Taking a vacation while you’re on vacation is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. (Not that I entirely consider our time here in Lithuania a vacation since we are both working, albeit, not many more than 10-15 hours per week.) Its like waking up from a dream but realizing you’re still dreaming. When we arrived in Vilnius the weather was okay, but there were a lot clouds, gray skies, high winds, and rainy days. We decided it just wouldn’t do and searched online for the cheapest and warmest destination we could find. Cyprus, the small island off the coast of Syria and Lebanon, just south of Turkey, just north of Israel, won us over with the promise of hot weather, warm water, and beautiful beaches. It didn’t matter that I had no recollection of ever hearing anything about the country before, or that it was in such close proximity to countries that made my poor mama worry. We booked the flight and didn’t look back. Man, it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
We stayed on the Greek side of the island, only because that’s where the airport we flew into is located, where Mark’s cousin Sabine lives, and because we had such a short amount of time to spend in the country. We heard only good things about the Turkish side, so please visit it if you go! The food is said to be incredible.
Our week in Cyprus was spent enjoying the sunshine, eating grilled halloumi and tomato pitas, sipping on ice-cold frappes, hot Cyprus coffee, and dry Cypriot wine, taking moonlit dips in the sea, cliff diving with a mixed group of locals and other tourists, dancing until 4am with new friends, visiting monasteries in the mountains and ancient ruins. And bonus, Cyprus doesn’t see many American tourists, so everyone seemed really excited to meet us! They wanted to know where in the States we were from, how we came to visit their island, how its different from the U.S. At one point Mark said he felt like we were unicorns. All-in-all, it was one of my favorite places I’ve visited yet.
I’ll tell you, it hasn’t always been easy. It hasn’t always been comfortable. But it has certainly been adventurous every step of the way.
We’ve been without a home of our own for three months now, so I thought I’d take a moment to weigh in on what that means to me. Since we moved from our cramped (but peaceful) Berkeley one-bedroom apartment, we’ve been crashing with ever-so-generous friends and family across the U.S. and abroad. My parents in small-town Nevada for a few weeks, Mark’s cousin in Phoenix for a weekend, my grandma in rural Kentucky, Mark’s parents in the suburbs of Detroit. We left the states mid-July and landed in Vilnius, Lithuania where we’ve been mostly staying with Mark’s aunt and uncle. And right now I’m writing from a crowded bus somewhere in the middle of the wilds of Latvia on our way back from ten days visiting with good friends in Estonia.
It’s been exciting, filled with countless amounts of those moments that just feed your soul. We collected wild blueberries from the mossy, sun-dappled forests, picked wildflowers, built bonfires on the beach at the edge of the sea and watched shooting stars, stayed up late and talked about our lives and plans, laughed about ill-timed hiccups, and made and shared meals together. Good meals, cooked over nothing more than wood gathered from the fallen trees surrounding us.
I expected these kinds of moments as much as I hoped for them. What I didn’t expect was to miss a space of my own so much, so soon. (And my dog. Oh my goodness, my heart breaks when I think of her. Don’t get me started).
See, I’m a person who needs to feel everything. I love; I hate; I’m angry; I’m annoyed; I’m self-righteous; I’m over-caffeinated; I’m drunk; I’m crying; I’m fretting; I’m laughing hysterically. These are all the things I need be okay feeling if and when I feel them. The problem with this is I’m not comfortable feeling these things around other people. Mark, yes, he knows these things about me. He loves most of them, I’m sure. But there’s an enormous amount of insecurity in me that doesn’t allow me to be myself around most people. And so, if I’m being completely honest, I’m left now feeling a bit disconnected from myself.
But that’s okay. There will be time to reconnect. There will be time to get back to myself. It doesn’t have to be today, it doesn’t have to be tomorrow. Right now there is nothing more freeing than living out of a single backpack. Knowing that all of my possessions can be fairly easily carried from place to place feels good and right. I’m sure this experience has taught, and continues to teach, me more than I can measure at this moment. I’ll realize it all when I’m in my next phase, as lessons tend to not seem like lessons until well after the fact. I know there will come a point, months from now, when I realize I’m different. That I’ve changed. And it will be because I gave myself this time to explore, to be present, to be free.
And then I’ll reflect.
Our first outing in Lithuania was to Trakai, a popular destination just outside of Vilnius. There you can tour the 14th century Trakai Island Castle, rent a canoe and row around one of the many lakes, and sample some of the region’s own kibinai, a flaky pastry filled with anything from mutton and onions (traditional) to custard and fruit. Obviously the latter was my favorite part of our trip, since I’m happiest when eating. Sooner or later this heavy Lithuanian food is going to catch up with me, but for now its nothing but cepelinai with bacon and onions, salted cucumbers, hot borsch, black bread, potato pancakes with dill and sour cream, and crepes with jam.
We got caught in a rainstorm that luckily ended pretty quickly and a double rainbow formed over the lake, which only added to the fairytale-like charm of this little town.
A lot has happened since my last post, but sadly all the photos are on a memory card at Mark’s parents’ house in Michigan. D’oh! We still have photos from Carlsbad Caverns (a must-see!), Austin (OMG LOVE), New Orleans (I’d move there RIGHT NOW), some from Detroit (hello every single cocktail ever), and a tiny bit from NYC (the Highline and sour beers are winners!). But rather than wait another three months, I’ll just skip ahead to the present-ish.
National Kurlyandchik’s European Vacation begins!
We had an eight-hour layover in Stockholm on our way to Vilnius and we were not about to spend it sitting in the airport! (However, the 7-11 at the airport has a salad bar, so…Nope! Nevermind!) Eschewing the unsolicited advice from the guy at passport control to take a taxi, we bought round trip tickets on the Arlanda Express for around $35 per person. The guy claimed that the train was slow and unreliable, but we found it to be quite the opposite. From the airport to Stockholm Central took 20 minutes, and they even have a traveltime guarantee that if your train arrives more than two minutes late they’ll give you a new ticket free of charge. I’ve never heard of a taxi company doing anything remotely as thoughtful.
Anyway, enough about transportation. Stockholm! What a crazy beautiful city. We only had enough time to wander a few streets of Gamla Stan (or Old Town, Stockholm’s historic city center), grab a very Scandanavian lunch, take a glorious nap in a park next to a fountain, and sip some delicious coffees. But hey, beats watching Pitch Perfect 2 on a super uncomfortable airport chair, right? We thought so too.
Deep in the heart of New Mexico, about an hour and a half from the Mexican border, lives the largest chain of gypsum dunes in the world. The white sands stretch as far as your eyes can see and are the perfect contrast to the endless blue sky above. Mark stayed behind to snap some photos as I ran up my first dune with the dogs. When I reached the peak and saw the seemingly infinite landscape glaring back at me I felt my brain buzz. Perhaps it was because it was nearly 100 degrees and I was dehydrated, but maybe it was because I was looking at such a vast and open space and actually sort of comprehending it. Either way, it was an incredible feeling.
We spent a few hours chasing each other up and down the dunes, sliding down the sides of the mounds (without sleds, which you can actually purchase at the information center for $17, and return for a $5 refund), and burying ourselves in the sand. As the sun began to set, we chose the best spot to watch as the blue sky turned cotton candy colored and everything around us took on a heavenly glow. White Sands National Monument is out of this world and has been one of the highlights of this entire trip. I really encourage you to check it out for yourselves.