Monday, April 27, 2009

St. Paul's Trail

If the Hash runner's trail is introduced as "difficult," I know better than to question the meaning of the word. Last Saturday we were given two different starting locations to choose from. Sarah, Florian, Britney and Irene chose to do the runner's trail. Tracey, Hetty and I decided to do the "easier" walker's trail. I really think that we made an excellent decision. Easy isn't the adjective I would use to describe this hike. I can think of many others: challenging, beautiful, scenic, spiritual, rugged, dangerous. It certainly, for me, was a spiritual experience, to walk the trail that Paul would have taken while crossing Macedonia. (That's one of my favorite stories in Acts; Paul sees a vision of a Macedonian calling out to him for the Gospel.) Saint Paul really must have been in excellent shape! After spending a fair amount of time on the trail, we ventured down to the river. Beautiful!
I love the little waterfall in the background of this picture. Confession: I did fall on this hike. It was slippery!
We had to cross the raging river over very high rocks. Luckily, experienced hikers were there to consult with regarding hand/foot positions for rock climbing. Rock climbing is one of my criteria for a challenging hike, another is whether or not you have to scoot down rocks on your bottom, another is if have to hang off the side of a hill. This was a challenging hike.
Do you see the lighter grove of trees above the river? That's the St. Paul's Trail. Amazing. (Another favorite adjective...)
The clouds began rolling in quickly. Luckily, we only experienced minor sprinkles. It actually was refreshing.
Once across the river, we were able to take the road back to the meeting area. This was my first time back early from a hike. We hung out on the bank of the river eating oranges and waiting for our friends who did the difficult hike. Personally, I was glad to have taken the road St. Paul traveled.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Orthodox Easter in Korca

This past weekend, we went home. For the past school year, I've been looking forward to visiting Korca, Entela's home town. We planned on going this particular weekend because there is a large celebration for Orthodox Easter.
After we checked into our hotel (which is by far the nicest Albanian hotel we've stayed in...comfortable, clean, large shower...hooray) we set out to Entela's home. We walked by the amazing Orthodox cathedral located in the center of town. (By the way, does anyone know the difference between a "regular" church and a cathedral???) One thing that was very noticeable was the Korca cleanliness. Honestly, Entela kept telling us that Korca was tidy, but I had to see it to believe it. Believe it I do!
Entela's mom and sister were wonderful hostesses. We were served real Albanian food, complete with rabbit stew (Perfect for Easter. Entela told Tracey to think of the rabbit as the evil cousin of the Easter Bunny and not as the Easter Bunny himself!). I wasn't sure that I would enjoy the rabbit stew, but it ended up being my favorite...probably because it's made with wine. Oh, I should clarify. The rabbit stew was my favorite savory option, the dessert beats everything! Entela's mom makes the best baklava in Albania. No exaggeration. (Amy once told me that she didn't like baklava until she tried the homemade variety from Entela's mom). I want to try making baklava at home this summer. Anyone willing try this experiment?
After a delicious lunch, we set off to walk in this beautiful park, which is directly across from the college Entela attended. Speaking of academics, did you know that the Albanian language was first written in the late 1800s? The same man who founded the first school also created the written language (I think, I could be wrong...). Entela told us that all the best Albanian minds come from Korca.... hers included (at least I think so).
I love tulips almost as much as roses! There were tulips in practically all the flower beds we walked by. The city flower beds were planted orderly and with a plan. That's the biggest impression that Korca left on me: there was order and beauty.
After another delicious meal ($40 which included drinks and dessert for 6 people!!!!! I love Albania.), we hit the streets with the entire town. We brought the candles that we had purchased earlier in the day. The second we arrived outside of the cathedral, the bells started tolling. We lit our candles, the priest began singing, and we enjoyed the midnight Easter morning celebration. People had red eggs which they cracked and ate. We walked to the hotel after that, being careful to keep our candles lit...for luck!
What's this? It looks like a bear. It is a bear... the Easter Bear! The guy in front was trying to hide the bear from us because he wanted to charge us a bundle for pictures. I feel a bit guilty, actually. After some shopping (I bought Korca honey...yum!) we loaded up in the public van and headed back to Tirana. I can't wait to spend another weekend at home.

Friday, April 17, 2009

An Accident Waiting to Happen

This blog has definitely been therapeutic for me. I have another trial/humorous story to share.

After a brisk walk in the park, I returned home to shower before a fancy sushi dinner out with Sarah, Florian, Travis and Amy. I remember thinking while in the shower how lucky I am never to have slipped on the tiles. Welllllll, upon exiting the shower, I somehow lost my balance and hit my shin. It seemed like a good idea at the time to stabilize myself with one of the shower doors that hangs loosely in my shower. The result was disaster. I ended up falling on the floor, crouched in a huddled position while glass exploded from behind. Sarah, who was getting into the shower next door, heard the shattering and called out to me. I was sort of in a daze and didn't answer back. She came in through our adjoining door. By this time, I had slowly eased myself up, grabbed my towel and was standing on my gym clothes. My body was covered in glass and the door wouldn't open because glass was blocking it. I used my t-shirt to wipe away some glass and was able to exit the bathroom. Luckily, Sarah was right by my door and was able to think for me. I started to wipe the glass off of my legs, but Sarah told me to go shower off in her shower. While I was taking my second shower of the evening, Sarah began sweeping up the shards of glass. I came back and both of us worked on my bathroom in our towels and flip-flops. Then, Sarah went to take a shower and I worked on getting the remaining glass off my shower floor, one spoon full of glass at a time. Now, everything is cleaned up, though I'll wear my flip-flops in the bathroom the next few weeks in fear of remaining glass particles. My injuries are surprisingly few. I have a nasty knot on my shin where I hit it and just a few very, very small cuts on my hand. God must have an entire legion of guardian angels looking out for me; one of them of course is Sarah.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Along the Ionian Coast

Tirana International School had a three day weekend over the Easter holiday. A group of us piled into two cars and headed south to the beaches. The roads were windy and bumpy but the landscape was breathtaking.

Here's our group! We primarily hung out in vehicle groups. (Tracey's parents are here visiting from British Columbia.) Once again, we lucked out on drivers. Olti was very considerate and stopped whenever we saw a photo opportunity (or when I got car sick...)

Our Saturday destination was Dhermi. It is a very small beach town on the Ionian Sea. There were a handful of hotels and a small number of restaurant options. We found a hotel that fit our needs and was steps away from the sea. Here, you can see Travis hard at work on a drift wood structure. There are no sandy beaches so sandcastles are out of the question!
Vicky, Sarah's friend from Britain, said she's never seen sea cows before. Ha! Only in Albania.

Attempt 1,609,085 of trying to learn how to throw a Frisbee. It's a curse. Practice does NOT make perfect in this case. Travis did give me tips that helped a bit. I did have a great time playing a Frisbee game with Amy, Tracey, Travis, Lee and Vicky. Maybe, I'll keep trying. Maybe.

Tracey said, "Holly, how about an adventure?" I'm a fan of adventure. Her idea was to swim out to this rock, climb it and then jump down. Mission accomplished! It was simply hilarious because of course the rock was slimy and not a simple climb. There are more beaches south of Dhermi, which we will go to next year. The draw is that there are islands that you can swim out to!
Hale, hale, the gang's all here. Sarah's car was about 2 hours behind us on both Saturday and Sunday. We did all manage to get together for Saturday dinner. We enjoyed sea food overlooking the sea. I had a sea food pasta that was delicious. I even ate the calamari.
Sunday morning, we went out on this beach (which we had played on the day before) for our Easter service. It was one of the simplest Easter services ever! We kept it focused on scripture, prayer and songs... the essentials of a worshipful experience. After "church" we headed down to Saranda and Butrint!
We had a light Easter lunch in Saranda overlooking Korfu, Greece. Sigh. I don't think I can return to "normal" after this year.Another new favorite place!!!! Butrint is amazing. These ancient Roman ruins date back to 4 B.C. Butrint was a functioning colony up through the middle ages. Everything was incredibly well preserved. Amy read out of my Albania guide book, so we actually knew what we were looking at. It is a world heritage site and a must see for sure! These are the Roman bathhouses.
There were two gates with secret entrances. Here is the Epp family preparing to go down toward the gate.
All the world is a stage! The amphitheater is still in functioning order. They even have concerts there in the summer. We all took a turn performing. Here is Travis rehearsing a little tragedy.
Ah, the Lion Gate! I thought Travis was making fun of me when he said, "Oh look, it's Aslan," in a childlike voice. He wasn't, but that was exactly what I was thinking.
This is the Nymph Fountain. I thought it would be fun if we pretended to be nymphs, but I really wasn't seriously considering the possibility of climbing up the fountain. Tracey, on the other hand, is very good about carrying an idea to fruition. Hence, here is my very favorite picture of all! The ruins were all very accessible and were really a jungle gym for adults. The only exception was the baptistery which has a load of sand over an amazing mosaic. Unfortunately, funds haven't come in to expose the mosaic is a safe manner, so they just covered it up with sand.
I can't see wooden boats without thinking about my dad and taking a picture just for him. This is on the way up to the castle which also houses the artifacts museum. The museum is where we saw a picture of the baptistery mosaic.
Back to Saranda for Easter dinner! We walked around the water front looking for open restaurants. We finally found an amazing Italian place. It ended up being a gathering spot for about 4 families from T.I.S. Albania is a small, small land.
There was wisteria everywhere we went! It made me think of Westmont in springtime. Happy Easter to all! We live in a beautiful world.