La Revedere!

After 26 months of living in Romania and only 5 more days left, I honestly don’t know where to start this last post.  On the one hand, it has been a very long time since I have been home and I miss my family, friends, and Hawaii like crazy.  On the other hand, Răşinari has become a second home and I will miss my students and co-workers as well.  When Nick was here last weekend and said his goodbyes to my counterpart, Alexandra, and her husband, Doru, I couldn’t hold back my own tears, even though I knew I’d see them the next day!

Last night hanging out the 4 of us

Last night all together

This last week of school was especially emotional, starting with surprise cards and flowers from the 6th and 8th grades.  Then Wednesday, after the end of the year teacher’s meeting, the teachers and staff at my school threw me a beautiful surprise party at an inn outside the village in the mountains.  They gave me a diploma letting me know how awesome I am, flowers, a carved wooden jewelry box, and a traditional blouse, called an ie.  It was really special.

With the 8th graders, who surprised me with flowers and a card

With the 8th graders, who surprised me with flowers and a card

Last class with my adorable 2nd graders

Last class with my adorable 2nd graders

Surprise!  It's a party FOR ME!

Surprise! It’s a party FOR ME!
Photo by Marian Huc

I feel so loved!

I feel so loved!
Photo by Marian Huc

All us teachers together Photo by Marian Huc

All us teachers together
Photo by Marian Huc

Modeling my ie Photo by Marian Huc

Modeling my ie
Photo by Marian Huc

Photo by Marian Huc

Photo by Marian Huc

Then Friday, at the end of the year ceremony, students from every grade came to give me flowers.  I got so many I couldn’t hardly carry them home.  Then, the kids in my club surprised me with a group picture we took at the last club meeting, blown up and framed.  They were so sweet and by this point, I had lost all pretense of holding it together and was a sobbing mess.  It was so hard to say goodbye to them, since the weekly club meetings were so often all that kept me sane.

The picture the kids in my club framed for me

The picture the kids in my club framed for me

I have two more nights in Răşinari before saying my goodbyes to most of the teachers and my host family on Tuesday.  Wednesday I’ll leave Sibiu and have to say goodbye to Alexandra and Doru, which is something I’m definitely not ready to do.  But then Thursday I will go through all the administrative and programmatic procedures of “Checking Out” before I officially COS (close of service) and fly home Friday morning.  25 hours later and I should be landing in Honolulu, with hugs, leis, and poke waiting for me.

Can't wait to see this lady!  I can't believe it's been almost a year!

Can’t wait to see this lady! I can’t believe it’s been almost a year!

And this has been calling my name for a long time now!

And this has been calling my name for a long time now!

This whole Peace Corps thing has been a crazy ride, but I would never trade the experience.  I am so thankful for the friendships, the love, and the adventures found here in Romania.  This country and its people will always hold a place in my heart and I’m already trying to figure out when I can come back and visit.  But, that being said, the time has come to leave and I’m ready for what’s next.

To those of you who have followed this 26 month adventure, thanks for reading!  Vă pup!

The Mural

Once Nick and I got back from our spring vacation, the clock was officially ticking on our time left in Romania and with ten weeks left in the school year, I started brainstorming a final project that would both keep me busy and benefit my school.  I decided on a mural because I love painting and saw how much a mural can brighten a school when I helped Ben and Amanda with theirs last summer.  I also thought it would be nice to leave something physical to mark my service at the school.

So, I discussed the idea with my principal and counterpart and we came up with the theme “International Friends Forever”.  We asked students in the 5th through 8th grades for design submissions and then I ended up combining several submissions into the final design.  Once we had a design, my principal and I discussed location and when she suggested the two largest walls on the ground floor directly across from the entrance, I couldn’t say no.  Then before I could blink, she had enlisted the help of the 2nd grade teacher and owner of the village hardware store, Domnul Nică, and he was calling a contractor to install a new layer of drywall the next day.  She then took me up to her office and showed me the 12-15 bottles (most unopened) of tempura paint that I had at my disposal.  I was then instructed to write down a list of supplies I needed (brushes, paper towels, plastic cups, etc.), give them to Domnul Nică, and voila!  they would be waiting for me in the morning.

All of this happened within an hour of presenting the final design to my principal.  I was dizzy with the efficiency of it all.

So the next Monday, some recruited students and I began sketching the plan for the mural on the newly refinished walls.  The final plan was a row of children of all nationalities holding hands under a banner of flags from around the world.  Instead of dressing the children in traditional garb, I chose to have them all dressed similarly in order to emphasize our similarities instead of our differences.  Between the children and the flags above, we would write the mural theme in English on one wall and in Romanian on the other.

A segment of the original sketch on the wall

A segment of the original sketch on the wall

Two days later, we started painting the light blue background around the children.

Half of one wall with the light blue background finished

Half of one wall with the light blue background finished

The next week, we worked on the skin and then set to work on the clothing.

Skin color finished

Skin color finished

Once we were finished with the clothing, I painted hair and eyebrows.

Most of the clothing finished

Most of the clothing finished

Painting the hair Photo by Marian Huc

Painting the hair
Photo by Marian Huc

I worked through recess and usually surrounded by children Photo by Marian Huc

I worked through recess and usually surrounded by children
Photo by Marian Huc

We had run out of white paint early on and needed to order another bottle, so once it arrived, I painted the eyes and finished some clothing that we had needed more white for.

We were then also able to mix more light blue to paint the background above the flags.  Painting above the flags was my least favorite part of the mural.  To paint the outline above the flags, I had to stand on a chair on top of a desk in the middle of a school full of running children.  To paint up to the ceiling, I had to balance my tray of paint and roller on a rickety old ladder with no steps, only rungs, and just a piece of string as support in the middle.  To reach the very top, I also had to stand so very far up on this terrifying ladder that my hips were above the very top of it.  It took two afternoons of work to paint the entire background and I had to enlist the help of a 6th grade boy to hold the ladder steady while I worked.  Not fun.

Painting the background above the flags.  We covered the bottom part with garbage bags to protect it from any dripping or splatter

Painting the background above the flags. We covered the bottom part with garbage bags to protect it from any dripping or splatter

However, once the background was completely finished, we could begin work on the flags.  We still had to stand on chairs on top of tables but nothing is as scary as that ladder.  For this part, I had the children sketch all the flags and they helped with a lot of the painting, too.

Stefi and Anda, both in the 8th grade, helped me sketch most of the flags

Stefi and Anda, both in the 8th grade, helped me sketch most of the flags

Starting work on the flags and scary iris-less children

Starting work on the flags and scary iris-less children

More flags in progress

More flags in progress

After we finished the flags, I painted on the irises, pupils, noses and mouths and then outlined the flags with a permanent marker.  The last steps were to paint the mural theme in English and Romanian and to write a dedication in both languages next to the Peace Corps logos I had painted.

Finished flags and irises

Finished flags and irises

And it's finished!

And it’s finished!

Across two walls and a small section in between

Across two walls and a small section in between

English (American) wall

English (American) wall

English Dedication

English Dedication

Romanian Wall

Romanian Wall

Romanian Dedication

Romanian Dedication

So, after six weeks and more than 100 hours of work, the mural is finished.  I stayed after school every day I could, usually until 4pm or later.  Fifteen students helped with the painting and sketching and my school took care of all the supplies and funding for the project.  I am so happy to be leaving this mural behind and am so pleased with how it turned out.

The Vacation Continues: Lausanne and Italy

As I mentioned in my last post, we were saved by Erin’s friends Caitlin and Julian and were on our way to Lausanne, Switzerland.  Because the train we needed to take from Dijon to Lausanne was so full, there were only seats left in first class.  This wasn’t ideal since we are Peace Corps Volunteers after all, but we didn’t really have any other options.  So after a short train from Besançon to Dijon, we boarded our swanky first class compartment, fully-equipped with automatically reclining armchairs and free soda.  When we arrived in Lausanne, we parted ways with Caitlin and Julian and bought our tickets to Milan.  The morning train was sold out so we bought tickets for the afternoon train, which was actually better since it gave us more time to check out the city.

Caitlin had found us a hostel near the train station, so once we had our tickets we made our way there and were pleasantly surprised by the beautiful building that was much more hotel than hostel.  We booked a double room with a balcony overlooking Lake Geneva and the most comfortable bed I had slept in in years.

The view from our hostel balcony

The view from our hostel balcony

Overcast sky but Lake Geneva in the distance

Overcast sky but Lake Geneva in the distance

Since it was Sunday and pretty late by the time we went out for dinner, there wasn’t much open.  Eventually, though, we found a burger-bar joint and I got a salad with more bacon than lettuce and Nick got the big American style cheese burger he’d been craving.

The next day we went out and explored the city.  We started down by Lake Geneva, travelling for free on the city’s pristine metro system, and walked over to the Olympic Park.  From there, we went back into the center of town and visited the Lausanne Cathedral.  The city was beautiful even with overcast weather, but I wish we could have gotten a better view of the Alps.

Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva

Thai Pagoda in the Olympic Park

Thai Pagoda in the Olympic Park

Lausanne

Lausanne

Entrance to the Lausanne Cathedral

Entrance to the Lausanne Cathedral

Lausanne Cathedral

Lausanne Cathedral

Stained glass in the cathedral

Stained glass in the cathedral

After some great Chinese food, we picked our bags up from the hostel and caught our direct train to Milan.  The trip through the Alps was stunning and our short time in Lausanne really made me want to return to Switzerland and see more of the country.

When we arrived in Milan, it was raining and pretty cold.  We walked to our hotel and realized that it was about as dumpy as we had been afraid it would be.  Wanting to spend as little time as possible in the room, we went out for Korean food–a first for Nick.  We both got bibimbap and some kimchee and calamari pancakes.  Nick really liked it but it was a much-needed taste of home for me.  All I can think about as I write this is what I’m going to order at Willow Tree (our local Korean restaurant) once I get home.  It will be the lunch special with spicy BBQ chicken, spicy chicken katsu, and fish jun, in case you were wondering.  Oh, and all the kimchee they have.

After dinner, we walked into the center of town, passing designer boutique after designer boutique along with some very well dressed Italians.  We didn’t spend too much time out that night but the next morning we came back in order to admire the Duomo di Milano by daylight.  The cathedral is one of the largest in the world and is topped by the Madonnina, or Madonna spire, the tallest point in Milan.  The interior was also impressive but it’s the sheer magnitude of the building and all of the detailed sculpting that really take your breath away.

Duomo di Milano

Duomo di Milano

Madonnina

Madonnina

We walked around the city for awhile and then stopped to get calzones for lunch.  We felt like we were really in Italy once we had taken our first bites of caprese salad with fresh mozzarella.  Bellies full, we went to the Hertz office to rent the car we would be driving down the peninsula for the rest of the week.

The beautiful covered walkway near the main square

The beautiful covered walkway near the main square

Leonardo.

Leonardo.

With a free Italian maps app (that kept telling us we were in Switzerland) in hand, we were off on our drive south to Tuscany.  It’s clear in hindsight that we should have gotten a GPS system along with the car.  It was stressful at points, but we worked together and figured our way out of the city.  As we drove south, the clouds started clearing up and the weather got warmer.  By the time we arrived in Siena, we were able to ditch our jackets and enjoy some long overdue sunshine.

Tuscan olive groves

Tuscan olive groves

Nick and our rented Fiat Panda, Fiorello

Nick and our rented Fiat Panda, Fiorello

Once we found our bed and breakfast, we made ourselves at home in our gorgeous room overlooking Siena and the beautiful valleys and vineyards of Toscana.  The lovely people at the B&B gave us a restaurant recommendation for dinner nearby and we feasted on homemade pasta.

Our B&B, Santa 10

Our B&B, Santa 10

Our room at the B&B

Our room at the B&B

The view of Siena from our window

The view of Siena from our window

The next day, we woke up to an email from Hertz, asking us to check the car’s registration because they believed it to be expired.  It was.  We called the office in Milan and they told us we needed to find a Hertz office and go deal with the registration issue ourselves.  They told us to check in Florence.  (Insert shocked expression here).  After Nick reminded them (in the nicest way possible) that this was their mistake and not ours and told them that he had already found a Hertz office in Siena, they agreed to call and make sure they knew we were coming.  So before we began our day of sightseeing, we made a detour to the local Hertz agency.  After waiting and talking to the agent there, we were told that the registration couldn’t be updated then and we would have to come back the next day.

So, in slight disbelief, we began our next adventure: finding parking in Siena.  Luckily, our Fiat Panda is laughably small and we were eventually able to find a spot that most drivers wouldn’t have even considered.  We then walked into the city, visiting the Duomo di Siena first.

Siena

Siena

The cathedral is amazing.  The exterior is black and white striped marble with pink marble detailing and the interior is similarly striped but with elaborate carved murals on the floor.  The art within the cathedral and the stained glass windows were equally impressive.

Duomo di Siena

Duomo di Siena

Interior of the cathedral

Interior of the cathedral

By the time we finished touring the Duomo, we were ready for lunch.  We found a nice restaurant off the major tourist path and Nick had fried lamb and artichoke hearts and I had artichokes stuffed with seafood.  Delicious.  We chased down our hearty lunch with gelatto and then headed into the main square.  Piazza del Campo goes back to the 13th century and according to Wikipedia, is “regarded as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares.”  It was a beautiful day and there were people sitting and enjoying the warm weather all throughout the piazza.

Piazza del Campo

Piazza del Campo

Palazzo Pubblico

Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall)

That evening we decided to buy some good Italian meat and cheese and have a picnic at the B&B.  We got some fresh Italian bread, prosciutto, a variety of cheeses, olive topenade, and pears at the grocery store in town and were gifted a bottle of the proprietor’s own wine made on the premises.  Our hosts, Gianni and his wife, Eliza, make natural wine from the grapes on their property.  They don’t add any chemicals or do any extra processing and then let the wine age in oak barrels in their cellar.  We were lucky enough to get a tour of the cellar and their wine making equipment.  Gianni also told us that the house itself was more than 1,000 years old but that below the cellar there was an Etruscan tomb, which we were able to peek into through a grate.  Pretty incredible.

Rosemary growing on the property at Santa 10

Rosemary growing on the property at Santa 10

The next day, after a beautiful walk, we went back into Siena and were successful in updating the car’s insurance.  With a now legal Fiat, we were headed south towards Amalfi.

This was our longest drive but also our most successful in terms of navigating.  We didn’t run into any real issues and the drive was beautiful.  The last hour or so on the road was spent on the winding cliffside roads of the Amalfi coast.  Nick was an incredible driver on a very difficult road with some insane motorists.  It was all the more impressive because he was driving stick shift, something he had barely done before the trip, and because our little Panda was definitely not the right vehicle for the road.

Windy road to Amalfi

Windy road to Amalfi

When we finally arrived at the hotel, we were happy to have a little break from driving.  Our room had a balcony overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea and from certain angles, we could fool ourselves into thinking we were on a cruise ship.  That night we walked into town and got dinner at a great restaurant.  Nick ordered the linguini with clams and a local fish and I had homemade pasta and seafood.  We drank wine from Ravello, another town along the Amalfi coast we had passed through, and limoncello made in Amalfi.

The view from our hotel room

The view from our hotel room

More from our balcony

More from our balcony

The next day, we walked back into town to explore.  The weather was perfect and the smell of fresh flowers and citrus filled the air.  First, we went to the Duomo di Amalfi, a 9th century cathedral in the main piazza.  The cathedral was massive and incredibly ornate.  We kept thinking we had seen all of it when we would enter a new part of the cathedral more impressive than the last.

Lavender growing all over the place

Lavender growing all over the place

Amalfi and the harbor

Amalfi and the harbor

Duomo di Amalfi

Duomo di Amalfi

After visiting the church, we started walking along little paths further and further into the valley, until we had fully escaped the tourists and were exchanging “buon giorno”s with the locals.  There were citrus trees tiered along the cliffs to maximize their amount of arable land and it seemed like everyone was growing lemons.  The nature and architecture we saw on our walk resembled how we imagined Brazil to be more so than Italy.

Towards the end of our walk into the valley

Towards the end of our walk into the valley

When we finally turned around and got back into town, we went back over by the Duomo and had pizza for lunch.  From there, we attempted to make our way up to the cemetery at the top of the hill but just ended up walking along narrow streets not finding what we were looking for.  We eventually gave up and decided to go down to the beach to dip our toes in the Tyrrhenian.

Tyrrhenian Sea

Tyrrhenian Sea

Amalfi

Amalfi

After lounging in the sun for a bit, we went back to the hotel and got ready for dinner.  Nick found us a great restaurant and after dinner, we met a nice Canadian couple who had some very interesting stories of (way) up north.  On the walk home, Nick decided he was going to pick us some oranges from a tree growing by a set of stairs.  After some acrobatics, he managed to pick a few.  We tried all of them but as Nick put it, “they tasted like vomit.”

Vespas as far as the eye can see

Vespas as far as the eye can see

The next day we drove into Positano and got some lunch.  I was nauseous on the way there and nervous about the winding roads ahead, but luckily, some rib-sticking gnocchi made me feel all better.  After lunch, we were on the road again, headed east to Bari.

Except, we soon realized, we were not headed east, but instead headed south.  We missed our exit to Bari early on and without GPS, had no way of knowing how far we had gone until it was too far to turn around.  Using the free iPod app, we tried to find a new route to Bari but neither the streets on the map nor the highway exits were well marked.  We pulled over on the highway to figure out our next move when a police car pulled over to see if we needed any help.  The kindly officers pointed us in the right direction and we headed east towards Bari via Potenza.

The road we took to Potenza was similar to many we have encountered in Romania: two-lane pot-holed roads winding over hills and down valleys.  We were definitely taking the scenic route.

Somewhere outside Potenza

Somewhere outside Potenza

Eventually, we made it to Bari and figured out how to get to the Ikea, where we were scheduled to drop off our rental car at the Hertz office there.  Only it wasn’t there.  When we went into the Ikea to figure out where this Hertz agency could be, we were told that it had closed more than a year ago.  Once we picked our jaws up off the ground, we called Hertz and were instructed to drop our car off at the airport.  It all worked out alright in the end–we were able to drop off the car and catch a cheap bus into Bari–but the car definitely added some stress.

Fiorello taking a break on the long road to Bari

Fiorello taking a break on the long road to Bari

We checked into our hotel, which had a serious 70′s feel to it, and were directed to the restaurant across the street for dinner.  We were really hungry by the time we got there and decided to get the appetizer sampler, expecting a plate with a little bit of everything we could share.  Oh, no.  The appetizer sampler meant free range at the appetizer buffet station.  There was baked eggplant, potatoes au gratin, ceviche, marinated vegetables, stuffed mushrooms, squid, and more.  It took so much self restraint to not load up on the first course, but we had already ordered pasta and sausages.  It was even harder once we realized how delicious everything at the buffet was.  It was a great first meal in Bari and dining on such good Italian comfort food helped us forget all the stress of that afternoon.

The next morning, we went out to see the sights in Bari.  We started with stuffed focacia and fried polenta for breakfast and then ordered the special cappuccino from the menu, which we were surprised to find out was not actually a cappuccino  but coffee and ice-cream.  We weren’t mad about it.

We walked around by the marina and then over to the Basilica di San Nicola, or the Basilica of Saint Nicholas.  The church holds St. Nicholas’s remains and some important relics and is a pilgrimage destination for Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians.  The interior reflects the importance of both faiths to the church with its mix of Catholic and Orthodox art.  The most impressive aspect of the church for me, was the completely gilded ceiling.

The Aegean Sea in Bari

The Aegean Sea in Bari

Inside the Basilica

The ceiling inside the Basilica

After visiting the basilica, we wandered around the old part of the city.  It was exactly how I would imagine Italy if all I had ever known about it came from visiting the North End in Boston.  We walked through little alleyways full of children playing and old men gambling, and past open doorways where we could see and smell women cooking.

The streets of Bari

The streets of Bari

Old Town, Bari

Old Town, Bari

Girls posing with their Berlusconi flags

Girls posing with their Berlusconi flags

Little alleyways in Bari

Little alleyways in Bari

In the afternoon, we visited Swabian Castle, which is now a gallery, and where ancient stone and marble sculptures were on display.  We went out for lunch and then continued walking around the city before heading back to the hotel to get ready for dinner and pack our bags.  We had an early morning flight back to Romania the next day and didn’t want to have to worry about packing when we came home from dinner.

Inside Swabian Castle

Inside Swabian Castle

Since we only rarely get any sort of Asian food in Romania, and only ever Chinese when we do, we decided to go out for sushi on our last night of vacation.  We had a nice dinner and were apparently good enough tippers to merit some free sake before we left.  We walked around town a bit and then ended up splitting a pizza over beer at another restaurant later on in the evening.  Neither of us wanted the vacation to end.  This was our last big trip in the Peace Corps and it had been an amazing one.  But, against our wishes, our vacation did end and we flew back to Romania the next morning.

I have had some incredible travels during my Peace Corps service.  I realize that this isn’t the norm and I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to see as much as I have during my time here.  I feel equally grateful to have had such a wonderful companion in Nick on all of these trips.

Only picture of us together from the trip

We’re great travel buddies but not the most diligent photographers.  This is the only picture of us together from the trip!

Thomas and Erin’s Franco-American Wedding

Last May, my dear friend, Erin, got married on Reunion Island to a great guy named Thomas.  American Erin met French Thomas while she was teaching English in Nîmes, France.  Around the same time as I moved to Romania, they moved to Reunion Island and a short time after that they decided to get married.  Unfortunately, Reunion Island is very far away from all of their friends and family, so they decided that sometime that next spring, they would have a celebration in France so that they could celebrate with the people they love.

Erin and Thomas's Wedding in Reunion

Erin and Thomas’s Wedding in Reunion

So for nearly a year, Nick and I had been planning this trip to France to celebrate Erin and Thomas’s marriage with them.  Luckily for us, their wedding was scheduled for the first Saturday of our spring vacation, which meant that we didn’t have to take much time off from school and that we could extend our trip since we would already be in Western Europe with some time off from school.  We decided that after the wedding, we would go to Italy and spend a week driving down the peninsula, starting in Milan and stopping in Tuscany and Amalfi, before ending the trip in Bari.  More on that later.

Early in the morning on April 5th, we flew out of Cluj Airport to Paris Beauvais. We rented a car in Beauvais and headed south to Besançon in the Franche-Comté region of eastern France.  Nick drove our rented Renault Clio and despite some navigational hiccups (aka we didn’t have a map or GPS), we made it to Besançon and dropped the car off in time to catch a train to Baume-les-Dames.  Erin and her mom picked us up from there and took us to L’Orangerie, a chateau just outside of the town, where we would be staying and where the celebration would be held.

Remy the Renault

Remy the Renault

When we got to the chateau, we were pretty stressed because we had tried to buy our overnight train tickets to Milan in Besançon, only to find out that the company operating the train was an internet-only operation and that we couldn’t buy tickets in person.  Sidenote: we had tried to buy the tickets online but they had to be shipped and could only be sent to the UK.  So without internet at the chateau and no idea how we were going to make it to Italy, we were reasonably on edge.

L'Orangerie

L’Orangerie

We did our best not to stress and to be social with the very international crowd at the wedding.  France had the largest representation in attendance but there were a fair amount of other Americans, including Erin’s family and some friends from college.  Romania was also well represented since Thomas had worked for several years in Romania as had his best friends.  Also, one of Erin’s friends from college was born in Romania but grew up in Canada and the US.  Norway, Greece, and Switzerland were also represented, creating an interesting and diverse crowd in attendance.

The beautiful grounds of the chateau

The beautiful grounds of the chateau

We were exhausted and didn’t last too long the first night, but that ended up being a good thing since Saturday was a jam-packed day.  After breakfast, we were broken up into teams and sent into Baume-les-Dames on a scavenger hunt.  Luckily, we were teamed up with a French family with a good grasp of English.  It was a fun way to see the town and meet some new people.

There were quiches for lunch when we got back followed by some desperate yet fruitless attempts to figure out how we would get to Italy.  In the end, we decided drinking would be the best solution.

After lunch, the other girls and I went to watch Hilde do Erin’s wedding makeup.  She was absolutely beautiful and distinctly Erin, which is what I loved the most about it all.  It was also great to get to know Erin’s other friends, Sarah, Sandra, and Hilde, along with her mom, Lisa.

Hilde doing Erin's makeup

Hilde doing Erin’s makeup

Gorgeous bride!

Gorgeous bride!

Once Erin was all made up and gorgeous, the ceremony began.  Instead of a priest or pastor, they had two friends perform the service, one in a Bears jersey and cowboy hat and the other with a fake mustache holding a baguette.  The ceremony was bilingual and included a Romanian song about bunny ears, Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” performed by yours truly and the rest of the girls, and some heavily accented English swearing by the groom’s mother.  It was the most personal and fun wedding ceremony I have ever been a part of.

Erin and Thomas entering the reception hall

Erin and Thomas entering the reception hall

The international ceremony

The international ceremony

"You can kiss the bride!"

“You can kiss the bride!”

After the ceremony, there was a champagne reception followed by dinner.  We were all pretty well toasted by the time we got to the dinner, but each course was also paired with a bottle of wine.  Oh, how I love the French.  The food was delicious, but my favorite course was definitely the cake.  Erin had requested a carrot cake and had sent the chef different recipes, which he had then apparently taste tested on Americans living nearby before the wedding.  In the end, he decided to serve the cake with a crème anglaise.  Best carrot cake ever.

The girls at the champagne reception

Hilde, Sandra, Erin, me, and Sarah

All the American girls

All the American girls

My place setting at the dinner

My place setting at dinner

Delicious Carrot Wedding Cake

Feeding each other cake.  This is apparently not a French tradition.

In between the courses, there were some games for the bride and groom à la “The Newlywed Game.”  One activity required them to take their shoes off, which was pretty hilarious since we had been joking as Erin got ready that it didn’t matter what “wedding socks” she wore since it wasn’t like anyone was going to see them!

Out come the wedding socks

Out come the wedding socks

At two o’clock in the morning, Thomas’s father came out with a boiling vat of homemade French onion soup.  Or as it’s called in France, onion soup.  Ha!  Bad jokes aside, this is the best wedding tradition and I really feel it should be a part not just of weddings, but of all late night parties.

Great late night combo.

Mmm Mmm!

Around four o’clock, I dragged myself to bed, only to be woken by the sounds of drunk Frenchmen singing and shaking beds at five in the morning.  …And then again at six.  This wedding tradition can stay in France as far as I’m concerned.

The next morning/early afternoon, we had breakfast and then went for a walk up to the next village.  The scenery was gorgeous and the houses were old but incredibly well-maintained.  Once we got back, we packed up our backpacks and waited for space in a car to take us to the train station in Baume-les-Dames.  We decided that we would figure it out in Besançon and hopefully we would have some luck and eventually make it to Italy.

Along our walk in the next village

Along our walk in the next village

When we arrived at the train station in Baume-les-Dames, we met up with Erin’s American friends, Caitlin and Lauren, and their partners.  Caitlin and her husband, Julian, were going to Switzerland via Besançon and said they would help us figure out a way to Italy.  After speaking with the ticket agent and getting nowhere, they suggested that we come with them to Lausanne, Switzerland because they knew there were direct trains from there to Milan every day.  They kindly offered to let us stay with them in their Swiss village or to help us find a hostel in the city.  Nick and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and said “Why not?”.  So with that, we began our journey with a short detour through Switzerland.

Close of Service Conference and the Next Chapter

At the end of March; Group 28, my training group and the last group of Peace Corps volunteers in Romania, had its Close of Service Conference in Sibiu.  This conference was all about looking back, while looking forward.  There were sessions on “How to Say ‘Goodbye’,” writing a resume and using social media to find employment, and administrative issues like flying back to the states and Peace Corps health insurance once we’re there.

All of us in Group 28 are in a state of limbo right now.  We’re trying to tie up loose ends at site, finish projects, and spend time with the people who have become an integral part of our lives in Romania, while simultaneously figuring out our next moves back home (or elsewhere) and looking forward to spending time with our family and friends.  For those who don’t have something lined up post-COS, this can be a stressful time.  For those who do have immediate plans, it can be hard to stay in the present with the excitement of those next steps right around the corner.  Having the group all together and discussing these anxieties with people going through the same thing was very therapeutic.  It was also emotional to know that this was the last time we would probably all be together again.

Group 28

Group 28

Now with props!

Now with props!

The whole conference was really well organized and a lot of fun.  I’m sure it was just as emotional for our Romanian staff members, some of whom have worked at Peace Corps for more than 20 years.  Being the “Legacy Group” doesn’t change much in our day to day lives but it has been a big adjustment for all of the staff members who keep us safe and healthy and who support us through and make possible all of our work at site.

The last day of the conference, we went to the Astra Village Museum for a session on bringing Romania back with us to America through cultural exchanges and other activities.  After the session, we could ride bikes, walk, or take a ride through the park in a căruţă (horse-drawn wagon).  That evening, they organized a dinner for us at a nearby restaurant with live music and karaoke as well.  In typical Romanian fashion, diplomas were awarded, and I was given the honor of “Best Classroom Decorator” and “The Leonardo DaVinci of both Art and Worksheets.”  It was a lot of fun and a great way to end the conference.

Riding a căruţă at the Astra Museum at the end of the conference

Riding a căruţă at the Astra Museum at the end of the conference

Lindsey, Megan, and me at the farewell dinner

Lindsey, Megan, and me at the farewell dinner

So what’s next for me?  As many of you may know, I spent a large part of the fall semester applying to graduate schools.  After a few anxiety filled months, I finally heard back and was excited and surprised to have gotten in to all of the schools to which I had applied.  I took a month to carefully consider my options, which were all wonderful, and then this week, I formally accepted my offer of admission and enrolled at Georgetown University for the Master of Science in Foreign Service.  I am thrilled for this next chapter in my life and couldn’t be more excited to be back at school and to live in Washington, DC.

In the meantime, my goal is to stay present and live in the moment, savoring each day I have left here in Romania.

Carnavalul Primăverii

Every year my school throws a Spring Carnival, or “Carnavalul Primăverii,” where the kids dress up like kids in America do for Halloween.  Last year, the carnival was held on one day with two separate parties in different parts of the school: one for the first through fourth graders and one for the fifth through eighth graders.  This year, with the addition of the preparatory class (like American kindergarten) at the school, we decided to throw two separate parties on different days.  This meant a bigger commitment from the teachers but that we wouldn’t be spread so thin.

On Thursday, the older students had their carnival.  Only about ten students came from each grade and not all of them were dressed up.  The carnival was laid back with a costume contest, games, and lots of dancing (especially to Gangnam Style). My favorite costumes were the seventh grade boy that came dressed in the traditional regional girls’ dance costume and the eighth grade girl dressed in a tiger onesie and mask.

Viorel in traditional dress and Aurica in drag

Cross dressing is very popular at Carnival

Gangnam Style

Gangnam Style

Paula and a Bunică

Paula and a Bunică

Most of the club kids and me

Most of the club kids and me

Eat the cookie off the string game

Eat the cookie off the string game

Toilet Paper Mummy Game

Toilet Paper Mummy Game

Dancing

Dancing

DJ Ștefan taking requests

DJ Ștefan taking requests

The next day, the primary school kids had their carnival.  There were five grades instead of four and almost every kid from each grade was in attendance, meaning there were A LOT more kids this time.  Many of the children’s parents and siblings were also there, making the room even more crowded.

Lots and lots of costumed little ones

Lots and lots of costumed little ones

2nd grade cuties

2nd grade cuties and cross-dressers

1st graders dancing the hora

1st graders dancing the hora

I was given the task of judging costumes (against my will) and so after making my own list of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize winners for each grade, had to convene with the ten parents who were serving as judges to decide on each prize.  Keep in mind that some of these parents were fighting for their own children and that I just wanted to get out of there.  Alas, it took us another thirty minutes to come to an agreement but there were definitely some tense moments along the way.

The best group shot I could get of the preparatory class

The best group shot I could get of the preparatory class

1st grade

1st grade

2nd grade

2nd grade

3rd grade

3rd grade

4th grade

4th grade

The kids were freaking adorable but for us teachers, the day was far more stressful than the one before.  The kids had a blast and everything went as smoothly as one can expect when throwing a party for 80+ small children so I’ll call it a success and be happy it was my last.

2nd grade costume winners

2nd grade costume winners

A Plethora of Presidents

After the success of the Halloween toilet paper roll creatures, the students continued to save and bring in paper towel and toilet paper rolls in the hopes of making Christmas creatures before the semester ended.  However, as we all turned to sweatshop elves making origami flowers and tissue paper vases to sell at the Christmas Bazaar, we ran out of time for the Christmas creatures and ended the semester with a surplus of TP rolls.  Boxes and bags of toilet paper rolls filled my classroom and at the start of the new semester it was clear that I needed to figure something out so I didn’t end up on Hoarders.

Looking at a calendar of American holidays, I had my eureka moment: “Inauguration Day…  President’s Day…  Presidents… Toilet paper roll presidents?  …Toilet paper roll presidents!”  So there you go.  The next week, my American Culture and English club kids were in the computer lab divvying up presidents and researching them online.  I gave the kids a worksheet with different things to find out about each president (political party, terms served, vice president, etc.) as well as a notable event from their presidency.  If this project taught me anything it is that not all presidents are created equal.  For some, they had to continue writing on the back and then there are presidents like William Henry Harrison…

A project was born

A project was born

The next class, the crafting began.  Big credit is due to my lovely mother who sent googly eyes and pom-poms all the way from America to help us out!

Students busy working on their presidents

Students busy working on their presidents

Busy working on Obama, Teddy Roosevelt, and Jefferson

Busy working on Obama, Teddy Roosevelt, and Jefferson

The students were given pictures of the presidents as well as colored paper, yarn, and anything else they could scavenge (paperclips and thumbtacks ended up playing prominent roles).  We had to stretch out the crafting over a few weeks because there are only thirteen kids in the club and 44 presidents (actually, there are just 43.. Did you know we double-count Grover Cleveland because of his non-consecutive terms?  My club kids do.).

Alexandra's finished Obama (there isn't more than one brown at the store where I buy colored paper...)

Alexandra’s finished Obama (there isn’t more than one brown at the store where I buy colored paper…)

047

The 8th grade girls working on (from left to right) FDR, Eisenhower, and Lincoln

Theodore Roosevelt (pronounced "Tay-O-dorrr")

Theodore Roosevelt – Don’t worry that’s not a prison tat, just a monocle.

Paula's Eisenhower.. She's great with faces!  Make sure to look for her Clinton in the following pictures!

Paula’s Eisenhower.. She’s great with faces! Make sure to look for her Clinton in the following pictures.

In the end, the presidents were put on display in my classroom and are admired by all who visit.

TP Roll Presidents on display!

TP Roll Presidents on display!

Check out Adams's hair!

Check out Adams’s hair!

The ones with facial hair were the most fun for the kids!

The ones with facial hair were the most fun for the kids

See if you can make out the expression on Clinton.. I swear it looks just like him!

See if you can make out the expression on Clinton.. I swear it looks just like him!

So in conclusion, my club kids are amazing and probably know more about all of the US presidents than your average American does.

My wonderful American Culture and English Club kids

The wonderful American Culture and English Club kids and me