Status Update

Jambo from Nairobi

5/10

I’m currently in Nairobi, the capitol of Kenya and East Africa’s largest city.  In the two days I have been here the city has yet to live up to its “Nairobbery” nickname.  I’m hoping that it stays that way.

Doing what he does best: Alex bringing tears to the face of a small Zimbabwean child.  Stay strong kid!

Somehow it seems that I always end up with Australian travel companions.  For the last two months my faithful padawan from Maputo to Zanzibar was Alex.  During that time, I tutored him on the finer points of the English language and he worked to explain to me the details of the English Premier League.  We both made significant strides in understanding, but have great lengths to achieving mastery.  Alex abandoned me to return to work and Europe.  Thus, I’m back to bringin’ da ruckus on my own to Kenya and beyond.  We had a good run and I owe Alex a great deal for keeping me sane during many of the more testing moments of this trip.

Among the biggest inconveniences of traveling in Africa and Europe is the time difference between here and back home.  It is terrible for sports fans.  I am always envious of European soccer fans and their exceedingly reasonable start times and the fact that English soccer games are shown everywhere.  Being in Nairobi with a decent internet connection gave me the chance to catch Game 4 of the Blazers-Warriors series on a live stream.  This meant waking up early in the morning, but it was worth it.  All season long this team has punched above its weight and it was fun to catch them live without too many interruptions today.  Of course, a Blazers victory would have been much preferred, but it's hard to stop Steph Curry when he catches fire.  There's still Game 5 to look forward to.  Go Rip City!

In honor of the many journeys on African public transport Alex and I shared.

I am alive after all- an update at last

4/29

As anyone who has visited this website in the last two months knows, I have been neglecting my blogging duties.  My legion of fans can rest assured that I have not fallen ill, been kidnapped by pirates, or forgotten how to use a computer.  The main two reasons for my inattention are poor internet connections and sheer laziness.  At times using the internet here in Africa has become a greater exercise in patience than a lifetime of supporting the Mariners (this is the year we make it back to playoffs).  I only have myself to blame for the lack of willpower to post updates when I have had the opportunity. I am now relaxing at Nungwi Beach on the northern tip of the island of Zanzibar.  The weather here has tended to cycle from blazing sun to pouring rain.  With the rain foiling any attempts to relax at the beach, I have finally run out of reasons to not write.

 Here is a summary of the places I have laid my head since the last post.  I will follow up with more details and (if I can get a decent upload connection) photos in the coming days. 

-Ezulwini, Swaziland
-Maputo, Mozambique
-Tofo Beach, Mozambique
-Vilanculos, Mozambique
-Mutare, Zimabwe
-Harare, Zimbabwe
-Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
-Victoria Falls, Zimabwe
-Livingstone, Zambia
-Lusaka, Zambia,
-Mfuwe (South Luangwa National Park), Zambia
-Lilongwe, Malawi
-Cape Maclear, Malawi
-Senga Bay, Malawi
-Kande Beach, Malawi
-Mbeya, Tanzania
-Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
-Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania
-Nungwi Beach, Zanzibar, Tanzania

SLNP Lions

Lumela from Lesotho

 

2/23

After about six weeks in South Africa I’ve finally made a break from that country and found my way to Lesotho. 

Some background on Lesotho- if you look on a map Lesotho is the small country entirely surrounded by South Africa.  It is a mountainous, mostly rural independent country.  The lowest point in the country is nearly a mile above sea level, making Lesotho the highest country in the world.  The Basotho people, the occupants of the country, were united under King Moeshoeshoe the Great in the early 19th century as they sought to defend themselves from Zulu and Boer attacks.  In 1868 then-Basotholand became a British protectorate as a means of ensuring protection from the Boers.  This established the current borders between Lesotho and South Africa.  Lesotho gained its independence from Britain in 1965.  By having maintained autonomy from South Africa and its antecedent states, Lesotho avoided the stain of apartheid that affected the country surrounding it.  However, political turmoil was a regular occurrence from the time of independence until the early 2000s.  Contemporary Lesotho is a relatively stable constitutional monarchy

The stretch of South Africa from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth that I visited was great.  There were good experiences and great people everywhere I went.  I would not have spent so long passing through if I did not enjoy it.  The scenery, wildlife, and summer sunshine all lead me to believe that nature was on my side for this part of journey.  I have been lucky to have had good company from both travelers and locals.  I have been surprised at how much I enjoy the South African lexicon.  It reminds me of Australian English in its peculiarity and casualness.  Particularly, “Howzit” is a great greeting and I’d say it’s probably superior to “Whatsup.”

While traveling through South Africa was incredibly convenient on the Baz Bus, getting to Lesotho required slightly more leg work.  It took nearly 24 hours, one mainline bus, two minibus taxis, one border crossing, and two city taxis, but I made it the village of Semonkong from Port Elizabeth.  The area surrounding Semonkong is idyllic.  Green fields and gentle, though deceptively steep, hills are everywhere.  From a high point I can turn around and for 360 degrees the horizon is broken by mountains.  There are no real restrictions on hiking anywhere as long as you’re considerate.  It’s liberating to just pick a direction and go as far as my legs feel like taking me.

Hola from Spain (Part One)

Lake Ägeri, Switzerland

12/11

I have been neglecting to keep up this blog for a while now.  With my days left in Europe numbering somewhere closer to the number of members of Five for Fighting than the Jackson Five, it seems that I should provide some updates. 

I am currently in Algeciras, Spain.  Morocco is the next destination and so my African adventure will begin with a few weeks in the land of Atlas Mountains, Berbers, the oldest American diplomatic property in the world, and the hash that contributed to Burroughs' state of mind as he wrote Naked Lunch.

In the last month I’ve seen the ancestral homeland of the Nussbaumers in Switzerland, looped around the coast of Ireland, and cast my eyes upon the continent of Africa from the southern extremities of Europe.  In each of these places I’ve had unique experiences that join the long list of highlights of a journey that I can fortunately say has been consistently pleasant, stimulating, and varied.

 

In my last post I left off with my wild adventures at the unmissable Räbechilbi Richterswil.  I have not attended any turnip festivals since then.  That is probably for the best, as any other would likely pale in comparison.  To recover from the excitement of turnips I headed to tranquil Zug.  Zug is a welcoming place to people of all walks of life, particularly those that have luck to be corporations.  (Need I remind you that corporations are people too?)  As a particularly low tax locale, Zug is home to more corporations than humans.

 My main draw to Zug, other than exploring if it was possible to start living as a corporation and save on my tax bill, was to see the land that my great-great-grandparents abandoned for America. Oberägeri on tranquil Lake Ägeri has grown in the 125 years since Benedict and Adelheid packed up and left.  Yet, with a population of around 6000, it still feels sleepy and insulated from the outside.

Views like this are surely what convinced Transocean to move from Houston to Zug

One of the excitements of being in Oberägeri is the chance to see the Nussbaumer name plastered on more buildings, buses, and (in a morbid turn) gravestones than I have encountered in all my life.  It’s enough to see why the orange haired wizard of Chapter 11 likes to put his name on the classiest steaksboard games, and bottled water ever seen in his commercial crusade to Make America Great Again.

Roughly translated it means something along the lines of "Nussbaumer- Holla Atcha Boy"

Oberägeri and Zug, being surrounded by hills and situated at the lakeside, benefit from surpluses of verdant natural beauty simply unmatched by most of the earth.  It could lead one to question why anyone would choose to leave.  Then again, 19th century Switzerland was not the land of bankers and corporate mailboxes that it is now.  I won’t complain, for as Lee Greenwood sang in that sweetly jingoistic jingle, I’m proud to be an American.

Oberägeri: Blue skies, green fields, and plenty of Nussbaumers

Ducks on Lake Ägeri- perhaps we were destined to be a UO family

German beer: financing not needed to afford

From Zug I made a brief stopover in Basel.  At this point my rail pass had only a single day left on it. Determined to make the most of this, in an act of exuberance I made the decision to make the 45 minute trip to Freiburg, Germany, where I could enjoy one last German kebab and more than one German beers for a price that would not treat my wallet to a bit of monetary liposuction.  Sure, Switzerland is gorgeous, but at least Germany feels affordable.

 The next day I took my first flight of this trip since landing in Istanbul more than four months earlier, this time to Dublin.  Considering that Ireland’s climate is fairly similar to that of Oregon, but a tad wetter, commonsense would dictate that November is not the ideal time to visit.  However, considering that I was in Europe and that flights to and from the island cost less than a used textbook, commonsense went out that window and I have no regrets.  In my two weeks on the Emerald Isle I managed to make a tour around the island, absorb the beauty of the land, and enjoy the local tipples

 

In Dublin I visited two local ethanol producers for tours and product familiarization.  The first, a quaint operation known as the Arthur Guinness Brewing Company, is one of the icons of Ireland.  Few things are more associated with this country than the dark stuff coming from the St. James’s Gate Brewery.  Having checked out my share of breweries, this one is definitely the largest brewery I have toured. Much of the tour is the same as any other brewery, though it caters to a broader audience than the craft brewery tours I'm used to.  You can’t expect much variation when a product only has four ingredients.  However, being a large operation the Guinness Experience also covers the unique aspects of the company’s history, including their distinctive marketing efforts.  The tour culminates with the opportunity to learn how to properly pour a pint.  They insist it takes 119.5 seconds to do right.  While pouring Guinness might be more involving than pouring standard swill like PBR, moving a handle and holding a glass at an angle is not rocket appliances.  Whatever the marketing may be, the product is good and brand’s longevity is understandable.

A portion of the Guinness Brewery as viewed from the River Liffey

When Barack "O'Bama" Obama drinks from your keg you better put it in your company archives

The other producer of sweet liquid intoxicants I visited was the Teeling Whiskey Distillery, a relatively young enterprise and the only active distillery in the city of Dublin.  Personally, I prefer beer to whiskey, but I appreciate a bit of diversity in my drinking portfolio and you won’t find me complaining if I have a well made Old Fashioned in my hand.  Teeling was my first experience seeing the inner workings of a whiskey distillery and I did learn more about the process than I knew before.  Like any proper tour, this one ended with the chance to try the product.  I’m no expert, but, in short, I approve of Teeling Whiskey.

 In the time I wasn’t learning about the transformation of sugar into sweet, sweet ethanol, I also sought out some of the city’s other attractions.

The National Museum of Ireland's Decorative Arts and History branch had an exhibit on the Irish at war.  This focused both on the military activities of Irish in Ireland as well as abroad over the last 500 years.  Considering the turbulent times on the island and the size of the Irish diaspora, a significant amount of information is covered.  The role of the Irish in America’s military is devoted a fair amount of space.  The museum building is also of interest because it was originally a military barracks and functioned in this capacity for over three hundred years before museum conversion in the 1990s.

The Fighting 69th, an infantry regiment that has served in conflicts from the US Civil War through Afghanistan, gets particular attention for its Irish roots.

The former Collins Barracks' parade deck

They got this display right

 Dublin is fairly unique in having two cathedrals, St. Patrick’s and Christ Church, in the city located within blocks of one another.  I walked around the exteriors of both, but only took the time to see the interior of Christ Church.  I think I can be forgiven for my impiety considering that both churches charge an entrance fee.  The interior of Christ Church is not outstanding, though still interesting, in light of the countless churches I’ve seen in the past months.   Fans of The Tudors may recognize it, as it has been used as a filming location in that series. Fans of Joyce may recall that in Finnegans Wake a reference is made to the cat and rat that were trapped in the cathedral’s organ and mummified.  Admittedly, I’m a fan of neither, but signs on displays provided these interesting bits.

Christ Church Cathedral with a surprising amount of blue sky in the background

Inside of Christ Church Cathedral

Cat and Mouse: Play it and you could end up mummified in a pipe organ.  You've been warned.

Ireland's oldest harp

Ireland's oldest harp

Trinity College Dublin has an impressive library which is most famously home to the Book of Kells.  This intricately crafted manuscript containing the Gospels is impressive with its beautiful calligraphy, colorful decorations, and Celtic styling.  Also impressive is the library’s Long Room.  Long, as implied by the name, and narrow, it is lined with the busts of philosophers and writers through the ages.  On display are an original copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic from the 1916 Easter Rising and the oldest harp in Ireland.  The olfactory senses are treated to the rich scents of mahogany and leather bound books.  Were it to be bottled, I might just start wearing cologne to increase my aura of sophistication.

Following Dublin made the journey to Cork, the third largest city on the island, with a night’s layover in Waterford.  The University College Cork campus is one of the main sights in the city and beautifully kept.  The city also has two quality brewpubs, Franciscan Well and Rising Sons, as well as the significantly larger scale Murphy’s Brewery.  I enjoyed beers from all three.  My motivation for visiting Cork extended beyond academia and fermentation and onto live music.  Titus Andronicus, one of favorite bands, was on tour and in town.  Considering that their album The Monitor was essentially the soundtrack to seven of the most frustrating, but character shaping, months of my life, I could not pass up this opportunity.  The concert was in an intimate venue with a small crowd.  Their sound lends itself well to a live environment where the richness of the music can assault the eardrums with full intensity.  Of all the ways I could be reminded of my tinnitus, this is one of the most preferable.

University College Cork Quad

University College Cork Quad

Galway was the next stop after Cork.  It was here that I got perhaps the best day of weather in my two weeks, though it was sandwiched between days of the typical wet and cold.  I took advantage of the situation to go for a walk along Galway Bay.  The sunny, windy, and brisk conditions call to mind more comparisons to Oregon while remaining distinct.  I found myself refreshed in walking around town in the sun and appreciating the island’s beauty even more.

The best weather observed in Ireland

I will continue my final update from Europe in another post to follow shortly after this one.  I still have my time in Northern Ireland and here in Spain to recount.

Grüetzi from Switzerland

11/15

I would say that the past few weeks have been among the best of my trip as I have had the chance to reunite with several of the friends I made while traveling.

I met up again with Paul in Berlin.  At this rate we should probably be hunting for an apartment and looking for pets together.

In Berlin we met up with my friend Sebastian, whom I met in Ukraine.  Being a Berliner, Sebastian was nice enough to show Paul and I around the city.  We got to see and do all the standard fare- the Wall, the Brandenburg Gate, and late night bars (though by Berlin standards we were done pretty early).

They're big fans of Taylor Swift in Berlin

It was easy to spend a week in Berlin.  It's also a surprisingly cheap city by European standards.  Museums tend not to be exorbitant,  a decent kebab can be had for under 4 euros, and relatively inexpensive beer from the market can be enjoyed on the street.

I went to Brussels for a few days after Berlin.  There I had the good luck to run into Sebastian again.  We checked out the Atomium (Brussels' overpriced vestige of the 1958 World's Fair), the European quarter, and met up with local friends of his to tipple.  Belgium is worth the trip for the beer alone.  The diversity of beers breaks up weeks of German lagers.  As any enthusiast knows, they are also deceptively strong.  It doesn't take many to feel their effects.

Being in Brussels also provided me the opportunity for a day trip to Flanders and few sites related to First World War.  Ypres (Ieper in Dutch) was the site of some of the worst fighting of the war.  The trench warfare and use of gas that typifies the Western Front was in full effect here.  The fighting has been immortalized in the poem "In Flanders Fields" by the Canadian soldier John McCrae.

I visited the In Flanders Fields Museum and Menin Gate in Ypres and the Flanders Field American War Cemetery in Waregem.  The museum occupies part of the Cloth Hall, an old Gothic building destroyed during the war and only completely restored in 1967.  The Menin Gate commemorates all those British and Commonwealth soldiers killed around Ypres and whose bodies were never recovered, a staggering 54,896 names in total.

The Cloth Hall in Ypres, home to the In Flanders Field Museum.

The American cemetery is the least visited of the three sites and the smallest American war cemetery on European soil.  It's a tranquil and exceedingly tidy place.

The Netherlands was my next stop after Belgium.  Taking the train between Brussels and Zwolle leads to an appreciation of just how flat the Netherlands is.  The fertile green fields attest the country's role as one of the world's largest agricultural exporters.

It's not a serious post about the Netherlands if you omit windmills.

Zwolle is off the normal tourist route.  I spent three days staying with Anton, an incredibly hospitable, fun, and well traveled Dutchman I met earlier in Turkey.  I was lucky enough to have Anton show me around town and introduce me to several typical Dutch foods.  The best of these was stroopwafela delicious sweet made with two layers a dough and a syrupy filling.  They are undoubtedly my favorite snack that I have discovered in Europe.  Anton says that I am not alone in my affections.

Even in the Netherlands it's hard to escape the reach of home.

Following Zwolle came the obligatory stop in Amsterdam.  It's a very pretty city.  Yes, the prostitutes and pot that fuel popular conceptions are easily found.  However, by being sanctioned they lose a bit of their edginess.  Amsterdam's red light district feels like a more honest, explicit, and paradoxically clean version of Vegas than the grimy red light districts to be found elsewhere with their local crackheads and heavy odors of despair.

De Wallen during the day.  Roxanne has yet to put out her red light on this day.

Amsterdam offers more than sensual stimulation with its many museums.  The downside is their consistently high admission prices.  For a budget traveler like myself this means the need to be discerning.  Following my interest in World War II and the Holocaust that has shaped much of travels so far, I visited the Anne Frank House and the Resistance Museum.  The Anne Frank House is one of Amsterdam's most visited sites and incredibly moving.  The individual story of Anne Frank is well-known and the feelings the house provides are visceral.  What is most powerful though is the realization that the story of hiding, destruction, and dehumanization is one repeated millions of times across Europe.  The Resistance Museum details the varied nature of Dutch reaction to Nazi rule.  While focusing on the ways, big and small, that the citizenry resisted occupation, it also documents collaboration and complicity during the period.  The museum seeks to present the moral, ethical, and practical questions that arise in the circumstances.  It's an overlooked museum.  The absence of crowds allows for more quiet reflection on the questions presented.

This all brings me to where I am now, Switzerland.  After a brief stop in Luxembourg, I arrived via train yesterday.  A few curious things occurred in the course of this transit that are worth mentioning.  Some of the larger French train stations had a presence of uniformed and armed military personnel that I have not generally observed elsewhere.  Upon arrival in Switzerland I had to pass through passport controls.  This is not usual, being that France and Switzerland are in the Schengen area.  I assume that this is all in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris the night before.  These were fairly small things, but noticeable.  The attacks otherwise have not seemed to impact daily routines in these parts.  Though the sense of shock with what has occurred is obvious. 

Turnip for what?

Here in Switzerland I had the chance to reunite with yet more friends.  In Brussels I met two fellow Americans, Bianca and Emily.  We realized in the course of discussing our travels that we would be in Switzerland at the same time.  Further, they informed me that would be attending Europe's largest turnip festival in Richterswil.  First of all, yes, there is such a thing as a turnip festival.  For all I know, Räbechilbi Richterswil may be the only turnip festival in Europe.  It is just the type of odd thing that makes traveling worthwhile.   For the festival the town's residents hollow out turnips, carving designs in them, and place tea lights inside.  With these spread everywhere, the town seems as if it's celebrating Lilliputian Halloween.  What makes it great though is the parade through the main street of town.  Floats covered with these turnip lanterns accompanied by bands provide entertainment for crowds squeezing to fit into the small town.  My friends may have Sasquatch or Coachella to remember (or not remember), but I've got Räbechilbi Richterswil 2015 and that's pretty hard to top.

Thanks again to all the people I've met here in Europe who have made this such a memorable time.

Hallo (again) from Germany

10/26

It has been a while since I've made any updates to the blog, more than anything that reflects the hurried pace I've been traveling at, as usual.  As I write this I am on a three hour train ride from Trier to Cologne, meaning that I finally have a block of time to string together a few sentences.

Since my last update I've moved considerably far north and west.  My travels have gone from Zagreb, Croatia, to Budapest, Hungary, to Bratislava, Slovakia, to Vienna, Austria, to Mauren, Liechtenstein, to Konstanz, Germany, to Heidelberg, to Frankfurt.  It's slightly overwhelming to think about all these places I've been in such a short amount of time.  The reason for this pace is twofold, I'm maximizing my use of my rail pass before it expires in the middle of November and I want to be in Spain at that time so that I can hop a ferry to Morocco when my visa expires.

The places I've been to in this time have varied in so many ways, but there wasn't one that I failed to enjoy (I might have appreciated if Bratislava had been less heavy on the rain).

The time in Budapest, Bratislava, and Vienna was particularly fun because I managed to reunite with my Turkey travel mate Paul.  As I've said before, he's a lot of fun and a lot help.  He provides great entertainment on the road. 

My rail pass has been of real use lately as I've explored this part of Germany.  Most days I don't know where exactly I'm going to head until I'm on a train.  It also makes it possible to squeeze a lot into a day and do otherwise frivolous things like heading to Cologne just to grab a Kölsch.  

"Bok" from Croatia

Zagreb

10/10

 

It's the second night of what was supposed to be a one night stopover in Zagreb.  I decided to land here after two days in Belgrade and three days in Veliko Tarnovo before that.  The plan was for me to spend just enough time in Zagreb to walk around the city, check out the Museum of Broken Relationships, and then skirt on to Budapest.  I accomplished the first parts and failed on the last.  It seems that I misread the departures board at the train station and got on the wrong train.  The Budapest-bound train had left the station before I realized my mistake.  Fortunately, I was able to hop off the other train before it left.  I'm still unsure where exactly it was headed, but I do know that it certainly wasn't stopping in Budapest.  

Because of my rail pass, missing this train cost me nothing more than another day here in Zagreb.  It's a pleasant city to spend time in, so I have no complaints.  The city has attractive architecture and is easy to walk around.  It's a quiet place and I enjoyed just relaxing, it is the weekend after all.

St. Mark's Church

I will be catching the early train to Budapest tomorrow and you better believe that I will hop on the right one this time.

As I referenced above, the one thing I really wanted to see while in Zagreb was the Museum of Broken Relationships.  I checked it out this morning and it delivered as I had hoped.  Unique, funny, heartbreaking, tender, and very well curated are all words to describe this small museum housed in an old baroque palace.  It's a museum that is easy (perhaps painfully so) to connect to and I have never seen anything quite like it.

Mementos range from a basketball jersey to an old checkbook to an axe used to smash an ex's furniture.  The stories and types of relationships are as varied as the objects on display.  Some are of brief encounters or unrequited love, others detail the loss of a parent, others still are decades long marriages fallen apart.  In the course of one string of displays your feelings can be pulled a dozen directions.

Objects on display come from across the world.  The museum accepts donations of items associated with broken relationships without imposing any real parameters.  They are displayed with a basic description including the donor's location, the period of the relationship, and some description provided by the donor.  The shortest description I saw on display was for a Linksys router from a donor in San Francisco- "We tried. Not compatible."  That's a failed relationship I can understand.

The longest descriptions were several paragraphs and tended to detail relationships that were more involved than one with a piece of networking technology, like the woman who donated olive pits from the man with whom she carried on a years long emotionally draining affair.

One of the museum's exhibition rooms

"Florida lake where I skipped school with my boyfriend.  The arrow indicates where I first saw a penis in the sunshine."

The Museum of Broken Relationships is a concept that seems so odd yet universal.  It is worth visiting if in Zagreb.  I love weird museums and this is one done right.

"Здравейте" (Zdravejte) from Bulgaria

10/6

I came to Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, three days ago with one goal- visiting the Buzludzha Monument.  Opened in 1981, the monument was built by the communists to serve as their party headquarters.  With the fall of communism a decade later the building was abandoned and has sat decaying ever since.  It is just so odd on so many levels that I was completely drawn to it when I first discovered it online.

No matter what you words you describe it with, it certainly is striking.

Buzludzha is in a somewhat isolated area and getting there is a challenge, as there are no means of public transportation to the area.  As a visitor this means either going on a tour there or renting a car and driving.  Finding other guests at my hostel with an interest in going there was not hard and as a group we arranged to rent cars to get there.  Seeing as how I was one of only two people out of nine with a driver's license and of the age to actually sign for a car, I became one of the drivers by default.

Inside the Marxist UFO

Here's a confession: I never properly learned how to drive a manual transmission car.  My experience with a stick was mostly limited to the 1994 Suzuki Swift I owned with my neighbors which functioned as a glorified go kart.  This is best displayed in this video.

Turns out the rental car was a manual.  I had to figure out how to drive a stick real quick or at least figure out to how to fake the funk.  I managed to get us there and back with only two near death experiences and stalling the car just once in town.  The group survived and Buzludzha was an incredible place to explore and climb around.  It was worth the trip to Bulgaria to see.

I'll enjoy climbing on its remains

Salut from Romania

10/2

 

I'm now wrapping up my fourth day in Romania.  In keeping with my modus operandi, I'm leaving the country tomorrow and heading for Bulgaria.

I've liked the little bit of Romania I have had the chance to seen.  The first two days I was here were spent in Brașov, a city in southeast Transylvania.  Transylvania is beautiful region.  It offers much more than vampires and horror.  Brașov is a charming city with a great old town.  The area's natural beauty is enhanced by the presence of the Carpathian Mountains and extensive greenery.

Bucharest has an eclectic mix of architecture that make walking the city enjoyable.  There are also quite a few nice green spaces that offer a spot to relax.  I took advantage of these several times to rest my feet after all the walking I've been doing.

Salut from Moldova

9/27

I’ve reached my final stop on my tour of the western edge of the former USSR.  Traveling through Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and now Moldova has provided me with some insight into the different trajectories that countries have followed since breaking with Mother Russia.  It has been fascinating to see the large variations between the situations in each of these places.  I plan on writing more extensively on this in a future post.

 

In the meantime, my time in Ukraine was pleasant enough.  Though like just about anywhere, I could have spent longer in Odessa and Kiev, a few days seemed to be sufficient to whet my curiosity and take in the main sights.  From Odessa I crossed into Transnistria, an internationally unrecognized republic.  Between 1990 and 1992 Transnistrian separatists fought with Moldova for independence.  While de jure indendence has been lacking, the area functions as a de facto independent country with its own currency, government, and military.  It’s certainly one of the most peculiar places I have ever been.  I couchsurfed with an incredibly hospitable local university student who showed me around the capital of Tiraspol.  Spending a night in the dorms of Shevchenko Transnistria State University was definitely a unique experience for me.

After a day and a night in Tiraspol I have landed in Chișinău.  With Moldova being a rural country, Chișinău is the only significantly built up area that I noticed after getting out of Transnistria.  The scenery along the drive from Tiraspol to Chișinău is mostly farmland and gentle hills.  Chișinău, while not a large city by European standards, is huge compared to anything else around.  I plan to spend about two days here and then head on to Romania.