Category Archives: Travel

Year 2012 in Review

2012 has been a good year for us! Maybe not as exciting as 2011, but we’ve had a lot of fun! Rather than send out a holiday card, I think it’s easier to blog about our year!

Pete and Kimmy’s best moments of 2012:

January: This was a pretty chill month for us. Pete finished up his internship at the embassy and I went back to teaching after a Christmas break. At work, I did a week long course for teaching business to ESL learners. I gave a pretty sweet presentation on the large number of Mercedes in Albania. (3 out of 5 cars in Albania are Mercedes!)

February-March: Lots of work and school for both of us! Pete hung out with the missionaries a lot, and we had a blast hanging out with friends we made.

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April: This was a busy month for us. We were getting ready to head home. In the meantime, Pete went to Malta (while I froze in Estonia, teaching). We also went on a winter adventure with a family in our branch! We also were able to visit Tartu and Pärnu.

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May: Pete finished his first year of grad school! Now time to buckle down and work on that thesis. Also, we made it back to America! Coming home to America is the best, whether you’ve been gone for a few months or a bit longer. We were sure happy to be in a home that made sense to us.

An eventful Bird summer: Katie and Kevin visited when Ali and Austen got married and Tyler left for his mission in Riga, Latvia.

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September: A proud daughter. My parents went to Italy while I told everyone around me how brave they were to rent a car, ride trains, and more! While they were abroad, we got to hang out with my little sister, Carly.

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October: We moved back downtown. We love the city, trax, and overall feel of downtown, so it’s sure nice to be back. We live a 5 minute walk away from Trader Joe’s which is our new favorite place to shop.

November: A new niece was born! Little Evvie is precious and it’s fantastic getting to know Hadley.

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December: We watched the whole season of Arrested Development. Again. Might be round 3 or 4. But more importantly, we got a puppy! His name is Zoltán. It’s a Hungarian name. We call him Zoli for short. He is half mini Schnauzer and half Brussels Griffon (another terrier type dog). We are working on potty training, crate training, and sleeping at night. So far, it’s going well, considering that he’s only 8 weeks old!

zoli christmas

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Filed under Estonia, Malta, Places, Teaching, Travel

Parents Abroad

Pete and I have been back for nearly 4 full months! We’ve had plenty going on in these last four months, however, I haven’t seemed to be as interested in blogging.

The biggest news around here is that Pete found a job a few weeks ago. He’s working at a digital marketing company called White Label Marketing. It’s just minutes (walking) from where we used to live in Salt Lake City! It’s a great location, one I’m jealous of. There’s just something great about downtown. Pete is a copywriter there. The two other copywriters are either leaving soon or have already left, so as of this Friday, he’ll be their only copywriter. He likes that it keeps him busy, and that it’s a challenge. It’s writing with a plan; so there is more to it than simply writing something interesting. From what he’s said, he gets along with the rest of the employees there; overall, they’re around the same age as Pete, which is nice. It is so great to have Pete working again. The time with him working freelance was great, but I think the structure of a job is good for him.

On another note, my parents left for Italy yesterday morning! We were so happy to see them off, and I couldn’t be a prouder daughter. After my many trips abroad, they have finally taken the plunge and will be in Italy for two and a half weeks! They flew into Rome, and then are driving from Rome to Florence, the Cinque Terra, and Venice. They are going to see it all! I’m a bit terrified for them, simply because I remember all too well how stressful travelling can be, but I think that the two and a half weeks will be perfect for them. My mom has done an amazing job at planning the entire trip, and I think they will be forever changed. Once the travel bug bites, it’s sure hard to stifle! Pete and I reminded them that this is not a vacation, it’s an adventure. Don’t plan on being relaxed–that’s not likely.

Usually I’m the one leaving! It was weird going to the airport, early in the morning, and then being the one driving back home.

In the meantime, Pete and I are hanging out with Carly and Ellie (my little 12 year old sister and our dog). It’s a blast to hang out with Carly! She and I haven’t spent much time in the same house–I moved out when she was 3 and have only spent one summer living here since. She is a hoot. We can’t wait to make her branch out with eating. So far, we’ve already got her to eat beefalo burgers. Which she loved!

And, I’ve been in charge of cleaning out my stuff that’s in the basement. I found a million pictures of me during my travels in Russia and Ukraine (before I had a digital camera) and have been scanning them into the computer. It’s been years since I’ve seen a lot of the pictures (and luckily, I put post it notes on the backs of pictures with students’ names. I had no idea what some of their names were). What good memories.

A few of the girls from my Russia 2004 group

Girls in my oldest group who I taught at an all-girls’ school in Boyarka, Ukraine. 2006

My bathroom in the apartment I shared with another teacher who was Ukrainian. 2006

Amazing cafe in L’viv, Ukraine. 2006

A few of my younger students. Voronezh, Russia, 2004.

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About time

We’re home!

Like a month ago.

But still. It’s nice to be back. I’m sitting on a verrrry comfortable bed, eating raspberries (thanks, Anne!), with carpet surrounding me. Wow. So cool.

Pete and I got back on May 8th. We had a pretty eventful journey getting home. We flew from Tallinn, Estonia on May 6th to Riga, Latvia (which is where Pete’s brother, Tyler, will be serving his mission!). We spent an evening in the center of the old town at a fairly sketchy (but cheap) hostel. We were in a room with 6-8 other people (never really got around to counting). While we were sitting on our beds, some policemen came in, looking for a guy who came into the hostel. Luckily, he didn’t steal anything. Riga was a great town–bigger than Tallinn. The old town was really nice, but I’m partial to Tallinn’s old town (of course). The people were friendly! People in Tallinn had warned us that “you know when you leave Estonia and enter Latvia ’cause it’s crazy.” I didn’t find this at all. I thought that it was clean, modern, and easy to navigate.

The next day, we flew to Paris. I was excited to go to Paris again (mainly because I wanted to go to a store called Springfield’s to get some of my favorite perfume). We got a super affordable airport hotel that was only 2 stops by metro from the airport. It didn’t work out as planned, though. First, we had forgotten how expensive Paris is 7 Euro per person for a ride on the metro for 2 stops!? And then we got on the wrong train–it didn’t stop at any of the smaller stops, it just kept going till it got to the center region of Paris proper. I had a mini freakout. Whenever I hypothetically think about all the things that could go wrong when travelling, I always tell myself that I’d be super calm and collected. But then disaster happens and I fall apart. Luckily, Pete is calm and collected, so he handles all of the disasters. I’m still getting over my uptight personality that has plagued me since I was a kid.

Anyway, we finally made it to our hotel (it took us nearly 4 hours to get there, when it should have taken 30 minutes). The hotel was perfect! Warm shower, comfortable bed, and it smelled clean. Because we didn’t want to go on the metro to get dinner, we wandered around the area. The area we were in was basically full of offices. It took awhile (it was a beautiful evening, so I didn’t mind the walking–Estonia was still pretty cold in comparison), but we finally found…. Ikea! So we went to Ikea and got some food there. Later that evening, we walked back to the same area near Ikea and got a later dinner at McDonald’s. We hadn’t eaten at McDonald’s at all in Tallinn (and only a few times in Hungary) so it was weird to eat there, of all places. But our choices were slim. And the nice guy gave us 5 packets of ketchup for free!

The next day, we made it back to the airport without any troubles. We checked in and went over to the terminal. I was sad that I couldn’t get my perfume, so I checked out the Duty Free perfume shop. Yeah, too expensive for me. We had standby tickets, so about 20 minutes before boarding, we found out that we both made the flight! (Relief!) We got business class. Seriously, I don’t know if I could ever do a 10.5 hour flight in economy anymore; we’ve been so spoiled this last trip with standby going to and from Paris. The flight was uneventful, pretty comfortable, with food that was too fancy (can I just have whatever they’re having in economy?–a question I didn’t dare ask). People in business class are so chic.

We returned home to see our awesome families. I got a haircut the next day. The next morning, we also woke up at 3:30 am, ready for the day. We got a lot done before 9 am–watching Shrek and other important things.

A week and a half later, I started my job back at Mamabargains.com–such a good decision/opportunity to go back there!

Pete’s still in the market for a job. Meanwhile, he’s keeping busy learning the ins and outs of networking. He’s also finishing up the last few requirements for his classes for this semester.

So, we’re home! And it’s good! We do love America. Sometimes, you have to leave your home country to realize how great it is to be from America.

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Filed under Food, France, Places, Plans, Travel

Pärnu, Estonia

Pete and I went to Pärnu today! It’s a tiny resort town in Western Estonia. We loved the city and we ate some delicious pizza at a restaurant recommended by the missionaries (and we had the friendliest waitress we’ve ever experienced in all of Europe. She even humored Pete while he spoke Estonian to her–I think he did a great job and he was able to do everything in Estonian!).

The thing about Estonia is that the country has amazingly sandy and beautiful beaches! Unfortunately, we came here right at the tail end of the summer and are leaving before spring is in full swing, so we haven’t been able to take full advantage of the great beaches. Alas.

Anyway, we loved the city–enjoy the pictures!

On the bus to Pärnu! I love the Estonian countryside.

Tallinn… what’s the deal? Pärnu and Tartu have pedestrian shopping streets!

Watch out, this post has a million architecture because I loved the architecture in this city!

Pete had been craving apple struedel, but the shopping center we go to hasn’t had it. He was so happy when this little bakery had it! And he couldn’t remember the word for “fork” so that’s the hand symbol he did to ask for it.

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Filed under Culture, Estonia, Food, Photography, Places, Travel

Tartu, Estonia

Pete and I went to Tartu on Saturday. It was my first time leaving the Tallinn area, so I was happy to see a new city! It almost felt like we were backpacking again; the weather was similar, and Tartu didn’t feel like Tallinn at all. We felt like we had left the country.

We left Saturday morning and arrived in the afternoon (the bus ride was just over 2 hours). The bus to Tartu was really nice; leather seats and WiFi.

We arrived and found that Tartu was super small. The weather was great! Pete and I love showing up at new cities with no plans. We always seem to have a great time, and Tartu didn’t disappoint! Only in the evening did I need to put on my coat. Other than that, my long sleeved shirt was fine. We had a fantastic time wandering around the city. There is a large university in the city, so there were lots of young students (and tons of hipsters). The city also had a pedestrian street, which I have missed having in Tallinn! We enjoyed delicious food, got a few souvenirs, and even ran into the missionaries (we knew one of them because he had served in Tallinn previously). Enjoy the pictures!

Pedestrian streets. One of my favorite aspects of most European cities.

Tartu University’s main building. It’s a bit grander than Pete’s university (understatement).

I wasn’t going to post this picture. But we thought it was hilarious. Man and Baby. And Pete.

Russian Orthodox church. It felt very lived in; not touristy at all.

An old Lutheran church–very simple inside.

The beautiful terracotta decorations were replicas, unfortunately.

I wanted a picture with this cool sewer thing, and for some reason, Pete forced me to lay on the ground. I think he just wanted to see what he could get me to do in public.

We happened upon a beautiful botanical garden. I can only imagine how great it is during the summer.

This building is tilted!

We got amazing (but a bit expensive) crepes at a little French restaurant. We had an hour before we needed to get back to the bus station and it was cold outside, so this place was the perfect place to hang out. We even got a table with two plush armchairs.

One of the few places I wanted to go to in Tartu was this old Catholic church. It was such a cool place! Pete liked climbing on the walls while I worried about getting yelled at.

Tartu had a lot of awesome bridges!

This band was great; they played “I’m a Barbie Girl” and the James Bond Theme song.

It was a great trip! We’re heading to Parnu on Tuesday, so we’ll be posting again then!

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Filed under Culture, Estonia, Photography, Places, Travel

An outing in North Tallinn! (At least I think that’s where we were)

Pete and I were invited by a family in our branch to hang out with them for a Saturday. We had a blast! They picked us up and we went for a beautiful drive out near the sea. They brought along their hilarious 3 boys which meant that Pete finally got the snowball fight he’d been hoping for all winter. It was Easter weekend, but it didn’t feel like spring at all–it was snowing pretty hard most of the time. The snow and wind didn’t get in the way of our fun, though (there’s a quote here in Estonia: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing). Luckily, we were dressed plenty warm.

After exploring the nature, we went back to the family’s house for a delicious Mexican dinner and egg dyeing. Instead of the standard egg dyeing procedures, we wrapped the eggs in dried onion skins, then wrapped a paper towel around them. They then boiled for about 20 minutes and turned out amazing! We didn’t get a picture of the final product, unfortunately, but I’d say that it is one of the coolest ways to decorate an egg that I’ve ever seen!

Enjoy the pictures!

I refused to get closer to the edge because Pete had already pretend thrown me over the edge once. He cannot be trusted.

This was supposed to be an awesome jumping picture, but instead Pete decided to pick me up while I was jumping and it scared the heck out of me. Again, he cannot be trusted.

The waterfall behind us has a ton of iron in it. The color in this picture doesn't do it justice. This is also an energy source for Estonia.

The family we went with!

This is Pete's heaven. If only I had known that I would soon become the enemy.

Love the little boy's face in this one. He totally got caught right before attacking me. Pete's blaming him... but we all know it was Pete's idea.

Anyway, it’s pretty funny looking back at these pictures because it was only a few weeks’ ago… spring is (finally) in full swing here! An amazing 14 degrees today!

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Filed under Culture, Estonia, Places, Travel

Pete went to Malta! (part two)

More pictures from Pete’s trip! He went to another island (he stayed on the biggest island) for one of the days. Buses weren’t running for tourists because it was before the tourist season, but he was able to get a good price for a nice taxi driver to take him around. The taxi driver had never left Malta before. He spoke nearly native English.

Enjoy the pictures!

There was an ancient ruins area of the island. Apparently, Malta has had civilizations for about 7,000 years! The ones here are from 5600 BCE.

There were stone fences like this all over the islands. They were made by the Arab inhabitants.

Behind Pete (and across the sea) is Libya!

These tiny buildings were dotted around an area of the smaller island. Pete thinks they were jails. But he has no evidence.

View from the supposed jail cell.

This is the cave (supposedly) where Ulysses was trapped in Homer's The Odyssey.

Aqueduct!

Pete went on an awesome cave ride. The water was crystal clear and blue. It was really deep in certain areas, and because the water was so clear, he could still see down to the bottom.

He was also on a boat with other people, so he was able to get pictures of himself without having to do the "self portrait" attempts.

This might be my favorite picture he took during the whole trip.

These two asian girls were on the boat with Pete. The taxi driver called them Pete's asian girlfriends. Ha.

The taxi driver.

Well, there you have it–Pete’s Malta trip! He managed to see a lot of incredible parts of the country while also going to the conference.

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Travel Advice: Letters from my students

This is a birthday post for my mom, but if you’re in need of travel advice (or you just like to read blogs), then keep on reading! Also, a special welcome to any of my Year 12 students who might be reading! 

Happy Birthday, Mom! 

I figured a fun (virtual, rather than literal) birthday present would be to have my students write you (and dad) letters of advice about travelling abroad. They’re my Year 12 Exam Course students, and they’ve all been abroad for travel, so I knew they’d have some great advice for you!

I told them about how the two of you are going to Italy this Autumn, and that it’s your first time leaving the US (other than Tijuana). And I also printed out a few pictures so they could see who they’d be writing to (hope you don’t mind, mom and dad).

I hope you enjoy reading their letters! I think they all gave excellent advice. (I’ve corrected any grammar mistakes, but there really weren’t that many–these students are fantastic at English in all areas).

Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading these letters! (They’re in no particular order)

Dear Steve and Suzy,

We are writing you to cheer you up a little bit. We heard that you are going to Italy, so we would like to give you some advice about how to deal with the local people and how to understand the atmosphere.

First of all, Italy is a very multicultural country, but in general, the way of thinking, manners, and habits are very close to Mexicans.

The second thing is that they have such a thing as “fiesta”. Yep, they sleep during the day. It is normal if you find that all the shops are closed for one hour.

All Italians drink wine. No exceptions. And we strongly recommend you try the local sorts of wine.

We would also recommend you to their local ice cream–it has a special taste. If you are considering to eat at McDonald’s–forget this idea. Italian food is the best thing you can find.

Rome has a special way to travel–so named “Hop-on-Hop-off” buses. You can buy a ticket for a day and enjoy Rome’s sights by listening to a guide using earphones. We would suggest you enjoy the first bus tour from the beginning to the end. It helps you to understand which is interesting for you and during the second tour you can “hop off” where you want. Also, it is easy to travel by underground.

And the last but not least. Do not ever mix pasta with ketchup. Locals wouldn’t appreciate that.

Yours sincerely,

Roma, Kate, Jan

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Dear Steve and Suzy,

We are glad to hear that you are having a holiday in Italy. The country you are going to visit has a very open minded view. People there are very friendly and talkative. One thing to bear in mind is that their way to greet people is to kiss on the cheeks which may cause culture shock. Do not be afraid of it, just go with the flow because they actually wish well.

However, there are some things to be aware of while being on a tour–you should keep an eye on your things because you cannot trust anyone 100%.

We would also like to recommend to you some places to visit there. First of all, you should visit the Vatican, which is the smallest country in the world and home for the Pope. Another place you should go to is Venice where you definitely have to ride the gondola. It is good for you, Suzy, that the gondola men talk a lot about the history and culture of Venice and Italy in general.

It is a must-have to eat the dessert called gelatto (ice cream), that you have to try there. They offer many kinds of tastes for every person.

We hope that this will be your new anniversary since Italy is a very Romantic country. We hope you find some good tips from our letter.

With the best regards,

Sven and Maria

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Dear Mr. and Mrs. West,

We are writing to you to give advice about how to prepare for travelling abroad. We will talk about travelling in Central Europe.

Firstly, we recommend you to be informed about what the weather will be like in this area, where you are going, because that can help you prepare most of the clothes. Secondly, you should know that there is no need to take any specific transport like a taxi because you can use public transport. It is cheaper and more effective. Also, you can get some useful information from passengers that could help you find some places that you should visit. The last thing but not the least important is money. Don’t take with you too much money in the local currency because if you change currency in your homeland you get less than if you change them in the place you go.

Another few things you must know, because it is very important, that if you go to Italy, Italians are very emotional people. Because they are very emotional, they cannot control themselves sometimes. So, if you are talking with them, carefully choose your words.

Best trip to you.

Yours Sincerely,

Fidan and Mike

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Well, there you have it! I hope you (mom and anyone else who read it) enjoyed the letters!

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Filed under Culture, Estonia, Places, Teaching, Travel

How many Estonians have I offended!?

Sometimes, you just don’t learn about the cultural differences of a place till something awkward happens. Or, you don’t realize it’s awkward… until you learn about the “rule”.

Example: I learned, just last week, that Estonians do not compliment each other unless good friends (not even acquaintances compliment each other). Of course now that I’ve learned that, I’ve been thinking about all of the conversations I’ve ever had with an Estonian (um, I’m a teacher to Estonians–this thinking process has taken me awhile). I don’t remember complimenting any Estonians unless I consider them good friends (like at church or something). But I talk a lot. So who knows? I might have complimented an Estonian and completely freaked her out!

I’ve asked my students what their reaction would be if they did get complimented in a strange situation (trying to assess the type of damage I may have caused), and all they’ve told me is that it’s weird and that they don’t understand why someone would compliment them. I guess they’re just confused and don’t understand what the person doing the complimenting wants.

So. Well. In America (or at least the America I know), it’s normal for girls to compliment each other, even when they’ve just barely met. Is that right, American friends? Or am I super weird for complimenting a girl’s cute shoes or something when I don’t really know her?

I need to know–is it ok for a girl to compliment another girl (just casually, like about her clothes or something normal) when you aren’t good friends or have I been breaking some rule that I didn’t know exists?

It’s clear to me that I shouldn’t EVER compliment girls who I don’t know well here. Now I just need to know if I should give up on compliments while in the US, too.

UPDATED: I have learned a few things through this post–1) Posts with dramatic titles will bring people to my blog. I don’t know if that means that I should continue with such sensationalism when posting or not. Probably not. My life isn’t that crazy to make every title so exciting. 2) Russian-Estonians do compliment each other like normal. So it is just Estonian speakers who are uncomfortable with it. 3) Americans (thank goodness) do compliment complete strangers!

I can now rest easy and spend the last bit of my time here complimenting the heck out of my Russian speaking students while terrifying my Estonian speaking students by introducing them to my habit of complimenting. Very good news.

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Change is in the air

I’m not very good at keeping secrets, so it’s time to reveal that Pete and I are moving back to the US!

 

Salt Lake City, to be exact–which is home for us. We’re moving back the second week of May. Leaving is a bit of a bittersweet reality for us. We’ve loved living here, but we are happy to be returning home to a familiar world. The time here has been essentially the best marriage therapy. While abroad, Pete and I have been faced with a whirlwind of changes, and it’s only made us closer. Really, when we’ve looked back on everywhere we’ve been (imagine being with your spouse 24/7 for two months while dealing with the stresses of backpacking throughout the Balkans), we’ve realized how well we work together. This discovery has been fantastic, and we’re hoping that it will continue on while back in the US.

As for what we’ll be doing when we get home… yeah, no idea. Don’t worry, I’ve had a few freakout sessions at this reality. We’re hopeful that we’ll each find jobs that we will genuinely enjoy.

Anyway, that’s what’s been going on lately over here. In other news….

I cut bangs (fringe, for my British friends) last night! I was bored with my hair, so this was a quick (free) change.

We also went to Wing Stop (run by an American guy). I got fried wings and Pete lost 5 pounds of sweat by eating the spiciest option.

Aaaaand. Pete’s leaving me for nearly a week on Tuesday. He’s off to a university conference on the island of Malta (warm Mediterranean weather!). I’m super jealous and will be living vicariously through him by posting pictures from the trip. I’ll be sure to photoshop myself in to make it look like I was there.

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Filed under Estonia, Places, Plans, Travel