Tuesday, April 29, 2008

This will change you...

I have never been so awe inspired as I am by the incredible faith of this family. I pray you will read this blog and pray for this family. However, be warned, you will never be the same.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

City of Dubai

I was in Dubai 8 years ago and my-oh-my how this city has changed. Dubai was my first international trip, ever! When I was first told I was going to Dubai I had to look on a map and see where it was located...I had never heard of it.

Now, 8 years later, Dubai is extremely well known....and mostly known for the incredible wealth and all of the incredible buildings that are going up!

I was in Dubai for a few days and only had 1 weekend day to get out and see some things. A friend from high school lives in Dubai with her husband and 2 adorable kids! I got to meet up with them and have dinner to catch up! It was so great to see Susannah and their awesome villa! Thanks for an awesome night!!

On Saturday, a guy from our office was kind enough to take us around the city. We went to the Dubai Museum to see the history of this amazing city. Check out my pictures on Shutterfly to see what this city use to be like! It is an amazing transformation.

We also went to the gold souks (markets) and looked around. Dubai is famous for their gold; however, with the price of gold right now, I did not purchase anything!

We also drove around to see some of the many construction sites. We drove along the newest "Palm". This is the property shaped like a palm tree with incredible homes, apartments, and hotels being built on the many islands. I read that over 75% of the world's cranes are located in Dubai...I can confirm this!
Dubai does things big...and I mean HUGE! They love to have the 'largest, tallest, most luxurious in the world. Here are some examples:

Tallest: Burj Dubai - Tallest man-made structure on Earth and set to open in September 2009. Largest: Mall of the Emirates where you can actually snow ski in the desert!

Most Luxurious: Burj Al Arab - The only 7-star hotel in the world which was designed to symbolize Dubai's urban transformation and to mimic the sail of a boat.
I loved this fountain inside the Burj Al Arab!
Largest: Atrium in the Burj Al Arab
Most impressive (in my opinion): Jumeirah Beach Hotel - This structure is shaped like a wave, which, from a distance, looks like a wave hitting the sail boat (Burj Al Arab hotel is shaped like a sail boat).
The FedEx offices are located in the World Trade Center in Dubai. I want to compare these pictures to the ones I will take when I go back in a few months and see how much more they build! Please note: There was a sand storm going on while we were there...so it is hard to see in the distance.
If you ever get the opportunity to go to Dubai, I highly recommend it. I felt an American influence there with all of the American restaurants and everything is in English! We even had lunch at Chili's! I cannot wait to go back and see more!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dubai, UAE

I left Mumbai on Friday and jumped on a plane and found myself in Dubai 3 hours later! Talk about night and day....I found going from the 3rd world atmosphere of Mumbai, India to the richest country in the world quite interesting!

We had a busy work week in Mumbai so not too many fun stories to share about that city! However, I do have a lot to share from Dubai.

It has been 8 years since the last time I was in Dubai and I do not recognize the city. It has changed so much. So far I was able to meet up with a friend from high school for dinner last night and then take a little tour of the city today.

I promise to share all the stories soon.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Welcome back to India!

Hello from Mumbai! The ‘shock factor’ is definitely less the second time you visit a place which is so drastically different from what you are use to.

I was expecting the smell of India as soon as we walked off the plane and the humidity that slapped me right in the face. I saw the same ‘head bobbing’ immediately (that is when you ask someone a question and they bob their head as if they are saying no, but they really mean yes). The beggars outside the airport were still there trying to do anything they can for a few rupees. The chaos in the streets still exists and we even dodged a few cows on the way to the office yesterday morning. I assume they were out for their morning walk!

All of this to say…welcome back to India!

Monday, April 14, 2008

My car is cursed....

Seriously, I am not sure what to say at this moment. I know things could be a lot worse, but I am not sure how much more I can take.

I got to my car this evening to drive Maxie to Pam's since I have a 7:30AM flight in the morning. I got to my car and noticed my glove compartment was opened and things seemed to not be in the order in which I left them. I turned around and saw my back window had been busted out. Yes, that is right....someone broke into my car.

My neighbors came out when they saw me approach the car and told me that it must have happened between 1:30PM and 4:30PM this afternoon. They said when they left for the park my car was fine, but when they came home they noticed all of the glass on the sidewalk and saw my window. So, that means it happened in the middle of the day, on a fairly busy street, right in front of my neighbor's window, and in broad daylight. Nice....and I thought I lived in a nice neighborhood. My neighbors also said they had heard this was becoming quite a problem in the city. Great!

I will fast forward ahead past the nice adjectives that came out of my mouth about this country and say I made my first visit to the police department to report the incident. Luckily, there was a guy who was really nice and spoke English that took my report. I cannot wait to report this one to the insurance company! I wonder if they cancel you after a certain number of claims??

I really LOVE Belgium.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Quick Visit!

I love visitors!!! I was so excited when I got an email from my friend, Kathy, last week! She told me she was coming to Belgium on a business trip and wanted to stop off in Brussels to see me! Yay!

What a trooper she is! She arrived into Brussels this morning after an overnight flight, caught a shuttle to Antwerp (where she will be staying all week), then caught a train to Brussels....all on no sleep and no room when she arrived at her hotel!

I was so happy to see her! I took her to the Grand Place where we had lunch at my favorite little Italian restaurant! She must have brought the sunshine with her as the weather was perfect for enjoying a Sunday afternoon! After walking around downtown, we had to go pay our respects to the infamous Manneken Pis!

It was a very quick visit, but one I appreciate more than she knows!

Thanks for coming to see me, Kathy!!! Enjoy Belgium!!

Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, Netherlands

Maxie and I took advantage of the beautiful day in Brussels and drove 2 hours to Lisse, Netherlands to see the famous Keukenhof Gardens. I have heard so much about this place and it ranked very high on my must-see list of items this spring. The gardens are only open from March 20th-May 18th so I knew we needed to get there fast before time was up!

Keukenhof is the world's largest flower garden where approximately 7,000,000 flower bulbs are planted annually. As you can imagine, I took a lot of pictures so it may take me a little while (considering all my traveling these days) to get them all loaded onto Shutterfly.

The gardens were gorgeous and the colors were spectacular! I was a little early for the tulips, but I got to see some. I am hoping to go back in early May to see the tulips in full bloom!

In the meantime, enjoy a few photos! Oh, and by the way...although it looked like spring in the gardens it was still very cold and very windy yesterday while we were there!

Maxie was on the hunt for worms and rubbing her nose in the ground in hopes they would jump up and say hello!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Happy Anniversary

One year ago today I arrived to a new country with 2 loaded suitcases and one confused dog! One year later, I have survived and I cannot believe it! I have adjusted, unpacked, gotten settled, traveled, laughed, cried, and eaten my way through the past 12 months in Europe and even a tip-toe into Asia!!

I cannot believe it has been 1 year! It seems like 1 month ago I was unpacking all of those boxes wondering what the heck have I gotten myself into! It has been one amazing and unforgettable year!

I have learned a lot about myself, matured in so many ways, become more open minded about the world and its issues, become more cultured in ways than I could ever try to explain, and more than anything...realized what is important to me and what is not! I have also become closer to some friends while being so far away, and lost touch with some as well.

This year had quite a few bumps in the road, and sometimes literally. With every bump there has been a good laugh. A special friend reminded me recently that I have to take the good with the bad and I could not agree more. I stopped complaining about the random things that seem to happen to me and started reflecting on all the blessings! And, oh, there have been so many blessings!

God has been with me throughout this journey! He brought special friends into my life in Brussels that I could not make it over here without. And, there has been all the traveling...the fun part of my job!

Over the past year, I visited 10 countries:

* Belgium (Brussels, Brugge, Leuven, Huy, Ghent, Antwerp)
* India (Mumbai, New Delhi, Agra)
* France (Paris 5 times including a trip to Disneyland; Giverny; Normandy Region including Utah Beach, Gold Beach, Omaha Beach; Champagne Region including Epernay and Reims; Sainte Mere-Eglise; Bayeux, Deauville; Honfleur)
* Hungary (Budapest)
* England (London, Manchester, Stoke, Crewe)
* Scotland (Edinburgh)
* Italy (Milan)
* Germany (Frankfurt, Berlin, Cologne)
* Netherlands (Amsterdam)
* Turkey (Istanbul)

One thing that I have enjoyed the most while being over here is the visitors who have come to see me (Mom, Kristen, Jennie, Gail, Ginnie, Jane, Lisa, Rick). I have already begun to take a lot of my day-to-day experiences for granted so when visitors come to see me, I start to appreciate life abroad more! Not to mention just how dang awesome it is to have my friends around me!!

This next year will be an exciting one as well, but a busy one too! Preparing to go back home is already on my mind and I have a lot of countries to see before that day arrives!

Thank you all for your support, love, phone calls, emails, cards, and special treats from the good ole US of A! I cannot tell you how much it means to hear from you!!

Here's to another incredible and successful year abroad!!


Thursday, April 10, 2008

ALERT: Spring has gone missing!!!

The calendar says its spring but I have not seen it yet!! I am currently in the United Kingdom and the temperature has been in the low 40s with rain, sleet, and snow. I leave on Monday for Mumbai, India where the temperature is in the high 90s.....then I am going to Dubai where the high is 100! Yikes, talk about a drastic change in temperature for the body!

I guess I am jumping over spring and heading right into summer! Need not worry...it will still be freezing when I get back to Brussels!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

It was a great ride...

My Tigers were unable to pull it off against Kansas last night in the National Championship game. However, it was an incredible season and I am very proud of my boys!

Just wait and see what happens next year!

Sunday, April 6, 2008


My Memphis Tigers defeated UCLA last night (well, this morning for me) and they are on their way to the National Championships!!!! Oh, how excited I am!

The game came on at midnight Brussels time last night, so Maxie and I stayed up to watch it! We did not go to bed until 3:30AM this morning!!! Maxie was not too happy with me keeping her up; however, she did manage to lay in the bed and watch the game!

I leave tonight for Manchester, England so I will have to pull another late night tomorrow night to watch the game. It comes on at 8:21PM central time...so that is 2:21AM England time....yikes!

Oh well...GO TIGERS GO!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Istanbul, Turkey (Part 3)

The rest of our time in Istanbul was filled with hanging out with our friends and shopping! Oh, and going to Asia! Necla and Ahmet laughed at me when I told them I wanted to go to Asia (remember this city sits on 2 continents)! Really, I did! I have never been to Asia and since I was this close, I had to go! Although there was nothing really to see on the Asia side, I had to go....so we did! It was fun to just ride around with Necla! She is full of interesting stories and we girls had a ball on our little road trip to Asia!

This is a picture crossing the Bosphorus Bridge leaving Asia and going back into Europe!

And now, to the shopping! There is a great place in Istanbul called the Grand Bizarre. And Grand, it was! Wow, you could buy anything, and I mean anything, in the Bizarre. I was very interested in purchasing a Turkish rug for my dining room. Ahmet is an expert in the rug industry, so I took him along with me to help in my selection, verify the quality, and make sure I got a reasonable price! I came home with the most beautiful handmade Turkish rug that I love!!!!!! It is so fabulous! I have not taken a picture of it, but I really need to! I have it down in my dining room now and smile every time I look at it. This was a purchase I knew I would never regret and would have it forever!!!

The Grand Bizarre is so large you actually have to have a map to guide you around. I was lost the whole time and was very happy Necla was around to guide us!

Besides the Turkish rug I bought, I also came home with some handmade Turkish pottery! Oh, I love pottery!

I never would have had this incredible experience had it not been for Pam, Ahmet, and Necla! I am incredibly thankful for their friendship and hospitality!

Thanks Necla and Ahmet for an amazing tour of your city!

Photo Friday: Far From Home

Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

Friday, April 4, 2008

Istanbul, Turkey (Part 2)

On Saturday, Necla took us out to see the city of Istanbul, which is Europe's 4th most populous city. It is located on the Bosphorus Strait and is the only city in the world to sit on 2 continents (Europe and Asia). I think that is so cool (and probably have said it a million times)! Istanbul is often referred to as the "City on Seven Hills"; however, I refer to it as the "City on Seven Thousand Hills" because of all the steps we climbed. I think I got my exercise in for the next few months!!!

We first visited the Hagia Sophia (or Ayasofya in Turkish). It is a former patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum. Famous in particular for its massive dome (which has been under renovation for over 20 years!). It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the completion of the Medieval Seville Cathedral in 1520.

What amazed me the most about the Hagia Sophia was the age of this building. It was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 AD. Yes, I did say that....532 AD. I am in awe every time I visit places that are old. I just do not understand how they could build something so massive without the equipment and technology we have today. There are still mosaics left from 532 AD that are incredible.

The pictures do not do it justice.

This is one of the mosaics that has been in place since 532 AD.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque (or Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish) is one of several mosques known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built between 1609 and 1616. Like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice.

To me, the Blue Mosque was the more impressive, especially on the inside due to all the color. As a sign of respect, we had to take off our shoes and cover our hair before entering.

We also visited the Basilica Cistern, also called the Yerebatan Sarayı or Yerebatan Sarnıcı. It is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that still lie beneath the city of Istanbul. I have to be honest and say I am still not exactly sure of the purpose of this Cistern. I believe is was basically a huge water well that held water for the city. I will have to do more research on this.

This cathedral-sized cistern is an underground chamber of 143 by 65 meters, capable of holding 80,000 cubic meters of water. The large space is broken up by a forest of 336 marble columns each 9 meters high. The columns are arranged in 12 rows each consisting of 28 columns.

However, I did find this interesting...The bases of two of the column blocks were carved with the head of a Medusa. The origin of the two heads is unknown, though it is rumoured that the heads were brought to the cistern after being removed from an antique building of the late Roman period. Another mystery is why one of the heads is upside down, while the other is tilted to one side. It is commonly accepted by scientists that they were placed that way deliberately to scare off evil spirits!

There is still more to come...so stay tuned!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Istanbul, Turkey (Part 1)

Have you ever been in a situation that was just so surreal you almost felt uncomfortable and a bit out of your league, yet incredibly fulfilled? Well, that is how my trip to Istanbul played out.

Pam and I went to Istanbul to see the city but also to stay with friends, Ahmet and Necla. Pam was in a French class with Necla a couple of years back and got to know her pretty well. I met them for the first time when Pam and Necla picked me up from the airport Friday night.

Ahmet and Necla were the best hosts. They live in an incredible (and I mean incredible) home that sits on a cliff side and overlooks the Bosphorus Sea. Pam and I stayed in their guest quarters on the top level with our very own living room (with a view), patio, kitchen, and bathroom. My bedroom had a view of the Bosphorus, as well.

Here are some pics I took of their home:

Our kitchen
Living room with a view
On the patio
The pool
Tippa, Necla, Ahmet, and Pam

The more I got to know Ahmet and Necla, the more I realized what incredible lives they have lived. Ahmet has worked all over the world and is now a writer and has been published in every major newspaper and journal around the world. They have dined and entertained with the elite of the elite in European society, including the late Princess Diana.

It was not their lives that I was most impressed with or even their accomplishments, it was just how unbelievably down-to-earth, nice, kind and hospitable they were. Not to mention how incredibly intelligent. I have learned a lot about international affairs while living abroad and even impressed myself at how I was able to participate in such intellectual conversations we had. Not only did I participate, but I listened and learned about so much history...more than I ever did in school.

Ahmet and Necla were raised Muslim, but had not practiced in years. They converted to Greek Orthodox about 4 years ago and even took us to their Greek Orthodox church on Sunday. What an amazing experience and one that I never would had if it were not for them. I am very strong in my faith; but not too familiar with the details of other religions and beliefs. The service was conducted in Greek with verses from the Bible read in Turkish. It is sort of like the type of ceremony you would see at a Catholic church. I did not understand a single word throughout the service, but what I did understand was their worship and strong belief in God. It is amazing how that translates no matter what language you speak.

We attended a special service held only during the month of Easter. In the Greek Orthodox church, they celebrate Easter at a different time than when we do. Their Easter is celebrated on April 27th of this year. Ahmet explained to me that we (Western Christianity) celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. They (Eastern Christianity), in keeping with the rule established by the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea, adhere to the tradition that Easter must always fall after the Jewish Passover, since the death, burial and Resurrection of Christ happened after the celebration of Passover. Eventually the Orthodox Church came up with an alternative to calculating Easter based on Passover, and developed a 19-year cycle, as opposed to the Western Church 84-year cycle.

Totally confused? Well, do some research and you may understand more. I found it all very fascinating!

We also had dinner one night with a friend of Ahmet and Necla's who wrote a very controversial book a few years ago. He is originally from Iran and was forced to flee his country in 1999 due to political uprising. He fled to the US and lived in Oklahoma and Texas for a while. He later moved to New York City, got his PhD, and taught at some of the most prestigious colleges and universities around the world. Just having the opportunity to sit and talk with someone with an unbelievable background was so inspiring to me. I do not have to have the same beliefs as someone else to admire the tribulations he has gone through in his life. Can you imagine not being able to go back to the country where your family lives and possibly never seeing them again? I felt like my life is so small and unimportant in comparison to how these people have lived. It really opens your eyes to the different ways people live their lives. We get so set in our ways and think the problem of the day is so insurmountable. There are a lot worse problems out there that we could deal with in our safe little worlds.

Behzad, Necla, and Ahmet
I left Istanbul with a greater understanding and a more open mind to international views of America, religions, and different cultures. It was an amazing history lesson and one that could never be taught in a classroom!

More to come on the sites in Istanbul.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Final Four Bound!

While I was in Istanbul this past weekend, my Tigers played their way through the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games and made it to the Final Four! This is the first time Memphis has made it to the Final Four since 1985 (back in the Keith Lee days)! I am so excited! They play this Saturday night...so stay tuned!