In which I start my job as a doc in New Zealand

I knew I’d have a lot to learn working as a doctor in a new country, but I didn’t think it would start before I entered the hospital.

I walked up to the hospital on my first day of work, held my badge up to the double doors and expectantly waited for them to open for me. They did not. I flashed my badge a few times, looking like a proper idiot, wondering if the doors weren’t working. I then realized that I had to manually open the doors here and walked on in. I had two days of a gentle orientation before beginning to see patients, where I got a tour of the hospital, filled out important paperwork and was introduced to nearly everyone and welcomed warmly.

On Wednesday, it was time to start the real doctoring.

Things run a lot differently here than I’ve been used to. Some of that is simply because I’m working in a small rural hospital instead of the large urban center I was at. Some of it is because I’m working with the New Zealand medical system, and some is because I’m taking care of New Zealanders and not Americans, who seem to approach their healthcare quite differently.

I came into morning report, a gathering of the doctors on for the day, the head nurse, physical and occupational therapists, pharmacists and other members of the care team. We listen to the new patients admitted overnight and then run through our list of patients to see what is needed from members of the care team. I picked up my list of five new patients to start seeing that day and met up with my house officer. The training system in New Zealand is beyond my capacity to understand – from what I can tell, the educational level of the H.O.’s is about that of a 3rd or 4th year medical student, but they function much as interns. It’s also not necessarily linear in a way that’s incomprehensible to me. My house officer, upon later conversation, casually mentioned that he was going to quit to go travel for 6 months and planned on returning. I’d like to find a residency in the States that would let that happen!

I went to see one of my first patients, a man who needed a procedure done to drain fluid out of his body. He was on a blood thinner, though, making it more dangerous. I approached this the way I do with my American patients, carefully explaining to him and his family the risks and benefits of the procedure, the possibility of increased bleeding, what we would do to prevent this from happening, and how we couldn’t do much if bleeding happened. I asked at the end if he would like to think about it and we could return later, which would be pretty typical at home. “Nah, I guess we’ll just go for it.” I blinked a few times, as it seemed a bit too easy. “You’re…sure you don’t have any other questions?” “Nah, if it’ll help me feel better let’s just do it.” We set up the procedure for the next day, and it went swimmingly.

I saw another patient who was in for a heart issue for which ultimate diagnosis would require an echocardiogram, or an ultrasound of the heart. The only problem was that it was Wednesday, and echoes are only done on Tuesdays and Fridays, and even then only four on a single day. If you’re the fifth patient, too bad, you’re going to have to wait. If you need a more urgent echo, you’ll have to be driven an hour away to Tauranga to a larger hospital. This is utterly unheard of in urban centers, where I would roll my eyes at an echo taking more than a few hours to obtain. Feeling sheepish, I went into discuss this with the patient, expecting anger and incredulity at the inefficiency of the system. “Oh, no problem,” was the reply, “If we can’t get it on Friday my daughters can just drive me up to Tauranga to get one.”  I was forced to use actual clinical skills to diagnose and treat her without the technological test, which ultimately did get done on Friday.

Another thing we don’t have available that I’m used to : consultants. There’s a surgical team and an orthopedic team, but other than that, there are no medical subspecialties here at all. If someone really needs to be seen by a cardiologist (heart) or a nephrologist (kidney) we ship them to Tauranga hospital for evaluation. Once the patient has been seen and recommendations given, they’ll be shipped back for us to continue the remainder of their hospital stay.

At home, I’m used to doing all the primary work of doctoring myself by which I mean writing notes, ordering medications and tests, following up, and taking calls from nurses if something goes wrong. Here, my house officer does all of that for me. I look up pertinent information before seeing the patient, and then we see the patient together, and then I just tell him what needs to be done and written and…it gets done. It leaves me feeling a little unmoored to be honest, and without me sitting down and looking through all the details of the chart as I write, I keep feeling like I’m missing something. Somewhere along the way I’m supposed to be teaching them something, but I’m okay with letting that slide for a couple weeks while I figure out the system myself.

Being in a nationalized health care system means that there are stricter limitations on what medications you can use in the hospital, especially antibiotics. A patient who comes in with pneumonia in the U.S. would reflexively be prescribed ceftriaxone and azithromycin or levofloxacin for treatment. There are infection nurses who look over more unusual antibiotic choices to regulate those, but no one would stop you from prescribing ceftriaxone. I had to call an Infectious Disease doctor to order it as part of a combination treatment for a patient of mine who came in with pneumonia and got worse with outpatient Augmentin pill therapy. The doctor paused for a second before she said, “I don’t think that’s necessary yet, let’s try IV Augmentin first.” I was denied. (The patient did, though, get better with the IV Augmentin, I must admit.)

There are at least a few patients daily who hear my accent and take the time to tell me what an unhinged lunatic Trump is. One guy, hardly able to breathe with a lung problem, still took time to squeak out that he thought Trump would be the last president of the United States as we know it. It’s a common feeling here, where the U.S. is currently regarded as something of a laughingstock.

All in all I’m enjoying the new gig, though I feel I’ve got a lot of learning to do before I get a handle on how things really work.


New Friends



On Wednesday I came home and I finished my homework.  I went outside to play with my brother and then I played with two other girls in my estate.  We just skated around the Estate and had so much fun. And I saw one of my classmates then she joined in with a Polish friend. Everybody’s from Poland! When I went inside I had dinner and couldn’t wait for tomorrow. Then I had even more playdates.



LB is back!!!!!!!!!



In which I finally get to tell someone off about my name and commune with prehistoric Ireland

I know I’ve already said this, but it bears repeating: I think the weather is really getting to me.  I remember living in Michigan where Harrison’s Roadhouse had a signboard out front which proclaimed ” XX days without sunshine” and would update the number every day. If I remember correctly, and my Michigander friends can help me here, it once got up to the low 40s before a spot of sun was seen. Then, as now, it’s a depressing world without sunlight.

I also have to admit that I find Ireland to be isolating. I know that’s contrary to every single thing you read about Ireland, where the place is described as merry redheads waiting on street corners to invite you into their house for a drink. Wait, that doesn’t sound quite right, but you know what I’m trying to say. Some of this is just the difficulty in moving to a new place and trying to make friends, which always takes more time as an adult. And I can’t quite figure out the mom culture here. An example: the girl has singing club on Tuesdays, and one of the songs they sing is “When I Grow Up,” from the musical “Matilda.” Whenever she starts singing this in her off-key warble, I dissolve into tears.  Something about that little voice singing about growing up and what that means just destroys me. So when I went to pick her up last week at the end of class, I said to the two other moms there, “It just makes me tear up when they sing ‘When I Grow Up,’ you know? It’s just so cute,” accompanied by a fluttering open palmed hand in front of my chest.  They both stared at me as if I was mentally deficient, and were entirely silent. I tried to recover from feeling entirely foolish by mumbling, “I cry easily,” to which they murmured something and then turned away. Eric assures me that this is atypical Irish behavior. Seriously, I dare anyone who is a parent with a heart to listen to the link above and not get weepy imagining your kid singing the same song.

In more fun news, one of the classes I’m taking on the Archaeology and History of Newgrange took a field trip to Newgrange as well as Knowth and Dowth, two other passage tomb sites nearby. Passage tombs were created in the prehistoric era, around 3000 BC, and so called because a central enclosed tomb area made with stone walls was entered along a stone passageway. The finished tomb area was covered in small stones to create a large mound over the whole thing. After the Bronze Age, in 2200 BC, the sites were no longer developed, perhaps because they had achieved a sacred status. Much later, in 700 AD, Knowth actually became a residential area for kings, eventually following into disuse again. Over the years, the tomb was buried in the rubble and dirt of ages and resembled nothing more than the usual rolling Irish landscape. It was rediscovered in 1699 by a farmer who excavated the area to scavenge stones from what seemed to be a nondescript pile of earth and found the doorway to the tombs. The sites have been under excavation and reconstruction from then until relatively recently.


A word here about archaeology in general. I love the imagination of archaeology, as much as I take it with a grain of salt. No one really knows exactly how the tombs were used nor what they were used for. Newgrange is aligned with the winter solstice, but the other ones really aren’t unless you squint and lean over at certain times of the year. I’m often reminded of the book “The Motel of Mysteries” by David Macauley, which I read as a child. In this, a modern-day motel is dug up by archaeologists in the future, who hilariously imagine our world entirely wrong. See, for example, the sacred ritual headdress they found upon their excavations.


All this to say that I take all archaeology with a grain of salt, and remind myself that despite all the technology at our disposal, much of it is still conjecture.


These three big sites rest along what’s known as Brú na Boínne, or The Bend of the Boyne River. Legend has it that Boann, a goddess, broke a taboo regarding a wellspring. In protest, the spring rose up against her, washing her away through the plains of Ireland until she reached the sea, leaving the river in her wake. The river was critical in terms of moving building supplies to these three sites, as many of the large stones were transported from some distance away. The thinking is that they would be dragged or rolled to the river then transported on rafts to the final construction site. It’s a wonder of engineering, to think to 3200 BC and how they could have transported the ten-ton stone blocks which make the walls to the passageways (called kerb stones). Much like the stone blocks of the Egyptian pyramids or the standing heads of Rapa Nui, it is not entirely certain how these blocks were moved and put into place, only to know that it must have been a vast coordinated effort of many, many people.


The passage way is a narrow, low roofed tunnel through large stone walls hemming you in on either side. No pictures are allowed so any interior pictures are from the web. It ends in a chamber with a high conical roof, made by overlapping large stones filled in with smaller stones which over the years crushed into a sort of cement. Interestingly, drainage paths were built in as well going down the side of the monument, done so well that the interior of the tomb area is entirely dry, no small feat in this rainy country. Several burial areas inside contained cremains that seemed to be grouped by family members, some of which contained jewelry, pottery and weaponry. On the walls is scratched in graffiti from Irish punk kids from the early 1800s, a later addition.


When you stand in the central passageway, the guide turns on a small light to simulate the way that the rising sun creeps directly along the hall on December 21, or the winter solstice. What I’ve learned in my class thus far is that this was either a signal of well-wishing from the gods, or that this is when they would use the light to go in and bury the dead and perform rituals. This seems like a bit of hogwash to me, given that the sun is rarely seen at sunrise and even less so in December, but so it is told. The construction of the passage is at a slight angle up, so that there is the main door along which light enters and goes part of the way up the passage, and then an opening above the door which light can enter straight through and meet the center tomb area, which you can see in the picture above.

Perhaps the most famous aspect of Newgrange is the striking white quartz wall that surrounds its face. Michael O’Kelley, the main archaeologist of Newgrange for many years, insisted that the white quartz found around the site was stacked up in this wall formation. Though his theory was controversial, it sounds like he was enough of a pompous windbag to insist on it and the wall was constructed. Never mind that the qualities of quartz and the landscape make it architecturally impossible that such a wall could have been constructed at that time.


closer picture of the entrance door, the light box entrance over the doorway, and the decorated stone at the front



Getting professed about the carvings on the kerb stones


What passes for a warning here. The small white sign says “no climbing”

Knowth is another passage tomb site, in my mind more interesting than Newgrange because of the many smaller passage tombs that dot around it. It’s also known for its heavily decorated stones that line the tomb, here sadly wrapped in blue plastic until its official spring opening time. There is no agreement about what the pictures mean, only that it’s noted that swirly curvilinear drawings are more common doodles for people who have taken drugs, and hallucinogenic mushrooms grow wild in the fields.  You draw your own conclusions. The chief archaeologist for Knowth also saw quartz stones laying about, surmised they may have formed a carpet and left them alone, not wanting to make the same mistake as O’Kelley and Newgrange with the wall. Knowth is also interesting for the reconstructed timber henge, thought to have been used for public rituals. Passage tombs are too small to accomodate more than 10-15 people, so perhaps these areas were for people to gather in.


Woodhenge down below


House footprint in the foreground

Knowth isn’t built much for sun times, as it’s off the equinox by about six days. Some archaeologists have been able to twist dates around so that they say it matches up with a lunar calendar, but this seems to me the archaeological version of retconning. The surface of Knowth is dotted with flat rectangular areas that are the footprint of old houses for kings in the Bronze Age, as above.


Having deep thoughts about the history of the passage tombs

While we were rummaging about Knowth, one of the American students on the trip, M, said to me “We think you should have a nickname! How about ‘Sid’?” Internally, I felt my hackles rise and thought, “Oh no you didn’t!” in the way that the sterotypical “sassy black girlfriend” does in movies. Also, SID?! (As I type this, I realize he thought my name was “Sidatha” so maybe that makes sense. STILL.) “No.” I replied flatly. He then went on to babble something about getting my name right. For the last time, my name is NOT HARD TO SAY. It is three consonants separated by three vowels. For people that can somehow easily figure out that “Sean” sounds like “Shawn” and when you’re in the land where “Caiomhe” is pronounced “Queeva,” this is especially rich. Of course, he can’t stop and then proceeds to go on about how he was a paramedic and would take care of “urban blacks with weird names” (his words) and then, THEN! Starts talking about the racist urban legends of the names “Orangejello” (or-ANJ-elo) and of course, “Shithead” (p. sha-teed). I look at him and say “Those are urban legends, and not real names.” How dare he compare my perfectly normal and good name to racist mythical names? It largely ended there, until next class. He walks in and says “Sujata! I got your name right!” “You got it!” I reply. Again, he can’t shut up and says “I still prefer Sid, but you say you don’t like it.” To which I say “Or you could just learn to say my name the way it is instead of twisting it around to make it convenient for you, because frankly it’s offensive.” He doesn’t talk to me in class anymore, which is fine by me.

Our last stop was Dowth. By this point, we were a little passage tombed out. Dowth however is cool in that it’s just on a plot of land owned by a farmer, free to walk into as you wish, and largely unexcavated so you can see how these places looked before anyone knew they were there.


The wild and wooly hill at Dowth, which looks like every other Irish hill.

The sun did make an appearance over the land, and after the clouds you got a sense of how the ancients saw the gods bless them when it shines.



In which I get a manicure with a side of attitude

I love having my nails done. Something about it just makes me feel like even if the rest of me is falling apart, at least I’ve got one little piece that’s put together. Most of us have something like this, whether it be having our hair done, or having a book with us at all times, or wearing a hat, or having a notebook or what have you. I had never had a real manicure until medical school, when my friends Rebecca and Doosa, upon learning this, looked upon me with wonder and pity and promptly booked an appointment. Since then I’ve never looked back. Frivolous, I know, but there you have it. 
When we arrived in Romania, one of my first orders of business was to find a nail salon. At first, I was so intimidated by this, as I often was when we first arrived here. I didn’t know if there was different etiquette here, or how to communicate exactly what I wanted. I ended up choosing a place at the mall with good reviews and walked over. Inside was a clean area, lit with bright lights, six or seven nail stations at which were seated women in various stages of nail perfection. All turned to look up at me as I walked in and chatted with the receptionist, which made me feel a bit like a spectacle. At the far end of the room was a tv bolted near the ceiling playing pop music videos in English and Romanian, lending an air of familiarity to the place. As they were busy, I made an appointment to come back to have a manicure with someone named Carmen. Now, I actually know a Romanian Carmen at home, and she is no one to be messed with. I was soon to find out that neither was my new nail tech. 

I went back at the given time and sat down in the chair, and was offered a cafe which I accepted. Carmen sat down across from me, a serious looking young Romanian woman with crimped bleached blond hair. Not saying much, she began to inspect the state of my fingernails. They were somewhat of a disaster. Some had broken off nearly entirely, others were cracked. Her eyes widened, the corners of her lips pursed and she held up the stubs and said, “What can I do with this?” “Well, just leave them and they’ll grow” “It won’t look nice,” she admonished, “I will have to cut them all.” Foolishly, I thought I would still be able to get my way and said, “No no, just leave them.” After a few minutes of shaping while continually sucking air in through her teeth, she stopped. Holding up my fingers in front of me again, she said sternly, “Do you see, it won’t look good! When I do a job, I do it from my soul! I want it look very nice for you.” Okay, okay, I acquiesced. I mean, I didn’t want to be responsible for a stain on Carmen’s soul. This was also the moment when I knew I really liked Carmen. Anyone with that degree of decisiveness is always a winner in my book. 
Out came the clippers, efficiently slicing all the nails down to fingertip length. I have to admit, she was right and they did look better that way. I later tried to tell her only to cut the cuticles a little bit, but again this didn’t go far. After one round with nippers, there was another round with a pair of very sharp scissors. Enough dead skin piled on the table in neat little strips that I thought it could be an effective weight loss technique if done on a regular basis.

Intermittently during our first appointment, we would have a conversation in broken English. I learned she had a six year old daughter, I told her about our time in Romania and our travels. Around the shop, the nail techs chatted amongst themselves in cheerful Romanian, clearly trading gossip and ribbing each other in a friendly way. Every now and then Carmen would shake my hand gently and tell me to relax, which happens to me every time I get my nails done. After the fifth time of this, she threw her head back and smiled and said “Oh my god!” In a rather amused, exasperated away. 
The color I chose was a difficult one, requiring several coats to become opaque, unlike the usual two. Later on, I asked for a design on one of the nails. She brought out a big set of stamping plates and laid them on the table as she continued to work. I saw a nice little feather design I thought would be cute and waited until she asked me what I wanted. This time was not to come. “I choose for you,” she announced, poring over the plates until she made her decision and then stamped a nice little wavy design on. It was quite nice, actually, and our visit ended with a picture of my hands for her portfolio.
Soon it was time to go back, and of course I booked with Carmen. I had to again face the disappointment in her face when she saw another few broken nails. Sighing heavily, she brought out the clippers to cut the rest of them down. She offered to make one of them longer instead, but I declined and opted for the cut down. “What color do you want?” She asked with trepidation.”Not the same one as last time?” Clearly thinking of how long that one took to go on. “No,” I said, “just black this time.” “Black?” “Yes.” “Okay, if that’s what you want,” her eyes widening slightly and with a upturned tone to her voice at the end of the sentence, in a way that made it clear I was unwise to want this, but this time I felt pretty sure about it and didn’t give in. This time we chatted a bit more, and it was nice to be in the midst of a pleasant sussurus of women’s voices in the clear tones of gossip. This time I was allowed to choose one of my nail designs and she picked the other. 
The last time I went in was yesterday, the girl accompanying me as the boys had other plans for the day. When I’d made the appointment a few days ago, the receptionist knew me and immediately turned to Carmen’s schedule to see when she was free. On arrival, I was greeted warmly by the staff and then again tutted over by Carmen for the sorry state of my broken off nails. I showed her a picture of the polish pattern I wanted, and she said definitively “I will have to do a few tips.” Now, I’m not usually one for fake nails of any type, and the last time I had them may have been my wedding, but by now I learned that Carmen knew best. Besides, since I’m not working I figured there was little harm in it for now. (Medical providers usually aren’t allowed to have any type of fake longish nails because of the increased bacteria risk, but moreover it’s entirely impractical. I mean, I don’t think my patients would take kindly to being stabbed during an exam.) She turned to her colleague and they had a rapid discussion in Romanian about the best way to achieve this, and ten minutes later I had a full set of perfectly long nails. My daughter peppered her with questions about the process as we went on, clearly not approving of the nail tips, narrowing her eyes at me as they went on. Then a discussion on how to achieve the french manicure type look I wanted, only with black and gold. She painstakingly applied the polish so it would be perfect. One one nail I wondered if a stripe could be thicker. “It won’t look good!” She rebuffed. And that was that. When she was nearly done, about an hour of work later, I said to her as a joke, “Uh, I don’t like this color, can you redo it?” She looked at me with her eyes wide, mouth partly open and nostrils flared in a “Oh-no-you-didn’t” sort of way, and I burst into laughter “I got you!” And we both laughed about it while she related the story to the tech next to her in Romanian. 


At the end, she said, “I want to do a design for you.” And pulling out a plate of snowflake patterns she applied them to my nails as she chose, with the overall effect lovely and seasonal. I told her we were leaving Sunday and we hugged. 

It’s a small thing, like I said, but these interactions are what make me feel like we have a sense of community here in Romania and things I will truly miss. The evolution of my experience at the nail salon reflects my overall experience with Romania. Initially nervous, then more comfortable and even welcomed. After being on the road for several weeks and feeling unrooted, we come to this unlikely place and end up finding places where we have friends, make connections. Viniloteca, the local bakery where we pop in nearly daily, the gym, the nail salon. I finally feel like I have a general sense of how things work, and don’t feel quite so nervous about trying to interact with people. Not surprisingly, this means that the people I interact with are generally friendlier and more open that I found them at the beginning. I suppose in a way this means we’re all mirrors, that someone has to be the first one to open up and smile before others can. 

In which we eat our way through Bologna

The last stop on our tour of Italy was Bologna. There is a study abroad program there where Regis sends students and Eric knew the program director who had invited us to come and visit. We were greeted warmly by Vittorio, the assistant director of the program and settled in. He showed us around and we saw something that made us all gasp in joy – a CLOTHES DRYER. We haven’t seen one since we left, as they’re not standard anywhere else. Given that in the dampness of places we’ve been, clothes take at least 36 hours to dry, this was a true luxury.  

It’s Christmas season here, and in Europe that means Christmas markets set up around town. I went for a little walk on my own to find a grocery store to pick up some food for the night, and found that the one right next to our flat had handmade tortelloni for sale. I bought a kilo of fresh spinach and ricotta tortelloni, a jar of fresh pesto from the store and settled in for an easy dinner at home. When I was walking around though, I began to have something of an anxiety attack. I felt suddenly very alone and vulnerable, and scared. I had no reason to feel this way – there were plenty of families milling about and I didn’t feel in danger of my safety or anything, just…nervous. It felt strange to me, as I’ve traveled solo quite a bit in the past. I remembered the same sensation when we first got to Romania and Eric had to go to Bucharest for a few days, leaving me alone with the kids. Walking around felt terrifying to me. Now, of course, Romania is familiar and I’m often going about on my own. I think part of it is that for the last few months I’ve rarely been alone at all, usually at least with the kids if no one else. It was also the lack of familiarity, the lack of language as well. By the end of our few days in Bologna this was gone, and I had little problem being on my own, out and about. But it was humbling to realize that even with all the travel, I still get overwhelmed with the unfamiliar. 

The following day we didn’t do much to tell the truth. After the intense whirlwind of the last week, we spent nearly the first two full days hardly leaving the flat. We met up with Vittorio, his wife Margherita, and their daughter for lunch at a tasty vegetarian restaurant. The girl was so, so happy to have another girl to chat and play with, as it’s been practically all boys everywhere else! We then relaxed until dinnertime where we were treated to a delicious homemade dinner made by Todd, the director, and hosted by other faculty at the university there. It was so kind and welcoming of them to have a dinner for us. 

Next day, Todd took us on a tour of Bologna. Bologna is a small, delightful city. While there aren’t many famous “sights,” the atmosphere is lovely and we felt warmly welcomed everywhere we went. At one point, the city needed to  increase it’s living spaces. It did this by building additions onto buildings and underneath them, constructing porticos, or covered walkways, throughout the city.  Bologna is known for its rich and tasty food, and in this it did not disappoint!

One of the interesting sights to see was the campus of the first Medical school in Italy. The walls are covered with names and coats of arms of the prior graduates. Inside is a dissection chamber, where students would sit on the tiered chairs while a cadaver was dissected on the marble slab below. Eric suggested I lay down on the slab to recreate a famous dissection scene. Was this a veiled threat? I wondered. I’ve been watching my back ever since. The columns of the lectern are carved with flayed nudes, in homage to the work done below, though are rather grotesque. 

That evening we went out to dinner with Adleigh, and she took us to her favorite pasta place in Bologna. This was incredible. All fresh and handmade pasta with the perfect complementary sauce, followed by gelato for dessert, of course.


For our last full day in Italy, we met with Margherita and Vittorio again for breakfast. An interesting conversation about the referendum in Italy – there was a big vote about amending the constitution significantly which failed, and the Prime Minister resigned. It’s seen as another big anti establishment vote, continuing the momentum of Brexit and Trump. In the States, we are myopic in our political knowledge, and I doubt that even many educated people could name five European leaders. I certainly couldn’t before I came here. The last Italian PM I could name was Berlusconi, turns out he’s been out of power for a while. I know Angela Merkel, but that’s because she’s been in power forever. Of course, everywhere else, they follow the US elections closely and have opinions on them. This is what privilege looks like, in this case American privilege, the ability to ignore what’s happening in the rest of the world because you know it doesn’t affect you all that much. 
For the rest of our time, we did little more than walk around again to explore the streets, pop into little shops and then dinner at home with some fresh pumpkin ravioli picked up at the Christmas market around the corner, where Adleigh and Sean, a faculty member, came over for dinner and some fun conversation. 

Lion’s paw detail of street light base

Love the elaborate door knockers

The next day we boarded our plane back to Romania, which we all now think of as home. 
I usually end my region sections with the street signs, but they really aren’t that unusual here other than the one gondola one in Venice, so instead I leave you with a roundup of our culinary experience. 

In which the kids get to torture each other in a 16th century prison

Venice, I think, suffers from what you can call anticippointment. All the lovely pictures of it, the hushed tones in which prior travelers speak of it, you expect to fall in love at first sight. And while it is indeed very charming in a way, it’s also so overrun with tourists that there is currently a 7:1 ratio of tourist to resident. Much of the time I was in Venice it felt like an Italian Disneyland, a picturesque city with its unique canals, there for tourists to take pictures of and party in, more than a feeling of true culture and interest. Many of what I suspect used to be small local stores have turned to selling the same cheap chinese factory produced crap as everywhere else because that’s what makes enough money to pay the inflated rent. 
That said, it is spectacularly pretty. No roads, no cars, and no bicycles, the only way to get around is to walk or take a boat. The narrow canals and bridges between buildings are something to see and experience. Our first evening there we decided to go for a walk around, just to explore. Our Air BnB host had suggested a small wine bar that had been in operation since the 1400s, and we popped in for a beverage. I love the little paths that just end in water, and the small little shops and bars you can find around. It’s verifiably labyrinthine however, and even a good map isn’t much help. The streets turn this way and that, going directly straight is impossible, and it’s hard to keep your bearings when you can’t see anything in the distance. We got entirely lost on our way back home, only finding our way by using Google maps and the compass app on our phone. 

We awoke to visit the main tourist sites, the palace and St. Mark’s basilica. The cathedral is, again, stunning, this time interesting for the Eastern influence on the artwork inside. Instead of painted frescoes, the ceiling is entirely covered in glittering mosaicwork. Instead of the usual Western style cupolas which have straight walls then meet to a point at the top, these are Eastern with bulges in the middle, think like the Taj Mahal. No photos inside, unfortunately. 
We went to the palace and signed up for the “secret spaces” tour, which takes you into the jails and torture chambers hidden in the walls of the palace. The kids got to reenact scenes of torture, perhaps a bit too delightfully. We learned of the history of Casanova, who was jailed in that prison for quite some time before managing a daring escape. We saw rooms of inquision, floored with dizzying tilework intended as a mental game to disconcert the accused. Our tour guide was sprightly and engaging, but it couldn’t change the fact that a 16th palace’s dungeon has poor insulation and we were frigid by the end of it. 

We warmed up with lunch and I tried an aperol spritz, a drink of campari, sparkling wine, sparkling water that is touted as a local specialty. Friends, I wasn’t impressed, though it could just be that it’s a summer drink and what we really needed was some nice mulled wine. The drink was garnished with an olive, and when the owner came to take our glasses away, he gave Eric a stern look as he had not eaten the olive garnish. Eric only cares marginally for olives, and so smiled and said “no, it’s okay, okay to take the glass.” The owner continued his stern look and pointed at the olive. Keeping eye contact with him, Eric slowly took the impaled olive out of the glass and ate it, the owner responding with a satisfied look and a hint of a smile. I made a point of showing him that I was eating the olive in MY glass, which was clearly the right path to take. 
We considered a gondola ride for all of ten seconds. At 80 Euro for 30 minutes, it’s not a cheap proposition. Also it was freezing outside, and I could only imagine 30 minutes of yelling at the kids to stop moving or keep their hands in the boat or not play rock the gondola, and I figured I can do all that for free. We did take a short gondola ferry ride, just for the feel of it.

That evening we met up with a student of Eric’s who is currently studying in Bologna and had taken the train out to Venice to meet us and see some friends. We asked around and were sent to a small street on an out of the way part of Venice where there were some (good) little wine bars, small and unpretentious and not facing a large boisterous pathway. This was my favorite part of Venice we’d seen yet. Away from the highly commercialized center (Disney Store, for goodness sake) and from the crowds of progressively more drunken tourists, you could sit in peace and have a beverage while looking out at the canals. 
So Venice, I may be back, I’m not sure. If so I’d stay further out of the main area, in the fringes where it retains its charm and some of its culture. I’ll leave with my favorite detail about Venice, the doorknobs which are situated in the center of heavy wooden doors, like Hobbit holes. 


The Shakespeare stealer book review…ish

For school my sister and I are working on the book The Shakespeare Stealer. Our assignment is to write a book review for The Shakespeare Stealer on ideas of childhood morality up to the point we read thus far.

In the beginning of the book Widge, (the main character) loses his family and is brought up at an orphanage where he learns his first idea of right and wrong. Later on in his life he is adopted by Dr. Bright. Bright asked Widge to go and copy his colleagues’ sermons, he gives his own sermons, to put into a book of the best sermons. Later Widge finds out that Bright is actually using the sermons for his own. Widge has a flicker of a shadow of doubt, but then thinks “Right was what benefited you , and anything which did you harm was  Wrong.” With this thought in mind, Widge overlooks the doubt he had before. Also if Widge tattles on Bright, that will probably mean that Bright will disown him and then he goes to the orphanage again. That is not good for him. Soon Widge is caught, and the blame falls squarely on Widge. Although this is not shown, the reader can deduct from evidence given later in the book that this greatly changes Widge’s thoughts of morality. Furthermore, at the orphanage they set a foundation stone for Widge’s ideas of morality. To build a new and better morality stone takes a lot to understand that this new one is better. Also, going on with the theme of childhood, once a stone is set it becomes increasingly harder to break as you grow.

So far I have not finished the book, although maybe something will happen that drastically changes Widge’s ideas of morality. Honestly, I think that he should just take a spin on the wheel or morality with Yakko, Wakko and Dot!wheel-of-morality



long lost relatives


A few weeks ago my family and me went to (in this order) through Hungary, in to netra (one night), to Bratislava (two nights), out of Hungary, in to, Wien (Vienna) (two nights). Then we went home to Romania. besides the reason of just going to other places we went for a very special reason… our long lost relatives! the cool part is that they were really long lost to! My sister and I (as well as our Mom and Dad) had only learned about them before the trip! Dad had amazingly contacted her via his blog, which is quite amazing. after getting back in Romaina Mom told me that Eva was my, first cousin twice removed. Best of all I always wanted a first cousin twice removed.

The long lost relatives we met were, Eva, Eva’s mom Anna, her dad William, two of Eva’s children and one of their husbands. All six of them were very nice to us and gave all sort of gifts! We felt bad because we did not bring any gifts our selves.  😦


“these are a few of my favorite things… in japan”

Among the many things in Japan that I enjoyed were the Japanese 7/11 stores. Usually the food in 7 eleven is not very good or healthy for you. (addictive though) In japan we almost ate half of our meals from 7 eleven. The things we got there were usually onigiri (nori wrapped rice covered seaweed or fish)and hard boiled egg… Both were delicious. Two reasons why you should eat them first to us lowly Japanese food tasters they taste good and they are cheap. Next are the toilets.

Another thing that amused me in Japan were the toilets . . . An odd thing to like to most people, unless they have been to Japan. The first apartment we went to, I spent 30 minutes in the bathroom working out how the toilet worked. And because everything is in Japanese, it’s a lot harder to understand. First, there is always a pink picture with spray coming out of the toilet and spraying onto the person’s butt. Next, there is always a blue picture of two upside down hills (Hmm. . . I wonder what those could be?) with, one could only assume, water shooting out of the bottom of the picture and on to the two upside down hills. These two buttons spayed your butt to wash away the stuff on it. Those were the main buttons. Sometimes there were other buttons such as flushing sound, and air dryer. I now hope you understand why I like Japanese toilets.

Food. All of the food was delicious. My favorite modes of food included ramen vending machines, sushi conveyor belts and vending machines in general. The reason I liked the vending machines is that they are different than ours in the USA and because they serve all kinds of drinks including Coca Cola as well as dashi, a fish oil base for soup. Also, the drinks inside the vending machines were good such as Calpis drinking yogurt, Pocari Sweat and coffee.

Conveyor belt sushi. This form of getting your food transported to you sounds just like it is. There is a conveyor belt going round and round with different types of sushi going around, although you can still order sushi by the means of either a touch screen with the pictures of sushi on it or from the waiters. Most of the places did not have a screen.

Ramen vending machines. They look just like regular vending machines and they sort of are. You push a small button that said which ramen you wanted and in our case we pushed the vegetarian ramen button and then a ticket came out bearing the code for the ramen and then you pushed other buttons to get toppings like more ramen, etc. The ramen was delicious, for coming out of a vending machine.

Public transportation systems. In Japan, public transportation is extremely good. Most of the highways are usually barely blocked up because so many people rely on the amazing public transportation of trains and busses. We relied on it a lot, too. While we were in Japan we didn’t have to get in a taxi or a car once. We could get from Shin-Osaka to Osaka minutes on a Shinkansen bullet train. Or, we could just go across Osaka on the amazing train system.

Lastly, Japan is amazing! The End




The toilets in Japan have bum guns that you control buttons. The first two buttons are blue. The buttons show where it sprays. The third button is pink and sometimes it moves between your butt crack. Sometimes you have a button to dry your butt. And then, there are two buttons that control the water pressure and someother buttons that you shouldn’t touch. When we got off the plane we all needed to go to the bathroom. Mom showed me how to use the toilets. When I got out, Mom still wasn’t out so I washed my hands and went out and saw brother. He toldme the boys bathroom was full so we went into the handicaped bathroom and I showed him the buttons. Then mom came and we got a free ride to the passports control. Along the way we passed dad and then we went through passport control and then took a taxi to our new apartmen