|Crumbling Tbilisi, how I hope you'll be protected from gentrification!|
Wow, I can't believe spring is already over (and much less so if I look outside to see the perpetual northern English drizzle - more like the rest of Europe in March rather than June!).
After a really busy March and April, May and June have been more relaxed as we caught up with work and studies... three weeks ago, I finished my final exam with the Open University, which means (unless I failed it!) that I'll soon have the much desired degree from an English language university. This will also be my last foray into academia - as much as I love science, reading and learning, it's not a way of learning or working I enjoy, and I am glad I dropped out of high school and chose an apprenticeship (a very common thing to do in Germany) at age 17.
Anyhow, before this exam, April held some gems of travel with us visiting three countries I've been longing to see for a long time.
I fell hard for this country, although I have to admit we only visited the three major cities. Kiev is amazingly beautiful and full of history, unlike anywhere else I have ever been (nope, Ukraine is really much like Russia). Lviv, a formerly Polish city, reminded me of a rougher version of Krakow, but I dare say both the food and cultural scene was much better! We also visited Kharkiv, the country's working heart in the east. Nope, it's not a war zone, but a vibrant and quite young and trendy city, very livable, although there aren't many tourist sites. I got the chance to visit one of my major, long term clients, which was fantastic (I hope they agree!). Visiting Ukraine was one of those moments that made me realise that even us Europeans don't really know much about our continents and get fooled by the media a lot.
And then it was time to leave Ukraine and visit a country I had been longing to see for a long time...
|street art in Tbilisi|
Yes, all the clichees about Georgia are true, except the one with the hot blooded Caucasus men (this is a prejudice every Ukrainian seems to have ;)): Georgians are incredibly hospitable and helpful to guests, and I was baffled that even the border control lady at the airport started chatting in German with me at 2 am! We flew into Kutaisi, which is currently mostly under construction, but we had some great food and it was easy to organise a private driver to show us around. We then spent a week in Tbilisi, and I absolutely fell in love with the city! We had meant to spend more time in the Caucasus, but had to cut our trip short. As flights from Tbilisi back to western Europe were super expensive, we spent a few days in Armenia before flying back from Yerevan to Germany.
I hadn't given Armenia any thought at all until we stumbled accross Beirut's Armenian quarter, food and history last summer. We only spent four days in this breathtaking country that is quite different from its neighbour Georgia - people are more somber, things seem to be regulated better, many things seem more middle eastern, some more European than in Georgia. It's a very small country, but we managed to see quite a bit of it, using Yerevan as a base for day trips. Still, this was waaay to short of a time and I can't wait to get back!
|Just your random phone snapshot from our trans-causasus trip...|
My family lives just a few miles from the Dutch border, and many other friends live just an hour's trip away, so we spent some time in Duesseldorf, where I held my first proper job ever and which is full of Japanese food, pubs, parks and lovely people :)
Housesitting in the Netherlands
Our first housesit in a small town 20 km south of Amsterdam went extremely well. We lucked out on location, a fantastic dog + cat, a maybe even more amazing house and family... so much that we'll be back for 5 weeks this summer! While we won't become full time housesitters, I am so glad that we explored this option, which is particularly useful for spending time in western Europe, North America and Australia. In all honesty, I find it hard to get excited about the locations most housesits are in, but I love having a dog for a few weeks. Dogs were a big part of my childhood and teens and the one thing I miss not being able to fit in my current lifestyle.
After a very very short stopover in London for my exam and some repacking, and meeting up with a friend in Bristol, we spent 10 days in Liverpool, essentially working and eating. Liverpool is definitely my second favourite place in the UK! Although this time, I did get lost while running a few times and saw its uglier sides, beyond the recent restauration and investment that made the city center a lively hub of activity (I remember visiting Liverpool 15 years ago, when the city centre was not somewhere you wanted to hang out, either).
Right now we are in the historic (Roman + Tudor) town of Chester on our second housesitting job... which deserves its own post.
We are leaving the UK in a few days, which I am mighty glad about due to the current political situation here. As my life and business and has been based in the UK for the last decade, the referendums result was very saddening to me and I'll still be grieving for a while (and hoping it all won't turn out too ugly).
Next week, we are off to Switzerland, with a small trip to Italy for a lovely friend's wedding, and some surprise destinations in Europe coming up for July - September! As much as I feel home in Europe, though, I am already itching to get back to Asia...