Not that I don’t have time to write, but I’m writing toward something else these days. With that, I don’t want to forget my memories or my friends who’re eagerly asking for them. We’ve had many adventures this year and without further adieu, some highlights…
Christmas in Europe is a treat that everybody should experience, if only once in their lives. There’s a charm in the subtle, sincere way they choose to celebrate Christmas here that centers around happiness and nostalgia rather than market trends and profit. Nothing is overtly flashy or overdone, shying away from the ills of exploitation. A time to celebrate life and make memories with others, Christmas is still about handmade gifts, mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, and Saint Nicholas.
Time is spent on wooden merry-go-rounds, petting sheep and listening to choral music over-pouring from open church doors. The city has made a free ice-skating rink and angels roam the markets, giving candy canes to children.
I make it a habit not to compare America to any country in which I’m living, not only would it be inaccurate, but as a respectful expat I find it unfair. But America could learn a few things from Europe in this category. Although Christmas is a joyous time of year all around the world, I personally find a priceless charm in the way Europeans overlook the obvious profits associated with the holiday and choose instead to keep the local traditions alive.
Because even though there are just as many difference races and religions here as in America, you will find that Christmas isn’t muddled into surrounding celebrations with the dreaded “Happy Holidays,” but a very proud “Merry Christmas.”
So another birthday has come and passed, and just like the others before, I welcome it. I suppose it’s unconventional that I’ve become increasingly proud of my years since the very time when people, notably women, begin rebuking them- 30. The truth is, I wouldn’t go back for the world.
I can speculate that this support for my age comes with the experience and pride in what I’ve accomplished in those years, notably through the joyous life I’ve made with my child, the gratification I have gotten through my work, all the times I’ve been forced to learn grace and dignity, even against a wall of hardship. It’s a humbling and revealing day when you look in the mirror and see yourself truly for the first time- but a fine installment of adulation is replaced in that reflection the moment you can turn those shortcomings toward others in a reciprocal form of tolerance and empathy. And for all my error and the miscalculations passed, I can say with conviction in the very least, I do have that.
For these reasons, all of which occurred before 30 and continue in my daily life today, I’m proud of my age and the life I lead.
Although it certainly isn’t for the weak.
My days start early and end late in a storm of peeling fruits, packing lunches, cleaning up spills, changing diapers, sweeping the floor, endless piles of laundry, skinned knees, bath times, washing dishes, nap-time tantrums, cleaning ears, brushing teeth, keeping any and all things sharp/dangerous/valuable/electronic out of reach, and of course the battle that is clipping nails. And being late to my full-time job and pretty much anywhere else as a result of all the above.
But not today.
This weekend, for my birthday, we traveled to Budapest, Hungary. During the day we played the proper tourists, eating duck and cabbage in outside cafes, meandering under towering cathedrals and through narrow streets, touring Budapest Castle, posing in front of the Basilica and purchasing hand-painted eggs and small wooden trinkets. At night we strolled through the romantically-lit city center, dined in outside cafes warmed by fireplaces, admired the ferris wheel in the square and enjoyed the first night of the Christmas markets.
The clock struck 7 in the midst of the crowded square and Jack’s eyes weren’t as wide as they were at the beginning of our excursion. His head began to bob and finally rested against against his stroller amidst the fried dough and neatly-piled stands of bonbons. I tucked his teddy bear blanket tightly over his hands to protect them from the chilly night breeze- and to protect mine, a hot glass of mulled wine. We weathered the thin, brisk, Central European air for a stroll along the riverfront with friends. A perfect night, ending an even more perfect day.
It’s true that the diapers, feedings, and tantrums don’t take vacation when we do, but it was nonetheless a weekend of making memories and commemorating my own day of birth.
And although I know he’ll never remember these times, they’ll always be with me. For all the photos I took today, what will remain precious in my reminiscences is his face- peaceful and warm underneath the Chain Bridge, twinkling against light from the Danube River. A constant reminder of what a truly blessed life I lead.
Happy Birthday to me.
It’s almost time for the Christmas Markets and it couldn’t be more welcome! The wine and salty Slovak donut vendors were weathering the chilly mist tonight to bring delight to tourists and natives alike; under the clock of Hlavana Namestie, with the yellow leaves blowing in the breeze and the thick smell of wine and garlic, numerous languages were spoken- but the smiles on faces and laughter of playing children proved the universality of spirit for the season to come. Happy Fall, everyone!
A typical Saturday in Central Europe, uniquely mingled menageries of old and new. Sights set toward entertainment- fulfilled in this land of mystery, today at the Babkove Puppet Theater.
Three months of documents, three continents, and three thousand euro later- we have arrived. Yet again, in a land of three languages.
Flying into Vienna, I was met by Roberto, a mutual friend of a professor, who proceeded to show Jack and I the best of Vienna; the main square, the palace, local wines and dinner with another friend. The streets are alive with people selling crafts, beer, wine, vegetables, woven baskets and sausages, with the traditional sounds of Austrian instruments in the distance. I woke up the German tongue of mine that had long since been sleeping and laughed at the dumbfounded looks Jack gave me as I spoke in a language he’d never heard before.
After 24 hours, we left the beautiful land of Austria and hopped on the train to greet our new home. A predominantly Hungarian section of Bratislava, Slovakia is where we sink our teeth into another school, culture, and adventure.
Our first weekend flew by in a fit of last minute preparations, stocking our new home from the ground up with all those annoying little things that are typically just “there” such as toilet scrub, Tupperware, and tin foil. But from then on, we’ve hit the rails and roads to check out our new surroundings.
Our first stop was Old Town, or downtown, Bratislava. When deciding which contract to accept when leaving our beloved little nook in the Philippines, I did an extensive Google comparison of the offering cities. Old Town was my deciding factor- signed, clicked, and sent. It’s appropriately nicknamed the Little Big City, with buildings big enough to have presence, yet small enough to feel welcoming; from the life-size bronze statues of people peeking out of manholes, hovering over your shoulder on benches, and greeting you on the sidewalks, the city is alive and smiling with character. The cobblestone roads are closed to cars, except the Old Town trains, leaving the streets filled with fresh air, sidewalk cafes and wandering performers that accentuate the historic site with violin and accordion music throughout each winding corner of the town.
A brisk wind often precedes a light, chilly rain here in Bratislava, which on one particular occasion led Jack and I to seek shelter off a side street into the charming Cafe Siesta. It’s a small, intimate cafe with lit candles, French furniture, table clothes, cloth napkins, fresh flowers and a dish of cookies at every table. Since we were the only two patrons, we struck up a nice conversation with the owner while eating vegetable quiche and blueberry-lemon cheesecake until the sun came out again. One hour and 6 euro later, we hit the streets again in search of adventure and photographs. And here in Bratislava, those are of no shortage.
Probably one of the more exciting things about this city is its central location to quick, easy travel to other countries. And the next weekend, that’s exactly what we did. We woke that morning to a beautiful sunrise and an unusually warm day, deciding to make the most of it. I texted my friend, Claire, hoping she was awake and equally as antsy. She was and we met at the train station; nine euro and one hour later we were in the beautiful pedestrian city of Brno, Czech Republic. Much like Bratislava’s Old Town, Brno is equally as small and charming, with a slow pace of life that encourages you to appreciate your surroundings. We had a long, outside lunch of meats, pickles, potatoes and beer, then strolled slowly down the cobblestone, stepping aside for the occasional trolley, toward the wine and food festival in the city square. The church bells rang as we sipped on young wine in the streets and listened to music that experienced equal popularity in America some decades ago.
After our lunch and day of exploration, it began to rain that typical September evening shower and we headed toward the train station again. On the ride back, Jack fell into a deep sleep and Claire and I admired the beautiful sunset from the dining car, flipping through photos of our day and talking about the weekends to come.
Our next short journey led us into a borough of Bratislava that holds Devin Castle. It stands strong on a hill surrounded by the Danube River on one side and a charming village on the other, sheep slowly grazing next to the pathways and the white mountain goats climbing ruins of a once great tower. The ambiance that was once filled with fighting, beheadings, and bloodshed is now a quiet and alluring stroll on a Sunday morning. There is wine to be tasted and local cuisine in small stands at the foot of the castle. Wooden toys and balloons for the children are sold alongside hats for those who forgot that the wind in this portion of the country can sting the ears and give you headaches. As we approach the top of the first hill we can see bows shooting toward targets and beyond them, smoke from primitive gunfire. It was our good luck that this particular weekend presented a show on the extensive grounds, Knights on Horses. Jousting, sword fights, horses steaming with sweat, knights in full armor silhouetting a misty, mountain sky- Jack’s face is lost in wonder and I can only imagine all the dreams that are made of what’s right in front of him at this very moment.
It begins to drizzle a little, and with it goes the sun and the small bit of warmth that accompanied it. We descend, Jack waving to the small flock of sheep as we pass.
On the exact soil where thousands of soldiers fought and died centuries before, on the foothill of this ancient Slovak castle, a smile that only comes from pure happiness brightens the face of a little boy who will forever be a part of this land as well. As Jack enjoys his first pony ride while we wait for the bus, the look of innocence and excitement on his face as he bounces on the back of this little white beast is the closest thing to Joy I have ever experienced.
It’s too often that the human mind allows moments to be more precious in reminiscence, rather than in the moment- but this is quite the opposite. There was magic in this day that cannot be regurgitated by memory- it was a feeling. It was perfect. And it was ours.
Brno, Czech Republic
Bratislava, Old Town