ground. It was probably used for some sort of storage.
Hoops from an old barrel. The green netting you see in the background hanging from the olive trees is used during the olive harvest.
Everywhere you look there is something beautiful. This is just a small sample of the beauty outdoors.

Here are some photos of the inside of Casa Bianca.
The living room.
Going upstairs.
Pelo, the cat, at the fireplace.A warm fire, a toscanno and a glass of Casa Bianca wine. This is the life.The upstairs room. This room previously was used to store hay for the animals who were housed below in what is now the kitchen. The family shared living quarters with their livestock at that time.
Upstairs window.Renata's father had made wine at Casa Bianca for years but Piero is now working to improve the grapes and their wine. He has planted new varieties of grapes and is working to create just the right taste. It certainly met with our approval!

Piero also produces olive oil and I have never tasted any oil so delicious. Even though we have different types of olive oil in the states, I assure you nothing can compare to olive oil from Casa Bianca. It is just so good!

Now that I have set the stage I must tell you about our wonderful Christmas. But that will have to be another blog. I have a new Mac and am learning how to get this blog all up and running so it is taking forever to get anything posted! I am going to leave off here and post all about Christmas within a day or two. Believe me, it is worth the wait!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Hello Friends and Family.
Little did I know at my last post in March that it would be December 5 before I saw Kosovo again! We have a beautiful new grandson, Leo Aaron Ludwick, who was born on May 11 as healthy as could be. Charlie came home in June to see little Leo and to take me back but unfortunately our Kat contracted a very serious type of staph infection from the hospital and was deathly ill. She was in the hospital almost two weeks and then on very heavy duty intravenous antibiotics for 45 days. Thank goodness the antibiotics worked and she is now much better. Of course, I stayed to take care of little Leo and his mommy. I was so glad to be there! I feel so very fortunate that this ended well. I also have a new appreciation for life and living it. Don't ever take it for granted.
So we are back in Kosovo. We returned on December 5. There have been quite a few changes here. Charlie signed up for another year here and has a new job as the Vice-President of the Assembly of EULEX Judges and as such sits on the Kosovo Supreme Court. He moved to Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, in October so I am learning a new city and meeting lots of new people. And we also decided to bring our dog, Sadie, with us. She is adjusting but the noise, smells, and new environment have been a bit stressful for her. We did find a very nice pet store and vet so that was good.
It has only been four weeks since we got here but we have been very busy. The first couple of weeks I think we ate out with someone practically every night. I enjoyed meeting Charlie's co-workers and friends and they do have some very good restaurants here. We took a quick trip up to Mitrovica (our first home here) for a holiday party with old friends from there. It was so much fun and I really enjoyed seeing all the familiar faces. The new mayor of Mitorvica has an ambitious new plan to "beautify" the city, especially along the riverfront. It was nice to see that they are trying to improve their city.
We spent Christmas with our good friends Piero and Renatta Smaniotto in Lucca, Italy. We were there a week and it was a week in heaven. I'll write an entire post about it later - with photos. Piero and Renatta are not only lovely, warm, kind, fun people but also the best host and hostess ever! We had a wonderful time. Poor Charlie did come down with the flu Christmas night and was sick the rest of the time but what a place to be sick! He laid on the couch reading and enjoying the Italian hospitality.
So now we are back and settling in. We are planning on traveling - Charlie has found some beautiful places in the area to visit - and we are looking into trips to Istanbul and Egypt during the winter. We are going to Dublin in March for Maggie's birthday.
Welcome back to the blog! I hope I have some interesting and fun stories for you all.
Happy New Year!