Life in the Foreign Service invariably means a life of traveling. Going back to the States to see friends and family, getting to know a host country, exploring new regions of the world. We are so lucky to have these opportunities, even if it means we’re (geographically) far from many of the important people in our lives — and to be honest, that’s not always the easiest.
As most of you know, so far, we’ve made our home together in four countries on three continents: Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Belgrade, Serbia; Brussels, Belgium; and of course the United States. Each of these places is different from the others — the culture, language, religion, food, and even weather! More than living in each of those cities, we have enjoyed being able to see more of the world by exploring each place and its environs. One of the greatest things about travel is that no two trips are alike.
In Uzbekistan, traveling around the country and region wasn’t the easiest: bad roads, gas shortages, and great distances all worked against all but the most determined traveler. Despite these difficulties, we did our best to see the country, visiting the silk road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva. in addition to lesser-known destinations like Shakhrisabz (the birthplace of Tamerlane), Nukus (literally in the middle of nowhere, but there’s a great art museum!), and Margilan (found in the Ferghana Valley, locals produce beautiful silk).
We even managed a long weekend in Kyrgyzstan, staying on the shore of the beautiful Lake Issyk-Kul — but that is a story in and of itself. Central Asia is a fascinating place unlike any other, and we’ve found we now have a strong bond with anyone we’ve met who has lived there, purely based on the common experience of a place hard to describe to those who haven’t.
Our move to Serbia opened us up to a completely different experience. We were fortunate enough to have gotten a number of months in language training prior to our relocation, which not only gave us the tools to get around the region linguistically but also gave us time to learn more about the history and culture of our new home.
After our time in Tashkent, we realized we really had to hit the ground running in terms of travel: two years can go by surprisingly quickly, and we didn’t want to suddenly only have a few months left in which to explore ten must-sees. Within weeks of our arrival, we joined a group going on a day trip to Timisora, Romania. And as soon as our car got there, we planned a number of big trips on our own.
Even so, 18 months into our assignment, we realized we were running out of time. Yes, we hoped that we would end up back in the Balkans at some point, but since that isn’t a guarantee, we needed to make the most of our last months. Ultimately, we planned a vast trip that took us from Serbia, down to Macedonia and Greece, then back up through Albania, Macedonia again, and back to Serbia. Fifteen hundred miles and 10 days later, we were back in Belgrade and getting ready to packout.
Like living in Belgrade, Brussels is a central location that makes travel incredibly easy. Unlike Belgrade, where train travel was horrible and our roadtrips tended to be 5+ hours of driving each day, the trains here are fast, well-connected, and easy, and driving, we can be in four other countries in less than two hours. Needless to say, we’ve tried to take advantage of this!
As convenient as air travel is, we’ve found the car to be our favorite form of travel. It is so easy to just throw everything in (including Scarlett!) and take off, and our plans can stay flexible because we aren’t tied to specific flights or train timetables and can easily get around and with our own set of wheels. We also really like to explore things that are off the beaten path, and although that was a lot easier when our starting point was in Serbia — where pretty much everything is off the beaten path — having a car makes a big difference wherever you are.
We have a number of exciting travels planned for the coming months, but are always looking for new places to go: where are your favorite places to travel? Where do you most want to go that you haven’t been?
As PCS (permanent change of station, i.e. moving time) season is upon us, I’ve taken a moment to think back on what I miss most from our last assignment and what I think I’ll miss most from this one. Life in the Foreign Service is a life inevitably full of nostalgia, as any life that is full of drastic moves and changes can be. We are down to our last hours in Serbia and I am sure I will soon write a post about our time here, but just thinking about it is making me sad; instead, I will think about Uzbekistan right now.
Our life in Tashkent was calm and quiet, but great. I had a great job I loved (no small feat for a spouse), with good coworkers and we made some great friends. The embassy community was fantastic, and although travel was not the easiest, we did get to some great places, both within Uzbekistan (Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Fergana Valley, etc.) and Asian spots farther out (India, Thailand), though Kyrgyzstan was the only other “stan” I added to my list (Grant did make it to Kazakhstan before I arrived).
Beyond missing the things mentioned above and a good life-work balance for my FSO husband, I also have one big regret: that we didn’t get a carpet from the Khiva Silk Workshop. Their work is incredible and unique, and I’ve never been able to pick my favorite from the designs they have online — and I am very picky when it comes to my carpets! We did get two beautiful handmade suzani from the shop, and what I really like about them is that they are truly unique and I have never seen others even somewhat like them.
I don’t think there will be something from Serbia I regret not buying — we did get some interesting things (such as a gorgeous, antique trunk and a really cool wooden wine rack), but there is not a huge craft culture here like there is in Uzbekistan. But oh, there are many, many things I will miss: the weather (most of the time), the food, the green markets, and of course, the people… just to name a few. Now I need to stop myself from getting too teary and go enjoy our last few things here before we leave!
What do you regret from places you’ve left? Do you find yourself getting nostalgic before leaving one place for another?