Apparently the thing to do is make a list of the top twelve highlights of 2012… well, picking just twelve is a little difficult. After some consultation, I have come up with my top twelve, although a few of them contain numerous things all rolled into one, and I think I am missing a number of important events but this will have to do! Additionally, many of these had blog posts on my old blog, so there are not as many links to the past as I should probably have on a list like this one. Next year will be a different story, however, as I will continue to work on this blog and there will be more travel stories when we start traveling again.
1. We took a fantastic trip to Koh Samui, Thailand. This was probably the best trip we have taken so far and it turned out to be everything we had wanted and more: gorgeous weather, incredible (inexpensive) food, friendly people, and lots of time for relaxing. Coming from Uzbekistan, we took a direct flight from Tashkent to Bangkok, then a short flight from Bangkok to the island of Koh Samui. If you want any recommendations for a trip there, just ask! We stayed on two different parts of the island and it was the perfect combination — we came back and all I did was rave about everything. It can be hard to decide where to stay when one is going somewhere completely new but in our case it worked out perfectly.
2. Scarlett got her first haircut!
3. I finally got to see the Savitsky Museum in Nukus, which I had originally heard about from this New York Times article and the documentary, “The Desert of Forbidden Art,” to which it refers (I did manage to see the documentary on television in the US). We took a quick day trip out to Nukus, which is literally in the middle of nowhere. It was quite an experience and I am very glad we went, although it was a little sad because it was so desolate.
4. One weekend, we woke up early and jumped in the car with Scarlett for a road trip to the Fergana Valley to see more of the country and to get some silk. We managed to meet up with a friend of a colleague, who was kind enough to take us to some silk factories and a huge Sunday bazaar. She was one of the most remarkable women I have ever met and it is the presence of people like her who made our time in Uzbekistan rich with happy memories. We also bought silk in Margilan, which is known for its hand-dyed silk, and I had two dresses and a skirt made before I left for the US.
5. For my first (and thus far only) experience with a CLO (Community Liaison Office) trip organized by the embassy, we went to Lake Issyk Kul in Kyrgyzstan over Memorial Day Weekend. We enjoyed seeing more of Central Asia and the lake was utterly spectacular with its backdrop of the snowcapped mountains of the Tian Shan range.
6. Shortly before I left Uzbekistan, we attended a Pine Leaf Boys concert in Tashkent, which was hosted by the embassy (and written about by yours truly). Their music was catchy and soon all the young people in the amphitheater (and many of the older ones as well) were up and dancing. I felt like a celebrity because many of the students who attended the weekly English Discussion Club I ran at the embassy were there, and they all wanted to say hi and take pictures with Grant and me. It was so much fun and I loved seeing everyone outside of the embassy.
7. What is probably the biggest highlight of 2012 is that we came home! Grant followed a few weeks after Sarah and Scarlett’s Great Adventure and while we did have our moments of reverse culture shock (grocery stores and restaurant menus probably required the most readjustment — and how expensive everything is!), I would say the transition back to life in the US has been a relatively easy one and Scarlett has been loving it.
8. We had a wonderful month of home leave, where we spent time with our respective families, went down the shore in NJ, explored Newport, and visited friends in Nantucket. Our home leave worked out perfectly in that we ended up having a “real” summer and were able to take advantage of the glorious summer (beach) weather. I love the beach, in case you couldn’t tell.
9. During home leave, we bought a car! We ended up leaving Grant’s 1998 Ford Ranger in Uzbekistan and although we were very sad to part with it, we made the right choice. Our new-to-us car is a Volkswagen Tiguan and we love it. It is a small SUV so it should be perfect for the less-than-perfect roads in the Balkans while not being too large for city driving. Plus it is really cute! (Shout out to my sister who let us borrow her Tiguan during the beginning of our home leave — we fell in love with it and ended up getting one of our own!)
10. And then we relocated down to the DC area and began language training. This was my first time starting language training; in fact, it was my first time taking any kind of class at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). Grant and I remain in the same class, though that may change in the upcoming weeks, and it is really cool that we are able to speak to each other in a language other than English. My Serbian is far from being good but I love being able to speak another language(ish). It will certainly make me feel a lot more comfortable when we actually head over to Serbia. Not knowing any Uzbek or Russian and moving to Tashkent, where no one speaks English, wasn’t easy and I am glad things will be easier when we start our next adventure in Belgrade.
11. Hurricane Sandy also hit this past fall and, unfortunately, warrants a place on this list. A few weeks ago, we took a weekend trip to NJ to help my parents tear up the ruined deck at the beach. We were glad we were able to do something to help after the devastation that struck much of my beloved home state and elsewhere, though it certainly didn’t feel like enough.
12. For the final highlight, I’m going to stretch it a little and say it was celebrating everything in the US with our families and friends, most specifically: our birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. We have loved being able to see everyone, particularly around this very family-centric holiday season. Uzbekistan is a predominantly Muslim country, so Christmas wasn’t quite the same; fortunately, Serbia is mainly Orthodox, so while the Orthodox Christmas is a bit later than our Christmas, we will still have more of the holiday spirit! In fact, we’re already looking forward to going to Christmas markets in Europe next year!
I hope everyone has been having a wonderful holiday season and wishing you all the happiest New Year!