Three months gone

Time is crawling and flying all at the same time. Big D deployed on Valentine’s Day and if all goes as planned – here’s a first! – he’ll be home soon! Much earlier than expected!

I’m trilled (of course!) and I’m so thankful for great friends that helped me pass the time.

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One Crazy Summer

Good grief, what a summer! We had a lot planned, and fit most of it in with a few twists.

My elderly mom, who lives in Arizona, was hospitalized and eventually transitioned into an Assisted Living Facility. So far, I’ve made two unexpected (both very stressful) week-long trips to the surface of the sun.

She's shrinking, and I'm exhausted. But here's a snap before we said farewell this morning.

One more.

Big Ds cousin and his wife visited for a long weekend:
Cousins.

Big Ds brother dropped in for a fast overnight visit:
And away they go...

There was BIG excitement here when Germany won the World Cup.

Here we go!!

Big D’s sister and our niece visited for a long weekend – we had a blast hitting some tourist sites I hadn’t yet explored, including Madame Tussaud’s:
We tried to warn Abe...

Jen, my BFF from Germany, made two visits. During the first, we ran a fun 5K, and toured around (so if you’re keeping track, I visited the Lincoln Memorial every Sunday for a month!)

We're ready to run!

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Somehow, I squished in a trip to Raleigh, NC to see a Matt Nathanson and Gavin DeGraw concert with our other BFFs (and even managed to stay an extra day.)
pre-show selfie

And we got to meet Matt after the show:
Carey, Matt, Jym & me

I was lucky enough to spend a few minutes with Matt in Frankfurt a few years ago, and he was just as kind and hilarious when Carey, Jym and I met up with him this time around.

Last weekend our whole Germany gang and our constant travel companion Angie were reunited for the first time in years. Thanks to the Army, our time together was far too brief, but it was great to be together!
the whole gang

Big D is talking, not frowning. But this is the only non-blurry photo snapped at Bryan HQ.

Jen, me, Tricia & Angie

And to cap it all off: Jen, Tricia, and I trekked to Baltimore where more fun (and many beers) were had. Yes, this was my third concert in a week.

Gavin DeGraw

Tricia, Matt & me
Tricia finally got to meet Matt, too!

And now, our house is so quiet that its eerie. I’m looking forward to our first weekend in ages (nine weeks?) without a single plan.  As always, tons more pictures than you’ll probably care to see from everything I mentioned are over on my Flickr page.

I need a nap.

Now it feels like home: Angie visited!

And what a great visit we had!

We spent Wednesday night on the couch snacking on charcuterie, guzzling wine (thanks to Big D’s very generous pours), catching up, and laughing until it wasn’t Wednesday night anymore.  After coffee and the Today Show (some people have hobbies, Ang and I have Matt, Savannah, Natalie, and Al…) we met up with Tricia and were off for a day of sightseeing.

US Capitol Visitors Center

US Capitol Rotunda
I was thrilled to finally see the Rotunda.

After a late lunch, we walked through the tunnel to the Library of Congress. I’d visited once before, but taking a tour lead by an enthusiastic, knowledgable guide made a huge difference. Maybe it really is the most beautiful building in Washington?

Library of Congress

I've gotta get a card. #DeweyDecimal

Library of Congress

The details of the architecture, decorations, and artwork are intricate and fascinating – I can’t wait to visit again.

Next up: The Pentagon! My good friend Jenny works in a muckety muck Protocol Office there and was kind enough to give us a personal tour on her day off. THANKS JENNY!

Photography is prohibited other than this one spot:
Ang

making a point

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I loved seeing the Army Hall. We walked right past the office of the Secretary of the Army! And we strolled by the Chief of Staff of the Army’s office, too. Who knew they’d have fancy doormats!? Visiting the September 11th Interior Memorial and Chapel was especially poignant.

After all of that touring we needed refreshments, of course. Angie perfected the Ruby Red Lemon Drop Martini recipe, a drink we discovered in Chicago this summer.

I wish Angie was always here! #RubyRedLemonDropMartinis

As much as I loved our adventures, hanging out in the courtyard and sipping delicious concoctions was definitely a weekend highlight.

We shopped, ate, and drank our way through Friday.

Saturday morning had us up while it was still dark as we made our way to the Mall for the Navy/Air Force Half Marathon and 5 Miler.

Good morning! #nofilter

Tracy, Angie & me
It was great to finally meet Angie’s friend Tracy and to snap this photo at the finish line.

We rounded out our time together with more cocktails (of course) – can’t wait to spend time together again soon!

More pictures from our weekend are on Flickr.

My kind of town, Chicago is

My recent long weekend in Chicago was really two adventures: One that was all about eating, drinking, touring, and shopping. And one that was all about rocking.

Angie and I fell in love with the Ruby Red Lemon Drop Martinis at the Grill on the Alley and had (at least) one each day:
Ruby Red Lemon Drop Martinis? Yes, please!

The sunset view at the Signature Lounge was fantastic:
Signature Lounge sunset view

We spent Friday on Bobby’s Bikes, Bites & Brews tour:

Ready...

Gino's East
We had a slice at Gino’s East.

key lime cupcake
Here’s my Key Lime Cupcake at Swirlz, the oldest cupcake only bakery in the city.

Murphy's Red Hot
We shared a Chicago style dog at Murphy’s Red Hot.
Angie: Can you cut it in half?
Murphy: Do you want me to eat it for you, too?

Gene & Georgetti steak house
Locals recommended Gene & Georgetti, and it did not disappoint.

linguini w/ clams
Yes, I ordered pasta at a steakhouse.

excellent Gene & Georgetti desserts
Shared desserts are the sign of a great evening.

As for the the rocking part of the weekend:
Pearl Jam - Wrigley

me & Frankie before the show

my view w/ no zoom

Pearl Jam - Wrigley

evacuation
A storm moving through the Chicago area interrupted the set after only a few songs and delayed the show nearly three hours. What started at 8pm didn’t end until 2am. The whole thing was… well, read this to get a tiny idea of the huge magic.

Pearl Jam - Wrigley

My kind of town, Chicago is
My kind of razzmatazz

The picture of The people during The weekend in The Chicago.

Cruising

I started this blog with the intent of recapping adventures of the last three years before we return to our real life in the States. Only six days remain until we make the long trip across the pond. In fact, I’m writing this surrounded by luggage, boxes of items to donate, and party favors for Saturday’s farewell soirée. I won’t even come close to blogging everything I wanted to in our short time left as ex-pats, but I’ll continue once we’ve settled somewhere in the greater Washington, DC area.

And now, a post I have really been putting off writing since I’m not sure how to break it up: The Cruise.

Angie, Jen & Gary, and I had fairly low expectations for our first port call: Bari, Italy. And we were right. It’s a pretty town, but there wasn’t much to do, everything was closed since we were there on a holiday, and we knew “free” drinks awaited us back on board the ship.

Old Bari Port

Next up was Rhodes, Greece.

Rhodes, Greece

We visited the Acropolis of Lindos and St. Paul’s Bay, where it is reported the apostle landed during a storm.

me, Angie, Gary & Jen

Lindos, Greece

Gary tried a local beer at each stop on the cruise, and since I hate to see a guy drink alone, I did too.
he enjoyed a local beer at each port

Jen got a tip from our tour guide and we headed to Hatzikelis Fish Taverna for what is the best lunch I’ve ever had in my entire life, hands down. Rather than show us the menu, Vasileioi, our fantastic waiter, took us into the kitchen to show us what was fresh and ask us how we’d like it prepared.

Jen & Gary

We shared an eggplant appetizer that each of us now duplicates on our own grills many times each summer. That day, I had mussels:
my entree

Dessert was Baklava and oranges that I think were handpicked minutes before we ate them:
Baklava and fresh oranges

Cats begged (and were fed), octopus hung drying on a line above our table, we drank wine, and of course, we laughed. I’ve considered going back to Rhodes, just to eat there again. And some day, I will.

Jen, Gary, Vasileioi, me and Angie

Our next stop, thanks to an itinerary change necessitated by the Arab Spring (maybe someday we’ll visit the Pyramids?) was Ephesus, Turkey. It’s one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and is likely where the Gospel of John was written.

Odeon

Ancient Ephesus Theater

Just a short ride away was the church built on what was the Virgin Mary’s house (Photography is prohibited inside, and I didn’t take many photos outside as I was a bit overwhelmed.)
Virgin Mary's House

Back in the port city of Izmir, a Kurdish Rally was underway.

After a local brew (which I drank while I e-mailed my U2 BFFs: I am in a bar in Izmir, Turkey and they’re playing One!), we made our way through the thousands of riot police (Thousands. I am not exaggerating!) and eventually, we were safely back on board thanks to Gary’s map reading/lady herding skills. “I CAN’T SEE THE BOAT, GARY!?” Is still a catchphrase we utter when we’re confused, lost, or just trying to be funny.

Didn't want Gary to drink alone

Kurd rally

Turkish Police

Our next stop was Ahthens, Greece. I couldn’t believe we were touring the sites I studied in my high school Latin class:

The Acropolis
The Acropolis

me at the Temple of Athena
The Temple of Athena

Angie, me, Gary and Jen at the Parthenon
The Parthenon

Parthenon
The Parthenon

Tiny Angie
Angie at the Temple of Zeus

And we saw a changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Evzones changing the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Next up was Olympia, Greece where we learned all about Architecture and the Ancient Olympics from our slightly crazy tour guide.

Our crazy, hilarious and informative tour guide

Palaestra

ready to race in the Olympic Stadium
Gary and I ran the distance in the Olympic Stadium!

And finally, we made it to Dubrovnik, Croatia. Sadly, somewhere along the way I picked up a major sinus infection. So while the photos from this last stop look familiar, I don’t remember much other than feeling so bad that I cried at lunch. Sorry, travelmates!

Fort Lovrijenac, Dubrovnik
Fort Lovrijenac

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Angie & Gary
Angie and Gary enjoying cocktails at what is supposedly Bill Gates’ favorite bar (not pictured: my mental breakdown.)

There are so many terrible cruise stories in the news right now. Luckily, other than my (non-cruise related) illness, all I have are fantastic memories.

breakfast on our balcony
We had breakfast on our balcony every day,

some entertainers after the show
we saw a show every night,

view from cabin 9187
And we had tons of relaxing fun.

The Tourists

Like many other trip reports, this one begins with “Some friends planned a vacation, and I horned in…” But this one has a few twists.

Jen & Gary booked a Mediterranean cruise so they could visit the Egyptian pyramids. It sounded like fun to Angie and me, so we made reservations, too. We made these arrangements months before the Costa Concordia disaster, and years before the recent Carnival cruise ship ‘covered in poo floating aimlessly in the Gulf of Mexico’ debacle, yet Big D knew that cruising isn’t for him. His take on cruising: “Why don’t you just lock me in a mall for a week? UGH!” He joined us for a few days in Venice, Italy where we all explored together before we set sail.

I always feel like waiting for luggage at the airport is a crap shoot, but apparently it’s more like betting on roulette:
Luggage roulette at Marco Polo Airport

I was thrilled to maneuver our way to the Rialto Bridge for dinner the first night, and again each day we were there.
Gary & Jen
Gary & Jen

view from Rialto Bridge

Our hotel was in an adorable area. In fact, meandering through Venice feels like walking through a post card:
canal near our hotel

near our hotel

gondolas on the Grand Canal

We spent a fair amount of time in St. Mark’s Square:

Piazza San Marco
Photo credit: Angie

St. Mark's Basicila exterior

St. Mark's Basicila exterior

And I snuck some photos inside the Basilica:
Pentacost Mosaic at St. Mark's
Pentecost Mosaic

St. Mark

I loved that ancient meets modern in a few places around the city:
scultpure at the San Marco Vaporetto stop
sculpture at the San Marco Vaporetto stop

And like most trips, in addition to the architecture, what I remember the most is the food, drinks, and laughs. We had a lot of all three when we visited Harry’s Bar:
Harry's American Bar

Bellinis, delicious chicken cakes and olives
Don’t ask how much one round of Bellinis will set you back. But each comes with “free” chicken cakes and olives. It’s worth it, though!

We had our fair share of Limoncello, which brought on the usual hijinks.
Ang & me enjoying Limoncello after lunch

And Gary made a silent, breadstick plea at lunch:
Gary and his breadstick plea for help

Venetian rain: one night it’s beautiful, the next day it’s a total pain in the ass…
Calle Vallaresso

terrible weather on departure day

But eventually we made our way on board our ship, though not quite to the Pyramids. But I’ll save that for another post.

More pictures from Venice and a day on Murano are over on Flickr.

The High Seas

Who would ever imagine that an 11 day cruise with a balcony would be less expensive than a 5 day cruise without one? But it’s true! And so, I flew to Barcelona two weeks ago. Angie met me there and we set sail on the MSC Divina.

I’d never visited Barcelona before and had a great time wandering La Rambla at Christmas:
Christmastime in Barcelona

This marked our third cruise together, and some things never change:
at the safety briefing
Safety first!

Our first full day on board was spent at sea and I did not feel well at all. It was probably for the best since it kept me halfway sober the next night: New Year’s Eve. We sailed into Funchal, Portugal just in time for what the Guinness Book declares the World’s Largest Firework Display:
Funchal, Portugal

New Year's Eve in Funchal, Portugal

We took a self guided tour the next day and enjoyed exploring the island of Madeira, including a visit to the town of Câmara De Lobos where I had limpets for lunch, without knowing exactly what I ordered. Turns out they are sea snails and I loved them.
Câmara De Lobos

my lunch in Câmara De Lobos, Portugal

I spent some quality time on deck while the ship left port:
Funchal, Portugal

The next day we toured the island of Tenerife, Spain:
Tenerife, Spain

Tenerife, Spain
That tiny speck in the water at the lower left is a woman surfing.

La Laguna, Spain

And after another relaxing day at sea, we arrived in Casablanca, Morocco where we hired a taxi cab tour guide. (The process was stressful – there is so much competition the police literally separate the drivers from the tourists at the gate of the port!) Our guide drove us to a few stops including the Grand Mosquée Hassan II. We missed out on touring the interior, but it was impressive enough from outside:
Grand Mosquée Hassan II

me at Grand Mosquée Hassan II

Angie at Grand Mosquée Hassan II

Next, we found our way to Rick’s Cafe (sure, it’s not the actual site where Casablanca was filmed, but lunch was delicious and the whole experience was great!)
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Rick's Cafe

Rick's Cafe

We bought a lot of things from the gift nook, including a book about the development of the building and its furnishings – I’m anxious to read it and learn the whole story.

After lunch we shopped at both the old and new Medinas:
Old Medina of Casablanca

Old Medina of Casablanca

The next afternoon we arrived in Malaga, Spain where we shopped, ate lunch, and sadly – we left just before their Feast of the Kings Festival kicked off.
Malaga, Spain

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ready for the parade
We hated leaving while preparations for what promised to be a great parade were underway!

After another day at sea (or as we dubbed it: “A day off”) we spent a few whirlwind hours in Rome, Italy. We crammed as much as possible into short day!
Saint Peter's Square
Saint Peter’s Square

Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo

Fendi
Window shopping near the Spanish Steps

me & Angie at the Trevi Fountain
Quick visit to the Trevi Fountain

Colosseum
A Colosseum drive-by (photo snapped from the backseat of a taxi)

Saint Peter's Square
We returned to Saint Peter’s to meet our ride back to the ship.

The next day we wandered the winding streets of Genoa, Italy:
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Piazza de Ferrari

lunch in Genoa, Italy
Our lack of Italian skills and the quirky menu made ordering lunch difficult, but it was particularly tasty!

San Matteo
Church of Saint Matthew

leaving Genoa
We packed our bags while we left Genoa’s port.

We disembarked, checked into our hotel, napped, and were ready to tour Barcelona the next day.
Parc de la Ciutadella
Parc de la Ciutadella

Chris and Alissa
We ran into some of our table mates from the cruise while we biked through the park.

 Sagrada Família
Circling the exterior of the Sagrada Família was enough to make me plan a return to Barcelona.

Casa Batlló Rooftop
I’m so glad Angie suggested topping off our day with a visit to Gaudi’s Casa Batlló!

Casa Batlló Rooftop
Touring spectacular architecture while listening to Dali’s opinions of the building on the audio guide is something I’ll never forget.

me & Angie on the Casa Batlló Rooftop

Equally as fantastic as touring sights in so many wonderful cities was spending quality time with Angie. It’s impossible to fit all of the wacky things we shared during our trip into this post (After all, thanks to our package, we did our very best to try one of every item offered on the ship’s drink menu…) We each won a trivia contest, danced at Grease night in the ship’s Galaxy Lounge, met fascinating new friends from Argentina, gambled the hours away at electronic roulette (and won!), and so much more…

Here’s a kiss we blew to Big D. I think this photo captures the essence of our time together – Fun!
Smooch for Big D

Tons of other photos from our cruise are posted on Flickr. Ahoy!