Stobi Winery


 I’m 165 kilometers from Pristina today, listening to a smooth jazz version of New Order’s Tainted Love, in a 1960’s inspired dining area, the customer-facing part of Macedonia’s Stobi Winery.  This is one of the ways to pass the smoggy winter in Kosovo, and a great way to pick up some decent wine at a great price.

The coal burning power plants on the western side of Pristina, combined with the wood and coal burning stoves in the residences of the over 200,000 people in the city have cast a palpable haze across the city, cleared briefly by a snow (the first of the year!) the day after thanksgiving, is back again.  At night, the street lights and lights of passing cars cut through it, clearly showing the fine mist of ash coming down like a thick smoke.

The smooth jazz singer has now shifted to “Take On Me.” The drive down here was smoggy nearly the entire way, and even now the mountains in the distance are hazy.  The road from Pristina is nice for a few kilometers, but quickly devolves into a bumpy two lane affair stuffed full of construction trucks, tractors, and sputtering 1990’s Mercedes passing the aforementioned on blind curves and poorly marked no-passing zones.  All of this traffic can go as fast as 50mph (80kph), but more often is 20-30mph.  About an hour outside of Pristina, I cross the sleepy border into Macedonia.  My diplomatic plates give me no respite, and I wait in line with everyone else, a process that takes some 15 minutes in total.

Once into Macedonia, the roads don’t improve until I reach the ring road, whose interchange  inexplicably is without an eastbound entrance, forcing me to track west a few kilometers before heading back west onto the smooth pavement of this four lane highway.  The few tolls that there are don’t diminish the fact that I can travel 80mph and the remaining kilometers melt away.

I exit the highway, following the “historical marker” type brown signs with white text on that mark my approach to the winery.  After cruising slowly through the town beside the winery, I pull into Stobi’s industrial warehouse gate entrance, and a guard tracks my car as I pull into a parking space out front.  I enter a dining room filled with travelers seeking a bite to eat and a drink, and find myself where I now sit.

After a short meal of what is essentially a hamburger patty covered in cheese, with a side of grilled veggies and potatoes, accompanied by a glass of their Aminta, dry red blend, I head to the cellar area, and pull out my list.  I’ve announced my trip to J and her colleagues, and various people have put in their orders.











My trunk filled to the brim, I head back home.  The southern alps are barely visible through the haze, like the relief on a well worn coin. Cough.

The Hindsight Report: What We Should Have Packed

This is the fourth time we’ve PCS’d and you’d think we would have this figured out by now, but as many long term FS people will tell you, it actually seems to get worse over time.


UAB Weight Mug I designed
UAB Weight Mug I designed!
 What should we put in our suitcases? Our UAB? Our HHE? Storage? How much does that crystal nut bowl weigh and why on earth did it make it with us to insert-BFE-No-where-post-here?  PCSing can be stressfull.

Since arriving at post just about a month ago, I’ve been revisiting just what I should have packed in our luggage and UAB specifically.  This list will probably differ for a lot of you, but could lend a hand.  

Checked Luggage

As of this writing, everyone on orders may take up to two suitcases (weight determined by airline) and even if you have to pay for your extra bag up front, keep that receipt and boarding passes to submit for reimbursement after arriving at post.  The stuff that makes it in your luggage is the stuff you’re going to use and need the minute you hit your new digs, whether you’re put in temp housing/hotel room for a week or months, or are lucky enough to get your permanent house.  The general rule for checked luggage is no expensive items, especially if transiting multiple airports, third world countries, changing carriers, or pretty much anywhere.  I break this rule sometimes.  Also, singles and/or couples with no kids may discard half to two thirds this list 🙂

If you can weigh your luggage before arriving at the airport, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and embarrassment from having to shuffle items from one suitcase to another as you try to get under weight.

  • Some spices (we cook and are foodies)
  • Rain jacket (It’s bound not to rain if you pack it)
  • Clothes (outfits you can wear until your UAB arrives)
  • Sun block (expensive and/or poor quality elsewhere)
  • Cook book (again, foodies)
  • Tupperware (where on earth are you going to put leftovers?  An expensive and/or local set?)
  • metal/Plastic wine glasses (some welcome kits have no wine glasses!)
  • Plastic egg holder (bringing eggs home from the market on foot, bike or motor pool/taxi can be bouncy)
  • International plug adapters (for any 110-240v devices like laptops that don’t need a dedicated transformer)
  • Crayons, colored pencils (your kids, despite your best efforts will have few to none in their own luggage)
  • Zip lock bags (expensive pretty much anywhere except the US)
  • Peanut butter (always a good plan)
  • Stamps, envelopes (if you’re at a DPO, you can buy locally, if pouch, perhaps not)
  • Liquid measure (again, some welcome kits are without)
  • Shoes (sandals, running shoes, one set of nice shoes, what-have-you
  • Projector (because that’s how we roll)
  • COPY of Kids school records
  • COPY of Birth Certificates, marriage license, social security cards
  • Pens (to replace the one you’ll lose from your carryon luggage when you arrive)
  • SIM punch tool (in case local SIM cards aren’t pre-cut for your phone)
  • shampoo/conditioner/soap of choice
  • coffee grinder/filters (assuming you can get whole beans at post/welcome kit may include a coffee maker, but sometimes no filters)
  • crushable food container full of cheddar and freezer blocks (right?!)
  • small board games and deck(s) of cards


The items below make for one seriously heavy and expensive carry-on, but I really don’t see the sense in putting any of these items in checked luggage, or skipping them for that matter.

  • Cameras + chargers (of course one of these made it into our HHE.  Best efforts, people)
  • Journal (because that’s important to me.  Maybe it’s your knitting or sketch pad)
  • Passports (one stack of Dips, one tourist)
  • Laptop (expensive!)
  • WiFi Router/computer backup (in our case, Apple Time Capsule)
  • VPN Router (when you get your local internet set up, NetFlix!)
  • AppleTV
  • iPad/iPhone Charger (in our case Goal Zero Sherpa 50)
  • Medical Records (could go in your luggage if you trust it)
  • Kids school records
  • Birth Certificates, marriage license, social security cards
  • Pen (for filling out all paperwork)
  • Noise-canceling headphones
  • iPad/tablet
  • Unlocked iPhone/smart phone in a weather resistant/proof case
  • sunglasses
  • hat
  • checkbook (for cashing checks at embassy)
  • visa photos (recent) of entire family for anything you need
  • Ibuprofen for adults…and kids if you’ve got them.
  • first aid kit/bandaids at the very least
  • pet food/supplies

Some posts get UAB in a week, some in six.  Depending on what your CLO-to-be/sponsor tells you before you pack and leave, some of these things you might end up mailing to yourself before-hand.  Just make sure that if you go that route, you don’t overload your mail room staff or wear out your welcome before you even arrive!

  • cast iron frying pan
  • pyrex Roasting pan/casserole dish/brownie pan (some welcome kits don’t have)
  • Large pot (some welcome kits don’t have)
  • Pressure cooker (so useful!)
  • Cutting board (welcome kit boards can be tiny and there is only 1 typically)
  • Knives (never underestimate the utility of a good set of knives)
  • Cutlery
  • Plates
  • Glasses
  • Wine glasses (some welcome kits don’t have)
  • Coffee/tea mugs
  • Battery backups (many posts have dodgy power grids.  Plug these into your transformers)
  • Remaining spices
  • Remaining Clothes
  • Remaining tupperware/bags/plastic wrap/aluminum foil/etc
  • pet food/supplies

PCSing to Pristina, Kosovo

Alice decided that the four walls of her crate were preferable to the low arching ceiling of Dulles’ terminal.  We bid her adieu after she was properly checked in, and made our way to the gate.  Our Austrian Air flight crew greeted us like a crew of Chinese brides, decked out in blazing red from head to toe.  Even though we were seated in a few different places, we managed to keep ourselves occupied with the inflight movie system, catching up on our feature-length entertainment and depriving ourselves of sleep while the attendants rolled the food trollies up and down our narrow aisles.

We arrived in Vienna and got shuttled through customs, as it was our entry into the EU.  We walked the entire length of the airport…at least once.  We boarded the flight to Pristina shortly after arriving at the gate and hopped just an hour or so to land in Kosovo.

Our bags came out eventually.  Alice came out first, yelping with sheer joy at seeing Jean, bursting quite easily through the crate door to the horror and surprise of the crowd around us (Albanian culture fears large dogs apparently).  Our sponsors met us outside with vans for our drive to our new home with our nine suitcases, dog crate and three children.  Jean conversed in Albanian with our driver, and I strained to pick up words to add to my miniscule vocabulary.  The children alternately made childish observations and slept during the 30 minute drive.

Our house.  Wow.  To hit the lottery once again was astounding.  The house is a grand two level affair with excellent doors and windows, spacious rooms, nicely furnished.  It has a fenced in yard, precenting Alice from the temptation of wandering, and also has a garage for our car (which should arrive in a couple months)

Our sponsor had done some shopping and had already set up internet (60Mbs!) for us, so within a few minutes we were online.  She took us shopping that afternoon, and we marveled at the selection of local produce and low prices on staples.  And the yoghurt.