Last week this time I was hanging out on the terrance with my socks and shoes off, drinking mint tea, laying in the sun. Now I'm back in my apartment that's as cold as it is outside when I don't have a fire going with three pairs of socks on; my how things change so quickly. My holiday vacation was more than I could have ever asked for. We started off in Pogradec, Albania which is right on the border of Macedonia. Woke up very early in the morning and took a cab to the next town over the border, Orhid to take a bus to the capital of Macedonia, Skopje. We some how found a cab driver at the bus station that spoke Albanian and was so helpful, dropped us off at a mall (we had 5 hours to kill) and agreed to pick us up right before our flight and take us to the airport. We flew to the Istanbul airport and I was outvoted to not go out into the city and we spent the night in the airport, waking up a little groggy we caught our morning flight for Casablanca. We took the flight with a few other traveling Peace Corps Volunteers from Mongolia. It was very interesting to compare stories, living situations and work environments.
We made it to Casablanca to take another cab to the train station then yet a train to Marrakech. We arrived in Marrakech to a familiar face, Sara had spent some time in Marrakech before and made very good friends and one was there to pick us up at the train station and take us to the riad (or traditional Moroccan style house). Morocco was amazing, a bit overwhelming at times, but if you can deal with vendors grabbing you and saying funny things to you in English when you walk by it's fine. I didn't feel threatened at all and actually had fun with them and ended up having some pretty interesting conversations with people. The food was delicious and mostly consisted of cous cous, amazingly cooked vegetables, fried anything and freshly squeezed orange juice. We spend Christmas day eating traditional tajine for lunch and walking around the big square and lounging at the riad.
We left Marrakech at night to take an over night train to Tanger, the tip of Africa to ferry across to Europe. We had an amazing view of the Rock of Gibraltar on the ride and it was very surreal to be traveling from one continent to another by boat. We were pretty much the only foreigners on the ferry which made it even more of a unique experience. We arrived in Gibraltar, ate some paella (spanish rice and seafood) and took a cab to Granada where we stayed the night. Granada was a beautiful city, very Spanish, famous for their tapas in which we indulged for dinner, breakfast and lunch. We then got on yet another train to Madrid where we would stay for 5 nights, enjoying the new year. Madrid is a huge city but luckily Alex had been there before and new where to go and could get around on the Metro very well. Spanish sangria was amazing, more tapas and good coffee. Spaniards put a lot of milk in their coffee.
We took a flight to Lisbon, Portugal to end the trip and it was overwhelmingly beautiful. Right on the water and about 75 degrees, I even got a little sunburnt! Lisbon is famous for their seafood and we had huge salmon steaks on the water and big glasses of white wine.
We ended the trip how it began with a night layover in the Istanbul airport, but instead of 11 hours, this one was only 8 hours. We arrived in Kosovo and I was rushed to catch the bus to Gjakova, the closest city to my town in Albania because the last bus left at noon. Thankfully I made it and even had time to enjoy a coffee while I waited. Overall the trip was just what I needed to fight away the Balkan gloom as it's been deemed. We all got a little stir crazy a few weeks ago and thankfully we all had the chance to get out for the holidays, the boys went on their own adventure to Romania. Now just one month until our "Close of Service" Conference where our entire group that we started with gets together and wraps up our service and gets prepared for what life brings us next. The countdown is now at about 4-5 months which is completely unbelievable to me.