Tag Archives: Greece

A Year in Photos- 2015 #sol16 20 of 31

Last year, I wrote a post sharing my favorite photos from 2014. This was a really great way to reflect on my year, and to relive some of my favorite moments. So here goes 2015’s year in photos (in chronological order). I hope you enjoy! 🙂

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All photos copyright of Jennifer Kesler. Please do not use without permission.

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Weekend in Thessaloniki #sol16 14 of 31

 I’m writing this slice from the passenger seat of our tiny, stuffed-to-the-gills rental car, as we make our way back to Tirana. We are still on the Greek side, which means smooth, mostly straight roads. Once we pass the border, it’ll be impossible to type, as we avoid potholes and drive through the twisty-turns of the mountainous roads on the way home. It’s raining, as it has most of our time in Thessaloniki. I think I’d really like Thessaloniki, but the weather definitely put a damper on the sightseeing portion of the trip for me. I opted to stay in more than Celeste. She is braver than me when it comes to venturing out in the rain! We’re jamming out to our favorite songs, belting them out, Celeste with perfect pitch, and me, well, not so much. Regardless, we are having a good time. And the trip is much better now that we are driving in daylight. We are able to see the mountains, gorgeous pink flowers adorning the side of the road, and neat little houses with the terra cotta colored roofs.

 We had a lie in on Saturday, easing into the day after getting to bed at 2:00am the night before. I sliced, drank my tea, and shared some of my slices with Celeste. We wandered down toward the sea, in search of a place to eat. Celeste spotted this cute, little spot full of people. It had to be good if it was so popular! We were instantly happy when we walked in and noticed the colorful light fixtures, balloons, and streamers. People were bustling around, bringing plates full of Greek delicacies to other patrons. The menu was full of so many choices, that we opted to order several dishes to share. We had two different salads, tzatziki, pita bread, and breaded, fried feta coated in sesame seeds, covered in honey. Our food arrived in what seemed like minutes, and it was delish! Of course, we couldn’t finish it, but we loved taking a bite of this and a bite of that, mixing the flavors.

We debated whether we should go to IKEA Saturday or wait until Sunday, but since it was pouring, we decided it would be better to go then, in hopes that Sunday would bring a bit of sunshine to explore. It’s a good thing we went on Saturday, because, as we found out later that night, it was a holiday weekend in Greece, and all stores were closed on Sunday and Monday. This news proved to be very disappointing, as we had plans to hit up the grocery store, too, and had been planning on doing this on Sunday. Unfortunately we completely missed out on the grocery store, because in addition to being closed the next two days, the grocery stores closed before 8:00pm on Saturday, so they were closed by the time we finished at IKEA. We had a field day in IKEA, and were like kids in a candy store, ooo-ing and ahhh-ing over the colorful décor, smell-good candles, and vibrant plants and pots. I’m so excited over my goodies, and can’t wait to unpack, organize, and make my apartment more home-y!

Sunday was another rainy day, and while we ventured out a bit, making a necessary stop at Starbucks for a Chai Tea Latte, I opted to spend the afternoon cuddled up at the apartment, slicing, commenting, drinking hot tea, and catching up on Grey’s Anatomy. I felt guilty, for a bit, about spending my time in a new city indoors, but I quickly got over it! We met up with a few friends for dinner, who also happened to be in Thessaloniki. Dinner was divine! Again, Celeste and I shared, which means I get to try more yummy things. We had a lovely salad of rocket, toasted almonds, grapes, tomatoes, and sesame-crusted cream cheese, honeyed orzo pasta with shrimp and a light tomato sauce, and the richest, dark chocolate torte ever. It was the fanciest dinner of the weekend by far, but all the food we had was tasty!

 This brings me back to today, and our road trip back home. After stopping for a last visit at Starbucks (sniff, sniff), filling up the tank, and rearranging our car, Tetris-style, we’re on the road. Next stop, Tirana!

Trouble at the Border #sol16 12 of 31

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Travel can be glamorous, whimsical, magical, eye-opening, fun, adventurous, exciting, and life-changing. These are the parts of travel most people see. We lust after our friend’s Instagram posts of selfies they take in front of the Eiffel Tower, Facebook posts about the adventures they had while zip-lining through the rainforests of Thailand, and blog posts of meeting sweet, Italian men who take them on a private tour of Rome. And while travel is all of these things (and more!), travel can be frustrating, scary, overwhelming, uncomfortable, and awkward. These are the parts of travel most people don’t see. Your friends don’t want to hear about how you walked two hours in the freezing cold, your feet in extreme pain, just to take that selfie at the Eiffel Tower, that you got sick to your stomach while in Thailand and spent part of your holiday cooped up in your hotel, or that prior to meeting the man in Rome, you were ripped off by a taxi driver and had to pay three times the price you should have.

Yesterday, Celeste and I took off after work in our little rental car bound for Thessaloniki, Greece, anticipating our 3-day weekend of shopping, eating, and sight-seeing. Tired and stressed after driving through Albania at night, on two-lane roads, through mountains, dodging the potholes in the roads, hair-pin turn after hair-pin turn, and nearly getting in a head-on collision because of a maniac who passed a vehicle on a curve, we arrived at the Greek border. Passing through the Albanian border patrol with ease, we get to the Greek border patrol booth. Readying the car documents, and our passports, I went up to to the agent. Handing over our passports, she asks for the car documents. I pass over the envelope the rental car company told me I would need to show at the border.

“I asked for the documents. You gave me an envelope,” she says, her tone bordering on rude.

“I don’t read Albanian, so I’m not–” I begin.

“I don’t read Albanian either. I’m Greek,” she spouts.

“No, no, what I’m trying to say is that since I don’t read Albanian, I don’t know what the documents are. I was just told to give this to the border patrol,” I explain, trying to remain calm.

“I don’t care. As the driver of the car, you should be responsible and know which documents I need,” she says, while snatching the envelope out of my hand. She begins rifling through it and pulls out two documents, questioning why the names on the documents don’t match up.

“Ma’am, I’m not sure, as I don’t own the car. I’m happy to call the rental company, and I’m sure they can explain.”

“How do I know who you are calling? You could be calling anyone. I’m not talking to anyone on the phone. And where’s your green card insurance?”

“OK, so what should I do? This is what I was told to do by the rental car company. I was told in Albania that I can buy it at the border for 40 Euros,” I reply.

“Albanians don’t know what they are talking about. They are stupid! You have to have the green card, or I can’t let you pass into Greece. You should have it already. If we are willing to sell you one, which I can’t guarantee, it would be 180 Euros. Are you willing to pay 180 Euros?” she rudely shouts at me.

“Well, if I don’t, what’s the alternative?”

“Go back to Tirana.”

Frustrated beyond belief, I call the rental car company. The woman on the phone is helpful and willing to speak to the agent on my behalf. The Greek woman refuses, saying, “I’m dealing with you, not whoever’s on the phone.” Celeste decides to walk to the Albanian office to see if she can buy a green card there. I continue to be yelled at by this Greek woman, who is so obviously prejudiced against Albania (as many are unfortunately). I try to remain calm, worried that if I put her in her place, as I so desperately want to do, she’ll deny our entry completely. Deciding to go find Celeste, I ask for my documents back, and she doesn’t seem interested in giving them to me. After some cajoling, I get my passport and car documents back.

Documents, phone, keys, and wallet in hand, I begin trying to find out how Celeste is doing. Thinking she’s at the office 100 meters away, I am worried when I can’t find her there. Walking into the dark, silhouettes of men in the distance, smoking and standing in a huddle, I am worried. I call out “CELESTE!!!” My voice is swallowed up by the darkness and the music blaring from the open cabs of 18-wheelers. “CELESTE!!!” Nothing. Phoning her, I get some message in Albanian, meaning that her phone is either off or out of service. “CELESTE!!!” By now, as I continue to walk in the darkness, freezing cold from wearing too few layers, worry begins to really set in. I get to the Albanian side and the man doesn’t let me cross. “CELESTE!!!” I call again. At this point, a huge, aggressive guard dog, who is likely startled by my yelling, begins barking loudly, his leash taut as he lunges toward me.

That was it. The last straw. I crumble. Ugly-crying sets in. Between my tears and sobs, I tell the man who can’t understand me, “I can’t find my friend. I’m worried. The Greek lady is so mean. She’s not going to let us into Greece. I need to find Celeste.” Seeing this outburst of emotions, the kind Albanian border patrol agent, who speaks a bit of English, comes to my rescue. She pulls me into her booth, which is warm and toasty, and assures me it will be OK. She knows where my friend is, and she will take me to her.

Reunited with Celeste, we figure out how to buy a green card for 40 Euros. With the documents in hand, shivering, Celeste and I make our way back to the Greek border. I fill her in on what she missed, and we are both stressed about whether we will be let in. We make a plan. Celeste will do all the talking, since the woman and I are not on good terms. We arrive back to our car and the woman is not there. After much searching, another agent comes to help us. Whew! He lets us in. Beginning the two and a half hour drive to Thessaloniki, Celeste and I try to make sense of what just happened. The only thing we can figure is that the apparent tension between Greece and Albania, and the subsequent prejudice, is what drove her to behave this way. We felt caught in the middle, as Americans who work in Albania. After talking it out, we went back to listening to music and telling each other stories. We are determined not to let this taint our trip to Greece. Today is a new day.

Travel isn’t always easy. It’s messy sometimes, but the challenges you encounter when traveling, especially abroad, are worth it. They stretch you, and make you a better person in the end. Even though I was frustrated, it’s all of my travel experiences that make me love traveling across this big, vast world we all share.

Things I’ve Collected in my Travels- SOL#26

As a traveler, I collect lots of things. Most of these are memories, stories, new friends, and photographs. But I also collect art. Whenever I visit somewhere new, I’m on the hunt for something that calls out to me, begging me to bring it home and be a constant reminder of my time in that special place. Here are some of my favorite pieces that I’ve collected over the past few years.

Walking barefoot through the temples of Bagan, Myanmar, I came across this unique piece of art, a sand painting of monks. Instantly I was drawn to the texture and uniqueness of the piece, and the monks were definitely a part of the Myanmar culture that I would remember long after I returned home.

I found this gem in Seoul, South Korea, as I sifted through some antiques in a little shop in Insadong. Initially looking for an antique Buddha or teapot, the shop owner showed me this 100-year-old writer’s notebook. While I can’t read a word in it, it’s such a treasure to have a piece of someone’s writing.

This picture captures a few pieces. The umbrella lamp was a recent purchase from my second trip to Myanmar. I was drawn to the brightly-colored umbrellas on display in the little shop in town. Shaggers and I stopped in for a look, but kept moving. Later that night, we saw the shop again, only this time, the umbrellas were lit up, casting a lovely glow. I wanted one! But again, I resisted. I didn’t need more stuff, I told myself. At dinner, Shaggers said I should just go get it; that I would regret it if I didn’t. She was right. I dashed down the street and picked it up, happy I did.

After living in Shanghai for two years, I realized I didn’t have any art from China yet. Jody, a friend of mine from back home, was visiting. As we walked around Tianzifang, we came across an art gallery. The artist was there, and he talked with us about his artwork and his techniques. The paper-cut doll was so beautiful, I had to take it. I love that I have a contemporary piece of traditional Chinese artwork.

Last summer, Melissa M. and I traveled to Greece, a beautiful place that I can’t wait to return to, and while we were there, we took a trip to Santorini. If you haven’t yet been, I highly recommend it. Its picturesque views, traditional blue and white domes, and unbelievable natural beauty make it so memorable. As we meandered through the tight pathways cut into the side of the mountainous island, we happened into a shop with paintings of Santorini. This one, with the vibrant colors and the peaceful view, called my name. I love remembering our special time every time I see it on the wall.

Also last summer, I visited Rome. I was on my way to Greece from London, and I was blessed with an 18-hour stopover in Rome. Making the most of it, I spent the day roaming around the city. Walking along the river at dusk, I came across a man selling his water color paintings of everyday Roman life. This one, of a doorway, caught my eye. I’m not sure what I loved about it, but it made me happy, so I supported this local artist and bought it up right away!

My trip to Egypt was one of the most amazing trips I have ever taken. As you can imagine, we saw loads of hieroglyphics while we were there. I loved the ancient artwork, and took countless photos of walls full of stories told through pictures. What I was most drawn to, though, were the ankhs, or keys of life. There was just something about them that displayed beauty and symmetry and life. While in Abu Simbel, we visited a shop that sold handmade pieces made of stone. I didn’t have any intention of purchasing anything, but when I laid eyes on this ankh, I knew I had to add it to my collection. Not only was it an ankh, but it was handmade and it was a beautiful color. I absolutely love it!

These last two pieces are also from Myanmar. While I generally stick to purchasing one piece per country, I simply couldn’t resist picking up more than that in Myanmar! The watercolor painting of sunset at U Bein Bridge was a gem I found on my most recent trip to Myanmar. Shaggers and I headed out on the back of some motorbikes from Mandalay to the bridge to catch the sunset. Missing it by a few minutes, we decided that we’d walk the length of it anyway, since we were already there. On our way across the bridge, we passed by a shop selling paintings. My eyes were instantly drawn to this piece, and while I stopped to gaze at it for a bit, I moved on. Reaching the end, the sun had completely set, and we turned around to head back. Mentioning to Shaggers that I should have bought that picture, she said we should stop by on our way. Noticing that most of the shops we had passed earlier were already closed up, I thought my window of opportunity had closed. Nearing the end of the bridge, we found them putting everything away, ready to head home for the day. Luckily they let me look through the paintings until I found the one I had wanted. Now it is mine! Once I frame it, I’ll display it in my home.

The other piece, the wooden carving of a long neck lady, was picked up on my first trip to Myanmar in Inle Lake. Stopping into a shop on the lake, I was taken aback by the native people who adorn themselves with gold plates around their neck, stretching them more and more each year. They were simply beautiful. As I walked around, this carving stood out out to me, and I loved the profile.

I love that I am brought back back to my travels as I look around my apartment at the beautiful pieces I have (and will continue to) collected over the years. When I’m old and grey, I will be able to share my stories with others and recall these wonderful memories.

The World Through My Eyes… SOL#25

IMG_0555The World Through My Eyes…

The United States is family, friends, good food, and home.

England is not sure the first time, but oh so much better the second.

Germany is meeting people in awkward places and my first taste of independence.

Fiji is adventure and pristine, so-beautiful-you-think-they’re-photoshopped beaches.

Australia is where my heart is happiest, oh and hot accents that make me weak in the knees.

China is weird smells, craziness, ‘The Bridge,’ and my second home.

Hong Kong is civilized China and home to my favorites Shaggers and Jeezy.

The Philippines is beautiful people and juicy mangoes.

Malaysia is lime juice and getting lost.

Vietnam is “beep! beep!” and night markets.

South Korea is my favorite salad, used bookstore love, and meeting my SOL friend.

Macau is long immigration lines, casinos, and Portuguese architecture.

Cambodia is explorations, biting fish, and begging children.

Thailand is tuk tuks, sketchy trains, and golden roofs.

Japan is confusion and sushi and where did my friends go?

Egypt is camel-exchange proposals, koshari, and the call to prayer.

Nepal is roaming cows, do-anything-to-help-you people, rice fields, and peace.

Italy is the kindness of strangers, gelato, and cobblestone streets.

Greece is baklava and feta, blue and white domes, and restful relaxation.

Scotland is rain and beautiful buildings and more rain.

Ireland is old castles, lush green, and Dirty Dancing.

Myanmar is long boats, temples, daily tea leaf salads, and love.

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A Year in Photos

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a post from one of my friends, Jee Young, where she reflected on 2014 through photos. It was such a unique way to show the past year, and I just had to give it a try! Now that I’m back in Shanghai with my laptop that has all my pictures, I can. I’ve sifted through the photos I’ve taken over the past year, and have narrowed it down to my favorites. These pictures make me smile, show an interesting perspective, or carry a certain memory. Here’s my year in photos…

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