20 August 2008

Greetings from Kosovo (pt 5)

I've been dreadfully remiss I know. I'm swamped with work that leaves little time for the pleasures of blogging.

One of my colleagues here read my coffee grounds for me the other day. I've been reading Tarot cards and palms and the like for years but I've never had anyone read my coffee grounds. I've been told that she's extremely accurate and I can only hope so because I have to say I liked her predictions! I'm going to have a rather heated conversation with someone that will be unpleasant but will eventually lead to success (I hope for me). She also saw me talking with a man and said that by the end of the year I would not be alone..which lead to a lot of requests for wedding invitations from my other colleagues. I can only hope that she saw the same man whom I've been eyeing and that "not alone" meant not alone with him.

If you ever find yourself in Kosovo I can only say that you won't starve. The food here is excellent. For one thing, everything is fresh and comes from the various farms around Kosovo and sometimes Albania or Macedonia. I am a dyed in the wool carnivore, I would eat bloody steaks everyday if I could afford it...and here I can! Last night I had an amazing thick and juicy flank steak served with carmelized onions in a balsamic reduction for the ridiculously low price of 6 Euros. Both the meat and the seasoning they use for donners here are amazing (the beef, lamb, and chicken varieties), fish is incredible, and fruits and veg fresh and tasty. They have several excellent green markets in addition to supermarkets and market prices are incredibly low.

One thing I've found that I did not like was their yogurt. I've become accustomed to having yogurt with most of my meals in Serbia so when it was offered here I decided to try theirs. I have to say...I am not a fan of the natural yogurt. I enjoy the fruit flavored, sugared up, slightly tangy yogurt. The fresh home made stuff I had the other day was thin like milk and tasted like the liquid part of cottage cheese. I managed to drink a respectable amount of what felt like a very large glass...but I will not be having seconds!

They do have excellent ice cream here though. Yay for ice cream.

16 August 2008

Greetings from Kosovo (pt 4)

I have been to Mass in a number of countries (nine in fact) and until now the strangest mass was in Tübingen, Germany. I’d spent a few weeks in Tübingen studying and had the opportunity to attend Mass several times, however I will always remember the first one. Everything was going well right up till after the second reading when we stood for the Gospel…and a women got up to read the Gospel and went on to give the Homily. A women. I had to sit down I was so shocked and utterly horrified. In fact, eight years later I am still shocked and horrified. I think thought that the Mass I attended tonight comes close to equaling my Germany experience.

Yesterday, the celebration of the Assumption of Mary was a holy day of obligation. Mass was only in Albanian yesterday which was fine. Lauren remembered that I needed a Missal for this trip so I was able to following along with at least the readings etc. I was told that on Saturday at 7 pm was the regular weekly English Mass so I was happy to attend that (although still armed with the Missal as I am wary of so-called “English” Masses while abroad). I got to the church and that’s when all the weird crap started happening:

Weird thing number one: Dude in an Irish KFOR uniform walked up to the Alter and started setting up for Mass.

Weird thing number two: Dude formerly in a KFOR uniform walked back onto the Alter now wearing priestly vestments.

Weird thing number three: There was only one reading, the one from the Old Testament. There are supposed to be two. I don’t know what happened to the second one.

Weird thing number four: There was no Homily. THERE WAS NO HOMILY!!! Mass went from the Gospel reading right into the prayers of Intercession. What the Hell happened to the Homily?!

Mass was like 23 minutes long and as I exited the church feeling bewildered and cheated there was a huge KFOR jeep with a couple more Irish KFOR soldiers waiting for the priest. I mean, I hope he was actually a priest and not some older Irish gentleman they got to play dress up.


Seriously, I thought if anyone would know better it would be the Irish for Pete’s sake. And to top it all off this church has the absolute most uncomfortable plank o’ wood kneelers I have yet to experience. I am now a connoisseur of plank o’ wood kneelers. If I ever plan on spending a significant amount of time in Prishtina, or, you know, a weekend, I’ll remember to attend the Albanian language Mass.

Oh, by the way, Mother Theresa who is Albanian (despite what the Macedonians tried to convince everyone of during the beginning of her Beatification) is indeed Kosovar Albanian. Her parents were from Prizren.

14 August 2008

Greetings from Kosovo (pt 3)

I love generators. It is true that I do. I could compose and ode truth be told. No no, I'll stop that.

It's true about the generators though. Power cuts in Pristina and I believe throughout Kosovo are pretty common. My office has a huge generator and we're all already shuddering at the thought of trying to move it when we move offices next year. My hotel also, thank goodness, has one. It is freaking hot in Pristina. It was about 93 today (35 C) and will be even hotter (37 C) tomorrow. If there were no AC I don't think I could survive. There's also a lot of water shortages here. I'm lucky being in the city center where, as I understand it, there's almost always water. But the parts of Pristina that are not the center have water cuts around 6PM and towns outside don't have water more often than they have it.

Speaking of my hotel..if you're ever in Pristina I very much recommend where I'm staying. This trip I am staying in the Hotel Real (pronounced Ray-al not Reel as in the opposite of a fake or poser). Staff is super nice, there's cable, modern bathroom, fairly comfortable bed, and a generator. And they make really good coffee at breakfast.

My last trip to Pristina I stayed in the Baci which was much larger than the Real and fancier, but apparently their power has been totally cut because they were stealing it from the power company and got found out. Also there was a bomb there a while ago (while two of my consultants were staying there) so we haven't used it much since.

Pristina's not the prettiest city in the world. The massive amount of people, droughts over the last 5 + years, and construction make it dry and dusty. And it doesn't do the city any favors that Kosovo was already the poorest of the former Yugoslav republics before both the conflict and the recent declaration. I'm liking it though. Good food and drink and Turkish coffee all for low prices. They may operate on the Euro here but unlike everywhere else still have reasonable prices and didn't just exchange the Euro symbol for the currency symbol they left behind.

13 August 2008

Greetings from Kosovo (pt 2)

Oh what a long day yesterday was. Long, yet very enjoyable! Lauren and I joke that I have far more of a social life in Belgrade than I ever do at home and it seems that it is the same in Pristina!

After a full day in the office during which I had three Turkish coffees (yay!) and forgot about lunch, one of my Kosovar colleagues invited me to dinner with her family. She has a lovely family and a beautiful apartment. Everyone seems to speak excellent English (which is great because my Albanian is non existent, at least currently) and were all very friendly. After dinner I accompanied her one floor below to her mother-in-law's to attend a birthday celebration for one of her young nieces. I had an absolutely lovely time sipping tea out of tiny delicate glass cups (also singed my fingertips a bit) and eating biscuits and cake while visiting her family.

After the birthday party we went out to have drinks at one of the quieter cafes. Her husband joined us there and we moved onto yet another cafe, Phish. This one was far less quiet but I had a very nice glass of locally produced red wine that just about put me under the table. It was also mildly depressing being around so many of what Grizz would call "the Youth" and I felt all of my almost 29 years. I blame the jet lag. I must not yet be recovered. Also depressing is how pretty everyone here is, both men and women. And the men are pretty...did I mention that? My colleagues here and in Belgrade are determined to help me find a husband (I do need all the help I can get). In Belgrade I gave them my first criteria: he must be tall, preferably taller than I. No problem they said. Then I mentioned my second criteria: he must be Catholic. And oh how their faces fell. Here I give my first two criteria and no problem. They can find me someone. Odd as it may seem but apparently there are more Catholics in this Muslim country than there are in Serbian Orthodox Serbia.

After Phish it was onto a bistro called Odyssea which was very posh and happily rather empty. I prefer the quiet to shouting over music. Three cafes in a row on a Tuesday night...gives me illusions that I am some sort of social butterfly.

After turning down a trip to a bakery for burek which I couldn't possibly have eaten at 11:30 I returned to my hotel. While I had planned to simply eat dinner and go back to the hotel much earlier to keep working, I had much more fun with my colleague than I would have with my original plan. I was so tired when I returned that I did not even care about the power cut. But yay for generators nonetheless.

12 August 2008

SmartBike DC a sham

As far as I've ever seen, the Europeans are so much more advanced and forward-thinking than we Yanks. They got on the engergy conservation and public transportation infrastructure building almost 40 years ago. What were we doing? Oh that's right, we were busy making bigger, gas guzzling cars and trying to figure out ways that we could invade our oil-producing 'friends.' Today, I saw an article in the Washington Post about bike-sharing in DC. The idea is different than I'd imagined, and WAY different than I experienced several years ago in Europe.

I was in Vienna, Austria for a period in the summer of 2002. That was the first time that I ever experienced a type of ride-sharing with bikes. The way it was set up was that big companies would sponsor the bikes. Generally you'd see them emblazoned with logos for T-mobile or Nokia. There were bike racks located all over the city, and all you needed was a single Euro to get a bike. You pop your Euro coin under the bike's seat and it would release from the rack. You could then ride for as long as you wanted or needed to. Then, when you were finished, you put the bike back on the rack, and out pops your Euro. Essentially, you're paying for the rental of the bike, and the company which sponsors the bike is getting loads of free moving advertising. As a tourist in their fair city, I thought that the Viennese were brilliant! It was a win-win situation. Armed with a map of the city, I wasn't totally reliant on the subway, or trolleys, or taxis to get around. It was a total win-win situation-- I could get around, and they get their name plastered everywhere that I go.

In DC, that's not what we're going to have. Instead, the system is going to function more like a car-share called ZipCar. Now, Zipcar is a pretty cool idea since it gives you the chance to use a car for a few hours without going through the hassle of renting a car or dealing with the struggles of gas, insurance, car payments, or parking your own vehicle. It's all included in the annual fee and the hourly rate to use the car. The SmartBike will function exactly the same. You pay $40 annually, and you get a user card.You would then simply go to one of the bike racks, swipe your user card and the bike releases from the rack. It all sounds pretty cool to me at first, but then I see that you can only have the bike for 3 hours. After 3 hours, if you don't return the bike, you get a black mark on your 'permenant record.' If you do that too many times, you'll be banned from the program. Keep the bike for 24 hours and they'll charge you $550 for replacement of the bike.

I went to the website to check it out, and to see where they're planning on keeping the racks. Sure enough, they're not located in any parts of the city where I'll be frequenting. There will be racks in the Farragut/Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Logan Circle, and around the Mall up to Chinatown. What good does that do some one who is not in those areas? There are
10 racks throughout this area, but I'm wondering if they will ever make the racks accessible to people who don't live next to a Metro station. How about placing some bike racks at the revitalizing areas of the city, namely the Waterfront, Near the Nationals Ballpark, or in the other quadrants of the city. Apparently only the FULLY gentrified sections of Downtown are acceptable because they're probably thinking that people in the areas that I just mentioned probably can't afford the $40 annual fee, don't have a credit card to subscribe, or don't deserve to have access to these bikes. Maybe they'll steal them!

I don't like this at all. Why is it that we can't have it like the Europeans? Are we as American city dwellers so untrustworthy that we can't have an honor system anymore? The way that I saw a bike share operated in Vienna was awesome really, and it would certainly give us something to do with all of those useless and wasted golden, Sacagawea dollar coins.

Greetings from Kosovo!

Woohoo! I am back in Kosovo. Several things have changed since my last trip over a year ago including that Kosovo is now an internationally recognized independent country and it's not Lent so I can drink as much Turkish coffee as I like. Yay. My last trip was for an entire weeks and half days and with this being close to two weeks I'm hoping to see a little bit more of the city.

I left DC on Sunday at 6 pm and arrived in Pristina on Monday at 4 pm. Damn time change. It was neither my greatest flight ever nor my worst so I guess I can be thankful for that. Usually a slave to United (which I in general dislike) I was on Austrian Air this time around which I think is a bit of a step up from United. I got stuck in the middle seat between two men both larger than I was so there went my plan to work on my report for the eight and a half hour flight. I was completely squashed and someone needs to teach the guy on my left how to sit on an airplane (no dude, you do not get to take up as much space as you want and if you elbow me again twitching in your sleep my elbow will accidentally jam into your head). At least I had my favorite new toy, my Amazon Kindle, to keep me occupied. I do not sleep on planes. I have tried everything including over the counter sleep drugs, prescription sleep drugs, alcohol, alcohol and prescription sleeping pills...nothing works. I was hoping that my busy and active Saturday at the Montgomery County Fair and general lack of sleep lately would make me so tired that I would sleep but I was mistaken.

Then I had a charming six hour layover in Vienna. In Vienna falling asleep would have been no problem. I spent a lot of time walking around the terminal to force myself to stay awake actually. I did not, however, want to fall asleep here because there was not really a lot of places to sit, let alone fall asleep, and what if I missed my flight?! I really am creeped out by airports and I let that keep me awake. I did doze a wee bit on the two flight to Pristina though. Speaking of my flight to Pristina, let me please sidetrack a moment and wonder why American airlines in general completely suck when compared to, well practically any other airlines in the world. They don't charge you for luggage, for alcohol, and feed you regardless of the flight length. I had a lovely hot meal during that two hours between Vienna and Pristina. And you can't tell me that its because of rising gas prices in the States because Europeans at least have always paid more for gas than we have. Rant ended.

Upon my arrival in Pristina I immediately fell in love with its airport. Airplane landed, we got off and walked across the tarmac to the airport. That was nice, no wasting time trying to dock with the bridge thingy then walking endless corridors to get to immigration. The airport itself was fairly small square building which reminded me more of an airplane hanger rather than an airport. I walked in and immediately there was passport control. After passport control was the luggage belt which spit out my suitcase pretty quickly, then out the door. The entire process took about 15 minutes and most of that was waiting for my luggage. It was brilliant and this is now my favorite airport in the world. Seriously.

Because it was already so late in the day and I was such a zombie (if it was 4 pm in Pristina that meant it was roughly 10 am in DC and I had been awake since 7 am the previous day...) I skipped the office (I'm here for work) and went directly to my hotel. I unpacked, set my alarm, and fell immediately into bed for a nice 12 hours.

All in all a rather boring first day in Pristina but at least I am now awake and ready to appreciate the city.

PS-Before leaving on trip remember to do two things I forgot to do:

1. Check your watch battery. Normally I don't wear a watch because I have a cell phone but I bought one for those times I would be without. Unfortunately that means I never wear it and when I adjusted the time and put it on this morning I realized that the battery was dead.

2. Never ever rely on the fact that you'll remember what colored bottle you put your shampoo and conditioner in! I discovered also this morning that I have a lot of conditoner, but no shampoo. Sigh.

05 August 2008

What Came First? The Milk or the Tea?

About three weeks ago I decided that the thing missing from my life, was a tea set. Seriously. So I spent some time searching for a tea set I could afford; and found out that there apparently is no such animal. Sure I could build a set with a tea pot here, a saucer there...maybe a cup down the road...which really might be fun to have a beautiful if totally mismatched set. The problem was that I had to have it now. How was I supposed to have a tea party without a tea set? Luckily one of my girlfriends had a lovely set from the now defunct Bombay company which she lent me for the occasion so problem solved.

Ironically I don't recall ever having had tea parties when I was a kid, and now that I realize that I'm quite surprised because I was definitely the tea party having kind of kid. Regardless, armed with a tea set nothing would now stop me from having a tea party. I invited my girlfriends who were likely to come, coordinated a menu with Giselle and spent two days baking and mixing.

Cucumber sandwiches on pumpernickel
Goat cheese and watercress on roasted garlic bread
Shrimp salad sandwiches
Deviled eggs

Cheese scones (courtesy of Giselle)
Blueberry muffins (also courtesy of Giselle)
Of course there was: clotted cream, lemon curd, and strawberry preserves

Raspberry filled lemon cupcakes
Chocolate dipped strawberries
Chocolate mousse
Pecan Praline Cheesecakes

Naturally I forgot to take a picture of the desserts which is really a pity. And let me tell you, filling cupcakes, which is something I've never done before, was ever so much fun!

Had a lot of fun with the girls who all did their part by dressing up and taking my regression to the age of 5 quite seriously. Which I much appreciated. So, whether you add your milk to the cup first a la Her Royal Highness (that would be the Queen, not me) or add your milk to your tea like a backwards colonist (as I was once accused of being when I put my milk in my tea), a tea party is a excellent excuse to get your girls together and eat tiny food. I will definitely be having more tea parties in the future!