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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Vienna in Spring

There are times when it's good to go with the flow, and other times it's better to have a plan. Today had both. To set the stage, I'll start with my arrival at the Vienna airport with a co-worker who had also been to Vienna several times. While she was waiting for her bags to appear on the luggage carousel, I bought a round-trip ticket from the CAT (Vienna City Airport Train) kiosk that included a 72 hour U-bahn ticket for 34 euro. That covers all my transportation requirements until I board the plane to head home. Shortly after I got my ticket, a CAT worker posted a sign on the kiosk saying that the CAT was no longer in service due to a technical issue and I'd have to take a replacement bus into town. Fortunately, my CAT ticket was honored, but my co-worker purchased her bus ticket for far less. That was having a plan, but deviating from it.

After the bus dropped us off at Schwedenplatz, I figured out which direction we needed to walk to get to my hotel. As it turns out, only then did my co-worker realize that we were not booked at the same hotel. That would count as not having a plan. But, through some cosmic irony, it also turned out that her reservation at the other hotel had been cancelled when a third member of our group cancelled his trip and somehow also her hotel reservation (they were staying at the same hotel). Ultimately, she ended up at the same hotel as me, but that totally counts as going with the flow, don't you think?

Anyways, today was a fairly long and productive day discussing various aspects of our project, ranging from design issues to scheduling to security constraints. A fourth member of our team faced several delays on his trip into town, and when we couldn't wait any longer for him to arrive, I stepped up and presented the brief to the deputy chief of mission (the person right beneath the ambassador) that my absent coworker was originally going to give. The day ended some time after 5pm, and I hopped on the U-bahn to catch up with a larger group headed out for dinner at 6pm. I wasn't sure where they were going, but I decided to go with the flow and see where I ended up. I think I made it back to the hotel around 5:50 pm, giving me just enough time to drop my stuff and turn back around to walk over to the designated meeting point.

Biergarten Zum Englischen Reiter: The English Rider Beergarden
The dinner party ended up being around 13 people, and we rode the U-bahn up to Praterstern, where we walked through the Prater amusement park to the Biergarten Zum Englischen Reiter because we couldn't get reservations at Schweizerhaus. But it it worked out well, as our restaurant had good food, for cheaper, and was less crowded/noisy. Most of my group ordered either the "Stelze (pig knuckle) for two" or the spare ribs. Both are really good, and I recommend getting the radler, too.

Anyone up for some lemonade beer and Pig Knuckle?
Three orders of Stelze for two (left) and spare ribs (right)
After dinner, we somehow managed to waddle our way back through the Prater towards the U-bahn, stopping to race go-carts at 3.50 euro per ride. After one session on the track, my right arm felt sore enough to fall off, which is weird because it was generally a "turn to the left" kind of track. Maybe that was due to all the collisions. Continuing our journey, we saw all sorts of carnival-style rides and activities, including some sort of black-lighted bumper cars blaring Michael Jackson's "Thriller."
Hey Labyrinth...
See Vienna in a gigantic ferris wheel: the Wiener Reisenrad
Notice the colored lights embedded in the ground for festive lighting.
At the U-bahn station, I saw a poster than I'm sure is some play on the word Schadenfreude. I'm not sure it's really a transliteration, but if you know what the word means, then it probably gives you an idea what the movie is about...but I haven't seen it, so I can't confirm.
"The Other Woman" translates to "Die Schadenfreundinnen"
After riding back to the hotel, one of my colleagues and I went around the corner to Cafe Sacher for some coffee and the world famous Sacher Torte. As it happens, the Vienna Opera was also having a performance that was being piped outside the opera house, which is directly across the street from us. So we got to enjoy a decadent treat while sitting in a sidewalk cafe listen to live opera on a beautiful night.

Yeah, my job does not suck. 
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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Work-Life Balance with International Travel

One of the more challenging aspects of most jobs is striking the right work-life balance. The Foreign Service is good at throwing a few curves in there for good measure. For instance, at the end of the workday last Wednesday, I had planned on meeting up with my dad on Friday evening and do various things around D.C. with the family throughout the weekend. Which we did, so that piece of the puzzle is still in place.

The tricky part was that just Thursday morning, I was told that I needed to be in Vienna at the beginning of next week, for most of the week. So I spent the rest of the next two days working through my travel arrangements, authorizations, clearances, and preparations to get everything approved before the authorities left for the weekend. The timing of the trip also forced me to reschedule a class at the Foreign Service Institute I'd been looking forward to about the various facets of protocol. The bright side is that May 1 is a national holiday in Austria, and falls right in the middle of my work week. I'm not sure how productive that day will ultimately be, but I'm sure I will work more than I should.

This trip, like most of the others, also means that Kacey has to switch into single-mom mode. Part of this requires her to miss out on one of her evening soccer games that I would normally have been baby-sitting the kids during. If you didn't know, it's kind of difficult to find a sitter to stay until after 11pm (the end of the second set of evening games) on a school night.

So, why do I have to go now? I've got a project that is inside of a leased property where the landlord is having his contractor doing some structural work before we move in to do our own work. Having two contractors on the same site at the same time is never a good idea, as both will blame the other for causing delays...which costs money. So while construction management usually doesn't get involved in lease negotiations, I'm involved now to coordinate the landlord's schedule with my project's schedule. It's basically going to turn into an un-fun game of "I go, you go, I go, you totally should have been finished by now, I can't work until you get your stuff done..."

Oh, and if you're interested, the State Department does occasionally sell its old properties in case you were in the market for an embassy.
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Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Eighth Guardian

Ok, so this post is a shameless plug for my high school friend Meredith McCardle's first published book, The Eighth Guardian. It involves travel through time, so that kinda fits with a travel blog, right?
Anyways, I've had at least two other friends publish books, but this was the first time that I made it into the acknowledgements section. That means I'm published, doesn't it? I also received an advanced copy, signed by the author:
What does that inscription mean? Buy The Eighth Guardian (Annum Guard) to find out! Building 20, in case you don't know much about M.I.T., was a pretty awesome place.

In case you were wondering about the other two books by my friends (Lesley Kinzel and Michelle Au):

Ok, that last one isn't a book. It's the debut album of Demon Eye, the band that another high-school friend of mine plays guitar in. Be warned, it's full on metal, so get ready to Leave the Light.

Looking over this post, I feel both inspired by my friends' creative accomplishments and somehow a little more content with my own technical work, providing safe, secure and functional facilities that represent the U.S. government to the host nation and support our staff in the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives. Because we all have our strengths, don't we?
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Friday, April 11, 2014

Cherry Blossoms in DC

It's that time of year again, when hordes of locals and tourists descend upon the tidal basin and Jefferson Memorial to look at white and pink blossoms on the cherry trees. As opposed to spring break, or summer, or protests, or...

Fun fact: when it's windy, all bets are off as to whether you will see more blossoms on the trees, in the air, on the ground, or in the tidal basin. Also, if you're lucky enough to be able to go during the week, take advantage of it. The weekends are super-crowded.

The rest of the family went into DC from home during the middle of the day, but I met up with them after work by taking the metro to the Smithsonian station. Trust me, the traffic/parking situation around that area is reason enough to use the metro. Here are some of the better pics I took of our girls enjoying the day.


There are lots of uncrowded areas too.
Next to the paddle-boat rental dock
This area is kinda dusty, that's why they are in khaki.
No, the monument is not leaning.
For more information about the peak bloom time, parade schedules, etc, go to: www.NationalCherryBlossomFestival.org
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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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