Saturday, June 04, 2011

From an internet cafe near the Sorbonne

The Wandering Watki arrived in Paris via Eurostar on Thursday evening.  We've enjoyed touring about town with the Henrys for the past few days.  We did an incredible amount of walking on our arrival day, seeing the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomph, the Oblisk, The Louvre, the Grand and Petite Palaces, etc.  Dinner that night found us at a Creperie in the 7th district.  After dinner we walked down Rue Cler and scored our dessert crepes there.  Emma had chocolate, while Wade, Caroline and I each ate banana and sugar, and Glen went for the strawberry variety.  Last night while the Henrys went up the Eiffel Tower, Wade, Emma and I sat in the grass out front and watched the lights blinking on the hour.  We enjoyed reminiscing about times we've spent their together in the past.  We've marvelled at how late we've stayed out in the night here, since at home when we get together and it gets past nine we start getting ready to head home.  The past two nights have found us out past midnight.  Needless to say, our breakfasts have been coming later in the mornings than usual as well.  Right now the Henrys are exploring the Louvre and we've plopped ourselves down in an internet cafe, following a pannini in the park.  We plan to travel up to the Montmarte district next and take the Henrys to the Sacre Coeur.  Tomorrow morning they leave for the States & we plan to head to Antwerp, Belgium for a couple of days before the Caytons arrive.  Emma hasn't been back to Antwerp since she's old enough to remember it, so Wade and I are looking forward to the possibility of reintroducing her to the city.  Some of  you may not know we used to live there while Wade was in graduate school. However, we're also toying with the idea of a couple of "down days" here in Paris as we've been on the go fairly consistently for about a week now.  It's nice to have the flexibility to choose!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lazy Morning, Wicked Afternoon

May 30, 2011 Lazy morning, Wicked night

This morning we had a bit of a lie in, as our friends Pete and Nicole would say. In fact, Emma slept past the point where we could eat breakfast at the hotel . . . And it was served until 11am on this "bank holiday Monday." When she finally got showered and ready to start the day, we headed across the street to Waterstones, a bookshop in the O2 center across the street from our hotel. Emma and Wade both finished their current reads last night, hence the lie in today. We had lunch and then spent a bit of time on the internet before heading out to the British Library. We spent the bulk of our time there in a section labeled Treasures. While we were disappointed to discover that Beowulf and Alice in Wonderland were not available for viewing, we still considered it a successful visit as we saw many other important works. In addition to the Gutenberg Bible and pieces of the Codex, we enjoyed looking at works by Shakespeare and Chaucer before marveling at pieces of the Magna Carta, then returning to the literature section. I particularly enjoyed viewing some handwritten works by Virginia Woolf and the notebooks kept by a 12-17-year-old Jane Austen. A writing desk believed to be a gift to Austen from her father was an addition to the collection since our last visit. Emma seemed to enjoy the music section a good bit. I found myself wishing that Ms. Judy could see her as she poured over the scores penned by Mozart and listened to works by several composers. Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks and works by Charles Darwin were other items of interest to all three of us. When the library closed, it was time to head to Victoria Station to meet the Henrys for a pre-show dinner.

For those of you who don't really know our summer plans, I should share that this time around we'll be joined by some Stillwater friends. Right now, we are in the same hotel as the Cook family. Jeremy is teaching at Regent's College with Wade and is joined here by his wife and their three children who served as excellent playmates for Emma on Sunday afternoon at the Princess Diana Memorial Playgrounds, which the kids have dubbed "Peter Pan Park" as the equipment is themed straight out of the JM Bairre novel. In addition to having the Cook kids to play with, Emma is fortunate to have Caroline and Abby in town, and we are very much enjoying the company of their parents as well. Caroline and Emma went to school together in Pre-K, Kinder, and 1st grade at Sunnybrook and we have been blessed to know their family. They'll be with us here in London until Thursday when we'll all hop on the Eurostar and head for Paris. Today, we'll be joined briefly by Lexi, a college student who has become part of our family this year. Lexi pauses in London on her way to Africa for the summer before she studies in Slovenia for the academic year. I have a feeling we'll all be choking back some tears during tomorrow's goodbye. Finally, one week from today in Paris we'll be joined by our friends Lori and Owen and their boys Toviel (8) and Mattai (6). We'll spend a few days together in the city before our two families climb into a van and head for Switzerland, Austria, and Germany together. Other than the occasional outing with our Semester at Sea friends, we tend to travel as a trio, so this summer should prove to be a bit different than summers past.

The third stop was a charm for our group as both Shakespeare's and The Duke of York pub were full. Our crew devoured fish and chips at the aptly named Stage Door before wandering over to the Apollo Victoria theatre. After making some t-shirt purchases for the girls, we took our seats in the second and third rows, center stage. There are times when sitting so close isn't ideal (at the Nutcracker Ballet in Tulsa this could prevent seeing the dancers' feet) but this was not one of them. The brilliant performance of Wicked was enhanced by our proximity to the stage. Following the performance, Wade pointed out the side door where many cast members would likely exit. Emma wanted to stay and try to get autographs. What follows serves as an example of why she's blessed to have Wade for a father. I'm thinking this is not a great idea. First of all, we have very little she can have signed. Since she's seen the show twice before, we didn't purchase a playbill or booklet. True, she has her ticket, which is a full sheet of paper since we printed them online, but none of us has a pen. How can one ask for an autograph with no pen? Additionally, it's after 10pm AND it's beginning to rain. Clearly, we should go. About the time I am going to press these issues, out walks the actor who plays Fiyero, pen in hand. Not only did Emma and Caroline get his autograph, but Wade took a photo of the three of them as well. The actor who played Bok came out next, but he didn't have his own pen. That's too bad, I thought. Emma will be disappointed. Then, I heard her ask someone next to her if she could borrow her pen! Who would refuse two cute little girls? Certainly not that person. The most brilliant part of all, was when the girls asked some of the principal females (Nessarose, Elphaba, and Glinda) for their autographs and then asked if they had pens! Elphaba did not, but she went around asking for one until she could sign for them! Even Abby decided to come over for the photo ops with Elphaba and Glinda. I think this will be an experience they'll remember for years to come, and it's one they wouldn't have had without Wade's encouragement.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Our first trip to the Pyramids of Giza

Just before the Light and Sound Show. 

Thanks Dad!!!!

And it's barely 7:30 am!!!!

The One We've Been Waiting For

Think this little girl was happy to see the Sphinx?
This whole voyage itinerary is amazing, but our arrival in Egypt is SUPER exciting for a number of reasons.  First, Wade's never been to Cairo.  Sure, neither have I or Emma, but there are tons of places around the world the two of us haven't been and not so many for Wade.  Second, Emma's had a soft spot for Egypt since she was eighteen months old and called it "Gyptie".  Third, seeing the pyramids has been a dream of mine since looking at photos in Coach Jordan's Geography class. So, while I have access to high speed internet I thought I'd upload a few photos from our AMAZING time in Giza.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Outside the Barcelona Aquarium.

Ahhhhhh, Athens

Did I say I was going to write about Italy? Well, perhaps at some point I will, but for now you’re getting Greece while it’s fresh on my mind.

For Emma, the whole summer is about this port. Sure, she’s excited to see the pyramids in a couple of weeks, and reuniting with Emma Z. was atop her list as well, but this kid LOVES all things Greek. She is fascinated by Greek history. She pours over Greek mythology books. She devours Greek food. Thus, she was giddy as we approached the port of Piraeus. On our first day in Greece we were on an SAS trip that took us to the Acropolis and the New Acropolis museum. Though we’ve been to the Acropolis twice before, Summer ’08 and Spring ’09, it was still an awe inspiring experience. Emma also managed to garner two “firsts” while we were there: her first solo negotiation with a vendor and her first turn on a Seagueway. She really wanted a parasol, but they were asking 5 Euro for them, so her parents said, “no.” Daddy did give her 2 Euro and told her she could get whatever she wanted with the 2 Euro. She waltzed over to one of the parasol salesmen and offered him 2 Euro. He shook his head and said, “minimum 3 Euro.” She shook her head and said, “2 Euro only.” This scenario repeated itself a few times before the man took her two Euro and gave her the parasol. She was quite proud of herself. And riding a Seagueway is something neither of her parents has done, so again she was more than a little pleased.

The New Acropolis Museum was scheduled for completion before the 2004 games, but, as is true for many construction projects in Italy and Greece, ruins were uncovered that halted the process several times. Thus, it was not yet open on our last trip to Athens and we were all excited to visit this state of the art facility. Being in the museum really brought home a lecture we heard the day before when Dr. Nancy Burkoff spoke in Global Studies about Cultural Patrimony. On the third floor of the museum were the reliefs from the Parthenon. Three different types of displays were housed there. First were original pieces. Next, there were blank spots for pieces that had been destroyed or looted and not rediscovered. Finally, there were copies of the originals, labeled (BM). The originals are located in the British Museum. We’ve seen many of them on previous trips to London. Spectacular. Cultural Internationalists have argued for hundreds of years that the British Museum could preserve them far better than any Greek facility and so the items looted by Lord Elgin should remain housed in the UK. Perhaps now that Athens has such an amazing facility it’s time the British Museum returned them to their home?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Time passes so very quickly!

Halifax – Barcelona – Civitavecchia – Naples. Have we really already been to all those ports? I did some writing between Canada and Spain as we had eight days at sea. Then, we arrived in Barcelona and had only one sailing day between Spain and Italy. No time for blogging. Now, here I sit on July 5th, the day we sail from Italy to Croatia, trying to recall all we’ve done. Don’t panic, I’m not about to present a play-by-play of the past two weeks, but I will share some highlights and reflections. First, let me say the Canadians may be the most pedestrian friendly folks in the world. If we had one toe on the road, cars, buses, all moving vehicles would stop. Halifax has a terrific maritime museum, and I would return to the city simply to eat another Beaver Tail.

Spain was a new country for Emma and Barcelona a city Wade and I hadn’t visited together since taking our last high school group abroad in 2000. We enjoyed having Emma Z and her family on the city orientation tour with us and when we visited La Sagrada Familia, the famous Gaudi cathedral, the two Emmas were making plans to visit again together after its completion. They agreed that though it is slated to be finished in 2026 or 2027 they’d wait until 2028 to avoid the crowds! Another fun moment in Barcelona came when we joined a group of SAS friends at Sports Bar on La Rambla to watch the US vs Ghana World Cup match. Wearing her US flag pinned to her red American Girl shirt, Emma made her daddy proud as she cheered on her team through 30 minutes of overtime play. She was not pleased with the outcome of the game, but was given some high fives and “good games” as we walked back to the ship after the loss. Sunday morning found us at the International Church of Barcelona where we enjoyed a contemporary worship service, heard a fantastic speaker, and met someone with Perry connections during the greeting time.

No classes were held on the one sailing day between Spain and Italy. Instead on “Italy day” a variety of faculty members and interport students and lecturers offered sessions on history, art, culture, etc. The kids’ program was treated with a trip to the 7th deck where they joined some of the kitchen staff and made their own pizzas! I had one slice of Emma’s and must admit she’s quite the pizza chef.

I’ll close now and try to get some Italy reflections posted before we begin our time in Croatia.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Emma's Siblings

June 22nd

Yes, I know many of you are campaigning for the “Emma’s a big sister” blog entry, but that’s not happening so get over yourselves. This entry is about two different sets of siblings Emma has gained for the voyage. First, she has four “big sisters” through the ship’s Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program. Alice, Cynthia, Sarah and Lori are fantastic. They all have different majors and interests, but each of them is either a fan of music theatre or mythology and some love both. One of them went to ship school with Emma yesterday morning, made the craft with her and then stayed to have lunch with us. One of them came to see her at the pool today and will be meeting her tomorrow after the morning school session to play board games. The other two stayed and visited for quite some time the night they were introduced. The other four siblings we’ll meet for the first time tonight. There’s an Extended Family program on the ship and we’re meeting ours for dinner after Wade gets out of his meeting with trip and bus leaders for the Spain and Italy trips. With this program, we’ll add four more girls to our family for the voyage. These are just two of the many, many ways SAS works to build community on board the MV Explorer.

Grandma and the Croc of Gibraltar

Each night on the ship they have Explorer Seminars. Different faculty, staff, and interport lecturers present on various topics. On Saturday evening we gathered in the Union to watch Barry Lupin perform. Lupin is a graduate of Barnum and Bailey Clown College who performs in the Big Apple Circus for the first four months of the year and then spends his summer performing at various venues around the globe. When he leaves us in Italy he’ll head to Germany where he’ll spend a good chunk of his time this summer. A couple of days before he’d visited the kids in ship school and showed them how he puts on his makeup. Then he performed a few parts of his act for them. He created the character of Grandma while in Clown College & she’s the only character he’s ever performed. In the big performance in the Union, he involved several from the audience in his act, including our friends Oscar, Jer & Alise. He spent some time in Oscar’s lap, ate popcorn off of Jer’s shaved head, and asked Alise to hula hoop. Her skills were astounding, especially since she’s only six, and I think Lupin was pretty surprised with her hula hooping prowess!


Remember that entry I posted about spring forward? I advanced the clock yet again after the Captain’s Dinner last night. This morning when Wade came back from working out I asked him how it was, and he replied “Great!” but had a funny look on his face. “Was it crowded?” I asked. “Nope, I was the only one up there.” “Really?” (normally there’s a group of them who gather at 6:00). “Yep. We didn’t have to change the clocks last night.” So sorry honey. Thanks for being a good sport!


Yesterday I had my first bout with seasickness of the whole voyage. We were experiencing some 12 foot swells, so it was not surprising that my stomach was affected. It was a bummer that it came on this day though, as last night (Monday June 21st) Wade and I attended the Captain’s Dinner. First, we met in the Glazer Lounge on the 7th deck for h’our deurves and then made our way to the main dining room where we sat at a table with the Hotel Director, a fantastic German man who now makes his home in Thailand, a couple of Lifelong Learners from Georgia (SAS hosts several senior passengers each voyage and dubs them LLs), a history professor and a surgeon from Oregon, and a teacher from New York who has spent the last several years in New Orleans with the Teach for America program (yes there’s a teachers-at-sea program we’d love to tell our teacher friends more about – just ask!). The company was delightful and the food amazing, but I was unable to eat as much as I’d have liked to do the rolling ship. Still, I’ll recount the menu for the foodies who follow the blog. First course: asparagus and mushroom risotto. Second course: cream of vegetable soup with crab. Third course: traditional Greek Salad. Fourth course: fillet of beef with peppercorn and béarnaise sauce, stuffed baked potato and zucchini. Fifth course: Strawberries in a crème sauce drizzled with powdered sugar and presented with a caramelized cherry in the middle. Emma was a bit insulted that she did not receive an invitation to the dinner, but our friend Valerie and her son Caleb had Emma over to their cabin to play until bedtime. Then she stayed on her own in our cabin for about an hour (she was FINE GranGran) listening to music on her Macbook (Thanks Grandma!). Wade and I ducked out a little early because it was her first time to stay alone. We arrived to discover she’d cleaned up the place for us – what a fantastic kid!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Springing Forward

June 18

Since leaving Ft. Lauderdale one week ago today, we’ve had three nights where our clocks moved forward an hour. Tonight will be the fourth. Emma and I both seem to be a little tired this evening, and I think it’s a combination of all the activity on board and springing forward multiple times. We still have three more hours to advance before we dock in Spain. On a bright note, while we’re certainly feeling the time changes now, we should be very close to regulated upon our arrival in Barcelona, avoiding any jet-lag during our time there. Then, we’ll have very few time changes for the remainder of our voyage and actually will be gaining hours as we journey back toward Norfolk, Virginia in mid-August.

Global Studies

Warning: If you are one of those people who hate it when people blog about how fantastic their kids are, DO NOT read this entry. Global Studies on SAS is the one course all students have on their schedules. All faculty and staff are expected to attend the course as well. Because of the nature of his job, Wade watches Global Studies in the Field Office while working, but Emma and I grabbed a seat in the piano lounge to view today’s lecture. I know you’re thinking, “you watched a lecture on the TV screen in the piano lounge?” Yes, we did. Because there are 740 college students on board, the lecture, which is delivered to a large number of folks in the Union, is piped throughout the ship to various classrooms and Classroom #3 is adjacent to the piano lounge. Emma had to sit in my lap because only one seat was open by the time we got to class (ten minutes early!) All the lectures in Global Studies will deal with history, culture, religion, geography, etc. of the Mediterranean and North Africa. This morning the instructor opened by retelling the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. As he began the story, Emma whispered to me, “Mom, it’s the story of the birth of the Minotaur.” Then, she stayed a sentence or two ahead of him for that myth and the story of Iccarus. Much of what he had to say about ancient Greece she already knew. Then he began to talk about the Crusades, and she didn’t know as much then , but she paid close attention and asked me a couple of questions. Finally, when he discussed the defeat of the Ottomans she whispered, “and then the erected only couches from that point on.” The kid isn’t just smart, she’s also witty! There is a kids’ space during Global Studies where the children can color, etc. instead of listening to the lectures, and we’ve given Emma that option, but for now she wants to go with me to Global Studies. *sigh*

Ship School

Though it’s a summer voyage, ISE still offers “ship school” for the kids. While during the academic year most of the ship school time is devoted to keeping up with the school work the kids are missing back home, the summer school time for kids is an enrichment program. Today (Thursday June 17) was the first official day of the program, though they’ve had some informal activities for the kids since day one. Twice they’ve shown movies in the evening during times when the college students were engaged in other activities. For the first several days those of us traveling with children gathered at the pool each afternoon. Since arriving in Canada, it’s been a bit chilly for the pool, though Emma and a few of her friends did dip their feet in this afternoon for a few minutes. The DCC’s (dependent children coordinators) have arranged some wonderful programming for the kiddos on board. This morning Staff Captain Kostos came and talked to them about his job and about safety on board a moving vessel, and this afternoon the inter-port student from Spain (students travel between ports to help the voyagers learn about the life of college students in the various countries we visit) came and talked to the kids about life in Barcelona. Both speakers took questions from the students. School isn’t just lectures though, they also have craft time, healthy snacks, time for cards and board games, and time on the sport deck to run off some steam. I’m very grateful to Laura and Valerie, the DCC’s. I can’t imagine eight-days at sea without some organized activities for the children.


For those of you who are wanting pictures (Emma’s grandparents), be patient. I’ll post some in Barcelona. We have over 1,000 people operating on the same network here, and internet bandwith is at a premium. Posting just two photos at the size our camera takes them would take up about 20 percent of my usage for the entire voyage. So, we’ll hit a Starbucks somewhere in Barcelona, and I’ll upload some photos to the blog and let Emma play on Webkinz and Poptropica.

Global Education Forum

June 13, 2010

Greetings from the MV Explorer, which as I type this is sailing near the Canadian coast. We are scheduled to arrive in Halifax, Nova Scotia at 0800 tomorrow (Monday). We boarded the Explorer on Thursday afternoon and since then have been sharing the ship with the Institute for Shipboard Education’s Global Education Forum. This has afforded us the opportunity to hear speakers such as Civil Rights Activist Julian Bond and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Both were fantastic speakers who presented serious subjects with a touch of humor. Bond focused on his time as a Civil Rights Activist, highlighting moments with others such as Dr. Martin Luther King. O’Connor discussed times throughout history when the executive and judicial branches of government were at odds. Each closed with a thirty minute question & answer session and offered photo opportunities at a later time. Bond’s photo op times were, unfortunately, scheduled at the same time as the meeting for parents sailing with children, but Emma and I ate lunch quickly yesterday so we could queue up for a photo opportunity with Sandra Day O’Connor.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cassawong Cottages

The next lodging stop after Magnetic Island came on Mission Beach. Before we left Oklahoma Wade booked four nights at Cassawong Cottages. It is a fantastic little place with indoor and outdoor cooking facilities, a large bathroom, a living area AND a washer & dryer. HOOOOOOORAY! Our first laundry stop of the tour. All three of us showered and happily put on clean clothes before dinner that night. Meals on Mission Beach were fantastic. We hit the local Woolworth’s just after checking in, and Wade cooked the following meals during our stay: spaghetti and meatballs, calamari, steak, and chicken quesadillas. We also had some yummy sandwiches as a sandwich press was discovered under the cabinets. Even breakfasts were lavish as Emma’s dad loves cooking pancakes, and one morning he even cooked us fried eggs and ham. I’m getting hungry reminiscing about all those great meals.

Now after reading the above, one might think all we did on Mission Beach was eat, but we did oh so much more. Cassawong came with a mascot, Archie. He was a fabulous dog who made the rounds of the cottages morning and night. He’d show up at our door with a tennis ball in his mouth, and Emma would run outside and they’d play for a good while. In fact, our Woolworth’s stop included a purchase of meat strips . . . TWICE! When someone from the cottage headed to the beach, Archie followed. He loved Emma., even ran out into the sea when he thought we were letting her play too far from shore. We did spend a good bit of time at the beach as it was just across the street from our cottage, but we also went on a rainforest walk, walked through a banana plantation, played a couple of games of Monopoly (and then vowed not to play at home as this game does not bring out the best in a couple of highly competitive members of our family), flew a kite, watched a few movies, read and just enjoyed each other’s company. This was definitely one of the more relaxing parts of our journey thus far, and we were all sad to leave.

Emma’s part: I loved the rainforest walks there were so many geckos. Archie is A good dog he loves me he loves the beach and fetch . We watched Harry Potter and the chamber of secrets.

Mom again: Cassawong gets its name from the word Cassowary, a large black bird with a blue crest and a red waddle found in the region. A poisonous spike is found on its foot. Driving into the Mission Beach area we kept seeing warning signs but no birds. The same happened on our exit. It was really getting frustrating. “The Cassowary’s closest living relative is the snipe”, Wade quipped. As we were leaving the area we saw a few cars pulled over and pulled over as well. BINGO! We finally saw a Cassowary in the wild.

Be sure to note the new grin Emma's sportin' in the pic of her with the banana flowers.

Cat Poo Coffee Anyone?

Note: the following description is shamelessly stolen from Frommer’s Australia 2009.

"If strong coffee is on your mind, head to Herveys Range Heritage Tea Rooms, about a 40-minute drive west from Townsville. This is one of only a few places in the world you can by kopi luwak, or what the locals call “cat-poo coffee”. To explain: The catlike luwak, or Asian Palm Civet, which lives in the coffee growing regions of Indonesia, likes eating ripe coffee cherries, but does not digest the inner bean, which can later be retrieved from its droppings. The beans are washed, dried, and roasted lightly so their complex flavors are not destroyed. Tearoom owners Allan and Michelle Sharpe sell it alongside exotic teas and Australian fare such as scones, cakes, meat pies, and other home-style dishes. "

My friends, Wade was giddy with anticipation as the plane descended over Townsville. The only stop we made before Herveys Range Heritage Tea Room was at the Europcar counter. Emma and I were happy to help him eat the nachos and cheesecake, and she even took a sip of coffee toward the end after Dad added some milk, but we left most of the experience, dubbed “Coffee Loo Puke” by Emma, to Wade. It was an experience he thoroughly enjoyed. Said it was some of the smoothest coffee he’d ever tasted. I refrained from asking him if he thought that was because the cat had the runs . . .

Monday, July 13, 2009

Magnetic Island

Named because of the interference Captain Cook’s compass experienced as he neared it, Magnetic Island was a spectacular, albeit brief, stop for our trio. The island was not on our original “must-see” list, but when we were leaving Brisbane a member of Virgin Blue’s flight staff told us if we were going to Townsville we should at least make a day trip to Magnetic Island. We considered staying on the island both nights we would be in the area, but Bungalow Bay had availability only on our second night, so we spent the first in Townsville and then headed over to the island on the ferry first thing the next morning. Townsville itself was a cute little place, but as they were preparing to host the Townsville 400 over the weekend we got out just in time.

The journey from Townsville to Magnetic Island took eighteen minutes by ferry. Fortunately, this was not enough time for me to get seasick as I’d forgotten where I packed my meds. Must locate those before we head out to the Great Barrier Reef! Upon our arrival we rented a small “topless” (pictured) which we used to explore the island. Driving around the island we reminisced about our time in Skopelos last summer. There were many similarities, but this stop afforded us views of many more creatures. We lodged at Bungalow Bay in Koala Village where we slept in a small A-frame bungalow and awoke to the sounds of various birds. Emma pointed out that we hadn’t had a wake-up call that grand since our Amazon trek in Peru.

The staff at BB host three wildlife tours a day, and, of course, the Watki took one. On the tour we were able to see and interact with many animals native to Australia including the endangered Black Red-tailed Cockatiel, Koala, Wallaby, Baby Crocodile, Blue Tongued Lizard, Bearded Dragon, and a Carpet Python. It simply amazes me to watch my reptile loving daughter handle these creatures. As many of you know she’s been asking me for an iguana for over a year now. While I’m not open to that idea exactly, I must admit I’m beginning to do some research on reptiles as pets. We thoroughly enjoyed our walk through the village, including viewing some animals we didn’t touch like the Golden Orb Spider, Ulysses Butterflies and Fruit Bats. Perhaps our most exciting animal encounters, though, came as we explored on our own the beaches of Alma and Horseshoe Bay. As we were leaving Alma Bay we saw an echidna walking along the sand near the playground. After several steps he buried his head and began eating ants. Just past Alma Bay we saw Rock Wallabies among the cliffs. AND, on the beach at Horseshoe Bay we watched a Koala walk along in the sand. He was young and probably lost but oh so very cute!

At dinner we discovered that one of our wildlife tour guides, Jordon from Seattle, doubled as our waiter, and we took his advice in ordering dinner. Who knew hostel food could be so yummy? This was one of our favourite meals thus far -- excluding those cooked by my amazing husband, of course. I love this man always, but especially when he’s relaxed and in “experimental chef” mode. At BB Emma had spaghetti bolognaise, and Wade and I split a Chicken Parmy (lightly breaded chicken breast covered in marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese) and Rogan josh curry. In addition to fantastic food, dinner brought us some new friends as we met a family from Amsterdam travelling together for two months. Their daughter was just about the age Emma was when we moved to Belgium and watching them with her brought back memories of early travels for our little family. They, however, were camping everywhere they went which we find admirable but are unlikely to imitate anytime soon!

Oh, and last, but certainly not least, Emma was visited by the Australian tooth fairy at Bungalow Bay. Be sure and look closely at the photos in an upcoming post about Mission Beach, and you'll see her new grin.

GRRRR....having trouble posting photos. The beach is calling us (or maybe that's Emma) . . . will try again later.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Elephant Encounter Photos

Okay - these didn't load in the order I wanted them too, but at least you can view a bit of our experience. Note the way Bindi is animatedly talking to Emma in the background of the photo of Terri feeding the elephant. Amazing kid.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Emma the Jungle Girl

Crikey! Our trip to the Australia Zoo was INCREDIBLE. We went twice, and while both days were FANTASTIC I must admit the first one takes the cake. While at the Crocoseum, we won an Elephant Encounter . . . . . . WITH THE IRWIN FAMILY! That's right, Wade, Emma & I spent time with three Asian Elephants AND Terri, Bindi & Robert Irwin. Those of you who know Emma well know what an animal lover she is, but you may not know that she has multiple episodes of Bindi the Jungle Girl on our DVR. Interacting with the elephants was AMAZING. We brushed dirt off of them, scrubbed their toenails & even hand fed them bits of corn on the cob. Elephant tongue does not feel like I had imagined it. Yes, sadly, I had in fact imagined it. The Irwins were so incredibly friendly & down to earth. Bindi and Emma chatted it up as animatedly as if Emma were chatting with Harrison or Daisy (friends from home). I am so impressed with the Irwins and what they do. Sure, I'd seen episodes of The Crocodile Hunter, but I have a whole new respect for what it is they are doing for the world now. And, my little animal lover has become a true Wildlife Warrior. I'd love to write loads more but I'm running out of internet time. I'll post photos of the encounter ASAP.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

We're in Oz but not clicking our heels

Where to begin? I’ll spare you most of the US to Australia transport details, but I do feel the need to share a couple of items. First, Emma is a ROCK STAR traveler. The trip from San Francisco to Sydney takes 14 hours & 40 minutes. Keep in mind that because we live in Oklahoma we’d already been on two shorter flights before arriving in CA. Emma was asleep before takeoff in San Fran & slept until we had only six hours left in the flight. Then she read, colored Pistol Pete and did some Mad Libs (thanks Ellen!) worked in her Brain Quest workbook, and drew for a bit until it was finally light enough to see out the window. I really felt for the parents whose children are non-readers because United’s In-Flight Entertainment System was less than family-friendly. We did not have in-seat monitors so the films were viewed by everyone and out of almost twelve-hours of entertainment there were maybe two hours of shows I would have let Emma watch. Fortunately she’s a kid very familiar with what is acceptable to us and never even asked. Furthermore, she never even watched anything on the IPOD! Yep, you read it here: “Seven-year-old leaves Oklahoma at 4:48pm on Saturday and arrives in Sydney, Australia at 6:20am on Monday . . . without any TV or internet time!” The second moment of transport I feel the need to share is that on this flight I experienced my worst bout with turbulence EVER. Keep in mind that I grew up flying in small planes flown by my dad, uncle and grandfather. With four hours to go in our flight, we hit air pockets so deep that even though we were holding on to our cups of water I got completely soaked. Those of you who don’t know me well should be told that I change my socks if I step on a piece of ice in the kitchen floor. UGH! I was almost dry by the time we landed and fortunately no longer looked as if I’d wet myself when we walked off the plane.

Immigration and customs proved to be an easy process, though not for everyone. Wade pointed out to Emma that packing light was a big benefit for us as several families with multiple pieces of luggage were being sent through x-ray lines or hand searched. We each packed in a carry-on sized bag, though we checked them to avoid dragging them through multiple airports. Each of us is also carrying a small backpack with our current reading books, journals, gum, etc. The customs agent took one look at us and sent us around the search lines. Woohoo!

It was approximately 7:30am Monday morning when we arrived at our hotel. Since we’d crossed the international date line Sunday simply did not exist for us. Wade’s Holiday Inn Platinum Status proved quite useful as we were allowed to check-in to our room at that time and get some much needed showers. Once we felt quasi-human again we decided to go exploring. Our mode of transport for the day? Monorail. Wade wrote to Emma that night in his journal, “I think Mommy was even more excited about this than you were!” He’s probably right. Darling Harbour, the suburb of Sydney where we’re staying, is currently having a Monorail Treasure Hunt, which Emma really enjoyed. We hopped off at the Darling Park Station, next to the Sydney Aquarium. Highlights there included: seeing Perry (for those of you who don’t watch Phinneaus & Ferb, that’s a platypus), observing a fairy penguin feeding, viewing dugongs – only five exist in captivity globally, and touring the shark tank in a glass-bottomed boat. We were so proud of Emma’s interaction with the marine biologist who led the tour. She asked some great questions and listened carefully to the answers. Our visit to the aquarium was split by a lunch break which we spent at Nick’s Seafood Restaurant at Cockle Bay Wharf. Since we spent most of our year landlocked, all three of us get pretty darn excited about fresh seafood. Calamari, crab ravioli, & grilled shrimp were all found on our table but not for long!! We returned to our neighborhood by monorail and were all in bed by 5:30pm.

Tuesday morning during breakfast we found a bird with which we were fascinated. Later, riding the mini-train to Darling Park we asked some Aussie’s what it was. “Oh, that’s a dirty bird! The Ibis. If you’re eating a sandwhich it will walk right up to you and steal it. They’re pests. Always digging around in rubbish bins.” Still, we were amazed by its beak and will definitely post a photo. Tuesday lunch was take-away seafood from Ice Cube on the wharf. I refused to share with the seagulls, but after we were all finished allowed Emma to feed one we’d dubbed “hop-along” as it only had one foot. She really enjoyed tossing bits into the air for the bird to fly up and catch in its mouth. This was the first of many creature encounters she’d have that day as our next stop was Sydney Wildlife World. Just inside the door we were petting a Rainbow Stag Beetle and enormous stick insects. Later in the day we pet a Koala named Marly and Emma was allowed inside the Kangaroo habitat for a bit. While there we learned that they feed the Kangaroo pellets made of grasses and vitamins; sometimes they toss in carrots for teeth cleanings. Years and years ago they introduced natural vegetation that was gobbled up in minutes, so they developed plan B. Only males are housed at the facility to minimize fighting. And, when they do fight they can stand on their tails and use all four feet to box. They can run at speeds up to 60K an hour and jump over two meters high and ten meters long. When our visit to Wildlife World came to a close, we walked back to our hotel. Yes, it’s within walking distance, but we really wanted to try out all those cool modes of public transport earlier. Lest you think all our meals are as glamourous as Nick’s, dinner found us in our hotel room not with room service but with crackers and cheese and peanut butter, the same dinner we had Monday night.

As I write, it’s day three in Sydney for the Watki and we’re in the hotel business center at 4:40am. Since all three of us were awake at 3:30 (which tends to happen when folks go to bed before 8pm), we decided to go out in search of a 24 hour internet place. So we wouldn’t have to get out unnecessarily, Wade called down to the front desk to ask if the convenience store between here and China Town Station is open 24 hours. “Yes sir!” LIES! Now, some might be really bothered by this, but our trio used it as a chance to walk around the area a bit. The temperature outside was pleasant and the area well lit. The only time we were uncomfortable was when a cop car slowed & we were afraid we’d get hauled in for having a kid out on the streets at 4:00am. Adjusting to a 15 hour time difference is proving to be more difficult than our normal jet-lag routine, but if we keep on this track, we’re scheduled to sleep until around 5:30 tomorrow and finally until 7:30ish by Friday when we’ll be in Brisbane.

Friday, June 12, 2009

One-track hits Her Majesty's Theatre

Ever since Emma was old enough to communicate verbally, we've called her "one-track". She focuses on a particular subject, song, show, etc. and talks about it constantly. Since last July she's been fixated on Phantom of the Opera. Wade had purchased three tickets for a performance in Tulsa. Unfortunately, because someone who was scheduled to teach in London backed out at the last minute, Wade had to be out of the country and was unable to attend. Fortunately, we live really close to my parents and my mom was able to go with us. Three generations attending the musical together was pretty darn cool. Emma was obviously affected by the experience as she's listened to the CD non-stop since. For show and tell early in the school year she took her birthday present from Gramps & GranGran, a Monkey Music Box that plays "Masquerade". Later she wrote about Phantom of the Opera for Mrs. Hauf's Young Authors' Night and one of her art projects was titled "Phantom's Triumph".

Still, we wanted Emma to see it with her daddy and finally she has. Tuesday morning the Watki jumped on the Tube with the Cooks and all the NOC students and headed to the Prince of Wales Theatre, where Mamma Mia plays and where the D-M educational presentations occur. The lecturer invited the kids to join the college students in an interactive theatre lesson. FABULOUS! Each of the exercises he led helped to prepare the participants for certain aspects of the storyline. I wish you could have seen our little actress as a wax figure coming to life in a museum after closing time. Or playing the role of puppet and puppeteer with Jadrian Cook as her partner. The lecturer even pulled her aside to demonstrate a couple of moves he wanted to see from the rest of the class. Later, we all donned masques for a particular scene and she loved that as well. I promise to add photos as soon as we get home.

When the lecture was complete, we strolled over to Pizza Express with the Cooks and had pizza and pasta for lunch. The kids meals even came with what they dubbed "Bambacinos" -- capaccino minus the caffeine. Wade and I shared portabello risotto and a pizza Diabolo - scrumptious! Our bellies full, we walked back up the street to Her Majesty's Theatre and a matinee performance of Phantom of the Opera. Incredible is such a small word. AND, as if the day hadn't been full enough, following the performance the NOC crew was allowed to stay in the theatre, watch the team re-set the stage for the evening performance and participate in a Q & A with the Assistant Stage Director. FANTASTIC. Emma, who has a keen interest in the theatre, asked several questions and had her picture made with the ASD afterward.

Wade and Jeremy had told me what an enthusiastic group of learners they had in class this summer, and I got to witness this firsthand on Monday (at the Globe Theatre -- another blog entirely!) and Tuesday. I was so impressed with the students from NOC all day long. They really got into their roles in the workshop, loved the production, and asked good questions during the Q & A.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Super Saturday

Can I just tell you that it really kills me that I don't have the ability to post photos right now? Saturday would be so much better to share with you in pictures! Still, I'll give it my best shot.

The three of us had stayed up playing Phase 10 until after midnight, so we slept until almost 10. It's taken us almost eight years, but we finally have a daughter who has discovered the art of sleeping in during the morning. After a quick bite to eat we grabbed the bus and headed to the British Museum, our favorite in London, perhaps our favorite anywhere. We arrived about 10 minutes to noon and an Ancient Egyptian Storytelling was scheduled to begin at noon, so we scurried through the too expensive to stop and look giftshop and arrived in the Paul Hamlyn library in time for Emma to catch a front row seat. As she settled onto her cushion, Emma was approached by Olivia, the fantastically animated storyteller, who was holding a box of Egyptian artifacts for the children to peruse. The first story she shared was the story of the Phoenix and then she told a story about Ra. She asked the children if anyone knew who Ra was and our wonderfully pedantic little girl raised her hand and said, "A Pharaoh" when called upon . "That's brilliant!" exclaimed Olivia. We couldn't have said it better ourselves ;-)

After the storytelling we walked to hands on stations in some African and Asian rooms. Emma was able to handle artifacts, real museum exhibits, with the help of some curators and they shared lots of interesting information with her. We were equally enthralled with what they have to offer and are so grateful there are people out there willing to work for almost nothing in order to educate others.

All that learning had us working up an appetite, so we left the museum to look for someplace to grab a late lunch. On our way to Chinatown we stopped in a gaming store because we felt we owed it to our friends Aaron and LeAnn to pay homage to this establishment. There were a couple of games we'd have liked to acquire, especially one called Where's Moldova?, but they were both bulky and expensive, so we placed them on our mental wish list and went on with our day.

Following a yummy lunch in Chinatown (wonton soup, egg fried rice, chicken with black bean curd, king prawn in spicy szechuan sauce, and some veggie dish that paled in comparison to the others) we decided to walk to Covent Garden. As we approached CG we walked down the row of street performers and really enjoyed watching a "headless" man wearing spectalces and a top hat sitting in a chair. When someone threw money into his tin he'd dance his feet around a bit. After we'd paused for a minute or so to watch him, we headed into the Disney Store to see if they were running any specials on admission fees to Disneyland Paris. No such luck I'm afraid, but don't waste any time feeling sorry for Emma. She spent Sunday afternoon in Legoland. Ah, but I digress. Yes, I'm aware that comes as no surprise to most of you.

We exited the Disney Store, having bought nothing at all -- Yea, us! -- and decided to walk toward the Museum of Transport just in case Terry happened to be outside. After a few steps Emma's face lit up and she broke into a run as she could hear his voice and guitar. We were out of cash, so after listening to one song Wade set off in search of a Cash Point and some caffeine. He returned four songs later with money to put in the guitar case, a Chai Latte for him and a hot cocoa for Emma and I to share. We enjoyed sipping it together as we listened to Terry perform some of our favorites. A couple of songs later seven or eight of Wade's students walked over to where we were sitting. They had hit CG in search of a T-Mobile commercial that was to film at 5:30. Signs asking for extras had been posted at Regent's College so they decided to give it a go. It's my understanding that their acting prowess will be visible on YouTube soon. We stayed and listened to Terry until his set was finished and then we hopped on the Tube for King's Cross Station and . . . . . .

Platform 9 3/4. Now that might not mean anything to most of you, but those of you who have read Harry Potter know exactly what I'm talking about here. We took the most fantastic photos there, and as soon as I get home I'll post them here and on Facebook. Emma and I had just finished reading the first novel together two days before this, so she was especially excited as we wandered past platform 8 and took a left turn to find the spot where Harry boards the train for Hogwarts.

We closed out this spectacular day with Miso soup, cherries, peanut butter and crackers in our hotel room. And, of course, we played a few rounds of Phase 10 before hitting the sack.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Hakuna Matata

Among the many, many reasons I married Wade Watkins is that he likes to provide people with amazing experiences. For example, we took my brother, Garrett, to Disney World when he was around 9. While in Epcot, Garrett looked at Independence Hall and asked Wade if it was the White House. Wade disappeared to make a phone call I’d later learn was to his parents, and, less than thirty-six hours later, Garrett was taking a specially arranged tour of the White House in Washington D.C. In 1998, we were able to take Mom and Grandma on a similar tour. When my friend Amy did the calligraphy on our wedding invitations, as a thank you Wade cashed in frequent flier miles so she could travel to Germany and visit an exchange student who’d stayed with them previously. Before we moved to Belgium in 2002, he arranged for my mom to join us for ten days in the spring and booked rooms at the Grovesnor House in London for her arrival. I could go on and on, but my point is this: yes, the man can be annoyingly frugal at times, but he pinches pennies at certain times in order to be able to afford wicked awesome experiences at others. On Wednesday, he arranged such an experience for Emma. Following lunch in Covent Garden with our dear friend Jamee Majid, we headed to the Lyceum Theatre to catch a production of The Lion King. Wade had purchased tickets in the sixth row and was sure to get them on the aisle. I wish you all could have seen Emma’s face as the animals passed right by her en route to the stage, but I’m glad you didn’t see me jump nearly wetting myself when the hyenas passed by near the middle of the production and turned to growl at us! The actors who played young Nala and “grown up” Nala were phenomenal; Scar was appropriately disturbing, and Zazu was simply spectacular. It was an afternoon that will be remembered by all of us for quite some time.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Terrific Tuesday

After a quick bite to eat we headed toward Regent's College, where Wade & Jeremy Cook are teaching NOC's "Summer in London" courses. Emma and I enjoyed seeing William, a wonderfully flamboyant individual who has been working the front desk in Reid Hall since Wade developed this program in 2005. After Wade met with his students for class, we all walked to the front of the Baker Street Tube station where we boareded the Big Bus Tour. What a perfect day to travel about London on an open-topped double-decker bus! The skies were blue and the temperature reached 82 degrees; this is practically unheard of this time of year. Emma took lots of photos as we drove through Picadilly Circus, Trafalger Square, Westminster, etc. The bus ticket is also good for a Thames River Cruise, so at Emma's request the Watki hopped off at the Tower of London and to board the boat.

While we didn't go inside the Tower (quite pricey, long lines, and we'd visited it with cousins Sherry & McKay a couple of summers ago), we did make a quick stop inside the gift shop and acquired a new book for Emma: Secret Agent Jack Stalwart: The Caper of the Crown Jewels. This was a necessary stop since she's already read The Bridges in London and The Mystery at Big Ben since leaving home Sunday morning. In fact, she's enjoyed those books so much that she was reading while in line at various spots on our journey. In the immigration line the couple behind us conversed about Emma: wife, "Look, that child is reading. There is no video game in her hand and no plugs in her ears. This gives me hope for humanity." Husband: "Yeah, well I bet we don't see it again on our whole trip."

The Thames River Cruise was quite pleasant. We disembarked at the Westminster Pier and walked to Covent Garden to grab a bite for lunch. Restaurants in that area lean toward the expensive side, so we went into a Marks & Spencers and grabbed sandwiches, crisps & water and took it back to CG. It was a nice picnic lunch but would have been better if we'd seen Terry St. Clair, our favorite busker. So far we're 0-2 for catching him at CG, but we'll keep trying; he's worth it!

After lunch we walked through Leister Square to check the half-price ticket booth offerings before deciding to hit the National Gallery in Trafalger Square. Emma completed a family trail, sought out some Van Gough and Degas paintings, and picked up a print to add to the Art Gallery in the hallway of Will Rogers Elementary School back home. Those of you with children should let them play around on the "Noisy Paintings" section of the NG website.

Oops, we're late meeting Wade for lunch in the cafeteria. We packed a good bit into our first full day in London, don't you think?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Travel Day

Cheerio! For those of you who logged on in order to amuse yourselves by reading about our various travel misshaps, I must warn you this will not read like previous summer travel day blogs. Wes, Lou & Bradley drove us to Tulsa, and we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare and were not flagged for additional security checks. None of our flights were delayed. We landed at Heathrow ahead of schedule as did all of our luggage. We entered the immigration line just before 8am, and our passports were stamped by 8:20. After purchasing tickets on Heathrow Connect, we easily found our platform, and once the train stopped at Paddington Station the taxi queue moved quickly. Arriving at the hotel several hours before check-in time we were told if we could wait thirty minutes we could be checked into our room. I think God has better things to do than make our travels easy, but we are extremely grateful for smooth travels nonetheless.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spring Break '09 -- Italy, Greece & NYC

Emma at the American Girl Store in NYC (We had a six hour layover in Newark on the way home)
Emma enjoyed visiting her friend Danielle who has been living in Rome since last summer.
Emma found a nook just her size next to the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
Inside the Colosseum.
Our trio outside the Parthenon in Athens.
Our trio outside the Colosseum in Rome.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Seriously? This is a road?!

Imagine this scene (and forgive me for all the typos you are about to ıncur as I attempt to blog on a Turkish keyboard -- I still cannot fıgure out the comma): The Watki are leavıng Kosovo. We are well-rested and happy. We know the roads will be a bit difficult as we cross Albania for Montenegro because we wıll be in the mountains so we plan for double the amount of time we thınk the trip should take and sit back for four hours of quality family road tıme. We exıt Kosovo and then reach the Albanian immigration point where ıt becomes clear that a little road constructıon ıs taking place. WOW! What an understatement that sign post was!!!! The next EIGHT hours were some our trio wıll not soon forget! I cannot adequately descrıbe to you the treacherousness of thıs sıtuatıon. Wade ıs a rock star for gettıng us out of there alıve! For our Texas family: ımagıne the road out to Clay and Sharlas as a luxurıous hıghway . . . .because that ıs what it is compared to these roads. I now understand why Lonely Planet descrıbed Albania as *a lıttle more İndıa than Europe* There were VERY few road sıgns. Often we would come to a fork ın the road where Wade would look up at the sun and roll hıs ımagınary dice before choosiıng a way to go. Only by the grace of God dıd we actually eventually come to the border of Montenegro! We laughed so very much that day -- no sense ın crying rıght? At one point Wade said *Diana you and Emma are going to have to get out and actually touch Albanian soil sometime today* A few hours later we did -- in a secluded group of trees where we relıeved ourselves. I realıze that may sound a bit primitave but I assure you thıs was a much more sanitary way to go than our roadside stop the day before where Em used her first squatter. For those of you who haven not had the pleasure thıs is a restroom wıth two places to put your feet and a hole ın the floor for you to put your excretions. After that experience goıng roadsıde dıdnit seem lıke such a bad idea to either of us!! We took several photos to share (though not one of the squatter) wıth you. Of our favorıtes there wıll be cattle -- they wander freely about the country --- and bunkers. The bunkers were absolutely everywhere throughout northern Albania. We never ate (beyond snacks we already had ın the car) or made offıcıal stops ın the country. Perhaps one day we wıll return and visit the capital and see another side of the country. Our last memory for now? The border town we crossed wıth MAJOR potholes. People had put tires ın them and at times 3 quarters of the tires fıt down insıde the potholes!!!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The World's Newest Country

We arrived in Skopje, Macedonia a couple of days after leaving Skopelos. Ask us about our "interesting" taxi ride after we return. The people here have been extremely nice. We met a man in an antique shop who works part of the time in Kosovo. His English was incredibe -- could be a result of serving as translator for the American journalists in Kosovo during the war -- so we picked his brain about places that would be save to visit during our travels. He was a wealth of information . . . a real Godsend for this mom who was, quite frankly, not brimming with excitement about that leg of our journey. Who'd have thought Kosovo would turn out to be a highlight? That's why God gave Emma two parents. I'd always play it safe, avoiding any areas of potential conflict. While Wade certainly isn't going to take unnecessary risks, he's a good deal more adventurous than I am.

Crossing the boarder from Macedonia, the guard looked at Wade's passport and then asked, "Are you working in Kosovo?" "No," Wade replied, "just here on holiday." The guard's eyebrows raised and his eyes widened before he said "Okay, sure. Why not?" Wade asked him if he sees lots of Americans come through who will be working there and his reply was "Too many." Still, all the Kosovars seemed genuinely happy to have us there and I swear I saw more American flags flying there than I see back home. The country is absolutely beautiful. So many mountains, rivers, etc. We ended up pulling off the road to have dinner at a small place in the mountains, and then ended up pulling off again a bit later to spend the night instead of going on into Prizren as planned. We stayed in a tiny cabin next to a running river. Our hosts were extremely kind. His daughter was out of town, so he went and got her small bed and brought it to the cabin for Emma to use. We watched the Croatia vs. Turkey football match in the hotel restaurant, where they served Emma a special hot chocolate drink with loads of whipped cream on top. If we weren't occasionally stopped by KFOR soldiers, or if I didn't know we were in the newest country in the world, and if I hadn't followed the horrific stories in the news a decade or so ago, I'd have never believed these people had seen such atrocities. Crossing the boarder with Serbia on the return is a different story . . . . one I'll have to share in another post as it's time to go return the rental car.

Father's Day

Whew! I know we're a bit behind, but getting decent internet connections has not been the name of the game this past week or so.

We had two Father's Day gifts for Wade. One, a small Indiana Jones action figure, we brought from home. The other was not going to the beach for the day! He's been a good sport about being on the beaches, but he's still not a fan. So, we had breakfast on the terrace followed by a game of Phase 10 before crawling into the jeep and going to explore some monastaries. This involved some driving up some seriously steep dirt roads, but our driver was fantastic. We went inside two of the monastaries. One of them now belongs to a family; the other still houses Greek orthodox monks.

In the one occupied by a family, we received a tour from the owner. She took us into their beautiful small church and showed many items to Emma. She seemed impressed that Em could look at the carvings and paintings and recognize the Bible stories. As we were leaving, Emma told her thank you in Greek. The woman's face lit up and she motioned for us to wait a moment. She went inside her house to retrieve some fresh apricots for us. They were fantastic. After she gave them to us she put her hand on my arm and said "You, man go back to US. Emma stays at Skopelos. I teach her speak and write Greek." Though it was a nice offer, and I think she might have been tempted to stay on the island, I'm happy to report that Em's still with us now!

Supper that night found us on the terrace once again, where Wade grilled chicken. Yes, I know he's not supposed to cook on Father's Day, but it was what he wanted to do! We played dominoes that night while watching the moon come up behind the mountains. Wade said it was his best Father's Day ever.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Green Jeep

The three of us spent Friday, Saturday & part of Sunday tooling around in a Green Jeep we rented. In order to get to the "good" beaches one needs a car here. Fortunately we knew that before we came & included a rental in our budget. Friday we drove all around the island and saw some of the most amazing views of our lifetimes. We stopped to hike up to a church on the top of a rock. The church (click for a view) is dedicated to John the Baptist and one really has to want to see it as the climb is incredible. While we were panting and hanging on to the handrails, I tried to comfort Emma with the fact that John the Baptist had neither stairs nor handrails when he was climbing up the rocks to worship God. It's really amazing to think we could have been in the same general area as he once was. Just after we spent some time in the little church and signed the guest book, another English speaking couple arrived. They were from Canada & when they asked Emma where we were from, the husband began singing "Oklahoma where the wind comes" -- he finished the song and then went on to sing another from the musical. He'd been in the chorus in Canada. They are of the Greek Orthodox faith & he sang some beautiful Byzantine chants while he was in the little church. After the long walk down (man those were some steep steps) we drove to the town of Glossa, where the Canadian man was born, for lunch. While looking around we ran into a Swedish woman who was a bit bummed because she'd been unable to find a place to eat as many restaurants were closed for siestas. When Wade located one, she joined our trio for lunch. It was YUMMY! The restaurant was having it's opening day, so the menu was limited, but the service & cooking were fantastic. Emma had a pizza where the crust was made like hashbrowns. Rosti, I believe, is what the woman called it. I had a Greek salad, the likes of which my taste buds has never before experienced & Wade had a steak. Our next stop came at the beach, Milia (click for photo). It was a pebble beach with beautiful water. We'd actually stopped by there before the trip to the church & decided to return later. This time, Emma had a playmate, Shao Lin. They'd met the previous evening on the pier watching eels and sea urchins. They donned their goggles and swam around looking at fish before catching several (six, Emma says) in a net and letting them swim around in plastic cups for a bit before returning them to the sea. Shao Lin is from San Fransisco. Her dad owns a house here & grew up on the island. Her mom is from China, so they alternate summer trips each year. Wade and I enjoyed visiting with Shao Lin's parents, and their friends who'd come over from Paris for a long weekend. Our day ended with a wonderful pasta dinner on our terrace and a mean game of dominoes.

Ahhhhhh, Skopelos

Currently our family is staying in a wonderful house in Skopelos town, on the Greek island of Skopelos (click for more info). The island, though certainly busy, is not frequented by tourists, at least not American ones, although we did meet a family from Wichita Falls, TX on Thursday! This stop is truly a vacation stop for our family. Many of our stops include capital cities and major sightseeing involving lots of walking, but this one is about family time & RELAXING! It's not that we aren't exploring the island, but we're doing it at a nice leisurely pace. We arrived Thursday afternoon after a two-and-a-half hour bus ride followed by a two-and-a-half hour ferry ride. A man and his daughter met us at the pier and drove us to the neighborhood where we're staying. We couldn't exactly just get a taxi since our house has no address! To get mail here, people go to the post office & give their names & pick it up. The population is not much less than my home town, but the living areas are very compact. Our house is tall and skinny. It has three floors. The first contains a tiny kitchen, a bathroom, and a small dining room. The second houses two bedrooms and the third a small refridgerator, a bathroom (toilet and sink only) and two terraces. One terrace has an oven and range and the other a grill -- nice. Wade has cooked all our meals save one up there since our arrival. He doesn't mind doing it while he looks out at the ocean and the mountains! I still don't like washing dishes by hand, but I must admit it's nicer when I have this sort of view. We've slipped into a vacation schedule. Friday morning we had breakfast at the crack of 10:30am and had supper about 10:00pm.

It's all Greek to Me!

We spent only two days in the historic city of Athens, but we'll be returning in March with Wade's college students. This was our first stop in a while where we had to work a bit at getting around. Fortunately, many signs are also printed in English because of Athens hosting the Olympics four years ago, but still there are places where the signs (and menus!) are in Greek only. We managed to figure out the public transport from the airport into town and locate our hotel, The Attalos (click for website). After ditching our bags, we headed out to find lunch & explore the town a bit. We might have ordered too much food at lunch. It turns out that I should have ordered Emma a Kabob instead of a Gyro. She received a giant plate of meat, tomatoes, onions, fries, salad & pitas instead of the Gyro sandwich we're used to at the House of Greek in Stillwater. I tried a meat dish that was swarmming in yougurt & tomato sauce -- super yummy! Wade had a Gyro as well & we ordered some olives -- WOW! Of course, we also had bread, the obligatory basket comes at each meal and we pay for it grudgingly. After lunch we headed for the tomb of the unknown soldier & then tried the tram system. I must admit we were not as skilled here as we'd been with the metro. Fortunately, our long walk back to the hotel took us right by Zeus's Olympic Temple, so we got to wander through some ruins on the way. Dinner was ice cream on the rooftop. Be sure to check out that view on the hotel website! Day two found the Watki making the hike up to the Acropolis (click for more info). It was a long, hot trek, but sooooo worth it! Emma had been learning a lot of history in her Horrible Histories book, Groovy Greeks & Rotten Romans, so she was able to share her knowledge with us as we walked around the Parthenon -- very cool! After our visit there, we hit a museum (hooray for air conditioning!) that contained many Greek relics, including a child's potty chair -- be sure and ask to see that photo upon our return! We called it an early evening because we'd have to catch a 6:45 bus the next morning. We look forward to returning and doing more exploring in the spring.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"Three more stops, then ours"

Our Emma has become quite the Metro navigator! When we hopped on Saturday afternoon after we left the Louvre, she was looking up at the map posted on the top of the wall. After several stops, she leaned over and announced, "three more stops, then ours". And she was right. As you can imagine this elicited high praise from her adoring fans . . . oops I meant parents.

Paris was a wonderful stop for all of us. Day one found us entering immigration without incident -- hooray! After dropping our bags at our hotel (finding it was decidedly NOT without incident, but that's a rant for another day) we headed for Emma's favorite park near Le Tour Eiffel. Unfortunately, the carousel she loves was shut. No worries though, we hit it Sunday afternoon after we worshiped with an international and interdenominational bunch at the American Church. Emma enjoyed being around other kids and we thanked God for an Isabelle and another Emma who made sure our Emma's time in Children's Church was pleasant.

At the Louvre we garnered a special tour for Emma in the form of a wonderful guide book for families. It came with adventure cards -- two sets actually. One for ages 8-9 and one for ages 10-12 (yes, we'll return). Emma guided us through works including, but not limited to, The Victory of Samonthrace, the Mona Lisa, and our piece de resistance, an Egyptian mummy. She really took to being the guide and literally led us through the Denon, Richlieu, and Sully wings, giving us facts about the various works we encountered in each.

Our last day in Paris was actually spent a bit outside the city. A thirty-five minute ride on the RER to be exact. The signs above the stop read "Parc Disneyland." Yes, we're addicts. We'd pretty much decided not to go out there this time, but after a trip to the Disney store on the Champs Elysees, Wade surprised us with tickets. We managed to hit all our favorite rides with little to no waiting time and garnered FastPasses for Peter Pan's Flight and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Ride. Emma wants me to announce that, once again, she and her dad hit waaaaaay more targets than Mom did. We learned an important thing about our family late that afternoon at Disney Studios. It turns out we're not roller coaster people. Emma had been stoked about checking out "Crush's Coaster" one of the newest rides at Disneyland Paris. Since it's a coaster with a theme from Finding Nemo, I expected it to be a gentle introduction to the world of roller coasters. I WAS WRONG. None of us received any pleasure from that ride. In fact, Emma and Mom screamed most of the way through and Dad got jerked around so much he needed a rest after that one. Though Mom is not a big fan of the tilt-a-whirl, we agreed to let Emma do the Cars themed ride next so Crush wouldn't be her last memory of the park!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Our Itinerary


5. Depart for Paris from TUL

6. Ar Paris (Holiday Inn Express – Canal de la Villette - Tel: 011.33-1-44650101)

7. Paris

8. Paris

9. Paris

10. Depart for Athens (Hotell Attalos – Tel: 011.30-210-3212801)

11. Athens

12. Depart for Skopelos, Northern Sporades, Greece – contact us on our cell ph.

13. Skopelos

14. Skopelos

15. Skopelos

16. Skopelos

17. Skopelos

18. Depart for Thessaloniki, Greece – reachable on our cell phone

19. Skopje, Macedonia – pick up car – following itinerary subject to change

20. Kosovo (Pirizen, Prishtina)

21. Montenegro (Sevti Stefan, Kotar)

22. Croatia (Dubrovnik)

23. Bosnia (Mostar, Sarajevo)

24. Serbia to Macedonia

25. To Sofia, Bulgaria – overnight train

26. Arrive IstanbulHoliday Inn Istanbul City Tel: 011.90-212-5309900

27. Istanbul

28. Istanbul

29. Istanbul

30. Istanbul


1. Istanbul

2. Istanbul to London – Holiday Inn-Mayfair Tel: 011.44-870-4009110

3. London

4. London

5. London

6. Diana/Emma fly to OK – Wade moves to Holiday Inn Express-Swiss Cottage

Tel: 011.44-20-74336666

7-11: Wade in London – fly to Lubbock July 11

11, 12, 13. Watki fam in Lubbock, TX for Dave & Cari's wedding