Weeks 30 & 31: Spring break on stand-by

Mar 18, 2015

Spring break, just like any other break, means more travels on stand by for me and my family.  Most stand-by travelers will agree with me when I say that stand-by travel brings along the most ambivalent feelings ever.

On the one hand, it's the most nerve-wracking experience, because you never know if there will be a free seat on the plane you want to board until the very last minute - literally until the plane door is about to be closed - when you are either told that the plane is full or you are given a boarding pass. In the former case you are disappointed, but you rush to try your luck at another gate for another flight. In the latter you are elated because you are able to reach your destination. Once there, you appreciate it much more than ordinary passengers because you know how tight it was to get there.

This time we appreciated it even more because of a terrible winter storm that caused cancellations and delays of so many flights on the Eastern Seaboard so there was no point in careful planning of our spring break, but we played it by ear. And it turned out to be a wonderful vacation in two different climates.

Country music and homemade food

Mar 5, 2015

I flew first class from Washington DC to Nashville. I have no idea how that happened, but it happened sometime during the exhausting five hours I spent talking on the phone with three travel agents and trying to resolve the issue of the cancellation of a Miami conference that I was supposed to attend.

Anyway, after a short flight I arrived in Nashville,  where my dear friend Myra was waiting for me. We first met  ten years ago when both of us participated in the State Department's School Connectivity Project.  Myra's warmth and her amazing hospitality made my stay in her beautiful house in Nashville a wonderful experience.

Nashville, also known as Music City, is famous for country music and for its Grand Ole Opry House. Myra was so kind to take me to a concert at the Grand Ole Opry, where we listened to Loretta Lynn, Claire Bowen and other famous singers and singer songwriters.

We also visited The Hermitage, the birth place of Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States and learned more about his impressive, but also controversial life.  I just found out that his face is on 20 dollar bill.

We explored places, old and new, those where we found memorabilia from the times past, those where we tasted delicious chocolate or those that are among the top 20 must visit coffee shops in the US.

It was a pleasure to visit the office of the Humphrey Fellows program at Vanderbilt University and speak to some of the fellows and their coordinators Shannon and Nancy.

At the end of each day we would come home and enjoy Myra's homemade delicacies. Myra is an excellent cook and everything she made was so tasty and delicious that my mouth is still watering when I look at these photos:

Weeks 28 & 29: Thawing out

Mar 4, 2015

Everybody says this is the worst ever winter in State College. The University was closed this afternoon and students dismissed because of snow and freezing rain. Classes at Penn State are canceled only on rare occasions - so the weather is really, really terrible.

However, because everybody wants this cold and snowy winter to be over there are many different events going on all around State College and University Park. (note to self: write a blog post about the difference between the two). From Wednesday 25 February till Sunday March 1, The Thaw festival took place with many interesting events. I attended the TEDxPSU and The State of Storytelling, both of which were very-well organized and featured some great speakers, storytellers and singer-songwriters.

On Sunday we attended the Global Connections Fundraiser - Passport on a Plate. The theme was the ocean and the Caribbean (everybody's yearning for sunshine) and each of the tables was decorated by a volunteer. For me, the most beautiful decoration was the one named People, Places and Things, made by our very own Jane Reese.

Here are some other decorations:

Delicious themed food was prepared by the renowned chefs from the Center County:

Of course, we were all dressed up for this occasion:

(despite the snowstorm raging outside)

There were also a silent and a live auctions organized to raise the money for the programs of the Global Connections with some really attractive auction lots, like a week in the Caribbean.

There was another fundraiser organized in University Park last weekend - THON - the amazing Penn State  Dance Marathon. Since 1977, Penn State students have raised more than $ 114 million for children with cancer and their families. This year they have raised more than $ 13 million. Fundraising lasts for the whole year and it culminates in a marathon during which dancers cannot sit nor sleep for 46 hours. It takes places in the Bryce Jordan Center and everyone is invited to come and support the dancers any time during those 46 hours. The spirit, the atmosphere, that something that you can feel in the air was absolutely incredible. 

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