Grace on Pace

Author - Jeff Grace

Israel Long Weekend

Israel Long Weekend

Israel Long Weekend

I sat on a stone bench outside old city Jerusalem with my 76-year father in law.  A small man of 5’5,” hair peppered with silver and hands refined by decades of machining industrial equipment, picking palm nuts and tapping rubber trees.

This was the tail end of our Israel long weekend through the land of the great monotheistic religions.  The first night in Tel Aviv, my father-in-law left our apartment to purchase some milk and came back with a story of how he was stopped by a man who wanted to provide him with “many beautiful ladies.”  My father in-law responded that he already had all the ladies he needed in his room…not bothering to mention they were his wife, daughter and two granddaughters.

At the Dead Sea, Grandpa pocketed salt rocks that he carefully wrapped in the flyer he had picked up at the airport.  These quickly joined a Jaffa magnet for the fridge, a stone from Bethlehem, and the rosary laid on the Stone of Anointing.   Bracelets for each female grandchild were also added.

Trip planning proved to be a bumpy ride for me.  Multi-generational coordination of disparate schedules and an unexpected Israel Independence Day holiday left Grandpa with at least one of his girls in tow at all times.  Many a night we arrived back at the apartment sleepless and disoriented, into what I had imagined as a way to mend breaking my in-laws hearts for undertaking this Foreign Service adventure.  Across the room was grandpa packing the Tupperware with snacks for tomorrow’s journey.

And then, we landed at the Mount of Olives, with Grandpa and me sitting on that stone bench resting after a long sightseeing day.  A twenty-something woman sat across from us.  Her hair was so naturally blonde it was almost white.  A local man in brown pants and a white shirt began talking to her in broken English.  The blonde responded, heavily tinged with a American southern accent.  She became more and more uncomfortable, especially when the man insisted she join him for some food.

Soon Grandpa, still sitting, shook his index finger at the man and exclaimed “no you don’t.”  The man, startled a bit basically said: “I don’t have to listen to you.  You’re not her Grandfather.”  Grandpa replied: “How do you know!”  The man considered this coming from an Asian man sitting next to a younger Caucasian for a few seconds, and then just walked away.

The blonde’s relief and the gratitude in her eyes were thanks enough.  I am still in awe of how he helped that young girl so instinctively.

Then it was time for our trip home and Grandpa had a treat for us that we will never forget. Two sleeping babies, one in his lap, and one leaning against his arm in the seat behind us.  Flipping through a magazine, I showed Grandpa a beautiful Cyprus beach.  “All expense paid trip to Cyprus,” if you stay for a couple more weeks I joked (he knew I was serious though).

Moms Perfect Trip to Spain

Perfect Trip to Spain

Moms Perfect Trip to Spain

My goal was to deliver moms perfect trip to Spain. I’d looked forward to this day since peering through the window of my taxi at Jennilou and the girls waving me good bye from our apartment lobby. Now it was finally Thanksgiving, and I found myself at the Ankara Airport about to board a Pegasus Airlines flight for a four-day trip through southern Spain. With Esmei deciding to stay back with her cousins, our group would be my mother, Louisa, Jennilou, and I.

In my favorite photograph from our visit, my mom and I appear as if on the stoop of a castle. Behind us is a cinematic backdrop: the Alhambra towers amid clusters of trees. We’re standing on a wide open garden terrace, wearing our sweaters. Mom clutches her map in her right hand and leans into my shoulder. In the corner, over our heads, there are slivers of blue sky.

I recall arriving at this place, to the staggering sight of the snow-capped mountains opening up beyond the valley and then, my mother’s voice. “I’m just out of words,” she said as she sat on an open park bench. “Isn’t it something?”

My mother was famous for documenting our family trips as she did most everything in her life.  “Mom, please. All you do is take pictures,” I likely said to her. “Don’t you have enough?  However, there are no photos of my mother from most of our outings. This is the fate of many mothers, I guess, who are so busy capturing memories for the family archives that their existence is obscured behind the camera. This is the version of my mother that I remember most.

Thirty years have passed since our first family getaways.  After too many surgeries and years of chasing her three boys around, she struggles a bit with her mobility.  She is shaky in the sense that the ordinary world has become a hazardous place, full of precipitous traffic, careening action, and unpredictable weather. However, living each day safely at home was never her style. During this trip, I was determined to widen the breadth of her constricted routine.  Together, we would try new foods and saunter the old towns.

We drove my trusting mother out of the Madrid airport rental car parking lot Thanksgiving morning. Headed for Granada, we broke into a world of rolling hills, olive groves, and blue sky.  Our pace was rapid. We moved hotels each night, staying in Madrid, Granada, Seville, and Cordoba.  With limited rest, we visited the iconic sights of Capilla Real de Granada, Catedral de Granada, Alhambra, Plaza de Espana, Real Alcazar, Catedral de Sevilla, and Mezquita Cathedral de Cordoba. We ate tapas and she even drank red wine. She seemed delighted.

From the start, I hesitated a bit. “Mom, is this ok?” I imagined her asking for a rest.

“I’m great” My normally hesitant mother waved us onward. “I want to see it all.”

It was her grand journey, rolling down the sidewalk forever, block after block, and never getting tired. She crossed streets, stopped at cafes, art galleries, shops, and museums. Fields, towns, and miles moved underneath us.  She would not live in the past, she lived in the now. She met new people and talked to everyone.

“I don’t feel well,” my mother complained, snapping me back to reality: it was 2:00pm on our last day in Spain. “Let’s go a little further,” I urged, “We are almost back to the car.”

But in truth, to my mother, the 100-yard path cutting across the park looked never-ending. “Look at that long, uphill stretch,” she droned.  “Almost there. We can make it. Yes we can.” The path rejoined the sidewalk and we continued on down to our rental car. My mom grew concerned. “My bags are gone,” she fretted.  For now, since I could not save her, I would just do what I could: pack up her belongings strewn around the car and try to console her.

We’d only gone a few miles towards Madrid, when I heard the dry heaving in the back seat.  I tried to pull over, but it was too late.  Jennilou did her best to clean the back seat, while I rubbed her back on the side of the highway.  “I think I have food poisoning,” explained me Mom.  “I think you do too.”

Like anyone’s idea of a good journey, I had tried to strike the perfect balance between effort and payoff, and to contain just the right interval between departure and return.  From where I now sat, it was clear that the perimeters of this wide world were drawing close and the horizon had receded.  As the reality set in, I was forced to acknowledge that my fantasy trip would end far less glamorous. It’d entail her heading back to Vermont and living on her limited terms. Any future visits would require us heading home.

As I left for the airport early the next morning, I looked at my mom and honestly felt like crying. I was blown away that my mother appeared content. “Let’s put this one on the good memory page,” she said aloud. I can only surmise she was imagining her photo albums stuffed with snapshots of Maine and Disney World and how this time she would actually be in them. I squeezed her shoulders, grateful to have shared this foray with her, and then started for the door.

 “A perfect trip to Spain,” she shouted as the door closed.

Our Foreign Service Handshake Story

Foreign Service Handshake

Foreign Service Handshake – The Process

As a Foreign Service Construction Engineer, every couple of years or so you get to pour your eyes over a list of places where you (and your family) could potentially spend the next 2, 3 or 4 years of your lives.  The end goal is a Foreign Service handshake or assignment offer.   It’s not altogether different from a roller coaster ride at times.  Exuberance jerks as you see your dream destination. Then, immediately you reconcile yourself to going to a few of the hardship posts.  You order rank them with a brief explanation of your overall goals. 

The process is fluid as positions fill and new ones come online.  It’s very demanding. After all,  how do you compare a new embassy project in a city where crime is widespread, but has a great preschool, to a renovation project at a post with few families, but the tourism opportunities are plentiful?

Construction Engineers have a second layer of complexity. “All areas become part of the process,” a colleague describes.  Because we are not simply taking over a permanent position at post, “everything merges with project status.”  Our projects have billions of dollars and the itineraries of hundreds of people at stake.  Difficulties for us in the assignment process start when a project schedule wobbles.

Foreign Service Handshake – Our Story

Jennilou and I had some long conversations throughout our journey.  Early in the process we received an offer for our last choice of six.  We excitedly and unreservedly accepted, even though “there were issues that needed sorting out.”  With construction, one tiny pebble can trigger an avalanche. So long before we help quarterback construction efforts on-site, it’s important someone makes preparations.  Waiting line theory and congestion logic become a part of our actual lives.  We quickly found out that changes in assignments are necessary for a successful organization.

In the end, my decision was to quit my job and travel the world.  I have always wanted to say that.  I guess to be more precise, in an odd twist of fate, our second choice was the end result.  A vacant position and delay to my current assignment, has our Foreign Service Handshake sending us to Turkey.  I am officially the Construction Manager on the Ankara New Embassy Compound project!

It’s hard to think of anything comparing to what we are doing.  I love being in a role where every minute of my day is spent moving projects forward, solving problems, and helping people out. We have so much experience and expertise within our organization that there’s no problem you can’t solve if you talk to enough people.  I have made some great friends and met incredible people so far here in Washington and abroad.  I couldn’t be happier to be part of the team that delivers a facility like this to all the folks I’m lucky enough to work alongside.

My Petra Hiking Adventure

Petra Hiking Adventure

My Petra Hiking Adventure

I didn’t have a map for my Petra hiking adventure — my guidebook was lacking in any details—and Google Maps was out of the question.  With only a memory of a scene looking down on Petra’s Treasury, I had just figured I’d arrive and hike my way to this notorious vantage point.

“I guess this is the start of the trail,” I murmured to myself, looking up the dusty, undulating path that gradually climbed out of the valley.  With an apple and a liter of water in my pack, I began my hike with a spirit of adventure and a confident sense of direction.

The first hour or so trekking the path was fairly straight forward. I spotted a few goats along the way, but nobody seemed to be attending to them. Perhaps people were hiding from the stranger passing through?  Eventually though the path became less “defined”. I kept finding myself having to backtrack. 

On one of these detours I heard footsteps reverberating in the canyon. I couldn’t tell which direction it was coming from, so I decided to hold tight and have a sip of water.  In the distance, a small figure along the pathway came into focus.

“Uh, hello,” I called out.

“I never thought I’d catch you,” said the girl gasping with exhaustion.  “I’m scared, can we walk together” 

So just like that, Yuen became my latest travel companion in my wanderings.  Chinese and thirty or so, she was touring the country as part of her solo adventure around the world.  Like myself, she too had seen pictures from former hikers and was keen on finding the famous setting.

“Well, it’s got to be that way,” I said.

Full of optimism that we might not actually die alone in the desert heat, we took the risk and trekked on. Conscious of our near-empty water supply, we alternated leading the way. 

 “Oh my God, there it is!” Yuan exclaimed.

It was not a mirage. However, it was not the vantage point we were after; no Treasury to be found. We followed a stone path and stairway that led us to the base of the cliff—only for it to bring us to a mysterious figure.

“I am Adnan,” he greeted us. The Bedouin spoke English in an Arabic accent, with a loud voice. “This is William Shakespeare,” he continued, referring to the darling mule at his side.

“Is this your house?” Yuan asked the mysterious man.

“Yes, I am Bedouin. I live in the desert,” he answered.

Yuan continued the conversation with him.  I on the other hand, was still on guard. But before I could assess the peculiar Bedouin’s demeanor or possible motives, she was already on the back of his Mr. Shakespeare.  She was hitching a ride and saving us the trouble of having to wander the desert like Moses in the meantime. However, I was a little annoyed that I was still on foot while Yuan got to ride the beast of burden.

“Where are you from?” Adnan asked the two of us.

“America and China,” we answered.

“America!” he said with recognition. “I know America. Land of the M and M’s.” And then he started mentioning all the other American brands he knew. Just as soon as I thought his English was good enough to give us a lecture on American politics, we had arrived. Adnan held out his hand with a smile, and spoke another American phrase I knew.

“No money, no honey,” he joked.  We gladly paid him the five dinar for his assistance, and scurried down to the cliffs edge.

“We did it!” raved Yuan. “I can’t believe it! We made it!”

Aside from grinding out our Petra hiking adventure, the sight was truly breathtaking. One can only imagine Johann Burckhardt, or Indian Jones for that matter, making their way across the desert and riding up to the wonder for the first time.  It was  a special moment and certainly the highlight of my Veterans Day weekend trip to Jordan.

Oktoberfest Rest Stop

Oktoberfest Rest Stop

Oktoberfest Rest Stop – Munich 2016

Somehow with two babies back at home still in diapers, I’m spending an evening in an Oktoberfest beer hall.  Cheers to travel regulations laid out in 14 FAM 584.4, my temporary duty yonder (TDY) has afforded me an evening in Munich on my way to Ankara.

The Oktoberfest has its origins in the year 1810. However, it looked a bit different then, as the first Oktoberfest was a horse-race, held as a part of the wedding festivities of Bavarian King Ludwig I.  This year, much press has been afforded to a ring of steel thrown up around the site at a previously open entrance.  Ultimately I think either way we would be doomed, but sometimes I wonder whether it would be more fun to travel to the past or to the future.  As I dazedly checked into my hotel, I decided to ponder it further with a quick jet lag induced nap.

Recharged, I hit the town in search of oompah, lederhosen, dirndl and lager. Despite this year’s beer being mixed with security concerns, I easily followed the hordes to the world’s largest folk fest.  The beer tents can be summed up as a classic Munich scene.  Despite being a mega party, the pavilions themselves create a special Bavarian coziness and knack for savoring the moment.

After surveying the scene in a few of the tents, I finally found an empty sliver at the end of one of the Paulaner festival hall tables.  Knowing I had to wake up early for my flight to Ankara, I leaned over to my table mate and politely questioned whether they sold half-liters. “This is a Biergarten, not a kindergarten!!” he yelled over the polka music.  Instantly, I was spending an evening in a frothy beer hall, clinking mugs with new friends, immersed in a boisterous and belching Bavarian atmosphere.

As I sat fuzzily in the terminal waiting for my morning flight, I returned to my hypothetical time travel dilemma.  Although seeing Ludwig hitched in the year 1810 would be on any one’s bucket list, I concluded going back to the past was out.  If I went back in time I would probably end up wanting to do something to change my present.  On the flip side, seeing a future Octoberfest might seem equally depressing.  After all, it means your future will always be such that you have to muddle through it and absent of pleasures such as finding yourself unexpectedly in Munich.  Stephen Hawking sums it up in an interesting way:

…the best evidence we have that time travel is not possible, and never will be, is that we have not been invaded by hordes of tourists from the future.

In all honesty, after thousands of miles and weeks without a good night’s rest, I had thought very hard about staying in and making it a real rest stop.  In the end though, life is surely to deal us the hard things, and when it deals unexpected ones, this is just a excellent reminder to seize them.  I guess even it means an Oktoberfest “Rest Stop”…haha.

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North Caicos Babymoon Vacation

North Caicos Vacation

North Caicos Babymoon Vacation

Beaches, Seafood, and Caves

Five Days (March 7th – March 11th, 2016)

I didn’t really know what to expect on the flight down to our North Caicos babymoon vacation. (For those of you who aren’t familiar, a “babymoon” is exactly what it sounds like: one last excuse for a getaway to relax before the birth of a new baby.)  I think it had been a particularly busy stretch at work, Esmei was growing so fast, and it seemed we were facing new challenges every day. I was looking forward to a true getaway with basically nothing to do but reconnect with my parents and get to know my brothers new girlfriend.  But like all magical places, there’s no easy way to get there.

Capture

After touchdown in Providenciales, we took a cab to the grocery store to stock up on supplies for the week, before making our way to the port. This was, without a question, the most stressful part of the trip for me as I had been silent to the group about our passage to North Caicos. As it turned out, the last commercial boat trip of the day had not correlated kindly to our arrival in Turks and Caicos, so I had laid my faith in a muffled Skype call to My Girl Ferry Service a couple weeks earlier. Eventually, after 30 minutes or so of sweating it, we met up with the crew of the boat right on time, scooped up the rest of the locals heading our way and set off.  As fortune would have it, waiting at the “local” dock was a taxi arranged by our Airbnb hosts. (I wondered how that was going to work out as well. )

I am not going to lie: It had been stressful anticipating each leg of our journey, but at the end of the day, there was something magical about celebrating our arrival at Whitby Bay, feet half-buried under warm sand, staring across the blank expanse of the ocean.

How would I describe the place? Lush. Colonial plantation feel. Wind beaten, but well-kept. Paradise. The weather—as one would expect from a Caribbean locale—was gorgeous, and for the most part, consistent from the time we arrived.  Warm, but not too hot and not very humid, with gentle breezes, and quick little rainstorms that seemed to last only about the duration of a long traffic light.

With Esmei in tow, we woke up relatively early, only to find my Dad already up drinking some coffee. We decided a venture to a local vegetable and fruit farm was in the cards and took what would become the first of many short trips exploring the island.  For the most part though, we spent the next couple days cruising along the beach, taking turns making meals, and chillaxing.

That being said, for those that know me, one may question if I really know how to relax at all. For me I don’t know what that truly means. I’m so used to ‘doing things’ keeping busy.  On the next to last day, we decided to rent a 4×4 rig and venture over to Middle Caicos to see Mudjin Harbor.  This was my favorite part of the trip.  For me, it was perfect maneuvering down the narrow “roads”, with each local stopping as we passed by extending a friendly hello or good morning.

Eventually, we made it through the sparsely populated island to the spectacularly beautiful area that is Mudjin Harbour.  Time travel belongs not to any realistic possibility but rather to fiction, but something about Mudjin and Middle Caicos has managed to avoid package tourism and such hapless ends. The beach was perfect for swimming and snorkeling. My folks enjoyed walking the beach, exploring caves, and reminiscing on how it reminded them of a Caribbean Ireland.  “Who would have ever imagined two poor kids like us ever being in a place like this”, I overheard my Dad whisper to my Mom.

Capture

If you are considering going to Turks and Caicos, I recommend taking a look at North Caicos over Grace Bay and Providenciales.  I don’t say this because we spent our babymoon vacation there, but because it’s a bit enchanting.  I came out a rejuvenated man.

Budget = $850 / Adult (Traveling with Six People + 1 Toddler)
Flight - Washington DC to Providenciales$850
Taxi, Car Rental & Boats$850
Lodging - Airbnb$850
Food - Groceries + Eating Out x 2$850
Activities - Relax$850

Lithuanian Užgavėnės Celebration

Lithuanian Užgavėnės Celebration

Lithuanian Užgavėnės Celebration

I eat breakfast in a small café at my temporary duty location in Vilnius, Lithuania, when I come to the shaky conclusion that something important is happening today.  I hear reverberations coming from the main road, but the celebration is already under way when I arrive.  A curious little girl with long pigtails and eager eyes stares at me from her spot next to the stage.  The smell of smoke lingers thick and heavy in the air, reminiscent of barbecues in the Vermont summertime.  To my alarm I notice devils, witches, reapers, goats, and Gypsies flanking the crowd. I eye them a bit warily but nobody else seems too bothered.

I buy a sausage from one of the young boys selling in the roadside stalls. As always, they practice their English on me and I learn that today is the Lithuanian Užgavėnės Celebration or Shrove Tuesday – a festival which escorts winter.  The celebration embodies the battle between what’s left of winter and the approaching spring. Two characters stage a battle between each other – Kanapinis (“hempen man”) is wiry, hardworking and prepares for summer where Lašininis (“poker”) is fatty, sluggish and personifies winter. “When they are fighting with each other, Kanapinis always has to win, because the winter has to go,” he says.  As for the characters in devil, bear, and witch costumes, they play pranks, act, sing, and try to snatch something before demanding payment in pancakes or money. Užgavėnės traditions like this unify elements of culture and Christianity, as it’s understood that you must eat 12 times on this final day before the fast of Lent.

People of all ages sing and dance in a growing circle overflowing onto the streets past the soviet era buildings and stalls selling handmade jewelry. Traditional drums, fiddles, and accordions play, a rhythmic “jig” sound and stir a sense to skip along.  I am immediately welcomed into the procession by a woman carrying her baby on her back. She takes my hand in hers; the child is fast asleep despite all the noise.

The ordeal seems a bit crazy with the whole city alive as we march together under the lukewarm sun.  Then again who’s to judge coming from a place that celebrates a fat guy coming into our house in the middle of the night.  Kanapinis looks to have the upper hand – at least for today.

Washington DC Blizzard 2016

Washington DC Blizzard 2016

After watching a day and half of the Washington DC Blizzard 2016 demolition derby from our window, we emerged this morning from the shelter of our apartment to check out the full wrath of #DavidSnowie.  While the jury’s still out on the name, this truly could be the Blizzard of the Century.  More than 60 million people were under blizzard conditions with incredibly snowfall totals as follows:

  • Washington, D.C.: 17.8 inches
  • Baltimore: 29.2​ inches
  • Philadelphia: 22.4 inches
  • New York City: 26.8​ inches

Although public transportation was completely shut down during Washington DC Blizzard 2016’s storm and Dulles and Reagan National were closed all weekend, the storm still only ties for fourth all time.  Apparently in 1922, DC received 28″ of snow on January 27-29.  However, for three cities — Baltimore (29.2), Allentown (31.9) and Harrisburg, Pa. (34) — it was the biggest snowstorm ever recorded.

The sun is shining and the snow is over, but the cleanup has just begun.  Metro says it will operate extremely limited FREE rail and bus service Monday , so a sledding trip may be in order to Capital Hill for Esmei.

 

Our Travel Highlights of 2015

Our Travel Highlights of 2015

Our Travel Highlights of 2015 – Top 10

Well, it’s that time of the year again — when we can’t believe another year is in the books.  We have had so many amazing travel experiences this year, getting to fulfill lifelong dreams of seeing things on our bucket list.  In all seriousness, though, looking back at our travels like this also reminds me not to take any of these experiences for granted.  Having been afforded the chance to represent Americans abroad in the Foreign Service, I feel privileged to travel as much as I do.  I never want to forget any of that!  But okay…let’s get to it.  Here are some of our travel highlights of 2015, that we hope will inspire your future family travels!

No. 10 - Abu Simbel

No. 10 – Abu Simbel

No. 9 - Aruba

No. 9 – Aruba

No. 8 - Belgian Waffles

No. 8 – Belgian Waffles

No. 7 - Kempinski Hotel Cathedral Square in Vilnius Lithuania

No. 7 – Kempinski Hotel Cathedral Square in Vilnius Lithuania

No. 6 - The Northern Lights with a Sleeping Baby

No. 6 – The Northern Lights with a Sleeping Baby

Our Travel Highlights of 2015

No. 5 – Amsterdam Gay Pride Canal Parade

Our Travel Highlights of 2015

No. 4 – National Cherry Blossom Festival

No. 3 - Watching the Eiffel Tower Light Show

No. 3 – Watching the Eiffel Tower Light Show

No. 2 - Camel Ride to the Pyramids

No. 2 – Camel Ride to the Pyramids

No. 1 - Getting To Do It All As A Family

No. 1 – Getting To Do It All As A Family

Our Travel Highlights of 2015 – Statistics

Traveled to Sixteen (16) New Countries

Travel Highlights of 2015
Spent One Hundred Thirty-five (135) Nights in a Hotel Room
Took Twenty-eight (28) Flights
Saw Twenty-eight (28) UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Visited Twenty-Two (22) World Wonders

The battle for the White House – which has already been raging in the media for months – will undoubtedly dominate 2016.  However, besides finding out my new boss, we have some big things in the works lining up in our personal and professional lives that we can’t wait to share along the way.   We wish you joy and peace throughout the new year and let us all cherish family and friends along the way…


Holiday Season in Berlin

Holiday Season in Berlin
Holiday Season in Berlin

Joining the Foreign Service permits a different kind of travel, by allowing you to become immersed in the local culture for up to three years.  We have traveled all over the world, but until this most recent adventure, never had the fortune to stay in a city more than a few days.  We have always tried to see as much as possible by “hitting” the highlights before jetting off to our next destination.  On my latest assignment, I got my first taste of “slow travel” with a six week temporary duty assignment to Berlin.  Fortunately for me, Jennilou and Esmei agreed to tag along for a holiday season in Berlin.

Setting up shop for our extended stay at the Hotel Otto, it was great to have such a fantastic home for exploring the city.  With Berlin playing host to over sixty Christmas markets annually, one of the highlights of our trip was getting to experience the shops at our leisure throughout the trip.  We also made evening and weekend trips to the Reichstag Building, Brandenburg Gate, Pergamon Museum, The Holocaust Memorial – Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin Cathedral, East Side Gallery, Zoologischer Garten, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Charlottenburg Palace, Television Tower, Sony Center, and Hackescher Markt.  The metropolis is certainly charged with political history and reminders of a turbulent 20th-century are everywhere.  It seemed the more highlights we “hit”, the more we discovered existed.

For all the fond memories I have of Berlin, the tragedies which took place in Paris and San Bernardino during our posting will forever distinguish the stay.  Watching thousands of people march past our embassy to pay their respects across the street to the French at the mounting display of candles and flowers will be unforgettable.  I commit to memory the events that evoked an anxiety to bring the girls into crowed Christmas markets.  It’s sad to think about giving any space for fear and intolerance to terrorism and it gives all the more reason to stand together as humanity to uphold our way of life.

Exploring more slowly during our holiday season in Berlin allowed us to form a stronger connection to the place we were visiting.  With plenty of time, we didn’t feel the stress of attempting to knock out every site in our guidebook.  Instead, we stayed long enough to recognize commuting mates, shop in the local markets, and pick our favorite restaurants.  I have come to realize that few societies move as quickly as Americans do, and getting the chance to find myself slowing down a bit over time into the pace of the German culture, was a terrific feeling.

For recaps of the weekend getaways during my latest assignment, check out the following posts below: