Thursday, June 26, 2008

Days 8 and 9

We got up on the morning of day 8, suffered through another horrible breakfast at the hotel (we, strangely, seemed to be the only people that had to gag our way through it--unless everyone else was really good at faking. But seriously people, it was BAD). Uncle Will and I went down the street to pick up a rental car which we would be using for the next couple of days to see the rest of Israel (the rest being whatever we could cram into 48 hours, which turned out to be quite a bit.

After we picked up the car and somehow found our way back to the hotel, we said goodbye to Jerusalem--a very sad farewell--and headed toward the Dead Sea, the first of our sea tour. It was a hot hot day and I have to admit I wasn't real excited about hanging around a sea that was called "Dead" because it was so salty that nothing within miles of it can possibly think about living, but it turned out to be really fun, and really strange. We showed up and found hundreds of people rubbing the Dead Sea mud all over their bodies, which we all commented was quite odd but of course within five minutes I had mud over every square inch of me--I sort of felt like a wood-stock hippie; except I was in the Holy Land and the mud was supposed to be therapeutic. I think I overdid it anyway because I noticed that most people just had a light layer on, making their skin look like an unnatural dark shade, while I looked more like the scary green monster with a good three inches of mud all around. And the shower I took to get it off was quite the spectacle as well. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures so you'll all just have to go against your better judgement and take my word for it. Other than that, it was very strange to float around in the water which is so salty you practically just bounce around in the air several feet above it. Despite the mud, I left with a nice nasty sunburn (which did NOT turn into a tan but did peal off for days until I'm pretty sure I saw bone).

Our next Sea stop was the Sea of Galilee which was nice and peaceful . . . we didn't stay long, partly because there wasn't much going on but also because we were all still really nasty from the Dead Sea excursion (the picture of me with the cheesy smile is at Galilee).
So we headed north, passing more towns you've always heard of but never really thought of as places that actual people live in today (like Nazareth) until we finally reached Haifa, a beautiful Mediterranean city in Northern Israel. We were blown away by how clean and pretty Haifa was and I thought it would be really nice to live their . . . if it wasn't so close to a lot of other places that you only hear about in the bad news. We got to know Haifa really well thanks to some major confusion that sent us driving up and down the same busy street for about 2 hours as we tried to find our hotel which ended up being about the size of a large dresser and was hidden like a picture in a Magic Eye card.
That night the Jewish Sabbath began (they signify this by sounding a really loud horn that seems to blast forever--when we heard it, Uncle Will and I were sure it was war sirens).

The next morning we hung around Haifa and went to the dirtiest beach (Mediterranean) we've ever seen. We actually did see a beautiful white porcelain toilet at the tide line, next to a rotting dead fish the size of a basketball. This was also next to the dried out dead turtle that Uncle Will was a little too comfortable with (he picked it up and carried it around like it was his new pet). We also saw the Bahia Temple Gardens of the Bahia faith which were absolutely unbelievably gorgeous. The pictures I have posted here of the gardens do not do them justice.

We then filled our gas tank ($80 for half a tank in a small compact car)--I shouldn't brush over this quickly because filling up took us quite a bit of effort--we had no idea what we were doing. Finally the the guy that worked there helped us but suspiciously required our passports to do so.
We had originally planned to drive back to the border on day 10, cross, and make it back to Amman to catch a flight to Cairo. Well, we still had a bad taste in our mouths from our last border crossing so we all agreed that we would do anything (even drink a gallon of Nile water or live in Israel forever) just to avoid doing it again. So we bought plane tickets to fly from Tel Aviv to Amman (20 minute flight) and on day 9 we drove to Tel Aviv and found a hotel for the night.

Tel Aviv was also beautiful and our hotel sat right on the beach (Mediterranean sea). So we hung out on the beach for the evening and kept saying over and over that it was so worth every extra penny we had to spend to avoid making the next day a sequel to the day 5 nightmare which I still feel like I can't possibly do justice.

And so we lived to see another day . . .

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Days 6 and 7

Waking up in the Holy city seemed so much different than I had ever expected. Maybe it had something to do with how much more difficult it was to get there than I was expecting. It may have had something to do with the complete "surrealness" of the whole situation; I had always heard and seen pictures of Jerusalem, read about the holy sites in the scriptures, but I had never imagined that I would ever actually be there and when I woke up on the morning of day 6, still a bit exhausted from the adventures of day 5, I really could hardly digest the fact that I would finally see these places with my own eyes.

The hotel had a buffet breakfast which consisted of all kinds of things that we had never seen before and tasted about as good as they looked (which was NOT good). We played around with the raw egg concoctions and stale hard-as-a-rock pancakes for a while before we set off, on foot, to the walls of the old city. Less than 10 minutes later, we arrived at the Damascus gate (first picture).

"Old" really is a great way to describe the old city. It's walls gave an ancient aura and as soon as we walked inside the walls, you could easily imagine the place just as it must have looked 2000 years ago. The streets were narrow and crowded, winding and connecting with other roads every 30 feet or so and much of the city has been covered by roofs and tunnels which have been erected and sort of meshed together over the centuries. Shops line up and down the narrow streets selling all kinds of religious icons and symbols from 3 major world religions and it seemed that everyone in the streets was so traditionally dressed in their specific religious clothing and the contrast between the various theological groups seemed to enrich and really give a feeling to the Holy city that would not be there otherwise.

We walked up and down the streets for a little while, spotting the Via Dolorosa containing the stations of the cross (where the Catholic church has traditionally believed Christ carried His cross) until we were directed to the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall--the last wall remaining from Solomon's temple). Men and women enter the site in different sectioned off locations so we split up, uncle Will and I placing paper caps on our heads which were required to enter the grounds, and walked straight up to the wall, watching people pray and stick rolled up pieces of paper containing their prayers in the cracks in the wall (Fifth picture). We watched, undisturbed, until a rabbi came to us, blessed us, and then demanded money, complaining when I gave him something that it wasn't enough. I admit that a part of me was really bugged by this as it seemed such a contradiction to me that we were asked to be respectful when entering these religious sites and yet, as soon as we entered them, we were heckled and almost schemed by the very people that asked for respect in the first place. Then again, I don't know exactly how I would feel in tourists from all over came to my holy sites and took pictures of me while I tried to worship, which seems a lot more disrespectful to me now as I type than it did in the presence of an angry swindling rabbi.

We walked around to the other side of the wall where the Dome of the Rock is located with its mosques and well kept grounds surrounding it. We stood in line, pushed around by every child in Israel who seemed to be on a field trip to this corner of the Old City, until we made it through the metal detectors and got into the beautiful grounds. The sixth picture is a picture of the Dome which is built over the rock which Christians, Muslims, and Jews all believe in their own way the Messiah or Christ will come and set his foot down when he comes again (or for the first time). This picture was taken just minutes before we were all kicked off the grounds for prayer time.

After a while we took a taxi up to the BYU Jerusalem center which was absolutely gorgeous, sitting on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Old City (7th picture). They really could not have gotten a better location. We took a tour and and got tickets for a concert that would be the next day (at the center) and left notes for a couple of friends that we knew were on a semester at the school.

That night Uncle Will and I decided that it would be a good idea to go walk around in the old city for a while, although it was very dark and getting pretty late. I think we were becoming desensitized to danger, which is not a good thing, and we set off leaving Grandma and Krishelle back at the hotel to rest. I have to admit that I was a little freaked out walking down the very dark, mostly deserted streets, and I think Uncle Will may have been too because we were both walking pretty fast, checking over our shoulders every now and then as we went. We walked from one corner of the city to the other in record times, cutting through dark, really cool but scary looking alleys until we emerged into a really massive outdoor Jewish concert with a choir, orchestra and fireworks. We watched that for a while and then quickly walked back through the city, passing a couple of massive rats fighting at which point I turned my quick walk into a full sprint, leaving Uncle Will behind who didn't even notice I had left him until I was about 20 feet ahead (don't worry, just another thing they all teased me about for the rest of the trip).

The next day was better than the previous. We started the day at the Garden Tomb grounds which were very near our hotel. It was beautiful and so so peaceful there. I think we could have stayed there all day. The grounds contain the hill which many believe to be Golgotha or "Skull Rock" where Christ was crucified (second picture) as well as the Tomb (9th picture). The Tomb was really neat; we walked inside it and on the door was a sign that said "He is not here, He is risen" carved in wood. The tomb itself was pretty large and empty.

After the Garden Tomb we went to Gethsemane and down into the cave below the garden which many believe is where Christ actually went to pray but the Catholic Church has said is the place of Mary's tomb. Either way, the cave was really deep, dark, and interesting. The Garden itself was small but well kept and beautiful. We knew there was a Russian Orthodox church nearby that I really wanted to see so Grandma, Uncle Will, and Krishelle waited while I ran up a very steep hill for about a mile, searched around for a while and then finally ran back (it took me about 30 minutes) only to find that Krishelle realized that we were right next to the church right after I left them (you couldn't see it through all the trees). The church was very beautiful and we barely made it before they closed (3rd picture).

We did some souvenir shopping and saw more sites until we were all pretty smelly and tired and we went back to the hotel to get washed up and ready for the Israeli Jazz concert back at BYU. The concert was fun and we found out while there that one of Grandma's long lost cousins is a senior missionary there and they were tearfully reunited after 50 years.

The whole day was unbelievable and I knew that night when we went to bed that it was far and away my favorite day of the trip so far. Part of me felt like it could have stayed in Jerusalem forever and I couldn't believe that we would already be leaving the place the next morning, off to our next adventure with nothing more than an unofficial plan in mind (the sr. missionaries at BYU couldn't believe we were embarking on this trip alone by the way. But I learned that when Uncle Will is with you, you don't need a travel agent or a tour group to have fun and stay safe. . . well maybe to stay safe, but where is the fun in that anyway?).

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Day 5

Yup, day 5 gets its very own post. Its very own post it deserves. Day 5 was one day that I will surely never forget for so many reasons. It was both fascinating and terrifying; risky and thrilling and probably above all, educating.

The day didn't start out so radically diverse. We woke up in Jordan in a tiny town near Petra. The ruins at Petra are 2000 years old and attract a lot of tourists and attention each year as a wonder of the world. For those of you that have seen "Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade", Petra is the place where they filmed the buildings cut out of the rock where the holy grail was ultimately located at the end of the movie. The first picture in this post is the main attraction of the Petra ruins and the image most familiar from the movie.

We started the mile long walk down the narrow rock canyons, passing man-made caves and old canals until we arrived at the large wall. And it was completely amazing. Tourists all stood around it as well as a couple of camels drinking water bottles purely for entertainment's sake. We weren't allowed to go inside the building (so no, sadly, I was not able to locate the Holy Grail after taking the leap of faith on this trip) but we were able to peak our heads in to see . . . well a big empty room with a few doors going off to, presumably, more empty rooms. We hung around the building for a while until we all decided it was way too hot to be out in the desert, in the Middle East, in the middle of the day and we turned around to make the journey back up to the beginning even though there was more stuff farther down the canyon; we saw the main attraction and were quite satisfied.

We had to get going anyway so we could drive the rental car back to Amman and get a taxi to take us to the Israeli border, which we planned to cross that evening in order to be in Jerusalem by bedtime. Simple plan. Complicated outcome.

We said goodbye to the hotel, which we absolutely loved (mainly because of the incredible view). The drive back to Amman was uneventful, other than the 35 camels all crossing the road under the direction of a couple of children that couldn't have been much older than six (5th picture). So we waited several minutes for them to complete their mass exodus and drove on. When we got to the airport, I hopped out of the car to run in and find out what the car rental company wanted us to do with the car. I came back out, after finding out that no one working that day spoke a word of English, to find a stressed Uncle Will who was getting SCREAMED at by a man with a machine gun in a really crappy Hummer who was yelling something in Arabic through some kind of voice magnifying middle-eastern technology, inching closer and closer to the rental car in his giant vehicle. Somehow we returned the car and worked out a price with a taxi driver to take us to the border crossing which really wasn't more than an hour and a half away.

Well, it turned out to be about as far as we expected, with one minor complication: that border crossing was closed and our only chance of crossing the border was to go north to another border near Syria, one which, we found out later, was much less traveled by tourists. The long, hot, miserable drive took us another couple hours and by the time we got to the border, I just hoped and prayed it wouldn't take too long as I was getting tired, sick and rather dehydrated by this time, as well as a bit emotionally drained from traveling all over the Middle East all day, stopping ever now and again so men with machine guns could heavily scrutinize our passports a thousand times over.

We finally arrived at the border, or what we thought was the border, and all of our luggage was thrown into a new taxi as we were sent into a small building to be searched via metal detectors and minor bouts of frisking. We were then driven about 100 meters in this new taxi to another building where our bags were each put through surveillance as we, and our passports were checked again. The luggage was put back into the car again and we were driven another 400 meters to a waiting area with a group of Jordanians and Israelis. We were sort of directed to buy bus tickets after we found out from asking people around us what we were waiting for and were basically told that some bus would be coming to take us to the next spot. After waiting 30 minutes or so, the bus arrived and everyone threw their bags in the storage underneath and pushed each other out of the way to climb aboard. We went straight to the back, commenting to each other that we were so tired that we didn't care what happened anymore.

The bus drove about 400 meters down a dirt road with high barbed wire on either side and desert land as far as the eye could see. After the bus stopped, a Jordanian army man with a large machine gun came aboard and began checking everyone's passports as he walked through the bus, looking thoroughly through each page. He finally got back to us and looked at Krishelle's. As he flipped through her pages, his facial expression turned from mean to violently scary. He then, without giving her passport back, took Uncle Will's and flipped through his, growing angrier with each turn of the page. Eventually he took grandma's and mine and stormed off the bus. We sat there, growing a little nervous and deciding that we actually still did care what happened. After several minutes the man came aboard again and returned our passports and the bus suddenly backed up and turned around and headed back toward where we came from. Everyone on the bus started looking around, trying to figure out why were going back when Krishelle, looking rather freaked out, pointed out that they had just stamped the words "contact the nearest police within 30 days" in her passport. We then verified that the same stamp had been slapped on each of hours as well. As the bus came to a stop, the driver announced that he needed "the 4 with stamp come to front of bus!" We pushed grandma in front of us (you can't stay mad at her) as people around us mouthed curses in Arabic and Hebrew at us as we passed, stepping on their things as we went by. We were yelled at by some man who said something about an exit stamp and sent us into a building and down a hall to get something that we weren't quite sure about while an entire bus of irate middle-easterners waited for us. We were pushed around until someone got us through (we think you usually have to pay to get the stamp we needed but we were in such a hurry that they didn't charge us). After several LONG minutes, we were escorted back to a now much angrier busload of people where they made us stand at the front until we arrived back at the previous passport check where the same man came aboard and angrily checked ours again. We were then sent on the extremely awkward walk back to our seats where we set for another 30 seconds until the bus finally arrived at the actual border crossing (yes, we hadn't even gotten to the actual border yet, although what I've just described took hours).

We unloaded our bags and went inside another building where we now had to stand in line with the entire busload of angry people we had just detained due to our ignorance. The line moved slowly and when we finally arrived to the front of it, our passports were checked again (VERY thoroughly) and we were each asked a million questions about why we were there, where we were staying, where we had been, what we had with us, if we had any reason to believe that any explosives had been placed on our persons or in our bags, etc. Then our bags were sent back through more surveillance as we were escorted through more metal detectors and light frisking. At this point we were sent back to another window to get some kind of stamp where our passports were checked (again) and we were asked multiple questions (again) individually this time. Finally we were sent to another person who looked through our passports (very thoroughly), asked us a few questions, and then said "welcome to Israel" which I don't think had anything to do with being polite but actually served as a reminder of why the heck we had just gone through all of that as by that time, I had completely forgotten where we were trying to get due to all the emotional stress we had just been put through for the last 6 or 8 hours (or however long it was).

We were free and so so relieved . . . until we realized that we were standing in Israel in the middle of the night (because the whole ordeal took so long), hours from Jerusalem, with no ride and no idea how to get there. Another 45 minutes later we were able to get hooked up with a taxi driver (who we just watched smoke something out of a water pipe for a while) that took us to Jerusalem, driving through a bunch of dark Palestinian villages to get there. We stopped somewhere briefly and saw a Jewish parade go by (we think it was a wedding) and felt quite welcome when they walked up to the car and threw handfuls of candy to us.

When we arrived at our hotel, we dropped onto the beds, each of us still shaking slightly, not quite able to rid ourselves of the images of angry machine gun carrying military men, but also laughing a bit about how we can't ever seem to go anywhere without something life-threatening or embarrassing happening--or in this case, both life-threatening and embarrassing at the same time:). But I really can't describe how tired we all were by the time the whole ordeal came to an end. Even now as I type, I don't feel like my description really does the situation justice. I don't just mean that we felt physical exhaustion but we were mentally fried by the end and as I tried to fall asleep that night, I remember being shocked that it was only that morning that we were parading around the Petra ruins and laughing about the road-crossing camels and clothes-wearing goats (which I know I saw even if Krishelle is skeptical). I also thought that I would never really be the same again--in so many ways that I can't really explain, that day sort of changed the way I think about a lot of things, including some things that I'm much more grateful for now. It also helped me realize that sometimes you can either stress or find humor in your situation, so you might as well just laugh: stress gives you ulcers. And grandma must know that because she later told us that while we were all about to go into cardiac arrest, she apparently was trying desperately to keep from cracking up; this may be why grandma seemed to be the only person who wasn't tired on our long drive to Jerusalem as she told us ghost stories or when we finally did return home to Salt Lake City many days later.

But day 5 did finally come to an end as we went to bed next to a gorgeous view of the Old City, the Damascus Gate just blocks from where we slept.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Days 3 and 4

We woke up in Egypt. That wasn't of course until after we had a big run-in with the hotel who had a problem with us showing up in the middle of the night even though Uncle Will had emailed the manager weeks before and made those specific reservations. So we slept for a couple of hours and woke up to the call to prayer and a nice up close view of the pyramids from our window. And the pyramids were our first stop.

My whole life I had wanted to see the pyramids and go inside them and I was so excited to finally get to do so. Plus we had been making jokes non-stop about what soul-searching questions we were going to ask the sphinx when we saw it. We also got pretty good at imitating the sphinx's voice which was sort of a raspy whisper that kept saying "it's hot and I'm bored!" everytime we quoted it. Well we got hooked up with a taxi driver named Sayed who told us he only spoke English "50/50" right before Uncle Will told him we only spoke Arabic "0/100." After a few minutes with Sayed, however, we discovered that his self-assessment of "50/50" was extreemely generous. Sayed was great and very very helpful (we spent just about the whole day with him and tipped him heavily because he was hardly charging us anything to take us all over the place and sit and wait while we took a million pictures in the hot hot sun. He turned out to be one of only two or maybe three Egyptians we met that didn't lie to us or try desperately to rip us off).

The pyramids were great other than the 300 men with camels that followed and pestered us the entire way to ride their animals and buy their stuff "for free" which is just one example of the lies. But the pyramids were actually a lot bigger than I ever pictured them. I was also surprised that they were so open. You could go climb on them, spit on them, throw trash on them--really do whatever you want--which sort of seemed innapropriate for the last standing origional wonder of the world but hey, we got to touch the pyramids! There were a few different places where you could actually go inside the pyramids; they were narrow small shafts that you had to go into single file and they went forever into the darkness. Sayed showed us one of the shafts but told us it goes on forever and it's like an oven in there so he took us to a shorter one and told us that in this one you get the same effect with a fraction of the effort. I was extatic about going inside and was the first to climb in. Made it about 20 feet down the very narrow steep shoot (you had to go in backwards and climb down like a ladder) when Uncle Will made a joke about someone locking us in there. I looked down and saw how far down the shoot went into the ground under the GIGANTIC pyramid (and at the bottom it just turned and went down another shaft, and then another), then I looked up and saw the tiny hole at the top seem so far away; ok, I sort of freaked out and yelled "I gotta get out of here!!!" and before anyone could talk me out of it, I climbed over grandma, uncle Will and Krishelle and shot out of the top like a cannon, heart racing. After getting made fun of for a few seconds, the rest continued their decsent, grandma saying in her sweet voice that she didn't come all the way to Cairo to not go down. Krishelle made it about half-way down and then got freaked out and just waited for Uncle Will and Grandma to get all the way to the bottom of the final shoot and play around in some empty room down there before climbing all the way back up. I'm still freaked out about the whole thing and I'm getting hives just thinking about it. The first picture is grandma at the shoot entrance.

We finally did get on camels, which was neat. This was right before the camel guy tried to charge us an arm and a leg for it, saying over and over "money she comes money she goes" which ended up being a nice theme for the rest of the trip (emphasis on the "money she goes" part). We gave him a fraction of what he wanted (which was probably still way too much) and went off to see the sphinx. I sat down and had a nice conversation with it. Asked it what its favorite color is to which the Sphinx responded "dirty brown." I told it that that was quite convenient as everything around it was dirty brown. The Sphinx, unlike the pyramids, was much smaller than I pictured it and had black pigeons all over its face. I tried to convince Krishelle to cut her nose off and tattoo black pigeons on her face and then come home and tell everyone "it's the latest style from Egypt! It's called the Sphinx!" But she never would agree to do it. Nonetheless, the sphinx was really neat and it was actually gated off so we couldn't get up to it.

After lunch we made a terrifying journey through Cairo trafic (no rules). If you can imagine 22 million cars all honking and cutting each other off at the same time at record speeds, with no lanes at all, you can imagine Cairo traffic. If I was Catholic, I would have been crossing myself a lot the whole time.

Our last stop of the day was the Egyptian museam which is full of the stuff they found at the pyramids. We aren't museum people so we told Sayed we would only be in there for about 20 minutes. He got really offended and told us that most people stay in there for hours. So we changed it to 25 minutes (which still felt too long to us). There was a lot of cool stuff in there but we didn't know what any of it meant and it was really hot. We didn't even go to the second floor (we did 2 weeks later when we heard what was up there. I'll get to that in a future post).

Back at the hotel we relaxed and watched part of a light show going on at the pyramids and then it was to bed. Next morning we were at the scary Cairo airport flying off to Amman Jordan. Jordan's landscape is just how I always pictured the Middle East: a hot flat desert with the occasional turban wearing camel riders and bedoins on the side of the highway. We rented a car in Amman and drove a couple hours to a tiny town just next to Petra, passing camel crossing signs and giant heards of goats along the way (we saw one goat wearing clothes which quickly became the source of many jokes for the rest of the trip).

Petra area was interesting. It was very dry and mountainous and our really really cool hotel sat on a very high point overlooking the city. In my next post, I'll include pictures of it as well as the explanation of why we went to Petra for those who aren't familiar with what's there.

Stayed tuned!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Days 1 and 2

We started our trip off in Amsterdam. This was the first time I've been to Europe since my mission three years ago and it was so fun to be back. Our first day there we met up with Uncle Will's friend Lori, who works and lives just a few hours away, and went around the city a bit, wandering only once into the red-light-district (oops). I have to say, Amsterdam is beautiful and trashy! The whole city looked like how you would picture the red-light-district and the red-light-district looked like the rest of the city, only more congested with filth. After a while Nona (my grandma) finally told us "I don't like the way I feel here!"

That said, Amsterdam really is beautiful. The streets are narrow and twisted and all the buildings are leaning into each other, making the whole place feel like something from a Dr. Seuss book (only with a lot of pornography and half-naked prostitutes advertising themselves in the windows--I think it may have been a cut chapter from "Oh The Places You'll Go"). Nothing too eventful happened other than having about 10 different taxis refuse to take us back to the hotel that night for reasons I still don't entirely understand but I believe had something to do with it being a shorter, less financially beneficial trip than the drivers wanted to embark on. Finally Lori got us in one and told the driver that she was not getting out and he could sit in there with her all night if he wanted. After a lot of fighting and getting the hotel on the phone with the driver and the driver telling us "this is not fair my heart!!!", we finally made it back, one very quiet and awkward taxi ride later.

We spent the second day in Amsterdam as well and first went to the Ann Frank house which was really amazing. It was pretty unbelievable to walk through the rooms and see where it all took place. One of the pictures I'm posting here is of a wall in Ann Frank's room with pictures that she put up when her family was hidden there. There was a really creepy and somber feeling in the whole house as we walked through.

That evening we went to the airport to fly out to Cairo and said goodbye to Lori. The way we planned the trip, we would end up back in Amsterdam for a day at the end of the 2+ weeks.

Trip Overview

Well I'm finally back in town and while vacation is always a splendid thing, I must say it feels great to be back. This is partly because I've been sicker than I've ever been for the last two days, which I'll get to later, but also because this was never intended to be the relaxing type of vacation. It was quite rigorous and wearing. That said, the last two weeks were a couple of the most amazing weeks I've ever had. We saw so much and moved around more than a former mobster in the witness protection program which has left me feeling like I've been away for years, not weeks. I've been living in a dream-world and now I'm trying to get back to reality (the 113 new work emails are going to help me do that real quick).

We returned just about 7 hours ago but I'm having a hard time sleeping and I just uploaded all my pictures so I thought I might start blogging about the adventures. There is no way I could ever have the stamina to sit down and write about the whole trip at once so I decided to break it up and blog about it just a few days at a time. Enjoy!