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Scrapbook on the Road

I seriously can't believe I've been home for almost two weeks. Two very busy and crazy weeks! I came back and jumped right into work and school as if we'd never been gone, and it was overwhelming. Tons of homework as we finished up our last two classes and then catching up on stuff from work has been keeping me totally busy. But yes, classes are done... all that's left is our Capstone project (three weeks and a TON of work) and then our banquet and I'm finished with the program. I can't even believe it's so close. I have no idea what I'm going to do with myself... but I'm sure I'll find something. At this point I'm not going to miss all the projects, presentations, case studies and homework, but I'm going to miss seeing my friends all the time. I think we'll have to make some plans to do something about that :)

In the meantime, I wanted to post a few shots from my completed scrapbook on the road / travel journal. I'm SO glad that I did this. I'll admit that I was laughed at a little (my insistance on gathering all of my ticket stubs was laughingly accomodated), but everyone seemed to think it was actually pretty cool. I tried to keep up daily, but there were a few times when I just pasted in pictures, business cards, etc... and then waited to do the journaling in the airport and on plane rides. It worked really well, actually, and by the time we landed in Atlanta at the end of the trip, the whole thing was basically done. I just ended up printing up a bunch of 5x7s (the way Ali did in her example) and adding them later to completely finish it. I love it. I need bigger rings, but I'm definitely going to do this again for Peru this fall.

Here's the outside now that's it's packed full of memories and trip goodness :) A little worse for the wear, but it adds character, right?

SBOR Cover After

And another view:

SBOR Cover 2 After

And a selection of the types of things I did on the inside. I gathered ticket stubs, pamphlets, business cards, maps and receipts everywhere. I took lots of Instax pictures and also bought postcards wherever I could for places where we couldn't take indoor pictures - that ended up working really well.

SBOR Inside After 1

As you can see, I even threw in some pressed flowers in a few places. I also used hotel stationary from each of the four hotels we stayed in... it was a fun addition, and I definitely needed the extra writing space.

SBOR Inside After 2

It's been so much fun for me to flip through this - and we did so much and were gone so long, I couldn't believe how even when I was still on the trip, looking back at the beginning seemed like so long ago. I don't know how I could have recapped everything if I hadn't done it as we went. This is going to be an awesome treasure and a great help as I document individual things more closely.

Finally, one more photo from Dubai - me riding a camel. So fun.

Blog - camel ride

Now I just need to go through my pictures and start editing and pulling out the ones I need to share with the group. No small task since I took about 1500 or so. Sigh. I'll get there eventually :)


Dubai Day 4 - Part 1

Last day of the trip. Sigh. All good things must come to an end, but I really wasn't ready to go. Given a continuing itinerary and money in my account, I could have gone on doing this indefinitely. Hopping around from country to country, city to city and just seeing what was there, experiencing the culture and tasting the food. I absolutely live for things like this so this trip was amazing for me. Definitely an experience of a lifetime and something I'll never forget. Worth all of the blood, sweat and tears of the classes the came before and the work that went into getting to this point. (I hope I still feel the same when my student loans come due. lol.)

We stared the day with a trip to the world's tallest building, the Burj Kalifa. It's one half mile tall and holds all kinds of world records. We had tickets to the observation deck on the 124th floor, with an elevator that gets to that point in less than a minute. It was really cool, and once I mastered my fear of heights enough to look out and enjoy the view, it was even more amazing. The only downside was that there had been a sand storm that morning so the visibility was limited. I had really been looking forward to seeing the Palms from above, but we couldn't see that far out into the water. Oh well. Guess I'll have to go back some day!

After that, I had a few minutes to wander in the Mall of Dubai (biggest in the world, of course... the size of 50 football pitches) and was again amazed at how much they have that's western. They had Pottery Barn, Bloomingdales, and Mrs. Fields! They also had Nandos which made me wish it was lunchtime... I loved that when we had it in South Africa. Once the group gathered, we went through the mall to see the world's largest aquarium with a huge tank you could see without going inside that was full of fish, rays and sharks, and the largest candy store which was right across from it. I'm not much of a candy person so I walked through it and then wandered. The Gold Souk was around the corner so I went in there instead. I hate to think what the prices were, but it was fun to browse the displays of gorgeous jewelry through the window.

The group met up again where we were getting back on the bus for a few drop-off points. First stop was my personal request, a place to shop. Shirley took us to the Al Karama market. Mostly really good quality knock-offs like watches and handbags, but also a few souvenir type shops that were much cheaper than the mall prices (which were actually reasonable - I took a look to get an anchor point for my negotiations at the market. lol.) We went into one tiny store that had almost everything I was looking for - walls of textiles, Arabian perfumes and other fun things. I got a lantern, a full bedspread with matching pillow cases, a gorgeous wall hanging, table runners, perfume and fancy little bottles, and a few gifts as well. It was so much fun and the prices were really great. My fellow shoppers nominated me customer of the year for that particular shop keeper. lol. I'm sure I made his day. When we went back for a second visit so Nicole could get some perfume, they were more than happy to make me a VERY good deal on some additional perfume and bottles for me. So much fun.

After that, we met up with the Radebaughs again and wandered a few more shops before we went to find the restauant Shirley had recommended for lunch. We sat down and ordered the mixed grill for 5, a salad plate (dips and spreads) and an appetizer they recommended. It was all so delicious. We need a good kebab place in Utah. lol. Several others from the group wandered in at some point and our table got quite full as we ate and showed off our purchases from the day. Then we got a taxi to the light rail station where we rode back to the stop near the hotel (Joe and Nicole got back off at the mall) and then took another taxi to the hotel. Way too far to walk in that heat! There I had time to get everything packed and ready to go and then change into my suit for a last hour on the beach. I went out and joined Andrew and Natalie until Natalie went up and the Radebaughs came down to join us. We laid on the lounges in the setting sun and soaked in the warmth and light. There was a lovely breeze and since it was sunset, it was starting to get cool (meaning it was only about 90 degrees. lol.) Tanny and I went in for a brief dip - one last venture into that perfect water, and then we laid down again to enjoy a few last moments of perfection and dry off before taking showers and loading the bus to the airport.

I absolutely loved Dubai... I loved the whole trip. Like I said, it was an amazing experience, and an opportunity of a lifetime. I'll be forever glad that I had this chance and that I saw and experienced so much and was able to build great friendships along the way. Sadly, now that I'm back it's time to get back to the grind of work and homework... there's no break in getting back to reality! I'm not too jetlagged, but I'm definitely tired. It was all worth it, though. I can't wait to have time to go through all my photos and get them edited and pulled into a photo book. So much to remember and cherish :)

Dubai Day 4 - Part 1

Dubai Day 4 - Part 1

Dubai Day 4 - Part 1

Dubai Day 4 - Part 1

Dubai Day 4 - Part 1


Dubai Day 3 - Part 1

With our business visits all officially over, the fun could now begin.

We started off the morning giving our group presentations on the different things we'd observed during our business visits. My group did marketing and strategy and Joe was our spokesman, giving the high level points we'd come up with. There were 5 teams that talked about different business aspects from the various countries and businesses, and then Prof. R. summed it up with a 7 Wonders of the Middle East FBE. He gave some classic quotes and moments, some great photos of things we'd seen, and then my favorite observation was that the UAE could rebuild Greece in about 2 weeks. lol. Too true!

After our meeting, we had some free time. I wanted to do some shopping and Nicole and Joe were up for it. We were getting ready to go when I got wind of a group that was planning to recreate the volleyball scene from "Top Gun." How could I resist checking that out? Fortunately for all, they were really just going to play volleyball and not try and go all Val Kilmer on us. It was incredibly hot, so they got out a hose to cool down the sand in the pit and spray each other off periodically. I wandered around getting pictures of the beach area and then got some shots of the game. It took them a bit, but they finally got into a groove. It was amusing to watch.

Finally I went to meet Joe and Nicole and figure out where we were going. The concierge tried to help us, but I'm not sure we were good at explaining what we wanted (or the concept of souvenirs was alien to them. We definitely couldn't find any souvenir shops anywhere near the hotel!) We went through some options and decided on the Medinah Jumeirah as being close to us and possibly having what we were looking for. Our taxi driver said it was super expensive and offered to take us to the outlet mall instead. What we didn't realize was that it was outside the city - over 30 minutes away. We got there and they didn't even have souvenir type shops! But it was air conditioned and a fun cultural experience. We browsed the shop looking at outrageously expensive gowns and thinking about how many people in this area actually did have the money or that kind of thing. We found some shops that had cool clothes - Nicole tried some on but I refrained, although I was tempted. I did end up getting a few things on a clearance rack at Riva for really cheap, and then we hit the Cold Stone on the way out. There was nothing that sounded as good for lunch as a great big bowl of sorbet. I had Country Time Lemonade and watermelon with fruit and it was so fabulous. Then we got in our cab and went back to the hotel to get ready for our desert safari that night.

I had been super excited about this night since the first time I saw our trip agenda. How could a desert safari be anything but awesome? We met in the hotel lobby and the tour company came and picked us up in Jeeps. So we split into groups of 6 - I went with Paul, Mike, Jason, Joe and Nicole. Our driver was nicknamed Iffy and he was from Pakistan. We think he was the best. We drove about 45 minutes out of the city (right past the outlet mall. lol) and into a desert reserve - the desert stretched into Saudi Arabia and it was gorgeous.Once inside, we stopped for a few minutes to deflate the tires to 18 psi and while they were doing that, we went up onto one of the dunes to take pictures with camels. Then we got back in the jeeps to go 4-wheeling in the dunes. That was super fun. We were bouncing all over, music blaring (they have awesome radio stations there) and skidding through the sand downhill while singing along to "What a Man" by Salt-n-Pepa. That lasted about 30 minutes and then we stopped to get out and have drinks and take pictures. I grabbed a Fanta and wandered up the dune to look around. It was just beautiful everywhere. We had fun taking some pictures and then loaded back into the jeeps to go to a spot where we could watch the sunset. That was just beautiful with the sun going down behind the dunes, making everything around us golden in the fading light.

After watching the sunset, we went to a place that had been set up like a Bedouin camp for the rest of the evening. On the way in you could pose for pictures with a hawk (which I did, of course) and then we went and found spots at low tables with cushions as seats. I put my stuff down and took off to ride a camel. It was just a short ride - nothing all that exciting... kind of like an elephant ride at the zoo. But I got to ride a camel! Getting up and down were fun. I'd heard that they were super uncomfortable, but I thought it was fine. They're broader than a horse, though, so I could see how extended periods would have you hurting until your muscles got used to it. After my camel ride, I went back in and picked up my starter - different kinds of stuffed bread and some falafel. So yummy. Then between that and our main dish, I got a henna tattoo on my hand. I love it! I sort of wish that it was permanent. lol. The main entree was served and it was hummus, baba ghanouj, tabbouleh, shish, lamb chops, salads, rice and curry and pita. It was all delicious and there was no way I could finish, but I tried some of everything. The hummus was amazing. While we were eating they had a belly dancing show that was so fun. I've always loved watching belly dancers - they're so graceful and it seems like there's so much freedom and joy in their movements. I've been trying to learn how to do it - some day I hope I'm as good as the lady that night was. She did part of it with a sword too and that was cool. I got up to grab dessert (little fried and honeyed balls of dough, kind of like donut holes - yummy) and try and capture a few pictures and had to laugh when a bunch of the guys asked me to take a picture while they staged a photo of them looking at the belly dancer with their mouths hanging open. It was a trip.

After that, we took off so that we'd get back to the station where they refilled the tires early enough that we didn't have to wait forever in line. Once back at the hotel, we changed into swim suits to go to the beach. There ended up being a pretty big moonlight volleyball game, but I decided to just hang out on my lounge. What's better than laying on the beach in the moonlight, listening to the lapping of the waves on the sand with a soft breeze in your hair? It was perfect. I went in for a few minutes, but mostly it was wonderful to just lay there and enjoy the moment. Eventually it was time to head in, however. Time to get some shut eye before our last day in Dubai :(

Dubai Day 3 - Part 1

Dubai Day 3 - Part 1

Dubai Day 3 - Part 1

Dubai Day 3 - Part 1

Dubai Day 3 - Part 1


Dubai Day 2 - Part 1

This was our day in Abu Dhabi - we were on the bus at 7am, headed out on the hour and a half drive. We were able to get there a little ahead of schedule, so we had a few minutes to stop and get pictures of the grand mosque. The most expensive mosque in the world, and just stunning. The wives were able to go in and visit it while we were at our first business visit and I'm totally jealous - apparently it's incredible. But it was fun to see, at least.

We had business visits again all day so we didn't see much besides what we glimpsed through the bus windows. We started at the U.S. Embassy which was actually really interesting and had me thinking about the foreign service again (which I probably won't do, but whatever). We learned some of the differences between Dubai and Abu Dhabi and more about the culture and business in the UAE. From there, we drove by a fabulous palace that's now a hotel where you can get cappuccino or chocolates with real gold dust sprinkled on top. Talk about the ultimate indulgence! The wives got to go there and check it out while we were at our next visit, Invest AD. That was too much finance for me when I was too tired, and it was all I could do to stay awake in that one. In all honesty, I have very limited recall of anything we talked about in that session... I was doing well to keep flipping through the packets with everyone else. lol. We also stopped for lunch between the morning visits and it totally made me laugh... since we needed something fast and on the way, we stopped at a truck stop and went to Popeyes. Yup. Fried chicken. I had a wrap and then got a Galaxy ice cream bar from the convenience store (and I have to say, it was almost as good as a Magnum. Maybe just as good.) They really do have everything that we have over there and it's just funny.

After Invest AD, we picked up the wives at the palace / hotel and then did a quick little city tour. I kind of dozed through a lot of it - it wasn't what I was expecting and as much as I wanted to be wide awake to really take it all in, we were just looking at high rise buildings and the mental haze from Invest AD was too much. But when we got close to our final "business meeting" of the day, I was wide awake. That's right, our last visit of the trip was Ferrari World. It's a theme park in Abu Dhabi and it was a blast. We met for a little while with the VP of sales and then went into the park to play. First on the list was to get in line for the Formula Rossa, the world's fastest roller coaster (hits 240km / hr). We had to wait in line for a while, but it was worth it. That's one super fast and totally awesome roller coaster. It goes from 0 to 240km/hr in about 6 seconds and sucks all the air out of your lungs. It was so much fun. We also did the race simulators which was a blast and then went to the other roller coaster, where you're in two cars running next to each other and racing. I went with Tanny and then Joe and Nicole went opposite us. We pulled in ahead, but then they still didn't come. We got off the ride and headed toward the exit and they still didn't come and people started running... turns out that the other car stopped suddenly because of something on the track and they were stuck out there for a while. Finally they were able to get them out of the cars and they had to walk back down the track and made it out. All was well, and they had made some friends as well. Plus, we all got free gelato as a result. So we cashed in on that and then our visit was over. We got on the bus and on the way back to Dubai, stopped at another truck stop. This time I just got a few little things, including lots of stuff with dates (i LOVE dates and you have to have them in the middle east!). They also had a Dunkin Donuts and I couldn't get over the fact that I can't get that in Utah, but they had it at a truck stop outside of Dubai. So I got a few donut holes just because. lol.

After we got back, I just crashed. But it was a fun day, despite the surfeit of financial discussion. lol.

Dubai Day 2 - Part 1

Dubai Day 2 - Part 1

Dubai Day 2 - Part 1

Dubai Day 2 - Part 1

Dubai Day 2 - Part 1


Dubai Day 1

Our first day in Dubai was run, run, run from the very beginning. I got up early and went down to the health club for a workout and was rewarded with a fantastic view while I exercised. I was looking out onto the beach and could see the Atlantis hotel as well as the Dubai Burj al Arab (the 7 star hotel shaped like a sailboat) which was down the beach a bit from where we were. From there, it was onto what was by far the best breakfast buffet of all... everything was so delicious! I've become addicted to fruit with plain greek yogurt, honey and nuts for breakfast. The pastries aren't bad either. lol.

Our first order of the day was a trip to the Dubai Financial Market in the Dubai World Trade Center where we met with the CEO, Jeff Singer (BYU Alum). Despite the fact that it was all finance chat, it was really interesting. We learned a lot on this trip about doing business in Dubai and some of the quirks that go along with it. After that meeting, we went to another meeting with some of the lawyers at Latham and Watkins - the law firm that's been helping to write Dubai's bankruptcy laws, among other things. Again, lots of finance talk, but more interesting perspective on doing business in the UAE from an expat / foreign company point of view. After that meeting, one of the partners walked us to a nearby business park where they had some sandwich shops. I got a pasta salad and a smoothie. They have juice and smoothie bars everywhere there, but I could see why. It was 45 Celsius that day, plus humidity. There were many times while we were there that nothing sounded good but a smoothie. This one was banana and date and it was fabulous! I craved them for the rest of the trip.

After lunch, we headed out to the Jebel Ali free trade zone to go to Unilever and the Lipton Tea factory. We split into two groups and I was in the first one, going through the factory tour first. We had to change into safety shoes, hair nets, jackets and visibility vests with safety glasses and ear plugs in order to go in. We were an attractive group. I think Todd has a picture that I'll have to grab at some point. The factory tour was interesting - we saw how tea bags are made (they make 1.1MM tea bags an hour!) and the coolest part was the tea tasting room where we met their taster and he told us about what he does. It's fascinating how he can taste brews made up from the various shipments they get all over the world, catagorize them and then put all the information into a database so that they can pull from different shipments at different times of the year to keep a consistent flavor in their tea. It's also cool how he can use that to create new recipes. All very interesting.

Finally, we were able to go back to the hotel for a very fast change of clothes before going to Jeff Singer's home for a dinner he and his wife hosted for us. They invited a bunch of expats from their branch in Dubai to come and meet us and talk to us about life as an expat and what it was like living there. Good networking as well. They had a gorgeous home and had gone all out with the dinner (I only got a photo of the place settings before I forgot about taking pictures and just enjoyed the evening.) A member of their branch is a chef and catered everything - it was wonderful. Chicken kebap, tabbouleh, potato salad, roast beef and another salad that was made with grilled halloumi cheese. They also had a bunch of fabulous cakes for dessert. I was tempted by many, but the pistachio cake with a hint of caradmom was calling my name. So good! I sat at a table with several classmates and a guy that teaches at the Dubai Women's college, as well as another guy that works for Barclay's and his wife. I talked to her quite a bit - she had a really interesting perspective. We introduced ourselves to the table and talked about where we're from and what we do, and then later in the evening we went around all of the tables and introduced ourselves to the entire group. It was a great meeting. The weather was perfect - a little humid, but no longer blazing hot and a lovely cool breeze. We sat around the tables in their yard with the lanterns giving a cozy and slightly exotic glow to everything. They had modern music playing but in the background I could hear someone nearby singing in Arabic. It was beautiful.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel. Natalie was looking for someone to go down to the beach with her so I figured, why not? I put on my suit and went down and there ended up being about ten of us. It was so wonderful. The sand was soft and had cooled down, and the water was sublime... warm and clear, even in the dark. The moon was out and the light reflected on the ripples in the water making it look like diamonds dancing on the waves. We waded out until we were about shoulder deep and just enjoyed the water, although there was the occasional game of "shark" instigated by Matt. This consisted of running / swimming for shore as fast as you could when someone yelled "shark" and the last one there was out. It worked about once and then we were done with it. lol. But it was fun. I never thought I'd go swimming in the Persian Gulf, but there's another amazing first from this trip.

Photos from the day...

Dubai Day 1

Dubai Day 1

Dubai Day 1

Dubai Day 1

Dubai Day 1


Istanbul Day 5 / Dubai

Last day in Istanbul / Travel day

We were supposed to have a business meeting with Nike at the hotel that morning, but they ended up canceling so instead we had a review on the basics of Islam (preparing us to go to Dubai which is much less secular than Turkey) and also talking briefly about HSBC. So that took us until about 11:30am and then we had free time until about 2pm when we needed to load the buses for the airport. I asked around to see what people were doing, but it was looking like market day again for most everyone, or there were some that just had no plans. Well, I wasn't spending my last few hours in Istanbul sitting around the hotel, so I grabbed Mike who had mentioned he was planning to go back to Istiklal street. We ended up getting Steve, Natalie and Scott as well and wandered in that direction. There was one thing I knew I needed to do before leaving the city. Kunefe. An absolutely fabulous dessert that I had tried and loved on my last visit and which I've made a few times at home as well. I haven't been able to get the cheese they use in Turkey so mine is never as good and I was craving some. I had seen a bakery on the street that sold it, so I had everyone stop there. I ordered two of them and then while they were baking, picked out a few other things to try from the bakery window and then sat and chatted with Mike and Natalie while the rest waited outside. Finally, two steaming hot kunefe to go were in a bag and I was out the door. We went down the street until we found a nice spot under a tree near a trash can and we busted out our pastry and plastic utensils. It was heavenly. I was given profuse thanks for insisting that we stop and appreciate this marvel of filo, cheese, pistachios and sugar syrup. So good.

Sugar high intact, we kept wandering. We got to Sephora and I broke off from the group to do something I had wanted to do since I saw the store here a few days earlier. I've always wanted to learn to do smokey eye makeup, and where else to get tips on exotic makeup than in Istanbul? I ran into Nicole and Joe in there - Nicole and I might have enabled each other just a bit. lol. I also found that they actually had a kit that was exactly what I wanted and I was able to communicate that I wanted someone to show me how to do it. A nice lady that spoke no English hooked me up - it was super fun. Then her, the one lady that spoke a bit of English and a third lady stood by me looking at me and chattering in Turkish. I was finally able to get that they wanted me to have the 3rd lady dye my eyebrows for me at their brow bar - they thought it would look really good on me. It was fast and cheap, so why not? I had her do it for me and actually really love it. It's not super noticeable, but just dark enough that the blue of my eyes stands out a bit more. So I bought my makeup and came out to go back toward the hotel just totally happy and energized. I stopped at a cart in an alley and bought a fun little scarf and bracelet that I put on right there and set off alone down the street. It was a beautiful day, a nice breeze was blowing and I just felt so free and happy. I really love Istanbul. It was kind of a freeing and enlightening time for me on this trip. I learned how to let go just a little more and really learned a lot about myself and where I want to go in life and what I want out of it. It was awesome. It's probably a good thing we left when we did. At that rate, one more day and I might have come home with a tattoo. lol.

I got back to the hotel and picked up my bags and then we loaded the bus to head to the airport. We were flying Emirates to Dubai and they had a pretty strict baggage policy, so I got lucky when Karthi had a light bag and was willing to check in with me so we could pool our bags and I could slide mine in under the limit. Then we cleared customs and I found my favorite little souvenir shop there to finish off the last of my lira. From there, it was through security at the gate and onto the plane to Dubai. It was a really nice flight, and their reputation for great food was well deserved - I don't think I've ever had such good airplane food! The flight was about 4 hours and with the time difference, we didn't land in Dubai until well after dark. We got our bags and found our guide, Shirley (an awesome guy from Sri Lanka) and loaded onto our bus. We got a little tour of Dubai by night as we drove to the hotel, the Hilton Jumeriah right on the beach. When we got there they took care of all of our bags for us, handed out our room keys and got us all sorted. It was almost midnight when we got to our rooms and we had an early day of business visits the next morning, so it was pretty much straight to bed for me. Well, after exploring our balcony overlooking the beach. lol. It was a really sweet hotel.

A few pictures from the last day in Istanbul:

Istanbul Day 5 / Dubai

Istanbul Day 5 / Dubai

Istanbul Day 5 / Dubai

Istanbul Day 5 / Dubai

Istanbul Day 5 / Dubai


Istanbul Day 4 - Part 1

Our last full day in Istanbul...

We started the day with a drive out to the Ford Otosan plant about an hour or so outside of Istanbul. It was a pretty drive, going along the sea of Marmara with a beautiful countryside. I was once again totally and completely exhausted and dozed a bit on the bus. We got into the plant and they took us to a board room where they briefly energized us with a table of cookies, pastries and juice. I tried a few things and it was all good, but the sugar rush didn't last long enough, sadly. But their presentation was interesting - we learned a lot about the history of the auto industry in Turkey, how they came to be owned by Ford and what they had been doing and where they wanted to go in the future. Then they took us on a plant tour - we got into a little tram thing that took us through the plant. The guy narrating for us was sitting right next to me, which was good for helping to keep me awake. lol. The tour was pretty cool - I loved the die stamping area. It was awesome to see the robots moving big pieces of sheet metal into position and then the slamming sound of the machine stamping it into the proper form. The robots in general were cool - it was a pretty highly automated plant so there was more than usual. And when we went into the body shop, there were showers of sparks from the welding. I didn't get hit, but I think Todd woke up from a brief nap to a shower of sparks. lol. After the plant tour they took us back to the main building and treated us to a very nice lunch in their restaurant. We had a hot starter of mushrooms and peppers in cream sauce with cheese, a green salad, and then chicken with orzo as the main entree. It was all really delicious. They finished with a scoop of yummy vanilla ice cream and a rice pudding with a bit of a brulee on top. It was all delicious - some of the group voted it as the best meal of the trip... it was up there, but probably not my absolute favorite.

We drove back to the hotel and got there about 3:30pm. I changed clothes and went downstairs to see what was going on, but most everyone was going to the spice market or back to the grand bazaar. Since I had been there and didn't need to spend more money, I elected to spend a leisurely two hours in the gym. It was fabulous. Quite a few others came in and out while I was in there... great minds and all.

We were all ready to go just before 7pm for our last dinner in Istanbul - we were doing a dinner cruise on the Bosphorous. I did a Bosphorous cruise the last time, but not one as long or at sunset with a dinner, so this was really fun for me. We had our own boat for our group and really just had a great time. We congregated below for a while because it was pretty cold up top, and just hung out and chatted. I went up once or twice to take in the view and get photos, and then they served dinner. We had a huge variety of mezze - appetizers. Lots of salads and spreads. It was really delicious. Then we sat and chatted more, up and back from the top... and then they served dinner which was chicken shish and beef kebap. It was really nicely seasoned and just delicious. Then, most of us ended up on top where we got someone's iPod hooked up to the speakers and were singing, dancing and just playing around to the music as we cruised between Asia and Europe at sunset. How fun is that? We were entertained with a short demonstration of Chad's clogging skills. I may have joined Scott in doing the running man during a Bobby Brown song. And then the guys (led by Matt, who showed up for the evening in a jacket, sunglasses and an "ascot" made from a scarf he bought for his wife - his persona for the evening was Thurston), put on sunglasses and ascots and posed for silly pictures while the ship workers brought up plates of fruit for us to nibble for dessert. It was a trip. The whole cruise was a lot of fun, the company was great, the food was delicious and the scenery was incredible. I was sad that we were leaving Istanbul the next day... I really love Istanbul and I hope I get to go back and visit again. But, at the same time, I was super excited to get ready to head off to a new adventure in Dubai and that's never a bad thing :)

Istanbul Day 4 - Part 1

Istanbul Day 4 - Part 1

Istanbul Day 4 - Part 1

Istanbul Day 4 - Part 1

Istanbul Day 4 - Part 1


Istanbul Day 3 - Part 1

Sunday in Istanbul, we started out with a trip to the Dolmabahce palace. It was stunning. It's from the 19th century and is all done in baroque and rococo style. I wish pictures could do it justice. This was also fun since I hadn't been there before. It sits right on the edge of the Bosphorous so we had lots of great views in the gardens.

After that, we went back to the hotel and then wen tot for lunch. I went with Todd and Lori in search of what we call "turko-bell." basically a Turkish fast food burrito. I got one along with fresh pressed pomegranate juice and it was yummy. Then on the way home, we did a Magnum run to get ice cream bars. These are so good - I used to get them all the time on my internship in belgium. We can get them now in the states, but not all flavors. I got a pistachio one that I really loved.

After lunch we went back to relax and get ready for church, then we walked to the meeting place for the nearby branch and had sacrament meeting with them. It was a really great meeting and we all enjoyed talking to the members afterward.

After church, we walked back and changed go go out. Jen, Chad and I hopped in a cab and went to the spice market. I definitely needed to go there to load up on spices and turkish delight, and the only thing chad really wanted to buy on the entire trip was saffron, so off we went. We found out the hotel had been wrong about closing time and we only had a few minutes. We found a guy who was really helpful and demoed the saffron for us so we could see the potency of the top quality Iranian saffron. We both got some and other grades of saffron as well. I also picked up several other spices, a second grinder so I'll have one for pepper and one for other seeds and spices, and a few gifts and of course, some Turkish delight.

After we raided the spice shop, we went up to meet the others where they were shopping and headed back to the hotel to go to dinner. We went and had a good dinner with these stuffed tortillas and I also had some beef and eggplant. Then we went to this place that's over 100 years old that's famous for their chocolate pudding. It's based on puff pastry and creme and then they scoop that out and put chocolate pudding on top. It was fabulous. And that was our night since we had an early morning Monday for a business visit to the ford plant. More on that later.

Istanbul Day 3 - Part 1

Istanbul Day 3 - Part 1

Istanbul Day 3 - Part 1

Istanbul Day 3 - Part 1

Istanbul Day 3 - Part 1


Istanbul Day 2 - Part 1

It's our last night in Istanbul and I'm beyond exhausted, but we're not sure if wireless in Dubai is going to be crazy expensive or not, so I thought i'd try to get a few posts, or at least pictures posted tonight.

Our second day in Istanbul was doing the typical tourist stuff, most of which I did last time I was here so I won't really wax poetic about the beauty of it all, but it was cool. And I enjoyed coming back with a different group, different guide and at a different time of year to see things I'd missed before and to get a slightly different perspective.

We started at the Topkapi palace which is always fun. I still didn't get to tour the harem, but I guess that means I'll just have to come back a third time. I still adore the colors and patterns of the tiles and the motifs used in decorating the palace.

After that we went to hagia Sophia, which was really cool since when we were there two years ago they were doing some restoration work and we couldn't see everything. It was really gorgeous bow that it was all open, although I was disappointed that we didn't go upstairs since that's where you can see all the best mosaics. I've seen them, but it s too ba the rest of the class missed out.

After that, we tried to go to the blue mosque, but the crowds were just insane and getting worse so we decided to leave it for another day and head straight to the grand bazaar instead. We ended up being able to stop for a carpet demonstration at Orient 101 first. It was like my 4th or 5th demonstration, but I always enjoy seeing how they spin the sales pitch and the free apple tea is a definite bonus.

From there we went to the grand bazaar. I may or may not have purchased a professional belly dancing costume. And the proprietor of the shop may or may not have begged me to go out with him after we closed the sale. It was kind of cute, actually. He gave me his card so I'd have his number. Normally I'd say it was a sales tactic of flattery to get me to purchase from him, but since he already had my money I think it might have been genuine. Good for the ego, right? I didn't really get much else... Just bargained pert hard for a few small gifty things that I didn't need enough to make it worth overpaying. I've found that acting like you don't care and actually walking out was my best weapon on this trip. But it was fun.

Then I joined up with a group heading out to dinner. We walked to the other side of Taksim Square and found a place that looked good and I got some lentil soup and kofte. It was pretty good.

Saturday night after dinner, I freshened up and met the group to go out. Ed had been dying to go to a karaoke bar and he had found a good one nearby and he, matt and andrew had already scoped it out. We went in and it was old, smokey, dingy and a bit of a hole in the wall. We paid our ten lira cover and jumped into the song books. Matt and Dave started us off strong and then ben, Joe and Chad did "ice, ice baby" from vanilla ice and it was hysterical and actually really good. All of our stuff was pert good- we had a talented group. The owner said we we the best group he'd eve have and we could come back for free any time. It's also possible he was drunk at the time. Then jen and I did Joan Jett's "I love rock and roll" and I kind of took the lead. I channeled my inner Joan. It was actually kind of awesome. If someone had told me three years ago that I would be spending a Saturday night in Istanbul singing karaoke, I would have laughed. But like I figured, if you can't cut loose in a situation like that, when can you?

Pictures from Saturday...

Istanbul Day 2 - Part 1

Istanbul Day 2 - Part 1

Istanbul Day 2 - Part 1

Istanbul Day 2 - Part 1

Istanbul Day 2 - Part 1


Istanbul Day 1

Today was another travel day. We got up early to get ready and have breakfast before heading down to meet the bus to go to the airport for our flight to Istanbul. I managed to get my suitcase to the correct weight, but my carry-on was 13.7 kilos. The guy checking me in was like, oh my goodness. You all have such huge carry-ons! So I said, well we're traveling all over the world and it's hard to do that without carrying a bunch of stuff. To which he replied, but the planes between here and the US are bigger than this one. So I gave him my best innocent expression, smiled big and told him that we we're buying lots of souvenirs and stimulating the economy. He just looked at me helplessly, rolled his eyes and waved his hand and, in defeat, said "fair enough." and passed me through. I'm not going to be so lucky trying to get my stuff on Emirates when we fly to Dubai, but I'm working a deal with Eric for some suitcase space on that flight. Once we get there I'm good.

But we're here... I'm so glad I got a chance to come back to Istanbul. There was a lot I really loved about this place the first time I was here, and that includes more than just the food and the shopping. Lol. I'm looking forward to getting to share it with all my friends from class.

Today, we got to the hotel around 1:30 and got checked into our rooms. We went up to clean up a bit, and then came down to exchange money and see who we could find to go out with during our free time until dinner at 7:30. While we were waiting for everyone, I was admiring, for like the twentieth time, a necklace in a case in the lobby that was on sale. They were all gorgeous pieces, but this one just screamed my name from the moment I saw it. I walked away, but I kept worrying that someone else would buy it if I decided I wanted it later. So I asked the front desk if I could see the price and it was within the range I was willing to pay so I forked over the cash on the spot. I only have a polaroid so far, but it's gorgeous and has real turquoise and coral beads (and I know from my last trip here about the Turkish turquoise and how much I should expect to pay for it, so I was pleased.) I put it away to wear to dinner later on.

We were going to go to the basilica cistern since it isn't on any of our tours, but it was closing before we would get there so we've planned to combine that with the spice market on another free afternoon. Instead, a bunch of us went out to wander around the square and surrounding areas. I ended up with a smaller group roaming around the park across the street where we had great views of the hotel as well as the bosphorous strait and the Asian part of the city on the other side. It was supposed to rain today and ended up being beautiful so we were excited. Hopefully the same happens again tomorrow. The group decided to head over to the shops close to five and I split from them to go back to the hotel for a good workout in the gym... They have a really nice gym here and the view from the pool is insane! I ran into a couple of the other guys during my workout and then, feeling great, went to get ready for our dinner. I wore my new necklace and got tons of compliments from the other ladies and even a few of the guys.

Dinner was at a place called the Ikinci Restaurant in the flower passage off of Istiklal Street (big shopping... Much exploration needed.) it was so much fun. We sat at two long tables in a crowded and tiny restaurant where they already had the mezze waiting for us. A few aubergine dishes, a yogurt dip, a hummus and garlic like paste in slices, a fava bean salad and more, along with a big slice of feta cheese and lots of soft bread. Then they brought the hot starters - a fried cheese roll, a potato croquette and fried muscles (which I gave to Paul. I toyed with the idea of trying one, but Joe did it first and said they were even more fishy than the paella in Spain so I couldn't bring myself to do it. Then they brought salad and then our main dish. I ordered the sautéed meat, which was actually lamb in a kind of tomato stew. It was a little spicy and quite delicious. While we were etibg a group of musicians came in and played several songs for another table - all traditional turkish music and so fun. We were all into it and clapping along and applauding, so I think they sensed an opportunity for tips and they came and played for us. I loved it - it was just fun and made you want to dance. Obviously Andrew agreed since he got up and danced with them. We have it on video and it's probably on YouTube by now. Lol. Finally, dessert was a big plate of fresh seasonal fruit to share. It was all delicious and left me feeling glad I had skipped lunch and gotten in a good workout.

After dinner, it was almost ten so we wandered along Istiklal street for a bit, popping our heads into shops before getting back to the hotel. Now it's time to hit the sack and get ready for a big day of touring the city in the morning. Even though I've been to all of these places before, I still can't wait. It's going to be fun to do them when it isn't freezing cold and raining and with such a fun group.

A few pictures from the day...

Istanbul Day 1

Istanbul Day 1

Istanbul Day 1

Istanbul Day 1

Istanbul Day 1


Greece Day 4 - Part 1

Our last day in greece...

I got up early again to go for a run in the park, but about 25 minutes in, a light rain turned to a heavy one so I headed back to the hotel, soaked to the skin. But it was still nice to get out there and the scent of jasmine that permeates the park was only stronger in the rain. Just beautiful.

After another fabulous breakfast at the hotel's breakfast buffet, we boarded the bus to head out on our final excursion... Ancient Corinth. It took about an hour and a half from athens, but the views along the way were worth it. The highway hugged the Aegean sea and it was stunning - all that shimmering, deep blue water with the white sandy coasts and the rugged mountains rising in the background... Green everywhere else. We got to Corinth and spent about an hour touring the ruins and the small museum they have there. It was fabulous to see where Paul taught the Corinthians as well as to see the old temple to Apollo and the fountains and remains of what was once a market. There were wild poppies and yellow daisies everywhere that made it all the lovelier. The museum was cool too... Lots of statues and mosaics recovered from the site along with several cases full of everyday items used by inhabitants in the 5th and 6th centuries B.C. It's so beyond comprehension what that actually means. At least for me. But trying to picture the significance of more than two thousand years of human history helped me at least try and appreciate how amazing it as to be looking at some of these pieces. And at the same time, it was fascinating to see how little some things have changed like cups, plates and pitchers. We still user some of the same designs in modern form after a few millennia! Anyway, it was cool.

After that, we drove another hour to Ancient Epidaurus where we saw the odeon. That was pretty cool and again, amazing to consider that this was in use thousands of years ago in plays honoring Dionysus. We didn't have much time there before the rain started up again so we ran for the bus to head to the next destination, Naphtali. Here we got out to see the harbor and the 17th century castle on the hill. However, it was also after 3pm and we hadn't had lunch yet, so when we ran across a small grocery store on the way into town, we raided it. I think there were more than 15 of us in the chocolate aisle all at once and it was hysterical. We were all going through Ion bars (some yummy. Greek chocolate we found) to get snacks, souvenirs or gifts, depending on who was looking for us. But we were all passing around some of our findings back at the harbor while we waited to get back on the bus. I found some banana cream sandwich cookies that were pretty good... Chad had digestive biscuits, also good, and we all had a little chocolate.

Finally, we made it to Mycenae where we were scheduled to have lunch at the Ifigenea restaurant, which looked like a reception center. It was a buffet and I actually managed, for once, to not let my eyes get bigger than my stomach. I tried little bits of a few things and my favorites were the moussaka and some little lamb meatballs. Yum. From there, it was another hour and a half ride back to Athens. During some of our rides today we played games and even had a singalong to different songs on people's iPods. We had a little Abba, Weezer, Lady Gaga and the hit of the afternoon, "sweet Caroline." of course, we only really knew the chorus. Mary got a video of it and it's pretty hysterical. So the rides were long, but we had fun and great views and fabulous stops.

For our last evening in Athens, we headed back out to the Plaka. There
Were a few who wanted more yogurt and the rest of us got gelato. Since lunch had been so late, we made that our dinner. I was on the lookout for baklava since believe it or not I couldn't find it and no one had served it to us! But alas, no luck. I might have to use up the last of my euros finding some at the airport tomorrow. From there we wandered up toward the acropolis and then back down one of the streets lined with shops. We wandered in and out of some of them while a few of us were buying last minute souvenirs and gifts. I picked up a set of worry beads with the eye of Athena, but that was it for me. I did enough damage earlier in our stay here.

So that's it from Greece! Next we're off to Istanbul. Should be fun!

A few photos from the day...

Greece Day 4 - Part 1

Greece Day 4 - Part 1

Greece Day 4 - Part 1

Greece Day 4 - Part 1

Greece Day 4 - Part 1


Greece Day 3 - Part 1

Today we stayed in Athens... It was the first business visit of our trip which is the real purpose of our being here... To learn more about the culture and people and doing business in a global environment. I got up early and went for a run in the national park across the street and it was lovely. The paths went through trees, bushes and flowers and there were areas with statues, a tiny zoo, ponds and fountains and even a small at archeological ruin. It was a great way to start the day.

Our business visit was to the U.S. Embassy in Athens and we learned about commerce or how the embassy helps American businesses work with greek companies or in Greece. We also heard from a man in the political section who talked about recent events and the economy. On the whole, it was pretty interesting although I hadn't realized how exhausted I was until I could barely stay awake in the lecture. So, since I wasn't hungry I elected to stay in and take a nap while the rest of the crew went on the hunt for gyros. Probably a mistake on my part. I wasn't able to that well and I still haven't had a gyro. Oh well.

At three, our guide Thenassus picked us up to take us around athens. We started with the first modern Olympic station built for the games in 1896. It was all out of marble and pretty cool. Then we went to the acropolis to visit up there. That was really cool. To actually be up there among the temples and monuments you see pictures of and walk around them, see the views and learn about the history was fabulous. They're doing a lot of work on the site right now so there was scaffolding and equipment everywhere. Sucks for pictures, but it's nice that they're working on making it all better, I guess.

After that we went back to the hotel where we met in a big group to go out for dinner. Matt had someone recommend a great restaurant up in the Plaka and a few of the guys had gone there Monday night and really loved it so we all wanted to go back. Matt and Eric negotiated a deal for us at the restaurant since there were 22 of us. The night was awesome. The food was really delicious... We started with tzatziki and grilled bread, a plate of olives and then Greek salad with the best feta I've ever tasted. We also had fried zucchini and eggplant followed by the main course. I ordered the lamb stuffed with herbs and aromatic veggies and it came with roasted potatoes that melted in your mouth. It was topped off by a walnut cake with a cherry topping. As we ate, we were all together outside on the terrace partway up the slope leading to the acropolis. To my right above me was the top of the acropolis where we could just glimpse the Parthenon and spread out below us was the city, with the city's tallest hill and it's lighted church on top rising out of the middle. Sitting outside in perfect weather with great company and such a fabulous environment was amazing. As we sat there, the bells of a nearby church tolled out the hour and I just sat with my eyes closed to drink it in.. It was one of those rare, perfect moments that I always love and cherish.

After dinner, we walked back through the shops on our way to the hotel. It's possible that we might have stopped for some more greek yogurt. Maybe. But it was a wonderful day full of great sights, food, friends and experiences. Photos following...

Greece Day 3 - Part 1

Greece Day 3 - Part 1

Greece Day 3 - Part 1

Greece Day 3 - Part 1

Greece Day 3 - Part 1


Greece Day 2 - Part 1

Today was a pretty cool day... We went to Delphi. The bus ride was a bit over two hours each way, but there was some amazing scenery along the way. About halfway to delphi, we stopped at a gas station and market for a break and all of us went nuts at the cool things they had. It was all food, but they had a big case of pastry, lots of sesame candies, lokumi, chocolate, bread... It was cool. We all stocked up on bottles of water and I picked up some candied sesame seed coated almonds and a walnut caramel bar for later. I always love new food!

The drive once we got up into the mountains was amazing. There was a beautiful valley with about 400,000 olive trees and stunning mountains rising all around. I need to look up the name of the ski town we drove through just before we got there, but it was so cool. Narrow, winding streets that I'd love to get lost in with my camera, a bottle of water and a pocket full of euros. The little alleys and side streets, shops and restaurants looked irresistible. Sadly though, it wasn't a stop on the agenda. Maybe another time.

We got to the archaeological site and went in and our guide took us slowly up the hill, explaining as we went. The views were just amazing and the ruins were really cool. It's always incredible to me to see things that were built thousands of years ago and wonder about the lives of the people who lived he... Especially Delphi which was a sanctuary. Driving up through the mountains also gave me an appreciation for the stories of the kings and leaders who made the pilgrimage to visit the oracle and get her prophesies for their kingdoms or their wars. I can only imagine how difficult that journey really would have been back then. Incredible.

We saw the treasury of the athenians and the remains of the temple of Apollo and a really cool theater. Then we had time to hike up to the top where there was a stadium. I got there pretty quickly, ahead of most of the group but only spent a few minutes there before heading back down. That wasn't what was most interesting to me. For me, it was the peace and magnetism of the place... Maybe even a bit of mysticism that I could feel. There was something about delphi that made me understand how it became a sacred place in the ancient world. So on the way down, I found a little place off the path in the trees where I climbed up and sat cross legged on a carved block where I could see off into the trees with the mountains and valley behind. As the crowds behind me moved on, it was a great chance to just relax a bit... Listening to the breeze in the leaves, the buzz of the insects and the singing of the birds... Even the bleating of a goat on the mountain behind me. I didn't get to stay long, only 15-20 minutes. But it was lovely.

I headed back down and met up with the group to go into the museum where our guide taught us about the pieces that were there from the different columns, temples and treasuries on the site. Cool stuff. And from there, we went to grab lunch in modern Delphi. That was yummy... Tzatziki and bread, spanikopita, salad with really fruity olives and fresh feta, and then roasted veal with orzo cooked in cinnamon and allspice. Really good. And a little scoop of banana ice cream for dessert.

From there, back to athens. Once we got back, we dropped our stuff in our rooms and freshened up and then the usual suspects met in the lobby to head out for an evening on the town. Or something. Chad had actually gotten directions to a nearby flea market so we went that way. It was really just a street of shops and we wandered through it, peeking into different shops looking for gifts or things that were cool and unique. Most of the souvenirs here are pretty campy, but that's probably for the best since it saves money. After we got through the shops, we went to the next street over and headed back up. It was mostly restaurants to our left, but to our right we looked down next to the train tracks running below us and they were surrounded by more ruins. Just crazy! And then rising above us beyond that was the acropolis. Talk about a sweet shopping atmosphere. We did find one shop that had a few decent things for gifts and we were standing in the street waiting for everyone to finish, looking at the Parthenon all lit up on top of the acropolis and listening to a man playing the sax down the street near the square... More ruins directly in front of us and an old church further down, and just couldn't get over what an amazing atmosphere it was.

Shopping done, we were still all fairly full from the big and very late lunch, so we stopped to get gelato and sat in the square to chat and eat before walking back to the hotel to call it a night. All in all, a pretty good day.

Next up, our first business visit of the trip followed by our official tour of Athens. I'll actually be heading up the hill to the top of the acropolis this time instead of admiring from a distance. Can't wait!

Greece Day 2 - Part 1

Greece Day 2 - Part 1

Greece Day 2 - Part 1


Greece Day 2 - Part 1

Greece Day 2 - Part 1


Greece Day 1

On to Greece! Monday was mainly a travel day... We left the hotel just before nine am for our flight at 11:40. The flight was about three hours and with the time change, we didn't get to the hotel until 6ish... So we checked in and got into our rooms and then came down to gather for the evening.

We went down the street to the TI to get maps and guide books and the woman at the count looked just like the mother in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Stereotypical but true... Lol. Then we headed to the square near our hotel but as soon as we got there we saw a big demonstration coming down the street. Given recent events we figured it might not be the safest place for a group of people who were obviously American so we decided to head the opposite direction in the search for food. We stopped back in the hotel to drop off stuff in our rooms and ran into our trip director and guide in the lobby. Kosta said that they could be protesting anything, including blondes vs brunettes. Lol. He gave us directions for how to get to the entrance to the Plaka and we went that way.

The entrance to the Plaka is also the way to get to the acropolis so we were excited. It was also cool to be walking down the street and look over and just randomly see ancient Greek ruins right in the middle of everything. How cool is that? Then we got our first glimpse of the acropolis and it was awesome to see.

As we walked into the pedestrian area, I knew this was going to be an place I wanted to come back and explore. Lots of food and shopping! we walked up to a cross street where it looked like shopping to the right and food to the left so we headed down toward all of the restaurants. They were all catering to tourists, of course... So they were all trying to get us to sit down. But we found a place where all eight of us could sit together outside where they didn't pester us or offer us free drinks but just directed us to take a look at their menu. They had good stuff and decent prices so we stayed. I ordered moussaka and jen got chicken souvlaki. Chad had a mixed kebabs and Mary ordered tarama salata (fish roe salad) that wasn't what she was expecting... It was pink and they were joking about the pink jello. I didn't taste it, but apparently it wasn't good. But everything else was delicious - the moussaka was really nice and I tasted the kebab and they were really good too. The food here in Greece is going to kill me. Too bad the hotel gym is under construction! But we're going to be doing lots of walking so hopefully that will be enough.

After dinner we went over and started browsing the shops and I got a few ideas for gifts and then found a fabulous silver plated forearm cuff in a swirl pattern (symbolizing prosperity). Then we headed back out to go to a Greek yogurt bar Chad found on the way in so we could get that for dessert. The guy in there was a trip... He was giving us samples of his favorite toppings and making suggestions when we ordered for what he thought would be a better topping combination. I ended up with a light Greek yogurt topped with fir honey and hazelnuts. It was really good. I tasted some of the others too and loved the one with orange honey. I'm really enjoying all the honey here... Super yummy! Especially with the yogurt.

After dessert we started wandering back down the street toward the hotel and went over to see the ruins we passed before that were now all lit up (we found out today that they're the remains of a temple of Zeus). Then we kept walking and came across the ruins of an old roman bath that were found when they were excavating a ventilation shaft for the metro. It must be super hard to try and build anything underground here. But how cool is it to just stumble across ancient ruins walking back to the hotel?

And thus ends the first evening in athens. Pictures following... Our view of the acropolis and Parthenon while walking to dinner... A few pictures of Melinda, Jen, Chad and I at dinner and some of the ruins we stopped at on the way back after dessert.

Greece Day 1

Greece Day 1

Greece Day 1

Greece Day 1

Greece Day 1


Madrid day three, part 1

Day three, yesterday, was Segovia. It was such a beautiful city - like what you picture you would find in Spain from seeing a postcard or a travel poster. Out first glimpse from the road had us all excited and then after driving through town, they took us out to a place where we had an incredible view of the Alcazar (castle). We got out to take pictures and then went back into the town and hiked from the bus parking into the plaza where you could see the tallest part of their famous aqueduct. It was amazing. We were all in our church clothes since we were going to the local branch for sacrament meeting, so most of us were carrying our change of clothes and shoes all day and were standing out a bit in our Sunday dress. I got a giggle when I glanced over and saw Tad, Mike, Chad and Chris all standing together in their suits and looking a little serious and intimidating. The locals were giving them wide berth. Lol.

After taking a few pictures, we walked up to the local branch's building but we were still a half hour early. As we stood there, the bells of the big church across the street rang out to announce mass, so a bunch of us decided to head over and pop in for the first part of it. We sat in the back few rows and just listened and admired the church while we stood in the right places. I could understand enough to know the sermon was about god's peace, but then it was time for us to go to our own meeting. The branch was tiny and we outnumbered them about four to one. But it was a great meeting and we were all moved and will remember it for a long time. We took pictures with the branch members outside the building, changed clothes and headed back to the main part of town to sight-see.

We spent more time near the aqueduct and then walked up to the main square to see the gorgeous cathedral. We had some free time so we split up to shop and wander. I popped my head into the cathedral and joined Ed to browse the shops heading down one side street. I also saw a Spanish shawl I fell in love with at the stand of an old gypsy woman at the edge of the square. I knew how much I could get them for in Madrid, so I put my bargaining skills and my knowledge from my global negotiations class to work. She started high, I anchored low and I got it for five euro less than I would in madrid. Of course, I had to laugh because we started bargaining in Spanish and at one point I wondered why I had switched to an italian accent and only later realized it was because we had somehow switched to Italian too funny (and yes steph, definitely pretentious!)

When our free time was up, we met to go for our lunch at a restaurant on the square. It was definitely a different experience to be going on Spanish meal schedules... Lunch wasn't until 1:30 or 2:00pm and lasted a few hours. This place seated us at an enormous banquet table in a former wine cellar with fascinating acoustics. I had a delicious bean soup with dumplings and then the local specialty, suckling pig. They just chop it up. And cook the parts of the animal and serve them up. I think I got a shoulder. Fatty but good. Joe and Chad got legs, complete with hoofs (and in chad's case, a little hair left too. Eew! Definitely authentic...) Eric was saying that a piece of organ meat he found in his section of pig tasted like cat brain. He later tried to recant and say he'd said calf's brain. We all voted... Everyone heard cat. He's not living this down. we finished with a traditional Segovian cake with vanilla custard filling and marzipan topping and it was yummy.

After lunch we took more pictures and headed back to the bus. When we got back to Madrid, we dumped our stuff, freshened up and went to get on the metro to go back to the park we found earlier. There were 18 on this little adventure and it was a blast. In the park we built human pyramids. I don't know why other than the group doing the pre-trip presentation on Spain found some odd fact that said that visiting groups of students would often build human pyramids in the plaza in front of the palace as a show of strength. So we had to do it. We're going to take the same pyramids and photoshop different backgrounds behind them... Lol. It was a lot of fun and we drew quite a crowd! I just documented and helped give a boost when needed.

We wandered more and did more funny pictures before getting on the metro to go get food. We went back to Puerta del sol where we split into groups for shopping and eating. I went with Chad, Melinda, jen, mike and chris and grabbed a slice of pizza before we went back to Valor for more hot chocolate and churros. That stuff was amazingly good. And that was day three! Here are a few photos, more in another post.

Madrid day three, part 1

Madrid day three, part 1

Madrid day three, part 1

Madrid day three, part 1

Madrid day three, part 1


Madrid day two - part 1

Tried to post this yesterday but the wireless was too slow and it was too late to wait for it. Madrid day three coming soon!

What an amazing day. We headed off to Toledo bright and early. Beautiful drive and an amazing city. We stopped on a hill to get views of the city and it was just gorgeous. The city itself was so fun to explore. We walked up and down (mostly up... I think everything in Toledo is uphill and Rick Steves concurs) and explored alleys, tiny streets and squares and took tons of pictures of all the little nooks and crannies and tantalizing views of towers peeking between buildings. I took lots of pictures of doors. They were amazing... Plus, I'm kind of weird that way. Loved them. We saw El Greco's masterpiece in the Iglesia S. tome, wandered more tiny streets, ate a delicious local lunch, toured the fabulous cathedral and then learned about how the local blacksmiths would traditionally work the famous Toledo steel. And then, in the exhibition room, that's where I bought my sword. I saw it on one of the racks and it instantly called to me. I noted the price (pricey but not too unreasonable) but was thinking I'd be good and put it back. Then Eric picked it up to admire it and a voice in my head screamed, "put down my sword!" it was a sign. That sword and I were meant to be together. So I reclaimed it and bought it. I love it. And I'm sure I'll continue to love it even when faced with getting it on the plane. The next four planes, actually. But it will work out. Remember how packing is my super power? So not a problem.
After that, we headed back to Madrid, dropped stuff in our rooms and freshened up and then a group of us met in the lobby to do some exploring: me, Mary, jen, Melinda, Chad, Todd, Laurie, and chris. First stop, gelato. It's really big here - helado Italiano. Yum. Then we stopped in to browse in Zara and Lefties and then got on the metro to go to il retiro - a fabulous park. We wandered, posed for pictures and decided that we want to try and go back tomorrow when it isn't raining and rent rowboats. Then we found our way to the plaza de espagne and took more pictures before getting back on the metro to go to the hotel and get ready for Saturday night on the town.

First, we went to a flamenco dinner. They served seafood paella. Super traditional, of course, and as a sufferer of a mental allergy for all things seafood, not what I wanted to see (and smell!) in front of me. I pushed aside the seafood and tried a few bites, but the fishiness was overwhelming. But I tried it, and I wasn't the only one that didn't get much dinner. But the show was absolutely fantastic. The dancers were so passionate and commanding and it was so fun to watch and listen as they were accompanied by Spanish guitar and singing. There was also a guy that danced who was very good, and knew it. But it was so fun to watch.

After that, we broke into groups. I headed off with dave, Ed, Edgar, Chad, Joe h. Ben, and Scott in search of hot chocolate and churros. Joe r. And professor R. had been to a good place earlier and showed us the way to Valor. We got tables outside near heaters and ordered. We all got the hot chocolate with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles and it. Was. Heavenly. So good. We sat there chatting, joking and savoring every bite and sip until about midnight. Then we decided to head back to the hotel to get ready for tomorrow, so here I am. Tomorrow we're going to Segovia to tour and go to church before coming back to Madrid. Should be awesome.

Here's the first batch of today's pictures.

Madrid day two - part 1

Madrid day two - part 1

Madrid day two - part 1

Madrid day two - part 1

Madrid day two - part 1