American Southwest Family Vacation

We followed historic Route 66 on our way to see the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, plus much more in New Mexico and Arizona.

End of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Here are our stories from two and a half years of living in Saudi Arabia while exploring the region.

Excursions to Oman

On two different trips, we strolled Muscat, hiked Wadi Shab, and sailed a dhow through the fjords of Musandam.

Our Expedition to Jordan

Highlights included tracing the steps of Indiana Jones into Petra, following Lawrence of Arabia into Wadi Rum, and floating in the Dead Sea.

Our Adventures in Sri Lanka

Safaris to spot leopards and elephants, swimming in the Indian Ocean, sipping tea in the mountains, and several more!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Snowboarding at Zell am See

Zell am See route map
For Thanksgiving, Kacey and I went down to the Austrian Alps to ski at Zell am See with a couple of friends. Actually, we went with another couple that I currently work with (and knew of while I was in Korea); and it just so happened that we ran into a second couple that I had also worked with in Korea. Small world.

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At the lodge, we all played Scrabble one night, and it was probably the only time I've been in a game that grew towards all four corners.
Highly Competitive Scrabble: I got a lot of heat for laying down "Vizier"
Kacey and I have been practicing our snowboarding skills at the indoor snow park Snowworld in Landgraaf, Netherlands...but come on. The Netherlands are flat. Famously so. And the Alps are, by definition, mountains. And being pretty much native Floridians, our time on actual slopes is very small. But we were prepared: helmets, kneepads, and lots of padding.
It's like falling into a postcard, only colder.
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Monday, November 19, 2007

Brugge (Bruges)

Ah, Brugge. Kacey and I agree that this is one of our favorite little towns in Europe.

Our favorite places are:
Bistro Den Huzaar
Galler Chocolatier












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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Budapest

The weekend getaway to Budapest was a blast.

We walked around the downtown on the 9th.

Took a dip in the Szechenyi Thermal Baths on the 10th. I decided to go outside my comfort zone and wear a swimsuit about the size of the one Daniel Craig wore in Casino Royale. And it's a good thing I did, as I think I rocked them and because all the locals were dressed the same. Interestingly, you could spot the Americans immediately because they were wearing enormous boardshorts that caused more people to stare at them for appearing to be too prudish.
























On the 11th, we tried to tour the Parliament building, but were the first people in line to not make it in for the day's quota. So we crossed the bridge and it began to snow as we walked around the bank overlooking the city. Very pretty.

The worst thing that happened this trip was a case of food poisoning. We were walking along in the cold, and I saw a little restaurant with some kielbasa on the outside grill that looked really good. I should have realized that something was amiss (but I was rather hungry and not thinking clearly) when the cashier took my sausage off the grill and popped it into the microwave. Ever heard the expression "Keep your hot food hot and your cold food cold" in regards to making sure you don't eat something that's gone bad? Well, I didn't heed this warning, and I ended up have a week long case of the worst food related sickness I've ever had and lost several pounds in the process. I won't be repeating that mistake. TOP:

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Schützenschnur

One of the Germans that I work with is a retired sergeant with the Bundeswehr (German Army) Reserves. His unit was participating in a Schützenschnur marksmanship qualification event and invited me to join them. Sweet! I was one of about five Americans there, along with several German (obviously), Belgian, and Dutch troops. There was even a group there from Switzerland. And they brought their knives! Fun fact: The Swiss military have to sign out their uniforms if they are leaving the country and return them promptly after returning due to Switzerland's neutrality policy.

So, back to the marksmanship event. While technically only for enlisted soldiers, officers can be awarded the badge but can't wear it on their uniform. It can be awarded in Bronze, Silver, or Gold and foreign troops (like me) can earn it. The other Americans and I spent the day rotating between the three firing positions: pistol, light weapon (rifle), and heavy weapon (machine gun). It was kind of confusing, but I kept close to my German friend to make sure I didn't miss a section. And it was good that I did, as there were actually two parts to the machine gun portion.

P8 Pistol
I started off with the pistol, which I'm most familar with. Not this particular model, however. The double-action was much stiffer than my 9mm service weapon, and I think that I over-corrected during my first attempt at firing it. That was kind of embarrassing, since the target was only a few meters away and it wasn't some small, pie-plate sized target. The target was a life-size silhouette of a person, and I missed at close range.  The pistol event has three targets and you get five bullets. To get the "gold" rating, you need to put a hole in each of the targets and have five holes total. Fortunately, there was no one behind me and I got to go again. This time, I got 5 for 5.


G36 Rifle
 The rifle event was a lot of fun. Normally, I shoot on a 25m range with increasingly smaller targets that approximate a target at a distance. Here, though, we actually went out however-many meters and took up a firing position there. And when we had to move to the next position, we walked side-by-side with the chambered round pointed downrange. It makes sense from an infantry training point of view, but it was quite different from my experience with the US Air Force M-16 training where nobody ever moved from their firing position. I liked firing the G36, but I ended up with a welt over my right eyebrow because the recoil pushed part of the scope mount into it. I fired this course twice as well because I missed the "gold" rating by one round the first time. It just so happened that I was in the last group to go on my second attempt, so I literally made "gold" with my last shot.

MG3
The machine gun was by far the best part of the day. The MG3 fires 7.62mm rounds at between 1000-1300 rounds per minute. We were given 15 rounds in the first part of the course and 20 rounds in the second part of the course. That's roughly 1 second of trigger pull in each part of the course. It was so fast that I had to be thinking "let go of the trigger" before I actually touched it.
The secret with keeping control while firing is to put your body weight into it, bracing the bipod from wobbling while you shoot. Being 200+ lbs, I was a pretty solid shock absorber. The target looked like a three-foot by four-foot drawing out of a child's coloring book, with a little house, some trees, and a field. Hidden in various areas of the drawing were the silhouettes of the bad guys, which were almost impossible to see from the firing line. We had to shoot something like four rounds into each of three targets to "get gold." What was nice was that we were allowed to look at the entire picture up close before shooting, so I picked my targets based on how easily I could triangulate them...I think that one was at the base of the tree, another at the left edge of the house, etc. It was my first time touching one of these weapons and I totally rocked it. The instructor was floored by how tight my patterns were...I may have missed my calling.


To earn the award, one must successfully shoot the German service rifle (G36), pistol (P8) and machine gun (MG3). The awarded grade is determined by the lowest weapon qualification.(e.g. if you qualify all gold and one bronze, you are awarded the bronze.) Because of how much attention I paid to the rules to ensure that I'd met all the requirements, I was the only American there that day to earn the Schützenschnur in Gold.
Oooo, shiny hardware!
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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Amsterdam

We drove up to Amsterdam this weekend just to tour the city.  For breakfast, we met up with Nathalie, a friend of mine from high school who is doing the doctor thing here. I think her story's interesting. She and her sister were born in Suriname a couple of years apart, but just so happen to straddle the date that Suriname became independent from Dutch rule. So one sister is a citizen of the Netherlands and the other is Surinamese. All the more interesting because they are of Chinese heritage, and in the local tradition kept the full name of the immigrant ancestor. So her last name actually looks like what is normally a full name in Chinese. Crazy, no?
  After parting ways with Nathalie, Kacey and I went over to the Anne Frank House/museum. It really was like stepping back in time to see how they lived in what were effectively crawl spaces. Being over six feet tall, I had a tough time just on the tour, let alone however long they lived like that. The noisy school kids in the group in front of us kind of broke the mood for us, as something like that would be better experienced in the hushed silence that likely existed back then.
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Monday, September 24, 2007

Oktoberfest!

This weekend was all about drinking and eating.
We'd found a store (C&A or H&M, I forget which one exactly) that had an entire floor selling dirndls and lederhosen. So we got some. Check it out:
 We met up with our friends at the Paulaner tent and got a table outside. I really don't know how many beers we had while we sat there for hours enjoying the gorgeous weather. I think we tried each type of beer that they offered. FYI, a radler is the perfect Sunday morning beverage: a lager mixed with lemonade. Delicious, refreshing, and just plain good.

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I also got a call from one of the superintendents back at the office (yes, he was working on a Sunday) about mid-way through asking me what he needed to give our boss to answer some random question that came up. I apologized for the noise in the background, as we were at Oktoberfest and the best answer I could give him to direct him to where on the network the file was most likely saved. It wasn't really something that I could have answered anyways, but I'm usually the "go-to-guy" when it comes to finding things in the archives.
Prost!
But back to the festival: if you have a chance to go, you should.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Munich, pre-festival

Kacey and I toured Munich with Mike's bike tours. This is one of those cases where revisiting a place with someone was more fun having been here before without them. We both like bikes, and tours, and this tour delivered. One of the highlights was getting bier mid-tour.


You can still see the bullet holes in the stone.


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I would have to say that this particular tour is a must for anyone 40 and under travelling without kids. It was just a really good time.
Refreshments in the biergarten
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End Of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

We spent two and a half years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on our second tour in the Foreign Service with the US Department of State. As you migh...

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