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Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Good Decision (Or, Two Things I Don't Want In My Future Home)

Over the past couple of years, Scott and I have made a number of difficult decisions.  Many of them were clearly going to have major ramifications in our lives, and we didn't feel like we had enough information to confidently make any of them.  In some cases, I would definitely decide differently if faced with the same decisions today, and in some cases, the outcome is still unclear. decision I feel strongly was the right one was where we chose to live this summer.  We decided to spend two months in the US this summer, although it would mean a loss in pay for me.  We chose my hometown--Chapel Hill, NC--both for the opportunity to spend time with my parents and grandma and for the access to a terrific university library for Scott.  And amazingly, given the fairly short time frame we had to find a place to live, I think we picked the perfect place.  We're renting a condo from someone who needed to be gone for the summer.  It is the most spacious place Scott and I have lived in our nine years of marriage.  It is within walking distance to the university library and all sorts of shops and restaurants, but not so centrally located that it gets noisy very often.  It has a sunny front porch where I am keeping an Earthbox full of herbs and petunias my mom planted for me.  It even has a screened-in back porch, something I always knew I wanted.

One "benefit" of having lived in so many places (and never having owned any of them) is that I've had the chance to test out all sorts of layouts and architectural features.  Not every interesting quirk seems that great once you've lived with it for a while.  Case in point is the bedroom skylight in one of our former apartments in Maryland.  I thought it looked kind of cool when we moved in, but our bedroom was flooded with light during every full moon and night time thunderstorms seemed like a drum and lights show.  Anyway, this perfect condo we are currently renting has two very small flies in the ointment for me to add to my list of things to try to avoid in my future home(s):

1.  Kitchen cabinets with hinges on the top of the doors:  These looked fairly innocuous when we first moved in.  Then I tried to put dishes away the first time we ran the dishwasher, and slam!--the door fell on my arm.  Now, I try to awkwardly prop these cabinets open with my left shoulder while guiding dishes in a few at a time with my right hand.  I have seen Scott prop the cabinet open with his head, which looks extremely uncomfortable.

2.  Bathroom door that slides out from the wall:  The layout of the master bathroom is interesting.  There is a sliding door that separates the master bedroom from a large room that contains two closets, two sinks on a large counter, a bath tub, a separate shower, and a tiny room with a toilet and its own sliding door.  It seems that the intent of this bathroom layout is to allow two people to prepare for the day in the morning at the same time--an intent that seems somewhat defeated by the toilet room's (not sure what else to call it) sliding door that will not close.  I think the toilet room was built with a sliding door instead of a door on hinges to decrease the risk of people accidentally hitting each other with the door.  Personally, I'm not sure how important it is for two people to be able to utilize the same bathroom at one time, particularly since the condo has a second bathroom.

The screened-in porch, on the other hand, has turned out to be as wonderful as I'd hoped, and is definitely welcome in any future home(s) I might live in.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mystic Drawbridge

Our recent east coast trip took us to Mystic, Connecticut for a wedding.  Mystic has an attractive tourist area, with ice cream shops, seafood restaurants, and boutiques.  The part I liked the best was its drawbridge.   I had the opportunity to watch it open several times while we were there, and I ultimately decided to take a bunch of pictures since I don't see drawbridges that often.

View of drawbridge approaching touristy area

View of the drawbridge's counterweight

Side view of drawbridge

Drawbridge starts to open

A boat passes through!

Friday, July 10, 2015

A True Vamoose Bus Miracle

Scott and I are in the middle of an east coast extravaganza right now.  Part of this trip entailed taking a Vamoose bus from Bethesda, MD to New York City.

We sprung for the so-called gold bus this time, which offers such amenities as more leg room and bottled water.  These configured with single seats on one side of the bus and rows of double seats across the aisle.

Scott and I took a row of double seats and settled in.  An older man took one of the double seats behind us, leaving the seat next to him vacant.  It soon became clear that it was going to be a full bus.  People had been avoiding the empty seat next to the man behind us, but eventually, it was the only seat left on the bus.  Someone asked to sit with him.

"Can't you sit somewhere else?" the man replied.  "I have a bad leg."

His would be seat mate replied that there were no other seats left on the bus.  The old man told him that there were plenty of seats "in the back".

The would be seat mate talked to one of the employees, who, with a commendable degree of diplomacy and tact, came back to inform the man that they needed to use every seat on the bus.  Ultimately, an older woman ended up in the empty seat next to him.

The man seemed to enjoy having a seat mate after all the dust had settled.  Scott and I learned a great deal about his life from hearing him talk to his seat mate, including the woes of his bad leg.

But lo and behold!  When the bus pulled in to its final destination in front of the Bagel Maven in New York City, the man whose leg was so bad that he couldn't stand up to let someone else take the seat next to him leapt to his feet and rushed to the front of the bus.  So complete was his recovery that he was even the first person off the bus.

It was a true Vamoose bus miracle.  Having witnessed this miracle firsthand, I highly recommend the restorative powers of long distance bus rides to anyone suffering from aches and pains.

Monday, July 6, 2015


**Warning:  This is the portion of the trip in which I broke my twelve year non-vomit streak.  I promise no pictures of that particular event, but read on at your own risk.**

After Bukhara, we traveled to Samarkand, by way of Shahrisabz, the birthplace of of Tamerlane.

I enjoyed seeing Tamerlane's palace there, but it did add quite a bit of time to our travel from Bukhara to Samarkand--time spent traveling on a hot day over bumpy roads in large sections.  By the time we rolled in to Samarkand, it was close to dinner time.

One of our friends was really craving pizza, so we decided to try for that for dinner.  It was...interesting.  It had the potential to be good, with a very nice crust and good cheese.  However, the sauce was sweet, and they used dill to season it.  Two of our friends on the trip absolutely loathe dill, and I think finding dill on pizza was a sort of low point of the trip for them, especially since we saw plenty of basil growing in the area.  After dinner, some of us took an evening walk.  Samarkand was a conspicuously larger city than Khiva or Bukhara.  Amid various old monuments, there were some newer innovations like colorful, musical fountains.

We got an early start the next morning to go to the nearby town of Urgut, which has a bazaar famous for traditional textiles.  As we headed out of Samarkand, the roads quickly become bumpy.  Our driver merrily swerved about, avoiding both potholes and old men who had randomly stopped their cars in the middle of the road.  I started to feel sick.  I thought motion sickness was the most likely culprit, so I took a Bonine and hoped I would feel better.

As time went on, I felt worse.  As we got closer to the bazaar, our tour guide learned that the bazaar was closed that day.  She knew of a man who was selling a trove of traditional textiles out of his home.  The driver pulled over and stopped the minibus so our guide could try to contact this person.  The scenery was beautiful, and I felt a little better getting out of the minibus.

Our guide got ahold of the man who was selling textiles, and we got back into the minibus.  I eventually felt so awful that the driver had to pull over and stop the minibus.  Our tour guide got out and offered me an anti-nausea pill.  Ordinarily, I don't like to take any kind of medicine without knowing exactly what it is and reading about it (I blame this tendency on several summers of working in a pharmacy).  However, I was desperate.  Unfortunately, the pill was large, quick to dissolve, and awful tasting.  Just tasting it made me feel worse, and I had to spit it out.  The tour guide, Scott, and I ultimately walked the last quarter of a mile or so to the house of the man with the textiles.

I was feeling pretty woozy at the house, but I enjoyed seeing the textiles, and ultimately bought a small traditional embroidery that I was told would have been used as a window covering.  Then I sat outside and drank tea.  One of our friends had a smaller, more user friendly anti-nausea pill for me to try.  I took it, and felt pretty confident about the trip back to Samarkand.

Garden at the house we visited.

The man with the textile collection modeling a traditional robe.

I sat next to the door of the minibus, just in case.  It wasn't long before I needed to stop, although as soon as I got out of the minibus, the nausea passed.  At this point, some of our friends scrounged up some thick, opaque plastic shopping bags, and the driver suggested to the tour guide that I sit up front with him.

I changed locations, and the driver proceeded on, driving much more slowly and with less dramatic swerving.  I will be forever grateful to him because I know that driving slowly went against every fiber of his being.  Also, how many people would invite someone on the verge of throwing up to sit next to them while they're driving?  When I finally (and regretfully) broke my twelve year non-vomit streak, the driver silently rolled down the window and stayed calm.

Under any other circumstances, I would have loved what we had for lunch that day--doesn't it look great?  It takes a lot for me to forgo food.  I did eat a little plain bread.

Our plan for the afternoon was a fairly lengthy rest in the hotel during the hottest part of the day, followed by sightseeing.  I was determined to go out and see things, so I took a nap during our rest and then headed out.

We saw the Gur-e-Emir mausoleum, which has the tomb of Tamerlane and some of his sons and grandsons.

We saw the Registan, which was the heart of ancient Samarkand, from the outside.  Some group (a dance troupe, maybe?) was practicing inside, thereby preventing anyone else from going in.

We saw the Bibi Khanum mosque, which was named after Tamerlane's wife.

Stone Qur'an stand at Bibi Khanum mosque

 After that, we went to Samarkand's covered bazaar.  I was starting to feel pretty lousy again, but I was able to help Scott select some apricots to eat later and some silk scarves for gifts.  Then, I'd had enough and needed to sit down.

On the way back, I got sick again.  Fortunately, I was still carrying plastic bags so I didn't have to throw up on the grass or the sidewalk.  The first time I got sick on the way back, a couple of young men in a nearby shop rushed out to bring me a chair and a cup of water (one of our friends was astute enough to notice that the water had come from the tap, and advised me not to drink it, so I used it to rinse out my mouth).  Again, I will be forever grateful.  It would have been much easier for them to ignore the vomiting foreigner outside their shop instead of trying to make me comfortable.  After resting for a few minutes, we walked on.  I got sick again as we got close to the hotel.  After that, though, I had the feeling that I'd be okay, and I was, or at least as okay as you can be after something like that.  I spent the evening in the hotel room, but fruit sounded good to me and I was able to eat a fair amount of it as dinner.

We did some more touring around Samarkand the next day.  I was feeling pretty weak, so I didn't see everything.  My main regret was not getting to meet the man who had helped restore Arabic calligraphy to many of Samarkand's monuments.  Scott did get to meet him, inside the Registan.  Here are a few pictures Scott took inside the Registan while I rested.

After that, we visited the Ulug Beg observatory, which was a center for studying and researching astronomy in the 1400's.

We had lunch (I think I just had bread and fancy lemonade) and took a comfy, speedy train back to Tashkent.  Our flight wasn't until pretty late at night, so we met up with the Uzbek friend who had found such a nice restaurant for dinner in Tashkent at the beginning of our trip.  We went to a Middle Eastern restaurant, and, very unfortunately, I still wasn't up to eating very much.

Getting through security and passport control at the airport was an adventure.  Fortunately, none of us were asked to provide any proof of having transferred money at the "official" rate.  That was probably my biggest concern.  Interestingly, only one person from our group had to produce any hotel registration slips, which I had been guarding like gold the entire time.  The only trouble I had was some fairly excessive interest in my luggage at the end, with an airport security employee barking at me in Russian and taking the cap of my mascara in order to examine it closely.  

One of our friends had arranged for a shuttle to pick us up at the Astana airport.  The driver came to get us, and even seemed remarkably chipper, considering that it was the wee hours of the morning.  However, he had great difficulty actually getting us out of the airport lot.  There was some trouble with the ticket he got on the way in to park, and whether he needed to pay it on the premises or on the way out.  We were all wondering if we'd be able to get any sleep before Astana's early summer dawn was upon us, but it all worked out.

It was a fantastic trip, even with getting sick toward the end.  Living in Astana has been a challenge, often in ways I hadn't imagined going in, but living there has opened up opportunities for travel I didn't think I'd have a chance to do.