So my first Christmas ever away from home was not near as sad as I expected it to be. Of course I was sad because I missed my loves and family at home, but I ended up spending Christmas Eve as well as Christmas with some pretty wonderful people who made some very delicious food, and we even went to an art exhibition on Christmas Eve to add to the goodness.
Going to Strumica on Christmas Day was quite the adventure, as our cab from the bus station took us to the wrong neighborhood on the opposite end of town. En route, he stopped and yelled out his window to a passer by asking where to take the Americans. Once we got to where he thought we should go, even though we told him exactly where we actually needed to go and even had it written down for him, it was quickly apparent that it wasn’t where we were supposed to be. He and another man hanging out in the street tried to usher us into the home that they thought we should go into, and we said ‘no, not here’… all of this going on in Macedonian… at one point I thought I heard English in the distance and had some hope, but it was only an olfactory illusion. The cab driver said that he would figure it out and sped off down the mud road. We stood there laughing and trying to call our friends where we were supposed to be, but they didn’t answer. A few minutes later, we see our cab hurtling back towards us through the mud… in reverse. He pulls up (or down, I suppose being as he had just rocketed at least a mile in reverse) and he had somehow found Jim, another volunteer who actually lives in the home that the man dropped us off at. It all becomes clear! We were so happy to see him. So we hopped back in the car, and proceeded to our actual destination about 20 minutes in the other direction.
Christmas Day and Night was a foodie’s delight for sure. Great company, great food, a couple gallons of eggnog that was inhaled by all but me within about an hour, and bottles and bottles of rakija, mulled wine, and some amazing desserts that I pretended not to be insulin resistant for, just because its Christmas :) Our cheeks hurt from laughing so much, and no one wanted to go to bed because the conversations were too hilarious and wonderful. I have some pictures, but most of them are on others’ cameras so I will share when I can.
On Monday, I got to go to Mavrovo for a meeting regarding the development of a grant that we’re working on. I was expecting a deserted mountain cabin, but instead was presented with a beautiful ski mountain and lodging, and somehow I ended up with the suite at the top of the hotel. Joy! The food was good, the scenery was amazing, even though there was a ton of fog. The hotel staff was fabulously kind, the guard dogs were super cute, and my Jacuzzi tub was wonderful, though not as hot as I was hoping :) Once I had the ipod going and was in the water, I hit the button to start jets run by an engine that was apparently obtained from an old airplane. I just turned the ipod up louder and closed my eyes… after a few minutes it sounded like a second airplane was joining the first and I stopped the jets only to realize the noise was coming from the toilet. In this moment I was very glad I knew how to fix a toilet, as calling the front desk while in a towel standing outside my bubbly Jacuzzi while yelling over the sound screaming from the toilet did not seem like a very appealing scenario.
Lidija and I also went to explore the other hotel and further up the mountain, which ended up actually being where the ski lift started. It was really beautiful with no people there, just sparkling snow and some leftover ski tracks from the day. One of my favorite sounds in the world is the crunching of snow under your feet on a silent night. It was also especially beautiful because there is almost zero traffic up there. The snow is left to its beauty on every branch, bush and rooftop. It is not stained brown by exhaust or mud… it was so pristine and sharp, it looked like the Original Artist had spent hours perfecting the placement of every flake and creating lines so visually thin and perfect, the contrast against the wood was incredible in its detail and amount. There was a very old church that was built before the lake got to be as high as it is, and now the roof is caved in and it looks like its floating in the water. It was so beautiful… see pictures (of this and all Christmas adventures so far): http://picasaweb.google.com/enger.emily
I still have New Years and the Macedonian Christmas (Jan. 5-7) to celebrate, so more to come!