NOTE: I wrote this post earlier in 2019, but for some reason I didn’t publish it then. It is now 2021, but I’m posting what I wrote at that time.
And here we go! I hope everyone is having a great 2019. Again, I’m guilty of not being here for a long time. Here’s the summary of how my life was in specific areas in 2018 without a particular order.
First, I don’t like to over simplify experiences, but if I had to describe 2018 in few words, I would say it was a year of both luxuries and frugality, even more social media abstention, life in Qatar and Azerbaijan, Nordic trips, and spiritual frailty.
My immediate family is scattered across three different countries. Beginning of 2018, I lived in Qatar and then moved to Azerbaijan. My mom and two of my sisters live in Mexico and one more sister in the US. My dad passed away in 2012 (if you read Spanish, you can read his obituary in the Obituario a Jesús Rosas Núñez (papá) post). So in this 2018, I was again far away and disconnected. Fortunately, I was able to make a short trip to Mexico and see part of my family.
Distance, schedules, less people with common interests, and more contributed to a less active social life. I met people of different nationalities because of my trips. I went to some meetups, conversational clubs and boardgames gatherings; I went out with work colleagues and I even tried to meet people online. I kept attending informal church family gatherings in their homes. Some of these gatherings were called “Musical Soirees” in which whoever wanted, shared a musical talent in a casual family environment. Those who attended also shared some food. Participants ranged from young children to elderly people.
In 2018 I quit my job in Qatar and looked for new horizons in Azerbaijan. Again, as a teacher. Just as a comment, I haven’t always been a teacher. I have done other jobs from graphic design to interpreting languages, but that’s another story. So far working as a teacher has been a good option recently. It’s been the easiest way for me to keep traveling and see new cultures. Now I’m in Baku, Azerbaijan. I have truly enjoyed the school’s work environment. People have been kind and friendly. Although there aren’t many male teachers and I’m surrounded by female teachers and teaching assistants.
Metro station and adjacent building from 28 Shopping Mall in Baku, Azerbaijan.
A school activity for teachers in which teachers shared a talent. I sang “The Phantom of the Opera” in a duet. I remember singing this when I was in BYU (Brigham Young University) about ten years ago.
In 2017, I began meeting with a financial adviser to help me out with my savings and investments. I continued working with him in 2018 and realized the importance of having this kind of help. I wish I had had a financial adviser since my first job. It’s not only about saving, but investing for retirement. Money that isn’t flowing or getting profit loses its value. I’m including this on this post to remember when I started to save for my retirement.
In 2018, I traveled to new and also already visited destinations. Without counting Qatar, I visited 14 countries in this order (My first-time visited countries are marked with an *): Oman*, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania*, Latvia*, Estonia*, Finland*, Sweden*, Norway*, Denmark*, Germany, Mexico, the US (this time New York), and ended up in Azerbaijan.
Enjoying good food in Muscat, Oman.
Sunrise from the hotel I stayed in Salalah, Oman.
My hotel in Salalah had outdoor canopy beds and unfortunately I found out that too late. So I missed it this time.
A number of Muslims believe that this is the tomb of Job. Job is found in Jewish, Christian and Muslim narratives.
Occasionally, when traveling between agricultural villages in Mexico, you may find a group of cows, horses, and dogs crossing the road. But finding a caravan of camels? Err.., dromedaries… that’s unlikely. But this is not so surprising in other countries like Oman. We found this caravan of dromedaries crossing the road next to the Al Mughsayl Beach and we had to get off and take pictures. See more below.
This Omani man showed my friend and me how frankincense is collected. Oman has a UNESCO World Heritage site called Land of Frankincense. The area is proud of their Frankincense heritage as one of the main activities in the ancient and medieval times.
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman.
Vilnius, Lithuania was one of my first stops during my summer vacations. In this picture you can see the restored Vilnius Cathedral. A Catholic building of neoclassical architecture.
I enjoyed Vilnius, but I wished I could stay longer to explore more. Here is the Town Hall.
I got curious about Riga, Latvia in 2009 when I had a flight layover from Tel-Aviv, Israel to Viena, Austria. I couldn’t get out from the airport and explore at that moment. It took me nine years to come back and visit. I bought a new Olympus camera in Riga. Here’s St. Gertrude Old Church. It is a Lutheran church with Gothic Revival architecture.
I remembering hearing about Finland, Sweden, and Norway when I was in fifth grade. I had to learn their capitals (actually, we had to learn so many countries’ capitals, but these three somehow required more effort on my part to memorize them). I never thought that I would visit them one day. Here’s the Helsinki Cathedral, one of the most famous landmarks in Helskinki, Finland. This is an Evangelical Lutheran cathedral.
And of course, regional cuisines evolve around the world. Here’s a Finish menu merging sushi with burritos. I cringed inside of me, lol. I had seen this in Mexico, but didn’t imagine it in Europe. I should give it a try, unfortunately, I discovered this place too late. Check the menu in the webiste https://www.ravintolasoma.fi/en/ to see the dishes and their ingredients.
On my way to Sweden, I took the ferry in Turku, Finland and all passengers were greeted by a woman and a strange creature that I still don’t know what it’s supposed to be.”
A view of my cabin from Turku, Finland to Stockholm, Sweden. Nice and clean with WiFi, its own shower and toilet. I remember being tired and wishing the trip would be longer so I could sleep more.
I watched the Sweden-Mexico match in Stockholm surrounded by this congregation. As the Swedish scored the first goal, people jumped and someone’s beer fell on me. The game was still on. Mexico could get even, but after 12 minutes the Swedish scored again. And again! (Also 12 minutes after). The screen showed hopeless and disconcerted Mexican players and fans. I couldn’t bear the match anymore. Wet with unpleasant beer from a fan and surrounded by an euphoric Swedish crowd, I felt so humiliated and wished the game stopped there for the sake of Mexico. I quietly left the venue with the score 3 to 0 in my mind. I walked out hoping the Swedish score would stop there. As I walked, in most streets, people were honking and cheering. Restaurants, pubs, cafes, bars, and every other venue had signs inviting everyone to come in and join celebrations of the Swedish victory over Mexico. Smiles everywhere. Yellow football jerseys and flags of Sweden in all places. Music and crowds shouting and singing. Arms up in signs of victory. Strangers hugging each other. Cheerful chants and ecstasy on all streets and each corner. As if crushing my hopeful anticipation for Mexico to win hadn’t been enough, my pride had also been hurt. I tried to ignore, I tried to forget, but still thinking of it, I turned on my phone hoping to see that at least the Swedish team hadn’t scored more. To my surprise, consolation, and spark of hope, I found out that thanks to the victory of South Korea over Germany, Mexico was still in the World Cup and they would face Brazil. Days later Mexico would lose again, but that wouldn’t hurt as much as the moment I took this picture.
And even US politics reached a Stockholm’s Mexican restaurant. Still, by looking at that picture, not so authentic Mexican food. The most obvious giveaway is pouring cheddar cheese in a taco, which is more common in the northern side of the US-Mexico border.
Here’s one of the most famous landmarks of Copenhagen, Denmark.
This is one of the views from the Church of Our Savior in Copenhagen. It is a tower of about 90 meters (295 ft) with an external winding staircase. Winds on top may make you feel some thrills, as I experienced them. Not apt for those who are afraid of heights.
Here’s the entrance to Christiania, a community with its own designs and art on its buildings. There were several stands and several ones dedicated to cannabis products. People didn’t let me take pictures inside of Christiania. A sign claimed self-governing rules and freedom and indicated avoiding violence, guns, and hard drugs. This is one of the most visited places in Copenhagen.
I took this picture in Hamburg, Germany. I didn’t do much here except window shopping. As an interesting note, some say that Hamburg is the city with the most bridges in the world.
Gdansk, Poland. It surpassed my expectations. A friend that I had met a year before in Krakow met me in Gdansk. She showed me around. I found Gdansk a picturesque place. I should write a post about it.
I also went to Sopot, which is part of the metropolitan zone with Gdansk.
On my way through Ukraine, I visited the open-air National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine with friends. This museum/park used to be a village south of Kiev, Ukraine. Visitors can get an idea of how the different regions of Ukraine were in the 18th century.
I then travelled to New York. Here you can see Lower Manhattan.
Times Square, New York
I’m happy to say that I had finally made it to New York this year. I have lived in the US and visited many states since my childhood, but hadn’t had the chance to visit New York. It was great!
I was able to see the fearless girl, but a couple of months after my visit, I found out that the statue was moved to a spot outside of the New York Stock Exchange. So this shot is already old.
Central Park is probably one of the most famous parks thanks to many movies and other shows filmed in New York. I went there for the sake of curiosity.
The New York Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The building is also a meetinghouse for regular Sunday meetings. What a double surprise was to see first a member from my ward in Doha who was also traveling there, and two, an old friend from the Foreign Language Student Residence in Brigham Young University. The world is so small.
Mexico-Azerbaijan Friendship Park across Chapultepec Park. I didn’t know about this park before. It was an interesting coincidence that I found it as I was in Mexico City to apply for a visa to Azerbaijan. The small park has the map of Azerbaijan and a couple of benches.
Chapultepec Park. One of the largest and most visited urban parks in the world. Its large green area with trees and wildlife has a few museums, lakes and fountains, sculptures, cafes, and a castle in the highest part of a hill with amazing views. This time I didn’t visit all those amazing parts, I just walked around one of its lakes and sat to read.
Here’s a video made by a Canadian visitor named Dan, who compares Chapultepec Park in Mexico City with Central Park in New York. Here’s the video.
In his video, he briefly shows what the park has, and he adds that it’s been unfair that there hasn’t been much positive diffusion in the US and Canadian media about Mexico.
After Mexico City, I flew to Baku, Azerbaijan with a layover in L.A. and Doha, Qatar. The best part I have ever had in a layover trip happened in Qatar. If all layovers were like this, I wouldn’t mind finding longer layovers. Free five-star hotel courtesy of Qatar Airways.
Free five-star hotel accommodation in Doha. That’s another reason why Qatar Airways is amazing. Anyone having an eight-hour-plus layover in Doha gets free accommodation. I got a five star hotel. If your layover is over 11 hours, you also get 100 QAR (about 27 USD in 2019). Here are the vouchers I got by showing my passport and flight ticket. Moreover, Qatar now has a recent visa-free entry policy for citizens of 80 countries, which includes Mexico, the US, Canada, Europe, and most of Latin America. Check the complete list of countries here: Qatar Waives Entry Visa Requirements for Citizens of 80 Countries
This is my free five-star hotel room in the Crown Plaza in Doha, Qatar. Thank you Qatar Airways!
I used the 100 QAR voucher in one of the hotel restaurants. I went for the buffet.
During my layover, I went out at night to Al Hazm Shopping Mall. A truly luxurious place. Not a surprise in Qatar.
I’ll have to write about this in another post if you are interested.
Falcons traveling next to me on the airplane. I found it funny. In Mexico, many joke about old second-class buses letting people travel with chickens and turkeys. In reality major bus companies in Mexico don’t allow animals on the bus (a couple ones allow pets under certain conditions). I never imagined a flight with falcons. Seats floor were covered with a sheet of plastic to protect them from falcon droppings.
Among the highlights of my trips in 2018, I saw the original Christus in Copenhagen. It was made by Bertel Thorvaldsen. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made several replicas of this statue. However, the Church differs from many Christian churches in the sense that we don’t pray to images or in front of them. We don’t bow or touch them in hopes of miracles. We use statues and paintings mostly for teaching and decorative purposes. Perhaps to invite reflection and bring uplifting thoughts. And this statue is one of my dear ones.
I had seen a couple of replicas of the Christus in Mexico and the US. For a long time, it has been a symbol of my faith. Generally, it has brought good memories and has invited me to ponder. I have constantly seen this image in some visitors’ centers during several trips of major personal spiritual or religious events in the temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
1 and 2. The original plaster models used in the making of marble statues of the Christus and the apostles in the Museum of Thorvaldsen, Copenhagen, Denmark. 3. Original marble statue in the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark. 4. Here is an old picture of me posing under a replica of the Christus in the Visitors’ Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mexico City.
On another note, I also saw, in person, one of the paintings I like the most: Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. It’s in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I wish I could had seen it quietly and for a long time, but I wasn’t alone. I was surrounded by people taking selfies, tour guides, and several dozens of visitors. I know we can always see the copies of this painting, but you know. It’s not the same. At least I could see it in person. I should probably write a post about my favorite paintings and the reason why they are.
And here was the unexpected sad part of my trip in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí was not there at the time. Although not one of my favorites now, it used to be when I was in high school. I had a notebook with a copy of this painting in the cover. I loved surrealism at that time and I tried to draw doodles in my notebook while lessons went on.
And here is The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau, also in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I learned about him in my first or second year of college, but didn’t think I would ever see any of his paintings in real life. I like the child-like style or simplicity, yet profound, enigmatic, and somehow poetic effect found in a couple of his paintings.
On the other side of the world, in Oslo, Norway, I went to the Munch Museum to see The Scream by Edvard Munch. Sometimes I relate this painting with empathy. The image makes me wonder of what could be so afflicting to someone to the point of breaking out in the street, in public leaving aside any inhibitions and his or her self-consciousness ignoring social norms. It’s normal that we all are vulnerable to an uncountable number or measure of frustrations, anguish, anger, and tragedies, but generally there’s some sort of self-restrain that bury those screams inside of ourselves or behind the “I’m fine” mask.
Going out to a bridge and scream ignoring social decorum can be an obvious indicator of how much anguish or despair someone may be experiencing. On the other hand, this painting also reminds me of those times I’m vulnerable. It reminds me of the times I have cried, felt deep pain, or thought that my world was over; but it also reminded me that after all, I’m well and I can look back at those moments of pain with some condolence and added reassurance remembering that I survived, things must go on, and it’s in me to look for the best possible end to those problems.
My visit in Oslo had to include a visit to the Munch Museum to see The Scream by Edvard Munch.
Also on the same topic, I visited the Blue House, which is the Museum of Frida Kahlo in Mexico City. There’s a quote of hers that deeply impresses me: “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” or also translated as “Feet, what do I need them for when I have wings to fly?” Interpretations of this quote are several in different areas such as literature, motivational psychology, psychoanalysis, and even medicine according to this article in Spanish of CulturaGenial.com: Pies para qué los quiero si tengo alas para volar.1 For me is an example of empowerment. Frida had her ill leg amputated around the days she wrote those lines in her diary. It gives me chills when I think of her strong will to keep moving forward despite the adversity.
Food keeps taking the spotlight when I see all pictures I have taken. There are far more pictures of food than anything else. I didn’t try many exotic dishes in 2018, except camel and bear meat. Either way, I indulged myself in some exquisite meals. Here are pictures of some of the dishes I had in 2018.
Olde Hansa restaurant theme is medieval. People were dressed up as such. Menu, furniture, and decorations were all in tune as if you were in a tavern of the middle ages. Even waiters would speak as if you were in those days. A waitress told me, “you can pay in gold if you don’t have cash or credit cards,” all staff would call their customers “lady” or “lord” and if you take a picture of them, they may say “thank you for painting me.” It’s truly an experience. The food was interesting and exotic, but in the positive way. I enjoyed the atmosphere and for me, Olde Hansa is an attraction of its own in Tallinn, Estonia.
Picture above: Enjoying good food in Muscat, Oman.
A favorite dish in 2018: Khao Niew Ma Muang or Mango sticky rice. It’s actually a Thai dessert. I tried it here with a friend in Shang Thai restaurant in Muscat Grand Mall, Muscat, Oman. We also ordered other great Thai dishes.
Ice cream with cotton candy! I had never thought of such combination. I must say that such combination of textures felt a bit strange, but I liked it. Muscat, Oman.
Once more, eating camel meat. I ordered camel biriany at Ubhar restaurant in Muscat, Oman.
Vegetarian pizza and piña colada (non-alcoholic of course) in Doha, Qatar.
I also loved parties and events in Qatar. Food had to be there to make it successful (including desserts).
Here’s another favorite meal in 2018. Homemade food from two great friends in Doha (Jane S. and Mirela P.). This was a farewell from them. I loved the seasonings, textures, and flavorings. It wouldn’t be possible to find such a meal in any restaurant in Qatar.
And here is the samogitian creamy mushroom soup in a bread bowl (Boletus mushrooms, onions, garlic, smoked bacon, potatoes, carrots, celery and cream). And I also got the raspberry and apple crumble pie (Caramelized apples, raspberries, cinnamon, almond biscuit crumbs. Served with ice-cream). I also got curd crepes. All of this at Katpedele restaurant in Vilnius, Lithuania. So good!
A friend and I visited this nice restaurant by accident. She spotted it in a hidden patio with tables for a few other restaurants. I’m glad we went there. I enjoyed the experience. Dom Sushi
This was my dish… oh so good.
Here in Stockholm, Sweden enjoying of a delicious salad and an apple lime drink (in theory 60% fruit juice and 40% spring water).
Here’s a delicious Khachapuri I got in Kiev, Ukraine. This traditional dish from Georgia is bread filled with cheese and an egg on top. It’s served hot and it’s something I like very much. However, there are different versions of this dish. The non-melting cheese version is too salty for me. The one on the picture was perfect.
Here it is the best pizza I ate in 2018 and probably in the last few years since I went to Veracruz, Mexico and tried the Dolce Vitta at the Al Dente restaurant (you can see pictures and read about that experience in My Favorite (and Not So Favorite) Restaurants in Veracruz. I’m a big fan of sweet and salty meals. Specifically fruits with salads, meats, breads and the like. This is the Tenerezza pizza from Il Molino in Kiev, Ukraine. The main ingredients are mozzarella, chicken, honey marinated pear, Gorgonzola, and Parmesan cheese. Bread was thin but slightly crunchy and soft at the same time. It was perfect. I couldn’t ask for any better way to have the bread. The ingredients were great. Each slice had a mix of flavors, sweet thanks to the pear then strong because of the Gorgonzola with the texture of a juicy lean chicken, and then sweet again on the next slice. So good! I hope they keep the same quality always. https://ilmolino.ua/en/
And meanwhile, my trip to Mexico wouldn’t have been complete without tacos al pastor. One of my favorite dishes of the Mexican cuisine. Tacos al pastor, derived from shawarma, introduced by Lebanese immigrants (and the shawarma probably taken from kebab), differs a from the original recipes. First, the meat is pork and it’s marinated with dried chillies, spices, and in some places, orange juice and achiote. Then it is cut and served on corn tortillas. Common topping options are minced onions, cilantro, and my favorite, chunks of pineapple. Then there are at least two or three kinds of salsas to add more flavor and some spice if you wish. Guacamole sauce is also an obvious option. In this picture you can see another version with cheese on it, and meat is served on a plate and tortillas on the side so you decide how stuffed you want your tacos. Notice all the sauces and toppings you can choose from for your tacos.
Moving to Azerbaijan meant changing my diet to one with more meat. It is very common to see doner stands everywhere. Due to limited time and for practicality, I ended up eating them very often. Other dishes I tried in Azerbaijan had chicken, lamb or beef with chestnuts and one or two fruits, such as pomegranate, apricots, plumbs, red currants, or quince.
Here is the doner kebab sandwich. This is probably the most common dish you can find in Baku. If you go to a food street and see a couple of restaurants, you will definitely find doner. They are very popular. You can find them from hidden streets to shopping malls and upper middle-class restaurants.
Here you can see the great similitude between both rotisseries. Image one is a picture of a cook preparing tacos al pastor in Mexico. I found this picture online, sorry I don´t have my own picture of this at the moment (picture by Ing. Jorge. Source: https://flic.kr/p/5u9Zxx). The cook is cutting pineapple from the top of the meat. Image two is a picture I took in Baku, normally served in bread with tomatoes and cucumbers and some sort of non-spicy sauce. Both scenes depicted here are very common in several areas in their respective countries.
Iskender doner dish. It is Doner kebab on a frying-pan with bread, yogurt and tomato sauce. I tried this in Taksim Kebap restaurant in Baku, Azerbaijan.
School cafeteria food in Baku, Azerbaijan. Sometimes, school cafeterias that cook their own food are a good way to see what the average everyday food in the region is. Obviously each school is different and they have different budget and agendas, lol. But at least the food I found in this cafeteria is similar to what I can see in other restaurants that offer daily specials, locally knows as “business lunch“.
And here is another Azerbaijani dish I like very much: Shaki Piti. It’s a mutton stew, but the Azerbaijani version (or at least the one I tried) has chesnuts and chickpeas and it is slow cooked for hours in individual clay pots. Next to it, you can see meat with onions, white raisins, and apricot served with rice and bread crust.
My birthday cake. A very special friend gave me this on my birthday.
I bought a new camera in 2018. Olympus again (unfortunately). I really didn’t want to buy this brand, but I didn’t have many options at the moment. I had to choose while traveling. I bought it in Latvia. This year I took close to 14,000 pictures.
Leisure and Entertainment
Just as the previous year, I didn’t socialize as much as other years in the past. I read more, watched movies, went out alone to many restaurants (I stopped cooking) and in brief, I was more secluded. I went out with some friends and acquaintances, but not as often as in the past. Today, most of my social life is linked to work. Most of my colleagues have been very kind and I have enjoyed interacting with them.
I had never played this game before, but I liked it. We played with Church friends and I enjoyed it very much.
I’m not a big fan of playing cards, but after a nice meal with two friends, I played a couple of games with a bit more of intrigue because we used a card deck coated with gold. Yes, every single card was coated in real gold. Qatar is truly a place of luxuries.
This has been a difficult year in this area. I’m an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I am in a country in which the Church is not officially recognized. I only meet with four or five families in their homes each week for two hours. I have also suffered the challenges of being a single man in an organization that doesn’t offer much socially for those who cross the 30-year old threshold. Each year, I’ve lived optimistically, but 2018 was among the hardest ones. Constructive environment with common values have been scarce. Prayers have become less than a true conversation with the divine. Questions without answers keep piling up over time. But I remain steadfast due to powerful and remarkable past experiences that weigh heavily on the other side of the scale of my consciousness.
First and Last Day of 2018
If anyone read about my last day of 2017 here you will notice that I had problems with my connecting flight in Dallas. I was going to Doha, Qatar and I received 2018 somewhere between clouds and turbines encapsulated in the plane. I arrived in Doha in the evening of January 1st and went straight to my apartment to rest.
The last day of 2018, I spent it resting. In the afternoon, I met with the families of the Church to celebrate with a Swiss raclette. At the end I could see the fireworks over the silhouette of the city with the Caspian Sea in the background. Unlike other places, the explosive sounds of the fireworks started before the exact time of the New Year. They began sporadically here and there and gradually intensified as the time of midnight approached. And so my 2018 ended.
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