From Jamie's Philippines Pics

We have also had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places in China, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Bali. We have archived all of our travels and living experiences abroad; and if you wish, you can read about our adventures by finding the archives on the right of this page and by checking our Photo Album.

We appreciate all of our family and friends who have stayed in touch and emailed us with encouraging words throughout the year. We hope you will continue to keep us in your thoughts as we continue our adventure of living abroad teaching at an international school. For those who have stumbled upon our site, check out the "About Eric and Jamie" section on the right for more information.

Thanks for checking us out!

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."
- Mark Twain

"Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends."
- Maya Angelou






Skype: "ericandjamie"



Sunday, August 21, 2011

St. Lucia Babymoon 2011 - Touring

From St. Lucia

Day 4 and 5

We rented a car for Thursday and Friday to drive around and see the sites of the island.  We also rented some snorkel gear in hopes of seeing some reefs, coral, and fish along the beaches.  With our map, we headed south the first day to Soufriere, most known for the two large pitons that are the symbols of the island. 

It was the first time I had driven on the left hand side of the road, and the roads themselves were very curvy up and down the hills.  I managed just fine for the two days of driving and actually liked it after a while.  The route to Soufriere is especially winding and takes an hour and a half to drive there.  Once we arrived, we saw the botanical gardens and the Diamond waterfall. 

One of the nicest and most known resorts on the island is the Jalousie Plantation, centered between the two pitons. We ate lunch there on their private beach, then headed back toward Marigot Bay.  On the way back, we stopped at Ti Kaye Village and Anse Cochon beach for some snorkeling on their black sand beach. It was nice but not spectacular.  Since we are driving, we aren’t privy to the nicer snorkeling locations on the island that the boat tours have. 

We stopped a local grocery store on the way home to buy some food to cook for dinner.  Our villa has a full kitchen, but we did not want to buy a bunch of ingredients, so we opted for pork chops, broccoli, and a baked potato.  It worked out nicely. 

Day 5

We headed out mid morning to the northern part of the island, known mainly for its nicer resorts and more upscale shopping.  The town of Castries is the capital and we quickly drove through it and made our way to Pigeon Island National Park, where we spent the day on the beach there relaxing, snorkeling, and just enjoying the park.  A Sandals resort is right next to the park, so it is a nice location, albeit hard to find due to the lack of signs that appears to be a problem on the island. 

After a dessert at Marble Slab, we made our way down to Anse La Raye, a small fishing village where every Friday night, they have a seafood street festival complete with music, dancing, and a wonderful seafood variety of just about anything you can think of.  We had plates of crab cakes, shrimp, conch soup (a local dish), as well as several side items.  Great great food and a nice atmosphere that shouldn’t be missed by anyone on the island on a Friday night. 

Great two days of traveling at our pace.  Had we gone on a sailing tour, it would have been more scenic, but we would have had to be on their schedule.  With Jamie 30 weeks pregnant, we decided this was the best way to see the sites.  The next few days will be spent enjoying our villa and hanging around Marigot Bay.

St. Lucia Babymoon 2011

From St. Lucia

Day 1

Jamie and I used our skymiles to book a week in St. Lucia.  This will be our final vacation before the baby arrives.  We had wanted to go there for our honeymoon four years ago, but the price didn’t fit the budget at the time.  With the skymiles, we were able to book our flight then we found a villa to rent for the week at Marigot Bay.

Marigot Bay is the location for the 1960s movie Dr. Doolittle.  It is a beautiful sea green and blue bay on the western side of the island. 

The direct flight from Atlanta took us to the main airport on the southern side of the island.  For a steep government regulated taxi fee of $75, e can get to your resort or villa.  Only an hour ride, but the whole island is only 27 miles long and 14 miles wide.  Rough terrain and windy roads make driving a bit difficult, but natives navigate them with ease.

We were dropped off at the porter station and ferried across the small bay to our side.  We rode a little lift to the top of a small hill where our villa at the Oasis Marigot Ocean Cottage #3 waited us about 50 steps from the lift. 

The villa is complete with a king size bedroom, full size bath (shower a little finicky because it is operated through rain water), dining room, living room, and kitchen.  A huge balcony overlooks a plunge pool and the entire bay.  Wonderful tropical setting.  There are actually 4 rooms to this villa, but no one else is here this week, so we have all of the public places to ourselves. 

We ate a Doolittle’s restaurant just at the bottom of the lift the first night.  Good food, but a bit overpriced in our opinion.

No air conditioning in the villa which we thought would be a problem.  We requested an extra fan, so we had them set up in either the living room or the bedroom depending on where we were hanging out. 

Our taxi driver stopped at a grocery store for us before dropping us off, so we picked up some breakfast groceries for the week. Day 2 and 3 were spent mainly hanging around our villa or going over across the bay by the ferry to look around the small village.  We ate lunch in the villa and once ate at a place in the village. Dinner was at a place called JD’s, only reachable by ferry.    

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Brown Family Vacation - Day 20 and Reflections

From Yellowstone National Park

Ft. Smith, AK to Calhoun, TN

We left early in the morning after a wonderful breakfast at the hotel.  Guesthouse Inn is quite nice despite it being probably 2nd least expensive hotel of the trip.

We changed drivers several times, at lunch at a Zaxby's, dropped by and picked up Papa John's for dinner, and made it back to Calhoun right at 12 hours.  Long day of driving but it really wasn't that bad.

We cleaned out the van and then reflected on the trip. There were 19 major locations we saw during the trip.  In order of appearance, they are...

St. Louis Arch
Corn/Wheat Fields of Midwest
1880's Western Town
Badlands National Park
Mt. Rushmore
Black Hills National Forest
Devil's Tower
Bighorn National Forest
Yellowstone National Park
Grand Tetons National Park
Crater Lake National Park
Oregon Coastal Road
Redwood National Park
Napa Valley
San Francisco
Sequoia National Park
Las Vegas
Grand Canyon National Park
Petrified Forest National Park/Painted Desert

I asked my family to rank their top 5 locations.  The following lists the top 5.  The top 3 really aren't that much of a surprise, but the last 2 might be considering that we didn't know we were going through them.  The remaining of them were not even close.  A couple of surprises in here I thought, but overall a solid list for anyone wishing to travel.  Keep in mind of the diversity of ages and experiences where the votes came from...

Grand Canyon National Park - No surprise here as 3 people listed it as their number 1 choice; however, 3 people didn't rank it all.  Nonetheless, the Grand Canyon is probably a highlight of any trip out west.

Yellowstone National Park - 6 of 7 people ranked the park in their top 5, which some could make it a case at being #1 on this list.  We'll stick with it at #2 in accordance with total points though.  Again, no surprise considering all that we saw there, including a bear.

Redwood National Park - 5 of 7 people ranked this in their top 5, and one of the people who didn't had already been there before.  One person ranked it #1. The redwoods are majestic, and the highlight was the short 1.5 mile walk through these towering trees.

Crater Lake National Park - 5 out of 7 people ranked this one.  We made a last minute decision to go here and diverted from our plan.  Lucky that we did because it outranked some other popular spots and one person ranked it #1.

Big Horn National Park - The largest surprise on the list, but the drive through here it quite impressive.  Only 3 people ranked this but one ranked it first and two ranked it 2nd, so the points added up quickly.  Surprising still because we re-routed to drive through here not knowing how rewarding it was going to be.  The winding road through the mountains were worth the extra time which also got us to Cody, WY and closer to Yellowstone.

There it is.  The top 5 locations as voted on by the Brown family.  Feel free to agree or disagree if you have been to these locations.  Anyone wanting advise if you are traveling through these areas, feel free to email me. Also, don't forget to see all of the locations and photos on our PICASA PHOTO ALBUM.

Dad just said that it wasn't fair to rank these and that the best thing about the whole trip was us all being together for it.  I couldn't have said it better....

Brown Family Vacation - Day 18 and 19

From Petrified ForestPainted Desert

Day 18

Holbrook, AZ to Amarillo, TX

A nice little breakfast started out our day and we made our way first to this large store outside of Petrified Forest National Park called Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co.  Great store that gave you a ½ pound of free petrified wood.  I bought a couple of samples to show my students but the store had a wonderful variety of wood and gemstones to see. 

We mainly just drove through the Petrified Forest and also made our way through the Painted Desert which you really have to in order to get back onto the Interstate.  It was all interesting enough with some crazy landscapes.  I would have like to get out and walk around a little, but it was just a drive through sort of thing.

From here on out, it will be driving time.  We probably won’t stop to see too much.  We have to be back by the 27th so we can clean up the van and get it back by the 28th.

We ate lunch in Sky City, NM at a McDonald’s.  Sky City has a city on top of a mesa that is the oldest continuously occupied city in North America, or so they say.  We didn’t stop to see it though and moved on to Amarillo, TX for the night where we stayed at a Day’s Inn.  We ate dinner at Outback Steakhouse to celebrate Samantha’s 15th birthday.

Day 19

Amarillo, TX to Ft. Smith, AK

Driving day again today.  We left Amarillo and drove through the panhandle of Texas and into Oklahoma. We were around Oklahoma City for lunch and drove past the bomb site memorial.  It was threatening rain and parking and driving downtown was a disaster, so we didn’t stop and fully explore. 

We ate lunch out of the box and moved down the road finally stopping at Ft. Smith, Arkansas.  We stayed a wonderful hotel called the Guesthouse Inn and ate a mediocre dinner at TGIFridays.  

Brown Family Vacation - Day 17

From Grand Canyon

Flagstaff, AZ to Holbrook, AZ

Grand Canyon Day!  Staying at Flagstaff is a good location because it is only about 80 minutes to the South Rim of the Canyon.  We had breakfast in the room and headed north toward the canyon.  The Grand Canyon has a ton of things to do, but we knew going in that the only part of this trip was to view it from the rim, enjoy it magnificence of it, and move on.  I will no doubt be back to the Grand Canyon one day to do helicopter, mule to the bottom, rafting, or other things when you have more time.

There is literally no way for someone to describe the feeling you get when you first see the Grand Canyon.  I won’t bother to do it here because I am neither poetic nor capable of doing so.  I will say that it is a site that everyone must see in their lifetime whether it is to just stop and see it from the rim or fully explore. 

They are doing some wonderful work there, so the new visitor’s center isn’t quite finished, but people do not go to see the visitor’s center. 

Lunch today was at a Wendy’s outside the park and we drove on down to Holbrook, AZ, a place chosen because it was just outside the Petrified Forest.  We drove by Meteor Crater but was unable to see it because it was closed for the day.  It would have been spectacular because it is the best preserved crate in the world almost a mile across and over 3 miles in circumference.  Maybe one day.

We stayed at a nice little Travelodge in Holbrook, ate out of our lunch box, and Mom, Jamie and I took a long walk that night while seeing a pretty sunset. 

Tomorrow, we begin our drive home.  We have broken it up into 7 hour driving days, but we’ll see how that goes.  

Brown Family Vacation - Day 16

Las Vegas, NV to Flagstaff, AZ

Shorter day today.  We left Vegas later in the morning.  Amy and Samantha had heard about a replica Simpson’s house outside of Vegas in Henderson.  After a great, late breakfast at Dunkin Donuts, we went found the Simpson’s house only to be disappointed to find out that it had been sold, repainted, and turned into just another regular house in that neighborhood.  Too bad really because it would have been a great stop especially considering the Simpson’s fans in our bunch.

We then made our way to Hoover Dam, only to be disappointed again for 2 reasons:  1)  There way no way for mamaw to get to the visitor’s center via escalator or elevator due to her pacemaker.  2) It cost $8 per person just to get into the visitor’s center, but that does include the tour.  Dad’s legs were killing him from our walk in Vegas, so we decided to bypass the tour and visitor’s center and drive across the dam instead. Again, no pictures today because we didn't really get out plus I already have pictures of Hoover Dam.  

We drove on to Flagstaff where we stayed at this nice little Budget Inn for the night and ate at Cracker Barrel with dessert at Dairy Queen.  Jamie and Amy were gracious enough to go do our laundry.  

Brown Family Vacation - Day 15

Bakersfield, CA to Las Vegas

We left somewhat early and after a quick wrong turn made our way with a 5 hour drive to Las Vegas.  We stayed at the Imperial Palace, which I like because of its decent price and central location on the strip.  Nice places were available for the price but would have put us further down the Strip.  IP is also located across from Caesar’s Palace and on the monorail line. 

After lunch at Cheesecake Factory at Caesar’s Palace, we rested up for a little while and some hit the pool.  We then headed out to see some of the casinos and some that the Vegas strip has to offer.  It had been about 5 years since I had been there with Jamie, and they have actually built a couple of new casinos on the strip. 

We took the monorail down to MGM but the lions had already been put up for the night.  We saw M&M World and all of the street performers dressed up in characters.  We got a quick snack while walking around New York, New York, then made our way up the strip by walking to see the fountains of the Bellagio. 

Everyone was pretty tired from the walking, so most made their way back to the rooms.  Amy and I headed out to play some blackjack until late in the evening. 

Too little time in Vegas, but it was enough to see it at night and experience some of the larger casinos.  Always more to see in Vegas, but I know we’ll be back.  No pictures because I had already been there and had some pictures from before. Tomorrow, we’ll make our way to Flagstaff, AZ to prepare for the next day at the Grand Canyon.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Brown Family Vacation - Day 14

From Sequoia NP

Fresno, CA to Bakersfield, CA

We got a late start but headed out toward Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park today.  We had no idea how large the park was and what we were going to be able to see and decided our plan once we got there.

After talking to a ranger, we decided to forego the Kings Canyon part of the park.  This is unfortunate, but I'm sure we'll be back to see it some other time.

We first went to see General Grant, a massive tree that is near the visitor's center.  We then took the winding road down toward the main part of the Sequoia NP to see General Sherman, the world's largest tree by volume.  It isn't the tallest nor the oldest, but one statistic said that if you filled it up with water, you would have enough water to take a bath every day for 27 years.  We ate lunch near there at a very peaceful picnic site.

One the way out of the park, they were doing road construction on the curviest road I have even been on.  They only let cars through the area at the top of the hour, so cars were backed up for quite a ways and it took them a long time to get through the one lane construction.  It took us nearly an hour and a half to get down off of the mountain.

We finally arrived at Day's Inn in Bakersfield and found a Chik-Fil-A to eat at.  Sweet!

Tomorrow, we'll take the 5 hour drive to Las Vegas and see some of sin city, with or without the sinning.

Check out our pictures of the Sequoias!

Brown Family Vacation - Day 13

From San Francisco

Vallejo, CA to Fresno, CA

It wasn’t on the schedule, but we were able to swing by San Francisco today.  You could easily spend a week here, but we only had a few hours.  We decided to take a small quick driving tour to see the sites and ended up eating right next to the Golden Gate Bridge.  We drove the steep streets, saw Lombard Streets, Chinatown and some of the Victorian Houses.  Hard to take pictures because we didn’t actually stop, but I have a feeling Jamie and I will back to San Francisco very soon to fully explore.

Lunch was amazing as we ate at a park in San Fran but watching this giant fog cloud roll in and completely cover the GGB.  It was only at the very top of the bridge when we sat down to eat, but it slowly covered the entire bridge including when we crossed it to leave.

A somewhat quick and easy 3 hour drive took us to Fresno, CA where we booked a place at the Comfort Inn.  Dinner was Olive Garden that night and it was quite yummy.  Fresno puts us only an hour away from Kings Canyon and Sequoia NP, so we’ll be seeing it tomorrow.  Not many pictures today, but I’m sure I’ll have plenty of the sequoia tomorrow.

Brown Family Vacation - Day 12

From Napa Valley

Eureka, CA to Vallajo, CA

We left Eureka and headed south down US101 toward Napa Valley.  Along the way, we were able to see some more redwoods and even stopped in one of those places where you can drive through one of them.  These are privately owned places, and our van was too large to drive through, but we stopped and got some pictures of others driving through and us walking through it.

We arrived in Napa Valley and had some time to kill before our guided tour we had set up.  We ate lunch at a little picnic area outside of a petrified forest.  Not THE petrified forest, but this place claimed to have the largest petrified trees in the world.  Privately owned, but we didn’t tour. 

We drove around to and through some of the vineyards seeing the architecture and views of Napa Valley.  We arrived at our tour of Castella di Amorousa, an Italian castle built in 1972 but not opened until 2006. The tour was very informative and I think we picked a winner of vineyards to tour. The wine tasting at the end was excellent and mom and dad even had some shipped back home. Check out the pictures to see what we saw.
Our stay that night was just south of Napa Valley in Vallejo, CA at a little Regency Inn which put us pretty close to San Francisco for tomorrow’s adventure. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Brown Family Vacation - Day 11

From Redwood National Forest

Coos Bay, OR to Eureka, CA

We woke up this morning and headed out immediately south on US101 down the Oregon Coastal Road.  Again, we stopped a few times, but this morning it was raining and very misty and foggy, so visibility was not very good.  Once we arrived in California, it had cleared up, which was fortunate because our next stop was to see the Redwoods at Jebediah Smith Park.

We stopped by the visitor's center and received some information before heading off on this gravel road.  2 miles into the road, we stopped and took a 1.5 mile hike into the depths of the forest to see the trees.  I really can't describe the beauty of these tree and how large they are.  You can see some pictures in our PHOTO ALBUM, but I'm not sure it'll do them justice.

We left our hike, ate lunch at Crescent City Beach, and moved down the coast again.  We had a tip from the ranger that there was a gray whale upriver in Klamuth and that we could stop and see it.  We found the spot and was able to catch some great glimpses of a gray whale and her baby calf.  Very beautiful.  We were able even to see some friendly otters that swam next to the whales.  A bear and a whale in the wild in the same trip!

We stopped for the night at Eureka and stayed in the Town House Motel and ate at Long Coast Brewery, which turned out to be excellent food.   Tomorrow, we'll hit up wine country in Napa Valley.

Check out the Redwoods pictures and check back for more of this already amazing trip.

Brown Family Vacation - Day 10

From Oregon Coastal Road

Roseburg, OR to Coos Bay, OR

We drove up I5 until we reached US20 (which is the longest road in America stretching from Boston to Newport.  I was wanting to drive by the University of Oregon, but it was raining and it was a little off the road, so we opted out.  We were able to see Oregon State, which is in a neat little town.  

We arrived at Newport and finally saw the Pacific coast.  Newport is a fishing village and the downtown area reminded me of Gatlinburg as a fishing village. We ate lunch at Mo's which was some great seafood right on the water.  

We then headed down the Oregon Coastal Road US101 stopping every so often for some pictures.  It is a wonderful drive that I highly recommend.  Great for outdoorsy types who want to get out and hike and see some wildlife and foliage.  

We winded our way down the coast until we arrived at Coos Bay and stayed at a little place called the Southside Hotel just off 101.  

We ate Taco Bell because it was right across the street.  In Taco Bell, there was a strange drifter in there who tried to start something with me.  Jamie and my mom were with me, and I basically ignored him and walked on.  Once I saw him walk by the hotel and see where we were staying, I called the police.  Not sure what happened to the guy but he seemed a bit addled.  The hotel owner said he had problems with him before and he was in and out of prison.  Interesting...

Tomorrow, we'll make our way down the coast again and into California where our big stop for the day will be to see the Redwoods.  Check out pictures!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Brown Family Vacation - Day 9

From Crater Lake NP

Burns, OR to Roseburg, OR 

We left Burns, OR early to head out to Crater Lake National Park. It took us almost 5 hours to get there, but it was definitely worth the derivation from our route. Crater Lake is one of the most beautiful places I have seen. It rivals the Philippines Islands and even Yellowstone. Today was especially nice because even though it is July 15, there was still snow everywhere and it was a sunny day.  This caused the lake to be especially blue and clear and you had the green of the trees and the white of the snow.  Pictures turned out great!

We ate lunch along the rim at the visitor’s center and just enjoyed the views. Crater Lake was formed from a volcano that erupted 7700 years ago. The mountain basically collapsed onto itself leaving a 5 mile wide crater.  Eventually, rain and snow filled the crater to form a freshwater lake. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the US and the 7th deepest in the world.  Stunning views which you only have to see to appreciate and understand.

From Crater Lake, we drove about 2.5 hours to Roseburg and stayed a great little Howard Johnson.  We arrived early, so everyone was able to rest then headed out for some BBQ at a local place called Charley's.  Make sure you check out the pictures of Crater Lake in our PICASA PHOTO ALBUM.

Tomorrow, we'll head north toward Newport, before heading south on the Oregon Coastal Road.  

Brown Family Vacation - Day 8

Idaho Falls, ID to Burn, Oregon

Driving day today.  We were all pretty tired after a hard 3 days of touring and traveling, so today was a day to take it a little easier.  We are a couple of days ahead of schedule, but we needed to keep moving a little west.  We are very unsure of how our California touring will take place, so we want to make sure we keep up the pace without exhausting everyone. We drove through the morning and had a great lunch at Cracker Barrel in Boise, ID. Our stop for the night was 4 hours west into Oregon at a town called Burns at a Days Inn.  I was able go to a local gym and even get some work done on my Chapter 5. Dinner was from our lunch box that has come in quite handy.  

We are changing our plan of driving to Newport, Oregon tomorrow and opting to go to Crater Lake National Park instead.  It probably will add about a half day to our schedule, but we think it is worth it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Brown Family Vacation - Day 7

From Yellowstone National Park

West Yellowstone, MT to Idaho Falls, Idaho

We slept in a little bit before heading out into the west entrance of Yellowstone to see Old Faithful.  Jamie and I had been talking for 2 days about wanting to see a bear.  As we were driving to entrance to Old Faithful, we got our wish and dozens of cars had pulled over and stopped traffic.  We knew it had to be something cool, but we inched forward before seeing a cinnamon black bear across the river.  I quickly pulled the van over to the side with everyone else and we were able to get some great views and photos of the bear.  Mission accomplished!

Old Faithful had just gone off when we got there, so we had to wait the 92 minutes before seeing it again.  Still pretty amazing.  We loaded up and headed south toward Grand Tetons National Park.  We ate lunch while overlooking Lake Jackson and the Grand Tetons.  Jamie drove us the rest of the way through the park, Jackson, and into Idaho, where we stopped a little early for the night staying at West Motel in Idaho Falls, Id. We ordered some pizza from dominoes, did some laundry and tried to plan our next few days.

Excellent first week and especially a jam packed last few days.  The trip continues as we travel across Oregon, hit the Pacific Coast, and head south toward California and the Redwoods among other things.

If you have seen the PHOTO ALBUM for the trip, please feel free.  I have divided everything into different albums by the places we've been.

Brown Family Vacation - Day 6

From Yellowstone National Park

Cody, Wy to West Yellowstone, Montana (Yellowstone NP)

Another simply amazing day!  I woke up for a quick run early and saw 3 deer walking the streets of Cody and saw the sun come up over the mountains.  After planning the day, we got up and headed out for the hour drive to the eastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park.  Yellowstone is the 1st national park in the world and covers over 2.2 million acres. To see everything in 1 day is almost impossible, but we were going to try and do as much as possible.

Our first site was the massive Yellowstone Lake, which we just drove by but it gave us a sense of the beauty we'd see the rest of the day. After stopping at the visitor's center and planning with a ranger, we stopped at Mud Volcano.  The entire area of Yellowstone has constant geothermal activity, and this gave us our first glimpse at what it could do to the area.

We then headed toward the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, but before seeing the upper level and lower level at Artist's Point, we had to stop several times for bison crossings.  Worth the delay as we saw dozens of them.  The canyon was excellent with a variety of colors.

It started raining a little bit which almost put a damper on our picnic, but we stopped at Tower Falls for lunch and waited out the rain while driving to our next stop at Mammoth Hot Springs, a place that I personally wanted to see the most.  The water wasn't flowing as much here, but it was still pretty impressive walking the ramps.  There was a lower terrace you could walk and an upper terrace you could drive.

It was getting late, so we decided to see the Norris Geyser Basin before heading out for the day.  Again, we were able to see small geysers and pools of geothermal water of different colors along with thermophiles, little bacteria that live in the geysers.

We had to settle for a rather expensive but nice cabin room at Hibernation Station at West Yellowstone where we ate dinner at a place called Geyser Gusher before crashing for the night after a spectacular day.

Tomorrow, we'll head back into Yellowstone to see Old Faithful before heading to see the Grand Tetons and driving into Idaho.

Brown Family Vacation - Day 5

From Mt. Rushmore

Rapid City, SD to Cody, Wyoming

Amazing Day!  The best yet, but there is still so much more to see that it is hard to believe that we can beat today. 

Our first stop was Mt. Rushmore, where we spent some time seeing this national landmark. They have an excellent trail and plenty of viewpoints that you can clearly see the four presidents. We highly recommend it.  And to think, we almost skipped this area to go straight to Yellowstone.

We then drove by the unfinished monument of Crazy Horse. When finished, whenever that will be, it will be the largest sculpture in the world. It was a pretty insane amount to enter, so we just decided to snap a couple of pictures and move on.

We then drove north through the Black Hills, a beautiful large park in and of itself. Our next destination was Devil’s Tower, which has a pretty cool Native American story behind it but geologically is the core of a volcano.  Look it up and read the statistics on this geological wonder, but it was the inspiration of Spielberg’s film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We had a wonderful lunch at the base of the tower before moving on for a long long drive across Wyoming.

We had originally planned to drive across Montana the whole way on I90, but took a planned detour to go through Big Horn National Park.  Great idea!  Took a while and just about burned the brakes on the van, but it was well worth it.  The scenery is unbelievable.  Again, it is hard to believe we aren’t even to the Rockies yet and the scenes we’ll see there, not to mention Yellowstone and all that Oregon, California, Arizona, and Colorado have to offer.

We stayed at Big Bear Hotel in a townhouse. We crashed that night due to the long drive after a late dinner at a family restaurant called Granny's Kitchen.  Tomorrow, we see Yellowstone National Park, a site that I’ve been wanting to see for a long time. I have see it during the winter, but the summer I’m sure will be spectacular. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Brown Family Vacation - Day 4

From Badlands

Sioux Falls, SD to Rapid City, SD

We left Sioux Falls, SD and drove on I90 west toward Rapid City. Along the way, we decided to stop at this little place called 1880 Western Town. It was along the interstate, so it was convenient.  Great little stop as they had an entire 1880 old west town set up with thousands of original artifacts. Their big draw was original movie props from Dances with Wolves.  We spent some time walking through the town and headed back on toward the Badlands.

The Badlands are pretty spectacular. Amy said that they “look like God’s sand castles.” After driving in nothing but flat grasslands and corn fields for hundreds of miles, you come up on this barren land that was once the bottom of the ocean that has carved out a unique landscape for the area. We stopped for lunch here and drove the 35 mile loop around it before heading to our hotel in Rapid City, the Foothills Inn.

5 of us went to the Firehouse Brewery for dinner, and Jamie and I went to Target to register for our baby. Another long day, but it was nice to start seeing some big sites.  Tomorrow, we’ll have another huge day with Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Monument, Black Hills, Devil’s Tower, and on toward somewhere in Wyoming. 

Brown Family Vacation - Day 3

Independence, Missouri to Sioux Falls, SD

We left early in the morning and dad made a blistering pace north toward Iowa.  When most of us woke, we were stopped at an exit where they had diverted traffic off of I29.  The entire area was still flooded from the May floods that wiped out Joplin.  Joplin was further down river, but the effects of the flood could be clearly seen here.  We were forced to take a route on US Hwy 59 all the way into Minnesota to I90.  It was a bumpy and difficult drive of corn, corn, and more corn.  Lots of corn.  Did I say corn.  We ate at Pizza Hut, go figure…
Nice little town of Ida Grove, where an independently wealthy guy had built several castles in the town.  Literally in the middle of nowhere, but a nice little quaint town of castles.  Go figure. 

We arrived quite late to Sioux Falls to hotel at nice little Days Inn. where we ate at a local Perkins  which actually hit the spot.  We retired pretty early because we had quite a drive across SD the next day.  

Brown Family Vacation - Day 2

From St. Louis

Paducah, KY to Kansas City, MO

We woke up this morning and headed straight out to St. Louis to see the arch.  We were going to ride to the top, but it was a 3 hour wait.  We opted instead to just enjoy it from the bottom on a beautiful day in St. Louis.  Lunch was at Joey B’s, a nice little American food joint right along the river downtown next to the arch. 

We have added Mt. Rushmore to the itinerary after originally leaving it off.  We’ll travel there via Missouri, Iowa, and South Dakota before trekking further west. 

Our stop tonight was in Independence, just outside Kansas City, Missouri/Kansas at a Super 8.  The family stayed in and ate and relaxed while Jamie and I took in a Kansas City Royals game vs. the Tiger.  Buck night, so I was able to get dollar coke, dogs, and peanuts.  Stadium is pretty new and nice with a great atmosphere.  It was a near sellout.  Royals lost.

Tomorrow, we have a long ride up to South Dakota where we hope we’ll be able to get past Sioux Falls and toward Rapid City. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Brown Family Vacation - Day 1

Me, Jamie, my dad (Charlie), my mom (Jewel), my sister (Amy), niece (Samantha), and my grandmother (Jean), started our 3 week trip out west today to see some good ol American highlights. Our itinerary includes St. Louis, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, Oregon pacific coast, the Redwoods, Yosemite, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon.

This morning, Jamie and I picked up our 9 passenger luxury passenger van.  My dad had booked this van several months ago.  It has 6 leather captain's chairs and a bench seat in the back that coverts to a bed if needed.  Decent storage space and a rather large TV/DVD.  After the first day of travel, we all feel that it'll be a great way to go across the country.  We'll let you know as we go.  Ironically, dad found the van in Cartersville, so Jamie and I picked it up and headed up to pick up the rest of my family in Calhoun.  We then headed to Niota to drop off my mamaw's car that we had borrowed and then headed out.

Our route took us north on 75 to Niota, then we cut across Watts Bar Dam before hitting Hwy 27 to I40.  I40 took us to Nashville where we hit I24 through Crossville and into Kentucky where we have stopped for the night at the Paducah Days Inn.  We ate at a local BBQ place called Backwood BBQ.

Tomorrow, we'll head to St. Louis to see the arch before heading across Missouri where we'll stop somewhere close to Kansas City.

Not really any pictures today, but check back tomorrow for some from St. Louise if you wish.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Schedule 2011

For those wanting to know where we'll be this summer.  If you can, find us sometime and we can have some lunch or dinner and catch up...

June 17 - arrive in Atlanta
June 18 - Cartersville (shopping for Jamie's maternity and golfing with dad)
June 19 - July 3 - Panama City Beach with Jamie's family
July 3 - July 6 - South Georgia visiting Jamie's dad
July 7 - July 28 - Trip out West with Eric's family
July 29 - July 31 - Cartersville
July 31 - August 4 - Denver for Jamie's AP training
August 5 - August 12 - Cartersville
August 12 - August 14 - Minneapolis for Eric's graduation
August 15 - August 22 - St. Lucia!!!
August 23 - 28 - Cartersville
August 28 - fly back to Saudi

Top 10 Worst Things About Living in Saudi Arabia

If you read the Top 10 Best Things, Saudi may seem like a great place.  Here are 10 (11) things that might deter you.  Again, we narrowed it to 11...

11)  Driving -

Driving is pretty hectic.  With 4 lanes at a red light, you can easily expect the car in the far right lane to make a left hand turn cutting off 3 other lanes.  You have to be pretty passive aggressive about driving.  You can't just be  defensive because you'll either get run over or never get anywhere.  You also can't be too aggressive or you'll have an accident every day.  Knocking on wood, I haven't been in an accident yet, but once you see the driving, you'll know it is just a matter of time.

Secondly on the topic is the "law" that women cannot driving in the Kingdom.  This is more of a nuisance than anything.  Many women take taxis or the compound bus to get around.  Jamie doesn't care to drive anyway, but it would be nice for her to be able to go out somewhere if she wanted.

10)  Family Sections -

Again, more of a nuisance, but seating in restaurants and public places are divided to segregate the sexes.  Males who are alone cannot sit with women who are not their relatives, so there are "single male" sections and "family sections."  Jamie has more of a problem with this than I do, but we've been asked to leave a certain area that isn't clearly labeled and move to a "family section."

9)  No Alcohol! -

The fact that I have this one at #9 might be surprising.  Neither Jamie and I are big drinkers, but it would be nice to have a drink at a restaurant every now and then.  Many people on compounds all over the kingdom brew, still, or make their own spirits, so you can get a drink if you want.  There is always going over to Bahrain, but that is an hour or more away.  Either way, it is annoying.

8)  No Pork! -

This is one that does get to you after a while.  Bacon, porkchops, pull pork sandwiches are all out of the question while living in KSA.  I have resorted to turkey bacon, which actually isn't that bad and is even better for you, but we sure have missed our pig eating when we are home or in other countries.  Some people smuggle pork into Saudi from Bahrain, but we do not or haven't yet.

7)  No Cultural Interactions -

Saudis stay to themselves and rarely talk to you.  With the boom of western restaurants and stores in Khobar,  living there isn't that much different that suburbia US.  Dress codes are different and it is more "brown," but you can forget you live in a different nation if you really want to think about it.  While living in China, there was never a doubt you were living in China.  Every day, you could go outside and experience China for what it was, both good and bad.  Living in Khobar isn't that cultural experience, and it is something we sorely miss about living in China.  Perhaps if we make friends with some Saudis, things will change, but for not, we miss the feeling of living abroad.

6)  More Expensive -

Electronics are the most noticeable.  A TV can be hundreds of dollars higher.  A PS3 maybe only 100 dollars more.  Our grocery costs are about 25% higher than what they were in the US, but this could be for a couple of different reasons: 1)  overall inflation after 3 years due to the economy and 2)  we buy more imported westerner products.  If we purchase more local stuff, our bill might be lower.  Our car was about the same if not a little cheaper.  Our main comparison though is the overall cost of living difference than what we came to expect in China, which as very inexpensive to live.  Of course, we do save in gas.  Flight out of Dammam or Bahrain can be quite pricey, so you have to book way in advance and even look for deals.  People who have lived in Saudi Arabia for a while and made their money believe that living there is cheap.  I guess if you have lived there a while and banked some money, it does appear that way.  In reality, I disagree, but we'll see in a few years.

5)  Pull Tabs -

You know.. the tabs on coke cans that you used to have to pull completely off when you were a kid.  Yeah, Saudi hasn't advanced to the tabs remaining on the can after opening, so what you are left with is a dangerous, sharp metal tab that you have to throw away separately.  I hate it and thought about putting this #1.

4)  Customer Service -

Or lack thereof.  Unless it is a foreign worker, customer service in the Kingdom is practically non-existent.  Calling an Internet service provider can literally make you throw the phone across the room and swear profusely (not that I would know), and the bank is nothing short of a ridiculous experience.  A better example comes when you go to purchase a car.  Saudis who work at the car dealer literally could care less if you purchase a car and will only help you if you go up to them personally and ask as many questions as possible.  Again, if it is a Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, or other foreign worker, things are much better and they will go out of their way to help you.  Saudis, however, has the worse customer service you will ever see.  Now, it isn't that big of a deal, but when you first arrive and have no car, no phone, and no clue of what you are doing, it is frustrating have no help.

3)  Prayer Times -

Muslims are required to pray 5 times per day beginning with the sunrise and ending with the sunset.  The entire country of Saudi Arabia shuts down during prayer times.  Businesses are forced to close their doors, so if you have business to conduct, groceries to buy, or places to go, you'll have to work around the prayer schedule, especially in the afternoons.  Most places of business are fully open after 4:00 pm.  Some stores do not open at all until then, but most are also open for a brief time in the mornings.  We keep a prayer schedule on the refrigerator and in the car console and constantly have to refer to it every time we go out.  The worst thing is to have your groceries in your cart and not make it to check out before prayer.  We have gotten used to going in right before prayer and doing our shopping during prayer, which most grocery stores will allow.  Overall, the prayer times take some time to get used to and impede our day to day life.

2)  Boring -

No alcohol, no movie theaters, no cultural functions, no bowling, skating rinks, nothing...  There are some decent parks, but it is just too dang hot many days to enjoy them, plus the women have to wear abayas (see #1).  We have compound activities that we do (poker, Settlers, pool, work out, walk the dog).  I have been going to Aramco for ultimate frisbee, basketball, and softball.  Some people go to beaches on the weekend or in the desert for camping or digging.  We watch a ton of TV and movies and have caught up on many fantastic shows that we had never watched before.  The only reprieve are the people who become your friends and the ability to go to Bahrain, although it was shut down for some this year due to protesting.  Saudi is a boring, hot place, so you have to find ways to entertain yourself and your family.

1)  Abayas -

This one certainly Jamie's #1, but it is something I loathe about the country.  I call them "oppression shrouds," but women are required to wear them when going out in public.  It is like a long muumu dress that is long sleeved and black (always black).  Some women have abayas that cost thousands of dollars.  Western women are not required to cover their head, but many Saudi women are covered head to toe in black.  Of the Saudi women, 1/2 cover everything but their eyes, and the other half cover their entire face.  Abayas must be loose fitting as to not show the figure of the woman.  They are loose fitting but still hot for the women.  The thing that infuriates me the most is the concept behind it all.  Women in Saudi are not be seen or heard and are regulated to staying at home.  You see women everywhere, but they are always covered, a constant reminder of their 2nd class status.  If I have a daughter, I we will certainly move before she comes of age enough to know what is going on concerning the abaya.  That is how strongly we feel about it and why it is our #1.  Nonetheless, it is what it is and Jamie carries on with it.  Her only positive thing is that she doesn't have to worry about what she wears to town.  She just throws it on before going out.

There you have it. The top 10 (11) worst things about living in Saudi Arabia.  Feel free to let me know what you think.  

Top 10 Best Things About Living in Saudi Arabia

Well, we actually narrowed it down to the top 11.  Nonetheless, here goes...

11)  Labor Costs -

Neither Jamie and I are really used to this, but it is a nice lifestyle.  In the US and most other western nations, having a housekeeper, car washer, and gardener would be too much of a cost on the budget.  A couple of families on the compound have a live in maid, which we don't think we'll ever get, but certainly seems appealing if you have a few kids.  The men who work on the compound (mainly from Pakistan and India) have regular hours where the take care of maintenance on the compound itself; however, before and after work, they wash cars and do other personal maintenance request you may have.  Just recently, we had a guy build a fence and put in a doggie door for us.  We don't mind helping these guys out because their service for us pretty much double or triple their monthly salary.

10)  Location for Traveling -

This year wasn't nearly as busy for our traveling as our 2 years in China, but the area where we are is a great location to see 3 continents.  The only drawback is that the cost of flights are more expensive than they are in southeast Asia, but pretty much everything is more expensive than it is is SE Asia.  This year, we went to Bahrain, Sri Lanka, and Turkey, while I was able to go to Nepal and Jamie to Kenya.  With the birth of our child, it might slow us down a little bit, but we hope that in the years to come, we can take advantage of our location to 3 continents, mainly Europe.

9)  Bahrain -

Bahrain has pork, alcohol, a nightlife, movie theaters, and goods you can't find in Saudi.  You can't bring the pork and alcohol back into Saudi, but it has been nice to go over there on the weekends and enjoy these things.  Women can drive and Jamie doesn't have to wear her abaya.  At a minimum, it takes about 45 minutes to get there if you can get through customs quickly; however, it can take nearly 2 hours if the causeway is busy.  Many people go on early Friday morning to avoid the traffic.  Ric's Kountry Kitchen has a great breakfast and City Center Mall has been our favorite place to see a movie.  Overall, it is a nice getaway from the bore of Saudi Arabia.

8)  Shawarmas -

According to wikipedia, a shawarma is

"an Arab[1][2] sandwich-like wrap of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, beef, or a mixture thereof. The meat is placed on a spit, and may be grilled for as long as a day. Shawarma is a fast-food staple across the Middle East, Europe and the Caucasus.
Shawarma is eaten with pita breadLavash bread, tabbouleh salad, fattoush salad, taboon bread, tomato and cucumber. Toppings include tahinihummus, pickled turnips and amba.
Shawarma has many variants and names in preparation, serving style, and name. The word shawarma(pronounced /ʃəˈvɑːrmə/) comes from the Turkish word çevirme [tʃeviɾˈme] 'turning', though the dish is usually called döner kebab 'turning kebab' in Turkish. In Greek, it was formerly called ντονέρ /doner/, and now called gyros 'turned'; in Armenian, it is "tarna", literally meaning "to turn"."

You can get shawarmas just about anywhere, but we have our favorite place downtown at this little hole in the wall.  It seems like every family has their favorite place to get their shawarmas, so it is nice to hear of other places.  We ate the doners in Turkey, but we seems to like the ones on Saudi better.  

7)  Availability of Food - 

In comparison to China, we can get just about anything we want in Khobar.  Obviously, pork and alcohol are out, but many items are available somewhere.  Tamimi's (formerly Safeway) is our favorite place to shop due to availability of goods and location.  The prices are at most 15% more than US prices, although some items are the same or even cheaper.  Turkey bacon can be found sporadically.  Tostidos are also a hot item with westerners, so we always stock up if we can.  Cheerios are in and out, so if they are in, I usually buy 3 boxes or so.  Cheese is not as expensive, but fruits, fish, and nuts are very expensive.  Along with groceries, there are a wider variety of western restaurants, although they can be pricey too.  My favorite is Chili's, although I'm glad there is Burger King and Hardee's.  We have been to the Macaroni Grille with gift certificates and it is quite good too.  

6)  Coworkers and Our Jobs - 

Jamie is happy at the high school, and finding her a high school social studies position was one of our main objectives in moving schools.  I have settled in teaching 7th grade math/science at the middle school.  We are both pretty satisfied with our jobs.  We have the opportunity for some professional development opportunities as well as leadership opportunities that we wouldn't have had in our last school.  ISG is a solid system to work for as a not for profit organization.  We are located right next to the US Consulate, so security is as good as it gets.  Our students for the most part are hardworking, although they have quite a bit of support from home.  The high school where Jamie teaches has 100% of its graduating students go to a university.  We have great and supportive coworkers, many of whom are also our neighbors and friends.  They have made the transition to Saudi Arabia easier.  We hope that we have these friendships for many years to come.  

5)  Gas!!!

Not much I can say here other than... 40 cents a gallon, $9 to fill up my Chevy Trailblazer, and just as important, you don't have to pump your own gas.  Many gas stations additionally give you a couple of tissue boxes if you fill up.

4)  Weather - 

This one may shock some people, but the weather where we live is actually pretty amazing 8 months of the year.  During the summer, we aren't there anyway, so we have to endure the heat during June and September, but the other months are pretty amazing.  Rainfall is less than inch per year and the winter is very mild.  During the winter, you thrown a light jacket in the morning and evening, but wear short sleeves during the day.  The heat is pretty unbearable beginning in May, but the humidity isn't near where it is other places, so it is actually pretty bearable.  Overall, we've enjoyed the weather, despite the heat index in August reaching 146 on some days.  

3)  Housing - 

Westerners are required to live in a secure, walled compound.  Compounds vary in size and amenities.  Our compound is An Nassim, and overall we have enjoyed our stay there.  This year, we lived on the 2nd and 3rd floor of a 3 story villa.  There was a single lady who lived underneath us.  This next year, however, we have a full 3 story villa, which doubles our living space from last year.  We have a front patio, back patio, and even a grassy fenced back yard.  Many families have decorated their villas so well, it is hard to believe you live in Saudi Arabia.  The villas come furnished.  Some families replace all of the furniture and some keep it the same.  Jamie and I will do our best to make it look and feel like home as much as possible.  Home is where you make it.  

Compound life for the most part is quite dull, however, there is a weekly poker night.  Some women get together for yoga, and we play Settlers of Catan every Friday.  About once per month, most people on the compound get together for some sort of pot luck dinner or celebration and Thanksgiving dinner is always prepared.  If you are lucky, you can also go to the Canadian thanksgiving.  If you've seen our compound video, you'll see that we have tennis courts, a pool, and a pretty nice rec center and library.  My largest problem is that there is not a field where kids can play.  We plan on making villa 104 our home for a while, and I can think of worse places to live.  

2)  Money - 

No one, and I mean no one, moves to Saudi Arabia for the culture, scenery, or weather.  The lifestyle I have described above is what it is for one reason... money.  While we don't make quite as much as we would in the states, our money is tax free, our housing is paid for, our health care taken care of, and insurance is pretty inexpensive.  Moving to Saudi has pretty much doubled our salary from China if you count the tutoring money.  Tutoring students has been a positive experience overall for us, and it can be quite lucrative.  My tutoring money alone takes care of our living expenses, so it allows for us to send most, if not all, of our money home to the states.  Our school's package isn't the best in the Middle East, but it is pretty good overall.  

1)  Leaving Saudi Arabia - 

Overall, the best thing about living in Saudi Arabia is when you get to leave Saudi Arabia.  See our Top 10 Worst Things About Living in Saudi Arabia to see why this is #1.  Whether it is coming home for winter break, going on vacation in Turkey, or going to Bahrain for the day, leaving Saudi Arabia is what everyone eventually wants to do.  While it is a fine place to live for now and even start a family, we'll be just fine whenever we do leave the country for good.  We'll probably never look back despite all of these wonderful things I have listed above.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011

1 Year in the Kingdom

Jamie and I just finished our 1st year living in Saudi Arabia.  For the most part, it was as we expected.

Our first few weeks and months were quite frustrating at time adjusting to prayer schedules, random store hours, no vehicle, inconsistent Internet, and being stuck in Saudi.  The 2nd half of the year was more routine when we bought our vehicle, had a decent Internet connection, and were able to go to Bahrain when we wanted.

We had our trips, but they were not as numerous as our trips when we were in China.  I was able to go to a leadership conference in Kathmandu, Nepal, Jamie went to Istanbul, Turkey for a MUN conference, as well as Kenya for a Habitat for Humanity trip.  We went to Sri Lanka as well as Turkey for our two trips and enjoyed both.

Overall, Saudi living isn't that much different than living in the US.  Exchange churches for mosques, add in prayer times and store closings, get rid of the alcohol, force the women to wear black robes, have very few traffic laws, increase the heat, lower your customer service expectations, add in foreign laborers, and up the security for all housing, and you'd have Saudi Arabia.  Similarities include the restaurants (minus pork and alcohol) and overall the general stuff you can buy.  There is much more you can purchase in Saudi than in China.  Price of gas is about 40 cents a gallon, which is nice, but other products more than make up for it.  Electronics are very expensive and random food items can be double the price.

Our next blog post will be the top 10 best things about living in Saudi Arabia as well as the top 10 worst things about living there.  It will give you more insight into what we think of living there.

Again, overall, a great experience so far.  We have another year on our contract, and we'll see what we want to do after that.  We moved into a new villa that has 3 floors, so Griffey is happy because he has more room as well as a fenced in back yard complete with a doggie door.

Check our next posts for those top 10s. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Day 8 - Cappadocia to Istanbul to Bahrain to KSA

The title says it all.  We were picked up at 6:00 am and taken to the Kayseri airport and caught a quick flight back to Istanbul.  It took us the the Asian side airport, so we had to catch a bus back to the European side of Istanbul.  We finally arrived back at our hostel at 12:00, dropped off our luggage, and headed out to do some souvenir shopping.  We picked up some items for family members at the Grand Bizarre and a few items for ourselves.

After going back and picking up our luggage, we headed to Cembalitas, an old Turkish bath house.  I was hesitant about going in, but Jamie really wanted to go and I tagged along.  I'll cut it short and just say it wasn't my thing, but Jamie seemed to enjoy her body scrub and hot oil massage.

After our Turkish bath, it was a taxi/Metro ride to the airport, a 4 hour flight back to Bahrain, and an hour drive back to our villa arriving at 3:30 am.  Luckily, we caught a couple of hours of sleep on the plane because we were able to stretch out.

I always total up our expenditures to almost the very penny in a little notebook I carry around.  Jamie and I budget so much for certain trips throughout the year and had a very good idea of what we could do in Southeast Asia.  After going to Turkey, all I can say as far as the budget is concerned is... "This ain't Southeast Asia."

Overall a great trip.  We have 1 day to rest before heading back to school.  If you haven't already, check out our Picasa Photo Album for all of our pictures in Turkey.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Day 7 - Turkey - Cappadocia

From Cappadocai

Jamie and I woke early this morning and were picked up and taken on a hot air balloon ride over the area surrounding Goreme.  We had taken a hot air balloon ride in China over Yangshou, so we thought this would also be a great experience.  It didn't disappoint, but it was quite cold, there were 20 people in the basket, and it was partly cloudy. Overall, a great experience, the landscape was beautiful, but it was very pricey.

We then were picked up for a day long tour of the Cappadocia region.  We made several stops and you can see all of them in the pictures.

Our first stop was a panoramic view of Goreme and the famous fairly chimneys.  People do live in those coned shaped "chimneys" and when light shines through them, it apparently looks magical, thus the fairy name.  Nonetheless, they are all over the place and have become quite the tourist attraction.

Our second stop was to an underground city called  Derinkuyu. Dating back to the Hittites on 1500 bc, we visited one that could potentially hold up to 15,000 people.  We only saw 10% of the "city" but it was complete with churches, schools, living quarters, a winery, meeting places, roll away stones that could block tunnels from invaders, and ventilation shafts. It goes down 55 meters and has 8 stories.

We then drove to the deepest and largest canyon in Cappadocia, Ihlara.  We saw a small church that had been built during the iconographic era of Turkey (where it was illegal to paint Christian frescos, so they ran to the hills and caves and painted them there). We then hiked 3km along the bottom of the ravine where lunch was waiting on us at the end.

Our next stop was perhaps the coolest part of the day.  We visited a cave monastery very similar to the monastery and nunnery that we visited yesterday.  Only this time, the rooms were larger and we were able to climb all over the place.  Some sections were closed off and we were asked to not go some places just because it was too dangerous.  This monastery and nunnery was built during the 4th century and stayed active until the 11th century.  Pics and videos of this place are cool, so check them out.

Our last stop was the obligatory jewel "factory" that every tour in Asia forces you to go on.  Before that, however, we stopped briefly at Pigeon Valley to see the pigeon houses there.  Again, the people have lived in the fairy chimneys for hundreds of years.  They began building little holes and placing food for the pigeons.  The pigeons would then leave their droppings, and the people would collect the droppings and sell them to the local farmers as fertilizer.  Thus, "pigeon hole."  You can see them all over the place here and the peoples still apparently use them, although I haven't seen any pigeons.

They dropped us back at our hostel, we had a short break, then headed to a very tasty local restaurant for Turkish food.  I ordered the yogurt ravioli and Jamie had what was similar to Brunswick stew.

Long Long day tomorrow as we travel back to Istanbul for some souvenir shopping and then head back to Bahrain and home late late tomorrow night.  

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