Monday, August 13, 2018

Viva España

This summer we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary and we decided that we were going to do it right! We started with a ginormous backyard party, which was everything we hoped it would be - good friends, good food, good music, good backyard vibe - it was a darn fine party!

But the party was just the first step in our epic anniversary plans - a few weeks later (over our actual anniversary) we flew to Spain (Spain! Can you believe it?!?) for nine days of kid-free, agenda-free, computer-free, blissfully-free adventure. It was amazing.

The most common question we get is, "what was the best part?"

Steve's answer is simple: paella. We had talked about paella for the whole trip but it wasn't until we got to Barcelona (the final stop) that we did a little research, found a well-recommended paella place (Tavern Glop... great paella, terrible name) and dug in. And it everything we had hoped it would be! Candidly, my rabbit-and-snails rice dish was a little bland. Next time, we'll keep it simple and just order 2 paellas.

My answer to the "favorite part" question is less definitive - I just really liked being together; no responsibilities, no real plans, just seeing the sights and hanging out together.

Now, we all know that Steve will laugh out loud when he reads this post because our definitions of "just hanging out" are still pretty different. When I say "no real plans" what I really mean is "a mere one structured outing or reservation per day". I mean, we had to make sure we saw the main sights, right?!?

I loved a lot about Spain,  but probably my favorite thing (after cava sangria) was that nobody will kick you out of a restaurant! I loved that we would find a cozy table with a menu that looked good, nurse a beer and a few tapas, and play cribbage for hours.

Of course, the no-pressure approach to table vacancy did mean we had to wait or wander a while to find the perfect cozy nook to hang out in, but it was well worth the search. Plus, we were the crazy Americans eating at the ungodly early hour of 8 pm, so the restaurants were still pretty empty.

I loved each of our 3 stops for how different and unique and fantastic they each were. Toledo was this very quiet, very quaint, mostly walking city with endless crooked alleys and a sword shop on every corner. Besides touring the cathedral, we mostly just wandered, ate, played cards, ate some more, and then wandered a bit more. It was slow-paced, quiet, and the perfect start to our trip.

Stop 2 was Rota, on the southern Atlantic coast of Spain. The best part of Rota was seeing my aunt and uncle, who are living the dream on the Spanish coast!

We spent hours and days walking the beaches, stopping at random beach bars to fortify ourselves, taking a nap, and then doing it all over again. Heaven.

And our final stop was Barcelona - completely different from the other two cities we visited, and also completely wonderful. Touring the Sagrada Familia and other Gaudi homes, hitting the Picasso museum, and just wandering the streets of such a beautiful, artistic, historical-yet-modern city was an excellent end to our amazing adventure.

By far, the best part of the trip was doing it together. We're pretty darn good adventure buddies and it's a blessing to have time away to remember just how much we enjoy being just about anywhere as long as we're doing it together.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Sam Explores Vietnam

In June I went on a trip to Vietnam for two weeks, and it was a blast!  The trip went all over vietnam and we got to see a lot of the countryside as well as the larger cities.

We started the trip in Ho Chi Minh city (also known as Saigon) with a trip to an outdoor museum for the Vietnam War. It was somber, but interesting. We got to see many of the traps the Vietcong used in the war, as well as cool propaganda footage. After that we went to the Mekong Delta, a beautiful region of vietnam with many rivers.  
There were so many boats!

After Mekong it was back to Ho Chi Minh for a flight to Hoi An. We had a lot of fun shopping and exploring. But we also went on a very cool “eco tour” where we saw traditional farming methods and rice paddies.
A field we helped water
Me riding a water buffalo

After Hoi An we went to Da Nang, and saw the beautiful marble mountain and some of the caves inside.
The view from the top of marble mountain. The city goes up to the base!

After Da Nang we went to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. We got to see some of the ruins of the old imperial city. After our first day in Hanoi we took a train to Sapa, in the mountains of northern vietnam. There we got to see the incredible landscape, shaped over hundreds of years into rice paddies over every valley.
The Sapa region has many rice paddies like the ones in this picture

We did some light hiking to reach our very cool homestay, and in the morning hiked back to the town to catch our train back to Hanoi.

After that we went to one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam, Halong bay. Its really difficult to describe how impressive the bay is, but it was truly a sight to behold. The rocks towering above our ship were truly astounding. You should google for some pictures, its so cool.

After a night on the ship we drove back to Hanoi, and after a night of rest & shopping we finally left to come back home.

The trip was truly a wonder, and it was so great to see some of the most impressive parts of this beautiful country
A photo of our group. I actually don't know why I'm so far from everyone else.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Australian Adventures

Last month I visited Sydney, Australia on assignment for Qualtrics. I will state the obvious here - visiting an entirely new, stunningly beautiful, and very expensive continent for work is simply fantastic.

Here's the view from the Qualtrics Sydney Office. I kid you not - that's the office view. 

I decided I needed to do something special on my first evening in Australia to keep myself awake and try and get on local time, so I went big with Bridge Climb Sydney. See that bridge in the upper left-hand corner of the photo above? Well, you can pay (a lot of) money to put on a very fancy jumpsuit, and climb up the arch! It's an amazing experience and definitely kept me awake!

Sydney at night from the top of the bridge.
Morning reading at the harbor

Of course, I was there to work, and work I did!I came to Australia to help out with the X4 conference in Sydney. We do 3 conferences worldwide - the main conference in Salt Lake (my reminiscences here), and then one in London and one in Sydney. I helped with setup, client relationships, and presentations including representing the iQ product line that I manage.

Reppin' the iQ

And I made time to check many Australia must dos off of the list, including:
  • The obligatory koala photo
  • Eating kangaroo
  • Touring the Opera House
  • Checking out the beaches
  • And getting everything on my kids' souvenir list (namely licorice and a boomerang)

Australia was fantastic - the weather was perfect, the people were so friendly, public transportation was easy to navigate. I was particularly proud of completing 10 days of corporate travel with only a carry-on bag (wahoo!).

My favorite thing about Australia, however, was their deep and public love for breakfast as a nation. It's even generally referred to as "brekkie" - how great is that?!? I have a soft spot for any culture that has a pet name for the greatest meal of the day.

Sunset reflected off of the Opera House
Heading to the beach for brunch
Stand-up paddleboarding in Manly Harbor
Meat Pie at an Australian Rules Football game
The cricket/AFL pitch (distinctly quiddich-like if you ask me)
Church at Hillsong
The Bondi to Coogee walk

My trip was not without its cultural missteps. For example, in Australia apparently "black tea" means tea without sugar or cream (like black coffee) rather than the kind of tea.

Also, there were no paper towels in any public restroom that I saw. I get it, they're wasteful, but I still prefer paper towels to those scary loud hand dryers.

But, never you fear, I persevered through these hurdles. And, yes, folks from Sydney really do love their Opera House, say "no worries" a lot, and live in a simply wonderful city. I'll gladly go back any time I can do so on somebody else's dime!


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