Khertvisi Castle, Khertvisi, Georgia

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The pause that refreshes

It has been far too long--and we've done far too much in the intervening period--to give a comprehensive update of all that we've been up to since our last blog post. Instead, I'll sum up:

Sam and I toiled away a bit more here in Akhalkalaki in August, working on projects that included his grant-funded English cabinet and my grant-funded women's health peer education program. We headed in to Tbilisi on August 20 to participate in a goodwill basketball tournament (Sam to cheer, me to play) held by the Georgian Ministry of Education. Then, on August 22 at 4am, we took off from Georgia for an 18-day vacation.

We were able to get a free frequent-flyer-mile ticket to anywhere in Europe, so we did the natural thing and went to Slovenia. It was spectacular (see below if you need pictorial convincing; we did lots of hiking, lots of eating of delicious foods and lots of general sightseeing, museum-going and general good times). We followed our brief tour of Slovenia with a few days in Vienna (for more eating, coffee drinking, museums and palaces), then bused to Budapest, from whence we hopped a plane to Cairo for our friends' wedding (and some time in the Egyptian museum, at the pyramids and on an overnight excursion to the White Desert in the Sahara), before coming back to Budapest to round up the vacation (with yet more eating, museums and fun). To allow us to indulge a bit on the length of the trip and the attractions enjoyed, we saved some money on hotels by staying (for the most part) in campsites. All of our European destinations had phenomenal campgrounds, with lots of room for tents or RVs, separate shower buildings and toilets, kitchens and laundry rooms. Really, our "roughing it" wasn't rough at all (all of the campsites we stayed at were more modern and filled with more conveniences than lots of Peace Corps sites). The weather was wonderfully accommodating to our choice in accommodation as well, and we only needed to swap our tent for hotels for one night in Vienna and during our stay in Cairo.

We landed back in Tbilisi at 3am on September 10th, a spectacular way for Sam to start his 28th year, and made our way back to Akhalkalaki later the same day, to finish up with some cake and food with our host family and friends.

Now we're getting back into the swing of things, mercifully a little slowly. The "First Bell" ceremony was held on Thursday, September 15 and book pass-out took place on Friday. Monday was our first day of classes, and after our beautiful, amazing adventures traveling, we're feeling ready and up to the challenges that are sure to lie ahead!

Sam, setting up our tent in Slovenia
Lake Bled and the town of Bled, Slovenia
Vintgar Gorge, Slovenia
Radovljica, Slovenia
Bled Island, Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bohinj, Slovenia
A statue to the first climbing party to scale Slovenia's tallest mountain, a peak in the Julian Alps (just visible at the right of the picture), and an old church in Bohinj, Slovenia

Picking blackberries after a hike outside of Bled, Slovenia

Downtown Ljubljana, Slovenia
Ljubljana, Slovenia
Ljubljana, Slovenia

Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria
City Hall and Parks, Vienna, Austria
Vienna Ferris Wheel (we watched "The Third Man" for the first time in Vienna. If you haven't seen it, watch it! It's a great movie and Orson Welles gives a fantastic speech at this ferris wheel), Vienna, Austria
Although we did camp in Vienna, there is no camping allowed here in this busy street, apparently.
We arrived in Cairo just for the end of Ramadan, and the Eid celebrations outside our hotel window were intense. We were especially lucky to have the fireworks, which were being sold right outside our hotel, tested and demonstrated every 5 minutes until about 4am.

No horses were harmed in this trip to the Pyramids
Great Pyramids, huh?

Karl and Nayla at their wedding reception in Cairo
The reception was gorgeous!
The Sahara desert oasis of Bahariya
Me and Sam in the Sahara
Our trusty Sahara adventure jeep
White Desert, Sahara, Egypt
Our campsite in the White Desert
Rooster rock in the White Desert