Sofia to Thessaloniki

My son joined me in Sofia, Bulgaria in early March and we were at the apartment for about a week before we left the snow behind us and went on to sunny Greece. Here are a few pics taken in Sofia.

Sofia
A building on our street next to our apartment building
Our apartment building in Sofia, Bulgaria
Our apartment building in Sofia, Bulgaria
A bar at the end of our street that was hopping every weekend.
A bar at the end of our street that was hopping every weekend.

I was so very happy to finally be on the train and headed to Thessaloniki, Greece. We had a train compartment all to ourselves and we were very comfortable for our trip through what looked to be Siberia out our windows. Arrived after dark in Thessaloniki to an empty taxi stand and deserted street but eventually a taxi pulled up to drop people off and we flagged him down. Our hotel was in a great area with plenty of places to walk to and no taxi needed to just wander around and reach the cafes and waterfront.

Our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece
Our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece

We immediately set out for a restaurant since we hadn’t eaten in awhile. We were directed by the desk clerk to a local buffet style cafe that looked to be just closing and had no customers but the man greeted us enthusiastically and welcomed us to come in which we have come to learn is the Greek way. Instead of menu he told us our options and we both chose the soup. Nothing like a great big hot bowl of soup after a long trip. The waiter brought out a plate of big thick slices of homemade bread to soak up the soup. Of course we had wine with dinner and at this point we hadn’t yet learned that it is pretty much served automatically like water in Greece. We were pretty happy. And it is in those few moments that come here and there and often without warning that you learn to cherish the adventures of traveling. Alas I have no photos from the place as we were too busy enjoying the experience. In the above photo you can see the outside seating for the restaurant where we had a great first meal and incredible hospitality.

Some local art across from our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Some local art across from our hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece.                               

After a good nights sleep we ventured out to an outdoor cafe stand a couple blocks from our hotel. My daughter and I ate at these throughout our backpacking trip in 2005. They are a chain in Greece and sell pizza, sandwiches, drinks and cappucinos. We had a cappucino and pizza for breakfast, which is perfect if you ask me. The sun was already shining and it was glorious to be in the Mediterranean. We set out for the waterfront and along the way passed many churches and ruins of some awe inspiring gazing.

Ruins in the middle of the city! Thessaloniki, Greece.
Ruins in the middle of the city! Thessaloniki, Greece.
Walking the streets of Thessaloniki Greece was inspiring.
Walking the streets of Thessaloniki Greece was inspiring.
The hub of activity seemed to be more relaxed down at the waterfront .
The hub of activity seemed to be more relaxed down at the waterfront .

My son was a little uncomfortable at the open stares his way but I tried to explain that he looked pretty different and was wearing many labels on his clothing. Meaning that the looks were probably just looks of interest and wonder. I personally think his style is eclectic and stands out even in the U.S.! Open staring in many other countries like Greece and Italy, the two that I know of, where staring does not carry the same meaning and is not rude or mean hostility, like it often does in the U.S. We generally experienced a great deal of interest and hospitality while in Thessaloniki. This is just one of the many reasons I love traveling in Greece.

Here are some more photos of Thessaloniki, they have quite the cafe culture there and we enjoyed hopping from one cafe to another for a bit while there.

A bright inviting bar for a cool drink.
A bright inviting bar for a cool drink.
Interesting things to read everywhere.
Interesting things to read everywhere.

We took a taxi out to an indoor skate park on the outskirts of Thessaloniki for my son to meet the owners and skate the park for a bit. My son is a pro-am skate boarder and so is always promoting his team, Lib Tech while he is out traveling. He was over run by roller bladers at this particular park though and we didn’t stay long.

As soon as I get my photos organized I will upload more. After returning a little over three months ago I am just now beginning to feel like I am rested. This trip took a lot out of me in so many ways. It was so worth it though! I fell in love with Greece all over again. I will return to my beloved Greece.

Love American Style

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I spent my first Valentine’s Day out of the United States and I survived to tell about it…or actually revel in it. This post is in no way slamming American holidays or the need for them to break up the monotony of life, serve as reminders-of or give us pause to celebrate life. I rather have a new perspective this Valentine’s Day. I have spent over 15 Valentine’s Days alone or perhaps without a romantic partner is a better way to say it, as I have never been alone. This year was the first time I was truly alone on Valentine’s Day, without my friends or family around me. I had this light-bulb moment. What if love is not contingent on someone being there to fill the space beside you? What if love is just a feeling all on your own and always present…that you share with other people? What if love is not doing anything…what if it isn’t a verb but a noun? What if we are just big blobs of love walking around sharing it with whoever wants some?

I do think that being away from the media crazed madness that is consumer heaven wrapped in red cellophane heart shaped boxes has contributed to this epiphany. Instead of pushing against the imposing mountain of commercialism this year, I had infinite space to contemplate the deeper meaning of love, being in love, being love, giving love, and loving. The focus shifted.

In Bulgaria the day is a holiday as well and is called Zadushnitza (All Soul’s Day). It is a day that Bulgarians go to church, light candles and prepare their deceased loved ones meals that were favorites. The apartment manager where I am renting brought me a plate of bread, cheeses, olives and dips and told me about this day. What a contrast that our day of love is their day to honor the dead. Which had me thinking about loss, which brought me full circle to love and those I love, knowing I love them. Me, knowing I love me, so I can just be… love.  I spent the day loving myself more than I could ever imagine, sending love to my friends and family and holding them in loving thoughts. I consciously chose to love. I loved everything that I saw, felt, imagined, touched, looked at…just was love..all day. It was the best Valentine’s Day ever. I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of disco music from the disco near here, shouts of partying and fireworks going off.

The first sip of coffee this morning…was love all over again. Who knew it could be so easy but yet so hard…to find love.

Internship in Bulgaria

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Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Sofia, Bulgaria

My next journey will be to Sofia, Bulgaria in late January. I have accepted one of four offered internships at the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria. I was offered internships in Milan, The Holy See and Romania. It was a tough decision to make but I chose Sofia for a few reasons, including the rich history of the area and my fascination with how they have maintained a cultural identity given the many invasions and rulers that have occupied Bulgaria.  I intend to research and photograph some lesser known story. I will also be spending forty hour weeks at the embassy learning all about public affairs and cultural affairs in addition to working on a research project on Byzantine sources supervised by one of my professors and a PSU class online on Gothic art. I will be busy!

The internship lasts three months and then my son will be joining me in Bulgaria and we will travel to Greece and possibly Turkey for a couple weeks. Then make our way up to Germany to see my brother and sister in law who live in Stuttgart.  Another reason I chose Sofia is to take part in a fresco photo documenting expedition with the Balkan Heritage Field School. I support their efforts to document and archive the frescoes that are being destroyed and lost to history.

I have so much to learn in the next few months before I leave, I hope my brain will expand and contain it all!  I am still learning Italian, because I am tentatively planning on applying to graduate school in Lucca. I am learning some Bulgarian, which is really hard because it uses the Cyrillic alphabet. I am brushing up on my microsoft skills (ha) and learning to use excel (I use google docs for everything).  In addition I am putting together a cookbook for my son who will be living the bachelor life and does not know how to cook, some of his favorite dishes in easy to read format.

My life is really full but it is full of the things I dearly love and as my vision of how I always wanted to live becomes a reality, I can only look around in awe and say, Thank you, I am so blessed.

Need vs. Want

I began writing today with the thought “I need to post to my blog.”  The recent over haul of my blog into a joint photography portfolio and blog has left my blog entries in archives. This archiving of blogs really is representative of a larger shift of focus in my life. While travel remains at the very top of my list of priorities, photography which has been on the sidelines lately but still present has crept up to the top of the list.

Photography has always been life enhancing for me. It has been a running dialogue in my life since I was nine years old. I remember sitting behind gram’s easy chair next to the bookshelf that was stuck in the corner, studying Margaret Bourke-White’s photo book. I didn’t know it then but a photographer was born. At age twelve I was given my first camera, a vivitar that my gram no longer needed. I took it to outdoor school and had the best photo shoot I may ever have.

Taking photos is a deeply personal way for me to reflect on a transient world. It is a narrative of my life and what I want to remember. When I was young I took photos to capture happy times and things that I did not want to forget. Now I take photos to tell my story and relate to how stories connect us all. The connections are where we live. I want to narrate connections in my photos.

As my life has shifted from needing to record events to wanting to create a story…the same shift has happened in my life at several levels. I need less than I ever thought I would and I want more than I ever thought I would. It is all good. *happy sigh*

Fearless

I entered a contest that is based on being FEARLESS.  After studying in Italy for three months and taking my autistic son with me, coupled with my age and all the challenges that come with getting older and trying to accomplish great things…I think I am FEARLESS. Please consider following the link and casting your vote by “liking” my photo.

http://fearlesspsu.com/gallery?sort=recent&i=105

The name is Charolette S. and in the photo am standing in the Roman Forum in Rome, Italy. It seemed a fitting image for FEARLESS.

Thanks! Image

Settling In and Squirming About It

The experts say it takes as long as you were gone studying to go through the stages of reverse culture shock upon returning to your home country. That is about right. So my absence has been an adjustment period for me and I think it took a little extra time to adjust to a new city upon return. Chad and I moved into a new apartment in a new city or rather in my old hometown where I grew up and lived for most of my life. In the meantime, throughout all of this adjustment I managed to continue my classes at PSU. The first term after my return from Italy I took all classes online and then the current term on campus. Life events seem to be changing so fast. This term I find myself a senior and facing the end of my sojourn through an Art History B.A. and it seems it just began! My plan is to continue my education in art history, classical studies, conservation/preservation or some such Masters degree. I am looking at programs in Europe, probably Eastern Europe if all goes according to plan. I would love to study Balkan art history in depth and formulate my thesis on that area of art. I am moved by the history of Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. So many ancient layers of art history moved through there over the periods and so much to discover and preserve.

I am itching to travel again and while I feel weary of travel in general and am burrowing in to my new place to feel rooted somewhere, I can already feel the urge to go out and seek again. I don’t know if this ever goes away. This need to find new places out there in the world and inside myself. New sights, smells, tastes and feeling the edge so close that balance becomes mindful. It really is an addiction. I am going to the Bahamas in a few weeks to spend some time on my own, reading, writing, soaking up the sun and while there of course visiting the art museums and cultural museums to get a taste of Bahamian roots. Photos will come! I have a brand new Pentax just waiting to be explored and this trip will be it’s maiden voyage.

I am enjoying the smallness of my life right now because I know from experience that it can change and become huge in a split second. I cherish time spent with my granddaughter and her wonder over how the light turns on and off. Her joy in discovery reminds me of how miraculous the tiny things really are. We flip a switch and have energy, water, TV, music, transportation…illumination. Image

A Photo Book on Pompeii

I visited Pompeii in November. I took a lot of photos but I didn’t feel that any of them ever captured the feelings of the place or what happened there. It was an overcast day when we went and it matched the surrounding ruins perfectly. I haven’t been able to shake the feelings that it generated in me even now. I just made a photo book of photos I took in Pompeii along with poems about the people and devastation of losing an entire city. It was and still is a tragedy for all time. It has changed me. If you are interested in the book…click on the link at the top.

Addendum: 100% of the profits generated from the book sales will be donated to The Great Pompeii Project. A preservation project developed by the Italian government to save the ruins, art and history of Pompeii. Much of it is crumbling away and lost forever to us. Please consider purchasing the book as a donation to this project. 

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Post Italy

It has been busy and painfully stagnant since returning from Siena. The reverse culture shock continues to surprise me, like the near melt down in Fred Meyers (grocery store). We had moved in to our new apartment and went to stock up on groceries. It was the first big shopping trip since returning from Italy and I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelm. Too many products, too many shelves, too many options and choices. I just wanted to leave the cart in the aisle and leave. I didn’t and we got home with groceries.

I have been busy with online classes this term and the isolation is getting to me, but then I also want to isolate at times. It is a strange thing right now. I am beginning a yoga class next week. That should help in several ways.  It is a strange kind of let down after walking so much everyday to and from school in Siena. Now I must work at getting enough movement and it is definitely a challenge. The social invitations have begun to come in and I missed that part of life. I was lonely in Italy and missed my friends a great deal. I missed socializing with all the banter, laughter and discussion. I am looking forward to more of that!

Setting up a photography portfolio and writing on my book…thinking of publishing a photo book on my final project which was a photo book of Pompeii with poems by me. I have so many projects and that together with school is the busy part. It is a lot of sitting on the computer, editing, and writing…this seems stagnant to me after awhile. I will find the balance or it will find me…for now, I am here and listening.

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The view from our house in Siena, Italy one foggy morning.

New Year, New Beginnings, New Body, New Sight…New Life

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As we move into 2014 I am thinking back over the last year and what a year it has been. So many changes at a fundamental level for me. Friendships have been redefined, my body has become a healthy dwelling place, my mind has relaxed into a state of grace and really life has become closer to being what feeds my soul and gives meaning to the words, ” live with intention.”  Italy was one of the defining periods of my life over the last year, Italy opened me up and breathed it’s sweet wine into my spirit. My thankfulness is overflowing for that experience and as I have only left Italy 2 weeks ago…I am still processing what took place and how the levels that living as an Italian were transformed within me. I know that seeing my mom standing in the airport waiting for us was one of the best sights ever and being a part of all of the love and support from family and friends has been the highlight of this journey. True friends, the ones that support you even if they don’t agree with you or think your ideas are crazy and family that understands you and supports your dreams and even encourages you to follow them are what it is all about. These people are why I went to Italy and they are why I came home to live near them. As I think more about connections, support, community and where my energy flows I wish all of those that I call friend a wonderful new year and I look forward to being your friend in 2014 and supporting each other in all we endeavor.

Mid Term, Mid Shift

I am half way through my term studying in Italy. It is hard to believe but it is true. I look at my calendar and cannot believe I only have a little over five weeks and I will be back home. Here is a collection of little “notices” about life here…

Italians walk looking straight ahead, not to the side or down at the ground as one would think they would with the beautiful sights and uneven cobble stones. I have learned through my daily walks to school and home that it is because one gets extremely dizzy and loses balance if line of sight is not steady. This applies to the greater picture as well.

I get up everyday looking forward to my day and the experiences that it will bring. Yes, I am tired, sore, cold, hungry and have too little time to accomplish all I need to do BUT I know I will see great art, have a cappucino break several times, stop and talk to my friends and colleagues, learn amazing things and eat tasty well prepared food. This makes it all worth it. It is balanced. When Italians get tired they stop and rest, when they are hungry they stop and eat and when they need a little shot of divinity it is around every single corner.

I will miss “my hill” and our daily time together. It gives me health, a fabulous view and solitude in which to meditate.

A walk home is never just a walk home…it is smiles to passing people, a stop at the art store to buy a paint brush, a stop at the corner market for wine, pausing in the doorway of the upholstery shop to watch the man bent over his work and listen to his classical music, deep inhalations when passing leather stores with their doors open and lit up display windows full of every color of leather purses imaginable, a stop for gelato…I could take hours to get home here.

Life is very different here, not better or worse just different and I love the rhythm, smell, taste and feel of it all.  Italian life revolves around a social structure not economic or political…at least at the street level and daily existence. This from the perspective of one who has only been here for a few weeks and barely brushed the surface. I know that family is the core of existence here and it shows.