Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Italian Style

After an all night ferry ride, we arrived in Italy on Christmas Eve. After our friends picked us up, our first stop was the fish market where we got some mussels for a special meal that night. I believe the whole city of Bari was out shopping, probably because all the stores would be closed for the next two days. They really like fish in Italy. Even the potato salad looks fishy :)

Besides the mussel dish, we got to try many new types of food, including multicolored carrots. They are unique to the region around Bari, and are sweeter and crispier than other carrots. I think that maroon carrots would do quite well in the states. They also come in yellow. Another new veg for me was the fennel which tasted like licorice. And the fresh mozzarella was amazing!

On Christmas morning, we each received a nice fleece shirt for presents, and we gave a book on Montenegro to our friends. When the stores opened again on the 27th, we went shopping and once again, I think the whole city was out. At the end of the day, we boarded our ferry and headed back across the Adriatic, from Bari to Bar. A good Christmas, and since Montenegro follows the Orthodox calendar, we get another Christmas on January 7th!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A New Fruit Experience

Produce vendors tend to give a free piece of fruit to regular customers when they make a purchase. Once we were given a very nice pomegranate. On a recent excursion to the piazza next to our apartment, we were given this. Neither of us had ever seen one before. So, we took it home, washed it, cut it in half and took a bite. The flavor was sort of like an apple kissed by an orange. The texture was sort of like chewing on soft wood.
When we described, it to a friend here, she told us it was a quince. They are not to be eaten raw, but cut into pieces and stewed. I guess we'll know for next time.

Friday, December 19, 2008

On The "Road" Again

It seems much of the last few weeks has been absorbed in travelling to other countries. Since the end of November, we've been to Albania, Serbia (admitedly only to the Belgrade airport, but since we spent seven hours there, it seems like it should count) and Germany. And on the 23rd we will pack up and head out again, this time by train and ferry. Our destination: Bari, Italy. We will take a train from Podgorica to Bar (a coastal city in Montenegro) and then board an overnight ferry to Bari (Bar to Bari, fun, right?). We have been invited to spend Christmas with some friends currently living in Italy. Then we come back to Podgorica for the big New Year's extravaganza (that's the big holiday here), and then another Christmas (the former Yugoslavian countries celebrate Christmas on January 7th-oddly enough after epiphany-does that mean the Magi came before Jesus was born?)
I think after that, we'll be done with travelling for awhile.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Decorating for the Holidays

We were asked after a recent post what exactly a "rauchen man" looks like (especially, are they like nutcrackers). While their features may resemble nutcrackers in some ways, the "purpose" of the rauchen man is to "smoke" rather than to crack nuts. You light a small incense cone and insert it in the RM, and the smoldering incense causes it to look like the man is smoking. Also, he doesn't have a handle on his back which causes his mouth to open and close. We did see some nutcrackers, but Steve really had his heart set on one of these guys instead.

In recent years, Podgorica has started to decorate for the holidays. Delta city is covered in strings of white lights, and has both a giant decorated Christmas tree in the hall, and medicine ball sized ornaments hanging from the ceiling. They have even begun to attach decorative lights to the street lights. We had no trouble understanding the snowflakes. Even though it rarely snows in Podgorica, snow is intrinsically linked with Christmas and New Years in the Western hemisphere.

But what, may one ask, were these cone shaped red things? We had a lot of fun speculating. Steve whimsically guessed that perhaps they were angels without wings (or heads, for that matter). Laura's thought was that maybe it was Saint Nicholas from the back, wearing a hooded coat. One of our friends here implied that it was a Christmas tree, just red. If that is the truth, I think our ideas were better :)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Soaking Up Culture

For our final full day in Berlin, we decided to go to the Pergamom museum. This museum houses an ancient Greek alter from Pergamom (hence the name), the Ishtar Gate from Babylon, much ancient Islamic artwork, and many, many Greek and Roman statues. There were also giant columns, such as this one, with Laura imitating Samson :).

Once again, the museum was huge. We spent about four hours wandering around, taking in all the sites. About halfway through, Laura's headset "guide" developed a glitch, and started guiding in German instead of English. Unfortunately, her German comprehension was not up to the challenge, so she just stopped using it. We saw enough ancient artifacts to last us for quite some time. It was a rather heady experience to see the walls of Babylon and know that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and King Nebuchadnezzer saw these same walls. A small disclaimer, I got the picture of the Ishtar Gate off the internet, as we didn't take a picture of them.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cute Knut and the Berlin Zoo

Our second day in Berlin we decided to visit the zoo. Their current mascot is Knut (K not silent, rhymes with "cute"), a polar bear who turned two the day after our visit. His mother abandoned him at birth, and so the keepers raised him, and all the people of Berlin sort of adopted him. The zoo gift shops were really just polar bear merchandise, there was only a tiny bit of stuff for other animals. We heard on the BBC while we were there though, that the zoo won't be able to afford to keep him as he grows up. They are looking at other zoos who would want the "celebrity" bear.

The zoo is huge, we spent 5 hours wandering around, and we still didn't see all of it, but we were hungry and footsore and decided we'd seen all the really important things. In particular, Laura was thrilled to be separated from a panda by only his glass enclosure.

There were also the usual array of monkeys, zebras, elephants, hippos, big cats, birds, an aquarium, a petting zoo, a nocturnal house... There were some penguins who were pretty cute as well.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Snow in Berlin!

We've been told that it doesn't snow much in Montenegro, so we were very happy that our first full day in Berlin was a nice snowy one. After spending most of Tuesday either in airports (we spent about 7 hours in the Belgrade airport waiting on our connecting flight) or on airplanes, we were so happy to be wandering around in the open air.
Our main purpose for coming to Berlin at this time was to see the Christmas Markets we missed last year (by three days!). We discovered during our sojourn in the city that there are several areas where these markets are located, but the main one is located around the Kaiser Memorial Church. This church was built to commemorate the marriage of the Kaiser, and had beautiful mosaics depicting that event. It was bombed during WWII, and preserved in it's battered state as a memorial.
There are many wonderful things at the market. Yummy food such as roasted chestnuts, chocolate covered strawberries and bananas, candied nuts and dried fruits, decorated cookies, marzipan, bratwurst, and various hot beverages.
Then there are the beautiful handmade crafts from local and international artisans. Within a few steps of each other you can purchase lovely scarves from India, olivewood creches from Israel, Russian nesting dolls, and handblown glass balls and animal figurines, jewelery, puppets, straw ornaments and wooden "rauchen" men ("smoking men" they are hollow, and you put incense cones in and when they burn smoke comes out of their carved pipes) and candle fans (I'm not sure what their called, here is a large example at right, the wind from the candle flame causes the fan at the top to turn the figures, rather like a merry-go-round) from Germany. They really know how to deck the halls in Germany. We certainly we put in the Christmas mood.

Monday, December 1, 2008

An American (Thanksgiving) in Albania

Okay, so I know it's been a week since our last blog entry, and it will be a week before our next entry also. So, I thought I'd just tell a little about our visit to Albania to meet with friends for Thanksgiving. There were these neat little Pilgrim hats at each place. They were homemade peanutbutter cups on top of cookies :). Also, someone had a few pieces of candy corn left over from an event, and they kindly gave them to me :). Our hosts had a cute dog named Oreo, and Steve especially had fun playing with her.

The day after Thanksgiving we hiked up to a castle overlooking the city. The original stones were built during the Roman Empire when the Balkan countries were Illyricum. The smaller stones were added to the ruins during the middle ages. The castle used to be open, but is now locked. This doesn't stop children from getting in to play football. One was very happy to show us how to get in, but I (Laura) am afraid of heights, and scaling a 2000 year old rock wall to climb around a fence while suspended over mid-air 20 feet above ground is not my idea of a good time.

We travelled farther into Albania for some time spent with some friends Steve had made on earlier trips to the area. Last night we had the adventure of getting home. Our friend Andon gave us a ride to Tirana. From there we caught a furgon (a van taxi that has a scheduled route, though not scheduled stops or times, like a bus) to Skoder. In Skoder (at a restaurant named Podgorica) our kind furgon driver found us a taxi driver who drove us over the boarder, and then on to Podgorica.

Tomorrow, very early in the morning, we board the first of three planes toward our destination of Berlin, Germany for the Christkindle Markts. We will return on the sixth, so no posts until next Sunday.