New Year’s in Tbilisi

Hello Dear Readers!

Did you know that Israel doesn’t celebrate New Year’s like we do? Such was the impetus for our trip to Georgia, as I literally cannot go a single holiday without a celebration.

So it was that we spent New Year’s Ever in Tbislisi, with no plans and only a mild hangover we were trying to overcome.

Let me start by saying that Georgians love their holidays.

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On a casual jaunt through town

This is evidenced by their decorations, the massive amounts of people out on the town, and the sheer multitude of fireworks we witnessed as the clock struck midnight.

Let me lay the scene for you here:

Harrison and I, tired but excited after a long day of touring, ready to celebrate the New Year with a bang. We’ve settled ourselves at a strangely abandoned bar and begun to enjoy some final 2018 libations in preparation for our New Year’s resolutions (drink more?).

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I don’t know who this woman is but I aspire to be her

We’ve smoked a hookah, eaten about a dozen cheeseburgers (God Bless the foreign exchange rate), and have had more to drink than is entirely sensible.

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I’m so sober

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Shortly before midnight, we wander outside, as we’ve heard there might be something big to see.

And there is!

The bell tolls, a thunderous, booming sound, as all around us fireworks begin to shoot in the air. The sounds of people cheering fills us, and we look at each other, smiling shyly, each waiting for the other to make the first move.

And thus we shared our first kiss of 2019. It was romantic, perfect, and sentimental, us cuddling against one another, the lights bright above us and the frigid air forcing us close together.

Until someone shot a firecracker at us.

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Pictured: Me snuggling with a bar cat

-Carissa “My Eye Is Still Kinda Burned” and Harrison “My Eardrums Have Burst”

Dinner With Strangers, On Purpose

Hello Dear Readers!

Harrison and I travel differently. Oftentimes I enjoy the pure luxury of travel, sunbathing, swimming, free food, excellent drinks, etc. Harrison, on the other hand, judges the value of a trip by the level of discomfort he experiences while on it. And that’s a pretty cool measurement, I’ll agree. But it also leads to me doing things with which I am vastly uncomfortable.

Like going to a random stranger’s house and eating a dinner that they’ve prepared. Both in theory and in actuality it was really cool. But would I have ever done it on my own?

Not a chance.

He and I are good for each other, in that way. He drags me out of my comfort zone, and I make sure that we can afford to be there. It’s a win-win for both of us.

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Our digs for the night.

So it was that on our first day in Georgia, jet-lagged and miserable (me), we found ourselves the only two dinner guests of some Georgian folks out in the suburbs of Tbilisi.

I’ve got a ton of social anxiety, so I spent the entire first half of dinner trying awkwardly to keep conversation flowing. Things I learned? Russia sucks, nearly everyone in Georgia makes their own wine, and it’s customary at a party for (male) guests to drink out of horns.

Sorry, male guests.

I’m not even sorry!

-Carissa “That Was An Entire Horn of Wine” Rawson

A Very Georgian (2nd) Christmas

Hello Dear Readers!

Today I am writing to you from my economy(+!) seat, heading to Madrid for my very first international trip with Brit, my service dog. She’s currently laying on the floor, exhausted from the sprint to meet our connection in Houston. Kidding, that’s me. She’s exhausted from all the floor licking she’s done.

So, last I left off, we were talking about Harrison’s visit to California to meet my family, which went about as well as possible. He returned home just before Christmas, which was good, because for Christmas my family and I crammed four (and a dog) to a room in the Disneyland hotel.

Future family Christmas photo

Somehow ending up riding alone

It was actually super cool going to Disneyland for Christmas, and Brit did an amazing job as my service dog, diligently cleaning up any and all crumbs that I spilled.

“Diligent”

A mere four days after Harrison returned home I flew out to Israel for a visit. Sadly, Brit wasn’t able to come with me, as Israel requires a rabies titer test (it takes an entire month to process!) and I hadn’t had one done yet.

As an aside here, I know some of you have probably seen my post about PTSD. There’s obviously no miracle cure, but I severely underestimated the effect Brit has/has had on me. So this trip was really difficult, as being separated from her is just…the worst.

Separation aside, this trip was cool for a couple of reasons, the first being that Harrison and I spent New Year’s in Georgia, which is next door to Azerbaijan and equally as weird.

What’s going on?

We spent a total of five nights in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, and all of it was wonderful.

Most wonderful?

Georgians celebrate Christmas on January 7th and we arrived December 30th, which meant I got to celebrate Christmas all over again. Mostly it meant that the Christmas markets were alive and well, and the whole city was dressed up for the holidays.

Ooooh

As you all well know, Christmas is my most favorite thing in the whole world, so it was awesome to rewind myself five days and have more Christmas!

-Carissa, Brit “Floor-Snack”, and Harrison “Please Is Christmas Over Yet?”

Part of the Family- The Journey of a Lifetime

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m still aboard my Copenhagen-Los Angeles flight. I think it might be taking an eternity. So far we’ve covered quite a few days of Harrison’s trip to California. However, we spent the last few days up in Northern California in the picturesque city of Modesto. Yes, that’s a joke.

 

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Spending time with family is always a joy, but this time it came with the added stress of trying to make Harrison presentable to him. Lucky for me, he’s fairly capable on his own and I didn’t have to do much aside from elbow him occasionally. (He’s going to be so mad I said that but I don’t even care!)

Probably the highlight of our trip to Modesto was our pre-Christmas Christmas. For those of you who don’t know, Harrison is Jewish. That means he’s never experienced Christmas. I know, it’s a travesty. Luckily for him, we solved that as he ran the gauntlet of gifts from everyone up north. I have to say, for a Christmas noob, he did pretty well.

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What is all this nonsense?

Harrison and I also made it out to San Francisco for a trip to the Cheescake Factory atop Union Square and a few delirious hours with one of my best friends, Monica.

Just wait until next year. The Christmas kiddie gloves come off!

-Carissa “Christmas is Literally the Best Time of the Year” Rawson

Old Grandeur- The Napa Valley Wine Train

Hello Dear Readers!

Now, as many of you know, I happen to be a fan of alcohol. Not, like, too much of a fan, i.e. an alcoholic, but I do enjoy the rare beverage here and there (and everywhere).

To that end, one of the things I’d been most looking forward to during Harrison’s trip was our visit to the Napa Wine Train. It was the star of our vacation, costing both two arms and two legs, and while I’d definitely say it was worth it, I’m not sure I could really ever afford to go again. Kind of like the Maldives.

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I feel like I took this for granted

The basic premise of the wine train is this old, restored train that runs through Napa Valley and stops off at various wineries. It includes tastings at all of them, plenty of opportunities to purchase the esteemed wine, and also an extremely fancy meal aboard the train. All told, it’s about six hours long and is a helluva ride.

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This was my first big trip with Brit-Snacketysnack, so I was pretty nervous. We’d been out and about before, but nothing so luxurious as this. I had nothing to worry about though, as she was extremely popular and had the added benefit of making people like me. 

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Who doesn’t love this?

So, yes, I’ve already admitted that I’m a fan of alcoholic beverages, but I also happen to be extremely ignorant about wine. Thus, as the tours commenced and the sommeliers dragged us from room to room, I stood around waiting until I could hustle forward with my plastic tasting cup and request “a glass of your finest red alcohol, please.”

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Please!

I kid. I know there are different types of red wine. And also white. Aaaaaand that’s about the extent of my knowledge

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But we had a blast!

-Carissa “The Wino” Rawson

A Furry Road Trip

Hello Dear Readers!

We left off yesterday with the knowledge of Harrison’s visit to California and a plethora (kinda) of photos from our visit to Disneyland. 

Today’s post is mainly pictures, as we made our way to Los Angeles, Venice Beach, and alllll the way up the coast to Napa Valley.

Enjoy!

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We stayed overnight at the Venice Beach Canals.
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Including indoctrination into the In N Out cult.
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California is the best

-Carissa “How Many Dogs is Too Many?” Rawson

Meeting the Parents

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m writing to you from the depths of economy on a long-haul flight from Copenhagen to Los Angeles. No, it’s not comfortable. Even less comfortable is the fact that I was assigned a middle seat (with no option of changing it!). Fortunately, the woman next to me begged me to change seats with her husband, who was in an aisle seat. I graciously complied. 

Now, I’ve already told you about my trip to meet Harrison’s parents. What I haven’t told you about is his trip to meet mine. You see, Harrison may have two parents and a sister, but I’ve got five and three siblings. We’re a bit larger of a family. 

So I finally enticed Harrison to fly to California, and I ended up meeting him at my apartment as he landed before I arrived home from Illinois.

I take it you all remember when I faced that gauntlet of his friends? It was a bit similar, as my entire family turned out for the special occasion of Harrison’s visit, including my father, who drove in from work just to (I think) glare disapprovingly at Harrison. That’s what Dads are for, right? We’re just lucky he didn’t whip out the pellet gun.

Day two after his arrival I dragged him to Disneyland, because of course I did.

In total Harrison spent a total of seven days in California, including a road trip of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Those posts are upcoming!

-Carissa, Harrison “This is a Psuedonym,” Diamond and Brit “The Snackiest of Snacks”  

Becoming an Able Veteran

Hello Dear Readers!

I’ve tried to write this introduction a dozen times, in a myriad of ways, attempting to sound like myself. You know, light, carefree, sort of sarcastic. But the thing is- this isn’t light or carefree or sarcastic at all. Very few things have impacted my life as dramatically as this journey has, and all I can say is that I’m profoundly grateful.

So I’ll aim for honest.

Several years ago some bad things happened to me. At first I denied I was affected, played it off. After all, I’ve always been the *strong* one. What could possibly have the power to hurt me?

And so I lived my life, doing whatever I wanted, never questioning the choices I was making or the reasons behind them. I went a dozen different places on a whim, simply living for the day, experiencing more things in a year than more people experience in a lifetime.

I was happy.

And then I met someone. And we were happy. He loved to travel too, and we spent our time traversing the world, eating, drinking, living.

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I love him.

And then about a year ago, he gave me an ultimatum. You see, he knew me, better than I knew me, and saw so clearly what I could not.

I was hurting. More than that, I was a fractured person, held together by mere willpower and denial.

I had to get help. So I did. I began seeing someone, learning very quickly that my normal was not normal. Every week I would speak to her, unleashing all the poison inside, letting her into the whirling nightmares that were my thoughts.

Oh what a difference it made! She helped me re-frame my thoughts, put ration to the irrational, give voice to the pain inside.

And yet.

There was still so much hatred. For myself, for who I was, for the choices I’ve made and the things that I’ve done.

I stumbled across This Able Veteran while looking up service dogs, knowing how much my own dogs have helped me, wondering if there was more help out there.

I applied, not daring to believe that I’d be chosen for a dog. I’ve always been a loser, you see.

So when I received a call from the organization’s founder, Behesha, telling me that I’d been picked, I broke down.

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I don’t deserve this.

I arrived in Illinois just after Thanksgiving, worried out of my mind. Am I good enough for this? Do I deserve help? Am I really broken, or am I just manipulating the system for a free dog?

The stream of my thoughts continued, each more vicious than the last, until I was certain I was the worst person alive.

That’s the problem with PTSD, you see. It eats you alive, invisibly, so that on the outside you appear perfectly fine and on the inside you’ve been left with nothing but the blackness of your self-loathing.

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And somehow, she doesn’t see that.

Meeting Brit was just the first step. There followed a three week course on trauma resiliency, focused on understanding our thoughts and healing from the damage we’d inflicted, and continued to inflict, on ourselves.

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The first day of the rest of our lives.

Am I cured? No, I’m a long way from that. And frankly, I don’t think I ever will be. But I’m healing.

So to those who’ve been there for me along the way, thank you. For every thoughtless action I’ve taken you’ve held on, believing in me, supporting me, being there for me when I couldn’t be there for myself. To This Able Veteran, who gave me the power to love myself again, thank you.

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Joy in a photo.

And to you, Dear Readers, who’ve followed along as I’ve traveled, cheering me from afar, thank you. Your guys’ support has kept me writing, kept me grounded, kept me sane.

I’ll see you all later.

-Carissa

Brewing Ourselves At the Beer Spa

Hello Dear Readers!

Has anyone here ever brewed their own beer? Me either. But you know what I have brewed? Myself, in a huge tub full of beer ingredients. 

77eabb0a-8c73-45d3-a77c-f7ad35ee2914So, Budapest is actually pretty famous for their thermal baths. They’ve got tons of them around the city, but the largest and most popular are the Szechenyi baths, which are enormous, gorgeous, and happen to contain my own favorite Budapest attraction, the Beer Spa. 

I actually can’t remember how I found this spa, but I am so glad I did. Basically, what they do is throw a whole bunch of ingredients used for making beer into a giant tub. And then you get in. So there’re hops, barley, malt, etc, just swirling around you in this hot steaming stew.

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Mmmm…beer.

You know, it sounds (and looks) kinda gross in retrospect. But apparently it’s pretty good for your skin. And the best part? The best part? There’s draft beer on tap for you right next to the tub!

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I know that sounds like a recipe for disaster. That’s likely why they limit your spa time to a mere forty five minutes. Any longer and they’d have to pry your sodden ass out of their facilities.

But it was so cool!

-Carissa “I Only Drink When I’m on Vacation, Which is Always” Rawson

 

 

Ballin Budapest: Exploring the Ruins (Bars)

Hello Dear Readers!

You know, we didn’t do all that many tours while we were in Budapest, in stark contrast to our previous vacations. I think it’s because as time has gone on we’ve become more desensitized to the common kind of tours. I mean, I think art is pretty and all, but I can only look at so many different paintings in so many different museums before I run out of energy.

That being said, we spent most of our trip in Budapest relying on rave reviews from others and my old favorite app, “Spotted By Locals,” to get around. Which is how we ended up at Szimpla Kert, one of the immensely popular ruins bars hanging around the Ruins District of Budapest (which, by the way, we were staying in. Yes, I’m great at locations).

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Look! It’s a bar! In a ruin!

Since Harrison and I are ninety year olds in young people bodies we showed up to this bar at 7pm, to grab some drinks and sit around judging people all night long.

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Wow this is almost the exact same photo. Such skill.

No seriously, I basically spent the whole time making up stories about all the people sitting around us. Does that make us boring?

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Seriously, what was I doing with my camera?

For those of you who don’t know, the ruins bars are immensely popular old buildings in the Jewish District of Budapest, formerly abandoned and now taken over by various hipsters who sell overpriced beer and host local concerts. In short, they’re super cool.

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Like me!

We spent all night at Szimpla Kert, chilling and hanging out, realizing only when we left how lucky we had been. You see, as old farts, we had showed up long before the crowds. But by the time we left, the line to get in was roughly 50 people long, wrapping around the block and back.

I guess sometimes it’s cool to be old (at heart)

-Carissa, “Ancient” Rawson