|From St. Lucia|
|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!
- Mark Twain
- Maya Angelou
Sunday, August 21, 2011
|From St. Lucia|
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
|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
Black Hills National Forest
Bighorn National Forest
Yellowstone National Park
Grand Tetons National Park
Crater Lake National Park
Oregon Coastal Road
Redwood National Park
Sequoia National Park
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....
|From Petrified ForestPainted Desert|
|From Grand Canyon|
Thursday, July 21, 2011
|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!
|From San Francisco|
|From Napa Valley|
Monday, July 18, 2011
|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.
|From Oregon Coastal Road|
Friday, July 15, 2011
|From Crater Lake NP|
Thursday, July 14, 2011
|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.
|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.
|From Mt. Rushmore|
Rapid City, SD to Cody, Wyoming
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Sioux Falls, SD to Rapid City, SD
|From St. Louis|
Thursday, July 7, 2011
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
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
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.
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
Saturday, June 18, 2011
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
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
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.