Summer break: Day one!
Another year logged and graded! Can you believe? This year flew by. I mean really fast. It still feels like I just got here. This time last year I was going through close-out hell in UAE and new-hire paperwork hell for this job.
Some of my good UAE friends are going through that now. I don’t envy them (although I know their next adventure will be as exciting as mine), but I am thrilled that I’ll get to see them in a few weeks. We’re flying to Dominican Republic to cheer on Jordan & Wilbur’s wedding — whoop whoop! I cannot wait to pool drink, beach nap and OMG go to a spa with them again! Mama needs some pampering with her girls.
Joe and I have got it good. Because we’re finally living in an area that isn’t as hot as the sun, we’re not rushing to get out of here. So, we’re piddling around Belgium next week, then driving to a friend’s house in Bavaria (I might even get a chance to go to Poland to shop for pottery — ewwww yeah!), then flying to Dublin (Slainteing it up with Derrick), then DR, and then off to Brazil for 10 days, and then Jordan & Wilbur will fly back to Brussels with us. Sooooo woo hoo — lots and lots of catching up with friends and fun times. Then in August I get to go back to work to a job I really enjoy, and welcome year two of my life here — which we hope will continue for quite a few years!
One of the many perks to being a teacher is the annual end-of-year reflection. It’s nice to have that time to sip coffee and think about all that went well and all that went south way too quickly — some years it’s more crap than good, but mostly it’s more positive. And while we’re oh sooooo happy to be getting our break, we do think fondly of our kids and all that they taught us — yeah even you “Johnny” who may or may not have given me a twitch from refraining a cuss word or two.
For me, this year, the bad was mostly outside my little bubble. I don’t like where things are in the world right now, but the optimist in me clings (desperately at times) to the notion that change for the better will happen. I’m not naive; there’s more chaos to come before some sort of calm, but working with teenagers always gives me hope. Of course they’re still hormone-riddled, angst-obsessed, volatile beings, but they’re on the cusp of the adults they will become, and I always see way more hope and good than helplessness. So, yeah, I still believe the young will fix some of what we broke — while knowing they’ll also break some things of their own.
I’m not going to bore you with my thoughts on all the different movements and walkouts taking place in my home country, but I will say I’m glad people (especially the young) are waking up and getting their voices heard. It’s my hope all those voices will join to lead us to progress and smother out much of our senseless harm. So, that’s my first-day of summer break reflection for you. Time to refill my cup of coffee and get on with my deadline-free days.
While Badger gets to go to Germany with us, he’s ticked we’re not taking him on our other adventures. LOL he thinks giving me the sad puppy eyes will change my mind, but nope he’s going off to doggy summer camp!
lol just using this pic because I like it!
Well I’ve been back to my current real world and wearing only one layer of clothing for almost two weeks now. I’ve pretty much been catching up on sleep, catching up with friends here, working and watching Netflix (OA you sucked me in) —- and, of course, planning my next two big adventures (spring break and summer).
Work is full of changes, which is a constant, and I’m as ready as I can be to guide my girls through it (and it’s good to hear their voices and see their smiles again). InshAllah we end it all in May (when they finish classes; I finish work in July?) with all of us having learned some good things.
The hardest thing for me right now is NOT applying for jobs. I’m so used to having something lined up, and some good posts are popping up all over the place. But, Joe keeps reminding me to relax and allow some chill time (heheheh maybe even Netflix and chill time). This will be the only time I can take some time off while he’s working because once I begin my next full-time position he’s retiring and it’s all on me (well except for the fact that we’re totally using his monthly pension for trips here and there). I’ve never been a kept woman before, so that’s a new border to cross, and I really do like lazy. I’m also really excited about going home to my family and beginning our next phase, wherever that will lead. But first I will have to begin the process of closing my life here, but let’s save that for February or March or, knowing me, later.
Before any of that, I need to tell you the rest about Iceland. I loved that we visited in winter, but I also wish we could go there during the summer. Summer offers MUCH longer days, better weather and more sites. I’d love to see their green! Oh and the sheep taking over the landscape, and the puffins, and, and…those of you who go during summer can tell me all about it.
Pic by Joe
That said Joe did get to go inside a barn and meet the sheep. Um, apparently, the rams are living high on the hog making lambs while they all are warm and protected in their barns. Come spring, all of them are allowed to wander outdoors and feast themselves into a juicy, plump frenzy.
These are the best pics I have of Gullfoss falls, a famous stop on the Golden Circle drive, because it was windy AF and frigid. I was terrified I was going to get blown away. One gust literally blew my feet from under me, and I was pleased with myself for using the poor petite woman in front of me to stop my fall — she, however, had some choice words in her language for me (although didn’t hear them — too busy yelling oh shit). Besides, I’m pretty sure I saved her from becoming a kite, so all is well.
And these are the best pics I could get of a geyser going off. Love the first one because whoops it went off spewing silica my way before I was ready to capture the geyser. But, again thanks to winter weather not the best shots. You will see no selfies of me that day because I was the antithesis of sexy.
My pros and cons of visiting during winter
Pros: Ice caves and experiencing the weather! There’s a tourist ice cave all year long somewhere on the island, but that’s not the real deal. There’s nothing like knowing you are inside — INSIDE! — a flipping glacier. And, my man now has bragging rights — he can drive through anything. Trust me he’ll remind me of this the next time I bitch about his driving.
- Doing the Blue Lagoon while it’s snowing. I’m sure it’s amazing in summer, but I love that we were swimming outside during a snow storm. Sadly, I have no good pics to show. We were there at night in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights, which we did that night, but at our hotel. And, I didn’t have my son’s GoPro on the right setting, so lots of stupid videos of Joe and Me thinking we’re taking selfies. p.s. know that this IS a tourist trap and it will be busy, not something Joe and I tend to like to do, but for we nonlocals it’s still worth it — as are the other geothermal pools we didn’t get to experience.
- The Northern Lights! Who doesn’t want to see that? There’s no guarantee that you will see them, but we lucked out and saw them twice — both times totally unexpected.
- It’s off tourist season, so prices are lower. BUT, let me caution you there are more tourists here during winter than you expect. Somewhere in Asia there’s a super cheap deal going on because there were busloads of groups, every where we went. Joe and I wanted the isolation and solitude of winter — we needed it — and while we had plenty of alone time, we were never totally alone on the roads. Every time we saw horses near the road, there were carloads of folk pulled over petting them — damn it all I wanted one to myself!
These are the only good people-free shots I have, and I’m telling you this horse and I connected. She WANTED me to pet her, but alas the people I politely shoved out of the way were craftier when it came to actual touch time.
I can’t imagine what Iceland is like in summer when it is tourist season. I love people and everyone was really nice (except perhaps me), BUT it’s not as much fun visiting nature’s wonders when there are busloads of us around. That said in summer you could hike remote areas!
- New Year’s in Reykjavik. It’s something you should try to do at least once in your life. It’s a fun city, and this is — so I’m told — the biggest party of the year.
Cons: The weather and shorter days. While we liked experiencing the arctic’s touch of crazy, it prevented us from doing and seeing so much. If we ever go again I’d like to hike all over, explore the north and maybe even make it to the western fjords.
Take for example the area around Vic. While these pics look harmless enough, the weather was relentless that day. We pulled over at one area to walk the black sand beaches, and we couldn’t get out of the car because we were pummelled with black-sand wind gusts. It was like a killer bee movie, only with sand and hurricane force winds. The waves are also no joke! I’m told that’s an all-year thing, so watch out for them.
While we were there some days only had 4 hours of sunlight, some had less or none thanks to storms, but oh my goodness when the sun did come out — she and Iceland showed off their stuff!
Even the fog coming in did lovely dances with the sun.
A plus to other tourists is they’ll take a pic of you in the sun! LOL Joe braving it all with his jacket off, my polar bear.
Regardless of whether you visit Iceland in the summer or winter, it’s worth the money, but please do pay attention to the people who live there. This might be a wonderland of ewws and aahs to you, but it’s been their home for thousands of years. When they tell you it’s going to be a bad weather day; it’s CNN Breaking News weather to you.
They love their land, and they’re such a fun, welcoming people and happy to share it, but some of us disrespect that welcome when we do things like drive places we’re not supposed to drive or stop in the middle of the damned road to take a pic — or even worse disrespect the land and its people by polluting, etc. (although we didn’t see any of that).
Darn it all I’m going off on tangents now, and wishing we could plan a summer trip back to Iceland. There’s people we’d like to see again and camping and there I go drooling again.
Oh too-small SUV how we miss the adventures we took with you! and we’re off the road, I swear!
And since I’m back in my real world for now, there are things I should get done today. Farewell Iceland, our new beloved friend! InshAllah we’ll meet again.
p.s. We also have so many video clips of our crazy experiences driving. I’m hoping one day I’ll actually put them together for a quick clip, but, well, you know how much I love lazy.
My first view of Finland. Baby it’s cold out there (although according to the locals not so much for this time of year).
I’ve rediscovered what I hate about the cold. It’s not the cold; it’s walking into a heated building all bundled up and sweating your ass off. You’ve gotta strip a few layers off and then lug them around while you sweat and shop. I’m building arm muscles…
It’s 3:30 p.m. on my third day in Helsinki, and the sun has set again. She doesn’t stay out very long — probably because there’s awesome mulled wine and lit candles waiting for her indoors.
Hello? who can blame her the mulled wine is tasty with a bit of a kick to it! I’ll make this for Christmas at my daughter’s house next year — first 2017 goal set. Sin of all sins I dare say I like it better than my German ancestor’s Gluhwein, but shhh.
I’ve not been fair to this city because I haven’t toured it as much as I had planned. I was so tired my first day (thanks to no sleep the night before — oh the fun of flying) that I pretty much just visited shops and sipped coffee and ate an amazing cinnamon roll (rock sugar crystals on top are way, way better than icing!) while waiting for my room to get ready. I also ate dinner at an Italian place and met two lovely Finnish ladies who suggested a few things to do and taught me three words: Hey for hello, hey hey for good bye, and Keytoss for thank you!
And oh my god I took the longest, hottest bath when I did get into my room!
My apartment doesn’t have a tub, so I specifically booked this room for it’s deep soaking tub. LOL and apparently Hotel Glo Kluuvi puts a plush kitty on your bed, so Lil Miss Plush attempted to hog my wine while I bathed. I won that battle.
Day Two I got up early and spent the day in Talinn, Estonia — what an awesome day too — will write up another blog on that to post next. And you bet I soaked my sore tootsies in that tub again (threw a pillow on the plush and told her to time out).
Today, my alleged big touring day, I woke up late, sipped Gingerbread latte at Fraziers, a famous coffee house, walked around the harbour, presidential palace (where I saw two stiff guards freezing their kivekset off), and cathedral area, shopped on Aleksanterinkatu (famous shopping street — am totally acquainted with Stockmans now) and warmed my belly with a beef and mushroom stew, and then took a nice long nap. It’s gray out, and apparently I’m tired, so woo hoo for the time to nap at my leisure. But boo hoo that I didn’t visit a single museum — woe the art I did not get to see! I’d also like to visit Lapland, so perhaps one day I’ll get to freeze and sweat here again.
My big goal for later today is to visit the big Christmas Market, drink some more Glogi and soak one last time in that tub.
So you see I don’t have a whole lot to tell you about Helsinki or Finland, other than I like it, and despite the short winter days it’s beautiful. It’s a great place to visit around Christmas time because of all the good comfort food, coffee, adult warm up bevies, and overall ambience. Plus it’s an easy to navigate place and English is widely spoken, so you’ll have no problems discovering all there is to do. And, oh my goodness there are some awesome looking restaurants and bars, which I did not feel like blowing the dirhams in (solo travel is a lot of fun, but not so much in higher end hangouts, although I bet I’d make new friends pretty quickly here — so far everyone has been friendly). But, I also gotta save my money for Iceland, which is tomorrow!
Just of few snaps of Christmas cheer. Shop windows are adorned with magical holiday displays, and the smell of roasting nuts, gingerbread and spices keeps you warm!
This is my favourite Helsinki window shot. Grandma and the kids are mesmerised while parents sneak in some adult huddle time. Kids are very, very happy here this time of year!
Some Helsinki shots (sorry I was lazy with my camera)
A few hours later: I made it to the Christmas Market in Senate Square. Bought some goodies, feasted on some fruity, nutty cake with vanilla sauce, had my glogi and the bath is pouring as I type. Here’s some more Christmas cheer from Finland for you!
I should be a good teacher and give you the historical background of Cyprus, the lovely Mediterranean Island near Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Greece, etc. — it’s just a short flight or decent boat ride to a lot of places. It has also had more than its fair share of conquerers over the centuries — seems like at one point or another everyone wanted a piece of Cyprus, but most of the island gained its independence in 1960. Part of its northern lands are run by (or occupied by, depending on who you ask) Turkey — it’s a bitter story I’ll leave for the locals to tell.
What drew me to Cyprus was its connection to Greek literature (what up Odysseus?!) and mythology — if you believe tourist sites (and local legend) Aphrodite was born there, Adonis drowned in his reflection there, and for the low, low price of X you could even visit Athena’s bath — and thanks to it being off tourist season, the low airfare and resort price (holy moly we got off cheap!). With a long weekend for National Day (Happy 45th Birthday UAE!) and a zero-balance credit card — who could resist? It was such a good deal/idea I talked my friend Brandy into joining me.
And this is where good teacher ends because while I certainly saw a lot of Greek and Roman ruins, and I certainly learned a whole lot, I mostly fraternized and sampled their thousands of years of wine making expertise. Cypriots seem to love drinking, eating and laughing as much as I do — God Bless their ancient souls!
Day One: Transport from Larnaca airport to Pafos (or like we Westerners seem to prefer Paphos)
Luckily, our driver a British expat, figured out what we’d be most interested in seeing. Since we landed during an unexpected stormy weekend (yay for we desert dwellers!) we had to cut back on some of the outdoor sites, but we didn’t miss out on Kuorian, an ancient city destroyed by an earthquake in 365 AD. Awesomeness, yes — just check out the pics.
We hiked up a hill to get to Achilles house … it led to a cliff. Perhaps it’s made of air.
The red blocks kept their baths warm
Not pictured are the protected mosaics. Cyprus is known for its well-preserved mosaics. I was too taken aback by the clouds and sea to photograph those (although I did snap some shots of the mosaics in Pafos). What can I say? I’m a bigger fan of the Gods art than ours.
We also drove by the Rock of Aphrodite, which was basically one of three rocks in the sea (google will provide better pics than me — um, I was not impressed and it shows). My favourite part about this was learning that legend has it if a woman swims around it three times she’d be eternally beautiful, but our driver assured us he’s seen plenty of old Russian women do it to no avail. So, we didn’t jump in the cold, wild waters.
When we got to Almyra, our resort in Pafos, it was close to sunset time and oh my goodness. The Gods certainly blessed us with their art!
okay, see how rocky and rough that looks? And trust me it’s also cold. Both mornings we saw old Cypriots defrock and jump into those waters. I kid you not these people swam in that shit. A local driver told us he doesn’t know how they survive it because he as a 30 something isn’t risking heart attack or death by wave.
I could post so much more, but don’t want to bore you with my gazillion photos. It was amazing! We dined at a restaurant on the harbour shores and savoured our grilled meat and local wine. That night we slept with our windows open just so we could smell the rain, sea and citrus trees while listening to Zeus (okay Jupiter) pound the earth with lighting. Ahhhhmazing.
Day Two: Pubologists in Pafos!
In a nutshell the modern city of Pafos is built on top of the old one, and you cannot walk around the city and not run into ruins. Long story short we walked to the harbour, toured its castle (with the help of one of the city’s many friendly cats), walked its coastal walk and escaped rain showers in quite a few pubs. I won’t say how many, but we met a lot of folk, sampled some bevies and stumbled upon amazing ruins. My favourite is our accidental climb into an archaeological site — I swear we were just exploring a cave, which had a ladder, which led to yesterday. A man working it waved hi to us, so whew! we didn’t damage anything.
Day three: Wineologists! And one brewery (even I will drink Aphrodite beer)
I loved our drive into the mountains and through the small villages. Everything we did was a trip through time, but this one was my favourite. What made this even better was the lack of tourists (hahaha except us of course). We really got to mingle with the winery families and some British expats. We also walked through a monastery that was so quaint I had to light a candle for my dad. While he was Roman Catholic and not Greek Orthodox, I know he would’ve loved it there. Me thinks he may have even been at the table when Brandy and I were treated to a round of Zivania, local moonshine that tastes like Grappa (basically nose-hair burning awfulness, but I did mine like a champ). Sadly, as good as the wine is and as long as they’ve been making it, it’s not a big export. Basically, Cyprus wine is pretty much made for Cypriots — and those of us visiting.
There is so much more I could share, and we were there for only three nights. There is still so much more to explore. Thank you Cyprus for taking us in and showing us a good time!
This is exactly the look you’d get from me if I catch you taking a pic of me sunbathing!
Be forewarned you’re going to see a lot of pictures of cows in this post. As you already know they’re sacred in India and it’s illegal to harm them (and whoop! whoop! yes I got my Indian visa and made it to Goa). One cab driver told us he’d end up in jail with a hefty fine if he accidentally ran into one, so they roam freely. They’re every where, moving along at their pace, doing whatever they like, wherever they like — including napping on roads, playing on the beach, and, ahem, getting frisky under my balcony. I thought something was falling apart, and quickly discovered that cattle are, um, feisty lovers — luckily they’re also quick about it. The unimpressed female never even bothered to stop walking.
Cows aren’t the only ones roaming freely in packs. Dogs, who are not sacred, do the same, and while it’s not illegal to hit them vehicles pause and swerve and let them have their space as well. The animal lover in me made quite a few stray friends. This lil guy was my fave because he pawed me when I stopped petting him and then he barked at me to move along when my friends walked away. He followed us all the way to our hotel and then rejoined his pack of friends.
There were so many stray dogs, but they weren’t sad. They were free and, for the most part, happily enjoying the sights, smells and sounds as much as we were.
For the cat lovers out there, we didn’t see too many of them, probably because they’re smart enough to stay off the streets and roam about courtyards and alleyways instead.
Okay enough about the animals. I didn’t go to Goa to see them. I went to relax on beaches, drink at beach shacks, and inhale as much Indian food as possible. And OMG did I. Everything I ate was delicious. The only meal that disappointed was breakfast, and that’s because Western me wants her fancy eggs and breads (and good God a decent latte!). We stayed in Candolim, which wasn’t very busy because we went during off season, but that’s okay. We got to mingle more with Indians on vacation than Westerners like us, which made for more of an authentic experience — although whooping it up in a bar with tourists (even local ones) doesn’t portray life in India, but I’ll take it. We ate, we drank, we laughed, we danced. My favourite place in Candolim was the Fisherman’s Wharf, the one place that was busy every night with great live entertainment. Another place we thoroughly enjoyed was Sunny Side Up, a restaurant on the beach with great food.
Bagga beach is where the party is at even during off season. Restaurants/bars line the beach with tables, chairs and all sorts of entertainment. We saw fireworks, tight rope performances, fire dancers, and a whole lot of people inhaling a whole lot of goodness. Needless to say we laughed, we ate, we danced with the moon and surf. Because I knew I’d be whooping it up I didn’t bring my camera (I didn’t want to lose it or drop it in the water). I wish I had. lesson learned.
We also got to see locals dancing in the street to celebrate Ganesha, the elephant god, who according to the Internet is also the patron of the arts, sciences and letters. My kind of God.
I nabbed this from the Internet (sorry it didn’t provide a byline) to give you a taste of what we saw. Our dancers weren’t throwing colors, but a couple we met said they were part of a dance like this in Delhi. Anyway, long story short I like a religion that celebrates with lots of dance and color!
The way they celebrate is a good metaphor for my experience of the country. It’s sweaty, it’s spicy, it’s colourful, it’s loud, and it is ugly and beautiful all at the same time. It’s coy and totally uninhibited. The traffic and constant beeping drives you insane, but it has its patterns and it surprisingly works — until it doesn’t. Then you wait until it’s time to pick up the frenetic pace again.
And it has all of this…
My experience with the visa process and then the airports (although Mumbai is a surprisingly beautiful airport) made me not want to travel to India again, BUT my experience there made me want to see more. I only had a few days in one of its corners, a lovely one and totally worth the trip; India I’ll be back. I don’t know when, but there’s plenty more to explore and experience.
Forgive my focus on all that green, but you see I see so little of it so it gives me joy.
It’s raining real rain — not the normal two-second tease — in Phoenix. It’s dark outside, the dogs are huddled by my feet (as if I could protect them), and my youngest is snuggled up in his bed sleeping his way through the storm. It’s an awesome morning to sip my coffee and share some more photos.
A few weeks ago Kyle moved from Colorado to Sedona, so on Wednesday Kaylene and I took a mother-daughter day to enjoy one of our favourite places on earth while getting the chance to visit our boy. We treated ourselves to a ‘room,’ which turned out to be a mini cabin. We loved it so much I’m thinking of booking a night there with Joe (because I now have a really good excuse to drive up to Sedona again, although does one ever need an excuse to visit living art?). I won’t waste your time bragging about how wonderfully awesome my kids are (hehehe guess I just did), but I will tell you how proud I am of my babies. Man oh man I have spent countless hours worrying about each of them and some of their choices, but this time I have with them now is proof that I need to just let them be and continue doing their adult thing their way. They’ve totally got this.
Kyle has learned that he is most grounded and most at peace surrounded by nature. He is finding his way, and I’m so glad Kaylene and I got to enjoy a bit of his happiness with him. Sedona is already proving to be a good move for him and his pooch Piper (if his dog nurturing skills are any indication of the kind of father he will one day be, I envy my future grand children). I also envy Kaylene and Aaron’s future babies. Ohhhh and I so want to write about them now too, but I’ll do that privately so you can get your chance to enjoy some pics of Sedona (and two of my amazing offspring). Long story short the three of us had a fantastic time together.
For those of you who’ve never been to Sedona it’s a must-see if you ever go to Arizona. It’s kind of the reverse of the Grand Canyon. When you see the Grand Canyon you look down (unless you’re one of the lucky ones who also get to hike to its bottom), when you go to Sedona you look up. Artists, psychics, naturalists thrive there. It’s a spiritual place thanks to its beauty, its connection to ancient times (use your imagination and you’ll see faces embedded in its walls), and its vortexes — although I honestly don’t know much about the vortexes. For me hiking through its woods and trails is magic enough; maybe its the vortex energy, maybe it’s not — who cares because it’s all good. So, please do make sure you hike as much as shop if you ever get a chance to visit. And hey if you’re into the psychic thing get a reading or buy a crystal while you’re at it.
Fun times with two of my kiddos
A boy and his dog…
So, this creek is right near where Kyle lives. THIS is where his dog gets to play every day while Kyle sometimes strums his guitar (sorry no guitar pics this time around). Lucky dog!
Aaron, my youngest, had to work so he couldn’t make this trip with us, but we’ve had plenty of mother/son lunches. Sadly since he still lives at the house we don’t think to take pics doing our thing together, but he’s as awesome to spend time with as his brother — and I’m gonna sneak some shots of him and post before I leave!
Next up? A weekend in Yuma visiting friends, and then Joe and I will have a few days up north by ourselves, and then I’ll cry my eyes out leaving the fam until we gather together again.