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Life Lately: 2017, Halfway Through

Hey hi hello, Caroline here reporting for my once-a-month-posting-duty. Also - apologies for that massive picture of my face up there, what a welcome back! Though I'm rarely actually here anymore, I've been keeping a running tab of life updates since the beginning of the year, full of happy things and momentous occasions to regale you with when we sit down for a proper chat... but as these things go, days disappeared into weeks into a full month into now, nearly 6 months since I've done just that with you.

I'm sorry, and I miss you. 

But! That aforementioned list! Sharing the bare bones version with you here because the longer I go without doing that, the more disconcerted I feel. What can I say, after five and a half years of sharing every detail of my life here, it feels weird to have an entire half-year undocumented.

So to stick a proverbial toe into the water, here's the Cliff Notes version for now, with perhaps novel versions to follow, should I get bitten by the ramble bug once more. (I say as if I'm not already rambling here.)

// I'm going to be an aunt for the first time!!! Well, aunt to a human, that is. My sister and brother-in-law surprised us with the most special Christmas morning via a fluffy little onesie. Baby BOY (I flew up to Seattle in April to third-wheel the gender reveal doctor's appointment as their birthday gift to me HA) will be here in a little less than three months, and we are all wild with anticipation. So ready to snuggle the little munchkin!
// Maui vibes in May: I spent the first week of May fifth-wheeling (sensing a pattern here...) our family vacay... it was my sister and BIL's babymoon and my parents' joint birthday celebration, but I was there to just lay comatose on the perfect beaches and squeeze into the middle-backseat on scenic drives and demand shaved ice whenever possible. Already scheming up how to retire early and peace out permanently to Maui because it is HEAVEN. 
// WFLondon in March: so this one, I covered a bit here. Basically, with one week's notice, I booked a flight and the cutest "aparthotel" studio and spent half of March in London for work. This is notable because 1) well, London, and 2) I don't think I've ever felt as much like a true, established grown-up as I did in those two weeks. I'm convinced that's 87% due to that hotel room straight out of Pinterest, 13% because of my insane work hours there, and 1% thanks to my nightly glass of wine whilst soaking in the bathtub.
// The Apartment Saga: that took over my entire life and brain and soul through the first four months of the year. Post-college, I stumbled upon the greatest SF apartment opportunity of all time and then never left. In January, a couple of my roommates (including the master tenant) wanted to move, which launched the rest of us into hyper-panic-apartment-hunting mode which... if you know anything about the SF rental market, you'll know is totally justified. Let me tell you – most dramatic text messages of my LIFE took place during this time. We tried talking our landlords into letting us stay, negotiations fell through, we found another gem of an apartment with a HELLISH commute for me so I got cold feet and emailed our landlords again as a last ditch effort, and they counter-offered with a lower rent than what they originally offered. WHAT. So now we're still living at our beloved apartment and the cherry on top is that my best friend Cassandra also moved in! 
// 9-to-5, and Wednesdays in San Francisco: the nature of working at a startup is the most fascinating thing, you guys. The changes in responsibilities and my team and projects in 2017 alone could give me whiplash; it's like a crash course (on steroids) (in triple speed) on All The Things. My favorite switcheroo is that every Wednesday, SF-based people get to have a city work-day rather than braving the hour commute down to the peninsula. Working up here is radically different! My friends work within two metro stops of me on these days, so we meet early for chai, grab lunch on the go, enjoy happy hours with coworkers, admire the few skyscrapers, and walk home alongside the Bay Bridge. A whole new world!
// turning twenty-FOUR! All I have to say to this is the other day I went about the day thinking I'm 19, and then laughed out loud realizing I'm 22, and then felt really dumb. Haven't actually grasped the fact that I'm now in my MID-twenties. There are times I feel like an old hand at this "life" thing, like when I did my taxes before my older, more responsible sister (only because it was the last day I could get TurboTax for free) and when I scheduled an optometrist appointment (only because I was down to my last pair of contacts and I'm literally considered to be legally blind without them). Then, there are days I still feel like a newbie (see: everything in parentheses).  
// this, that, and the other: like I mentioned, this post has been an ongoing list of updates that I'll revisit every now and then; you can tell just how much I've neglected this place by how laughably out-of-date some of the bullet points have become, such as the time I twisted my ankle MONTHS ago and then walked a mile home on it because we had too much sangria, and how I chopped all my hair off at last (I'm probably already due for another cut at this point HA). More recently, there was Bay to Breakers, my sister's Oakland baby shower, spending Easter weekend in Napa, that time we went to Hamilton and about died from joy, oyster happy hours whenever possible, and idk plenty more in between maybe that's why I should've been BLOGGING this whole time.
// still obsessed with The West Wing, that's all. But am also incredibly behind on all of my TV shows, which just... what happened!!!! Who have I become. Who am I when I'm not binging on TV and not blogging and documenting every last crumb I eat.
// on the docket: summer in SF and all of the goodness that comes with it, NYC to visit my bestie Lauren for the Fourth of July, baby baby baby in August, and also perhaps I should think about finishing my Europe recaps because this is just getting ridiculous.


the girl who kinda dropped the ball on ballawging and who really misses it and hopes to be back here sooner rather than later.

Dinner & Drinks With Sunset Views in Sarajevo

This evening, my friends. This final evening in Sarajevo was what travel dreams are made of.

You know the kind I'm talking about? The kind that you reflect upon with edges made fuzzy by a little too much wine, a whole lotta sweetness and laughter and good food and so. much. dang. clarity. that you feel as blown away as you feel grounded. Am I making any sense at all?

Let's take a step back. You might not remember where we last left off, because I last left off... light years ago. In short, we had spent our final day in Sarajevo gorging on so much food we could barely breathe, and souvenir shopping in Old Town in an attempt to work off some of those calories. By late afternoon, the sun was out and shining for the first time in days, our feet were aching, and we still had a couple of hours until our dinner reservation. What to do, what to do. Cassandra had the perfect idea!
The rooftop of Hotel Hecco Deluxe, a nondescript hotel hidden away at the edge of Old Town, right next to the Eternal Flame.

Head inside, take the elevator to the ninth floor, and then walk up one more flight to the hotel cafe. Likely the best kept secret in Sarajevo: the views here are unbelievable, and you would never know it just walking by the place.

Don't believe me, just watch (hit it!):
The outdoor patio of the cafe wraps around the entire building, so you can enjoy sweeping views of Sarajevo from every perspective. Absolutely breathtaking. We hid up there, letting the sun bathe our vitamin D deprived selves, sipping sinful iced Nescafe drinks topped up with caramel and hazelnut and whipped cream and chocolate and all the most delightful things ever.

Fifteen minutes into admiring the view and our frothy frozen drinks and each other's company, the sunny skies opened up and started POURING. Incredulous at the way the weather could care less about our picture perfect afternoon and grabbing the shopping bags at our feet, we rushed inside with our drinks, cackling hysterically and shaking our heads at our luck.
After slurping up the last of our icy drinks, we squeezed into a taxi that wove its way full speed up the hills and to the front door of Kibe, one of Sarajevo's finest restaurants.

The ambiance of this place is unreal: shielded by wooden awnings but still dining in the open air, you feel like you're in someone's (very VERY nice) private courtyard. Ivy climbing wooden posts, warm blankets on the back of every chair to guard against the evening chill, flower pots dotting the rooftop, and a lamb roasting away on a spit in the corner, it's the perfect place to enjoy a slow meal.

It's also fancy AF. You order each course via iPad, aided by waiters who have obviously received ages of technical training.

Before we knew it, the dishes we had ambitiously ordered began to appear before us, nonstop. First, a lovely red wine from the Balkans that we ordered bottle after bottle (after bottle) of:
Can you see that lamb roasting away in the corner?

Our waiter swung by with a basket of fluffy bread and sharp cheeses to start us off.

Then, platter after platter of steaming goodness.

From marinated red peppers, blistered juuuuust so that they're lightly charred and drizzled with a generous pool of olive oil–to čušpajz, which is seriously the most delicious creamed spinach I've ever tasted–to these homemade minced meat dumplings that we glared at each other over, each trying to steal the last bite.
Savoring each bite, we let our eyes wander towards dusk settling in, attempting vainly to capture that exact moment: candles lit, twinkling lights twisting and snaking far off into the distance, cheeks rosy from the wine and the giggles.
And though we were in a frick ton of agony from all that we'd eaten, we declared ourselves not to be quitters and bravely polished off every last morsel of the lamb roasted on the spit and the crispy potatoes that came with them.
I do have to mention that the service at Kibe was so special.

Our waiter was extremely kind and attentive, making sure that our wine was overflowing and recommending his favorite dishes. At times, he couldn't stop chuckling at our strange antics, ducking his head to hide his laughter whenever we asked for another bottle of wine with a "wine not??" or asked yet another ridiculous question, and he didn't bat an eye when he caught Leah and Hanna racing Cassandra and me in seeing who could be the fastest to finish our dessert. The winner? Well, while Cassandra and I won in finishing our plate first, Leah and Hanna declared themselves the true winners as they still had more to enjoy while Cassandra and I could only look sadly at our spotless plate.

And that dessert? When we couldn't choose between ice cream, kadaif ("pastry threads soaked in syrup and walnuts"), humadžik (a date pastry also drenched in syrup which was DELICIOUS and which we lovingly refer to as "butter sugar flour" because the waiter taught us how to make it and that's literally all you need apparently), and apple pie–he created sampler plates with a little of each for us. 
And then when we expressed curiosity in the different flavors of rakija (straight up HARD liquor), he brought us shot after shot of his favorites (on the house!): cherry visjna, honey, and pear. Yum to the first, BLEGH to the other two. Plus he brought over a glass of dessert wine for us to try, just for fun.

The generosity we received from Sarajevans, I can't even begin to tell you.
You would think that after a whole day of nonstop eating, we wouldn't touch another crumb for like four months.

You would THINK.

However, when faced with the reality that at least Leah and I likely wouldn't have another bite of authentic cevapi for a long, long, long time, we completely panicked and started sprinting down the hill from Kibe towards Old Town. We knew that this one little cevapi place, Petica, was open until 11PM and at this point, it was 10:45PM, with a ten minute walk still ahead of us. We started sprint-walking, avoiding cars hurtling past and stray dogs lying about menacingly, our bladders threatening to burst because remember, we literally bolted from the restaurant when we realized the time. We arrived at Petica with minutes to spare. The waitress nonchalantly asks us "a small portion?" to which we smirked and answered, "two large portions, please!" and sure enough, we ate every. single. bite. This isn't amateur hour, y'all. 
In the dead of night and en route to Cassandra's apartment in the outskirts of town, we stopped at a bar to listen to live music and to drink some cider... until the food coma really and truly settled in, at which point we booked it out of there and walked the miles home with bulging stomachs alongside the river, followed by yet another stray dog.

The theme of Sarajevo: generous people, stray dogs, AMAZING FOOD. Have you ever been? Would you ever want to go? Pleeeeease let me know if you're ever on your way there – I'd love to pass along some recommendations!

Twenty Four.

I come before you today, exactly one week into being a TWENTY-FOUR year old, bearing all sorts of wisdom that I've gathered over the years such as, if you are to ever come into possession of a rainbow cake with sprinkles, dare not take a single bite until you've photographed it from every last angle. And then once that's been satisfactorily accomplished, stuff your face until your stomach hurts.

See, I'm great at this adulthood thing.

As you might have guessed from all the crickets you're hearing in this little corner of the Internet, I'm still going through a bit of a blogging/digital documentation rut, but it still felt super weird not to mark this milestone with any sort of a post (...narcissist, much?) and so I thought I'd pop in and just start typing and see where that gets me.
Thinking back, 23 was a year of settling in. More than anything, it was digging deep and losing the novelty, it was feeling not so much like the new girl in a post-grad world. There's not quite as much of that wide-eyed am I doing this right?!ness of it all; instead, I carry on in most aspects of my life very matter-of-factly, feeling like I've got a bit of a handle on things.

My twenty-third was quite the tumultuous year for the country and the world, and it had me questioning how I go forward as a citizen and as a human being. Not the loveliest circumstances, but it offered me the opportunity to take a step back and re-evaluate my own practices and values and ask myself: so what's next? What can I do for the country / world, and how can I do that? It's an important conversation for a 23-year-old to have with herself, I think.

So when I reflect upon 23, I think those are the two main themes: settling in, and constantly questioning all that I thought I knew. Hopefully, in my twenty-fourth year, these themes will evolve into seeking contentment but not complacency, and using this confusing political and social climate to continue educating myself and formulating my beliefs.
Most years, I'm counting down the days to my birthday–sending "things I love" lists VERY. SUBTLY. to anyone I can con into buying me a gift and planning a weekend getaway and what have you. This year, the 17th completely snuck up on me. Tapped me on the shoulder and was like, hi I'm here!

(Managed a weekend trip to Napa anyway, booking our transportation with less than 24 hours to go, how's that for last minute? Granted, I live an hour away, but whatEVS.)

But even without all of the build-up and all of the mental "23 things I loved / learned / did" list-making, I took a look around me on the night of my birthday and felt overwhelming joy at the life I get to live. Rarely is it the most exciting life and trust me when I say I have my own share of !problems!!! BUT on my birthday and throughout the week as the love and well wishes and SUGAR poured in, and as I considered the people that I hold dear, the places I've discovered and re-discovered, and the lessons I've learned and shared over the course of the past year, I knew that if I were to sit down and make a list of all the things going right and all the things going wrong in my life, the scales would be tipped so far towards the former that the whole dang thing would probably collapse.

So, gratitude. Overwhelming gratitude, and joy. That's where I'm at, one week into 24.

(That, and also $55 spent on artisanal ice cream last week. That's where I'm at, one week into 24.)

(I don't know why I felt compelled to share that. For shame!!! $55?!??!)

Working From London

Hello, hello!

How does this thing even work – could someone remind me, please? KIDDING. (Well, not really, but whatever, let's hop to it anyway.) The most difficult part for me right now in writing a blog post is figuring out where to start. There's so much to tell you! I even started a list of "life updates" that's like fifteen bullet points long to repeat to you, to my best friends when they call, to my boss, to my own mother...

I haven't seen much of any of the major players in my life lately, you see. Anyway. We'll get to that next time, when I make more of a dent in that list I mentioned. For now, I'll begin with my most recent adventure: working from my company's London office for two weeks! 
The business trip was truly a whirlwind, from my manager one day saying "hey, think you could go across the pond next Friday" to getting on a flight dying of the plague to hitting the ground running working with our Europe team. Crazy busy as it was though, it was also deliciously novel, and I soaked up the feeling of living this more glamorous, more worldly alter-ego while I was abroad. An alter-ego who woke up extra early in a Pinterest-come-to-life-room to make a frothy latte every morning, who stopped for a coffee or a breakfast treat at any number of hip cafes in trendy Shoreditch, who sped-walked to work amongst a crowd of dapper gents and prim girls looking so polished in black tights and shiny black flats. 

Two weeks of using charming British-speak like takeaway and quid and appreciating the magical Underground; a hearty mix of ethnic food from a lunch market across the street from the co-working space; leaving at dusk to grab takeout, admiring the thoughtful East London street art along the way; more baths than I've ever taken, accompanied by a glass of wine and Netflix from the iPad. Then, all over again. 

I think the magic, the romanticism of this two-week montage, stems from experiencing an international ordinary. There were no travel guides or sightseeing; rather, a fleeting glimpse of what life could look like had I made a different choice, chose a different goal somewhere along the way.

See, now that I've started a post, I can't stop. I'll be back with the rest of those life updates soon-ish. (Probably.)

Souvenir Shopping & Burek in Sarajevo

It was brought to my attention the other day that my Balkans trip took place almost half a year ago. Like what. I mean, here I am telling everyone I just returned from Europe. And then after the obligatory "gosh, time flies!" exclamations, I was like "haha oh crap, maybe I should actually finish documenting the dang thing - however will I live if only half of the trip lives on in posterity" ya know what I mean?

We wanted to make our final day in Sarajevo count, and after shaking ourselves awake, we trekked over to Old Town. Each morning, Cassandra took us on a different route; this one led us right past the historical Holiday Inn (at long last re-opened under different management after being heavily bombed as the acting journalist hub during the war).
Leah and Hanna often joke (*slash are deadly serious), "remember when you guys starved us every morning of our vacation." So here's the thing when you're traveling with others: you merge multiple lifestyles onto a single itinerary and sometimes, that's... trouble.

Cassandra and I need coffee first thing in the morning, but that one cup of coffee can sustain us for an entire morning and early afternoon. Sure, we like our breakfast and brunch, but we'd survive without it. Not so for Leah and Hanna. They need more sustenance before 11am. For the first half of our trip, Cassandra and I often forgot to factor in breakfast which led to a lot of huffy mornings with passive-aggressive "I'm fine" and straight up aggressive "can we EAT yet" type statements.

But then on this final day in Sarajevo, I think we sort of overcompensated. We started off with a pitstop at a hole-in-the-wall French bakery close to the national theater for a pastry.
By the Serbian Orthodox church near Old Town, older gentlemen congregate every morning to play life-size chess. It's certainly a sight to behold–two players (in this case it was that younger man to the left in a dapper brown suit versus this spry guy in the plaid, jacket casually slung over his shoulder the entire time) swiftly moving pieces one after another–stopping only every once in awhile to ponder an especially tough choice. Egged by hollers of encouragement and dismay alike, the competitors played like it was a performance–and the four of us stood at the sidelines, enthralled.

After Mr. Jacket Over Shoulder smugly made the winning move, the four of us went on our merry way, bypassing a lively local farmers' market en route to breakfast.
If cevapi is the one thing you should not leave Bosnia without trying, then burek is surely a close second. Buttery layers of flaky phyllo dough, these filled pastries are a gift to taste buds everywhere. We sampled burek (meat-filled), sirnica (cheese), zeljanica (spinach), and krompiruša (potato) varieties at Buregdzinica Bosna, groaning in pain and yet not pausing for a second in the act of shoveling one bite after another into our mouths.
Feeling drowsy from the early wake up call and a morning of nothing but rich, heavy food, our next stop was a teahouse called Sevdah Art House, which was tucked in a courtyard away from any sort of hustle or bustle. Enjoying the quiet reprieve, we sipped on bitter Bosnian coffees and shared some baklava and a dessert known as tofahije, boiled apples stuffed with ground walnuts and cream. 

Yes, we were so stuffed we could barely breathe much less think about more food, but the fact of the matter was that we were leaving Sarajevo the next morning and were in a total "must. eat. ALL. the. things!!!!" state of mind. No pain, no gain(ing 10 pounds) as they say.
From the get go, we told Hanna and Leah that souvenir shopping in Sarajevo is unreal. Beautifully crafted and unique goods that genuinely feel one-of-a-kind, trinkets and treasures in Sarajevo are also incredibly reasonably-priced.
Our favorite shops include:

Morica Han: absolute favorite shop in Sarajevo. This bazaar has everything from Persian porcelain and kitchenware, colorful textiles from India, and my go-to: rugs! Every size and style that you could imagine. Rumor has it that this is where Richard Gere buys his rugs. I have two in my personal collection: one from this visit, and one from the year before; both times, I lovingly rolled up the rugs and stuffed them into a too-small suitcase, electing to toss out less important possessions such as shoes and my graduation dress even!

Copper Art and Design: right across the street from Cajdzinica Dzirlo, that adorable cafe I've told you about. While you'll find all sorts of Bosnian coffee sets in Old Town, and on 'Coppersmith Street' in particular, I urge you to check out this little shop that's a ways off from Old Town center. Slightly more expensive, their sets are truly handcrafted and very high quality. They let you mix-and-match pieces until you're satisfied, and will even personalize it with engravings or a special design.

Kazandžilu / Coppersmith Street: speaking of Coppersmith Street, you should definitely check it out! Heavily saturated with all sorts of souvenirs, there's something for everyone. It's also a good place to understand the extent of "war tourism" where you can purchase things like pens and toys made of real bullets from the war. Both years, we've bought engraved copper bracelets from Kazandžijska radnja vl. Namik Husejnović on the corner.
We reserved this last day for souvenir shopping after spending the days prior scoping out goodies that we want and vendors who sell them. This resulted in pleasant shopping experiences that felt less transactional and super special: the vendors we picked, while sometimes pricier, all sold very high quality wares, were very knowledgeable in their craft, and ended up generously gifting us with extra trinkets (rings! teacups!).
After carefully selecting mementos to bring home to friends and family, we strolled along the bank of the river, admiring the views of the national library (the striped building) and basked in the sun that we hadn't seen in awhile.
Sights seen, souvenirs purchased, arms laden with heavy shopping bags, and Sarajevo sufficiently explored, we decided to end our final evening in the city with great food and even better views, which I'll share with you next time!

Do you have a favorite shopping destination in the world? I'd personally love to drop some dollars in Southeast Asia!!