Harvesting for a Cause: Picking Olives in Mediterranean Malta

Strolling some Mediterranean sidewalks during the late-autumn months, it’s not unusual to see shriveling olives wasting away on the ground. There are, of course, locals who spirit away buckets of a forgotten tree’s olives, or the odd pigeon that might take a peck at the bitter fruit, but it’s been my observation that a considerable amount of urban olives go to waste.

Enter enterprising University of Malta Professor, Dr. David Mifsud. Late last year, Shawn received an email from the university inviting students and community members to participate in an olive harvest being led by David. As something that’s been on our must-do list for some time, Shawn and I jumped at the chance to spend a few hours as volunteer olive pickers. We were also thrilled to hear that this Mediterranean staple was being harvested for a cause. The olives picked would be pressed into oil, bottled and sold, all to benefit charities serving Maltese residents with special needs or illness.

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Kalofer, Bulgaria: A Story of Life, Lavender, & Lace

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

Arriving in what was to be our home away from home in rural Bulgaria, we knew not a soul. But by the time we left Kalofer, a tiny town tucked away in Central Bulgaria, where the livestock population quite possibly outnumbers the number of humans living there, an impromptu farewell committee was wishing us adieu.

As we rolled our bags out of town, over Kalofer’s bumpy roads spotted with droppings from the village’s numerous goat, cow, and horse residents, locals whom we’d not yet met popped their heads out over their fences exclaiming the equivalent of Bon voyage in Bulgarian.

They waved goodbye, flashed wide smiles, and head bobbles that we’d determined to be customary in the region – gestures that are reminiscent of those we encountered in India.

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An Apple for an Apple: An International Tale of Citizen Diplomacy

As the midnight train bound for St. Petersburg rumbled through the pitch-black Moldovan countryside, I tried valiantly to remain asleep, but my attempts were futile. The cabin was cozier than expected. We had plenty of room to stretch out and we were given care packages filled with comfortable bedding. However, the atmosphere was sweltering hot and unfamiliar. Romanian-Moldovan and Russian filled the air, and even though the train was nowhere near capacity, the cacophony of noise made it hard to drift into a deep slumber.

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Grape Diplomacy in the Moldovan Countryside

 

In the late-afternoon light, the gingerbread homes of the Moldovan village, Rosu, were bathed in golden hues. The homes’ green and periwinkle-blue fences, and wooden adornments on their gables cast frilly shadows on the dirt road, as Shawn and I embarked on an evening stroll.

The wire arbors over the homes’ driveways were brimming with grapes wearing muted amethyst, plum, and seafoam-green hues. They ranged from smaller clusters to plump specimens, calling me to spirit away a bunch or two. They looked so tempting.

As I stopped to photograph a green trellis studded with grapes overhead, two women chatting on the street, called out to us in Moldovan.

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Finding Harmony on an Accordion in Shkodër, Albania

The moment we stepped into the tiny Albanian bar bearing mint-green walls, I regretted having not been more studious in Italian class years earlier. The five gentlemen inside the Shkodër establishment spoke Albanian, of course, but between the two of us, Shawn and I only knew about five Albanian words. The seven of us rapidly defaulted to Italian, soon learning that we really only needed to use the universal language to communicate. Music that is.

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Orthodox Easter Greetings from Ohrid, Macedonia

This spring, we’ve had the fortune of observing Easter celebrations not once, but twice. In Croatia, where Catholicism predominates, we celebrated Easter in late March, whereas we also got to participate in Orthodox Easter festivities in Macedonia this past weekend.

Given its spiritual ties and the fact that it once had more than 365 churches, Ohrid, Macedonia earned the title, ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans.’ Today, many of the UNESCO World Heritage site’s churches have been restored, but others are still awaiting their renaissance. It is not uncommon to see a collapsed church juxtaposed against scenes of everyday life in a thriving neighborhood. Just behind our current ‘home away from home,’ for example, sits the small St. Nicholas Church, which is in ruins. Our hosts noted that local authorities are trying to raise more funds to restore it.

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Albanian Beauty & its 700,000 Bunkers: Profiling a Man Who Built Them

As our minibus chugged through the Albanian countryside during our 6-hour trip, my husband and I inadvertently created a new car ‘game’ to pass the time: who could first spy a bunker as a new one appeared in the ever-changing panorama?

With nearly 700,000 bunkers still dotting the southeast European nation’s landscape even today, the game didn’t prove challenging. We saw a man leading a donkey past a mammoth-sized bunker, and then small ones clustered at the tops of hills, plus another pair nestled beside a home.

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A Vietnamese New Year’s Reminiscence

When I unpacked a red and gold Vietnamese ox ornament last week, it reminded me why I love travel: serendipitous events, cultural immersion, and the opportunity to mingle with unassuming citizen diplomats.

With today being the Vietnamese New Year, or Tết, it seems fitting to reminisce on a Hanoi happening from my travel memory bank that epitomizes all three characteristics.

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