Great American Western Road Trip: Summer 2018

4 weeks, 3 kids, 1 van, 16 different lodgings, 5400+ miles, 12+ National or State Parks and Monuments adds up to 1 Epic Adventure.

American Southwest Family Vacation 2017

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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Get Your Coffee Fix While Living Abroad

October 1st, 2015 is International Coffee Day! I've heard it said that water is essential to life because it is used to make coffee. If you agree, then this is the post for you! I'm going to cover the whole chain, starting from where coffee is the drink of choice to exploring the differences between the variety of coffee beans (Arabica vs Robusta), the types of grinds (course vs fine), the different brewing processes (French press vs cold pour vs Keurig, etc), and the several ways to serve it up (adding sugar, milk, etc).

If you want to skip to a particular section:
Turkish coffee from our recent trip to Istanbul
Who Prefers Coffee to Tea
The world can be roughly divided into counties that prefer coffee or tea, and there is a high correlation with those that prefer ground and instant coffee. Where instant coffee is more common, tea is preferred. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about that. We live in Saudi Arabia, which you might think would prefer the Arabica bean variety but you'd be wrong: they prefer tea here...So I usually end up with instant at the office and grinding imported beans at home when I get my hands on them.
Country preference: Coffee or Tea
Country preference: Fresh or Instant Coffee
Why does this matter? Well, when you find yourself moving from country to country like we do, maintaining a daily ritual like making a cup of coffee becomes an almost a zen-like meditation in the refining of an art-form. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a coffee snob. I'm far more interested in being able to make a good cup of coffee than I am in telling people that I've tried kopi luwak (which I haven't, BTW). So that's why I've assembled the following coffee guides, tips, and tricks to help you make the best cuppa joe wherever you are.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Our Family Vacation to Turkey

This last week was a great time to get out of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: the schools were out for Eid al-Adha, the government was shut down because of the Hajj traffic, and many of the stores are closed as well. So our family went to Turkey.
I can't find the Blue Mosque anywhere!
More specifically, we went to Istanbul and Pamukkale. We had wanted to go to Cappadocia as well, but all the best things to do there require the kids to be a bit older for it to be worth the effort: they have to be at least 7 for hot air balloon rides, and big enough to ride a horse by themselves. Even so, we had quite a full trip.
The Travertines at Pamukkale
Journal pages from our trip:


Also, here's a couple of reasons why you shouldn't fly Royal Jordanian.

Related Posts:


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Going Home (DNZ-JED)

It's going to be a long day: We fly from Denizli, Turkey to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines then transfer to Royal Jordanian for a connecting flight through Amman, Jordan on our way back to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Let's just say things could have gone much more smoothly...

We woke up at 5am. Taking the bags out to the car, I discovered I had parked under a tree that was very popular with the avian population. The windscreen was so difficult to see through that we had to stop at first gas station, where an old Turkish guy with a bum leg washed off all the bird droppings. It took several attempts at other gas stations to fill up the rental car, as they seemed to become increasingly closed/abandoned as we approached the airport.
Economy class
We drove in to DNZ airport, where there were only two planes on the apron, Turkish Airlines and Pegasus. We got hassled at check-in because we had three bags totaling 31.5 kg for four people and were only allowed 8 kg per bag x 4 people (ahem, that's 32 kg total). So, Kacey called them out and pulled out a spare bag we had and started emptying out our bags until they were under 8 kg, during which time the line had grown so long that the check-in guy had to yield and gave us tickets without making us pay overweight charges.


The flight was uneventful, but things started to fall apart after that:

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Roman Ruins: Hierapolis and Cleopatra's Baths

After visiting Laodikeia and the Kaklik cavern, we drove up to the north gate of Hierapolis. Rather than walking up the travertines again, we walked through the Necropolis (City of the Dead) to get to our destination. Check out the view:
The walk wasn't long, but there is a shuttle bus that runs between the gate and the baths. We planned to take it on the way back, but a nice walk through the Turkish countryside seemed like just the thing to burn off some of the kids' post-lunch energy.

Over the centuries, this building has appeared to sink as the calcium deposits grow.
It almost looks like the structures are being washed away over a waterfall.
Otherworldly, isn't it?
The ridges aren't that deep, but there are so many of them that it adds up.


Cleopatra Baths at Hierapolis
Supposedly named for Cleopatra as a gift from Marc Anthony, this place is basically a naturally heated pool with a few unique characteristics.

Laodikeia and Kaklik Caverns

Having seen the travertines at Pamukkale yesterday, we decided to use today see more of the area surrounding Denizli. This included the ruins of Laodikeia, the Kaklik cavern (magarasi), more of Hieropolis and the Cleopatra mineral baths.
Ruins of Laodikeia
Laodikeia is the one of the largest and most important archaeological sites in Turkey today. That's why it is also on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Get this: Laodikeia has more buildings and bigger buildings than the Athens Acropolis, the biggest stadium in Anatolia, and is the only (ancient) city with two theatres.
Laodikeia also has a special significance and sacredness for the Christian world because of its churches. One of these, the Laodikeia Church, is dated back to the fourth century CE. Laodikeia considered as important as Ephesos (ie, Ephesians). And conveniently, it was maybe a 10 minute drive from our hotel.
We pulled up in a drizzle, but that cleared out quickly to a dramatic sky of golden sunshine and slate gray storm clouds. As you might imagine, quite a bit of the site has been excavated, and it's easy to see how one amphitheatre sat 12,000 people way back in the 1st to 5th Century. That's the same size as The Diamond, home of the Minor League Richmond Flying Squirrels baseball team.
RRR likes how it looks like the columns are holding up the clouds.
The ruins just go on and on and on

12,000 people could sit here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Pamukkale Travertines

The travertine terraces of Pamukkale are the result of calcium carbonate (commonly found in the shells of marine organisms, snails, pearls, and eggshells) that has settled out of the natural spring water bubbling and the place has earned recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The translation of "Pamuk-kale" is "Cotton-castle," if that gives you an idea of how large the formation is. We took an excursion there from Istanbul. You don't need to spend more than two full days or so there, but it's not hard to. Pamukkale is also an excellent alternative to Cappadocia if your kids are under 7 (because that's the minimum age for hot air balloons and horseback riding), because it's basically a natural water park connected to the Roman ruins of Hieropolis.

Istanbul to Denizli
We started the day at 3 am in Istanbul, having packed up our stuff after finishing dinner only a few hours earlier. The airport transfer picked us up on time at 3:30 am, and we were checked in and through security by 4:15 am. For our 6 am flight. So...what to do now? Fortunately, the bakery I stopped at on every trip to/from Adana was open and we got some pastries and milk. Or what I thought was milk, since I can't read Turkish. Well, that turned out to be a drinkable yogurt called "ayran." Which the girls didn't like.

I feel that I should point out that the only reason we knew which gate to go to was because I had previously checked the one functioning departures monitor during the 5 minutes that it had been showing the flight info. The rest of the time, all screens showed the data feed as "Not found." That bodes well, right?


We arrived at the Denizli airport without incident around 7:15, walked down the stairs and across the parking apron, through two sets of doors, and picked up our rental car (with car seat!) from EuropCar. I drove us through gray, drizzling rain for about an hour to the Sahin Hotel in Pamukkale. Our room was ready, but we were also upgraded to a room of the same cozy size but with a few more beds so that the girls could each have their own. Very thoughtful. One double bed and three singles in a room slightly larger than 14 x 14 ft, which only left room for an aisle 18 inches wide that ran from the door through the room to the bathroom. The nice thing about this hotel is that it is right next to the travertines and the view from the balcony is spectacular:

Monday, September 21, 2015

Istanbul - Golden Horn

Our last day in Istanbul was mostly spent riding around the Golden Horn. We started at the Egyptian (Spice) Market, then rode up a cable car to view the area, explored the Miniaturk theme park, and ended the day with a Bosphorus cruise.
RRR at the Spice Market in Istanbul
Egyptian (Spice) Market
We got out of the hotel fairly early and took the tram to the Eminonu stop for the Spice Market. It's much smaller than the sprawling Grand Bazaar, but can still be a bit overwhelming if you've never been to a covered bazaar before. It's basically an "L"-shape, which made finding the entrance just a little bit challenging because it was behind another building. We loaded up on tea and Turkish delights. Honestly, I'm not sure how we're getting all of this stuff home.
RRR can't decide which Turkish delights he like best
Our blonde girls had lots of requests to pose for photos.
Cable Car
From the Spice market, we hopped on the Big Bus blue line for the second half of our riding tour.
Big Bus Blue Line Map with attractions
The bus took us to the Eyüp cable car station where we rode up to the top for a decent view of the Golden Horn.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Istanbul - Taksim Square

Our second day in Istanbul was spent along the Big Bus red line. We visited the Dolmabahçe Palace, crossed the Bosphorus Bridge into Asia (and came right back), then walked from Taksim Square down past the Galata Tower, before riding the tram back to the hotel.
I see we shop at the same stores.
We had breakfast at the hotel, joined by several cats. If you didn't know, there are lots of cats in Turkey. And Turkey isn't named after the flightless fowl (which, come to think of it, is probably what attracted the cats), rather "Turkey" is the English spelling of  "Türkiye"...which sounds exactly like you would imagine someone with a Turkish accent saying "Turkey": as in "Turkia" of the Turks.

We're outnumbered!
Both of the kids melted down before we left the hotel (due in large part to being so tired from everything we did yesterday). We didn't get out of the hotel until after 11 am. But I'd anticipated that might happen, which is why today is mostly a hop-on, hop-off bus ride on the Big Bus red line.
The Big Bus Red Line map
We bought the 48-hour family pass tickets at the first stop which was between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia, as well as a Bosphorus cruise for tomorrow.


We boarded the open-top, double-decker bus and went up to the upper level. The kids were totally captivated and enjoyed listening to the audio descriptions of everything we were passing by.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Istanbul - Sultan Ahmet

For our first full day in Istanbul, we stayed mainly in the Sultan Ahmet area. This included the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, the Basilica Cistern, and the Grand Bazaar. We gave the Topkapi Palace a miss because the girls were getting tired, but after seeing a scale model of Topkapi at Miniaturk, we'll probably visit it the next time we are transiting through Istanbul.

Istanbul's Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque
We saw a long line wrapping around, walked into courtyard. On our stroll through the courtyard, we were met by a guy offering express service to the front line if we'd go to his carpet shop after visiting the mosque. Okay, sounds legit, right? He walked us right up to front where the cordons started and gestured for us to get into the line there (the line to get in wrapped around three sides of the mosque). I overheard folks behind us saying "They must be special." Interestingly, the abaya with hood that Kacey wears in Saudi Arabia wasn't up the mosque's standards for a head scarf, which was kind of ridiculous considering the degree to which the Saudi Religious Police will go to ensure conformity. Inside the Blue Mosque, the most overwhelming thing is how many lights there are hanging from ceiling, which pretty much blocks the view of everything else. Not really impressed, honestly.


Remember that bargain we had made to get free "VIP access" to the mosque if we would visit the nearby Melvana Rug store? Well, it was totally worth it:

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Old Town Jeddah (Al-Balad)

One of my co-workers organized a walking tour of Jeddah's old town, also known as Al-Balad. There is a lot of history there, and it's also really old. Like falling apart old. But that just adds to the ambiance.
We started at the historic British Legation where Lawrence of Arabia stayed.
RRR of Arabia
Then we crossed the street into the Al-Balad district.

Bab Medinah (literally, Gate to Medina) through which thousands of pilgrims used to pass.

Our guide also pointed out the historic American, Russian, Dutch, and French Embassies. Obviously, I liked the American Embassy, easily identifiable by its patina-green doors. The detailed stonework was quite impressive.

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