The Amazing Lives of Camels

Our second day in Somalia featured some excursions outside of Mogadishu. We visited… for lack of better terms… a camel dairy farm.

Apparently we arrived at just the right moment as two of the camels were mating. We were told that camels mate for four hours, and we had arrived in time to see the camels finish. (I posted a video on my Instagram account: angelackerman.) A baby camel gestates for 13 months and will have an average life span of 25 years.

Camel milk is touted for its medicinal properties against cancer, HIV and other diseases. We tried some fresh out of the camel (from a communal African bowl) and it was sweet and had an almost vanilla-like taste. I kept comparing it to almond milk in my mind.

They gave us some in a plastic sandwich bag, tied at the top in a knot, to take home. The armed guards in our contingent and our other staff also took some, but they bit the corner off their bag and drank it right away. We put ours in the hotel fridge. After dinner, M bit the corner off the bag (not as eloquently as our Somali hosts) and we poured it into our water glasses.

I mixed up the glasses and M corrected me. At this point I reminded him that we had shared a communal bowl with a bunch of random Somalis and he was concerned about switching our glasses…

We both decided that cold it tasted like milk. We were disappointed as neither one of us likes milk. Maybe you have to drink it warm.



The Coffee Lady in Mogadishu

On our first day in Mogadishu, we were driving back to our hotel, Hotel Sahafi, when the traffic slowed and a gendarme told us that the white car a few car lengths ahead of us contained a bomb. Apparently, a suicide bomber had made it this far (about two miles from our hotel) when authorities noticed the bomb and the bomber-to-be deserted the car and ran.

As a result, the road was closed and we were rerouted until the car bomb could be diffused. We were returned to the hotel and locked in for the night. While our driver and guide were getting information from the gendarme, I noticed this woman making coffee and started taking photos. Since I don’t speak Somali more than “Yes,” “No,” “My name is…” and “Move,” I didn’t realize at the time that we were so close to a live bomb.

Of course I used the time to snap street photography from inside our vehicle. These photos were taken on the outskirts of a makeshift village of refugees who left their homes in flight of the rebel group Al Shabaab.


Arrival in CDG

I have a love-hate relationship with flying. I love packing my suitcase. I love airplanes. I love the airport lounges. I love the physics of take-off. I love the first four hours in the air. Then, my ears clog. My butt hurts. I realize I can’t sleep. I have slime on my face. The plane always seems cold and the dinner gross.

That’s me at 12:30 a.m. my local time, after 6+ hours on the plane and only a one-hour nap after rising at 4 a.m. to start my traveling. And the other photo is my first plate of croissants in the CDG arrivals lounge. I grabbed the last pain au chocolat.

My travel companionIMG_7487, M, and I spent yesterday in his apartment in D.C., catching up while he packed. We had lunch at the nearby Cava. My pita had braised lamb.

We headed to Dulles Airport by bus-metro-bus and flew out on a Boeing 777-330 in premium economy.

Despite a rather disappointing dinner, only getting to watch one-third of the Little Prince movie and an episode where I nearly took out a flight attendant with projectile applesauce, I suppose it was a nice flight.

I normally have issues with my ears when flying and this time was no exception. My left ear is clogged severely and both ears gave me pain and discomfort during landing and even while on the ground. Let’s hope it clears up quickly.

It’s 9:15 a.m. Paris time, 3:15 a.m. Pennsylvania time. We hope our hotel will let us into our room early. M booked a room for the day so we can nap. Our flight to Djibouti leaves at 12:30 a.m. tonight and we have no plans for Paris other than to relax and run errands.

Haunted Gettysburg Homestead Orphanage

For our evening activity, the family and I went on the Ghostly Images Haunted Orphanage tour, which is based in their facility in the former Gettysburg Homestead Orphanage.

Basically, a tour guide told us the true story of the orphanage, had us sit in the dark in the basement and took us for a short walk while telling local ghost stories.

It might have been fun if it weren’t for the idiots in our group with us. They talked a lot, and we spent way too much time waiting for everyone to stop taking photos. My personal favorite was when some of the people on the tour kept whining that they wanted to stop for drinks.

So here’s the summary…

During the Civil War, the property that is now the Ghostly Images office and gift shop began life as a field hospital. People would lay in the streets outside and where now a quaint shopping village rests, there was once a pile of human limbs since surgeons would amputate and toss the refuse out the window.

After the war, the property became a facility for war orphans. For the first five years, it was a happy place but when the headmistress got married and a new woman took her place, neglect ensued. Shackles. Locking children in the outhouse or the basement.

It’s been featured on the big ghost hunting TV shows and is one of the top 30 haunted buildings in the world, #2 in Gettysburg, on the top 10 for Pennsylvania.

Next door to the orphanage is a Subway, a building that our tour guide said was gutted when the franchise took over the location. The tour guide said she had spoken to the owner to see if the remodel had removed their ghosts. The owner said she believed the ghosts were angry because for the first two weeks of their business, they couldn’t print receipts from the register. Then, suddenly one day they all printed out at once when no one was using the register.

My daughter had grabbed a sandwich at that Subway.

The receipt jammed and wouldn’t print.

And we’re walking

Since my trip to Niagara Falls with the Liberty Bell Wanderers, my family has joined me as official members of that group and the American Volkssporting Association. With their help, I recently finished my initial 10-event book and will now have my own walker number.

I am thrilled with this activity. Volkssporting is non-competitive walking or bike riding, typically for 5k or 10k distances, though sometimes 6k or 15k. The local group that sponsors the walk will have a start location posted on the AVA website. At that location, usually a hotel or a YMCA because of the flexible hours of the facility, there will be a “start” or “walk box.”

In the walk box, there’s a registration form, a start card and a stamp. You fill out the registration form, stamp your book(s), and fill out a start card. Also in the box are directions and envelopes. The envelope allows you to mail your completed start card and payment to the walk administrator (otherwise known as point of contact.)

From there, it’s like a walking tour/scavenger hunt. I usually ask my 11-year-old to read the directions and the map because it’s a good skill for her to practice.

We have recently done North and South Bethlehem, New Hope PA/Lambertville NJ, and Doylestown, PA.

In Bethlehem, we visited the grave of poet HD.


In Doylestown, we hob-knobbed with the history.


Apparently, Doylestown has concrete castles similar to the Edison-inspired concrete house neighborhood in Phillipsburg NJ.

New Hope had lots of artsy views.


Not to mention a mansion that could have belonged to one of my husband’s relatives…


But Lambertville NJ had the most amazing falafel and kufta…

My daughter, who’s struggling to transition from her active elementary school years to a more sedentary middle school life, is outside again and moving so that makes me happy. My husband likes to walk and likes our adventurous day trips. I am so thankful for such a fun family activity.

And unlike bowling, it doesn’t require heavy equipment or ugly shoes.

Novosibirsk: Pizzasinizza Adventure, part 2

Our adventure in Novosibirsk certainly didn’t turn out exactly the way we expected, but it was fun and showed us a totally different side of Russia than what we saw in Moscow.

We stayed at the Marriott near Lenin Square and the staff was amazing. They helped orient us to the city, arranged for cheap taxi, and even made sure we had a boxed breakfast when we left today at 4 a.m.

We have had two days of 4 a.m. wake-up times and in both cases we departed the hotel ridiculously quickly. Yesterday it took us 15 minutes. Today 10. And we left with sandwiches, fruit, juice, yogurt and muffins in our boxed meal. That clerk at the front desk was insistent we take breakfast since it came with the room.

But back to pizza. We took a preliminary walk around downtown Novosibirsk, focusing on a strange tiny church in the middle of the street, the opera house and a delightful park. The park had a fairly dense collection of trees, some flute players in South American garb, two dogs lying on a blanket wearing sunglasses (begging for money, which seemed odd to me. How exactly do canines panhandle?), a woman giving pony rides, kids driving mini battery operated cars and a kiosk selling some overpriced but hysterical political themed t-shirts.


We wandered to a local coffee shop, where the reality set it that no one around us spoke English. We managed to decipher the menu, and the prices were half what they were in Moscow. The cakes looked incredible. Travel always leaves me dehydrated so I ordered a “chai latte” (tea latte in English). In Russian, it looks like “yan (triangular staple shape)atte.” M stepped out on a ledge and ordered the mochachino.

My tea came in a pretty standard coffee shop cup with the types of coffee and add-ons written on the side. It had a lovely spice blend, I could clearly taste the ginger, and I’m not sure if they used a special local honey or if something about the milk made it so different and rich.

We also discovered one of those sidewalk drink huts that had a BIG bottle of water and it cost what I paid for the small ones in Moscow. That made me very happy. I have discovered my Russian vocabulary can only yield beverages. I can order coffee, tea, and water. And I can count to three.

At this point it was about 5 pm so we returned to the hotel to see if we had heard from our contact at Pizzasinizza. The answer was no. So we decided to wait until 5:45. We decided we had four options: get a cab, walk, phone them, or merely order the pizza for delivery. We had flown 7,000 miles for this pizza after all.

We consulted google maps, which implied that it would be an 8 km walk to the pizza place, a 15 minute cab ride or require three buses on public transportation. We used the map in the back of a magazine in our hotel room to translate the names of streets into a familiar alphabet, but this seemed not quite do-able on our own.

At 5:45 we had heard nothing so we headed to the hotel lobby. I at first asked for change for a 5,000 ruble bill. Russians seem to prefer exact change. And I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to use the equivalent of a $100 bill on the street or at a delivery-only pizza place.

Then, I launched into my more complicated of problems. I explained how I had come across this pizza place on the Internet but with our limited Russian I didn’t know if we could call them or find them. The front desk googled them. They tried to telephone but no one answered. They offered to call a car but seemed to think public transport would be easy.

The one clerk printed us a map, circled the metro stations and our destination address. He then drew a line for our walking path once we exited the station. “Take the red line,” he said. “To [insert Russian word here]. It is three stops, toward [more Russian words], that’s two words. You will see the river. Take the red line toward the two words at the end of the line. Then return to Lenin Square.”

He repeated the Russian words for Lenin Square a few times. He told us how much metro tickets would be and off we went. When we walked up to the ticket window, it was funny because I was only confident that I knew how to count to three. I think I know four— it sounds something like “chest” but I might be confusing that with the number six. We ended up with four tokens. And they were tokens that indeed went in a little coin slot. I don’t think I’ve ever used a token on a subway, always paper tickets or the smart cards.

The Novosibirsk subway has old cars and rides fast with the rhythm of an old wooden roller coaster. It was much easier to navigate than Moscow, but that was because we had some idea where to go, a familiarity with Russian subway basics and it was not rush hour.

We wove through the underground shops of the metro station and realized we had no idea what side to exit on to follow the map the hotel clerk gave us. We checked with some police officers. We had obviously picked the wrong side, so they added more arrows to our map to loop us around the block.

It got interesting because the streets in Novosibirsk aren’t labeled well, often not at all. We followed our map to where we thought we might need to turn, and asked (by gestures and pointing to the map) an older man in a military style uniform where to go. He pointed toward the street and told us a bunch of things in Russian we didn’t understand.


We followed that street for a while and again got confused that we should be making another turn. This time we stopped in a little grocery store. We started down a cross street that brought us through block upon block of identical apartment buildings that represented the classic idea of how I pictured Russia in my mind. And the amount of garbage we saw along the streets reminded me of some of my experiences in Africa as if the West had merged with the developing world.

We had agreed that if we didn’t find it by the next major intersection, and if that street wasn’t a real commercial street, we would turn around. I had to use the restroom. Remember I said I bought a BIG bottle of water? That was ill-timed.

And then there it was. TWO pizza places side by side. We walked into the first, but despite the sign on the door, the hall seemed dark and as if it were private. We visited the second. That was Asterix Pizza. They directed us down the dark hall, which opened up to this bright little room where a woman was writing on pizza boxes with a crazy yellow seat beside her.

No one spoke English. But with the help of cell phones, we explained the situation and they let us order pizza. And I got to use the toilet.

The girl writing on the pizzas was checking Instagram to try and understand how this all came about, and I even turned on my cellular data so I could show her from my account. That’s when a message from our original contact pushed through. M texted whomever that person is on my behalf.

And we sat on a bench in a non-touristy neighborhood on the other side of the river in Novosibirsk waiting for our pizza. When it was ready, the cook made me count out exact change and handed me three pizza boxes and a wrap.

We embarked back to the metro station and to the hotel. We spread the pizzas out and ate on the floor. The pizzas came with some unusual dipping sauces: a not-like-in-America barbecue sauce, a cheesy-mayo like sauce and a sweet and sour sauce.


We enjoyed our pizzas and were in bed by ten to rise early again today. Sadly, my contact messaged asking if we could get together for coffee before I flew to Moscow. I wish we had the time.

We felt very triumphant that we got the pizza. From the time we left the hotel to the time we returned was two-and-a-half hours. Ironically, there’s a Papa Johns about a block from the hotel. We enjoyed our pizza. More importantly, it showed us how truly sweet and helpful the Russians are and allowed us to explore the city.

Of course, M had proclaimed I am not allowed to pull a stunt like this again.

That’s okay. I can find something as equally crazy.

Arrival in Siberia: The Pizza Pilgrimage, part 1

We left our hotel room at 4:20 am to catch a 6:45 flight to Novosibirsk in Siberia.


I have been following the delivery pizza place, PizzasInIzza, for quite some time on Instagram. When I ended up with a Russian visa, it became a joke. I’d ask, “Can we go to this Russia pizza place?” And that’s how I discovered it was in Siberia.

But we came anyway.

I have flown more than 7,000 miles for a pizza. Of course, we flew Aeroflot domestic from Moscow to Novosibirsk. On the plane, a local woman asked why I was coming to Novosibirsk. I answered, “Pizza.” She became quite confused. She asked if I had business here, if I ran pizza restaurants, if I had friends here, if I was a student (at my age?). She got even more confused when I said I was leaving tomorrow. She thought her English was failing.

In the end, she offered to see if her son could give us a ride into the city from the airport. We declined. So she helped us get a taxi instead. She wanted to make sure we weren’t ripped off.


On the ride in, the taxi driver tried to talk to us, but we don’t speak Russian and he didn’t speak English. We passed a variety of interesting little houses, perhaps best described as colorful cabins. The only American brand I saw was a Harley Davidson dealership. If it weren’t on the other side of town, I would get my dad a t-shirt.

Gas prices appear to be ridiculously cheap, but this is Russia. They do have oil.

We passed what appeared to be a dog obedience class. And an equestrian center where people were out riding.

I also have learned a couple letters of the alphabet. The funny little O with the line down the middle makes an F sound. And it’s in the word coffee. The distorted pi that makes an L sound. The P makes an R sound. And the C makes an S sound. And there’s a lot of N’s facing all sorts of directions that make vowel sounds.

Hot Chocolate at the Pushkin Café

So we got up today again at 9 a.m. It’s a lovely, sunny Moscow day and the Lenins and Stalins are still hanging out in the area of Red Square, which, sadly is still closed.

I swung into the post office to buy a stamp. Each trip I try to buy a random stamp for my daughter and her teacher. They are usually cheap, unique and don’t take up room in a suitcase. My daughter now has France, Djibouti, Tunisia and will soon add Russia. I walked in, and without having any clue for the Russian words for mailing something, merely said the Russian word for “two” and I suppose she sold me two Russian airmail stamps. It cost me a little more than a dollar. But I paid with the equivalent of a twenty, so the clerk “huffed” under her breath and had to leave the room to make change. She made it a point to huff a second time as she counted it out to me. I was very
pleased with myself.

I went to a souvenir shop to buy a little something for my daughter. I won’t say what because she does like her surprises. It cost 150 rubles. I put 200 rubles up and the clerk shook her head. I sorted through my coins. Ten, twenty, thirty, forty… she counted as I counted. But I didn’t have another. I only have forty. She waved at me and said in Russian that ten rubles was nothing to worry about.

That also seemed like a win.

Red Square will definitely be closed all week. But we have gone down every day to see what we can see.

From there, we decided to begin our daily walk. We tend to wander with a loose goal in mind. Pushkin Café has been on M’s list because of the 1964 French song, “Nathalie.”

Today we finally found it.

This is not it.


Neither is this, but this was next door.


And then voilà, this IS it.


The menu

Of course all we wanted was chocolate. And it was heavenly.


Rainy First of May in Moscow

So, M was quite distraught last night that Red Square was closed in preparation for First of May today. We woke late. I rose at 8 and studied Russian until 9 when M roused. We headed to the hotel breakfast, which was a strange assortment of items. You could see the hotel’s efforts to serve multi-national fare. We are staying at Hotel Peter I.

I had Russian pancakes, meatballs, yogurt, pastry, cranberry mors, and the best coffee I’ve had in days. Three cups. Water is scarce, which is a tad annoying. Small markets are closed for the holiday, also annoying but bearable. We purchased water at an upscale grocery store in the fancy mall.


We came back to the room so M could shower. The weather is low 40s, breezy and sporadically raining. M googled the status of Red Square and discovered the worker’s rights parade was going on right now. We hustled a bit and arrived in time to see the end: people dispersing, flags, flowers, red first of May t-shirts (I want one) and the military band playing. (See my Instagram account if you want video: angelackerman.)


I loved watching these women dismantle their signs.

We had an amazing time looking at the military folk wandering around and old Soviet pins. We meandered the city, covering five miles. There were many, many people out. I saw blocks upon blocks of portable toilets.

There’s some beautifully wrapped chocolate, but I’m told it’s not tasty so I took a photo:

Now we’re relaxing and drying off from the rain, so let me leave you with a shot of Moscow on the river.