Our Adventures in Sri Lanka

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

Our Nile Cruise

Starting in Cairo, we sailed to Luxor, Edfu, Kom Ombo, and Aswan.

Trouble at Sea: Our Red Sea Dive Trip in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia

The Red Sea is one of the top diving destinations in the world, but Saudi Arabia is a very restrictive country to get into. That alone would have made the trip memorable...but then things went south and the Saudi Coast Guard and a hospital got involved.

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.

Discovering Turkey

We emersed ourselves in Istanbul, explored the white travertines of Pamukkale, and traced history through Laodikeia, Hierolopolis, and Cleopatra's Baths.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Places, 2013

So, these are the countries that I visited for the first time in 2013:
Bringing me up to: ?? countries. Not that I'm counting...I probably should though.

And here's the Frequent Flier status I earned this year, which I mention only for kicks (because frequent flyer status doesn't really get you much these days):
OneWorld Status: Ruby
Star Alliance Status: Silver
Sky Team Status: Elite
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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Zoo Lights at the National Zoo

During Christmas time at the National Zoo, the whole place is lit up with all sorts of lights. And it's free! I had wondered if the noctural animals have any issues, but we actually didn't see any animals outside (other than the three two-legged ones we were herding). But you know what we did see? Lego Ginger bread men!

Red Panda

Blue Panda?

Kiwi

Elephants

Lego Gingerbread men on parade

A Gingerbread man about to fall off the edge of the world

Daniel Tiger Gingerbread house
So, yeah, a pretty good time, for free!
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A United States Botanical Gardens Christmas

I'm expecting to see more than Christmas trees during our tour of the United States Botanical Gardens. But to start things off right, we had lunch at the Mitsitam Cafe in the National Museum of the American Indian (a sampler platter of buffalo, salmon, and Brussels sprouts). Yum.

The USBG has an exhibit with trains & World's Fair structures crafted out of organic material that you have to see to believe.

US Capitol

US Supreme Court

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mount Vernon Night Tour

As a seasonal event, George Washington's Mount Vernon does a "Mount Vernon by Candlelight" program. Of course, candlelight is not good for picture taking, but here are my attempts.

GW needs lo lay off the bronzer.


Watching the dancers from outside

Of course there's a Christmas Camel.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Touring DC - White House & Pentagon

We got up really early to drive into downtown DC. Which most people don't do unless they live there because there's almost no parking. So we used the app from bestparking.com that was close and cheap (enough, at least by local standards). The tour starts at 0730, and we had to be there 15 minutes early, but the garages around here open at 7am. The White House tour website said not to bring anything except wallets, phones (which you can't use), keys, and umbrellas. Well, we got there and it's decorated for Christmas, and they let us take pics. But since we obeyed the website and only had smartphone cameras, the quality of the pictures in the rooms with multiple light sources are okay but could have been better. Also, wrangling two kids made it difficult to pause long enough to get something that wasn't slightly blurred. Kacey saw Sammy the dog on the lawn, but she was carrying our little one, so she didn't get a picture. To finish the tour, there was even a choir singing at the exit!





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Saturday, December 14, 2013

48 Hours in NYC - The Second Day

The primary reason we came to NYC this weekend was for our 4-yr-old to see the Broadway production of Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella. I wish that we were allowed to take video inside the theatre so that I could have captured her response to the pumpkin transformation. She was on the edge of her booster seat, leaning on the handrail in front of her, completely mesmerized by the action on the stage. Then the pumpkin transformed into a carriage like a flower bursting into bloom, and Cori was blown back in surprise like she'd been hit by a fairytale shockwave. That in itself was worth the trip. After the show, she said "That was much better than the movie" which is saying something...Cinderella is her favorite movie.

After the show, we went back to the hotel to change and get the little one. We then suited up for more snow and headed down to 34th street to see Macy's window displays. The kids were totally enamored by them. Oh, and in case you were wondering: You can get a black Santa by request.

Notice our snow-encrusted POD stroller dominating the weather


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Friday, December 13, 2013

48 Hours in NYC - The First Day

We Drove up from DC on friday. Traffic wasn't bad, but there were a lot of tolls. In some cases, it seemed like you paid a toll after crossing a bridge only to pay to go thru a tunnel before the next exit. Still not as bad as tolls to drive across France or that $600 parking ticket in Amsterdam. That said, it took an hour between entering the line for the Holland tunnel to the hotel in midtown because we hit it right as rush hour was begining.

After checking in to the hotel, we strolled down to Times Square, past Radio City Music Hall, then on to Rockefeller Center.
Not impressed. Golf clap.

RRR at Times Square

You should have seen the tree they fell off of...

RRR outside Radio City Music Hall

Ice Skaters at Rock Center
Dinner at TGIF was over-priced, but I ended up getting a margarita and the sampler platter. I split the drink with the wife and the meal with the kids. Not because I'm cheap, just because there really isn't anything that good on the menu. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in to a Tim Horton's that was staffed by one person who was also working the entire Nathan's hot dog counter. Not ideal.

Went back to the hotel and crashed for the night. Woke up for pancakes and discovered that it was also snowing. That works perfectly for us to see Central Park as a winter wonderland.
"Coat Sledding" down some snow-covered rocks

It's Little Red Riding Hood!
Alice in Wonderland Statue



We had to hustle a bit on the way back to the hotel to get the little one settled down for her nap and to be there when the sitter arrived. Thanks to Facebook, we were able to find a friend of mine in town with a caregiver they weren't using that day. If it weren't for her, the primary reason we made the trip would have been compromised.
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Friday, December 06, 2013

Another long flight home

Woke ~6am for breakfast, ran into my host (who I said goodbye to last night at the KFC dinner), had breakfast with him. Said goodbye, again. Ended up sharing the elevator with him. Said goodbye, again? Went to room to get bags, checked out and ran into him yet again leaving the hotel... where I said goodbye a fourth and final time (he's not going to the airport that I know of).

I arrived at the airport around 0720, and made it through two security checkpoints, picked up my boarding pass between them, and was at the gate 7 minutes later. The metal detector right at the street door made it very crowded, but the one before gate wasn't really. There are only two gates, A and B, on either side of the check-in counters. Small airport. But, while walking out to the plane, I could just make out the snow-capped Taurus mountains looming in the distance. They are bigger and closer than I thought, but it's odd that I hadn't noticed them until just now.

The flight itself was easy, staying awake proved more challenging, as I was up until 2 am local attempting to prime my body clock for the 7-hr time change. I probably fell asleep a few times, waking only as the beverage/snack cart came by. I always seem to regain consciousness just as the flight attendant is finished serving the row before mine. While I was still a little sleepy as we disembarked, I couldn't help but feel folks around me were being unnecessarily pushy.

I had to walk the length of the Istanbul international departures area as domestic transfers come from one side (the right, if you're facing passport control) and my "not-codeshared-with-Turkish-Airways" check-in counter is all the way on the other (left) side. After passing through security, I grabbed lunch in the food court, a döner durum, but it wasn't as good as others I've had (or for that matter, the inflated airport price either).  While walking around the terminal, I passed a yellow TravelersBox kiosk that would convert my money (from Turkish lira) and deposit into my PayPal acct (in USD). I'm interested in trying it, just wanted to understand their fee structure first. I went so far as to give them my email address, then got an email from their customer service team asking me why I didn't actually use the service.

During the flight from IST to LHR, the pilot came on to say "we'd like to apologize for the length of the flight, but we are flying into a rather strong headwind. It's a 180 mph headwind, so we are effectively going 180 miles per hour slower, every hour." So, yeah, there goes any free time at LHR.
We landed at 4, and the gates for my DC flight are closing at 4:45. I used the fast pass lanes, ran into a coworker returning from Helsinki (I think) after our Copenhagen meeting earlier in the week. Made it to the gate two train stops away with only minutes to spare, but along the way, I did see a cool mirrored art installation in Terminal 5 outside the lounges...which I found only after missing my turn for the train. On the plane, I settled in to my seat to watch Simon Pegg's The World's End, which was pretty hilarious. OK, so the epilogue was a bit flat and , but I guess the movie needed it. Excepting that one bit, I don't know that he's made a movie that's less than hilarious. 
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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Dusting things up in Turkey

Walked around site, perhaps my first while people were actively doing "real" construction as opposed to finish work. watched them pour some concrete, nearly run over a worker crouching out of view of the driver, attempting to dig a hole without shoring (to prevent cave-in). It seems like obvious stuff, but it's mostly just keeping folks from cutting corners.Or getting run over by dump trucks. You know, the usual.

We ordered lunch through the post staff, and ate in the dining room. Somebody told me that it wasn't real Turkish food because there were "no flies," which was kind of awkward. A few emails and more face-to-face chats to get a better picture of things than I can sitting in DC, followed by a cab ride to the mall.
Do you want to take the car or the horse to the mall?
We had dinner at "Kenturkeyfried chicken." It's really a KFC, but I thought that nickname was funny. There seem to be around two to three dozen restaurants in the food court, but our contractors apparently only eat a select few and those are predominantly American chains. Normally, I'd eschew these places in favor of something more local, but one of the guys in our group ate at KFC so much that the staff treated him like was Col Sanders and shook his hand. And I wanted to see that. Apparently, and even funnier, when he didn't eat there (like the days he cheated on them in plain view at McDonald's), they sent a coffee over to him. Oh, and there were flies on the KFC. Go figure.

After dinner, I bought Turkish delights at another store in the mall and spent the next two hours in the executive lounge at the hotel drinking wine, talking business, and telling life stories. Overall, not too bad a day.
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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Denmark to Turkey

Boarded the Turkish airlines flight to Istanbul. The flight attendants were handing out Turkish delights before take off. Sweet. Literally. Before i left dc, My 4 yr old demanded that i bring TDs back with me. Hopefully, she's learning geography along with gastronomy. The inflight meal included Turkish wine...very dry white. And the inflight movie, for the whole ac was Elysium...again. but this version censored some of the most graphic scenes, which kind of muddled the vignettes. But I was kind of glad they didn't play the scenes where they cut into matt Damon to install the exosuit while I was eating my stay chicken. I'd still recommend the unedited version (for age appropriate viewing, of course). 

Landed in Istanbul without incident. Made my way to the visa line, which was empty. Last time I went through (link), the entire serpentine was full. This time, I walked straight up to the counter. After getting the visa, I doubled back to the ATM across from customs, but it was out of order. Since I remembered the immigration line for  Diplomatic/Crew was all the way to the right (counter number 31 I think), I blew through customs and found a whole bank of bank ATMs between the international and domestic terminal. So, with cash in hand for the taxi at the other end of my next leg, I could relax for about an hour before we board. Overall, this transfer through IST has been orders of magnitude easier than the (link) last time. I'll grant that some of it was due to prior knowledge, but mostly it's because I don't feel herded by an over-anxious colleague. 

Dinner was airport "gourmet " pizza and Cappy karışık (mixed fruit) drink around the corner from my gate (which is adjacent to a Starbucks). Irony: a world famous coffee shop sells watered down / highly sweetened coffee in a place renown for strong Turkish coffee. Less ironic, but more than a little sad: the toy store in the terminal has a pink "girls" aisle chock full of blond haired, fair skinned Barbie's but only one doll that looks like most of the girls and women around here who have dark hair and olive complexions. And that doll is a fairy.


These don't really look like the Turkish girls that they're being marketed to.

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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Copenhagen in December

It started with a traditional Danish breakfast - strawberry yogurt/bacon/sausage/egg/danishes and lots of coffee. I spent the morning in an orientation meeting for one project that included guided tours of the mechanical rooms, so I was squeezing by/between actively spinning machinery while simultaneously imagining that my surroundings would make a good movie setting (claustrophobic, utilitarian, industrial). You know, where the bad guys ultimately meet their demise. 

After the "tour", we went to Halifax burger for lunch. It was a good meal before getting down discussing bonds. Contractual bonds. That sounded more 007 in my head that it probably did to you. Specifically, I got to learn a good deal about performance and payment bonds. What are those? Well, in short, a company gets these bonds from a bank to guarantee to us that--should the contractor fail to deliver on their end of the contract--the costs we incur are covered (to an extent). Anyways, we ran into problems with a Danish contractor and were forced to demand the bond payment. Normally, that's not that complicated. However, we had a contract governed by American contract law (for work in Denmark) with a Danish contractor who employed subcontractors according to Danish law. We had two contractual bond requirements, one of them covers us from the bankruptcy of the prime contractor and the other covers the subcontractors so that they get paid for the work they did. Anyways, the meeting lasted until almost 6pm. 

So, on the way back to the hotel, we unwound at Bistro Boheme with a glass or two of Riesling. Nice. After a quick stop at the hotel to drop my work stuff and pick up my camera, I headed down to the Strøget walkplatz. It's all decorated for Christmas:
A curtain of light

Massive ornaments

Funny how Christmas decorations can make a street look like the Red Light District.

So many naughty puns for this picture...

RRR at the Christmas Market

Holiday hearts

Christmas, merry you should have.


The following morning I slept in, followed by a large breakfast. Finally left hotel at 1015. Walked to metro, only to realize that it takes coins and chipped cards only. One day, Denmark, I will have the right combination of financial tools to buy a metro ticket from your kiosks! But not today. I changed a bill at the magasin convenience store to get a ticket to the airport. Arrived at 1045 and did the auto check in. Interestingly, 1) the kiosk said my flight was at 1130, but boarding pass said correct time of 1230. Unnecessary stress. 2) couldn't select exit rows at kiosk, but was able to switch at gate. Stress relieved.

Also, when the little mermaid travels, she apparently takes rocks as carry-on. Presumably, they are over the weight limit for checked baggage.
The Little Mermaid at Copenhagen Airport


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Monday, December 02, 2013

More time at LHR

So, like much of America, I took some time off for Thanksgiving with family. Unfortunately, the demands of my job had me flying out of DC on the Sunday night after Turkey Day...meaning that our 14+ hour drive back from Florida would be increased due to all the other holiday traffic. Originally planning to leave Florida on Friday and get home on Saturday, our little one had a bad night and we stayed in town another day to let her bug pass while making sure we weren't going to be on a road trip with a vomiting kid in a car seat. But that basically meant that I'd be getting home, changing clothes and hoping in a cab to the airport. The only thing that made it possible was that I'd pre-packed before leaving for the holidays.

My flight out was one of the latest ones I could schedule, just in case we needed more time due to traffic on the drive home. Seriously, DO NOT DRIVE I-95 THE WEEKEND AFTER THANKSGIVING. There were like 5 accidents between Richmond and DC. So we took US-1 and avoided much of the delay. After executing my turn-and-burn plan, the cabbie picked me up and it was actually a quick ride to Dulles while discussing the politics of Ghana (his homeland) with him. The check-in line was ridiculously long and immobile. I got there 2.5-3 hours before my flight, and while standing in the line to check in, found it easy to download the app, only discover that code-share flights are a pain to check in on a phone. And the line still hadn't moved. But having now checked in, I just walked up to the priority desk (thanks to my recent Oneworld status upgrade) and asked them to print my boarding passes for me. And, since it's a code share flight operated by a foreign carrier, I couldn't use the TSA-PreCheck to get through security. But still, after all that potential for delay, I made it to the gate in about an hour. A little while later, I heard folks talking that it was taking ~15 minutes per person on the On-line check-in queue. So much for fast and convenient.

One of the first things I do when I'm booking a flight is check SeatGuru.com to see whether or not I can get a see with a power outlet (many seats on international flight have one). And, lo and behold, this British Airways jet does have a power outlet under my seat. For a British plug. Seriously? What good is that to anyone? Especially someone like me that didn't find it necessary to bring the bulkiest adapter ever along with the slimmer two-prong Euro plugs?
On the left: What the outlet wanted me to plug in.
On the right: What I had to plug in.
So discouraging was this discovery, I put my charger back in my jacket pocket and stored it in the overhead. Only to realize after take off that there was also a USB port in the back of the seat in front of me (just below the LCD screen) that my adapter would connect to. But by then, it was too late to get out the charger and I'd already gotten hooked by the movie I'd started watching --Elysium. However, this flight over was the first in recent memory that I was able to fall asleep after watching a movie and a few episodes of Modern Family. Don't get me wrong, it was a pretty good movie, and it kept my interest throughout as I wasn't sure what was going to happen. But I do think that the space station reboot should have also interrupted whatever atmospheric retention system there was (but the design engineers probably had included back-up generators for just such a contingency)...

Anyways, my slumber was likely induced by the double-whiskey I'd had to try and kill whatever cold or flu seems to be gaining ground in my throat. I also tried to burn it out with the curry chicken dinner on the plane and the firecracker chicken at Wagamama in Heathrow's Terminal 5. Both were good, but I'm actually looking forward to my return connection through LHR on the way home to try some more dishes at Wagamama.

Nothing really eventful from LHR to CPH, but my hotel room is ridiculously drafty. It was an "upgrade" with floor-to-ceiling glass doors looking out on the harbour, but the Scandinavian winter is clever about getting through the floor-to-ceiling door hinges. Brrrr.

What is this, a greenhouseboat?

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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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