Archive for October, 2013

A Transylvania Halloween!

October 31, 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

Hope you are well. Happy Halloween! For the festivities, and because the timing worked out well, I headed to Transylvania to see Dracula’s castle. 20131031_110557I started my journey by waking up at 5 in the morning. The train to Brasov, the town nearby, takes almost three hours and I arrived just before 10:00 AM.  At the train station, I got a homemade pretzel with sesame seeds on it and coffee because that’s what everyone was eating. Pretzels  are a thing here. On the train, I dozed a little and read my book Rules Of Civility. I got to Brasov and used the nearby mall bathroom. Train station bathrooms are usually terrible. It seems I had the right idea, because I recognized a bunch of people from my train at that bathroom. I found a taxi that was the right price, and luckily, the driver spoke English.


Doral became my driver and guide of Brasov. We first went to Bran Castle, Dracula’s castle. It was cool because there were great views, but it was very touristy. Yep, that’s a stray puppy. I know. I found this puppy hanging out in the souvenir section of Bran Castle. 

After that, we went to Poiana Brasov ski resort to check it out. Unfortunately there was no skiing (none until December) but we got to drive through the woods in the Carpathian mountains. I really wanted to get a pullover or hat that said “Poiana Brașov” on it because I’ve started a collection of ski wear from obscure mountains but they didn’t have any. Boo! 20131031_121627Doral even helped me search for the gear shop. It was closed for renovations. In the third picture, you can see the view of Brasov from above. Near is the old town, and further is the new part of town.

 I got dropped off in the old part of town, and walked around and lunched before it was time to get back on he train to get home to Bucharest. For lunch, I had a delicious home made pasta dish (caprese pasta) from a fancy Italian restaurant. It was the fanciest meal I’ve had yet this survey. 20131031_112250I ate outside. At first I ordered some other pasta and a side of veggies and the server did not let me order it because she said veggies did not go with it. I took her rec and it turned out for the best. The ride home was just shy of three hours. I finished Rules of Civility and started the Joy Luck Club. Lev and I have decided to read the Joy Luck Club “together” this week. I think it will be so nice to do that and feel like we are having a shared experience, something we don’t get to have right now, so I was very excited to start it. And become more educated in Chinese Culture.


At Gara de Nord, the Bucharest North train station, I tried to get a taxi outside and it took me some time to find a guy that wasn’t going to rip me off. They saw I was not a local and offered for me to pay 30? 25? No way. I told them I’ve been here before and know that It costs less than half of that but still many drivers refused to take me if I wan’t going to overpay. 

20131031_110309I ended up paying 9, with tip, when I finally found a guy that would use the meter. He asked me what the deal was because he saw me get in and out of a bunch of cabs before his. I got back to my hotel safely, collected my laundry (one of the best things about hotel living is getting my ironed underwear back in little plastic bags) and had some dinner and wine. I’m definitely excited to keep moving on with the survey, but slightly sad to leave Bucharest, I Loved it here!!! Time to catch up on Nashville 🙂

Love, Annie 

TIL: The 2nd Largest Building in the World is in Bucharest!

October 30, 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

The Peoples Palace, or Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest is the second largest building in the world, after the Pentagon. It is the heaviest building in the world. 20131030_144828I went there today and took a tour! The lighting is horrible in this first picture, I know. It was so cool so I had to put it anyway- it’s taken from the front balcony. Even though the tour was almost two hours long, we saw under 5% of the building. Apparently, most of the palace “looks like office building built in the 80s,” because that’s kind of what it is, so I imagine I got to see some of the most glamorous parts. Before this, I woke up early and went to a meeting. A driver picked me up from the hotel so I felt very important. 20131030_132129I finished my work and then headed to the Palace. I stopped for lunch and sat outside and ate an omelette. My time at the Palace was kind of work too because I’m assigned to report on it. Cool!!!

There’s not much I can tell you that I learned that you cannot read from Wikipedia. It took me 20 minutes to walk not around the building but from one end to the other. It’s very heavily guarded. The tours cost 45 Lei, which is about 15 dollars. If you want to take pictures they tell you it’s another 30 Lei, 10 dollars, but they never collected. I wanted to tip the tour guide at the end but she seemed to run away from the group when the tour finished. 20131030_154150I asked some romanian people if It was customary to tip the tour guide and they said, yes, but maybe not for a tour of parliament, and it would be more customary to tip for a private tour and not so much a large one. After the tour, I went into the museum of national costume which was also in the building. It was like 100 examples of the  same costume. You’ve basically seen everything with this one picture I have provided. That’s Romanian traditional dress for you.

20131030_143136I forgot to say, the other day in the supermarket, they played K’naan’s song Waving Flag. A long time ago, my brother took a video of our dog Sophie and put it to that music. The song makes me SO happy and want to dance around and sing it. Supermarket music is always really a treat. In Ukraine, the highlight in one of the markets was Queen’s Radio Gaga. We spend so much time in the supermarkets in this job so the music everyone hears on survey is always a fun conversation.

Tomorrow, I’m waking up early in order to catch the train to Brasov, the town right near the Dracula’s Castle! I wish you the best!!!!!!

Love, Annie


More Work and Choral Synagogue #2

October 29, 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

Hope you are having a nice week! Bucharest continues to be awesome. I did notice however that the area around my hotel, the old city and city centre, is the most beautiful. 20131029_164856Outside of the city, the buildings aren’t as grand and that old timey important feel that’s sensed in the old city is not there. Yesterday I woke up early and worked and today I did the same. I’m basically done. I have another meeting tomorrow and will finish up some small things. For lunch I ate at an italian restaurant and had caprese salad with avocado and prosciutto – very satisfying. I took a cab after lunch with a rigged meter and had no choice but to overpay so now I know how that feels.


This afternoon I went to visit the Choral Synagogue. The pictures from this blog are from there! This choral synagogue was grander than the one in Kiev. However, It was closed, which was pretty sad. I’m not sure why it was closed because I could not read the sign. After some “por favors” and some pouting the guard let me past the front gates in order to take some a pictures. On the wall there was an inscription about the holocaust but many of the letters and words were gone. On the walk home, I went in to this store and the woman was snooty to me because medium “M” was the biggest size they had and she told me I am too big for them.


I wanted to hit her. My colleague told me it’s because my diet consists of food, not just cigarettes and tuaca (Romanian plum brandy). Still, though… She didn’t seem sorry about it either. I tried on the skirt anyway… it zipped! Just not comfortably. After that, I worked and ate at the hotel. The last picture is of one Romanian guy playing with a street dog! It was cute. There are an estimated 65,000 street dogs here in Bucharest.

Love, Annie

Day Off Postponed to Thursday

October 27, 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

I’ve done this because I’d really like to take the holiday off (the Halloween Holiday). Hope the weekend was nice for you. Today I woke up naturally at 10:00 AM and it felt great. I had a good breakfast and worked for the rest of the day. There is very strong coffee at breakfast. I’ve done this because I’d really like to take the holiday off (the Halloween Holiday). 20131027_165127In the taxi to the mall in the morning, the driver and I discussed music and why people don’t buy American cars. He used to have a Jeep, but it ate up too much gas.

Going home from the mall, I found a taxi driver who didn’t want to use the meter and asked for 40 Lei for the ride. I said Not a chance, I’ll pay 20. Because with the meter on the way over it was 20 including tip.  We settled on 25 which became 30 because he said it was Sunday… and he wanted to get a coffee… fine. It’s a bit over 3 Lei to the dollar.  We ended up speaking to each other in Spanish during the ride!

For dinner I ate Lebanese food in the old city. Fattoush and a pita with beef, tahini, onions, tomatoes and pickles. I think it’s pretty easy to find tasty Lebanese food in many cities.

Love, Annie

Welcome to Bucharest!

October 26, 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope you are having a nice weekend. I’m writing from the hotel in Bucharest. Its in the center of town and small and comfortable. I used three different currencies today, the hryvnia, the euro, and the lei. Its 1 Leu, 10 Lei. I arrived at the airport on time and they had free wifi there, so I had a nice video chat with Lev. He made fun of Ukrainian people’s accents (and is really good at it) so it was a good thing I had headphones.


The people at the airport were wondering why I was laughing so hard. I miss him a ton.

I arrived in Bucharest after a layover in Munich in the early afternoon. I dozed off on both planes :). I did not get ripped off by the cab driving me from the airport to the hotel. At first, the meter was not pointing towards me, so I made sure the driver pointed it to me and I saw it the whole way and calculated the per kilometer cost as we went. It’s a thing in Bucharest that the cab drivers rig their meters. 20131026_144254The driver pointed out all the buildings to me. “Lady this is hospital. Do you understand?” Lady this is __.” I didn’t understand everything he said.

I unpacked and showered and then set out to explore and work. The hotel is in walking distance from the old town so I went there and had a late lunch.  At the restaurant, I had an omelet, some polenta (which is used as bread in Romanian cuisine — who knew), and salad. I over ordered but wanted to try some new dishes and also wanted to ensure there were vegetables. I sat outside because it was so beautiful out, but everyone was smoking at me. 20131026_144108I kept shifting my table so it wouldn’t get in the way of the smoke and that kind of worked. The buildings in the old town are really incredible, very statuesque.

Then I walked to the Carrefour and spent the rest of the afternoon collecting prices. Back at the hotel, I tried some romanian cheeses at dinner. Fresh cheeses are a big deal here. I thought some were better than others. I drank zero coffee and only tea. I’m alive! 20131026_145251I’m just pointing that out. I’m not swearing off coffee because Turkish coffee is coming up, and I really like that stuff. Tomorrow I’m going to sleep late, and then i’m not sure! If i had more time, I would go to Dracula’s castle. Maybe I’ll go for Halloween? If I work tomorrow that might be a possibility. Hmm! That would be a really awesome way to spend Oct 31! Each day as I walk around by myself I appreciate it so much more after spending last survey not doing that at all. Until tomorrow!

Love, Annie

побачення Київ

October 25, 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope you are doing well! That means, “bye, Kiev” in Ukrainian. Good thing for google translate. 20131025_152625Today was awesome. I woke up and finished my work. It was raining all morning but then it got sunny out just as I began my half day of tourism. When that happened I realized I have not seen the sun since I left Boston! It’s been a cloudy week! I took the subway, which is of course, way better than the T, to the old district, Podol, in search of the choral synagogue.


It felt really nice to walk around this part of Kiev because it’s not everyday you get to explore the city near where your great grandfather is from!

It’s a lot quieter in the Podol district than it is downtown. After the synagogue, I walked around Podol for a bit more. I watched some doggies in a park play fighting over some space in a hole that they had dug.

20131025_135044Their owners were right near by. It was a very pleasant afternoon to be in the park.

After having my fill of wandering, I took the little rail back up to downtown (Kiev is on a serious hill), I went to eat at a Crimean food restaurant. I had Manti and salad and baklava.

I believe I ate turkish food but it’s all in the same area. Just a preview of what’s to come! The manti served were the big kind of manti I tasted first in Kazakhstan. They were delicious but I prefer the small kind. At the restaurant, There was this group of people sitting next to me speaking in the Weirdest language! Maybe they were from one of the places I am going to next. Turns out, nope, they were speaking Swiss German!


Yesterday was pretty boring. I woke up early and ate breakfast before the crowd. I was very stressed about having three back-to-back meetings. All in all, they went okay. I was on time for all of them, which is more than can be said for the others.


Between the meetings, I had a cup of corn, which is a common street food here, and some coffee. The other things I ate yesterday were Pizza and Chicken Kyiv. Not the healthiest day.

I made up for it today though with many fruits and vegetables. Just green tea and some toast for dinner because I had a late lunch and If I eat again for a late dinner I’ll never get to sleep. That happened yesterday. It’s important to get to sleep soon because I have to get up very early for a 6:40 AM flight. See you from Romania!

Love, Annie

Working Wednesday in Kiev

October 23, 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

It was a very productive day today. I hope you are doing well.


I got a lot of work done, and I got some new shoes!

I feel much more comfortable not in sneakers. It’s freezing here, especially in the night. I did not pack enough Jacket but think that the next locations will (hopefully) be warmer. Tomorrow, I have a handful of meetings.

This picture is of Independence square.

Love, Annie

Tuesday in Kiev

October 22, 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

20131022_161647Not much to report today from Kiev, I just worked. Here are two pictures. The church in the first picture was under construction last time I was here, so I got to get closer to it today. I was about to overpay for admission, but then this girl standing near the gate offered to help and I got in for under 50 cents. It would have been about 5 dollars.


I don’t think the lady wanted to charge me too much (maybe she did) but rather it was a language issue and she figured I would want to go on a tour and go inside all the churches. I just wanted to walk around for a bit. At dinner I had borscht at the hotel because it was raining and I did not want to go outside and it was not as good as I remembered. I tried Salo on toast and didn’t love it. This is probably a good thing. There is going to be enough fatty food on this trip to go around.

I’m going to go to bed early, and look forward to another working day tomorrow!

Love, Annie

Back in the USSR

October 21, 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

Hope you have been well! I’m back on survey for the November quarter. This trip, I’ll be headed to Kiev (I’m writing from my hotel here now), Bucharest, Baku, Tbilisi, Istanbul, Diyarbakir, and Ankara. It’s a really exciting trip. 20131021_190158If you’ve been following this blog since the beginning, you might recall that I’ve already been to Kiev! It’s been two years since that second survey trip. I feel more confident in my survey abilities now. I’m in the same hotel as before, and the rooms have received a much needed upgrade.

The flights over here were tough. From Boston to Munich, I was more uncomfortable than normal and very fidgety. I watched The Great Gatsby, which I kind of liked, and played a lot of trivia games. Lufthansa has great touch screen personal TVs and the plane was very modern. Additionally, they have a downstairs area where you use the bathroom. I thought it was very cool to have that area so people don’t line up in the aisles.

The layover in Munich was long, a bit more than three hours. I slept for a little in their relaxing area, and ate some chicken stew. On the flight from Munich to Kiev, I slept almost the entire way. The girl next to me asked me to let her by when she needed to get up to use the bathroom, and i jumped because she woke me up. It scared both of us. I think there was someone important or just very rich on the flight because we had to wait on the bus before getting on the plane and I saw a fancy black Mercedes pull right up to the first class cabin stairs while we waited. Someone got out and was talking on his cell phone as he boarded. We had to wait getting off as well.


Leaving the airport, I walked right past the guys who want you to get in their taxis in order to get to an official taxi. They say the official taxis with the meters are more expensive, but I know they are full of it. I payed a very reasonable price for my transportation.

Checking in at the hotel, I told them I had been there two years ago, and one of the ladies recognized me! She said she knew my face, and also, she remembered that we had talked about our names because hers is Aniko (I’ll have to confirm the spelling tomorrow), kind of like Annie.


After relaxing and unpacking in the hotel room, I had a much needed shower and then, armed with my flashlight, phone, and money, headed out for a walk and some dinner. I forgot how nice it was to survey somewhere other than West Africa.

The air is crisp, and the streets are busy so I can walk around. I had forgotten about the fun pedestrian underpasses they have in this area of the world so you don’t have to walk across the busy streets and can be warmer. They always smell like cigarettes.

I walked for a bit and took some pictures. Kiev is very beautiful. The large buildings have so much detail. I came across some guys breakdancing and watched them for a bit with a big group.

For dinner, I went to a restaurant I had already been to – it’s local food, cafeteria style. I had borscht, chicken, salad, and bread. Most of these things were seasoned with dill and garlic butter. Yum.  I happened to sit next to a group of English speakers who worked for Microsoft and they traveled a whole lot as recruiters.  I got a cappuccino, and then walked back to the hotel. I’m very excited to be here and to start working tomorrow!

Love, Annie