Friday, September 23, 2011

Random Thoughts

Grace and I had a great Mommy/daughter day. It was the most typical and *relaxing day we've had in a while. I just had one of those days where I was able to take a deep breath, relax and had several moments where I found myself smiling for no particular reason. It was the first time in a while I was able to shut off my brain and let it wonder. I thought it would be interesting to jot down some of my randomness while walking/taking the tube through Regent's Park to the Boots on High Street Kensington. 

  • Michael looks thinner to me. Wow- did I miss him!
  • Grace and I made it back to London safely. 
  • I'm getting very good and efficient at traveling (with a baby).
  • I should start sharing my traveling tips.
  • Graces doctor appointments in the US and UK went well. She's continued growing bw the 2 appointments. She didn't have more blood tests today, but we will do it in 2 months from now. Her levels that were low are more common than not in babies under 18 months. 
  • I've been thinking of Paul and Kristen nonstop since there is a slight chance Grace may have Celiac Disease. 
  • If I couldn't cook with gluten for my daughter that would be silly to cook it for myself. Is that automatic weight loss program? Alyse?
  • I cannot believe nurses draw the same amount of blood from a baby as they do adults- 5 full vials. They even use the same word choice, "Now this may pinch a little."
  • Can you believe Grace stopped crying in the middle of it?
  • 45 mins of my day was spend trying to nurse Grace in the pediatrician's sitting room.
  • It ended up turning into a play date with a family from Nigeria instead.
  • I really need to stop leaving home without my camera. 
  • I need to check out Amanda Schulte's blog about Morocco. 
  • I should start keeping a to do list. And only ONE list. Which should be located in the same spot. 
  • I had a blast with my sister celebrating her happiness. Bridal shower and bachelorette party all in one week! 
  • I miss my family.
  • Grace grew so much while we were visiting all our family and friends back home in the states. 
  • American luxuries I miss: ice, good laundry facilities, cheap manis and pedis, my car, Target. 
  • I don't know which view makes me happiest: Regent's Park, IU's sample gates, or the Chicago skyline. 
  • ...hmmm...I may have just put them in my current order.
  • The roses in Reget's Park are bigger, more beautiful and more deliciously fragrant than I remember. 
  • Seeing little kids dressed up in their Matilda school girl uniforms make me smile.
  • ...while riding a scooter is an added bonus. 
  • I cannot believe xmas items are already on sale. 
  • Grammie Mo, Grandpa Den and Uncle Matt have started and continued Grace's Disney DVD collection. Her Halloween gift was Mary Poppins. 
  • Some of the Disney DVDs go in a vault and are only sold every 5 years. Who knew? Dumbo was apparently JUST released. 
  • I feel blessed to have life long friends in both my home cities. (Chicago and London) 
  • I can't believe this is the 2nd school year I'm not working. 
  • I think it's more important to stay home with Grace.
  • Somedays, I even think it's more difficult. 
Alright...I need to stop. I could go on forever and ever. If you're still reading: I'm impressed and would love to hear a random reply. I would especially love for it to be from someone random as well. 

*It wasn't very relaxing taking the tube (having to switch a couple times) to the pediatrician 45+ mins away. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Edinburgh, Scotland

Dear Grace,

This was the first trip that I went on without you and your mummy, and it just wasn't the same.  Edinburgh, Scotland is a beautiful city with so much to do so we'll all have to go back there together at some point in time.   I ended up finding out about different festivals that happen throughout the year as well as the different sites to see outside of the city.  Since you guys were back in Chicago when I went to Scotland I didn't have our camera, but I tried my best to capture some of the different places I visited.  


Edinburgh Castle is a fortress which dominates the skyline of the city from its position atop the volcanic Castle Rock. There has been a royal castle here since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. Today, it is the most visited tourist attraction in Scotland and even houses the Royal Jewels and Stone of Scone, which is used for King Edward's chair in coronation ceremonies for Great Britain.  We'll see it used whenever the next Monarch is named.

Once I was done touring the Edinburgh Castle, I made my way down the Royal Mile and came across St. Giles' Church.  This is where Her Majesty the Queen has ceremonies to acknowledge those of high service and even Knights her new members of the Scottish Circle here.  Your mummy would have loved for me to have the camera at this point because a wedding was getting done and the bride and groom were taking pictures all around the courtyard.  We always run into weddings while we're vacationing....maybe because we're always going to see churches and their architecture.

As I made my way down the Royal Mile, I ran into the Queen's residence while she visits Scotland in the summer months.  It is known as Holyrood Palace.  The massive State rooms reminded me somewhat of Buckingham Palace, but not as well kept.  The setting of the Palace is absolutely beautiful since Arthur's Seat is directly next to it.

The Holyrood Abbey was next to the Palace and overlooked the Royal Gardens, but didn't survive in tact past the 18th century.  It was still an amazing site to see.

I came out of the Holyrood Palace and thought to myself, Yeah....why not!  Grace would have loved for us to hike up Arthur's Seat to get a great view of Edinburgh.  While I was starting my walk up the path, I gave a call to you and mummy to let you know I missed you guys and that I wish we were able to do this together.  Don't worry, there will be a next time.  This hill was created by an extinct volcano, which in time had a glacier move across it.....hence giving the drastic slope you see below.

Once I was done visiting the center part of Edinburgh, I made my way out towards the bay in order to see Her Majesty's ship, The Britainnia.  As many Kings and Queens of the past were known for building castles or monuments, this vessel was the main contribution that Queen Elizabeth II had built.  The vessel was used for 44 years between 1953 and 1997 and served 968 official voyages before getting decommissioned.  She traveled over 1 million miles, which is enough to travel once around the world for each year she was in service.

Before I went out for dinner that night, I made it up to the top of Calton Hill for dusk to see the entire bay as well as Arthur's Seat and Edinburgh Castle in the distance.  The views were amazing.  There were a few other monuments at the top of the hill, but the most famous was the Scottish National Monument.  

This monument was intended to be another Parthenon and to commemorate Scottish Soldiers killed in the Napoleonic wars. Construction started in 1826 but work was stopped in 1829 when the building was only partially built due to lack of money. It has never been completed.  For many years this failure to complete led to its being nicknamed "Scotland's Disgrace" but this name has waned given the time elapsed since the Napoleonic Wars and it is now accepted for what it is.

I ended my experience in Edinburgh on a high note.  I went to the Scottish Whiskey Experience, which taught me quite a bit about the different regions where Scottish whiskey comes from and how they're all different.  We were able to do some taste testing and I was a big fan of the single malt scotch from the Speyside region of Scotland.  While we were tasting, we were housed in the room below, which is shaped like a giant U and is the largest private collection of whiskey in the world......almost 3400 unopened bottles of whiskey.....AMAZING display.

It was now time to leave this great city with only the hopes of being able to make it back again soon to see more.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tangier, Morocco

Dear Grace,

I still can't believe that we traveled to Africa with you while on our vacation in Spain.  The decision was very spontaneous, but we are so glad that we did it.  Don't worry family and friends, I researched the tour thoroughly before we bought tickets.  Our travels took us over the Straits of Gibraltar and into Tangier, Morocco.  Enjoy the great photos from an international port in Africa.


When we arrived in Tangier, we immediately boarded our tour bus and started driving past some of the local building in the harbor.  This section of the city is filled with shops and stores, which face out towards the beach.

Once again, must be nice to live the tycoon lifestyle! This beautiful mansion overlooked the Straits of Gibraltar and had an amazing stone balcony in the back.  It used to belong to Mr. Forbes, the businessman.

The Kasbah of Tangier is the highest part of the city, of course it was created as a defensive fortress facing the Straits. Though small, there are quite a number of sights within the Kasbah, but the roads inside are really a maze....luckily we had our tour guide Hassan and his trusty sidekick Mohammed, who was fantastic and stuck by us the entire time through the somewhat hectic streets.

Beautiful doors like this were located all throughout the Kasbah.  

I thought this was a cool shot of switching over to Casablanca time, which is Morocco's largest city and chief port.  Maybe one day we'll be able to go back and visit.

This was a famous building that has been photographed and used in paintings over and over again.  The green flag and color of the door symbolize fertility and life, which is sometimes a hard thing to find in the desert.

This was our view from the north side of the Kasbah.  A stunning view of the Straits of Gibraltar.

Another first for all of us......watching a snake charmer play with a black king cobra.  Pretty cool.  

Your mummy was debating of getting a picture with the snake around her head while holding you, BUT I put a quick end to that and took one for the team in order to get a cool picture.  Grace, you owe me one!

Since we had been doing a bit of hiking up and down steps and all throughout the streets, it was now time for lunch at a typical Morocco restaurant.  The food was great, service excellent, and the music was entertaining.

Time to visit the local markets and do some shopping if you were able to strike a deal.  Your mummy and I would have loved to spend more time there in order to purchase something, but they're type of high pressure, always talking sales mentality did not mesh well with our purchasing style.  Oh well, at least we were able to get some spices from the next shop we visited.

On our way up to Cape Spartel and the Cave of Hercules, we passed a massive gate and belongs to the King Mohammed VI, who doesn't reside there, but has a gigantic house in case he wants to visit.  

A view of the beach that faces Atlantic Morocco.  It was so nice outside and very pretty.

That's right....they even had camels around Morocco for us to take rides on.  Only 1 euro per ride.....silly tourists.  I'm sure they make a mint off of people like us, but what a cool thing to say we've experienced.

So.....where do I even begin with the picture below.  Kate thought this photo opportunity could be a great Christmas card to send everyone over the holidays.  We had another member of the tour start taking multiple pictures of us and we were sure that we had a great shot because I actually set the zoom up perfectly for him prior to handing the camera over.  Apparently, he felt that this should remain a family picture and adjusted the zoom accordingly.  We were pretty annoyed, but easily laughed it off.

The highlight of Cap Spartel, Grottes d'Hercule.  See the monkey on Hercules' shoulder?

This place is believed to be the mystical dwellling place of Hercules. The caves here have been quarried in the past for millstones, and is a venue used by the rich celebrities from Tangier to host private parties. 

Grace had to try her best Hercules impression.  I don't know what it is, but when I think of the word Hercules, the Nutty Professor comes to mind and the Klump family at the dinner table.  Hercules, Hercules, Hercules!!!

We went further up Cap Spartel to the lighthouse where the Atlantic Ocean starts to mix with the Mediterranean Sea.  The tour provided warm mint green tea, which was a fantastic way to end the tour as we watched a storm front come in off the Atlantic Ocean.  

We were so happy to have had the opportunity to visit this wonderful city in Africa. Stay tuned for more adventures in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Straits of Gibraltar

Dear Grace,

While we were in Spain, we figured that since we were so close to Africa and the Straits of Gibraltar that we should just go there for a day trip to say we had been to another continent.  We had other sources who had studied in Morocco as well as doing plenty of research on a tour that we ended up using so we felt completely safe to do this for a life experience.  I was extremely excited mainly because of the nature of my job, which has to do with trading oil tankers.  Not only do I manage ships that transit these Straits in and out of the Mediterranean, but I also have shipments of oil that occasionally go into Atlantic Morocco.  If we got lucky, I also had one of my ships that would be passing through the Straits of Gibraltar later that afternoon.  You had such a fun time on this trip, but it was a LONG day!


Our tour bus picked us up very early in the morning and took us to Tarifa, Spain to catch one of the high speed ferries that cross over to Tangier, Morocco.  Tarifa is slightly west of the Rock of Gibraltar and closer to the city we were going to.  The picture below captures the site we had along with mountains in the distance, which is Africa.

The Strait of Gibraltar (Arabic: مضيق جبل طارق, SpanishEstrecho de Gibraltar) is a narrow strait that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and separates Spain in Europe from Morocco in Africa. The name comes from Gibraltar, which in turn originates from the Arabic Jebel Tariq (meaning "Tariq's mountain"), albeit the Arab name for the Strait is Bab el-Zakat or "Gate of Charity". It is also known as the Straits of Gibraltar, or STROG (Strait OGibraltar), in naval use and as "Pillars of Hercules" (Greek: Ηράκλειες Στήλες) in the ancient world.

The inside of the ferry was very well done and high tech.  We had a very comfortable ride across the Straits and you enjoyed your breakfast while we were sitting.

I absolutely love this picture because we were able to watch the sun coming up over Africa that morning and I think we caught a great moment on camera.

What many people don't know is that the Rock of Gibraltar is controlled by Great Britain and that the south side of the Straits in Tangier, Morocco is an international city.  We may have had the first World War over 100 years ago if the south part of the Straits did not become an international city because if Great Britain controlled the north and south side, they would have controlled all imports and exports out of the Mediterranean from the Atlantic.  They stood down and war was averted.  The U.S had its first embassy located in Tangier back in 1777 so we know it's extremely important.

This is a shot of the Straits from Tangier looking back at Southern Spain....beautiful.

We didn't have a clear view of the Rock of Gibraltar until we were on our way home.  This was the snap shot I was able to take, which shows all of the cranes surrounding the base.  This area is a major hub for ships to come in and receive fuel, stores, and anything else they might need before entering the Med, or leaving across the Atlantic Ocean.

In the picture below you can see the two main highest points of the Straits.  The Jebel Musa in Africa, which is claimed to have been raised up by Hercules himself, and on the right is the Rock of Gibraltar.  We were in a moving bus so the two rocks are on the right side of the tree line and to the left of the red road sign.

When I came back into the office, I immediately looked up the report from the BRITISH HAZEL and it looks like I missed seeing the ship by only 30 minutes.  The ferry ride home was delayed by about that same amount of if it wasn't late, this could have been the shot I would have had to post for everyone.

I'm sure everyone is waiting to see the pictures from Morocco, but you'll just have to wait and see a little later.
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