Greetings from Slovenia!
Well, I see it has been a full month since I last wrote so here is the latest update.
After I last wrote I spent the week doing computer training in Kompong Thmal. I spent time helping most of the ADRA project staff learn how to type, although I also spent some time on specific programs (Access, Outlook, etc) with a few of the more advanced users. Some of the staff had never really used a computer before so they have plenty to learn and practice.
On Sabbath we had potluck, which was good as usual, and on Saturday night we played some games, although this time we went to Bryan and Penny's house which is a few miles north of Phnom Penh.
On Sunday I spent most of the day at the Phnom Penh water park with some friends. The water park is geared towards kids, but it was still fun to play on the slides and in the pools. It was also nice to be wet, and hence relatively cool for a change. The park opened this year and has a wave pool, lazy river, giant waterbed covered in water and several slides. On the way back from the water park we went out to eat at a pizza place which I hadn't been to before, and it was very good.
After spending a short week in Kompong Thmal, I traveled by taxi to Phnom Penh on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 23. In the evening I got a haircut and took care of everything I needed to get done before leaving Cambodia for a month.
Thursday morning I got up at about 6:00 am and caught a moto taxi to the taxi stand. I had arranged for a share taxi seat the night before, which was supposedly leaving at 7:00 am and actually left at 7:45 or so. The taxi was headed for Koh Kong which is a town on the Cambodia-Thailand border. The first half of the ride was on a very good paved road, but the second half was on a dirt road that was quite rutted in places. Much of the road wound through hilly, unpopulated jungle areas with plenty of beautiful scenery (we actually passed through at least one national park). We also used four car ferries along the way and had to wait about 2.5 hours in a tiny village because the road was closed for repairs. I had planned enough travel time so that I would be okay spending the night at the border if needed, but we ended up making it to the border about 10 minutes before it closed at 5 pm. After a little hassle with the taxi driver I walked across the border and got right on an air-conditioned mini bus headed for the town of Trat in Thailand. As we sped along the smooth, paved coastal highway I enjoyed watching the sun set between a couple of islands. Public transport in Thailand was quite luxurious compared to the Toyota Corolla taxis in Cambodia (with four in front and four in the back usually). In Trat I bought a bus ticket (AC with a movie dubbed in Thai) to Bangkok. I had 30 minutes before the bus left so I got to enjoy my first Thai food in Thailand, which was wonderful. I finally arrived in Bangkok at 11 pm, although by the time I found my way to the ADRA building (via a combination of local buses and a taxi) it was 1 am and I was glad to get a hot shower and some rest. The one hour flight from Phnom Penh to Bangkok would have cost around $170 (roundtrip), but certainly wouldn't have been nearly as interesting as the overland route which cost a little less than $20 (one way) for the entire trip.
Friday morning I said hello to a few people in the ADRA Asia regional office and then headed for the Bangkok airport. My flight was scheduled for later in the day, but my dad was arriving in the morning. He was visiting Thailand for the weekend and things worked out so that we were able to meet up in Bangkok. We ended up visiting Pantip Plaza which is basically a multi-story mall (complete with food court) devoted entirely to computers. After looking around a little we found some Thai food for lunch. We then made our way back to the airport where my dad got a ride to Mission College and I caught my flight to Dubai. I found that Thailand was noticeably more developed than Cambodia in many ways (cleaner, more electricity, good infrastructure, etc). I also noticed that quite a few familiar American franchises such as 7-11, Pizza Hut, and Burger King (and others) were present in Thailand (but not in Cambodia).
I had about 8 hours in Dubai and had a good sleep on the floor for about 5-6 of them before catching another flight to Larnaka where I was met by my mom. From the airport we went directly to an apartment hotel on the beach (about 5-10 minutes from the airport) where my mom's parents were waiting. My grandparents had been in Cyprus for about a month already when I arrived so we just relaxed at the beach for 3 days until my dad arrived from Thailand on Tuesday. I enjoyed home cooked meals, readers digest and swimming in the ocean everyday. I also had the first of many delicious clementine (mandarin) oranges, which are now in season in Cyprus and was introduced to the great freshly baked whole meal bread that is widely available in Cyprus.
On Sunday the parents of Jonathan, who is the other ADRA volunteer in Cambodia, spent the afternoon at the beach with us and gave me some things to take back to him. It wasn't planned, but it worked out that they were on vacation in Cyprus at the same time as me so we arranged to meet up. It was nice to get to know them a little bit and they told us some interesting stories about the changes that have taken place in Germany (they are from former East Germany).
Tuesday afternoon we picked up my dad from the airport and drove to my parents' apartment in Nicosia. I had seen pictures but this was my first time to visit our new home in Cyprus. Tuesday night we went out to TGI Fridays to celebrate all of our birthdays. I enjoyed it quite a bit although I was experiencing some reverse culture shock since prices for eating out in Cyprus are actually higher than in the US (and way higher than in Cambodia).
Wednesday evening Greg (my dad's brother) and his wife Mary Kay arrived from Maryland and Thursday morning my grandparents flew back to Oregon. On Thursday and Friday Greg, Mary Kay, and I were shown around Nicosia by my mom while my dad worked in the office. We visited an Independence monument, an old aqueduct, a real grocery store (we don't have them in Cambodia), a farmers market and the old town area which is filled with touristy shops and restaurants. For lunch we had cheese sandwiches made with haloumi cheese which is a locally produced, very mild cheese that reminds me of cheese curds available at cheese factories in the US. For desert we sampled some of the excellent Italian style ice cream (Gelato) that is widely available in Cyprus. We also visited the wall at the edge of the UN green zone that divides the capitol city (Nicosia) between north and south Cyprus. The island has been divided since Turkey illegally invaded about a third of the island in the north in the 1970s. Cyprus is hoping that this conflict will be resolved soon since Turkey is now under pressure to resolve it if they want to be considered for membership in the European Union. South Cyprus on the other hand is on track to join whether or not the conflict is resolved.
Sabbath we went to Sabbath school and church at the Nicosia church, which I remembered from my previous visit to Cyprus in December of 1999. A few people at church (and at the Middle East Union office) remembered me from when I was here before, although many of the people have moved here since then as well. After church we drove up into the mountains where we had a picnic lunch and then visited a Greek Orthodox monastery located high in the hills. Next we drove to the top of Mt. Olympus (a little over 6,000 feet) where they have a couple of ski lifts that usually start operating in January I think. On the way back we visited an old village called Kakopetria that has been restored to look about like it did a couple hundred years ago with narrow cobblestone streets and stone buildings. The village is basically a tourist area now with a few small hotels, restaurants and shops.
On Sunday I enjoyed my first visit to the sailboat in it's new Cyprus home (for those of you who haven't heard about it, the trip from Maryland was a success and my dad was on board for a little over three weeks for the 2000+ miles from Gibraltar to Cyprus). After dropping off Greg and Mary Kay at the cruise terminal in Limassol, (they enjoyed a 3 day cruise to Egypt) my mom and I drove to the marina in Larnaka where we met my dad and some ADRA people who were in town for a workshop. We didn't have a lot of wind, but enjoyed swimming off the back of the boat and had a nice lunch aboard as well.
Monday we got up relatively early and went to welcome people to the ADRA workshop that was starting in Larnaka (Larnaka, Nicosia and Limassol are in a sort of triangle, and are all about an hour from each other). I ended up sitting in on the workshop for the rest of the day since the material was fairly relevant to the project I work for in Cambodia.
Tuesday my mom and I picked up Greg and Mary Kay from the cruise terminal and then made our way along the coast. Along the way we had a picnic on the beach next to the birthplace (according to legend) of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. We also visited some ruins from the Roman period including a theater, a house with ancient baths, a stadium and some rather elaborate underground tombs. We arrived at our hotel in the west of Cyprus just in time to watch the sunset. After we got settled in at the hotel apartment we enjoyed a nice meal at a restaurant in town and then had a night visit to the baths of Aphrodite. Greg and I walked up the path and it was so dark that I ended up "bathing" my foot rather unexpectedly. Judging from postcards and the sound of water (we couldn't see much at night) the "baths" are basically a pool of water with some tiny waterfalls trickling into it.
Wednesday we drove back to my parents' apartment. The route we took first wound along the coast (breathtaking views) and then climbed into the mountains where we had a picnic in Cedar Valley, which lives up to it's name with Cedar trees as well as some others. Some of the trees (not the Cedars) were displaying their golden fall colors and were quite pretty. Since it was on the way back we stopped at Kakopetria again to get some pictures in daylight and explored the area a little bit more.
Thursday my dad and I got dropped off at the sailboat early in the afternoon (the others went on to explore other parts of the island). We then headed about an hour up the coast by boat and picked up some ADRA people from the hotel where the workshop was taking place. We didn't have much wind again so did some more swimming before dropping off the ADRA people back at their hotel. We used the dinghy to row people to and from shore. After dropping the people off my dad and I cooked supper (pasta) and then went to sleep. During the night the waves picked up in a different direction than the breeze so that the boat started rocking in a way that made it hard to sleep. Since we were both awake we started sailing at about 3 am and the wind gradually increased throughout the morning. By the time the sun was fully up we were really having a good sail. We sailed along the coast and then anchored in a cove around noon where we met up with Greg, Mary Kay and my mom. After enjoying some swimming (I even snorkeled a little bit) we all had supper on the boat.
Sabbath we explored the coast by car and enjoyed sea caves, arches, jagged cliffs and a church. For the rest of the day Greg, my dad and I sailed the boat back to it's home in Larnaka marina. The "sailing" was actually motoring with a couple of sails up at first, but later in the day the wind picked up and we enjoyed some excellent sailing, including some at night before arriving in our marina at around 9 pm.
I spent Sunday and Monday at home and Greg and Mary Kay flew back to Maryland Monday morning. Tuesday I ran some errands with my mom and then we left for the airport at about 2:00 am Wednesday morning. After a layover of a couple of hours in Budapest we arrived in Zagreb, Croatia Wednesday morning. We were met at the airport by a taxi that took us to our hotel in Rogaska Slatina, Slovenia (about an hour from the Zagreb airport).
We are visiting this part of the world because my dad is attending meetings here. My mom was already planning to come with him and since my visit to Cyprus ended up overlapping with the meetings my parents decided to bring me along as well. The town we are staying in is quite small and is basically a spa resort with all kinds of "cures" ranging from massage to aromatherapy to acupuncture to the painful sounding "lymph drainage". They like to hold meetings here because it is a central location and the prices are considerably lower than Western Europe. Full board is included in the room package and the food is very good with buffet style appetizers and salad followed by a choice of entrée and desert. By now we are often skipping the entrée or just ordering a fruit plate fairly often since the appetizers are so good and it's easy to eat too much. It has been interesting to meet and dine with lots of church leaders who are attending the meetings from all over the Trans-European Division. As you might imagine we had a good Sabbath with the majority of the congregation made up of pastors and plenty of people to share the speaking at vespers and church services.
While my dad has been in meetings most of the time, my mom and I have been relaxing. There are a couple of different hot pools fed with mineral rich spring water that we have visited. The larger pool complex has an outdoor portion and a variety of different water jets including some in-water lounge chairs that use bubbles to give you a gentle massage-like experience. One rather unique thing here is that they have coed locker rooms. They have little changing rooms like you would find in a department store, but the rest of the locker room, including the showers is open and coed. Although everyone wears swimming suits it is still a little different than what we are used to in the States.
We have also enjoyed walking/hiking in the hills surrounding the hotel. My favorite trail so far is one that goes to the top of the local ski hill where they have a lookout tower with a good view of the area. Unfortunately for me they don't have snow here yet so I haven't been able to do any skiing.
On Monday we walked a few kilometers out of town to the local Crystal factory where we enjoyed a tour. They certainly don't have the same safety standards as in the US since we basically walked right through the glass blowing area with no safety railing or anything like you would have on a factory tour in the US. This factory actually supplies Crystal to several famous brands in the US but you can buy it here at very reasonable prices.
On Tuesday a lady who lives in this area picked us up and took us around. We first drove to the top of a mountain where it was quite cold (close to freezing) and we had a great view of the valley below. I again was wishing for snow since we saw a gondola ski lift at the top of the mountain. She then took us to visit several castles and one old town. After lunch our next stop was at the Adventist school where she lives, which is just across the border in Croatia. The school is very nice and even has a castle on campus that they used to use as a school before they built the new buildings. Our last stop was at another castle that we visited just as it was getting dark. These castles are relics of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Hapsburgs), which ruled in this area until World War I.
Yesterday and today have been low-key relaxation days and tomorrow we are going to the airport to fly back to Cyprus. After spending Sabbath in Cyprus I will start my trip back to Cambodia Saturday night.
Well, I guess I should have written sooner since this has gotten rather long again. Oh well, perhaps the next update will be a bit shorter
Until next time,