Reflecting in Bulgaria

Hello Bulgaria

Dobar den! A common greeting in Bulgarian and the sum of what I’ve picked up after a week here. Luckily, some French and Italian phrases are used regularly by Bulgarians so there is a smidge of familiarity. I had forgotten how disorienting it can be to enter a space where you literally can’t speak or read the language-not even one word of it!

Plovdiv has an excited, vibrant feel. We have been staying in the Old Town area and are surrounded by cute coffee shops, abundant street art, nice restaurants, art galleries, Roman ruins, museums, a large Mosque and the longest pedestrian mall in Europe!

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Our cute neighborhood in Plovdiv

The city has been chosen as one of two ‘European Capitals of Culture’ for 2019, a European Union project meaning to, among other things, highlight the richness of the cultures of Europe, revitalize areas,  and boost tourism. It appears to be working! There is a lot of fresh energy and capital running through the city.

Today is our last day staying in the heart of Old Town.  We are spending a few days in a hotel to take advantage of some nice services and celebrate my birthday! Then we have one more week in an Airbnb apartment we found right outside of the city center.  There is supposedly a large market right in the neighborhood, so am hopeful for something interesting.

Feeling grateful and a little tired

I am so grateful for these past months of traveling.  Grateful for the support of my friends and family.  Grateful for a wonderful companion and boyfriend to travel with. Grateful to be able to fulfill this urge to wander and explore. This has been a great idea!

However, we are on our last month of traveling and feeling a bit travel-worn. Settling into Bulgaria has been more difficult than other places.  Even with all the vibrant energy, being a foreigner has started to take it’s toll. The weather is a little cloudier and rainier. Internet problems and dealing with little set backs are somewhat harder. It was difficult to become enamored of Plovdiv, our home for a few weeks, at first. We are a little grumpy and a little ready to come home to our friends and family!

We’ve since found the charm and are getting acquainted and getting some work done. But not before contemplating some changes in direction, including heading for warmer climes and coming home early!

After some serious prioritizing and reflecting on what are goals are at this point, we decided to stay our plotted course. Two more weeks in Bulgaria. A few days in Barcelona (would love more but we have stayed our welcome in the Schengen Zone!)  and a week in Morocco.

Have figured some things out along the way

I have decided I am not cut out to travel as a digital nomad indefinitely. Which is good to know! I like the contrast.  Leaving home and coming home.  Pulling up roots and putting them back down. Three to four months is a nice amount of time to travel. After that home starts to call.  Friends and family start to get missed a lot. I crave my own bed.  I want to plant a garden.

Home is Wisconsin. Home is also Hawaii. Hawaii hasn’t been home for as long as Wisconsin has, but it has those similar feelings and longings. Friends and family and familiar places which I miss dearly.

We have some things to celebrate! Pete and I have almost finished our book. Hooray! One of our goals was to write a book together while traveling. We are not quite, but almost done. Very soon you will be able to find our ebook, Moving to Hawaii to Teach-Your Study Guide online! Definitely before the start of next school year 😉

One of my personal goals was to explore and develop means of supporting myself while being location independent. I am happy to say I am currently working with my first client to help her develop her online presence to sell her books! It’s a trip and a learning experience.

A few favorites

  • Major City: Rome
  • Greek Island: Naxos
  • French Village: Eguilles
  • Italian Village: San Gimignano
  • Coffee: Cappuccino al banco anywhere in Italy
  • Sandwich: Croquette Monsieur in France
  • Salad: Naxian salad in Greece. Bulgarians, however, take salad making very seriously
  • Pubs: London-a great pub on every corner
  • Views: Santorini. Sigh. Although the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland were also breathtaking
  • Overall aesthetic: Greek Islands.  Love the white and blue architecture

What now?

After a few months in the Midwest, Pete and I plan to return to Kauai and find a homey space to live. My goals are to write, tend a garden,  foster clients, sell my soap, explore options to keep teaching and of course, hang out at the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

Local Products Galore

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Almost a week on this island and I don’t know how I could be more in love with it. Naxos has beautiful beaches and great weather. Interesting stories and ruins which bring to life some of the Greek mythology we’ve grown up with. Great food and architectural aesthetic-the list goes on and on.

It’s hard to pick just one thing, but I think if I had to, the thing I love most about Naxos is that it is largely self sufficient, producing most of the food it consumes and then some. The largest of the Cycladic Islands, Naxos has large valleys and plains with fertile soil for many things.

Potatoes and Other Agricultural Products

The Naxos potato is celebrated throughout Greece. They produce so much here that they export them. I can attest to how delicious they are.  Golden colored with a mild, almost sweet flavor, we’ve been eating plenty of them in the form of french fries and have even been cooking them ourselves.  On our first trip to the market we bought a big bag of them.

Why are they so delicious? Well, the soil composition and semi-arid conditions are normally attributed to the good flavor.  I would add that the celebration of them as something special and desirable contributes to that sweet taste.

Pulses (beans and lentils), olives, figs, grapes and herbs are a few of the other major crops grown on the island. Olive oil, wines and other products are made from these.

Animal Products

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Homemade ‘Naxian Salad’ with xinomizithra cheese

Cows, sheep, pigs and goats are all kept on Naxos. Fresh cows milk, yogurt, and cheeses are all produced on island.

The cheeses.  Oh my goodness the cheeses are so good.  There are about 4-5 varieties which are traditionally attributed to Naxos and are produced and celebrated here.  Although if you ask any Naxian cheese maker how many varieties there are the answer is ‘sooooooo many’!

Our first nibble was when we ordered a ‘Naxian salad’ from a restaurant.  It was a salad of tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and capers with xinomizithra (sour) cheese on top. It was delicious. We now make our own every day or so.

Wine and Kitro

How could a place call itself self-sustaining without producing it’s own booze?!

Naxos has been producing it’s own wine for a long time.  According to legend, Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and revelry, was born here.  He gifted Naxos with fertile land with which to grow grapes, make wine and be happy.

Wine making is a family tradition here where most families have their own vineyards. There are also plenty of bottled varieties. So far we’ve been sticking with the organic ouzo we came across but will certainly try a wine or two before we leave.

Kitro is something special. It’s a syrupy liqueur with a slight citrus flavor. It’s made from the leaves of the kitron or citron tree and has been produced here for over two centuries.

Apiculture

Beekeeping is alive and well on Naxos.  There are about 4,000 hives on the island and many different labels can be found in the markets. The bees mostly feed on thyme and heather and also on sage and oregano as these are the typical plants they will come across. Delicious in some creamy Naxos yogurt.

I want the place I live in to be more like this. To produce and celebrate it’s own sustenance. To share this harvest with the rest of the world, in an interdependent kind of way which does not diminish or exploit the hard work of the people here, but cherishes and protects it.

This kind of lifestyle does not appear to be creating lots of super rich people. But it is creating people who live a meaningful and fulfilling life. A healthy and happy life.

Perhaps that is just how Dionysus planned it 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a bit about meditation

I’m about to attend a 10 day meditation retreat in the Tuscan hills of Lutriano, Italy. I’m in the neighborhood, so I figured, why not?

The organization is an international meditation group with centers worldwide.  I am considered an old student with this group because I have completed at least one 10 day training with them, in the Midwestern USA. In fact this will be my 4th one in about 5 years.

The retreats are a full 10 days and they are serious.  You arrive on day 0 to get oriented and settled into your room. There is very little talking, as you take a vow of silence which starts the first evening. There is no wi-fi, writing or reading. The days begin early and consist of a daily routine of meditation, breaks, mealtimes and instructional times. The vow of silence ends on day 10 and everyone leaves on day 11 in the morning.

The style of meditation taught is called Vipassana, which simply means ‘to see things as they are’. The technique is largely based on observing sensations in your body and is taught in small, progressive chunks throughout the course.  The teacher in me loves the progressive curriculum because it is skills based, has regular check-ins with teachers and plenty of guided instruction and practice.

It is non denominational and does not conflict with any religious or spiritual beliefs.  It is rooted deeply in Buddhist philosophy, but there are no rights or rituals.  It is focused on learning the technique to gain benefits.

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Typically I don’t meditate outside because there are so many distractions…but this little girl is so darn cute!

When I tell people this I get a number of mixed responses. Anywhere from ‘Wow, that’s awesome, I’d love to do that too!’ to ‘Wow that’s so anti-social, are you sure it’s not a cult?’ And a lot of things in between! Most people are aware of or participate in meditation and mindfulness practices but few spend so much time learning to refine the technique.

No, it’s not a cult. After being involved with this group for over 5 years I have not been offered any Kool-aid nor asked to give up some major part of my life! I come and go as I please 🙂 Yes, it is taking a break from society and socializing to sit with yourself, but for a specified period of time only and for good reason.

 

A typical day looks like this:

  • 4am rise and shine
  • 4:30-6:30am meditate in room or in meditation hall
  • 6:30-8am breakfast break
  • 8-9am group meditation
  • 9-11:00am instructional meditation time
  • 11am-12pm lunch break
  • 12-1pm rest and interview with the teacher
  • 1-2:30pm instructional meditation time
  • 2:30-3:30pm group meditation
  • 3:30-5pm instructional meditation time
  • 5-6pm tea break
  • 6-7pm group meditation
  • 7-8:15pm teacher’s discourse
  • 8:15-9pm group meditation
  • 9-9:30pm question time
  • 9:30pm-lights out

Why do I meditate?

A ten day meditation is not generally relaxing. It is work and takes determination. But I come out of it feeling better than any vacation or other type of break or relaxing activity.

Meditating helps me stay calm and calms me down. If I am upset about something or am having a hard time accepting something that is going on in my life, I meditate. I practice the thing I am struggling with whether it be forgiveness, acceptance, letting go, seeing things from a new perspective, etc. Meditation works for me in the moment. Also, when I have been meditating regularly for a period of time, I find that I naturally stay calmer and get upset less often about ‘the little things’.

Meditation helps my focus.  I have a good amount of attention deficit going on at any given moment! So many of us do these days. It can keep me from getting things done and can be a source of frustration in my life.  Meditation is like the perfect cure for this. No pharmaceuticals necessary. Whenever I meditate I am literally practicing keeping my focus. We get better at what we practice, right?

This increased focus also leads to clearer thinking. When I am focused, I become more sharp and able to problem solve. I see more options because I’m not letting my thoughts run like drunken sailors all over the place. This helps my confidence. I decided to start a homemade soap business after a 10 day meditation retreat!

While meditating itself is not always very relaxing, I almost always feel more relaxed after I am done.  I feel lighter, and happier. My wellness is improved. This is a benefit I can not deny. I experience it over and over again.

If you are interested in learning more about Vipassana, check out this website.

 

 

When in Rome…

Um, I mean, when in Florence…eat like a Florentine!  Neither Pete nor I would call ourselves foodies but we do love tasting the local fare and cooking local dishes.  Florence does not disappoint with excellent options and availability of delicious and fresh food.

Cooking and preparing our own food is big part of our journey as we travel for an extended period of time. This not only saves us money but it gives us a great opportunity to hang out at local markets and specialty stores, which is a very pleasant cultural experience in and of itself.

Italy is all about the local markets. We are very fortunate to have a couple of morning markets right around the corner from the little flat we are renting here-see Pete’s blog post.  A wide variety of fresh fruits and veggies can be found, as well as cheeses like fresh mozzarella and parmesan.  A number of Italian meats like pancetta (a lot like bacon) and Florentine salami are a few of the other offerings-it is an amazing place to shop for the day’s meals.

Right up the street from the markets is a little shop called a foccaccaria. It is a bakery of sorts where we can buy, surprisingly, focaccia (Italian flatbread)!  And so much more. Other breads, pastries and so many delicious Italian cookies were behind the long counter. Meats, fish and fresh pastas could also be purchased. I’m working myself up to try the tripe, but for now am sticking with almond biscotti (twice baked cookies) and fresh raviolis.

One of the great things about this place was that even though we were packed in there like sardines, it felt very jovial.  It was clearly a meeting place for the community, as people walking in struck up familiar conversations with people already there. This was not a fast process, also.  It took about 20 minutes to make a purchase. Luckily we were not in a hurry and enjoyed the hubbub.

Another gathering place is the coffee bars.  Oh, the coffee bars! Stand at the bar and drink down your espresso or cappuccino quickly. Or sit down at a table (it may cost more) and stay all day.  Whatever your choice, the coffees are so so so good.  Anytime we go out now, it is a given to stop at a ‘bar’. There seems to be one around every corner.

My new favorite is the caffe corretto. It is a shot of espresso ‘corrected’ with a shot of alcohol.  Just sayin…

Check out this simple lunch I made. It’s a traditional Caprese Salad with spiral noodles added to make it the main meal.

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The ingredients are fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, tomatoes, spiral pasta, olive oil, salt, pepper and a dash of oregano.  Boil the noodles to taste and cool under cold water.  Toss with enough olive oil to lightly coat the noodles. Add spices and then other ingredients chopped in bite sized pieces. Super easy and super delicious!

This meal cost us just a few Euros to make.  It was also a fun cultural experience visiting the markets and shops to find ingredients. Now, if we can just learn to eat it in the slow manner in which it was conceived 🙂

 

A litte bit of home in a Russian banya

IMG_5952One of the things I miss most while being nomadic is my bathroom routine.  Having all of my favorite things set up the way I like them.  Electric devices like hair dryers and curlers. Not having to pack everything up every few weeks. And I am so limited in what I can bring along! Sigh.

What can I do when I’m feeling the sludge of the city and the weariness of being far from home? Luckily, Europe is not short on spas and bathhouses from many different traditions and I happen to love a good communal bathhouse.

In Paris I went to a Moroccan hammam and had a wonderful time steaming, bathing and getting a massage.  A hammam is an Arabic version of a Roman bath with a focus on water. They give you an amazing gel soap called savon noir to begin the experience.

Back in Chicago I’d visit a Korean spa as often as I could.  Also a focus on water, plus many different kinds of dry saunas at varying temps and with different organic materials thought to promote healing.  In addition this space has a movie and karaoke room.

Of course in Hawaii we would just go to the beach 🙂

The Russian Banya

The Russian banya has similarities to bathhouses I’ve been to and also some unique features I was delighted with. The banya is like a sauna, but the heat comes from water thrown on rocks to create steam. It’s not as wet as a steam room but much more humid than a traditional sauna.

The traditional treatment is called parenie and is a massage using a venik. A venik is a bunch of leafy branches, usually oak, birch or eucalyptus.

After checking in to Banya No. 1, I was lead to a lounge room and then a changing room. Everyone was very nice and seemed excited I was about to experience banya for the first time. I was given a locker and a towel and told to have a steam in the banya and then come out for some tea in the lounge.  I would then be called for my services.

Walking into the spa room, I was given a felt hat to protect my head.  I felt a little silly but was glad to follow safety protocol. I stepped into the banya and immediately began to sweat.

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felt hat to protect your head in the banya

I then had a preview of what was to come.  Two other women were about to receive the parenie.

Parenie-Venik Massage

One of the benches was moved to the middle of the room and a eucalyptus branch was placed at one end and a foot pillow at the other.  The woman laid stomach down with her head on the eucalyptus. Another branch was placed over her head. She inhaled deeply and held the branch close to her head. The attendant (who looked like a wood gnome wearing the hat and brandishing the two large branches) first threw a few ladles full of water into the oven to heat it up. He held two large bundles of oak leaves and began shaking them over her body, drawing the heat of the room down to her.  He then flicked the branches up and down her body, taking special care not to miss her legs, feet and arms. Every now and then he would press the branches into her back and the backs of her legs.  He also freshened the eucalyptus branch around her head.  The whole process lasted about 10 minutes.

The other woman in the room told me the purpose was to increase circulation and vitality. She said it would make me feel like a ‘new born baby’. I was stoked. I had also read the essential oils from the leaves were therapeutic and I loved how natural it all was.

The next step was to step out into the shower room and have a bucket of cold water dumped over your head and then to take a plunge in a the cool dip tank. This is also to improve circulation. And make you scream like a lunatic.

My experience was very invigorating.  It was new and exciting. The eucalyptus branch was nice and fragrant over my head and I loved that the massage was done with tree branches. I think I did feel like a new born baby! I certainly had to take my time walking again as my skin was tingling and the rush of blood after the cold plunge was a bit dizzying.

Immediately after  I was led into a room with a hot stone table for my second service.  Scrubbed down with sea salt and honey and then led back into the banya to heat up again.  After showering I stepped back into the lounge to drink some tea, feeling pretty amazing.
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The next step was a 30 minute massage. My masseuse was skilled, nice and very talkative. She had told me earlier that she was from Lithuania and they also have banya where she came from.  Before the days of modern plumbing, most villages had a banya where people would come to bathe.

We also spoke at length about the Brexit. It was hard not to get on that topic as many people living here from other countries are worried about their status and welcome-ness in the wake of the UK voting to leave the EU. I was actually more interested in hearing her stories and ideas and wasn’t totally focussed on the massage I was receiving. I’m pretty sure it was awesome!

Back out to the lounge for some tea and then my final treatment-a face and décolletage mud treatment. It was also great, laying on the heated stone slab.

One last heat up in the banya with a cold plunge and I was ready for lunch! I picked a few things ala carte-pancakes with sour cream, pickled gherkins and some cabbage. A shot of Russian vodka and I was out the door.

How this all works

How expensive was this you ask? Not as much as you would think. It was a bit of a splurge,  but for the $150 or so spent, I felt I got great value considering I had 3 spa services and a massage.

Many bathhouses have an entrance fee anywhere from $20-40.  For this price you typically get a towel, locker and use of the saunas, steam baths and showers for a period of time. Services cost extra and can be added on, or not.  In the hammam it is very common to bring in your own toiletries, so it doesn’t have to break your bank.

No Russian banya near you? No problem! Treat yourself in the comfort of your own home. The next time you have for a nice long bath, add some eucalyptus essential oil to the water. Or any oils, scents, salts you have on hand.  Oatmeal is also nice.

Experiment with making your own scrubs. Honey and salt is messy, but luxuriant and easy to obtain. Use it in your bath so its easy to clean.

Lastly, if you have the chance, check out a bathhouse near you. It’s a wonderful experience. More than just bathing, there is a social aspect which makes for very real, meaningful conversations and connections which go beyond the superficial. I focused mostly on the physical experience and benefits here, but could also write a lot about the healthy socializing. The bathhouse promotes health of the mind as well as body.

Savon de Marseille

Pete and I just left France.  Even as we sit at Starbucks in London, enjoying the familiarity of a large, 12 ounce cup of coffee, I already feel a bit nostalgic. We are here, waiting to connect with a good friend of mine who is graciously hosting us for the next couple of weeks.

But… for a few more moments, before I begin to embrace a new city, I’d like to take a few moments to remember France.  The south of France and Provence.  Specifically, ‘Savon de Marseille’ or ‘Marseille soap’.

 

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I love how the soap is displayed-no packaging, stacked together by color and scent

Don’t get me wrong. There are so many things I love about France.  The beautiful country side, la patisseries, the wine, the people we met and certainly gaining an ear for and practicing my French.  These are just a few of the many wonderful things.

I do love soap, however, and Savon de Marseille is an excellent soap with a long history and beautiful presentation. As soon as I walked into Maison du Savon de Marseille in Aix en Provence, I was smitten.  It took all of my will power not to pack a second backpack full of soap. A few fun facts:

  • The recipe for Savon de Marseille is 600 years old
  • The original recipe is water from the Mediterranean, olive oil, soda ash and lye
  • Traditionally about 8 tons made at a time, mixed together in a cauldron
  • In 1924 there were 132 soap making companies in the Marseille area
  • As of 2000 only 5 remain
  • I love this soap

Also, I think it very possible that in a past life, I was a soapmaker in Marseille. Check out these facts. First, I make my own soap. Also, I used to sell my soap to people and made a living for a while doing this. And the biggest suggestion that makes it possible I did this in a former life-check out how I used to display my soap:

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This was on display at a farmers market circa 2012. All I’m missing is the stamp!

 

Whenever we travel, we look for little bits of ourselves in the unfamiliar. It’s comforting and encouraging to know for a fact from our own experience, that humans living far from us, are not really so different. The French love soap and have a 600 year old recipe which is still being used today! That is soooooooooooooo like me!

So the next time you find yourself in France, or any shop selling Savon de Marseille, please buy a bar or two.  You will be treating yourself and participating in a tradition spanning many generations.

 

‘Her’ packing List

It was a miracle, but I managed to do it. I pushed all of my necessities into this bag. My ‘one bag’. It’s about the size of a small carry on piece of luggage.  This is it!

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All of my things are in this bag!

Shoes

Shoes were the hardest thing to determine. After living in Hawaii for 2 years I basically had two types of shoes. Slippahs and dress slippahs. Aka flipflops and sandals/slides. While I love wearing these, they alone were not going to cut it in Europe.

I finally pared it down 3 pairs which would cover most occasions. They had to be comfortable for walking, look good with slacks, shorts or a skirt and pack down lightly. What I decided on is still a work in progress, but so far these are working well:

  • Locals flipflops for communal showers and the beach
  • Vionic Samoa slides-a great walking shoe for nice weather
  • Life Stride Mary Janes-the jury is still out on this brand, although I like the versatility of Mary Janes. I may upgrade them soon.

Here is the rest of the list:

Electronics

  • Laptop
  • Laptop sleeve
  • Laptop charger
  • Kindle
  • Kindle charger
  • 2 pair earbuds
  • Phone
  • Phone charger
  • 3 prong adapter
  • International adapter
  • Travel battery
  • Jump drive

Other Stuff

  • Wallet
  • Tea set
  • Flashlight
  • Lock
  • Whistle
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunglass case
  • Passport
  • Credit card
  • Debit card
  • HI driver’s license
  • Day backpack
  • Playing cards

Toiletries

  • Comb
  • Travel towel
  • Clear liquid bag
  • Small bottle of kukui nut oil-hair and skin
  • Small bottle of jojoba oil-facial oil
  • Essential oils-peppermint, lavender, lemon, vetiver, Breathe
  • Travel size shampoo
  • Travel size conditioner
  • Travel size toothpaste
  • Travel size hair gel
  • Makeup bag
  • Powder
  • Powder brush
  • Eye liner
  • Mascara
  • Small tube eye shadow
  • 3 lip sticks
  • Lip gloss
  • Eye liner sharpener
  • Travel size deodorant
  • Dollar shave razor plus extra blades
  • Electric toothbrush
  • Small bag of feminine products
  • Nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • 2 empty Goo tubes for miscellaneous stuff I buy along the way
  • Bottle of blue nail polish
  • Nail file

Clothing

  • Silk turquoise scarf-a gift from my mom!
  • 2 merino wool tanks
  • Cotton tank for sleeping
  • Merino wool t-shirt
  • MH Zerogrand rain jacket shell
  • Long sleeve t-cotton
  • Merino wool short skirt
  • Cotton long skirt
  • MH nylon hiking/yoga slacks
  • Cotton sleeping slacks
  • Jeans
  • One piece swimsuit
  • Bikini swim suit
  • Icebreaker Bliss Wrap sweater
  • Little black dress
  • Reversible dress
  • Shorts-hiking
  • 2 pairs merino wool socks
  • Bandana
  • 2 nylon slips
  • 2 cotton underwear
  • 3 merino wool underwear
  • Bras-1 black, 1 tan, 1 yoga/sports
  • Sarong

The bag is full. I have to pack it just right so that it will all fit! Ideally I will pare down a bit so I have a little more wiggle room. I’m just not sure yet what I can live without…until then!