Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis: Blog https://www.jkennis.com/blog en-us (C) Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis (Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Mon, 17 May 2021 23:29:00 GMT Mon, 17 May 2021 23:29:00 GMT https://www.jkennis.com/img/s/v-12/u762890434-o522639313-50.jpg Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis: Blog https://www.jkennis.com/blog 120 80 Lockdown from my Window https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2021/5/lockdown-from-my-window 23 March 2020. Our life changed course when the UK government placed the entire country in a 'stay at home order'. What we didn't know then was that this would mean 250 days in hard lockdown over the next year.  

With our floor to ceiling windows being our greatest source of 'the outside world', I began taking pictures of our view from our living room windows about once a week -- To watch the seasons go by, to look back on the weeks gone by, and to remember the beautiful sunsets that passed by.

I'm lucky because the 250 days at home were filled mostly with joy and laughter. A slower paced life than my normal, but a life that found beauty in same trees day after day.

14 months after the initial lockdown, international travel has resumed -- A sign of better times ahead. A sign of normalcy. A sign of home.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2021/5/lockdown-from-my-window Mon, 17 May 2021 23:18:35 GMT
Seth Whitmer: Forever in our Hearts https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2021/3/seth-whitmer As I sit down to write the words that I know so many will read, I struggle to find the right ones.  It's hard when you are saying goodbye to any loved one, but it's even harder when that loved one was living the best part of his life so far.  Seth Whitmer (born April 24, 1991) was just shy of his 30th birthday when he left this world to join the next on March 17, 2021 leaving behind his young wife and children, his mom and dad, his sister and brother, his cousins, his aunts and uncles, his extended family, his bonus family, his friends.

As the stories continue to flood in on how Seth touched so many lives, it is abundantly clear his time on Earth made a difference. He lived a simple, but impactful life always striving to be the best person that he knew how to be and always living life to its fullest.

When Seth was young, he was an avid boy scout and loved nature.   Because of his love of creatures (or his love of pestering his sister), we always knew wherever we went, he would end up with a snake around his neck or frog in his hand.  He surely was living the best part of his life in those years.

As he grew into a young man, he made the courageous decision to join the United States Army at the height of our conflict with Afghanistan. He served a nine month long tour abroad - and while you would be hard pressed to find someone who loves their job every single day, Seth sure did enjoy the experiences the Army gave him.  There is not one of us that didn’t enjoy hearing the stories of him playing football with the locals he was protecting or how he befriended a stray dog around the base.  He surely is now living the best part of his life, right?

As he continued to grow, he relocated to Florida for a new adventure, and this is where he met the love of his life, Jennifer.  It was one of those moving fast, don't want to blink in case I miss anything whirlwind loves.  He knew she was the one right away, and so did she.  Jen's family became his bonus family, and they settled into life together. Actually... this is now the best part of his life.

Two babies later, his life forever changed again.   Out of all Seth's many accomplishments, he would be most proud of the father and husband he became.  And to be honest, we all would agree. The love he has for Jennifer, Bailey and Cooper is unmatched, and even as a young child, we all knew Seth would make a great dad. His true connection with everyone he met along with his witty sense of humor ( he was telling dad jokes long before he knew what  it meant to be a dad) gave him the perfect mix for this new adventure.  Now…  he is living his very best life.

We don't understand the divine plan and timing of his departure right now, however today is not the day for us to understand this.

Today is the day for us to remember the light. Because 'there are some who bring a light so great to the world, that even after they have gone the light remains'. Today we remember:

… the little boy in his red cowboy boots

… the cub scout learning about wildlife

… the soldier selflessly fighting for our freedom

… the father and husband who loved fiercely

... and the impeccable man he became


Services will be held on Saturday, March 20th, 2021 at 3pm at the South Daytona Christian Church (2121 Kenilworth Ave, South Daytona Beach, FL 32119).

Reception for flowers is available between 2-3pm at the South Doors.

Alternatively if you wish to support Seth's wife and children directly: 


 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2021/3/seth-whitmer Thu, 18 Mar 2021 17:47:43 GMT
2020: The Lost Year? https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/12/2020-the-lost-year As another year comes to an end, I can't help but reflect on the world. So many comments getting thrown around about 'good riddens 2020', 'may 2021 be better', 'what a waste of year', '2020 is our lost year', etc. 

It's been a tough year all around.

So is 2020 the lost year? I think we all initially would say yes -- we missed a lot in 2020.  We missed vacations, celebrations, time with our extended family and friends.  We missed events, concerts, plays, graduations. 

I, like everyone else, really struggled with all the things I was missing.  I lived halfway around the world from my loved ones.  I missed one of my best friend's wedding.  I couldn't go home even if I wanted to due to travel restrictions. I cancelled vacation after vacation - one being highly anticipated and devastating when we had to make that call.  I have been locked down three times now with many months to go.

On top of that, the entire community of HR professionals had to step into shoes we had never worn before.  Not only did we not ask to go through a pandemic personally, we now had to figure out how to keep our employees safe so our organisations could continue to function -- closing offices, trying to keep everyone engaged, concern for overall mental heath all while transitioning all business as usual tasks to remote work environments. Then trying to bring our employees joy during this very unusual time.  Exhausting, but not feeling worthy of being exhausted -- I'm not on the front lines. I am not saving lives in the hospitals, or working the grocery store check out line, or being exposed every day.  But nonetheless, exhaustion is the only way to describe it.

I know that life could be significantly worse and is worse for many, many people right now. My husband and I have had no impact to our financial situation, we both have stayed employed, we have had very few close family or friends who have been affected, anyone we know with a positive diagnosis has had mild symptoms (thank goodness).  Overall, we are okay, and my heart hurts for those that are not.

However, we are also surrounded by an onslaught of messages telling us to take this time to rest, learn something new, find success, etc.  Depending on what part of the world you are in, you have had up to a year of this so far.

Did anyone really accomplish anything in 2020? For those ambitious people who did learn something new and did find success, I applaud you. Well done. You were able to overcome and take advantage of this year. I am not one of those people.  I do wish I had been able to focus long enough to accomplish something -- I thought maybe I could soar through my reading list, develop my painting skills, or even be as bold as to work on my own novel.

Instead, I watched a lot of tv (A LOT) - mostly reruns.  I did a fair amount of cooking - my waistline can tell.  Slept a lot. Watched baby ducks grow up over the spring/summer when we were allowed outside. Worked a lot. Walked some. Drove my husband crazy being in his space constantly. Watched a bit more tv - more reruns, in case you were wondering.  Literally nothing worth talking about or worthy of being considered an accomplishment.

I was too focused on all the things I was missing, and I could not find joy in anything I used to love. 

What a year.

But that's not why I sat down to write. For anyone who truly knows me will likely agree I have two (probably annoying) qualities - in hard situations, I am often the voice of reason in the room.  My voice is somehow calming and deescalates whatever is happening. And secondly, I can typically turn any situation into some kind of positive.  Now some (or many?) find these two qualities annoying because they just want to shout and be angry, and that's okay.  I'm just not one of those people.  I share the first, because if you've not heard me speak before, this will hopefully help set the tone to hear my voice while you are reading. I share the second, because that is the main purpose of my writing today.

Early on in the year, the positives I found felt superficial and I began to just annoy myself.  With less commuting, the environment was healing.  We saw stories of dolphins swimming in the canals in Venice for the first time in years. I'm sure environmentalists are scurrying around trying to determine the effect on the ozone layer - and I hope that there is good news. Sea life are not choking on soda can rings, because humans aren't littering the beaches. Food delivery for the front line workers.  These are all really positive things, but it was hard to focus on that.

I still could not 'get over' everything I was missing. Selfishly, I could not see the positive in my own life -- I could only see the 'supposed to's'.  I was supposed to be travelling, I was supposed to be exploring, I was supposed to be at home for Easter, I was supposed to be at my friend's wedding, I was supposed to be [use your imagine to fill in the blank]. 

And then out of nowhere, I met Mo Gawdat.  Okay... 'met' is a bit exaggerated, he doesn't know me, but I was introduced to his mission.  I'm not going to give you his history (you can google it or click here), but his methodology and ideology really made a lot of sense.  He is an engineer by trade working in transformational roles inside Microsoft and Google.  He had everything you think you need to be happy (money, family, career, etc), but he was miserable.  Then the Happiness Equation was born -- Happiness is greater than or equal to your perception of the events in your life minus your expectations of what you thought life should be.

Such a simple concept, yet makes perfect sense. Key points I've pulled from him:

  • Happiness is your default state (happiness equals content, calm, peace)
  • We often confuse the difference between fun and happy
    • Fun can either be a drug or a happiness supplement.
    • If you are using activities to bring you happiness, you are using it as a crutch. Happiness should not be dependent on an activity. Happiness is a feeling.
  • If you align your expectations to reality, then you will be happier.


Okay, okay... I know. Ultimately, I'm not unhappy nor was I 'seeking' happiness. But my state of mind in almost all of 2020 was off. I was focusing too much on the 'fun' I wasn't allowed to do.

So how did this actually help me?  I read Mo's book 'Solve for Happy' (okay, not completely, I'm still working through it -- see above lack of focus..), and in one of the early chapters, he asked me to remind myself of what makes me happy. Create a happy list and revisit this to remind yourself.  If you take nothing else from this , I encourage you to think back to the times that you truly felt happy and write that down.  I'll start...

I feel happy when:

  • I wake up to ocean waves or am near the ocean
  • I explore somewhere new
  • I cook a new recipe and share it with loved ones
  • I help a friend in need
  • I teach someone about other cultures
  • I watch the sun go up or down
  • I spend time with loved ones
  • I watch baby ducks grow

So -- is 2020 the lost year?  It's not a year that any of us expected, but I am no longer thinking of it as lost. Merely different.

Cause you know what? .... I was able to do all of the things on my happy list in 2020.
 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/12/2020-the-lost-year Thu, 31 Dec 2020 22:26:21 GMT
A Week in Guatemala https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/6/a-week-in-guatemala Interested in hearing a bit more about my experience in Guatemala? I had the opportunity to share a little about my trip -- taking me back to the hills of Quiche dancing with my little friends. 

School the World does amazing work -- and with all the schools closed right now, they are being as creative as possible. Between delivering books and lesson materials, they just launched a radio station which allows lessons and instructions to be broadcast to the communities, because now more than ever, these children need education. If you are looking for an organisation that changes lives every day - consider supporting School the World. They not only change the lives of these communities, but they change the lives of everyone they touch (myself included).

With the global pandemic, they have had to cancel all of their trips for 2020 which means much of the expected fundraising for the communities Central America is now no longer available.  If you want to help, donate at: https://donate.schooltheworld.org/give/59173/#!/donation/checkout


 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) guatemala https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/6/a-week-in-guatemala Tue, 09 Jun 2020 21:45:00 GMT
Dear Carolyn https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/5/dear-carolyn Dear Carolyn:

How has it been two years?  Can you believe it?  I miss you.  It feels like a lifetime ago that I've heard your sweet voice, yet at the same time, it feels like yesterday.  I have so many things I wish I could have shared with you - so many adventures we could have had together - so many laughs and hugs - so much dancing.

Instead we were forced to go different ways --

  • Your path brought you to healing.  You were hurting in ways that nothing on earth could cure.  I wasn't ready, but I know that you were.
  • My path started in the opposite direction. Grieving. Unbelievable sadness. A search for something different. A new start away from the life I once knew. 


Thankfully our paths rejoined.  I was lost for a while, but I found you again. 

I've actually been thinking about that moment a lot lately -- do you remember it? Of course you do, you were there.  It was just over a year ago in [Dublin] ...

You always knew when I needed you the most, and I know that is why you showed up on the bridge that day.  I didn't realised it then, but you knew exactly what you were doing.  You always had a magical intuition about you that continues to surprise me. 

While you and I both know that I struggle with the concept of religion, you never wavered which is how you showed me [faith] and signs are real. So seeing your light on the bridge -- I can't explain it -- the only word that seems sufficient is peacefulness. 

I felt at peace.

I felt my heart moving from grieving to healing. 

Out of all the sadness the last year held, my life changed course because of it.  I knew that then, but more than ever, it felt like the plan all along instead of a reaction to something sad. And now, every time I see the Ma'Penny bridge in person or in photos, I stop for a while because my heart feels at peace.

So this past year was dedicated to healing, growing, learning.  Regardless, I still wish I could pick up the phone to call you, or send you a funny pin on Pinterest, or show up at your door step with a plate of brownies for a girls night in.

I can't believe it's been [two years].  

I miss you. I love you. Always.

Love,
Jessica


 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/5/dear-carolyn Sat, 09 May 2020 11:23:57 GMT
School Dedication and Bittersweet Farewells https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/3/school-dedication-and-bittersweet-farewells To view all the pictures from my week in Guatemala: https://www.jkennis.com/f821488306

Starting our day a little later today, we were able to sleep in a bit, but quickly headed to the community for our final day. Every day we are greeted with waves of kids and hugs, and since today many would be performing, they were all dressed their best.

Over the course of the week, you could really feel the kids starting to warm up and trust us. We started the week asking them for photos and by the end, they were sitting next to us asking for another photo.

Or they were yelling across the yard to get our attention or running up and just grabbing our hand to show us something.

The change is oh so heartwarming and bittersweet knowing today was our last day.

After our very heartwarming welcome, I walked up the hill to the school to have one more look at the mural... My emotions were completely overwhelming walking in seeing the desks set up ready for class. Having taught a class in their current classroom with dirt floors, I was instantly brought to tears thinking about them sitting at actual desks with a white board and cement floors.  Completely overwhelming, humbling experience.

After my emotional breakdown, the crew began putting ribbon around the playground and the school doors ready for the dedication. Where most of our group sat down then waiting, I was running around playing - soaking up every beautiful smile I could trying not to think about the short time left.

I...
danced with Rebecca and Alen.
snuggled with Zucely.
hugged all my host family and had many many pictures taken with them.
cheered the boys on doing the monkey bars
loved on Marta and Cecilia.
played with so many others.

Dedication ceremony started with many speeches and performances by the kids. So so sweet!  After the pre-K kids performed, little Rebecca came to sit on my lap to watch the rest of the show. She kept playing with my hair and interlocking her fingers in mine.  Oh my heart.

The dedication ended by presenting each of us a diploma which was hand carved wood with handwritten words. Each of us had a different member of the community who said a few words when presenting us the plaque. Senor Castro (Alen's dad) presented mine and while I didn't understand everything he said to me, he talked about how I visited his house and that he would always remember. Again, so many emotions.

More speeches and more performances rounded out the dedication ceremony with speeches from each of our groups as well. Most importantly, we talked about all the donations that we brought with us.
• All teams brought a bunch of school supplies for the new school.
• One group donated water filtration systems for the school.
• One group donated four teams worth of soccer jerseys, so they can play sport.
• Our team donated corn, beans and corn drink after learning that the school has still not received government funding which subsidizes lunch each day for the kids. We were able to purchase and deliver six months worth of food with the promise that we will continue to fund until government funding is received.

Official ribbon cutting and unveiling of the plaques.

After the ceremony ended, we then all sat down to eat together. The community made us all chicken tamales - rolled in banana leaves and steamed to perfection. So so good to eat traditional Guatemalan food made by the Quiche families. Such an honor and so delicious.

I had so many comments on my mural as the School the World staff kept directing them to me when they heard something. Even Carlos, our project manager came up and gave me a hug telling me how very beautiful it is and thanking me for my gift.

The most impactful comment came from someone who has been a part of School the World since the beginning... She shared that this mural is the best one they've ever had. The colours, the brightness and involving the kids makes it oh so special. (You guessed it, tears again). An artist is never happy with a final product, and I'm no exception, but after so many wonderful comments, I truly felt like Monet.

Even Kate, the founder, made a comment to me saying that one of the ladies told her all of the murals need to look like this. I joked with her saying that I would be happy to go on every trip with them to paint the murals. She laughed.. but I'm serious!

Our final farewell was the most emotional of all. Every community member lined up in two lines from our table to our van for us to walk through saying farewell. The kids were first and, oh, the hardest. Each one wanted a hug, so we could have spent hours trying to leave. Lots of hugs, lots of waves, lots of hasta luegos (see you laters) because I couldn't say adios (good bye).

All of the family members were next - seeing them react to our goodbyes to the kids was enough to make me cry, but also seeing the way they were looking at us...I can't describe the feeling.

As we were loading up the van, little Alen came running up to us to say goodbye.

Alen is the hardest working, most tenderhearted boy. And might possibly be the hardest hasta luego. The second he saw us jumping back out to hug him one more time, his tears started flowing.  His father is a very important man in the community, and Alen is the only son living there still which means he is respected and is a leader. He tried so hard to be strong today, and only broke down away from all his friends.

As if I hadn't shed enough tears today, Alen about broke me. I was his final hug (which seemed real intentional on his part) - and I told him this was not goodbye, this was only see you later.  Leaving him behind was so so hard - a piece of my heart will forever live in Guatemala.

Kate rode with us back to Antigua, and we asked her so many questions about how she started the company, what she sees next, how else can we help, etc. She is a pretty spectacular person doing exactly what I always dreamed of doing - helping the world become a better place, one community at a time.

In the grand scheme of things, for a small amount of money comparatively and one week of time, the connections we were able to make and the lasting impact of education in the community is 1000x worth it. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, 10x over.


 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Guatemala https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/3/school-dedication-and-bittersweet-farewells Fri, 06 Mar 2020 20:58:00 GMT
Final touches and Market Shopping https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/3/final-touches-and-market-shopping To view all the pictures from my week in Guatemala: https://www.jkennis.com/f821488306

We had four hours to put the final touches on our school today as we had to head to the market by noon.

With lots of painting to do, I was assigned to the mural. My vision included a tree with lots of leaves and an owl, plus rainbows, flowers and butterflies. My teammate thought it would be great to have words on the wall as well. Because of yesterday's quetzal and country flower adventure, I was designated as the main painter -- I have never painted anything this big before, but I cared too much about the end product to let someone else take it over.

Starting with the tree, I was quite nervous as I was drawing branches. Not knowing how this thing was going to go down, I kept jumping down off the ladder to check symmetry. If I had more time, I could have completed it on my own, but with only four hours, I knew I'd need help! I enlisted two people to help - one in my group and one from another group. 

While the mural did not turn out exactly as I was expecting, I think for my first one, it is a success.  I can't wait for the kids to see it!

The rest of the day was spent at the Chichi market about an hour drive from the community. Very large market with anything and everything you can imagine. However par for the course of this trip, first stop was food! One of our group travels to Latin America all the time and is obsessed with the fried chicken here, and since our van dropped us off right in front of Pollo Companero (?), we beelined. Man was she right, that was some of the best fried chicken I'd ever had - especially with the green hot sauce. Ah mah gah.

Back to shopping, I found a number of gifts and a couple things for me...I suppose that's what happens when I travel alone. Kevin isn't there to stop me :)

 

We had a nice dinner out where the founder of School the World joined us. She doesn't typically attend dinner on site, but she happened to be in Guatemala the same week. It was lovely to meet her and here her speak about her passion.

Back home to pack since tomorrow is our last day at the community :( I'm certainly not ready to say goodbye to this beautiful Quiche family - such a welcoming community where we felt like home instantly. And the kids..  I can't think about it right now 😭😭.

Tomorrow is the school dedication ceremony which is really a fancy way to say party! 

Off to pack.

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Guatemala https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/3/final-touches-and-market-shopping Thu, 05 Mar 2020 20:00:00 GMT
Life in Quiche https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/3/life-in-quiche To view all the pictures from my week in Guatemala: https://www.jkennis.com/f821488306

Jetleg 4
Jessica 0

Today started much like yesterday - continental breakfast and then making sandwiches for lunch. We were all abuzz as today was the home visits where we are able to see a glimpse into the life of someone living in Quiche.

Upon arrival to the community, half of the teams headed for home visits and the other half stayed back to begin painting. My home visit was second, so off to paint!

Today's painting assignment was the playground cement (basketball court, teeter totter and slide cement) and also the outside of the school.  We made quite good progress during the first home visits, however we were interrupted by recess. Such a fun way to connect with the kids and play. When is the last time you rolled on the ground and blew bubbles? A while, eh? Well it's been a couple hours for me, and let me tell you, what a fun way to spend your time! One of our volunteers brought string which was a huge hit, and I ended up in the middle unraveling string. I also had one of the little girls find me later to help her make a bracelet. So, so sweet. Boosie even made an appearance :)

Oh...remember the butterfly sticker girls from yesterday?? They all still had the butterflies on then today. ❀️❀️

During recess, we had another little girl asking us if we are building schools in other communities and also asked if we would come back and visit soon. Oh my heart. It was that moment that our group decided that we needed to come back. Even if it isn't through this organisation, we will be back to help again.

Recess was over and it was time for my home visit. The family we visited has 11 children! Some are grown living in the big city, but many were still in the house. I recognised two right away from playing this week -- Alen is a very sweet little boy who literally grabbed my bags out of my hand yesterday walking to the van just so he could carry them for me. The little girl is one of the butterfly sisters. 

The father of the house greeted us and introduced us to everyone in the family. He then shared how grateful he was for us taking time to meet with his family and for building the school.  He talked about the recognition of the community two years ago, and how they never dreamed that someone would care enough to build a school for the small community.

The mother of the family shared similar sentiments, but then focused on me. She said that she couldn't believe I was out there shoveling with the men especially with such white skin. She couldn't believe the hard work we were doing for their small community, but mostly she was very concerned for me and the sun. I told her I was strong (while holding my arm up showing my muscles) which made them all laugh. I also told her I had plenty of sun protection, so no need to worry about me. I am doing it for the community, for the kids -- the hard work is worth it when we see their smiling faces.

After introductions and getting to know each other, we began experiencing Quiche life. First we learned about different types of corn and how they use it. Tortillas and tamales are the main dishes, so we helped the family peel and shuck corn kernels in preparation of tortilla class later. Next two of the daughters showed us their loom and how they make clothes. The skill and speed these young girls exhibited was incredible. We learned what the different lengths of string do and how the color is maintained after dyeing. Last stop was the kitchen to learn how to make tortillas. I was most excited for this and man was I terrible. I couldn't get the consistency right and every time I tried to pat them round, I ended up with half of the dough on one hand and half on the other. So sticky and ridiculous. At least I entertained the family!

Our visit ended with us giving the family gifts -- we were advised to bring basic kitchen gadgets, and so that is what most of us had to give. However, one of the teams had an advocate from last year who made it his mission to provide clean drinking water to the families and so he raised money to be able to send water filtration systems for every family we visited. Such an incredible mission and since my group didn't have someone from that group, I was given the box to provide to the family. The family was so very grateful for this to the point they were almost on tears. So you know... You cry, I cry. So tears all around.

Ohh... and while we were at the Castro home, Alen was by my side the entire time with all his animals. He obviously could tell I'm a sucker for animals -- his baby kitten, mama kitty, dog and baby chicks. Now I know the rules, I'm not supposed to touch the animals, but that chick....

Lunch break and then back to painting. Somehow I lucked into decorating the playground cement! The leader handed me the stencils that were used yesterday for the slides, and I asked her if I could just freehand. This ended up being so much fun! Cassandra helped me with design and then filled in all the big shapes while I freehanded the designs. I wasn't sure what to do next, and a small group of men from the community chose two designs for me. The first one is the national flower for Guatemala - La Monja Black. I was up for the challenge, but what I didn't know is that this group were going to hover over me while I painted! They were so sweet though, because they would direct me to where the stems needed to be and the leaves.  After the flower, they really challenged me to paint a Quetzal which is a very important symbol in Mayan culture. It stands for liberty/freedom, and since that is what they want, that is what I did. Two tries later and I ended up with something semi resembling a Quetzal bird.  The group seemed happy with it...I just wish I had smaller paint brushes for the details -- I ended up using my fingers for much of it.

All in all the playground now looks amazing, and I can't wait to paint the mural tomorrow.

We ended our day with dinner at a restaurant in Santa Marie de Quiche -- this is the first time we have been able to order more traditional food and it was really really good!

Such a humbling day with the home visit followed by a creative outlet painting for the kids. I cannot believe all that we've accomplished in this short time, but we really are starting to see the end product coming through. So amazing.

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) guatemala https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/3/life-in-quiche Thu, 05 Mar 2020 02:45:00 GMT
Cement, cement, cement https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/3/cement-cement-cement To view all the pictures from my week in Guatemala: https://www.jkennis.com/f821488306

Jetleg 4
Jessica 0

Our day started with breakfast and sandwich making for lunch today. Peanut butter and jelly!

Upon arrival at the community, my group headed off to the classroom to teach a lesson. School the World offered suggestions of lesson plans, but I already knew what I was doing. I've been preparing for weeks -- pipecleaner crafts! I made samples last night to show the kids, and everyone chose which they wanted to make from my five samples.

Corazon - heart
Flor - flower
Caracol -snail
Coneja - rabbit
Serpiente - snake

Such a success! The kids all loved the hands-on activity as well as learning the English words. I left the craft supplies with the teacher and she was so appreciative. So humbling. Definitely my favorite part so far.

Those that weren't teaching continued working and by the time we were back, the basketball court was completed and part of the playground equipment was being placed.

Lunch time was a picnic on the ground followed by recess with the kids. So fun running around blowing bubbles and playing.

Back to the cement work as we had the goal to complete the cement for all the playground equipment as well as decorating/painting the equipment. 

The day ended with laying rock around the playground, so we finished the day having completed our goal!

During our breaks, we had lots of kids running around playing, and a group of hermanas (sisters) discovered that I had stickers in my bag and they all kept finding me again for more stickers for their primas (cousins). We all ended up with mariposas (butterfly) stickers on our foreheads playing ring around the rosy. Just so sweet!

Even as we were driving away the girls came up to the van for another sticker for another friend. I was hanging out the van window for her to pick which color. 

Arriving to the hotel, we had no water or electricity. So a little dry shampoo and baby wipe became my 'shower'. We all wanted to go into town before dinner, so we headed out to wander the markets. I obviously cannot walk by good Street food without eating it, so more pepusas before dinner!

Dinner and back to the hotel - water and electricity was restored, so shower and bed. Today was truly exhausting with all the shoveling, but boy is it starting to look like a school!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) guatemala https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/3/cement-cement-cement Wed, 04 Mar 2020 04:45:00 GMT
Welcome Ceremony and Work Commences https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/3/welcome-ceremony-and-work-commences To view all the pictures from my week in Guatemala: https://www.jkennis.com/f821488306

To start...

Jetleg 3

Jessica 0

I woke up at four am today. Better than 3am yesterday.

After traveling four hours from Antigua to the community we will be helping, we arrived to the most beautiful site. All of the kids were lined up waving American flags cheering for our arrival.

It was a truly overwhelming feeling with the kids and parents so happy to see us. 

As we walked towards the setup, one of the kids grabbed each of our hands and we walked down the line of cheering children hand in hand as they announced our names.

So many people of the community wanted to speak and with the help of our Spanish and Quiche translaters, we were able to communicate. The most moving of the speeches was one of the teachers, Yoli. She was emotional pointing at the makeshift classroom knowing that by the end of the week, she will have a real classroom for her kids. 

After speeches, games were played. The first one was a dance competition and I was chosen as the girl contestant paired with one of the local men.  We watched a couple and then had to mirror them. One we had danced a bit, everyone joined in - even the kids. 

Pinatas and musical chairs followed - such a fun way to interact with the families. Lunch followed and our orders for the afternoon.

Our orders included digging holes for the playground equipment and mixing/pouring cement for the basketball court.  I was on concrete duty and let me tell you... That work is no joke. We have to fill five wheelbarrows with sand, then five bags of cement followed with five wheelbarrows of rocks. That's just for one pile! Then mixing the dry ingredients fully then adding the water. Extremely physical work that doesn't stop there...once the cement was mixed (luckily we had professionals to help today), we were carrying individual buckets of cement to the basketball court. I'm talking two gallon buckets - one at a time. 

We were able to finish half of the basketball court and all the playground equipment have holes, so a great accomplishment considering we only worked in the afternoon.

Heading home, all the kids ran up to say goodbye waving and hugging. Just so sweet.

Dinner at the hotel and then to bed. Ready for tomorrow!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Guatemala https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/3/welcome-ceremony-and-work-commences Tue, 03 Mar 2020 02:30:00 GMT
Antigua Life https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/3/antigua-life To view all the pictures from my week in Guatemala: https://www.jkennis.com/f821488306

Despite staying up as long as I could Saturday, I ended up waking at 2am Sunday even though my flight was after 9.

Jetleg 1
Jessica 0

I tried to fall back asleep and finally gave up around 4. I needed to pack anyways, so I repacked everything and read a bit.

Downstairs for breakfast and airport shuttle, only to find the same driver from yesterday. He recognized me instantly and shouted 'Belize!'.  As he was dropping me off, C wished me luck with my school while I replied hoping his son can come home soon.

I was so early for my flight that I just found a charging station, and sat to read. I haven't read in a long time (not enough time, when I try my interest isn't kept, etc), but we had a book recommended to us about life in Quiche -- we follow the life of a young girl faced with poverty, starvation, oppression, manual labour and on and on.  I've still not completed this, but I'm certain once I do I will reflect in writing.

I digress... My work colleagues met me in Houston and we all arrived in Guatemala City together (with one exception who was flying through Miami instead). 

Upon arrival, our School the World representative (Ana) introduced us to another group who arrived and off we went to Antigua. 

Our hotel (Hotel Eternal Primavera) is truly it's namesake 'Eternal Spring's as we walk into they main lobby to be greeted by a garden patio with incredible views of the volcano. Rooftop view was even more beautiful, and the bedrooms are spacious!

I'm not one to sit around the hotel, so I asked Ana if we could go explore and with that permission a small group of us headed out to adventure with first stop being an ATM. 

With only a few hours to explore the city, we knew we had to be efficient. Straight to the centre of town, only to discover the first day of Lent celebration. Very similar to the Santa Semana ceremonies we witnessed in Spain, there was a parade of floats to celebrate the life and death of Jesus.

It was here we met a young lady who was selling her handmade embroidered scarfs. None of us could resist...

On our way to the famous arch, ice cream was discovered and eaten, and along our way to the 1700s church, we stumbled on a food market. Oh.em.gee. So much amazing street food, so little time. Especially since we had a group dinner in less than an hour. We settled on fresh papaya and then these maize tortillas with queso. Oh.em.gee. I'm still dreaming about those.

Our evening ended with our group meeting for Italian (a bit of a letdown after the street market...), but it was great to meet the other members of the service trip and get to know them better. We have a long week ahead, and it was great putting faces to names.

Back to hotel for a good night sleep -- we venture into the mountains tomorrow!

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Guatemala https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/3/antigua-life Mon, 02 Mar 2020 00:45:00 GMT
Stopover in Houston https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/2/stopover-in-houston My journey began this morning with Kevin reminding me that I needed to leave my wedding rings with him. For practical reasons, I would be on a construction site, so I don't want to hurt myself or damage the rings. For respectful reasons, diamonds are expensive, and the community we are joining lives on about $4 a day. For safety reasons, flashy jewellery indicates money (rightly or wrongly), so my rings would make me a target not only for robbery, but also kidnapping as I may go for a higher ransom. 

The first two reasons are most realistic, but safety issues are real and as a single female traveler, I must be more vigilant in the bigger cities. I have no concerns once we are with the Quiche community, but one can never be too cautious when traveling to a developing nation. Extreme hunger and poverty can make make you do unthinkable things.

I digress... The act of taking my wedding rings off was a little emotional as well... Another reminder that I was leaving my partner in crime behind while I ventured to an unknown land alone. However, I'm thankful he traveled with me to London and also dropped me off at the gate. He's a good egg.

For my first solo overseas flight, all was pretty uneventful. Other than the dreaded SSSS on my boarding pass... the plane was very empty, so I'll had a row of four to myself. The guy in the row next to me was super concerned about Coronavirus - made the flight attendant wipe down his entire seat and he then wiped it down a second time. Armed also with his surgical mask, the faint smell of hand sanitizer lasted the entire flight.

Now that I'm in Houston, I have an intentional overnight layover to hopefully help with jetleg, so I grab my bags and off I go. 

My airport shuttle driver (C) received a call from his son on our way to the hotel, and normally I find it weird when a driver takes a personal call, but after he hung up the phone, I understood why he didn't let it go to voicemail.

It was his son calling from Kazakhstan to tell his dad that a peace treaty was just signed and he might be coming home (breaking news then confirmed this). His son just shy of 21 years old is serving in the US Air Force. You can just tell how proud dad is and how thrilled he was to receive that call.  He told me the war started the year his son was born - his son has known nothing but the US at war. Let that sink in a bit... 

I soon learned that C is originally from Belize and that he came to America for a better life. When he asked me if I had ever been to Belize, I sadly had to tell him no...but I was headed to Guatemala tomorrow. His initial reply? "Guatemalans steal land. They are trying to steal our land still." He then painted me a picture of the conflict of his homeland to which I had no reply. Asking me if I would be close enough to Belize to visit, I shared that I was traveling to the Quiche/Mayan area of Guatemala to build a school so I won't have time to travel to Belize unfortunately. This instantly changed his perspective of me - he said that the Mayans are peacemakers. They fled to the mountains to avoid the conflict instead of engaging in it. He has much respect for the Quiche people (he pronounced this Ki-chay and not kee-chay as I have been). I suspect that he is right.

Our conversation shifted to his asking about me and where I call home. Such a hard question for me to answer, so I used the easy answer - I just arrived from the UK which is where I live right now. C asked if I had been to Paris - he and his wife dream of visiting Paris one day. Anyone who knows me knows that Paris is my favourite, and so I tried to paint him a picture. His smile was wide when he responded that Paris is often in the background of his dreams.

Arriving at the hotel, he bid me farewell and good luck and thanked me for helping the Mayan people. They are pure and deserve all good things. Such a unexpected, but lovely conversation.

I checked in early to my room as it was ready thankfully and dropped my items off. I needed to do some last minute shopping for paintbrushes and snacks, so I started looking at the area around me. Fortunately I have a connection to Houston, so I texted her to make sure I found what I needed. After a helpful chat and a warning of the immediate surrounding area, I set off for my first stop.

Yet another lovely driver - this time a girl named Payano. She was born in the Virgin Islands to Dominican parents who moved to the US for a better life (theme, much?). I shared my grandfather lived in the Dominican for a number of years, and it is a beautiful country to visit. Payano was really excited to give me suggestions for my time in Houston to which I had to disappoint her with the news that I had barely 15 hours in Houston before I flew out. She asked me 'in Spanish' if I spoke Spanish and to her delight I replied 'un poco'. Nice little practice before I head farther south. Arriving at my stop, we said farewell and I was off to shop and eat. 

Or eat then shop. I stopped to eat at Taco Cabana -- really good! They even had sopapillas with honey which just made my day!

Quick-ish stop in Walmart  for random shopping and then back to the hotel to relax. My last Uber driver was less eventful, but did double my trip by missing his turn multiple times -which I said I didn't mind in the car, but it ended up doubling my cost! Oh well...

It's now 8pm and I'm dozing, so I must sign off for now.

Tomorrow I meet up with my fellow colleagues at the airport to travel together to Guatemala City. Here goes nothing...

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Guatemala https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/2/stopover-in-houston Sun, 01 Mar 2020 02:15:00 GMT
It's almost time! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/2/its-almost-time I'm traveling to London for work a couple days prior, so I'm completely packed days before I leave.  Before you say it, I know what you are thinking. Soo much luggage..? Much of it is supplies for the trip that won't return with me (plus my rolling bag is only a carry on size, so give me a break!)

Boosie is also ready! House co-parents graciously agreed he should experience this before he goes back to the US.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Guatemala https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/2/its-almost-time Wed, 26 Feb 2020 18:15:00 GMT
Preparing for Guatemala https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/2/preparing-for-guatemala Yesterday I received my flight itinerary for my volunteer trip to Guatemala. Makes it real!

So this weekend, I had a mild panic ...

What am I supposed to wear?

What shoes do I bring?

A carry on is recommended, but can I check luggage instead?

Will I suffer from jetleg too much?

I've never flown over the ocean by myself before.

Will Kevin be okay by himself?

And on, and on.

So... I am going to answer my own questions to calm the minor nerves.

 

What am I supposed to wear?

Long pants and t-shirts are recommended - and since I don't own any pants that aren't leggings or jeans, I need to find something. I've been given the tip that capris are okay (thank God, because I don't handle the heat well and it's Guatemala!). I also don't really own any old t-shirts that I would be okay with throwing away, which means I need to find shirts too. We also have dinner every evening, plus two excursions which require nicer clothes. Shopping it is...

 

What shoes do I bring?

I originally thought tennis shoes would be sufficient, but then spiraled into thinking I should actually bring work boots/steel toes. I found some cheap ones at a sporting good store, but in reality, steel toes are heavy! Tennis shoes it is. Too bad I don't actually have old tennis shoes here in the UK... So shopping it is...

 

A carry on is recommended but can I check luggage?

The answer is obviously yes, and based on the amount of sunscreen I've packed, I will not be allowed to carry on!

 

Will I suffer from jetleg too much?

Probably yes. I fortunately was able to book a day layover in the US to help, but I always suffer the most coming this direction. Hopefully that one day of good sleep coupled with excitement will reset my clock! To make matters worse, daylight savings happens while I'm flying back..

 

I've never flown over the ocean by myself before...

I've traveled so much over the years, but usually not by myself. I can think of a handful of flights I was alone and most were from Illinois to Oregon. Not 19 hour travel days! I'm sure I'll be fine as long as the flights are smooth! 

 

Will Kevin be okay on his own?

I'm sad that Kevin isn't coming with... He has always traveled with me everywhere and this is a new country to explore. I have friends that will check in on him though and offered to feed him (they don't believe me when I say he cooks more than me!).

 

Two weeks and counting!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Guatemala https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/2/preparing-for-guatemala Fri, 14 Feb 2020 00:30:00 GMT
Did someone say more temples? https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/1/did-someone-say-more-temples If you haven't picked up on it, Malta is known for its temples. The entire island is almost a UNESCO site and everywhere you turn, you are looking at something ancient.

Today we wandered over to the western side of the island and started out exploring the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples. The sheer size of these rocks is incredible and the designs are so well preserved.

When Hagar Qim was discovered, only the tallest rocks were exposed to the elements for all these years and you can tell (above). 

As Kevin and I wandered around these two temples, we are amazed that they don't get as much attention as Stonehenge. I appreciate that Stonehenge is romanticised, but it's actually quite boring compared to the intricate temples in Malta. Hagar Qim was built for the solstices and the sun shines directly in one of the chambers only during this time. But during other parts of the year, when the sun hits, the ancient people were able to track tomr. (Much like a sundial).

These two temples are connected by a number of trails, so we set off on one towards an old tower along the sea. On this trail, we also were able to enjoy the beautiful turquoise water and a window into the sea. 

Next stop = Mdina which is the only walled city left standing in Malta. This city is actually used for filming all the time due to its large entry gate and quaint streets. Most notably, Gladiator, Troy, Game of Thrones, etc.

The city itself was very pretty, but truly not much of anything inside the walls. When looking for apartments, we almost booked in Mdina and we are now very glad we didn't. Food wise, there was only one restaurant open. Considering the touristy nature, it seemed odd to be so dead. However, it is January, so maybe that is a factor.

I think we were inside the city walls for maybe 45 minutes before we headed towards the neighboring city, Rabat. Here we found a late lunch - traditional ftira which is basically a sandwich made with Maltese bread. Gammon and cheese for me. Sausage and pickled onions for Kevin. Very dense bread, but overall decent.

We knew the rain was heading our direction, so we popped over to St. Paul's Catacombs which turned out to be a much bigger deal than we thought. There were twenty three different catacombs...most of which you could explore underground. Multifaith ones, single faith ones, pagan ones -- all together as one.

These are Roman and use was discontinued by 600 AD (likely started in 300AD-ish). It was illegal for burials to occur inside city walls (Mdina) and so that is why the catacombs were created. Most churches have some sort of crypt or underground burial that you can view, but these are on a whole other level. The carvings, the decorations, the bones! We spent a good two hours walking in and out of the crypts. Some were huge that you could wander around in and others were smaller, but you could view. Each one had a sign out front indicating the significance and which religious affiliation. However after wandering through a few, we could tell which were Jewish and Christian/Pagan.

Having now avoided most of the rain, we headed back towards Valletta but not before stopping at a street shop selling traditional Maltese sweets. Malta is known for their cannolis, and again, they did not disappoint! We picked up two different ones, but both filled with chocolate. So good.

Back in Valletta, we needed to find dinner so we could head home to pack. Serious debate whether we should go back to that calzone place. We were headed that direction, when we made a last minute, spontaneous and brave decision to try mideastern cuisine. We've never had this before, but as Malta is this melting pot between Italy and Tunisia, it only seemed right. Plus they knocked Italian out of the park, mideastern has to be decent.

Having no idea what we were doing or what we were ordering, 10 minutes later we were sitting in front of a platter of proper mideast food. Chicken was really good and many of the sides I chose were pretty good. Rice was actually just red pepper flakes with a side of rice (holy spicy). Mixing it with the quinoa cooled it down a bit. Chickpeas and potatoes weren't bad either. Not sure I will crave those flavours, but would definitely eat it again if we are ever able to travel to the mideastern region.

Just eating this food has reminded me how much I want to visit somewhere in the mideast, and reminds me that we are still at war which means I still can't.  You know we've been at odds with the Middle East since I was in eighth grade? That's a lot of years - and in reality, it started even before that. My desire to visit has only grown over the years, and every time I think we are making progress, the US leader makes a decision which jeopardises security for Americans in those regions. It's sad really. Really sad. Maybe one day I'll out my Middle East and African politics college degree to use.

Until then, we will continue exploring the world around it. 

Tomorrow's flight is early, so it's time for bed. I just set my alarm and the first number is a 4. It's too early already and I've not even gone to bed yet.

Next trip is at the end of the month - first time we've been to the US since last March. Looking forward to seeing all my people and eating allllll the food. And maybe stock up my ranch supply...

To view all pictures from Malta: https://www.jkennis.com/f1012544990
 

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) malta https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/1/did-someone-say-more-temples Sat, 11 Jan 2020 17:45:00 GMT
Gozo - More Temples, More Sea https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/1/gozo---more-temples-more-sea Late night last night + rooftop sunrise viewing = tired Mr and Mrs Ennis.

Our rooftop has a 360 view of the island and because the island is so small, we can almost see across the entire place from our roof. So this morning we watched the sun rise above the sea before we headed north.

A little over an hour by bus and we arrived at the Cirrkewwa ferry port. This ferry will take is to the neighboring island, Gozo, which is affectionately referred to Malta's prettier sister. We decided this is likely because less people live on Gozo.

As we were walking into the ferry, I had a rather aggressive tour bus guy trying to sell me tickets to the hop on hop off bus in Gozo. Normally, if you keep walking past them saying 'no thank you', they move on to the next person. I suspect the mixture of slow season and my frustratingly recognisable accent, he followed me across the street and into the ferry terminal.

The conversation went something like this:

Obnoxious salesperson: Where are you going?
Me: No thank you
Obnoxious salesperson: No really, where are you going?
Me: Gozo - we are at the ferry...
Obnoxious salesperson: How are you going to get around on the island?
Me: We are fine, thank you

Obnoxious salesperson: How do you think you are going to get around?
Me: We will be fine, thanks.
Obnoxious salesperson: Public transportation won't get you where you want to go. I was born on the island, I know this.
Me: We have it figured out.

Obnoxious salesperson: Not likely since the bus will only take you one place.
Kevin: Well that's good, since that's the only place we are going.
Obnoxious salesperson: Okay good (finally leaving us alone)

What's most frustrating about this interaction is that he was lying to us and we knew it! I research enough before venturing anywhere to at least know how to get there. So many other people were stopped and bought tickets from them. €20 a person! Where the public bus costs €1.50 for two hours. We probably paid €6 total the whole time we were on the island.

A short thirty minute boat ride, and we were walking around Gozo. Amazingly, we rode the public bus to Victoria...considering the 'local' claimed there was no public bus. Such a scam.

Before we headed into the Citadel, we grabbed some street shop pizza. Really good thick crust - we would definitely eat it again. Although Kevin's had hard-boiled egg on it which was a little weird..

Citadel was pretty cool to wander through -- the old prison cells are always interesting to see, and the view from the top was spectacular.

Back to the ferry port as that is where the trail starts for our walk along the coast. Turquoise water for days! Also hiking through so many cacti. I'm not sure that we've ever been this close to this much wild cacti. It was almost like walking through a forest. Had a nice little wander up and down the cliffs...we were able to touch the water at the bottom as there was a little rocky beach. Cool to the touch, but not cold. I can definitely see myself coming back to swim in the summer.

Back across the ferry and over to Mellieha Bay which is where the 1980s Popeye movie was filmed. The movie set was turned into an amusement park and was pretty cool to see from across the bay. We didn't pay to go in, because screaming children also like amusement parks. Plus we arrived right around sunset... As planned since this was supposed to be a great spot for a sunset. We did wander down to the bay and saw a bunch of jellyfish swimming around.  The sun was hitting the water and the village just perfectly (golden hour).

Back up to the top of the cliffs just as the sun was going down. Even though the clouds were a bit too dark on the horizon to give us the brilliant colours, it was still beautiful over the sea.

An hour bus back to Valletta, and we were starving! We stumbled upon Vecchia Napoli which had lovely looking calzones on the menu. We were not disappointed either - massive and absolutely delightful. Probably my favourite thing I've eaten here so far.

Since it was such an early morning, we were exhausted (and a bit cold!), so off to bed for us.

To view all pictures from Malta: https://www.jkennis.com/f1012544990
 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) malta https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/1/gozo---more-temples-more-sea Fri, 10 Jan 2020 17:00:00 GMT
Exploring Valletta https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/1/exploring-valletta Because we failed buying tickets for the exclusive underground temple (Δ¦al Saflieni Hypogeum), we started moving early to see if we could be one of the lucky recipients of the eight last minute tickets available. This temple only allows 8 people per hour due to the underground eco system. Because it is January and because we arrived promptly at 9am, we scored tickets for noon that day!

With a couple hours to burn, we wandered around the capital. The Upper Barrakka Gardens, the main gates into the city and lots of quaint little streets.

We then "bolted" (aka ubered) to the temple, and met Abdul - our most entertaining driver so far. By the middle of the trip, he was talking politics and war. Abdul very seriously said "When two big animals fight, the grass suffers. We are the grass.".

I looked this up as he stated it was an old saying, and I thought it might have been in the Quran or the Bible.  It is actually an old African proverb which states "When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers most".

The more you think about that, the truer it is. He was, of course, implying Trump vs Iran as that is all the rest of the world hear about on the news, but this can also be applied everywhere. When two parents fight, who suffers? When two countries fight, who suffers? When two families fight, who suffers?  I'm thankful for Abdul and the moment of reflection that he provided to me -- I even immediately wrote down his saying so I wouldn't forget it.

Abdul also seemed really confused about our drop off location, as it seems he doesn't come to this temple often. With only 8 visitors an hour, I can see how that's true.

Having been discovered in 1902 during a water cistern renovation, it was initially kept a secret until full excavation. Unfortunately the initial excavation was not well managed and many of the artifacts were discarded without being catalogued. It was opened to the public in 1908 during excavation and until 1992 it was used for many different things (playground, barn, etc) which ultimately damaged much of the history, but what was preserved was quite incredible. The tour lasts about an hour and included an audio which talked you through the history. It also played ominous music which made it a bit creepy walking through.

The temple has its own ecosystem which was destroyed in the early days of touring which is why they now limit the amount of people. They pump in oxygen to counteract the carbon monoxide that humans release, have the lights very low, do not allow photography and keep a steady temperature.

All in all, it was worth the visit... A bit expensive, but that money goes to preserving the temple which makes it worth it.  I ended up buying a couple of postcards since we weren't able to take pictures inside.  Such a beauty.

The Hal Tarxien temples were a couple blocks away, so we wandered over there to explore a bit.  These temples were discovered in 1913 when farmers were complaining that they were hitting rock with their farm equipment. An excavation later, and there was a full temple!

This temple is where the famous leg statue was found (our keepsake for the trip is a replica). There was obviously a top/head, but the material used is so fragile that it had all crumbled away before discovery.  The bottom of the statue is still in Malta for viewing.

For being hit repeatedly by farm equipment,the temple was in great shape and worth the quick stop.

By this time, we were hungry -- too late for a regular lunch and too early for dinner. I remembered that I wanted to try one of the traditional Maltese snacks - Pastizzi - which is like a flaky but crunchy raw pasta like crust filled with a ricotta mixture. (Could also get it filled with mushy peas, but even on a good day I can't stand those).  It was very buttery and quite good. Perfect afternoon snack to tide us over to dinner.

We wandered through another park and then stumbled on a hiking path along the water. So glad we did, because it was beautiful. I always forget how turquoise the water is on this side of the world. Probably because I grew up on the muddy Mississippi. The color is indescribable, so pictures will have to do.

Wrapped up our day with a restaurant that makes homemade pasta and a stop on our rooftop terrace to look at the moon and constellations (Cassiopeia was out bright!).

Long, long day! Tomorrow we head to the neighboring island of Gozo and more exploring.

To view all pictures from Malta: https://www.jkennis.com/f1012544990

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) malta https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/1/exploring-valletta Thu, 09 Jan 2020 16:30:00 GMT
Next Stop Malta https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/1/next-stop-malta Sooo... About ten days ago, we were trying to find a weekend trip in January, and we somehow stumbled upon $20 round trip tickets to Malta from Cardiff. Completely unheard of! 

Of course, we snatched those up and 10 days later we are on a plane!

Kevin did some research ahead of time, found their ride share app, and before we knew it, we were checking into our apartment.

Fourth floor (five floors for my American friends), no lift. But private rooftop access up two more flights of rickety metal spiral steps inside the apartment.  360 view of Malta = ocean, bay, Valletta, Mdina and more..

Super late arrival, so it's off the bed already. Lots to explore in the morning!

To view all pictures from Malta: https://www.jkennis.com/f1012544990

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) malta https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2020/1/next-stop-malta Wed, 08 Jan 2020 20:30:00 GMT
Austrian Alps = Fairy Tale https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/12/austrian-alps-fairy-tale I wasn't planning to post today since this is out travel day time, but today was our first true cloud free morning in Austria and the mountain views were breathtaking. I stead of explaining, I'm just going to post.

This is the view upon waking - it's still dark-ish and perfectly clear.

Then low clouds begin to roll in..

Then the sun started to rise...

Even the views from the airport are amazing..

Boarding the plane!

To view all pictures from this trip: https://www.jkennis.com/f1071388468
 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) europe at christmas https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/12/austrian-alps-fairy-tale Sun, 15 Dec 2019 08:53:46 GMT
Winter in Italy https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/12/winter-in-italy The northern part of Italy and southern part of Austria has been the most beautiful place we've ever visited, so when we realised we were just a short train from the Italian Alps, there was no where else we'd rather be.

While we've never specifically visited this town in Italy (Bolzano), we have been to this region once before with Kevin's mom and knew we wanted to come back to explore more, and after today, we still want to come back again.

We started our day wandering straight to the Christmas market to have a quick wander and a quick bite. I'm so glad we chose this over Salzburg, as this was the cutest, most handmade market we've visited so far. Booth after booth of locals and their handmade crafts, jewelry, and treats. This is exactly what you want a Christmas market to feel like. I knew I would buy a little something, so I made note of the booth I wanted to return to and we heaheaded to our next adventure.

 

Funivia del Colle... Cable car into the Alps. I'm not sure why I always seem to be the one to find these things, because Kevin then always has to ride it (and I have some serious anxiety getting on them). I can't explain why, but my legs become jello. Kevin always reminds me that I shouldn't be scared, cause 'he is afraid of heights and he's fine'. As if it's one or the other! He jumps around taking pictures while I'm frozen to the seat.

Regardless, the views are always out of this world and is always worth the touch of anxiety. And boy, were the views worth it. A short climb to the observation deck and we had a 360 view of the Italian Alps. Some snow covered and some that look like spring. Such a beautiful site.

Ride back down and dash to the Museum of Archaeology - the 5300+ year old Iceman is housed here. They found him in 1991 in the Alps - completely mummified in the ice. At the time they didn't realise his significance, and assumed he was a lost hiker from a couple years ago. Only to discover he likely walked the earth over 5000 years ago. He was almost perfectly preserved in the ice and since discovery they have kept him preserved. No pictures allowed, but Google it. It's weird..

Weirdest part? He still had his skin. It's crazy how the ice preserved him to still have skin. You could see his tattoos even. Plus they have decided he was murdered. He had an arrowhead in his arm, huge gashes on his hands and skull fractures. All of the warrior items he was found with were damaged as if there was a struggle. Longest unsolved mystery ever. My favourite part? There was a sign that said "forensic experts claim that because they weren't the first on the scene all the evidence was destroyed". Homeboy was murdered 5000 years ago. The evidence did not exist.

Anyways... We now only had about an hour before our train home, so we found some quick food (street pizza!) and wandered back to the market to pick up my trinket. At this point we were so cold anyways, that we were ready to be on the warm train.

It's our last night in Innsbruck, so we walked through the market one last time - fried dough one last time - and found myself a little holiday decor as a treat.

Home to pack now, because tomorrow we fly home. We are ready to sleep in our own bed, have normal outdoor temperatures, and a home cooked meal.  But sad to leave this winter wonderland and beautiful mountain view from our living room. :(

Especially after this evening curled up on the couch with my sweet husband watching the Geminid meteor shower from our living room window. Normally we can't even see the stars living in the city, so being able to see the constellations (big dipper anyone?) and watching the shooting meteors behind the mountains is a pretty special memory. 

Night vision pictures aren't great, so here is one with the big dipper prominent and then the original. Impossible to take pics of the falling meteors... But they were there <3


To view all pictures from this trip: https://www.jkennis.com/f1071388468
 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) europe at christmas https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/12/winter-in-italy Sat, 14 Dec 2019 21:45:00 GMT
To Munich and Back https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/12/to-munich-and-back Today is all about Munich. We have been to Munich once before, but it was simply to drop a car off and hop on a train. We spent no time in the city at all.

The draw to Munich on this trip (just like all the other chosen cities is the Christmas market). But we knew we couldn't spend seven hours walking around the market, so we scouted out other things to do.

I don't have a particular appreciation for art (despite loving to paint), but in the last few years, I have discovered impressionism art. I don't know what it is, but it just draws me in. So to Kevin's dismay, I now look for art museums on our travels that include impressionism period art. So for non artsy peeps, this is Monet, Degas, Manet, Van Gogh... 

The best museum I've been to has been in Paris - rooms and rooms of impressionism. So beautiful.

The Munich museum unfortunately was under construction, so all the best pieces were loved to a neighboring museum - however after walking through, there were very few paintings from my favourites which was quite disappointing. This is the only one that really resonated with me... Manet depicting Monet painting on the river. Such an interesting perspective.

At this point we were starving, and a short 20 minute walk led us to the market. All the food. We found an interesting booth selling deep fried potato like pancakes served with apple sauce. Yes... Sounds weird. Yes... Tasted weird. Can't say we would eat it again, but was worth trying.

But then... Then we found the holy Grail booth. It was the famous Zwiebelfleisch. What is it you ask? I'm not entirely sure except it was the best food I've eaten on the trip to date. We think it was pork... So porkchop like on bread with grilled onions. So good. I could have eaten a second one.

A short wander through the market - I'm determined to bring something home from one of these. But I want something homemade and unique. I've goty eye on something in Innsbruck, but always on the lookout. We were also wondering through towards a little church I wanted to see.

Boy was it worth it... It's a Baroque style which means over the top and shiny. It's literally squeezed between two other buildings and if it wasn't labeled, you wouldn't really know it was so grand. 

More market shopping while waiting for our train -- then back to Innsbruck. We discovered a second part of the Christmas Market last night and I had my eyes on dinner..

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Based on the weather and train times, we've decided not to go to Salzburg tomorrow. We've spent time there already, and have already seen the big sites. It's not worth that train journey just for a Christmas market. So we are now headed to Bolzano Italy tomorrow. Weather shows sunny and almost 50 degrees (Sorry everyone outside of the US... I don't know what that translates to your money... Lol). 

We expect beautiful views of the Dolomite Mountain range (Italian Alps) and lots of amazing food.

To view all pictures from this trip: https://www.jkennis.com/f1071388468
 

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) europe at christmas https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/12/to-munich-and-back Fri, 13 Dec 2019 19:49:47 GMT
Exploring Innsbruck https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/12/Exploring-innsbruck We awoke to winter wonderland. It was just lightly snowing covering all the trees like a fairy tale and the clouds were so low blocking the lovely panoramic views out our window.

Into town for some pastries and a wander through some of the sites. Passing through a beautiful church, parks and the river led us to the Funicular Train which takes you up into the mountain. We didn't initially plan to go up especially since the view would be non-existent with the snow, but we are always up for a Funicular ride.

These are the special trains built to climb mountains so the cars stagger going up. Always great views of the city below. This one leads you to cable cars that take you up even farther into the mountains, but that was expensive and a waste of money in this weather so we opted to go up just to the city above Innsbruck. Tiny little Christmas market up there, but nothing else really. Luckily we also purchased tickets for the Alpine Zoo which is just one stop down the train.

By this time, the snow had picked up pretty significantly and we were concerned we wouldn't see many animals. But boy were we wrong!

Otters, bears, wild cats, goats, buffalo, baby sheep, owls, luchs, and more!

The bear was my favourite... He was wandering around in the snow catching snowflakes with his tongue. It was the cutest thing!

Outside the zoo, off the beaten path a bit was a covered bridge - completely snow covered - completely perfect and beautiful. So in typical Ennis fashion, we hiked down to it and then down into the creek below for a better view..

At this point we were both quite cold - the snow was wet, so our gloves and hair were wet. Time to head back down to the city and back to the apartment to warm up. En route, we found a hidden market booth that was selling this fried bread that we kept seeing people with but could never find, so naturally we had to stop. Cranberries for Kevin and Nutella for me (duh..?). So delightful! We decided we would come back here for dinner as well as they had a lot of great sausage options. 

After a short warming break at home and a struggle to find reasonable priced pants for me, we headed out again for dinner! Mine was delightful.. altho Kevin was not as impressed. 

On the way back to the apartment, we accidentally bumped into a second Christmas market and scouted out their food... Looks like our dinner for tomorrow!

We've decided tomorrow will be Munich based on the weather, so off to bed for an early start.

 Click here to view all photos from Austria

To view all pictures from this trip: https://www.jkennis.com/f1071388468
 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Europe at Christmas https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/12/Exploring-innsbruck Thu, 12 Dec 2019 17:45:00 GMT
Arriving in Austria https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/12/arriving-in-austria When you realise this may be your last Christmas living in Europe, you end up booking spontaneous trips close together to take in every cultural experience possible.

So today we set off for Austria for a long weekend. We found a lovely Airbnb with mountain views of the Alps right in the heart of Innsbruck, Austria as our base - and after a day in Innsbruck, we plan to head to Salzburg and Munich to explore.

Short two hour flight from Bristol (our first time flying from this airport... Easy!).  However about half way through the flight, I had this terrible feeling that I forgot to pack something. 

Do you know how many trips I've packed for in my lifetime? Including sleepovers and short weekend trips home for holidays? I've lost count - but in none of those have I ever forgotten such a crucial item.

Homegirl forgot to pack pants. Yes you read this correctly. P.s. For my British readers, I mean trousers. 

How does one forget pants, you may ask? Well... I threw laundry in the night before and because laundry takes 4+ hours to run, they weren't done before I went to bed. Now I typically meticulously make a list before bed if I don't pack everything I need, but in my old age and seasoned traveler ways, I apparently felt that was unnecessary. So we wake up the next morning, grab our bags and off we went.

Such a crazy thing to forget, but also proves that you can pretty much forget anything and find it along the way.

We landed around 6pm and since it was only a 20 minute trip to the bnb, we knew we would have plenty of time to find dinner at the market. But we also knew we would not have enough time to buy pants before the stores all closed, so I was going to have to shop tomorrow.

Checked into our bnb - consumed the beautiful mountain views (pictures do no justice) and then off to the market!

Neither of us were starving enough to spend a lot of money at the market, so we opted for a Cinnamon bread dessert and then grabbed some sausages at the grocery store to cook for dinner.

Then off to bed! Snow in the forecast tomorrow - our plan is to stick around Innsbruck for the day (and find a pants store...).

To view all pictures from this trip: https://www.jkennis.com/f1071388468
 

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Europe at Christmas https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/12/arriving-in-austria Wed, 11 Dec 2019 23:30:00 GMT
Train to Brussels https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/12/train-to-brussels It was dark by the time we arrived in Brussels today. Which doesn't mean much since this side of the world gets dark by 3:30pm! We were starving, so we immediately headed to the Christmas market. 

It was opening weekend and it was absolute madness, and to be honest...a bit disappointing. Hardly any Christmas lights and we couldn't find a brat to save our lives.  No hot chocolate stands either! They did do a great job lighting up their buildings though...

We did find waffles tho! And waffles, did we eat! Salted caramel and dark chocolate on mine. Kevin's was strawberry dark chocolate. No words. Just drool.

Next day, we knew we weren't spending all day at the market, so we wandered around town looking for adventure. 

Stumbled on the chocolate museum which was interesting enough, but really the best part was all the taste testing. We tried different % of chocolate which is ultimately the ratio of sugar to chocolate. That's why the higher the %, the more bitter the flavour. 

I've never been a huge dark chocolate fan, but since moving here, I have a whole different appreciation for dark chocolate and now find milk chocolate less satisfying. 

The tour ended with us meeting a local chocolatier who told us how to make our own chocolates at home and how to tell if the shop is truly "handmade" or not. The end result is trying his chocolates which were delightful.

Back to the Christmas market for lunch - we tried a Peruvian dish and some onion soup. Plus more of that Swiss potato delightfulness.

As if that wasn't enough, our prior tour inspired us to find a chocolate shop and boy did we pig out on those. So good.

We found the famous peeing statue and ended our evening with a lovely dinner at Parmesan and Riccota. I made last minute reservations and it's lucky we did as it was absolutely packed in.  Not sure how I managed reservations other than maybe my famous name...?

Next morning we trained to Amsterdam to fly back to reality. Sad we couldn't go into the city for a warm stroopwafl, but I know we will be back sometime!

10 days and counting until we jet off again. Austria and Germany! More pretzels, more Christmas markets and looks like snow!

 

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Europe at Christmas https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/12/train-to-brussels Sun, 01 Dec 2019 21:30:00 GMT
When you fly somewhere just for a passport stamp... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/11/when-you-fly-somewhere-just-for-a-passport-stamp I always dreamed as a child of seeing the world -- but I'm not sure I truly thought this would be my life.

I never imagined that I would wake up one day and decide to fly to one of the smallest European countries just to get a passport stamp.  Okay -- maybe not JUST for this, but it's a perk.  I also never would have dreamed that this would be my third visit to such a small country (previous visits were no more than  half day in the country combined though!). We wanted a passport stamp and to spend the night here to experience more than just one tourist attraction.  

Plus they have a rich culture and a small Christmas market -- so all in all, we had a lovely trip.  Considering it was a 48 minute flight, I'm not sure why we hadn't done this sooner.

Such an easy transfer from the airport to the city.  Checked into our hotel and headed straight to the Christmas Market. We were starving, so the first stop was the pretzel stand. Anywhere in Europe that is in the vicinity of Germany is my favourite, because the Germans know how to pretzel.  No competition. Had a salty one that night and a cinnamon sugar one the next morning.  Hot chocolate and glunwein all around and tons of lights! We ended at a small Swiss booth and had the most amazing cheesy potato dish.



Next morning we wandered around the town -- Luxembourg City Museum was recommended to us, so we wandered over there to learn a bit more about this tiny country.  The museum had a temporary display of carnival/fair rides and history which was really quite interesting as well.

I'm also always intrigued by the WWII displays in Europe as it shows a different perspective than what we learned.  A much more somber perspective.  There was actually a room in this museum that spoke about the Americans ending the war -- and every time this idea comes up, it really makes me angry and sad that the US chose to stay out of the war for so long.  The death tolls were so high for innocent civilians in this war, and if we would have stepped up sooner, how many of those lives would have been saved? I appreciate the opposite perspective that if we had stayed out entirely none of our lives would have been lost either, but just feeling the history here really makes you see things differently.

After the museum, we only had another hour, so we headed back to the hotel to pack up and head to the train station. Next stop, Brussels!

To view all pictures from this trip: https://www.jkennis.com/p463702159
 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Europe at Christmas https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/11/when-you-fly-somewhere-just-for-a-passport-stamp Sat, 30 Nov 2019 21:30:00 GMT
Road to Guatemala https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/11/road-to-guatemala  

So a couple of months ago, I wrote an essay for an opportunity to build a school in Guatemala.  Only seven people from my organisation of 500+ would be chosen.  I was number eight.  The runner up.  If someone dropped out of the mission trip, then I would be the next in line.  

Yep - you guess it. I received the call -- I'm going to build a school in Guatemala! Wanna read my entry?  ....

How will this experience help you better understand what it's like to Be There for our clients?

Access to education should be a basic human right, but for many developing nations, poverty stricken communities are unable to provide proper education for their children which only reinforces the cycle of poverty.  Uneducated and disadvantaged childhoods mean as an adult you are still uneducated and disadvantaged. A vicious cycle you can never escape. So, you cannot put a price on a good education – especially in a poverty stricken country with seemingly no hope.

Building a school not only provides a group of young children an opportunity for a better future, but also offers a group of adults an opportunity to grow.  To create a sense of team among an unlikely bunch working together towards a common goal. To encourage those from a developed country to appreciate the basic rights we often take for granted. To remind us to be humble and charitable.  But most of all, to provide hope to a community who feels forgotten.

While a small incident can never compare to the above described scenario, a client who is traveling to a remote area where they do not speak the native language nor understand the native customs will quickly find themselves feeling uneducated and disadvantaged.  In these instances, ‘being there’ for a client is more than just going through the motions but rather providing hope to someone who feels lost and alone. It is about connecting with the client when she is afraid. It is about compassion and going above and beyond what is required.  It is about being innovative and recognising that the easy answer might not be the best answer.

So while the question posed to me is how will this experience help me better understand how to ‘be there’ for our clients, I cannot help but think that without education and a little love these young children may never have the opportunity to be our client.  Right now, they need us to ‘be there’ today – with no commercial gain – with no ulterior motives – with only love.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) guatemala https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/11/road-to-guatemala Sun, 24 Nov 2019 19:15:00 GMT
Old Friend - New Adventure https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/11/old-friend---new-adventure You know when you meet someone and you instantly know that you are going to be friends?  This is not a story of this type of scenario.  Instead, this is a coworker, turned peer, turned friend over the course of seven years.

Two very similar people with the same work ethic bonded over late night office work -- often we were the last two in the office and would force each other to leave.  The work life balance between us was terrible, but we really started to get to know each other through this.  Fast forward to this week, and she is flying to see me!  Piggybacking off a work trip to Switzerland, we are spending two whole days conquering castles and eating a whole lot of food!

What did we see/do/experience?

  • Chepstow Castle
  • Chepstow Church
  • Lunch at a local bakery (pasties all around!)
  • Caerphilly Castle
  • Cardiff Castle
  • All around Cardiff
  • Cardiff Market
  • Cardiff Christmas Market (she was literally one day early -- it opened the day she left!)
  • All the food

Such a nice trip -- forced us both to take time off.  We are still helping with each other's work life balance :)

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/11/old-friend---new-adventure Wed, 13 Nov 2019 22:30:00 GMT
Mom in London https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/10/mom-in-london Our final stop is London.  We have spent so much time in London this year, so we know exactly the sites that will be interesting to our guests.  This is super helpful since they purchased the London pass and had so many things to choose from.  My mom is mildly (ok majorly) obsessed with the Royal Family, so that also helped us narrow down the sites to see.

 

Sites in London:

  • Paddington Station - you know... the one that Paddington Bear is found
  • The Tube
  • Tower Bridge at night
  • Tower of London (crown jewels anyone?)
  • Borough Market
  • Anti Brexit March - so many people crammed into a small area near Westminister Abbey.  This was where we were trying to visit, but due to the protests this was shut down.  We were stuck in the middle of the march, and of course it started pouring rain.  Nowhere to go except to stand still waiting for our turn to push through the masses of people.
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Hyde Park
  • St. James Park
  • Kennsington Palace
  • West End -- Mamma Mia was a fantastic show!
  • Princess Diana's Memorial Park
  • Shakespeare's Globe Theater
  • The Shard
  • Roman Wall
  • Byron's Burgers
  • Nando's
  • Picadilly Circus
  • Windsor Castle

While the trip was long and we exhausted our guests, it was so nice to have a piece of home here.  My mom can now 'feel' the pictures I send her, because she's been here. <3

Click here to view all pictures from London

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Patti in the UK https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/10/mom-in-london Fri, 25 Oct 2019 21:00:00 GMT
Mom in Ireland https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/10/mom-in-ireland So when we began planning this trip, we were given two very specific instructions.  They wanted to see rolling hills, and they wanted to eat dinner at a pub.  They were also convinced that Ireland is where you see rolling hills -- and since it is about a 40 minute flight from Cardiff, that was a pretty easy plan to execute.

Four full days in Ireland:

Day 1 sites and activities included:

  • Breakfast of Champions (coke, crisps and candy bars)
  • Newgrange where we were able to go inside a burial chamber -- mom was not impressed by the small space!
  • Trim Castle
  • Rainbows everywhere including an amazing double rainbow
  • Cutest bnb ever in the rolling hills and cows (first item check!)
  • Chinese food
     

Day 2 sits and activities included:

  • Feeding the ducks
  • Cahir Castle
  • Swiss Cottage
  • Eating lunch at the Shamrock Lounge (second item check!)
  • Athassel Priory
  • Rock of Cashel
  • Hore Abbey
     

Day 3 sites and activities included:

  • Driving to Dublin
  • Glendalough
  • St Kevin's Cross
  • Not the best bnb in Dublin
  • Apache Pizza
  • Famous Temple Bar district
     

Day 4 sites and activities included:

  • Ma'Penny Bridge (my Carolyn bridge <3)
  • The Rolling Donut (twice!)
  • St. Patrick's Church
  • Jonathan Swift's burial ground
  • Brazen Head which is the oldest pub
  • Dublin Castle

 

Click to View all pictures from Day 1 and 2

Click to View all pictures from Day 3 and 4

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Patti in the UK https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/10/mom-in-ireland Wed, 16 Oct 2019 20:45:00 GMT
Mom in Wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/10/mom-in-wales The day has finally arrived, and Mom has landed in the UK.  I never, ever thought I'd say that.

When she was married a couple of years ago, I convinced her to get her passport.  The thought was that we were going to take her to Niagara Falls for her honeymoon and the Canadian side is better.  The more we planned, the more we knew Niagara wasn't the right place, and instead, we convinced her to go to Mexico.  This meant flying for the first time for her husband, and a visit out of the country for both.

For some reason, this didn't get their wanderlust going, and so when I told her I was moving to the UK, she was more concerned about how often I was going to come home.  Not at all considering that she could visit me. We even talked about it, and the conversation usually ended with 'probably not'.  It's too long of a flight, I won't be comfortable making that trip without you there, etc, etc.

So to my surprise, earlier this year, the conversation changed to 'how would it work if I visited?'.  Fast forward six months, and she is here.  Her sister-in-law accompanied her and boy do we have a packed schedule of traveling ahead!

We met them at the airport to bring them back to Wales, so day 1 consisted of their first train journey.  Experiencing the Welsh rain and wind. Plus their first experience in a British grocery shop.  Just small enough to not carry everything you need, but just big enough to find something else to eat.

Day 2 and 3 in Wales consisted of their first castle conquering experience (Caerphilly Castle).  They also ran into my friend Martha, so Mom and Martha are now bffs.  Lots of food (fish seems to be the cuisine of choice) and beautiful sites in the Bay.

They are now getting used to the currency - just in time for us to jet set to Ireland where it's a whole new world and set of coins.

Click to view all pictures from Wales

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Patti in the UK https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/10/mom-in-wales Fri, 11 Oct 2019 20:15:00 GMT
Bute Park - Fall 2019 https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/10/bute-park---fall-2019 A year ago, we visited Bute Park for the first time.  It was fall -- the leaves were changing and falling. 

My exact words a year ago still resonate today "Eight miles of hiking today. Eight miles through a fairy tale.  The colours of the trees - the peacefulness of the surroundings - the picturesque views... Words can't describe the beauty of Bute Park in the fall, and so the pictures will have to do. "

Bute Park is truly magical in the fall, and I will let the pictures do the talking again...


 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/10/bute-park---fall-2019 Sun, 06 Oct 2019 19:45:00 GMT
Comfort Food https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/10/comfort-food Every time I have a visitor from the US, I'm asked the same questions.... What can we bring you from home? What food do you need?

Now I have a pretty standard list of food items that we are always wanting:

  • Ranch dressing
  • Taco Sauce
  • Jerky
  • Mac and Cheese (velveeta or kraft... we don't discriminate!)
  • Nutter butters
  • Peanut Butter M&Ms

 

Sometimes you just want some comfort food -- which is why we also sometimes just improvise and make our own comfort food at home.  We have three things that just simply make us feel like we are at home:

1. Honey BBQ Meatloaf. 

  • Try explaining meatloaf to someone who is not American and you find yourself saying 'it's basically large quantities of sausage and hamburger mixed together into a loaf -- and you bake it.  Sometimes you top it with a mixture of bbq sauce and ketchup'.  The result? My non-American friends crinkle their nose and think I'm crazy.  Well most of them ;)
  • Either way, meatloaf with mashed potatoes and corn is a treat for us since we don't make it often. The sausage here is not good, so we end up making our own with ground pork and seasonings.  It's all in the sage!

2. Grilled Cheese sandwiches with tomato soup

  • Believe it or not, this is not a standard comfort food item.  Here in the UK, they have a similar sandwich called a toastie which is basically two pieces of toast with cheese on the inside. It is toasted on the outside and gooey on the inside.  What's missing in this equation? BUTTER.  We smother both sides of bread with butter and then pan fry them (or if you ask the British, we are deep frying them).  Just saying -- our way is better.  And a resounding amount of people here agree.  Plus who doesn't eat them with tomato soup! It's such a foreign concept here, and they are so lucky to have me :)

3. Big ole bowl of mac and cheese

  • Okay, so mac and cheese exists here.  But it's gross most of the time.  It's usually baked so it's dry, and it's always made with sharp cheddar.  This is just an atrocity.  So sometimes we just make a big ole bowl of kraft and sit on the couch indulging.  Thank goodness this is on everyone's list when they visit!

 

Moral of the story is I should weight 800 pounds, because of all the crap food I eat -- it's a good thing all I do is walk everywhere here!

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/10/comfort-food Sat, 05 Oct 2019 20:00:00 GMT
Old Life - Reminiscing https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/10/old-life---reminiscing Before I made the decision to move companies, I worked for my prior organisation for over six years.  I ultimately grew up there professionally -- I had graduated university with no semblence of an idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up, and Kevin and I made a deal that whoever found a new job first, that is where we would move.

We ended up in St Louis which ultimately ended up being a pretty amazing place to spend seven years of our life.  After a rocky start at an organisation I still cannot tell you what they do, I found a home at a metals company in the HR department.  Quite an accident as I was hired as a temp for six weeks, and ended up staying over six years.

I worked with so many amazing people over the years who challenged me, grew me, mentored me, pushed me....   As I continued to take on more and more responsibility, I ended up moving into a Generalist role looking after our location in Alabama.  I was nervous since I'd never had people responsibility before, but was also excited about the idea.  I had a great business unit manager in St Louis who was supportive and let me run with my ideas, and I ultimately ended up with an amazing second family in Alabama. 

Little did I know, this second family taught me so much, and they were the team I was most sad to leave.  I wasn't the typical big city slicker from St Louis since I grew up on country music in a town with one flashing red light, and so we bonded over life every day.  They are the nicest bunch of people I've ever met, and I'm so honored to have been a small part of their journey.

Today I was missing them again, so I put on my safety tshirt just to feel a bit closer to them again.

The life of an expat means you get to meet so many people, but it also means you have to leave them. So I suppose this was my first 'Lesson in Leavin' (if you didn't sing that in Jo Dee Messina's voice then we cannot be friends).

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/10/old-life---reminiscing Fri, 04 Oct 2019 19:30:00 GMT
Darla and Kathy in Wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/9/darla-and-kathy-in-wales Kevin's mom and her friend visited us for just over a week.  They conquered castles, explored ancient burial grounds, tried new food and walked more than they bargained.

Places we explored:

  • Chepstow Castle
  • Caerphilly Castle
  • Tintern Abbey
  • Hereford Cathedral
  • Arthur's Stone
  • Cathay's Cemetary
  • Abbey Church of Saint Mary in Abbey Dore
  • Tinkinswood Burial Chamber
  • St. Lythans Burial Chamber
  • St Fagans Food Festival
  • Castle Coch
  • Barry Island

Fun Fact: We introduced Kevin's mom to the show Gavin and Stacey -- more as a joke, but to also give her an insight into the stereotypes of Wales.  She loved it so much she binged the entire thing before she arrived and then wanted to tour the film locations (Barry/Barry Island).  So one of the days we wandered down to Barry, so she could see the street and the house.  The lady that owns it still allows people to knock and tour whenever they want -- the show has been off the air for 10 years!

Overall we completely exhausted them, but also made them both want to come back :)

 

To view all the pictures: https://www.jkennis.com/p56568438

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Darla's Dream Trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/9/darla-and-kathy-in-wales Sun, 15 Sep 2019 18:45:00 GMT
Why yes - I will take Taco Bell! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/9/why-yes---i-will-take-taco-bell Sooo.... my office in Southern England has a Taco Bell near.  My very lovely husband agreed to drive there, because we were visiting and his very needy wife needed Taco Bell.

Worth every wrong turn, bus lane (yes... we drove down a bus lane illegally... on accident!), parking fee.

All to taste the sweet, sweet victory of TB.

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/9/why-yes---i-will-take-taco-bell Fri, 13 Sep 2019 19:00:00 GMT
Day 3: Last Day with the Patel's https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/9/day-3-last-day-with-the-patels We had a nice slow morning to recover from yesterday...

We all leave Paris today, so we all had to pack up :(

Today was reserved for a bit of shopping though. We walked along the famous Champs Elyees Avenue with all the big names (Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Door, etc). Just a bit of window shopping. A quick lunch, and then I had a store that I HAD to visit -- Olympian Le-Tan. This is a boutique store that creates clutches out of old books. Reese Witherspoon has one and since I'm obsessed with her on Instagram, I had to at least walk in the store to see these in person. Google said they were only open M-F, so today was my only chance. We taxi out there only to find that this store is only available by appointment. No wonder it's fancy. Luckily I could awkwardly peer into the window and see the clutches. I would never buy one at £1500-2000 a pop, but oh my are they beautiful.

I digress -- it was time to go our separate ways, so we headed back to Hima's hotel to grab our things and off to the train station we go.

Hima and Keval head farther into France while we head back to London to pick up Kevin's mom who will be visiting us for the next 8 days. No rest for the wicked!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) paris with the patel's https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/9/day-3-last-day-with-the-patels Mon, 02 Sep 2019 21:16:50 GMT
Day 2: All the Paris Things https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/9/day-2-all-the-paris-things Today is the day we have been waiting for (well not Keval cause he seemed to think going to his Cardiology conference was cooler than baking..)!

Kevin, Hima and I arrived a bit early, so we explored Montmarte a little. Hima had never been, so a short stroll through the redlight district and a quick visit to the Wall of Love before heading back to our class.

We booked a private baking class with a lady who teaches out of her own kitchen. We chose chocolate macarons as our challenge, and I think we did it justice. The real test will be duplicating the results at home without Aurelie!

We had time while the macarons were setting up to also learn how to make Honey Mandolins which were quite good as well. Kind of like a breakfast muffin. You actually should make the batter the night before and keep it really cold in the fridge before baking.

We spent about three hours with Aurelie and it was worth every €€. We are already looking at booking another class with her next time (plus she has an Airbnb that we could book)!

​​​​​​Keval chose our next stop - the Musee D'Orsay. This is across from the Louvre, and ended up being free for the day. Lots of art and a huge collection of Impressionist and Post Impressionist art. I typically do not enjoy art museums, but I do love Impressionalism. The Monet's and Dega's were just breathtaking. Truly a magical experience to see the classics in person. A temporary Van Gogh exhibit rounded out the era of Post Impressionalism with his famous Starry Night. Overall, a worthwhile museum even for a non art enthusiast.

Next stop? Angelina's! If you follow us around the world, you may remember this place. A recommendation from my boss years ago has become my number one recommendation for anyone traveling to Paris. Myself included! They have an Old Fashion frozen hot chocolate drink that is to die for... We all ordered one. Plus the girls ordered real sustenance while the boys just ordered dessert. Nobody walked away unhappy from this stop.

Did I mention that our day was jam packed full? We aren't even halfway done!

One of the tourist activities we have never done is a boat tour of the River Seine - we attempted to board the 6pm, but we missed it, so instead of waiting around we rearranged our trip to end with the boat tour. Which means we had to head to dinner next.

7pm reservations for Blue Elephant - a recommended Thai restaurant. I know what you are thinking... Do you even like Thai food? The answer is... I really have only had it once and Keval really wanted to go. Turns out, it was my favourite meal of the entire trip. Kevin ordered a lamb curry, but I had Cashew Chicken. Served in a pineapple. So freaking delicious that I ate it all (except the mushrooms which were quickly extracted from my plate onto Kevin's). Highly recommend this restaurant if you like Thai or aren't sure if you like Thai. We all agreed it was delightful.

Dining in Paris can be an hours long experience if you don't move the restaurant along, so because we still had two more things to do tonight we had to keep them moving. We jumped in a taxi after finally paying our bill (after confusing the poor new waitress who apparently never had a chip and sign card before).

We ran up to the Tower of Montparnasse, ran through the ticket line with two minutes to spare. Up 56 floors on a scary elevator and burst upstairs just in time to see the 9pm Eiffel Tower sparkle.

I've never gone up in the Eiffel Tower - mostly because it's expensive and once you are up there, your view is just the city.  In my mind, the view should include the tower! Montparnasse Tower does just this. You get a 360 view of Paris and if you time it right you can see the sunset and the entire city lit up. It was quite a sight.

After about a thousand pictures, we head back down to the river to catch the 10pm boat tour. We were able to see the 10pm sparkle and then the tour ended right at the 11pm sparkle. Despite being a bit cold on the cruise, it was really a nice ride wandering through much of Paris. 

Exhausted? Us too. Off to bed and a sleep in the next day to recover from that day!

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) paris with the patel's https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/9/day-2-all-the-paris-things Mon, 02 Sep 2019 21:13:32 GMT
Day 1: We made it to Paris! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/9/day-1-we-made-it-to-paris 10:20am flight from Cardiff to Paris
12:40pm arrival to Paris

Stuck on the tarmac cause our bus broke down and then a 90 minutes trek to the hotel.

But that doesn't negate the fact that we are meeting friends in Paris and to our delight, Hima meets us at our hotel with a bunch of American snacks :)

We pick Keval up at his conference and rush to Palace of Versailles since we were a bit behind schedule.

I'm not sure what I expected the Palace to be, but it wasn't. It just wasn't as amazing as I expected, nor as grand on the inside, but some of the rooms were beautiful and the hall of mirrors was neat to see.

The grounds unfortunately closed early today, so we weren't able to wander around much. We didn't fret too much as we were coming back for the evening lights and fountain show... Or so we thought.

After grabbing a quick dinner, we head back to the Palace and wait around only to find out the tickets we bought were for the day show. If the night show tickets weren't €28 a piece, we probably would have considered paying. But that's a steep price for a couple lights and fireworks. 

So... We head back to Hima and Keval's hotel which has a lovely outdoor bar and enjoy the company and a drink before bed. Keval ordered a savory drink which was delivered in a red pepper, and we all had a good laugh about that..

Kevin and I walk back to our hotel taking a slight detour to see the 11pm sparkle ❀️

Tomorrow we have a jam packed day, so it was straight to bed after tthat.

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) paris with the patel's https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/9/day-1-we-made-it-to-paris Mon, 02 Sep 2019 19:45:42 GMT
12 Hours and Counting... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/8/12-hours-and-counting In exactly 12 hours, I'll be landing in my favourite city in the world greeted by one of my favourite people in the world.

 

Only 54,752 heart beats until Paris <3

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) paris with the patel's https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/8/12-hours-and-counting Fri, 30 Aug 2019 22:34:32 GMT
Reunited! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/7/reunited Our second visitor of the year has finally arrived! He had to get a passport specifically for the trip as he hadn't been out of the country in a lot of years and it was the first time traveling completely by himself... and of course, we couldn't make it easy on him and had him drive to Chicago from St Louis (which resulted in a broken down car and a rental car), train from Heathrow to Paddington and then Paddington to Cardiff.  BUT we met him at the train to start our adventure.  What a good birthday present to be reunited with my friend :)

As you should know by now, when you land in a different time zone, you must stay awake until at least 7pm in the new time zone or jetlag will take you out. So he landed and we went straight to the bay for a food festival. So much food. So good!  OH... and he brought me American food. He's my favourite!!

Now off to bed so we can get an early start in the am. Tomorrow we start our trek to the North!

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Tudds Adventure https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/7/reunited Fri, 05 Jul 2019 19:29:00 GMT
The Untruths of Recycling https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/6/the-untruths-of-recycling One week ago, I would have purchased plastic champagne flutes for our office celebration next week. I would have placed them in a recycle bin and would have felt like I did the right thing.  I used plastic, but I recycled it.

Alas, six days ago, we absentmindedly started a BBC documentary (War on Plastic with Hugh and Anita), and after just one episode, I cannot stop thinking about it.  Everywhere I go, I hear Hugh and Anita's voice, and everywhere I see single use plastic, I truly feel angry.  I feel angry at myself for being ignorant.  I feel angry that supermarkets are deceiving us.  I feel angry that the current political administration isn't doing anything about this. I feel angry that I can't change the world by myself.

Did you know that even though I (an avid recycler) place recyclable items in the recycle bin, a lot of this isn't actually recycled? Instead, the UK pays a developing country to take these items off their hands (don't worry America -- you are just as, if not more, guilty!).  Instead of choosing a country that has the right facilities in place to recycle the items -- or gosh forbid, put the infrastructure in ourselves! -- we choose the cheapest place we can ship things.

China has wised up and has stopped accepting plastic from America and the UK, but now beautiful countries like Malaysia and Thailand see this as a revenue stream.  Malaysia does not have the infrastructure to process the amount of plastic, so this is the result...

So let's put this in perspective... How often do you go to the grocery store to pick up two bell peppers or a random grocery item?  Does it go something like this?
 

  • You see there is a package of three peppers all ready for you.  This may be cheaper if you actually needed three, but you only needed two.  You buy it anyways... wrapped in plastic. 
  • Or you only need two, and so you pick up two loose peppers.  You then place them inside a cellophane bag provided to you by the grocery store.  Why? Because you were taught to do this.
  • And when you pick up meat and you place it in a plastic bag before placing it in your cart? 
  • And when you buy single wrapped snack cheese covered in single use plastic instead of picking up a block of cheese and cutting it yourself? 
  • And when you deliberately pack your groceries with an item or two in each bag, so you have some extra plastic bags to take home for single use? 
     

Sound familiar?  Yeah, me too.  I'm so disappointed in myself, but I can only promise to be better.  

What other changes can you make today that will make a difference?
 

  • Use reusable shopping bags -- preferably ones that are not made of plastic.
  • Buy your meat at a meat counter and ensure it is wrapped in paper.
  • Commit to limiting your bottle usage - soda bottles, shampoo bottles.  Consider bar soap instead of bottled soap, or at least the very least, refill/reuse the bottles.
  • Ask for paper straws and refuse to use plastic ones
  • Rent glassware for parties instead of using plastic cups/plates/flatware
  • Donate plastic decorations or home decor instead of throwing it away because you don't want it anymore
  • Don't buy single use decorations -- invest a little more and save the items for next year
  • SHARE THIS MESSAGE! We can't sit idle and hope that someone else is going to fix this problem.  The more people that are aware of the issue, the quicker the change.
     

If you think this is an inconvenience, then I need you to watch the documentary.  I need you to remember that people live in Malaysia.  I need you to realise it is the 21st century, and we are responsible for the planet. I need you to think about the turtles and penguins that are dying.  I need you to have compassion.

As for me, I have a call to make to a local store that I can rent glass champagne flutes -- five more minutes of my time = 50 less pieces of single use plastic in the world.

 

For more information watch the documentary - BBC One War on Plastic  (Episode one aired 10 June, episode two set to air tomorrow 17 June and episode three is scheduled to air 24 June)

Short video: War on Plastic
 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) earth https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/6/the-untruths-of-recycling Sun, 16 Jun 2019 14:37:43 GMT
Missing Her Comes In Waves https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/5/missing-her-comes-in-waves Twelve months. 
It's been twelve months since I heard your voice (Another Piece of My Heart is Gone).

Ten months.
It's been ten months since I made a life changing decision without you (Faith, Friends and Life Decisions).

I write to remember. I write to cherish memories. But above all, I write to heal, and this chapter is on my heart...

A couple years ago, Kevin and I travelled to Ireland for our belated honeymoon.  It was here that I began a new tradition of collecting small trinkets from every country we visited - not just for us, but for our moms too.  Then if I found something that specifically stood out to me for someone else, we would consider picking it up.  Well... in Ireland we stumbled upon a guy that was carving Gaelic words into stone, which could then be strung into jewellry.  He had a pretty stone that translated into 'hope' that I couldn't take my eyes off of, and I ultimately picked it up.  After everything that my dear friend Carolyn had been through the last year, it seemed right to bring home.

What I didn't know then is that her cancer had metastasized and that when I arrived back in the states, I would receive the note from her confirming this.  The feeling of sitting in the airport reading the news was heartbreaking and unforgettable.  To this day, I can remember the feeling.  So this 'hope' stone had even more meaning than when I originally picked it up.

She deserved everything good in the world, and instead, she had to fight the world. So any subsequent trip, I made it my mission to always find something meaningful to bring back for Carolyn.  I will admit, it was a borderline obsession.  But seeing her face light up with even the smallest gift was enough for me. 

Earlier this year we returned to Ireland for the first time since our honeymoon, and as if my mind enjoys playing tricks on me, it still searches for that perfect gift.  In a gift shop, I found it. A pretty green bead bracelet that just screamed Carolyn.  I pick it up as if I'm going to buy it, but then I am forced back into reality that she's not here for me to gift to anymore.  I put down the bracelet, and with tears in my eyes, I leave the shop.

Walking back to our hotel, we are passing the Ma'Penny bridge which we'd seen a dozen times now, but tonight it was different.  Tonight, there was a beautiful green light shining.  Carolyn knew I needed her, and so she popped down to say Hi. She always had a knack for being exactly where I needed her to be.

A couple of weeks ago, we were in Spain for an extended weekend, and just like before, my mind instantly was on the lookout for the perfect gift. I stumbled into a store that sold only items made from cork - which is grown locally and so I decided to look around. There I found a cute bracelet with green beads and an owl charm which seems simple and random, but if you only knew our history...

You'd know that for years Carolyn would buy me gifts with owls... Necklaces, key chains, measuring spoons, etc. She was so mad at me when she found out Kevin's favourite animal was actually an owl, not mine. From that point on, we laughed about it and I'll cherish that forever (and all my owl gifts!).

I can't explain why, but instead of being sad, I was led to buy the bracelet. Well not just one... I bought three. One for me, and one for Carolyn's sister and mom.  Carolyn began bonding us as family long before any of us knew we would no longer have her on Earth, and I'm so grateful for that. We don't speak every day or see each other often, but I know her entire family is here (and vice versa) whenever I need to feel a little piece of Carolyn again. So I bought the bracelets and put them in the mail.  Just to remind her sister and mom that I'm always thinking about them.

Carolyn changed my life. I still cry because I miss her, and I'm pretty sure I always will. But I also smile every time I see a bright green light or a big chocolate cake, cause I know she is smiling too.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Carolyn https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/5/missing-her-comes-in-waves Wed, 08 May 2019 23:43:13 GMT
Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Spain https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/4/semana-santa-holy-week-in-spain When we decided to fly to Spain over Easter, we didn't have a great perspective for what that truly meant. Neither of us are religious and truly had no exposure to Catholism growing up, so other than expecting things to be closed, we didn't know what we would experience.

As it turns out, Semana Santa (Holy Week) lasts the week leading up to Easter Sunday, which means when we arrived Thursday, we were right in the middle of the celebrations. Our hotel had warned us in the days leading to our arrival that our entrance into the hotel would be blocked, but again, since we had no appreciation for what was ahead, we didn't think much of this.

We arrived on Thursday, and unfortunately all the festivities were cancelled due to rain. It didn't actually rain much at all, which ended up frustrating all the crowds who lined up hours and hours before the processions! Serious dedication to ensure front row seats.

On Friday morning, we accidentally walked near the street for the procession and were able to view Jesus nailed to the cross being carried through town. A drum line and various trumpet players accompanied this procession. Surprisingly most in the audience had a cerveza in hand which led Kevin to refer to the week as a party week going forward. I'm not sure it's exactly a party week, but it's quite interesting how religious the events were with so much alcohol around. 

However Friday night ended up being the main event for us. Each evening the seven brotherhoods would walk from their church and to the Cathedral Córdoba - this is a very long procession with brotherhood members carrying candles, crosses and even very large floats by hand. Unbeknownst to us, our hotel room faced Catedral Córdoba and so we could watch from the window instead of being trapped in the crowds of thousands of people. Impending rain caused some of the brotherhoods to cancel their walk, but two brotherhoods carried on...

The first brotherhood called El Decsendimiento began walking by our window just shy of 11pm. The members walked along with very large candles and stopped periodically (likely to allow those carrying the massive floats a rest). During their breaks, little kids would run around to the different brothers requesting some melted wax from candles. Turns out, these are family balls that are used every Semana Santa and everyone wants the largest one at the end of the week. This was entertaining to watch with all these little kids running around all these lit candles...not one kid caught on fire amazingly.

The most striking feature of the brotherhood are their robes and conical hats - burgundy and white. As an American, the resemblance of a racist group cannot be ignored, but this dates back much farther in history which ultimately means the US group likely borrowed the robes idea. Regardless, its added character intrigued us both. 

This procession had a very large drumline and trumpet group with very upbeat music - while we did not recognise it, it brought joy.

 

Tsecond brotherhood followed shortly after the one just after midnight, and the crowds had almost all evaporated in midair. Because of this, we headed downstairs to be closer to the second procession. El Santo Sepulcro arrived in all black robes in a very somber manner with some of the women walkers dressed in all black dresses with very large black lace headpieces.

No large band of drums and trumpets, but rather a solo trumpet player. I'm sure if I understand the history better, I'd have a better story to share, but honestly it felt as though this was simply a procession of mourning.

Ultimately, I'm not sure I understand everything we experienced, but you cannot deny the value of this tradition. Over the years, we've experienced many many different religious events, and while this one did not incite strong emotions as others have, I know we certainly won't forget the experience of Semana Santa in Spain.

To view all the pictures: https://www.jkennis.com/p721961746

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Spain https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/4/semana-santa-holy-week-in-spain Fri, 19 Apr 2019 22:30:00 GMT
Historic Maquon https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/3/historic-maquon When planning our trip back, we knew that Sunday we would be traveling to see Kevin's family, and his mom chose to have us all meet at grandpa's house for an early birthday party.  Maquon is an extremely small town, and when I asked Kevin if he knew where his grandpa moved to, he said 'no, but I'll just drive through the town and look for my mom's truck'. That's how small this place is.

Grandpa seemed to really enjoy everyone celebrating him, and we enjoyed seeing him and his house.  He is a bit of a painter and has decorated his house with his paintings.... on paper plates. So unique and charming.

Anyways, he bought a house right next door to his old gas station which is now abandoned.  Honestly a lot of the town is abandoned, so we ended up walking around taking some pictures.  The grade school, the old library, the gas station.... all historical and all eerily abandoned now.

To view all the pictures in Illinois: https://www.jkennis.com/p101202189

To view more pictures of Abandoned Maquon: https://www.jkennis.com/p282840142

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) america ex-pat maquon https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/3/historic-maquon Sun, 10 Mar 2019 02:00:00 GMT
Home is Where Your Mom Is https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/3/home-is-where-your-mom-is I sincerely cannot even put into words how much food we ate during this trip.  Home cooked dinner at my mamacitas, dinner out at Old Chicago and random small town cafes, Culvers (oh my god how I missed you).  Some great times with friends and family.

We also had the pleasure of meeting my newest little sister, Paisley.  Can you say cute?

Oh... and mom and I did some crafts, cause that's what we do <3

 

To view all the pictures in Illinois: https://www.jkennis.com/p101202189

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) america ex-pat hanna city https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/3/home-is-where-your-mom-is Sat, 09 Mar 2019 02:00:00 GMT
St. Louis = Friends https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/3/st-louis-friends So much food, so many friends, so little time.  We tried to squeeze as much in as possible, but it's just never enough time.  Highlights definitely include Kolache Factory, pre-lunch with Erica, lunch with my MEC family, seeing Teresa πŸ’š, dinner with the Wallace clan, ice cream and lunch with some of my favorites, coffee with Becky...

To view all the pictures in St. Louis: https://www.jkennis.com/p707506295

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) america ex-pat st. louis https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/3/st-louis-friends Thu, 07 Mar 2019 01:45:00 GMT
Home Sweet Home https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/3/home-sweet-home Today we kick off our long trek home to see friends, family and coworkers.  Three cities in eight days will makes for a packed in week, but we cannot wait to see everyone.  Our flight from London was surprisingly empty -- good for us because we ended up with an empty seat in our row!

As per tradition, when we landed in Chicago, I beelined right to Garret's Popcorn.  We landed in St. Louis and we beelined right to Target followed by IHOP.  Some things just never change :)

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) america ex-pat st. louis https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/3/home-sweet-home Wed, 06 Mar 2019 01:45:00 GMT
Sunsets on the other side of the World https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/3/sunsets-on-the-other-side-of-the-world I'm not sure what it is, but it just seems like the sunsets on the other side of the world are the prettiest.  I think it has a lot to do with the weather... it's typically always cloudy, and that just enhances the beauty.

From our apartment tonight...

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/3/sunsets-on-the-other-side-of-the-world Sun, 03 Mar 2019 01:30:00 GMT
Husband Brag https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/3/husband-brag My husband is an amazing cook.  I mean... he's amazing at other things too, but his cooking <3

Homemade spaghetti sauce - Garlic naan - Comfort food at it's finest, and it doesn't get better than that. 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/3/husband-brag Sat, 02 Mar 2019 01:45:00 GMT
Umbrella Graveyard https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/3/umbrella-graveyard Our apartment is in between downtown Cardiff and Mermaid Quay, and so the walkway in front of our house is very well travelled.  Our apartment location is also where the wind tends to pick up which means we've seen many people starting to struggle with their umbrellas, or people who have just struggled with their umbrella from the Quay and are now frustrated.  I can sympathize with the walkers, because I too struggle with my umbrella from my office in the bay to our apartment.

Basically the bushes along Lloyd George are an umbrella graveyard, and I begun photographing these poor dead umbrellas.

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/3/umbrella-graveyard Fri, 01 Mar 2019 01:00:00 GMT
Spring has Sprung https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/2/spring-has-sprung Daffodils are the national flower of Wales, and boy can you tell... even in February!

Kevin and I hiked today at the Cardiff Castle park (Bute Park) - Gorgeous weather, handsome husband and beautiful flowers.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/2/spring-has-sprung Sat, 23 Feb 2019 01:00:00 GMT
Welsh Cakes https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/2/welsh-cakes Guys... have I told you about Welsh Cakes yet? Oh.my.god.

I can't compare it to anything in the states, because nothing compares. Nothing.  The texture is kinda like a center piece of a bar cookie... you know the ones you cook in an 8x8 pan when you are too lazy to cook real cookies.  But they are dipped in sugar. 

We've come to learn that most desserts just aren't that sweet here compared to what we are used to, but Welsh Cakes are perfect in every way.

My friend Sammi makes the best ones, and because I was sick for our Valentine's Day party, she very sweetly made me some just for me when I came back to work the following week (see below).

One day, Sammi is going to teach me how to make these masterpieces, and then I, too, will have the secret to happiness on a 3x5 index card.  I just have to convince her to give me her special recipe (I almost have her convinced if I promise to teach her how to make my Oreo Truffles... maybe if Kevin makes his famous Pumpkin Cake that will put her over the edge?)

I digress... Sammi's are the best ones, hands down.  But because she isn't my personal baker, I've had to find alternatives as well.  **Sammi if you are reading this, just walk away now... or teach me how to make yours and I'll never cheat again :) **

Second best = Fabulous Welsh Cakes.  They have two little shops in Cardiff, and when you walk by you can smell them cooking.  You walk into a little piece of heaven with their specials hot off the grill and little boxes of their most popular flavours.  Some of our favorite flavours so far -- Lemon White Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, Cinnamon, and Blueberry.  Kevin likes traditional with sultanas (raisins), but seriously, he's weird.

Third best = this little kiosk in the Cardiff Market.  One word... Nutella!  They have regular welsh cakes cut in half filled with Nutella.  So.good.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/2/welsh-cakes Thu, 21 Feb 2019 01:00:00 GMT
Sunday Roast https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/2/sunday-roast A long held tradition in the UK is a Sunday Roast.  All your family gathers together on Sunday night to eat a roast that has been cooking all day long.  We are talking beef/lamb roast with root veggies (parsnip, carrots, potatoes) with peas and Yorkshire pudding.  All topped with a rich beef/lamb gravy.

Every pub and restaurant has Sunday Roast specials on their menus, and almost every family still carries on this tradition.  So we figured... why not?  I like roast and gravy and make Yorkshire Pudding will be good. (note: did not love the yorkshire pudding)

Our landlord actually left us a crock pot, so in the roast went -- neither of us know how to cook it in the oven to keep it from being too dry, so crock pot it is!  Torturous smell throughout the day, but it was a successful adventure.  We can now say 'why yes, we have done a Sunday Roast (minus the parsnip cause that's gross'.  :)

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/2/sunday-roast Sun, 17 Feb 2019 01:00:00 GMT
Illness has Struck the Ennis House https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/2/illness-has-struck-the-ennis-house  

I remember the last time I had the flu. It was about four months before Kevin and I were married.  About five years ago exactly.  Nothing has ever knocked me down quite like that before and I hoped to never feel this way again.  If you think this would have encouraged me to seek out the flu shot each year after, you do not know who you are talking to.  I will never willingly be stuck with a needle.  I will never seek out a shot, ever.

Well after an extremely mentally draining week at work and multiple trips to London in the same week (not quite as glamorous as it sounds), the flu struck again.  A couple of days of feeling bad, a day of feeling a little better, then three more days of feeling horrible = very rare sick days taken. 

All I wanted was Campbell's chicken noodle soup, strong meds and Netflix.  Two out of three was better than nothing.

Chicken noodle soup  -  All I could find is Chicken and Veg.  Not broth-y.

Strong meds - Day and Night Nurse is a miracle drug.  I will miss this when we don't have access anymore

Netflix - Gilmore Girls for the win!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/2/illness-has-struck-the-ennis-house Sat, 16 Feb 2019 00:30:00 GMT
Chinese New Year in London https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/2/chinese-new-year-in-london Day 3 in London we stumbled upon a huge Chinese New Year celebration.  So fun and colorful.  The pictures really do tell the story better than words.  Oh and we stood on the Meridian.  Kevin stood on the east side of the world and I stood on the left side of the world (after hiking up an enormous hill... Kevin is always reeaallyy lucky that the views are so good when we get to the top).  

Pizza for dinner and then back to the hotel for an early night. I'm not feeling the greatest and am really looking forward to some much needed rest after a crazy week at work followed by a busy week of exploring with my sweet.

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london201902 https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/2/chinese-new-year-in-london Sun, 10 Feb 2019 01:30:00 GMT
London - To See the Queen https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/2/london---to-see-the-queen We've been to London a lot now, and no doubt will be back again, so today we went on an adventure to Windsor.  About an hour by train outside of London, but well worth the journey.  This is where Queen Elizabeth II resides when she is not in London.  This is where William and Harry grew up.  You can see the Primary school they attended from the castle.  

Sadly she was not home (we missed her by a week!), but that also meant we could explore the entire castle.  We couldn't take pictures on the inside which is such a shame, because it was just absolutely gorgeous.  They had a red and gold room that truly sparkled.  Family pictures were hanging - items from Harry and Megan's wedding were displayed including her wedding gown.  We even witnessed a changing of the guards.


 

We had some time to kill before our evening plans, so we ended up doing some window shopping and stopping at Byron's (one of our favourite places to eat in London--just look at that cheese!).  Kevin ended up being chosen to be part of a comedy act -- I'm not sure how he's always in the wrong place at the wrong time, but there you go.  The comedian even guessed what he did for a living... guess that was obvious...

Ending the day, we found preview tickets for Waitress -- I've been dying to see this show since we moved to the UK and I saw it was coming -- Katherine McPhee stars!  The plotline was not what I expected, but the music was phenomenal.  You Matter to Me and She Used to Be Mine = tears all around.  The underlying motifs are unbelievably relatable, minus the infidelity.  Being this close to the West End is my favorite thing to do in London.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london201902 https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/2/london---to-see-the-queen Sat, 09 Feb 2019 01:30:00 GMT
London in February https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/2/london-in-february Trip number 2 to London this week.  It sounds glamorous, and honestly, I smile when I say it, but boy do I wish it was for a better reason. But I convinced Kevin to come with me to stay the weekend, because I have to return to London on Monday anyways (three trips in one week seems excessive).  

Since I had to work all day, Kevin did some exploring without me -- I hate when that happens! But he seems to have had a really good day which makes me happy :)  We met up for drinks at the Sky Garden which provides 360 views of the city (of course it was raining, so the windows were covered in drops).  Then dinner and to see the Tower Bridge at night... probably one of my favorite places in the entire world.

Ps. Londoners also get frustrated with their umbrellas hahaha

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london201902 https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/2/london-in-february Fri, 08 Feb 2019 01:00:00 GMT
Snow in Cardiff https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/2/snow-in-cardiff It doesn't snow often in Cardiff. It's much like the southern states in the US... nobody really prepares for the snow and when the snow hits, mass chaos ensues.  Bread, milk and eggs are fiercely pulled off the shelves as if everyone wants French Toast for the evening.  Fun Fact: They do not eat French Toast here... most have never heard of the concept of bread dipped in eggs and milk, then fried on the stove (or hob as they call it).  Sooo.... absolutely no reason for them to buy these three ingredients.

I digress... any bit of snow shuts the city down - delays the trains, cancels the schools.  Much like this snow storm that we awoke to on 1 February 2019...

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/2/snow-in-cardiff Fri, 01 Feb 2019 00:15:00 GMT
Dublin Part 2 https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/1/dublin-part-2 Okay... I'm not kidding... the food in Ireland is ah-mazing. 

  • We started the morning with brunch at Herb Street -- so.good. 
  • We saw the oldest bar in Ireland (1198...what!). 
  • Sunset then pizza.

Successful weekend trip!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) dublin https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/1/dublin-part-2 Sun, 27 Jan 2019 22:15:00 GMT
Did someone say Dublin?! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/1/did-someone-say-dublin Dublin is less than an hour flight from Cardiff.  Plane tickets also cost less than $50 round trip.  So yes, yes we did go to Dublin for the weekend.

We've been to Ireland, and we have been dreaming of returning.  Not only is it beautiful, but the people are nice and they know how to eat!  Dublin is a bit commercial and not too 'cutesy' like you want it to be, but the food never disappoints!

First stop is the Long Room Library -- we heard that this place gets really busy, so we made sure it was the first stop right in the morning. I've been dreaming about this place and it did not disappoint. So many books.  

Next stop? Food!  My friend told me about a place with pancakes called POG (Pog is Gaelic for kiss) -- I chose my toppings and Kevin went for the Grilled Cheese. it was probably the most photographic food I've ever eaten.

A couple of museums, more food, a park and some more food really rounded out our weekend.

To view all the pictures from our trip:  https://www.jkennis.com/p879349679

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) dublin https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/1/did-someone-say-dublin Sat, 26 Jan 2019 22:00:00 GMT
Ronald Dahl in Cardiff https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/1/ronald-dahl-in-cardiff Did you know that Ronald Dahl is from Cardiff? We have a Dahl Pass (area under a bridge) in Cardiff Bay and along the Pac Argae Caedyff there is the cutest little book bench...

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/1/ronald-dahl-in-cardiff Sat, 19 Jan 2019 20:00:00 GMT
A Day in Bath https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/1/a-day-in-bath When you think of Bath, you think of the Roman Baths... Our at least I do. So, of course, our trip to Bath was born when we decided it was time to see what the Romans built.  We started there as most of the reviews reference long queues and too many people in the confined space, however we arrived close to opening time and it's January... Not exactly the busy tourist season.


 

I knew that we were going to see the actual baths, but what I underestimated was the entire structure was literally a huge spa. We toured the mud rooms, the massage areas, the plunge pool, etc. The baths had steam pouring off and was very mineral-ly ... This was evidenced with the bright red waterfall and when we sampled the water (it was warm and the taste is indescribable). 

Next stop is the Jane Austen Museum.  This was small, but enjoyable hearing about Jane's life. It's still unbelievable that she is so well known with so few works of art.  At the end of the tour, we dressed up in time appropriate clothing, dined at the team room (#TeamDarcy) and met the most photographed man in the UK. 



Walking back to the train station we walked through the cute little town, and really liked this bridge!

 

To view all pictures from the trip:  https://www.jkennis.com/p321553648

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) day trip around wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/1/a-day-in-bath Sat, 12 Jan 2019 18:15:00 GMT
All Things 2018 https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/1/all-things-2018 As I sit and reflect, this year truly was a series of defining moments. I lost a grandparent and a best friend to cancer. I was promoted in a job I'd grown to hate. I celebrated a fifth wedding anniversary and turned 30. I made a significant career decision that moved us to a new state and then a new country.

This was a year of overwhelming sadness and grief; career discontent and life changes; love and leaps of faith. All defining a before and an after in this story of life.

#stillhealingπŸ’š

 

2018 in a nutshell...

- The year I lost my grampy.
- The year I lost my best friend, Carolyn.
- The year I visited California for the first time, albeit a bittersweet trip.
- The year I was promoted (twice) at a job I had grown to hate.
- The year I made career happiness a priority.
- The year I celebrated a fifth wedding anniversary <3
- The year I became certified in Human Resources.
- The year I made the biggest career decision of my life, to date.
- The year I turned 30.
- The year I flew to Europe twice in the same month (to interview and gallivant with some of my favorite people)
- The year I sold my house.
- The year I left my life in St. Louis.
- The year I moved to a new state and a new country within 6 weeks of each other.
- The year I moved to Europe.

 

 

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2019/1/all-things-2018 Tue, 01 Jan 2019 00:15:00 GMT
American Pancakes in Britain https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/12/american-pancakes-in-britain Okay... so let's have some real talk.  If I could only name one thing I miss from the States, it would be sweet breakfast.  I miss sticky syrup and cinnamon bread and maple donuts and American pancakes.  I was talking to a colleague about missing pancakes, and they always say 'no we have pancakes here.' To which I always have to say, 'no you have crepes, I want thick pancakes'.  Rarely do you see pancake mix in the grocery store and when you do it's for thin pancakes.  But I learned a secret... Costco sells pancake mix and a colleague brought me some!  Okay... so I don't need 10+ pounds, but beggars can't be choosers.  

Next we had to find a griddle - which is not the British term.  So I've searched and the closest I found was a teppanyaki grill.

Lastly, we had to find breakfast syrup.  In Wales, they have a syrup called "golden syrup", but this really isn't that good.  I want good ole Hungry Jack pancake mix, but it's impossible to find.  I ended up paying a stupid amount of money for a bottle of Aunt Gemima syrup, but it was oh so worth it.  - thank you Amazon.  Grill and Syrup are delivered and now we begin!

Unfortunately, this grill is much hotter than expected and I end up burning the first batch, but sweet victory followed.  

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/12/american-pancakes-in-britain Sat, 29 Dec 2018 11:45:00 GMT
Beautiful Sunrise https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/12/beautiful-sunrise You know when you have those mornings that you just don't want to get out of bed.  It's still dark out, and it looks cold (at least colder than under your blanket?).  Well I had one of those mornings and was rewarded with a lovely sunrise...

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/12/beautiful-sunrise Fri, 28 Dec 2018 18:30:00 GMT
Welsh Hamper https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/12/welsh-hamper A hamper is the equivalent of our gift basket.  I'm continually amused by the words used differently in two countries that speak the same language.  Sometimes I think... wow, why do Americans use 'x' when the British word makes so much more sense.  For reference, this was not one of those times.  The word 'hamper' is for dirty clothes.  Not treats.

Regardless, I received a Christmas Hamper today in the mail from my boss in the States.  So very kind and lots of fun things to try that are very, very Welsh. 

Here's to our first Christmas in Wales. :)

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/12/welsh-hamper Thu, 27 Dec 2018 00:15:00 GMT
Christmas Eve Surprise https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/12/christmas-eve-surprise Sine the trains shut down on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, I knew that we would be trapped in the house, so when we returned from London on Christmas Eve, I planned to take Kevin to the board game store to pick out a Christmas present to keep him busy those two days. 

His facial expressions make it all worth it <3

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/12/christmas-eve-surprise Tue, 25 Dec 2018 00:00:00 GMT
An Extended Weekend in London https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/12/an-extended-weekend-in-london A Christmas party may have brought us to London on a Thursday, but the idea to stay until Christmas Eve was allll us!  No car this time, because the train system worked in our favor (other than multiple changes coming home).

I'm so thankful we live so close to London now that we can spend an extended weekend exploring -- we've spent some time in London before, but there is always more to see.  And some repeat things to see.

The Tower Bridge is one of my favorite places to see -- and at night, it's breathtaking.  Our hotel was just steps from the bridge, so we were able to soak it in every night we were there.

Other fun things we explored (to see all photos: https://www.jkennis.com/p817513637)
:

  • All the Christmas lights : Each neighborhood had their own set of lights and we had to see them all!
     
  • City of London Museum
     
  • Tower of London (with the Crown Jewels!) : The crown jewels. No pictures allowed. I've never seen bigger diamonds, nor have I ever been placed on a conveyor belt to ensure that I don't look too long. Jokes on them cause I went through twice..
     
  • Borough Market (ahmahgah...the food!) : This entire market which is under a bypass is intoxicating with all the food aromas.  Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese? Yes please!
     
  • Globe Theater : This is a replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theater.
     
  • Roman Wall : We could see the Roman Wall from outside our hotel window which was a nice little surprise.
     
  • Knights Templar - Temple Church : This was closed for Christmas, but we were able to see the outside.  It's interesting, because when you are walking up to the Templar block, you truly feel like you are trespassing.  You have to walk past a security guard, and from the outside, it looks like you will be stopped by them.  But we just walked right on by.  It was a bit eery walking through the Templar buildings, because it was so empty.
     
  • Winter Wonderland : Everyone told me that I needed to go to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.  It's the best celebration you will ever go to, and you can't miss it.  Okay... it was free, so we decided to trek over there and go.  While I can appreciate that the US might be the only place that has county fairs with rides and fried food, Winter Wonderland was underwhelming to me.  I expected extravagant, and I found rickety rides and fried food.  It wasn't very Christmas-y, but more Carnival-y.  We did not stay long which was disappointing because it was quite the trek to get there.
     
  • Paddington Bear: A couple of years ago, an artist designed a hundred or so Paddington Bears and displayed them all over London.  We found one or two... but our favorite was the one inside Hamley's Toy Store.  This toy store is exactly what you picture a toy store looking like in Britain... just like the movies.
     
  • Hagrid: Found Hagrid in Hamley's too!
     
  • The West End presents "Matilda": We knew we wanted to see a show while we were here, and we chose Matilda.  It's amazing to me that the majority of the actresses and actors were young children, and the show was phenomenal!  
     
  • Princess Diana Memorial Fountain

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/12/an-extended-weekend-in-london Sun, 23 Dec 2018 14:30:00 GMT
Christmas Party - London Office https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/12/christmas-party---london-office Christmas Party Number 3.  Three weekends in a row of partying. 

We traveled to London on Thursday to attend the Thursday evening dinner party, and will then spend the weekend exploring London!

Don't worry... this party had the crowns too!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/12/christmas-party---london-office Thu, 20 Dec 2018 11:15:00 GMT
Christmas Party - Southern England Office https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/12/christmas-party---southern-england-office Christmas party number 2... only a week ago it seems as if I was at a different Christmas party.  Oh I was!  

This week is the party for my Southern England office, and it is off the beaten path when you consider public transportation.  Kevin and I decided that it will be best to just rent a car and drive down (then we can explore all the way back!).  

This party exposed us to a number of 'firsts' in the UK.  Did you know that typical Christmas's in the UK involve everyone wearing a crown? Yeah, I didn't either.  There is a phenomenon that everyone has 'crackers' which are basically wrapped tubes that you cross your arms and pull apart with everyone around the table.  You end up with a prize and a paper crown which everyone immediately puts on and wears for the rest of the evening.  Of course, we had to partake :)

Our very British dinner followed along with a band and dancing which made for a fun evening.  I even convinced Kevin to come on the dance floor for a dance or two :)

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/12/christmas-party---southern-england-office Sat, 15 Dec 2018 11:15:00 GMT
Christmas Party - Cardiff Office https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/12/christmas-party---cardiff-office Responsibility for three offices = three Christmas parties.

For those that know me (and Kevin, for that matter), you know that we are not known as social butterflies.  We are not jumping at the chance to go hang out with large groups of people.  We are perfectly content hanging out with each other and calling it a good day.

So why I thought signing up to go to all three office Christmas parties would be a good idea was a complete lapse of judgement!  I digress... the party in Cardiff was tonight and out of all three, this will be the most laid back.  Dress code is come as you are and it is at a bar in Downtown Cardiff.  Not many pictures as it was dark, and we didn't stay too late.  I had a plan to stop at the office afterwards to drop off treats to those that had to still work tonight (our office is 24/7, so inevitably someone can't attend the party), so we had to get moving before the trains stopped running.

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/12/christmas-party---cardiff-office Fri, 07 Dec 2018 11:15:00 GMT
A Day in Chepstow https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/11/a-day-in-chepstow We trained to Chepstow today.  The forecast was cloudy with drizzle, but that doesn't stop the Ennis crew!  But it seemed to stop everyone else, cause we had the castle basically to ourselves.  

This castle is up on the cliffs along the River Wye which separates Wales from England.  After exploring the castle, we had to walk across the bridge so we can say we "Walked to England".  

Very neat castle!  #52 castles and counting

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) day trips around wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/11/a-day-in-chepstow Sun, 25 Nov 2018 11:00:00 GMT
Thanksgiving in the UK https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/11/thanksgiving-in-the-uk It's strange living in a world that carries on as if nothing is happening on the other side, but Thanksgiving goes on in the Ennis household.  We didn't originally plan to celebrate, but we had gone to the grocery store the night before and Kevin convinced me that we could make a mini dinner.  I'm so glad he did!  It's always hard being away from home for the holidays -- we certainly haven't spent every holiday with our family since we moved away from Illinois, but we usually at least celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas in Illinois with our mamas.  It didn't really hit me until today that I'm going to miss that this year.  Last year we spent Thanksgiving in Illinois, because we spent Christmas in India.  The year before we hosted Thanksgiving with everyone coming to us.  I really enjoyed hosting friends and family at our house, but of course that didn't make sense this year.  We don't have any friends yet!  Maybe next year we can do a big Friendsgiving the weekend after since we work on the actual day.  Another strange feeling... I haven't worked on Thanksgiving Day... well ever?  I never worked retail and the food industry was seasonal, so the place was closed by the time Thanksgiving came around.  So strange.

However, everyone at work was so nice wishing me Happy Thanksgiving, with one even gifting Kevin and I some themed chocolate, personalised just for us.  It was so thoughtful, and I'm still baffled how she found such a thing in the UK).

It ended up being a very lovely evening with my sweet -- with a little bit of home wrapped up in our evening. <3

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/11/thanksgiving-in-the-uk Thu, 22 Nov 2018 17:30:00 GMT
More Grocery Store Food https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/11/more-grocery-store-food

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/11/more-grocery-store-food Tue, 20 Nov 2018 00:15:00 GMT
Christmas Market in Cardiff https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/11/christmas-market-in-cardiff Many European cities celebrate Christmas extravagantly with miniature/copycat German Christmas Markets, and Cardiff is no exception.  The city is full of lights and little booths selling all types of homemade crafts and food.  Since Thanksgiving isn't a holiday here, there also isn't the unspoken rule of waiting until after Thanksgiving to start celebrating.  So Cardiff's Christmas Market is in full swing.  We weren't expecting it when we came to the city centre for dinner, but were pleasantly surprised.  The city is beautiful anyways, but adding in the twinkling lights and the smell of sweet roasted cashews, you fall in love with the city all over again.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/11/christmas-market-in-cardiff Fri, 16 Nov 2018 17:15:00 GMT
Weird Food: Refrigerator Section... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/11/weird-food-refrigerator-section This week is brought to you by random things found in the refrigerator section ...

 

Yes that one is chocolate flavored cheese...

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/11/weird-food-refrigerator-section Sat, 10 Nov 2018 17:00:00 GMT
Cardiff Bay Exploration https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/11/cardiff-bay-exploration In Cardiff, there are two main places to visit.  City Centre and the Bay.  Today... we explored the Bay!  The Parliament building is along the bay as well as a bunch of restaurants and shops.  Plus my favorite piece of architecture so far... I'm still not 100% sure what it is, but the striking red brick is just beautiful.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) day trips around wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/11/cardiff-bay-exploration Fri, 09 Nov 2018 17:15:00 GMT
Weird Food: Dessert Edition https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/11/weird-food-dessert-edition This week is brought to you by various weird desserts...

 

The pie? It's mincemeat.  And yes, mincemeat actually has meat in it (okay it's actually more like meat broth used to cook the fruit... still weird).

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/11/weird-food-dessert-edition Mon, 05 Nov 2018 17:00:00 GMT
Bonfire Night! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/11/bonfire-night Things you don't have the opportunity to appreciate when you just visit a country for vacation... Watching the fireworks from our apartment window for Bonfire Night.

Bonfire Night started when a Catholic protestor in the 1600s tried to assassinate King James 1, a Protestant King, by blowing up the Parliament building. He was unsuccessful, but interestingly enough, this has become an annual event in the UK. Nowadays it's a big party which involves Bonfires and Fireworks. #historyismyfavorite #rememberthefifthofnovember #bonfirenight

It's always so interesting learning what historical events actually shape life in another country, and I'm certain this will just be one of many experiences we have.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/11/bonfire-night Sun, 04 Nov 2018 15:45:00 GMT
Yep... More food! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/yep-more-food And the grocery store adventures continue.  I'm sure someday we will run out of weird things at the store, but today is not that day...

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/yep-more-food Wed, 31 Oct 2018 17:00:00 GMT
Grocery Store Adventures continue https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/grocery-store-adventures-continue You may not know this, but the household fridge and freezer all over Europe is much smaller than in the US.  The food also is much fresher with many less preservatives in prepackaged food, so it doesn't last as long.  Which if you think about it... that means the fridge and freezer don't need to be very big.  But what that does mean is that you have to grocery shop much more often than Americans are used to doing.  Kevin and I would shop weekly, but honestly could go two or three weeks without shopping with the amount of food we would store at the house.  Here? We can get store about three day's worth of food.  

We are still getting used to that, but that means we spend more time at the store looking at funny food...  This week I bring you the weird crisp flavors!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/grocery-store-adventures-continue Fri, 26 Oct 2018 15:45:00 GMT
This Week at the Grocery Store https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/this-week-at-the-grocery-store Grocery shopping in another country is always an experience.  Usually we would only shop for a day or two when we are traveling, and in those experiences, we were typically focused on quick food.  Now that we are exploring grocery stores regularly, we see the funniest things.

Food brought you by the United Kingdom:
*American Hotdogs
*Toad in a Hole??
*Reese's Peanut Butter (the only peanut butter on the shelf at this store)

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/this-week-at-the-grocery-store Mon, 22 Oct 2018 15:45:00 GMT
Fall in Bute Park https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/fall-in-bute-park Eight miles of hiking today. Eight miles through a fairy tale.  The colours of the trees - the peacefulness of the surroundings - the picturesque views... Words can't describe the beauty of Bute Park in the fall, and so the pictures will have to do. 

I'm so thankful for days like this with my sweet. These are the reasons we travel -- to experience the feelings we had today.  How lucky are we to now live in this world?

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) day trips around wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/fall-in-bute-park Sat, 20 Oct 2018 14:30:00 GMT
Our Bags Arrived! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/our-bags-arrived Friday at midnight we receive the call that our bags are being delivered.  We left the states Monday and Friday at midnight out bags make it to Cardiff.  Well mostly...



British Airways is terrible.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/our-bags-arrived Sat, 13 Oct 2018 19:30:00 GMT
First weekend living in Cardiff! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/exploring-cardiff It's always exciting exploring a new city... you never know what you are going to find.  It's even more exciting when you are exploring your new home.

Cardiff is a beautiful city and we look forward to spending the next couple years continuously exploring :)

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) day trips around wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/exploring-cardiff Sat, 13 Oct 2018 16:00:00 GMT
Day 3: No Bags https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/day-3-no-bags So we are now ending Day 3 with no bags.  Kevin has been calling British Airways daily to get updates, and for some reason today they decided they couldn't talk to him.  So annoying because I am trying to learn a new company and make a good impression and now I have to spend time calling the airline.

 

Not to mention, when I actually got ahold of someone... I had the worst customer service experience ever.  To start, the first thing that came out of her mouth after I gave her my name was "Umm you've already called today."  Would you like to know how that comment played out?

 

British Airways lady: Umm you've already called today
Me (in my head):  Ummmm no I didn't and even if I did so what! My baggage is still lost!
Me:  No my husband called and you all refused to speak with him for some reason

British Airways lady: I show that your bags have been found.  They are in Philadelphia still.
Me: That was the exact update we received yesterday. They had found the bags yesterday and were supposed to have them in London by today.

British Airways lady: I will send a message to the airline to see if they will send the bags to London now.  Looks like you have four red bags that will be coming
Me: No, we don't have any red bags.  Our bags are pink and grey.

British Airways lady: No, they are sending red bags.
Me: Then those aren't my bags.

British Airways lady: No, they are yours. And they are red.
Me (in my head): If you literally say the word red one more time...
Me: They must be the wrong bags.

British Airways lady: I will ask the airline to send the bags to London.
Me: If the bags are red, they aren't mine, so that would be a wasted effort.  Secondly, we already had someone do that yesterday, do you have confidence that your request will actually happen?

British Airways lady (now yelling at me): ...blah blah blah
Me (uncharacteristically raising my voice): Excuse me ma'am. I first need you to stop yelling at me.  I'm not yelling at you, and I'm the one that should be upset.

British Airways lady: Yesterday they only requested to find the bags. There was no request to send them once they were found.
Me (in my head): Is this real life? Hello, are we on the same planet?
Me: That doesn't seem logical, but okay... the US is five hours behind us, do you think the bags will get on a British Airways flight tonight?

British Airways lady: Likely not.  When they arrive, you will need to arrange a time to pick them up in London.
Me: Hold up, I'm in Cardiff.  The lady I spoke with at the airport when I filed my claim said they would deliver the bags to me in Cardiff.

British Airways lady: The bags will be delivered to London.
Me: I recognize that the plane is dropping them at the London Airport. But I'm not in London, so I need them delivered in Cardiff, by tomorrow preferably as I begin business travel shortly.

British Airways lady: Well if you won't be home, then you will need to pick the bags up in London.
Me (in my head): How does this lady still have a job? I hope someone listens to this call because this was atrocious.
Me: How about this... if I find that I still haven't heard by tomorrow that our bags are going to be delivered, I'll call back and give you a different address to send the bags to.

British Airways lady: That's fine.  What else can I help you with?
Me (in my head): Quit your job as a call center person because you are the most unhelpful person I've ever met with no compassion whatsoever.  I think you should consider a career change to capitalize on your strengths.  Phones are not one of them.
Me: I'm good.

 

Worst.Customer.Service.Ever.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/day-3-no-bags Thu, 11 Oct 2018 21:24:41 GMT
Remember all those bags... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/remember-all-those-bags Me too.

Wanna know where they are?  Me too.

The British Airways baggage lady thinks they are probably still in Philadelphia but she can't confirm cause our first leg was with American Airlines.  She said we might hear from someone within 24 hours for an update, but that's only if they've located them.

I start my new position tomorrow, so this really is great news...

We had two bags arrive and the other four are MIA.  So I have a couple sets of clothes, Kevin has two sets of clothes.  We have work laptops and some chargers.  No toiletries. No hair brush. No jewelry. No shoes. I could go on and on.  But I have more important things to figure out. 

 

Like where does one buy underwear in a foreign country? #askingforafriend

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/remember-all-those-bags Tue, 09 Oct 2018 22:15:00 GMT
And we are off! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/and-we-are-off There is no going back now!  

Work Visa βœ“
House sold βœ“
Cars sold βœ“
10 bags of luggage packed βœ“
New adventure βœ“βœ“
 

In just over ten hours, we will be arriving in our new home for the next two years.  Is this a dream??

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/and-we-are-off Mon, 08 Oct 2018 14:15:00 GMT
My life in bags... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/my-life-in-bags How exactly does one pack their life into airline luggage?  Well it's an interesting process.  On one hand, you understand that you will be buying all new things, but on the other you want to make sure you have some homey touches.  

 

The climate in the UK is much milder than the midwest, so that helped with the clothes packing.  I wasn't going to need as many summer summer clothes (although they don't have A/C typically, so even a mild summer with no air is no bueno) and I also wasn't going to need heavy winter clothes.  I also am going to be mostly in a casual environment, so I don't have to be so concerned about dress, dress clothes.  So one and a half suitcases are filled with clothes.  Then I go to accessories... shoes, jewelry, makeup, hair stuff.  And then there are toiletries (okay so we stocked up on deodorant too cause in Europe they use the roller ball deodorant and that stuff is terrible) and random things that I "have to have".  My penguin blanket from my dear friend Joni, my cabbage patch doll Jamie that I've had forever.  You know... the necessities.  

 

Electronics were trickier.  The voltage is higher in the UK. So hair electronics are definitely out... I tossed my hairdryer in the trash as it's old and I could use a replacement anyways.  The straightener went in storage.  I packed a travel hair dryer that can switch to the higher voltage and figured I'd buy a full size one when I arrive.  Now we have tablets, laptops, phones, kindles... all that require a charger and the charger is a US charger, so we will need adapters for everything.  We've traveled enough that we have some that we can make due, but we will have to invest in more unless we decide to buy all new charging cords.

 

Then we started looking at our kitchen.  Anyone that knows us, knows that we love to cook, and honestly have so many kitchen gadgets, we put Rachel Ray to shame.  A lot of them are electric... so those definitely can't come with us.  Some of them are big and bulk, so those are out too.  So we end up packing our measuring cups and spoons cause the UK uses their own measuring system and so our recipes use the US system, some utensils cause we are utensil snobs, our internal thermometer cause we literally can't cook without that magic thing anymore and our spice cabinet cause British food.

 

So what does my life look like right now, you ask?  The only key I have now is to our storage unit.

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/my-life-in-bags Sun, 07 Oct 2018 22:15:00 GMT
Day 1 - Six Offers! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/day-1---six-offers So I know in my last post, I made a cheeky comment about the realtor and my penguin.  I stand by those comments! But I just have to say, our realtor is pretty darn awesome.

 

Not only did she manage a ton of repairs while we are on vacation in early August to get the house ready to list, she also continues to manage so much after we moved to Indianapolis.  AND all of our hard work paid off... Six offers came in on day 1.  DAY 1!  Five of them were over our asking price.  Some significantly!  Considering we got a killer deal on the house in the first place (PSA: When buying a house, always always always make sure you have an home appraisal contingency...when we bought the house, it appraised significantly lower than what we were going to buy it for, and because of that, we had almost $30k taken off the buying price).  The offer we ended up accepting did not have an appraisal rider, and I feel like if they did, we would not have made that much money...

 

I digress... we now just have to wait and see what inspection comes back with and then hopefully we will be set to go.

 

Shout out to Colleen Reisenbichler at John Jackson Realty in St. Louis.  She rocks!

 

Unfortunately, I have no idea if there was a sold sign on our house as we had already moved by the time it actually sold, so <insert sold picture> here. :)


Update:  Colleen still rocks, but our buyers do not!  The inspection process was extremely rough... they were quite unrealistic in their expectations, but I guess that's what you are when you overpay for a house?  Unfortunately there was a language barrier issue, so even their realtor was frustrated with them at the end.  Up until an hour before closing, we didn't think they were going to go!  All because they were angry that we took our bathroom cabinet. Oh... and the fact that somehow we ended up with a gas leak the day before closing so the gas company turned off the gas.  Such lovely timing.  But ultimately the house closed on time.  Thank goodness cause it closed three days before we left the country!! 
 

The adventure can now begin!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/10/day-1---six-offers Fri, 05 Oct 2018 21:45:00 GMT
A Day in the Life of a Future Ex-Pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/9/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-future-ex-pat So I signed an ex-patatriat contract with a company based in another state. I feel like I knew what I was doing when I did it, but boy has this been an interesting ride.

 

Own a home? Yes? Do you sell it or rent it out?

Either way, what do you do with all your stuff?  Do you keep it all? Purge it all? Mixture of both? Where do you store it? In your current town where you have nobody to manage it? In your new town, where you have nobody to manage it? In your hometown, so your mom can manage it? Hindsight is 20/20 and we should have left it in our current town.  Movers, rental trucks and driving for hours in a box truck is just not ideal on such a short time frame.
 

Oh, so you decided to sell your house?  Your realtor now decides what you change about your house to make it sell.  Spend money on things you always meant to get around to fixing, but never did. But now a new owner gets to enjoy all the new nice things.  Cross your fingers you made the right choices, but then wait for the inspection to find out you need to spend more money to fix more things. As obnoxious as the process was 

 

Don't even get me started on the appointments!  New insurance and new state means new doctors and specialists and dentists, oh my.  Need a prescription filled? Jump through hoops to find a doctor that will prescribe a larger amount and an insurance override in a short amount of time.

 

But we are moving the UK! It's still a bit unbelievable at this point, but so exciting and terrifying at the same time.  Stay tuned for more stories, mishaps and some gorgeous pictures!

 

Here are some entertaining pictures of our packing adventures:


So you may or may not know, but I have a lifesize King Penguin plush that Kevin gave to me as a Christmas present long before we were dating.  It's my favorite. Anyways, during the walk through, the house stager specifically called it out and said it could not be in the living room and had to be packed away.  And then it was even written specifically in the notes!  I was first insulted that they didn't like my penguin, but more insulted that they honestly thought I wasn't smart enough to know that the giant penguin toy shouldn't be in the listing pictures.  So in response? I put a rubber duck in the bathroom and he was in the pictures!  

 

Now, you may or may not know, but Kevin is a lego builder and collector.  Over the last couple of years, we have accumulated a collection of massively large lego sets, and it was a bit of a conundrum when trying to decide how to pack them.  I did a bunch of research, and that revealed that we should saran wrap the chunks and place them in a tub for safe keeping...



 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/9/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-future-ex-pat Mon, 03 Sep 2018 21:19:00 GMT
Country 6 and 7 https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/country-6-and-7 Lots of car time today... We stepped on the soil of four different countries today (five if you count the drive through Austria)... One new one for Kevin and I even...

 

Started off driving through Italy. So many apple orchard and gorgeous little towns.

Attempted to get gas at an Italian gas station. Attempted being the key word. Pulled in and of course someone pulls right behind us to wait. It's stressful enough figuring out how to manage a new way of gas pumping, but with someone behind us? A whole lotta nope. After the lady gave us instructions (we assume), we just got back in the car and drove away lol. 

We are only 45 minutes from Switzerland, we can wait...

Oh yeah... We visited Switzerland today. That makes country number 6.

Stopped in a touristy area to buy a trinket or two, but when we went to pay for parking at the meter it only accepted coin and not Euro coin (we obviously know that Switzerland doesn't accept Euros but honestly didn't expect to need any during our afternoon drive). So don't tell anyone but we might have parked illegally for a bit while searching for an ATM and then a store to break the paper Swiss Francs. Ended up just leaving after we picked up lunch, but we did see a pretty cool fountain first...

Next stop = Liechtenstein

We went to explore a castle, but it looked quite closed and instead wandered around the grounds and a nearby church. Then headed into the capital to check it out.  

Kevin and I have never been here, so that means we've officially been to 19 countries total. That seems unreal to me.

Darla has now officially hit her 7th country (and final) for the trip... We fly home tomorrow :(

I have a feeling Darla is hoping that our flight is rescheduled a week from today :)

It's always bittersweet when a trip comes to a close. On one hand, we are typically about five days past the need to sleep in our own bed (with our own pillows), but we also don't want to return to reality.  This time is no different, except we have a new reality to go home to and a lot of work ahead of us. 

Next time will be sooner than you think ;)

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Darla's Dream Trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/country-6-and-7 Fri, 10 Aug 2018 19:38:56 GMT
From Austria to Italy https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/from-austria-to-italy Over the river amd through the Alps to Italy's land we go. We drove to Italy today through the Austrian Alps, past the Italian Dolomites and into the Italian Alps. Lots of car time but lots of beautiful scenery. We finally made it to our place in Northern Italy and ate a massive amount of pizza and pasta then walking around the cutest little town for the evening.

 

Today pictures truly are better than words, so I'm going to stop talking and start showing...

 

*******AUSTRIA ***********

********ITALY********

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Darla's Dream Trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/from-austria-to-italy Thu, 09 Aug 2018 20:04:04 GMT
Austrian Alps https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/austrian-alps Wel... I had a really nice journal entry written, and my tablet decided to delete it grr. As most of you know, repeat activities aka "repeat crafts" are not my thing, so recreating a journal is not gonna happen tonight. 

Basically we drove through the Austrian Alps back to Salzburg and happened upon the most beautiful lake - Wolfgangsee with the quaintest little town across the ways called St Wolfgang im Salzkammergut with the simplest pilgrim church that just makes you fall in love with Austria.

I stand by Austria having the most beautiful scenery and I'm so glad we are back to enjoy it. However we also learned that Salzburg is known for its thunderstorms - thunder is coming through my window as I type.  I don't know about you but I sleep so great with the rumbling coming through (as long as I know it's not tornado weather), so I'm looking forward to tonight. 

Tomorrow we head to country #5. Our days are dwindling :(

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Darla's Dream Trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/austrian-alps Wed, 08 Aug 2018 19:29:02 GMT
A Black Mark in History https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/a-black-mark-in-history I'm going to split my journal in half today...

This morning we visited Mauthhausen Concentration Camp. Almost our entire two hour journey followed along side train tracks... This haunted me our entire ride thinking about the horrible journey men, women and children were making towards these death camps. Once we arrived in town, I noticed the train tracks were not following us anymore. Turns out the prisoners were forced to march up to the camp once they arrived in town. So anyone that lived in this town likely saw thousands of people arriving to die. How could you live with yourself knowing that you did nothing to stop it?

 

Each time we've traveled through Europe, we see history of WWII. It's impossible to not see and it's impossible to ignore. 

 

When we began planning this trip, Darla specifically asked that we find a concentration camp to visit. Seriously intense stop. We purchased the audio tour to ensure we truly understood the horrors behind these walls. 

 

Mauthhausen is known as a work camp and also a death camp. Home of a very large quarry, prisoners were forced to work in the quarry specifically carrying very large rocks up hundreds of steps. If they walked wrong or looked wrong, they could be shot on the spot or tossed down into the quarry.

 

Many of the buildings were wood and dismantled, but main buildings and sections of land were accessible to walk through. It honestly just looks and feels like a large prison, except this prison has a gas chamber and crematorium - both of which we walked into. The horror of looking around the gas chamber is enough to just make you sick.

 

Inside one of the buildings was a very well put together museum that walks you through the horrors of choosing the location, to choosing the prisoners all the way through the US liberating the camp. I wasn't a fan of the section that talked about the Nazi leaders (family history, their responsibility at the camp, what happened after liberation, etc). I personally didn't want to even read their names. They don't deserve the attention.

 

On the other hand, seeing the names of every murdered person all in one room just drops you to your knees. Seeing the pictures of liberation day with the survivor's look of hope... indescribable.

 

You may have noticed this post is devoid of pictures. If you want to see pictures of the camp, please Google it. I personally take pictures to remember where I've been, allowing me to look back and remember how I felt when I was there. I don't need pictures to remember how I felt here. I will never forget.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) darla's dream trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/a-black-mark-in-history Wed, 08 Aug 2018 14:25:43 GMT
Exploring Salzburg https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/exploring-salzburg 90 degrees today in Salzburg. 90 degrees in a country that doesn't need A/C 99.9% of the time...

 

But our Ennis Sound of Music tour must go on! We found a free walking tour online that helped us find the most iconic film locations, and off we went to find them. We actually ended up meeting our suitemates on the way out... They we're headed to see the hills that sing today by car, so we gave them tips on how to get up there. In return, they handed us their bus passes so we could get downtown that morning. 

 

Rather than writing out all the stops, I'm going to include the link we followed so you can reference... DIY Sound of Music Walking Tour

 

1. Mirabell Palace and Gardens

2. Pegasus Fountain and Musical Steps

3. Hedge Maze and Gnome Garden

Here we are imitating the gnomes :)

And we might have done some skipping through the hedges just like the Von Trapps...

5. Winkler Terrace

6. Horse Bath

8. St. Peter's Cemetery

9. Residenz Square and Fountain

10. Mozart Footbridge

11. Nonnberg Abbey Convent

12. Palace Leopold

 

We already went to the hills that sing yesterday, and we may be able tackle a couple more tomorrow afternoon if we have time.

Aside from Sound of Music, we also explored the Salzburg High Fortress -- riding the trolley up to the top because none of us were going to make that trek especially in this heat.  It was an interesting place, but ultimately it was the views at the top that were the reason we explored it...

Then at the bottom we found the Love Grotto which as you can see is not made for tall people.  Darla convinced Kevin to go in there with me and paid the 1 euro... The lore says that any kiss in the grotto means everlasting love. He's stuck with me for life now <3

Tomorrow we are venturing farther into Austria for an excursion and then back to Salzburg for our last night in Austria.  Who knows what we will end up finding!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) darla's dream trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/exploring-salzburg Tue, 07 Aug 2018 19:18:58 GMT
We made it to Austria! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/we-made-it-to-austria Welp after probably the most interesting night stay (family room with no door separation and the hottest room ever - nothing like rigging a curtain and a closet door up), we began our trek to Austria. Not much to report in the middle since it was mostly interstate driving. Othet than our breakfast of champions...

Note: If you ever drive to Austria and plan to use the interstate system, make sure to purchase a vignette sticker. They are sticklers for fines if you don't have one... We are vigilant researchers and knew about this little known fact and bought the sticker before we hit the border.

Salzburg is well known by Americans for two things: Mozart and Sound of Music. Both of these attractions have quite a tour bus following, and initially we thought that might be one of our activities in the coming days... However, We decided earlier in the day that a four hour bus tour on a likely non air-conditioned bus during unprecedented heat was not how we wanted to spend our time. So  with a little online research and knowledge of the movie, the Ennis Sound of Music tour was born.

PS. Kevin and I watched the movie for the first time on the train from France less than a week ago lol. I now want to know everything there is to know about the Von Trapp family!

Since we had a bit of time to kill before check-in, we headed past Salzburg to "where the hills sing". One of the famous mountain side sets is on the other side of Salzburg.... You know... The scenes where Julie Andrews twirls on the side of the mountain with the castle in the background? Yeah... So we did some hiking. Then some twirling. And maybe some more twirling <3



Austria remains the most beautiful country I've ever seen and this little jaunt into the mountains just reconfirms it. There is something about the contrast of the ever so green plant life with the glacial blue water and piercing mountain backdrops.


Made it to our Bnb and ended up hanging out with the proprietor for s bit while he talked about his beloved city. He is born and raised right in Salzburg, and loves his city so much. Talked through all the hotspots over cold drinks... We didn't have the heart to tell him we already had our days planned with the Ennis Sound of Music tour (pretty sure locals roll their eyes when they hear that movie. Apparently they don't get it and don't know the music at all). 

Kielbasa with paprika chips for dinner and now to plan our attack for tomorrow while watching the sun go down over the mountains!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Darla's Dream Trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/we-made-it-to-austria Mon, 06 Aug 2018 20:23:05 GMT
Day 4 in Germany https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/day-4-in-germany Early start today to head more south in Germany.  Our house is down some very tight roads and  so until today, we never attempted to drive to it. This morning though it was a bit too early to drag our suitcases through the cobblestone streets and we've also  accumulated  quite a bit that one trip was not going to be possible. So down the little roads Kevin went.... We have a pretty fancy car by rental car standards this time (what is a Mercedes Benz, Pat?), and one of the features is that it beeps any time anything is close to the sides. So we are driving along and all of a sudden it just starts beeping like mad. Kevin is looking all around to figure out which side he's too close, and I finally tell him "it's all the sides, man". It was such a narrow street that that poor car probably thought we were being closed in on.

 

Anyways, our first destination was Worms where the oldest Jewish cemetery stands.  Now Darla loves cemeteries, so when Kevin found this one, we knew we had to make a detour for it. I'm so glad we did too. I typically don't have strong emotions walking through a cemetery... It's natural that people die and they have their final resting place. This year I've had two significant deaths occur, and I'm still not overly affected by cemeteries. I'm not a robot, so of course when you see a stone with someone too young to have passed away from old age, I feel this twinge of sadness for their family, wondering what tragedy caused this to happen.

 

But this one was different. This cemetary opened in 1077, and stopped accepting new families in 1911. But by 1942, the city of Worms had no more Jewish families anyways. What a horrible thing to read on a sign. 

 

If you've never been to a Jewish cemetery, it very different than any other religion that I've seen. It's very serene with lots of trees and very modest stones. They are mostly all rectangular with text written in Hebrew. Nothing flashy, no flower pots and plants all over. If you want to show your respects, you place a rock on the stone. 

We walked by stones that had piles of rocks and handwritten notes which typically identifies a prominent Rabbi. However one stone in particular stopped me in my tracks. Now this wouldn't stand out to me normally, because both of these people were older. They both died on the same date which would have made me ask what happened to cause them both to die at the same time ..car accident? house fire? The date of death is May 8, 1945. 

Let that sink in. I'm looking at a gravestone for two people who died because of the Nazis. Now I don't know if this is because they were sent to a concentration camp, but it seems more likely that the gestapo showed up at the house and shot them. Why? Because they were Jewish. Not because they did something wrong. What if they had kids? Or grandkids in the house then? Was the whole family murdered? 

 

I was literally just frozen in my tracks thinking about this -- tears welling in my eyes. I then think about all the people I know that are of Jewish descent or are Jewish themselves. They likely have family members that died in this manner. Family members that were murdered for just being Jewish. Makes me sick to my stomach and just so very sad for this time in history. How people blindly followed this man either out of ignorance or fear, or likely both. How we have leaders now in the world with a similar following. I hope that the world has learned from WWII, and won't allow another leader to do anything close to this again. 

 

I also think back to our Amsterdam visit walking through the Anne Frank house. How the helpers were all around to keep the Frank family safe. And I can't help but wonder who was protecting the Crombacher family. Who was supposed to be watching for the gestapo. Hoping that if I were ever in this type of situation, that I'd be a helper. 

 

Walking out of this cemetery was extremely somber. And honestly, it should feel that way.  Everyone that walks out of there should be feeling something. That's the only way it won't happen again.

We continued our trek to Rothenburg... with  one more pit stop. The Fingerhut Museum aka the Thimble Museum. Darla has been dreaming about this since we told her about it! As much as we joked about how it's probably just some lady's collection in the basement (which it was) no bigger than a large bedroom (which it wasn't), it was actually pretty cool. And we weren't the only visitors there even!

Finally, we reached the medieval walled city that we stayed in the first time we visited Germany. It's the quintessential German town with a very violent history. Since the beginning of time, they have persecuted anyone of the Jewish Faith to the point that none lived in the city walls. After the somber event of today, I almost don't like being in this town. However like mentioned yesterday, this is a town we know because it might have the best and only green apple gelato we've ever found. It was even served by the same old guy! And dinner is notable... Schweineschnitzel and Pork Knuckle... delightful.

Exploring the city streets, we wandered through the memorial park where the town basically owns their violent past and apologizes. 

 

Oh! And like I mentioned...this is a walled city and somehow we convinced Darla to climb the wall and walk along the edge. She's not deathly afraid of heights or anything, so it was fine. And perfectly safe... Just like the sign says :)

Tomorrow we begin our trek to the edge of the Alps to country number 4!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Darla's Dream Trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/day-4-in-germany Sun, 05 Aug 2018 20:23:12 GMT
Country number 3: Luxembourg https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/country-number-3-luxembourg So our day started off with laughter...

 

After making breakfast... Bacon and eggs... We decided to go on a mini road trip since yesterday was so strenuous. Ediger is about 90 minutes from Luxembourg, and so off we went. 

 

Oh wait... I forgot to tell you that yesterday at the grocery store, Kevin and Darla were kids in a candy store picking up all sorts of Haribo gummies...

 

Anyways, back to our road trip. Darla decided to open up one of the gummy bags (pirate tropical fruit..ish) and started munching. Kevin heard the rustling of the bag and then naturally wanted some. We spent the next couple minutes all trying to guess what the weird tropical flavors were. Green = apple. Yellow = pineapple. Orange = orange. Brown = ??

 

Kevin had a brown one and couldn't figure out the flavor, so Darla popped one in her mouth. What Kevin failed to say is that whatever the flavor is...is gross lol. I looked back and saw Darla take the gummy out of her mouth and grimace which made me laugh. She then rolled her window down and tried to chuck it outside.... (PS. We are flying down the Autobahn). She tosses it, and Kevin starts laughing saying the gummy is stuck to the side of the car. Now we are all laughing so hard, I was struggling to breath πŸ˜‚πŸ€£πŸ˜‚.

 

We finally recovered. Darla knocked it off the side of the car, and we arrived in Luxembourg. For anyone counting, that makes country number three for the trip. This country is about the size of Rhode Island. Illinois is 56 times bigger. Super small and most people don't bother visiting which is fine, because it means the castle is pretty empty. Perfect for climbing and exploring. After an hour or so of castle conquering, we needed to get moving back to Ediger for our wine tasting.

Most of you know I'm not a wine drinker, or a drinker at all for that matter. At my own going away happy hour, I drank Sprite all night. So I was nervous about the wine tasting. I never want to be rude or offend the proprietor, but wine is just too cough syrupy for me.

I surprised myself and tried them all.. with only one tasting like cough syrup. This is a family owned vineyard that the owner inherited from her great grandfather and I really think that made a difference in the taste. She taught us a lot about wine and about the area of Mosel, explaining how they truly season their wines and so if it's not ready until May then it's not ready. Unlike the big vineyards that go into the super markets... they just produce whatever quantity needed instead of focusing on quality. Overall a great experience with Sigrid at Weingut Frederichs. My favorite? A 50 proof Peach liquor (I just learned how to use that terminology... You double the alcohol content... So the liquor was 25% alcohol). It burned, but it was so sweet and peachy. I almost bought a bottle to bring home. I digress...

 

We finished up laundry and then explored our town for the rest of the evening. We are right on the Mosel River, so a nice river walk was in order. Along with exploring the windy streets stumbling on an old church.

Dinner at "the best restaurant in town according to the owner's daughter", and we were not disappointed. Schnitzels all around!

Tomorrow we venture to Southern Germany.  We 'might' be going back to a town that 'might' have a certain boys favorite gelato shop in all of Europe. We 'might' have accidentally planned our trip around a stop here...

 

PS. Tonight Kevin googled "Why do German pillows suck?", and, not surprisingly, found a whole forum about how terrible the pillows are. Apparently they also pillow your shoulders which is why they are square. This does not however explain why they go so flat the second you lay on them...

PPS. Kevin officially beat my Autobahn record :( Jessica 180kph Kevin 196kph

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) darla's dream trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/country-number-3-luxembourg Sat, 04 Aug 2018 21:05:01 GMT
So much walking + 90 degree heat - A/C = ?? https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/so-much-walking-90-degree-heat---a/c We are all physically exhausted after exploring today. 

 

It started relatively relaxed... Stopped at the market for breakfast fixings -- butter, eggs, bread, juice...you know... the basics. Made a nice breakfast and then decided to head into a neighboring town, Cochem. There's a castle that we wanted to see, and we knew it was a decent sized tourist town that we could explore. Which was good because when we left the house, I decided I needed a hat today. Is it because it was really sunny, or because I didn't want my hair today? I'll let you decide. Either way, I now have a cute hat.

 

Now we had no intentions of seeing this castle up close. You can see it from the river below just fine. Well Kevin didn't think so... He somehow convinced Darla and I to climb the mountains Burg Street which around every bend, he claimed we were "basically there"... We finally reach the base of the castle collapsing into a bench enjoying the view when a castle bus drops off a group of people. Yes, a bus specifically takes people from the bottom and drops them off at the base.

 

Fine. We walked and we didn't die. Kevin says.. you know, we are basically at the castle, let's just go up to it and see it. Up a step climb, we go. View from the top is gorgeous.. Vineyards surrounded us with the Mosel River behind. Just gorgeous.

When we are ready to go back down, he says.. we are here and we aren't going in?? Thank goodness there was timed entry and we missed the window. Darla and I were literally dripping hot. You know the kind of hot that you literally have to peel your jean shorts off just to go to the bathroom only to spend even more time trying to peel them back up. Yes... That hot.

 

One thing you also probably already know about my husband is that he's infamous for finding alternative paths back to the car. They are always miraculously "shorter" or "shaded" or "passing by something really cool". This particular alternative path involved stairs. Lots of them. There were some pretty views at least..

 

Long story short... It's hot! Coupled with another country that does not have A/C meant for a very long, hot afternoon. It was definitely time to make our way back to the apartment.

 

None of us were in any sort of condition to eat out (I mean... I didn't even comb my hair this morning), so instead, we headed to the market to pick up supplies for dinner. We ended up making parmesan butter pasta with bacon and veggies. Oh and Gouda cheese garlic bread! 

 

Kevin and I headed to our second apartment to finish laundry (our amazing bnb hostess gave us keys to another apartment they own three blocks away which is vacant this weekend that had a washer so we wouldn't have to drive far away for a laundry mat and waste our time doing laundry one day.. Who does that?! She's the best). 

 

Now we are all hot, sticky and exhausted... Until tomorrow.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) darla's dream trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/so-much-walking-90-degree-heat---a/c Fri, 03 Aug 2018 22:06:15 GMT
Two Years Ago https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/two-years-ago Two years ago, we (as kids) received one of the worst phone calls you can receive.

 

I'll never forget it... We were eating dinner at Bandana's, and Kevin's phone rings. This rarely happens. It's his youngest brother Kyle. This definitely never happens. I sit there eating while he picks up the phone, and I hear him non chalantly say "okay, well let me know". He gets off the phone and just starts eating again. 

 

My curiosity got to me and I asked what that was about. He literally looks at me and shrugs saying "they think my mom had a stroke" 

 

Umm... Okay, what? I have a million questions, none of which he can answer, because he barely had a conversation with Kyle. I immediately give him about 8 questions to ask Kyle while I'm jumping out of the booth to get the check and to immediately call my mom. She would be able to help me understand how serious it is, because she could get to the hospital in 15 minutes compared to our 3 1/2 drive. 

 

Kevin gets bare information from his second call which in hindsight was probably because there wasn't much information coming out of Peoria. We finally got home, and then I called Kyle to find out she was heading into emergency surgery...right now. I hang up the phone, and just start packing a bag.

 

It's actually quite comical the items I chose to pack in that time of panic... 

*A hooded sweatshirt because in the middle of summer you need one
*An extra pair of underwear for each of us
*Prepacked toiletry bag... With conditioner but not shampoo
*An extra shirt for both of us
*Slippers... Again cause in the middle of summer you need them

Did I pack toothbrushes? Nope.
Did I pack makeup? No
Did I pack razors? Nada
Did I pack a hair brush? You guessed it..

 

There was no doubt in my mind that we had to get up there quick, so I just started tossing. We unfortunately weren't going to make it there before the surgery started which was probably the worst feeling. She had a 30-40% chance of coming out of the surgery alive. Kevin didn't even get to talk to her before she went in... Not that there was time for that, but it's hard to replay the last conversation you've had with someone and not remember it. 

 

The drive to the hospital was the longest drive, but we definitely made it up in about 2 1/2 hours.  The night of the surgery was the longest night of our life, followed by the longest 48 hours (her survival rate was moved to about 50% then). 

 

All four of the boys decided that Kevin would be the Medical Power of Attorney which on one hand made sense, but on the other, when it sunk in to Kevin of what that meant, my heart just broke for him. Paperwork was signed, because we still weren't out of the clear yet. There was a long recovery ahead.

 

To see a family join together like they did during this time was pretty amazing as it unfolded. Darla was in the middle of moving, and so the boys (and significant others) all pitched in to clean, paint, unpack and setup the house. She had to have some place to come home to, but that also meant she had to have 24 hour care.  Her surgeon wouldn't allow her to travel all the way to St. Louis for the 24 hour care, but thankfully, Kevin and I were both able to work remotely, so that we could stay with her at home.

 

She progressed so much quicker than anyone expected, including the medical professionals and so they gave her the all clear to live on her own after only two weeks. She was literally on her own three weeks after having a major stroke and open heart surgery to fix an aorta dissection.  Did you hear me? THREE weeks after open heart surgery where they literally unhooked her heart and rehooked it. 

 

We bid farewell after those three weeks, and that was definitely one of the hardest things we had to do. But our life was in St Louis, and we had a big vacation planned the next week that we were told we better not cancel (we may have looked into that...) Being a caretaker in that manner changes a relationship forever, and honestly, neither of us were ready to go yet. But we were threatened, so we went.

 

It's always during a time of trauma that "what ifs" come out, and the one that Kevin couldn't let go of is "what if she never visited Germany".  We knew we had to figure out how to get her there, and so this trip was born. For almost two years, Kevin and Darla have been talking about and planning this trip together. Like clockwork, Kevin calls his mama every Sunday afternoon to check up on her and talk trip details. When he discovered the school in Savenay, he couldn't wait to call Darla to tell her. Watching their relationship change has been pretty incredible... My husband has always been sweet but he has quite the soft spot for his mama and I love seeing that.

 

She raised Kevin to be the man he is today, and I can't imagine him any other way. So thankful to have her in our life still supporting us and cheering us on in whatever life choices we throw out. 

 

Today we made it to Germany... After delayed trains, running (and I mean running) through the metro station to catch a connector, and more delayed trains, we made it. 

 

After having open heart surgery and a stroke, Darla ran with us, up and down the stairs. Who ever would have thought that was possible two years ago? 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) darla's dream trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/two-years-ago Thu, 02 Aug 2018 18:58:58 GMT
Mont-Saint Michel https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/mont-saint-michel We conquered Mont Saint Michel today. I mean those words seriously... We conquered it. At almost a two mile walk just to get to the base, we were just getting started. The Abbey is at the very top of the hill which meant A LOT of steps and a lot of STEEP climbs. Darla was an absolute trooper and made it all the way to the top of the Abbey with us.

Just for perspective, once we made it to the base of the Abbey, we still had 350 more steps to go (about halfway up the mountain).

If I'm completely honest, I didn't learn much history about the place... But after a bit of a research, it's said that the first record of an Abbey at Mont Michel was in the 800s. So really old. 

What I do know about it is that it's completely surrounded by water during high tide and that it has been used as an Abbey but also a prison for a period of time. It's natural defense is the sea.

Overall it was worth the visit even if to just see the magnificent rock!  Tonight we have to pack and prepare to say goodbye to France.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Darla's Dream Trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/8/mont-saint-michel Wed, 01 Aug 2018 16:27:38 GMT
Darla's First Castle https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/darlas-first-castle Today we had two items on the agenda... 

1. Saint-Nazaire Port
2. Chateau d'Angers

Started out bright and early this morning to head to the port as it was about an hour and forty five minutes away... we passed through Savenay again and decided to try to stop at the tourist office to see if we could pick up a map or fliers or something.  They are literally open for three hours a day, and so since we accidentally were driving through at that time, we figured we'd stop.  Except they were closed :(  So we drove back by the school and then headed on our way.  Saint-Nazaire Port is the port that Darla's grandfather shipped in and out of when he arrived and left France.  During our research, we found the port and a picture of the ship he came in on!  



Turns out the port has a beach at it as well, and so we walked along the port and then onto the beach.  Dipped our toes in the European Atlantic and looked at all the beautiful shells on the beach. Surprisingly there were millions of them in blues, purples and white.  At the end of the beach, there was a WWI memorial that we checked out, before heading out of the city.




Quick stop at the grocery story so we could grab some road food and we were headed to the Chateau.  Chateau = castle!  She did it... Darla officially conquered her first castle climbing all the way to the top of the turret! The Chateau d'Angers was originally built in the 800s with the most recent setup dating back to the 1200s.  Very old and in amazing shape!  Lots of walking and a "few" stairs, and we all made it to the top.  Gorgeous view of the city and the gardens below which made the trek worth it.  We've been to a castle or two in our time, but this one really struck me because of all the trees, flowers, ivy, etc.  It was just sooo green!



The claim to fame at this castle is the Apocalypse Tapestries which date back to the late 1300s... these things were insanely huge and graphic.  I'd never heard of such a thing, but they were very interesting to look through.



After quite a bit of driving today, we knew we wanted a chill evening, so Kevin and Darla ended up making chicken fajitas for us in our cute little kitchen.  Kevin definitely got his love of cooking from his mama, and she loves having him in the kitchen with her.  So I stayed out of the way and set the table.  Enjoying the view, the company and the Peach Cider/Wine, we ended up having a really nice evening :)




Tomorrow we venture to the Western France for our last day here before we head off to Country #2

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) darla's dream trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/darlas-first-castle Tue, 31 Jul 2018 20:13:00 GMT
A day of surprises... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/a-day-of-surprises Well... today turned into a day of surprises and learned a couple lessons. Early rising this morning to catch the train to Rennes, only to find out that there was a huge fire that is affecting the one station we are supposed to use.  When did we find this out? Well about 10 minutes after arriving at the train station. Language barrier was a bit strong today too, of course, cause we really just needed to talk to someone.  Long story short, our train was cancelled.

Lesson #1: Watch the news when you are traveling. At least the big highlights... like when things catch on fire and cause havoc on a heavily train dependent city.

We were basically told to get on whatever train we wanted and hope for the best.  

Lesson #2:  A first class train ticket is not helpful on a cancelled train.  

We end up jumping on a completely full (literally busting at the seams) train with standing room only.  Our first class tickets turned into prime standing space next to the good ole water closet.  Look close and you can see all three of us.



This also wasn't a direct train like our initial tickets.  So not only did we have an hour of standing near the water closet, we also had another 45 minutes of ... yep, you guessed it... standing/sitting near the water closet.  Darla and I were smart this time though, and as we were walking on the train, we grabbed the seats in between the cars and basically held them hostage until everyone passed by. Then we could at least sit for a bit.  

Finally arrive in Rennes to pick up our rental car.

Lesson # 3: Learn to drive a stick.

We had to wait a bit, because they didn't have an automatic car for us.  Headed to lunch and then back to the car hire to hopefully pick up our car.  With success, we had a car!

When we first started planning this trip, Darla had one ask... to visit Germany. The more we planned, the more the trip has grown, but there is one part of the trip that truly became the center for me.  This year is the centennial of the end of WWI (ending in 1918), and for those that don't know, Darla's grandfather (Kevin's Great Grandpa on the Hill) served in WWI in France as a nurse.  We weren't sure we were going to pull it off, but we actually found the building that the makeshift hospital was set up in.  We also rummaged through all of his pictures from when he was in France and identified a few places that we are sure he went to so that we could walk where he walked. We could take pictures of places that he photographed.  The hospital is the big one, but we also found a cemetery. We explored both today in the drizzle -- pretty emotional day for Darla which in my book is a win.  We did what we set out for and that was to give her an experience she never through she'd have.




By this time it was late and we needed to get ourselves over to our BnB.  This is a cute little cottage on the river -- the main house is a mill, and so we suspect this cottage may have been where the owners lived at one point before it was converted.  It's literally the cutest place we've ever stayed.  Decorated so nice and the landscape is beautiful.  Dinner in our private garden while looking at the weeping willows over the river listening to the roosters crow and the ducks quack.  

Lesson #4: Bring bug spray on your trip even if you don't think you need it.



Butter/strawberry jam and butter/gouda sandwiches for our makeshift picnic in our backyard <3


Tomorrow we continue to venture in Mid-France ... who knows what kind of mischief we'll get into...

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Darla's Dream Trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/a-day-of-surprises Mon, 30 Jul 2018 20:49:30 GMT
Day 3: Paris https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/day-3-paris Today we had three main places we wanted to visit.  At the end of the day, we accomplished 1 1/2 of those places. Why you ask? Well apparently Kevin and I are now really, really successful at being in places where there are major events occurring.  Queue the Tour de France music. The Tour de France ended today... in Paris. Being such avid sporting fans, we surely knew this was happening today...

Anyways, we made it to our first stop.  Montmartre!  Now... this isn't the best neighborhood, but it's iconic.  Artists like Hemmingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Dali, etc spent time here during their prime. You can see local artists painting and authors writing all over the place.  However, it's also known as the redlight district. Darla's first one! It's always an experience walking through a new district in Paris, and this one was no exception.  We found Le mur des je t'aime - The I Love You Wall which has 'I love you' written in over 300 languages including sign language! Perfect little place for a photo op with my sweet boy <3

Next stop was Sacre Couer -- we thankfully had metro tickets that worked for the tram, or else I suspect we would not have made it up there.  A million and half steps or skipping the basilica... pretty sure I know which Darla would have chosen.  Although in all seriousness, I've climbed those steps, and legit thought I was gonna die. I would never try to convince anyone to do that.  This is the view of the city from the top of the hill.



We headed around the corner to the plaza of artists, just to experience the hustle and bustle. So much talent in one little place. Hard to imagine walking the plaza when Pablo Picasso was set up as a new artist.  That time period is so romanticized, rightfully so in my mind. 

What goes up, must also come down.  The big trek back down the hill... holy burning calves (still -- 5 hours after actually climbing down the hill).  But we had to get into the official redlight district, so Darla could officially say she's been there.  The shops and theaters are a bit shocking to a newbie (we've been to Amsterdam after all!), and the area is really run down.  We witnessed a bunch of police managing a situation across the street from us... at least one person in handcuffs.  We witnessed a drug deal. We experienced a likely attempted pickpocket scenario when someone cornered Kevin... pulled his glasses off his face and then tried to hug him.  Darla was trapped behind him, and so I walked back around and tapped the guy on the shoulder to distract him to hopefully help Kevin get out of there.  Creepy!  All of these experiences, because we wanted to get down to Moulin Rouge!

So if you are keeping track... we've now made it to one place we wanted to visit today.  We jump on the metro and head down to the Arc de Triomphe.  This is where an insane roundabout is located that is just fun to witness, but there is also promised an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower from the top.  Both times we've been, we've never made it up, and today is the day!  Except today is not the day.  We pop up from the metro to see that the roundabout is closed. Curious. We then see there are a bunch of booths set up in the road, and tons of people. Curiouser. Turns out today is the last leg for the Tour de France which ends...you guessed it... at the Arc de Triomphe.  So we can't go up and the race doesn't end for another 5 hours. No way we are going to just hang out and wait for that to happen.   I'm counting this as a 1/2 visit, as we were at least able to see the Arc, just not go up.



So back on the metro to visit the third place on our list.  The Flame of Liberty -- this was the US's gift back to France after receiving the Statue of Liberty.  However in recent years, it has become a memorial of sorts for Princess Diana, because her car accident occurred in the tunnel below.  Anyways... We need to get off after two stops, however the metro just keeps going. It slows down at the stops, but then flies by.  Not exactly helpful when we speed by our stop and then the next and the next.  Finally the train stops at the Louvre exit.  Plan B.  Let's look at the Louvre and then head to Angelina's for a dessert.  Sounds like a perfect plan, yes? Actually no.  We come up from the metro and immediately walk into more Tour de France track.  Turns out, we are now trapped.  We can't get around it and we have no idea how to get through it.  By the end of it, we just wanted it out of this place!  Instead, we end up sitting in Tuileries park and just enjoy people watching for a couple of hours.  This guy in particular caught our attention... Darla hates birds, and this guy was a real life Birdman.  They flocked to him and followed him.  I even saw him pick one up and legit snuggle it. Oh to know the story of his life...



This is Kevin helping Darla down into the park. He sure loves his mama. He always has, but since her stroke a couple years ago, you can sure tell it with every interaction. She sure raised him right, and I'm thankful for that every single day. He is the sweetest.



All in all, we at least we able to see some racers come through the track. No idea who they were, but we cheered for them!





After quite an exhausting day, we came back to the apartment and all snoozed for a couple of hours.  Dinner in a converted rail car and then back to the apartment to pack.  We say goodbye to Paris tomorrow and head off to our next big adventure -- the French countryside and wine country.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Darla's Dream Trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/day-3-paris Sun, 29 Jul 2018 21:15:12 GMT
Darla vs. Devil stairs in Paris https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/darla-vs-devil-stairs We climbed a lot of stairs today. Much to Darla's dismay.  We tried to warn her for months that the Paris metro has a lot of stairs. It just does. There's no way around it if we want the convenience of the metro. We've tried to plan our journey's with the least amount of changes each time, but sometimes there are line changes with devil stairs around each corner. Today was one of those days. The last metro station has six.. count them six... flights of stairs to get out of the dang place. If we were just starting our day, maybe that would have been acceptable, but this was our trip back to the apartment after a long day of walking. 

I digress...

We started today at Père - Lachaise Cemetery. If you know Kevin and I well enough, you know how much we love historic places.  If you know Darla well enough, you know how much she loves old cemeteries. This fit the bill for us both! This cemetery is over 110 acres with over a million people buried in it.  Just take that in for a second... a million people.  Many many family plots which actually turns out that this place combines family members bones if another member dies. Creepy.



Anyways - after some quick research, we had our list of famous burials we had to find and we were off. This place is H-U-G-E and really pretty for a cemetery.  Huge stone structures for pots dating back to 1804 when the cemetery was founded.  Notable burials that we found...

  • Gertrude Stein (author, playwright, poet). There are rocks on her stone to symbolize respect. So of course, I had to place one on there too.  She was such a revolutionary woman ahead of her time.
  • Frederic Chopin (composer, pianist)
  • Laurent Fignon (Tour de France winner...twice)
  • Oscar Wilde (author). The Picture of Dorian Gray is commonly read in college classes. As you can see, his burial site is very protected with a protecting wall around it.
  • Moliere (French Playwright, poet, actor)
  • Gilbert Becaud (French singer, composer, pianist)
  • Peter Abelard (french pilosopher) and Heloise (nun, writer). This story is a love story.  One of forbidden love and perseverance in the 1100s.  The stone was erected in the 1800s, and their remains were moved here then.  It's common for people to write love notes to Peter and Heloise and leave them at the burial site.
  • Marcel Marceau (actor most famous for miming)
  • Arman (painter)
  • Jim Morrison (musician, The Doors).  Jim's was barricaded off to make sure people didn't get too close, but as you can see there were still so many things on his stone. Apparently it's common to 'have a beer with him'... pouring half of the beer on the plot and drinking the other half.

At this point in the day, it was time for some food.  We stumbled upon a focaccia pizza place which was welcomed after a long morning of exploring.

But there is no rest of the wicked! We head off to find Sainte-Chapelle Church -- a huge gothic church with iconic stained glass windows! This one is pretty indescribable. So gorgeous!



We also stumbled upon the Notre Dame Cathedral.  The line was about 300 people deep, so we didn't make it into that one.. Yep... that's the line behind us. There is about the same amount of people not shown  on the other side.



After a quick stop at the grocery store to refuel, we headed home to spend a couple hours resting before we headed back to my favorite place. Only a few more devil steps... Guesses anyone?



 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Darla Dream Trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/darla-vs-devil-stairs Sat, 28 Jul 2018 22:20:09 GMT
Paris in July https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/paris-in-july Fun fact (actually not so fun when you are living it...): Most European countries do not have air conditioning.

July in Paris is hot. It was hot when we were here two weeks ago, and believe it or not, it's still hot! 37celcius to be exact (98 degrees farhenheit). Hot, hot, hot.

We arrived about 10:30am and were able to drop our luggage off before exploring, thankfully! Funny story... The bnb that we found Becky and Rob last trip is owned by the same people that we rented from this time. We walked in and there was the same lady.

Anyways, first stop is always the Eiffel Tower. Oh how I adore thee. Of course, it's a million degrees, so our interest in the park was virtually non-existent.  So after some people watching and walking the streets in the rain, we decided to head to Shakespeare and Company. Such a fun place to browse books - Hemingway, Ford, etc all wrote there at one time or another. Such a cool piece of history all smashed between big buildings all around.

 

We found a cute Catholic church on the way over which had some beautiful stained glass windows. 

At this point the heat has wiped all all. Quick grocery store trip to get us through today, and back to relax in the sweltering apartment. All three of us are nodding off as I type. Too many hours of being awake today!

If you are ever in Paris and it rains, don't be afraid of it! We walked through the rain storm and while it was refreshing on our skin, it was quite refreshing on the soul ♥️

Tomorrow will be more Paris exploration!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Darla's Dream Trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/paris-in-july Fri, 27 Jul 2018 15:58:50 GMT
In the air again! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/in-the-air-again Do you ever think that all we do is fly places? You might not be wrong! 

We are headed on a jet plane again - this time with Kevin's mom Darla in tow. She's never been to Europe, and so Kevin and Darla have been planning this trip for a couple of years. So many fun adventures and surprises to come.

Stay tuned :)

If you look at the board above Darla's head, you can see your flight to Paris!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Darla's Dream Trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/in-the-air-again Thu, 26 Jul 2018 22:11:28 GMT
Faith, Friends and Life Decisions https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/decisions Do you ever sometimes feel like there is a divine intervention happening in your life?  I have never pretended to be particularly religious even though I grew up in a Methodist church and truly believe that some of Christianity shaped me into who I am today.  

However, I certainly can appreciate faith. Sometimes it is faith in yourself, sometimes in your spouse or family member, and sometimes it is faith in a higher being.  These last few months I have witnessed a tremendous amount of faith through the passing of my friend, Carolyn.  I always admired Carolyn on her faith -- her courageous fight through cancer inspired me every single day and her unwavering, unassuming faith was incredible.  We would often talk about faith and God, and especially during the last few months of her battle, we talked about it more.

She would reassure me that we would see each other again. That she will meet me at the gates and let me in.  That the goodness inside me can't be explained by anything except God.  That I was just a little lost right now, but it's okay because she will put a good word in for me (after all, she is going pretty soon and she's sure she would have some pull).  I would smile and just soak her in. I knew these moments were dwindling for us, and if this provided comfort to her, then I would never do anything to take that away.

Carolyn's family speaks about always feeling her around and that this has helped them process her passing, and I can't help but feel the same.  She is everywhere inside my life, and I'm so thankful for that. She continues to provide comfort to those that love her, and she continues to show her presence exactly when you need her.

I'm faced with a major life/career decision right now, and all I can think about is how eerily perfect the timing is.  You see... Carolyn always joked with me that I was never allowed to leave her.  We were a package deal, so if I ever decided that I was leaving our company, I had to negotiate that she was coming with me. We would always laugh together about this and I would promise I would do my best if that were to ever happen.  In the six years that we worked together, there were a handful of times that I remember seriously looking at leaving the company, and Carolyn could just sense it in me.  She would just look in my eyes and flat out ask the question "did you just go on an interview yesterday?".  I could never lie to her. Each time we would have a long talk about life - she would cry, I would cry - and she would make me promise to never leave her.  I would never say those exact words out loud but instead go back to our two for one deal.  

Eighteen months ago I was offered a new position, and my heart sunk knowing that I was going to have to tell her I was leaving.  Like a sixth sense, she instantly knew something was wrong when I walked in the door that day.  She literally knew me better than I knew myself sometimes.

And so I told her. After a very long day, I decided to turn down the offer and stay with her.  My boss at the time probably thought he convinced me to stay, but it wasn't just him.  The thought of leaving Carolyn was just too much - my heart wasn't ready and either was hers.  When I told her that I turned down the offer, we cried together and she thanked me for not leaving her.


Fast forward to her last serious hospital visit.... By some crazy chance, I was able to finally get a second of alone time with my friend.  I knew she would speak honestly with me if we were alone, and I was ready for that.  However what came out of her mouth surprised me -- she thanked me for never leaving her. I'd heard this a thousand times before, but this time was different.  She knew she wasn't coming back to work, and so this time, she didn't just thank me.  She looked at me and said:

                  Now you can leave.
                  Now you can follow your dreams.
                  I know I was selfish and should have never asked you to stay, but I needed you.

With tears streaming down my face, I just hug her and tell her that she is the only reason I never left. I was never going to leave her, because I needed her more.  

If you are still reading, I'm sure you are wondering where this divine intervention comes in... Just days before Carolyn passed away, Kevin and I learned about a possible opportunity that would require a relocation and offer us an opportunity to live abroad.  Of course then, the timing was completely overwhelming to me because all I could think about was my dear friend. I can't leave her. Not now.  I had no idea how much time I had left with her, and I was cherishing every moment.  So I didn't put a lot of thought into it - it seemed unrealistic.  But then she passed. My world changed.

But she is continuing to show her presence to me. 

She continues to remind me that I can leave now. I can follow my dreams.  Have faith.

How do you argue with an angel?

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/decisions Fri, 13 Jul 2018 13:50:13 GMT
Paris = My Heart https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/paris-my-heart Oh how I love Paris.  

Today we traveled to Paris for a very quick stopover as we are really flying home soon.  Very early train to catch because we originally had a 1pm flight out of Paris which meant we needed to be at the airport by 11 which means we needed to get to Gare Nord no later than 10.  Backing into that meant a very early train out of Gent.  We arrived a bit early and were able to sit down and have breakfast at the train station.  Ham Quiche and Belgium Hot Chocolate. Not exactly gourmet, but not too bad for train food.  





I was really sad that even though we were coming into Paris, I wasn't going to actually see Paris since we only had a very short window to get to our flight.  Our flights ended up changing which is another story for another day, but it ultimately ended up with us being able to spend the day in Paris!

We wandered the streets of Paris after checking Becky and Rob into their accommodations for the next four days. So jealous they get to spend four full days and I have mere hours.  But so glad they are able to stay longer!  First stop has to be the Eiffel Tower which is just as beautiful as I remembered it.  That's honestly one thing I was a little worried about coming back... I've consistently said that Paris is my favorite city that we've been to and I was afraid I had built it up so much that when I returned I'd be let down. But that wasn't the case at all. The city just feels like home.  



The heat wave that has been sweeping across Europe and the UK was still going strong, so by mid afternoon, we were all hot and ready for some cold beverages. We found a cute little cafe with outdoor seating and relaxed a bit. It was unfortunately time for us to be working our way to the airport and so we headed back to the flat to grab our bags and off to catch our plane.

We ended up delayed (of course), but finally made it to the UK. We have a quick stopover here before flying home. Nothing too exciting, so I don't anticipate another post after this one until our next trip. Which is in two weeks from Wednesday! So hard to believe that we are flying to Europe twice in the same month, but that's just how we roll now.

So until we meet again :)

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Netherlands/Belgium paris https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/paris-my-heart Mon, 09 Jul 2018 21:19:32 GMT
Belgium Day 2: Brugge, Gent and Gravensteen Castle https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/belgium-day-2-brugge-gent-and-gravensteen-castle We had a fairly early start, so that we could beat the crowds to Brugge which was successful to a certain point, but we were all really hungry so we needed to stop for breakfast.  Heading into the city, we walked past a Chocolate and Beer shop which is the perfect comparison of Becky and I, and wouldn't you know... the shop's sign said JB.  Naturally we had to take a picture.



After wandering a bit trying to find a place to eat, we settled on a place that had a breakfast special and we all sat down. Omelette for me and Strawberry Waffle for Kevin.



Scouting out 'the spot' in Brugge was harder than expected, which turned out to be a good thing as we were able to explore some old churches along the way.  There were some really beautiful churches and a clock tower we were able to check out.  By this time, the tour buses and masses of tourists had arrived to the city which is exactly the time we decided it was time to get out of there.  




Stumbling upon a craft market on the way to the train allowed Becky and I to both purchase some jewelry followed by a stop at at street Belgium waffle shop.  I will miss Belgium chocolate on everything when we leave tomorrow.




A quick train ride back to Gent -- a quick bite to eat at souplounge and then we were off to climb all over the Gravensteen Castle.  Kevin and I have explored a castle or two in our day, but this was Becky's first one.  It's fun watching someone experience things for the first time... the little things that we take for granted now on castles amazed her and it reminded me of my first castle exploration in Europe. :)




At this point we were pretty spent, so Kevin and I came back to the apartment to get cleaned up and really spent the rest of the evening relaxing, eating and packing up.  Paris is up next!

Oh... and in the middle of coming back to the apartment we had some ice cream finally!



 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Netherlands/Belgium https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/belgium-day-2-brugge-gent-and-gravensteen-castle Sun, 08 Jul 2018 07:19:29 GMT
Belgium! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/belgium We traveled to Belgium by train today.  At the train station, we finally figured out what train to take only to find out that the train was cancelled.  Found a new route -- fun fact, when you purchase Intercity tickets they basically get you to from Point A to Point B. It doesn't matter if you change trains seven times or one, the ticket prices it the same.  We ended up changing through Rotterdam, Antwerp, and then Michelen.  All pretty uneventful except we left the train in Michelen with about five minutes to change -- of course we ended up on the wrong platform and had to run down a set of stairs and back up a different set of stairs carrying our luggage pushing our way through the crowd.  Becky and I made it to the top of the stairs first and heard the bell ring of the train doors closing as we jumped on. Kevin and Rob were behind us, and when I looked back I expected to see the doors closing with them on the other side. Thankfully they made eye contact with the driver and he held the doors for them.



Once we arrived in Ghent, we were just amazed by the quaintness of the town.  Kevin and I have been to many quaint towns throughout Europe, but this was Becky's first one and that's always so fun to watch.  My favorite part of the town so far is that the BnB owner gave us directions to find the Bnb... turn right at the castle and make your way down the road.  Yeah... we are in a town that uses a castle as a landmark.  Feels way different than 'turn right at the Dairy Queen and make your way down the road". :)

First stop was to find some food.... none of us had eaten too much today with the short changes of the trains and getting up so early to catch the first train.  We tried to head to a Spanish Tapas place but they didn't open for another two hours, so we headed to find a grocery store to tide us over. Foreign grocery stores are so fun, because you never know what you are going to find. We ended up picking up some bread, butter, cheese, sausage and apple sauce -- you know... the basics.  Becky and Rob picked up a bunch of healthy green things, so we made sure those were in a different basket than us lol.

Finally it was time to try the Spanish Tapas.  This is a new experience for us and it was really neat. Tapas are just really small dishes (which I've always known, I've just never gone to a restaurant that served them), and so we all ordered four different dishes.  Becky and Rob had a bunch of green stuff again... trend?  Kevin and I focused more on meat and potatoes... not a surprise!  We ordered Lamb Kabobs, meatballs, fried potatoes with garlic sauce and Spanish omelette. Pretty good food and a pretty neat experience other than the sweltering heat inside the restaurant. 



Needing to cool off it was time to walk around town which turned out to be just in time for the World Cup football game to start.  I of all people am not a sports fanatic, but the energy in this place during this game was intoxicating.  I found myself constantly peaking into the windows of the bars, and each time Belgium scored, you could just hear the entire city cheer.  Kevin and I ended up stopping into a Used Book Cafe that had rigged up some tvs and were having a viewing party to watch the second half of the game.  When Belgium won, the place erupted. It was so fun.  The streets were then filled with fans -- so many high fives, so much honking, so much yelling.  You couldn't help but be excited.



Another late night followed by an early morning tomorrow, so I better get to bed.  I'm hoping all these pictures will upload tonight!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Netherlands/Belgium https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/belgium Fri, 06 Jul 2018 22:05:38 GMT
Day 2: Birthday in Amsterdam https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/day-2-birthday-in-amsterdam The whole reason that this trip happened (three weeks before our already planned European trip) is that I am turning 30. Now 30 has not been setting well with me basically since I turned 29, and my amazing husband decided that he would plan a trip to take my mind off of 30.  We literally plugged in our dates into a flight search and did "eeny meeny miney mo" which landed us in Amsterdam.  Okay... so there was a little more science behind that... 

1. Tickets were fairly realistic
2. We had never been to the Netherlands
3. Yeah... that's it

So began the planning -- we invited my friend Becky and her boyfriend along, and they surprisingly said "Let's Go!"  

Insert: Photo of Group at Train

Today was our full day exploring Amsterdam, and I think we made the most of the time we had.  A bit of a late start, but we had a bit of a long day the day before which meant we really needed to sleep.  Our first stop was breakfast and since it was "my day", I chose De Vier Pilaren which is famous for their Pofferjes.  Pofferjes are mini pancakes covered in powdered sugar and butter served with whatever toppings you want.  The added perk is that the restaurant was right on the canal, so we had a nice view of the water.

Next stop was the Floating Flower Market.... well not exactly, but that was our end goal.  Along the way we stopped at random stores in the outdoor mall including a couple of cheese stores.  One of them sold only Gouda... They had a smokey Gouda cheese that was just absolutely to die for.  For a person who can't just eat plain cheese, I was going back for seconds and thirds and ... dare I admit, fourths??  



We finally made it to the flower market and wandered through the booths for an hour or so.  If you are local (or at least don't have to go through customs before returning home), then this market would be a great place to pick up some amazing flower bulbs.  Aisles and aisles of tulips were fun to look through along with all the trinkets.  This is definitely set up for 'tourists', but it was fun to experience, even if it wasn't exactly what we were expecting it to be.

Our company was now ready for a drink, and we were ready for dessert sitting down to give our feet a break.  Like it was meant to be, we walked around the corner and started smelling the most divine scent.  Homemade stroopwafels.  This was really one of the only things I knew about before coming to Amsterdam, and I'm so glad we found a little mom and pop shop making them.  Served with fresh orange juice that tasted like you were biting into an orange, they were better than they smelled.  This didn't solve the drink problem, so we then wandered over to a bar to take a rest.

Insert: Stroopwafel

We didn't have much time though since we had timed entry into the Anne Frank House at 4:15.  This would be the other 'thing' I knew about before coming to the city... I knew that we had to tour.  The tickets are only available online two months before your tour date, and they sell out really fast.  I set a reminder on my calendar and was able to get a slot.  I'm so glad, because this was a really impressionable memory for us all.   No pictures were allowed, rightfully so.  This is the picture of the museum entrance... the Annex was not in view which is why it made for a perfect hiding place...

Insert: Picture of Anne Frank House

Pretty much everyone knows that Anne Frank's family was forced into hiding during WWII because of their religion. Most also know that the majority of the family did not return from the concentration camps when they were caught.  We've heard the stories of the concentration camps, and how those of the Jewish faith were forced to follow strict rules.  Anne's story is no different than millions of other men, women and children affected by this horrific event in history except Anne kept a journal through the entire experience.  Anne wrote about happy days, but also terrible days.  She was so young -- she should not have had to view the world in this manner.  She even had a "Book of Beautiful Sentences" that she would write quotes from other written works.  I just love that so much.  I want a Book of Beautiful Sentences too.  

The tour of the house was very well organized.  You are provided audio guides, and then you walk through each floor of the building. The Annex was very hidden from the road and was three floors hidden behind a bookcase. A simple bookcase protected Anne and her family.  It's so hard to believe that a bookcase is the only thing standing in the way of the gestapo. They were in hiding for two years and during that time, they had to be so very careful not to be seen or heard -- a difficult task when you are living above a warehouse.  Down to the detail that during work hours, they could not flush the toilet because the water pipes went straight down and someone could hear it.  

The most impactful piece of this tour for me is that one of the rooms specifically talks about all the 'helpers'.  You know.. whenever there is an emergency or something tragic occuring, there are always helpers.  During 9-11, there were retired firefighters flocking to the twin towers to help in any way possible, not for glory but because they inherently knew they could help.  These helpers weren't helping for glory either, and honestly, if they were discovered, they would go to the concentration camps too.  So instead, they were helping because it was inherently the right thing to do. They didn't agree with the Nazis, and they didn't agree that anyone of the Jewish faith was bad. So much so that they risked their lives and their livelihood to make sure the Frank family was safe and fed.  
This really affected me... I know with my whole being that I will help anyone that I can, but I've never been in a situation that it could cost my life.  Would I have done what these helpers did for the Frank family? Would I hide a family to protect them? Would I smuggle food and supplies into the house?  Would I cover up tracks if one of them was heard?  Every ounce of my being tells me I would do everything in my power to be a helper. I could never sit back and just watch the horror occurring and not do something. I wouldn't be able to live with myself.  
If you haven't read The Diary of Anne Frank, you should.  If you ever come to Amsterdam and have the opportunity to tour the Annex, you should.
I feel like Anne is a bit of a kindred spirt as one of the quotes on the wall is "When I write, I can shake off all my cares. My sorry disappears, my spirits are revived".  Such powerful words for such a small girl.
After we somberly completed this tour, we went our separate ways for a bit to find a bite to eat.  Becky and Rob were really looking forward to a fish dinner, and that idea just didn't work for Kevin and I who are firm believers that "Fish are Friends".  We ended up wandering down to a random canal and picked up some street food to start -- pomme frites with gouda sauce.  Holy good gouda sauce.  



We sat down at a random bench which turned out to be across from the Old Church -- we were just in time for the last tour of the evening and so we jumped in line.  The tour really just included the bell tower, but that meant once we made it to the top, we would have the most beautiful views of the whole city.  
Our tour guide talked through the history of the church which was originally built in the 1300s making this the oldest building in Amsterdam -- it was originally built as a Catholic Church, but soon turned Protestant once the Netherlands claimed independence from Spain.  Did you know the Netherlands was a Spanish colony? Yeah, either did we.  Anyways, we climbed and climbed.  One of the floors allowed us to see the mechanism that winds up the bells to play on the quarter of the hour.  One of the floors allowed us to actually ring the bells with our hands which was pretty darn cool.  

Insert: Bell Ringing Video

We were also able to peak inside the church to see the bright red stained glass (which then prompted the tour guide to remind us we were actually in the Red Light District). Somehow we wandered in without knowing.  The views from the top were breathtaking -- all the buildings are so cute and from above just looked like a little fairy tale land.  The climb back down was interesting since we basically climbed ladders up, but we made it back down.



It was time for actual dinner, and so we decided to sit down and grab some Italian across the street from the church (pizza for me and spaghetti for Kevin).  After dinner, Becky and Rob met us there, and we spent a couple of hours just wandering all around the Red Light District.  I'm not sure what we all expected it to be, but it was really just a bunch of coffee shops (marijuana shops) and red lights above the doors with woman scantily dressed.  We walked through the alleys just to 'experience' the red lights, but we all just kind of walked away scratching our head.  

By this time it was pretty late, so we were ready to head back to the BnB. Becky and Rob were distacted by a sale on drinks and were coaxed into a shop.  Five minutes later Becky came running out of the door asking if we had cash on us.  Apparently the bar only accepts cash, and so thankfully we had some.  If not... I guess she would have had to do some dishes or something.  We were in the red light district after all...
Finally we were on the train to head to bed, all exhausted from the events of the day and ready to head.  Tomorrow we head to Belgium!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Netherlands/Belgium https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/day-2-birthday-in-amsterdam Fri, 06 Jul 2018 14:13:05 GMT
We finally made it to Amsterdam! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/we-finally-made-it-to-amsterdam This adventure includes two guests -- my friend Becky and her boyfriend Rob.  You will see them periodically.  The fun thing about this trip too is this is Becky's first trip abroad, so everything is so new and exciting. I love seeing people experience the world for the first time.



Mattie also made her first trip abroad. And she's loving it...



After quite a rocky start, we finally made it to Amsterdam!  17 total travel hours after a 5 hour delay in Philly.  That means as of this entry (11pm Amsterdam time) we have been awake for 33 hours...

We hit the ground running -- and instantly went downtown Amsterdam to start exploring.  Well actually, we really just needed food so we went searching for a restaurant.  Found a cute little cafe that we could sit outside in the beautiful weather. 

We were then refueled to get through the rest of the day... walking through the square, along the canal and over to the famous windmills!

My favorite part today was probably getting off the train at the windmills and taking in the whole aroma of ... chocolate. Yes chocolate.  Turns out we were walking by a chocolate factory and the whole neighborhood smelled exactly as you would want Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory to smell. I wish I could have bottled it up, because it was absolutely divine.



Anyways... exhaustion is kicking in and as always, pictures are better than words on day one :) 



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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Netherlands/Belgium https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/we-finally-made-it-to-amsterdam Wed, 04 Jul 2018 21:33:00 GMT
So we might be moving?! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/so-we-might-be-moving Neither Kevin nor I have spent more than a couple hours combined in Indianapolis, and so we spent the weekend here to experience the city. We might be moving here after all. We should probably have some concept of the city before making that decision.

Indianapolis has an actual downtown that you can walk around in which is a completely different experience than St. Louis.  So many restaurants and shops to visit.

The state capitol building is really grand and fun to walk through. The City Market has a ton of great food options with a to die for pizza place. The City Walk along the canal is beautiful, lined with murals along all the bridge walks.

Indianapolis is also back in the motherland. Tenderloin motherland, that is! I had two glorious dinners of tenderloins and deep fried sides. Makes a heart happy (and maybe clogged) after being deprived for seven long years.

While we still don't know what part of town we'd end up in, we explored many different options... Mass Ave, Broad Ripple, Carmel, etc.  The entire city feels like it has all the amenities of St. Louis minus the horrific traffic of 270S.

It's a mixture of emotions surrounding a big move.  When we decided to move to St. Louis, we decided in about a day and the weeks leading up to the move were filled with packing and finding a place to stay, so I didn't have much time to consider my emotions. Instead, the emotions kicked in after the move. When I wasn't working yet. When I realized I truly was alone the majority of the time. Kevin would get up and go to work each day, make friends, come home and want to relax. I waited and waited until he was home and wanted to then go explore. After some time, I started working too and made some acquaintances, but I still missed my support system from back home. We traveled home as often as possible, never missing a birthday party or event. Rarely did I have visitors come to St. Louis, and that was really hard to manage. I'm an introvert. I don't make friends easily at all, but my new acquaintances eventually became friends and my new support system/family.  

We've lived in St. Louis for seven years now, and in those seven years, we've experienced so many firsts together... first (and last) marriage, first purchase of a brand new car, first house, first trip to Europe, first trip to Asia, and on and on. I've made some of the best friends I've ever had here in this city, and I will miss seeing them regularly. 

You can never truly be sure you are making the right decision. However "if it's not a little scary, it's not worth doing".  We never knew if St. Louis was the right choice, and honestly it doesn't feel like home still after seven years. I think it might be time for a new adventure...

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) ex-pat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/7/so-we-might-be-moving Sun, 01 Jul 2018 21:45:00 GMT
The Last Tale of Gertie https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/6/the-last-tale-of-gertie Almost 11 years ago, a dear friend found an orphaned cupboard gnome named Gertrude, and Kevin adopted her.  He affectionately nicknamed her Gertie, and she traveled with him everywhere he went. 



Back then, Kevin was simply a goofy boy in the office to me, but we bonded over Gertie.  As the years went by, Kevin became more than my friend, and Gertie began traveling with us and not just Kevin.  



Over the years, Gertie has started showing her age... She lost a leg at a festival, and so she wasn't able to stand.  I spent hours creating a cast for her which worked for quite a few years.  However on our last trip to Europe, she tumbled down some stairs while watching Broadway (I argue she was so excited to meet the actors!) and lost her cast, broke her second foot and also chipped her hat.  She knew this meant it was time for her to retire.

Now that she's officially retired to our travel shelf where we will continue to love her as our first, she introduced us to her granddaughter, Matilda.  Matilda has been in training for years to take Gertie's place and with some of our biggest adventures ahead of us this year, she felt it best that Matilda join us now.

Introducing Matilda "Mattie" Ennis!  Ready or not, we are exploring Europe soon!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/6/the-last-tale-of-gertie Sun, 10 Jun 2018 17:57:30 GMT
Another piece of my heart is gone... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/5/another-piece-of-my-heart-is-gone How ironic it is that on my last day in California, my dearest friend, Carolyn passed away.

 

But let me back up... About four months ago when I was planning this trip, I begged my dear friend Carolyn to come with me. You see - she always dreamed of seeing California. 

 

Wait - I didn't go back far enough.... Six years ago I started a new position in a new city. A city only six months prior I had unexpectedly moved to, and I was so beyond homesick. Like it was meant to be, I met Carolyn a couple of days into this new position, and a friendship began. Carolyn instantly scooped me up and made sure I knew I had a friend if I wanted one. We had an unusually mild February that winter, and so we would often lunch in the plaza together learning more and more about each other.  I was surprised to learn her oldest boy was not much younger than me (I still don't believe it... She looked the same age as me! She literally doesn't age.).  

 

I don't exactly know when she became my family, but it happened fast and I couldn't have wished for a better addition. We were invited to family birthday parties. I tutored her son in Trigonometry. She drove three and a half hours to attend Kevin and I's wedding πŸ’š

And when she was diagnosed with cancer, I did everything I could to make life easier for her.  For years, she was my stand in motherly role, because I was so far away from my mom, and so I gladly stepped into that role for her when she needed it. When she needed days off, I would cover for her. When she wasn't able to cook, I delivered meals to her. When people bothered her about anything, I made sure she was left alone. 

 

The day she texted me that she was in remission was the best feeling ever. For a year, she was able to go back to normal life. But cancer is merciless, and it metastasizes, and it never gives up. So we were back at it again... Carolyn was strong and determined, and she had a heck of a support team by her side. We were going to figure out the new normal and adjust.

Two years ago she had a really bad downturn. I thought I was losing her then. But she pulled through and slowly found a new normal, again. 

 

That's when Kevin and I talked a lot about how to get her to California, but she would never allow us to just outright buy a ticket for her. Hindsight is always 20/20, and so in hindsight, I should have just made it happen then. I should have surprised her. I should have bought the ticket.

 

Fast forward, about four months ago, I discovered I had a reason to go to San Diego for work and began talking to Carolyn about coming with me. We could take a couple extra days off to explore LA and Hollywood. It would be a trip of a lifetime for both of us. Who wouldn't want to spend a week in California with a best friend?  We talked about it a lot, but she ultimately decided not to go. She had another trip planned, so maybe we could go together next year.

 

All the cliches come rushing to you now, don't they? "Live every day like it's your last." "Don't put off tomorrow for what you could do today." "Tomorrow isn't promised."

Five days ago I flew to California without Carolyn. Even if she had agreed four months ago, she wouldn't have been strong enough to make this journey with me. 

 

Yesterday I heard her voice for the very last time, and I knew my sweet friend didn't have much time. I told her I loved her, and I woke up to the message I never wanted to receive.

 

Anyone that met her knew she was already an angel sent to Earth, and now she is home flying with all the other angels.  

 

Today I say goodbye to California and say until we meet again to Carolyn.  I've never known a more beautiful soul, and I will forever be changed by knowing her. With tears in my eyes and a heart broken in a thousand pieces, I know I have the most beautiful angel by my side always. Fly high, sweet Carolyn. Fly high.

πŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’šπŸ’š

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/5/another-piece-of-my-heart-is-gone Wed, 09 May 2018 21:56:18 GMT
San Diego Adventures Part II https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/5/san-diego-adventures-part-ii I may have mentioned that I consumed a good amount of sun yesterday, but what I may not have mentioned is that stupid me didn't pack sunscreen... First stop this morning was to find some sunscreen and a scarf/shawl/something to protect my shoulders from any more sun.  We walked through the Gaslamp Quarter en route to CVS also keeping our eyes out for breakfast. Yesterday we walked by a random restaurant and actually met the owner of the place, so we were trying to track back to where we were as he said its 'the best breakfast in California'.  Looking at the menu, it looked really good, so we figured we'd give it a go. Finally arrived about 9:30 and the line was out the door down the street! He must not have been lying.  (note: if you are ever in  San Diego, this place is called Richard Walker's Pancake House world famous for their Baked Apple Pancake). Maybe we'll be able to make it before we leave?

Anyways, instead we walked across the street to a grocery store and just grabbed some donuts and apple juice and went along our way. We had more important things to do than wait in line for hours... we were headed to the USS Midway! This aircraft carrier was commissioned months after WWII ended and was involved in the Vietnam War.  It was really well preserved with a ton of aircraft all over the showroom and the hangar deck.  Both of us are fascinated by old planes, so this was a win in our book.  They also had a big statue of the famous WWII kiss in Time's Square... so that was cool to see.

Here we are on the USS Midway... in the brig...

Some pretty parrots!

The last stop big adventure of the day was to get far enough west to the beach.  One of our Uber drivers yesterday recommended Mission Beach, so that is where we went.  I just love the water - it is so peaceful and beautiful to watch/hear.  This beach has a huge boardwalk with restaurants everywhere, which is perfect since we were ready for lunch.  Randomly chosen restaurant turned out to be the best meal of the trip in my eyes so far.  I had smoked pulled pork, gouda mac & cheese and baked beans -- yum! Pork wasn't dry at all and the bbq sauce was great.  Gouda is always my favorite mac & cheese and this one didn't disappoint.  The baked beans were actually more like chili with ground beef and salsa in it which really was delicious.  Kevin ordered their famous burger and he demolished the thing.

Stuffed, but not ready to leave the water we walked along the boardwalk for an hour or so and then sadly said goodbye to the ocean.  Not sure I will see it again while I'm here, but if I can swing it, I will.

Back to the hotel to rest a bit and then headed out to grab dinner... Frozen Yogurt it is, like adults :)  This really ends our full days of adventure as I now will have my days full of my conference, but I'm sure we'll find some mischief in the evenings!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) san diego https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/5/san-diego-adventures-part-ii Mon, 07 May 2018 03:54:55 GMT
San Diego Adventures Part 1 https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/5/san-diego-adventures-part-1 Well we finally made it to California!  We've traveled all over the world and there are still a handful of states that we haven't been to together (a very very small number that neither of us have been to separately), and California can officially be checked off that list!

I am here on business, but convinced Kevin to come with me so that we could spend the weekend and downtime exploring San Diego.  We arrived last night and were really just ready for the bed by the time we arrived to the hotel, but we didn't waste anytime starting our day off today.  I was up moving pretty early for my standards (however central time would show that I was actually just waking up at 8am lol).  The zoo didn't open until 9, so we ended up having some time to kill... we walked over to the conference center and picked up our badges.  Finally it was time to Uber over to the San Diego Zoo.  Uber is the best thing ever. It really just is.

Arrived at the zoo just as they were opening, stood in the quick line and before we knew it we were walking in...

While researching what to do here in San  Diego, we had quite the mixed reviews of the zoo.  On one hand, it's rated the best in the country year after year. On the other hand, it costs a stupid amount of money for a zoo compared to our amazing and free St. Louis Zoo.  We heard it's overrated, and we heard it was amazing.  So we were convinced that we needed to have a first hand experience...

 

This place is huge! We walked a whopping 7.5 miles all around this place.  We knew we needed to be strategic when we walked in because of the size and popularity -- so Kevin mapped out our route to basically beeline towards the pandas which were one of the main reasons we both decided to spend the money to visit this zoo.  You don't see pandas everyday and let's face it....they are freakin' adorable!

Other notable animals include the polar bears (this guy was napping basically the whole time we were there, but he would randomly lift his head and a bunch of drool would roll off his mouth).

Of course the penguins!  This was a really small exhibit... St. Louis has a much better one... but they were cute nonetheless. We mostly saw them swimming underwater which was really fun to watch.

Koala's were another main factor is us choosing to visit. We've only seen Koala's one other time before and I just fell in love with the little guys.  What I didn't know is that they sleep up to 20 hours a day. So the fact that the last time I saw them, I saw a koala eating leaves and moving around is pretty darn amazing.  All of the koalas were sleeping the first time walking through, so we went through a second time before leaving just to make sure.

Another notable mention is the Tiger.  He has quite the stare!

Next stop was the Aerial tram. This was an open top tram car that flew us over the entire park -- it was just a bit creepy especially with Kevin flipping back and forth trying to see everything! But I survived the trip...

By this point, I have gotten just a bit toasty so we needed to get out of the sun.  Which in our household always means ice cream!  I found a gourmet ice cream place on Pinterest in advance of our trip and knew I had to sneak it in.  We ordered a flight of ice cream cones! Six flavors -- Chocolate Brownie, Nutty Chocolate, Butterscotch, Apple Spice, Cinnamon, Blueberry Cheesecake.  We were pretty happy with all of the choices, and the flight was just adorable!

Since we are staying on the Bay, we decided to Uber back to the hotel and walk down to the water before meeting a friend for dinner. I'm just in love with being on the water - it's so soothing, and I can't wait to make it over to Coronado Island to feel the sand in my toes :)

We ended our evening with dinner at Italia Mia's - food was good and company was even better.  Nice walk back through the Gaslamp District and we were ready to head to bed.  Until tomorrow :)

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) san diego https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/5/san-diego-adventures-part-1 Sun, 06 May 2018 15:39:21 GMT
I think I'll miss you forever... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/3/Grandpa Yesterday I lost one of the most important people in my life.

I can count on one hand the reasons that I travel so much.

1. Growing up in a podunk town with no diversity

2. My grandfather

 

But let me back up...

Growing up in the middle of a cornfield really is a great way to grow up. Having moved to the big city and encountered many people who have never lived anywhere else, I can truly see how small town life shaped me in the best ways.  But growing up in the middle of a cornfield also meant I was surrounded by...well...corn. And nothing else. So that also sheltered me from the world, from different cultures, from different languages.  I was so mesmerized by the world that I latched onto anything and anyone that had experienced life outside of the corn.

My grandfather served in the military spending the majority of his time on a boat cruising the Caribbean. It was during this time that he fell in love with island life. After his service was complete, he settled in middle US raising kids and working on the pipeline. I will never forget his infamous story of laying in the muddy fields repairing the pipeline... It was cold and pouring down rain... he looks up at the sky and promises himself that he will retire somewhere warm and tropical. For anyone who knows the pipeline business, it is extremely hard on your body and because of this they have an early retirement. At 50 years old, he retires. Fast forward a couple of years and he buys a time share in the Dominican Republic. Next thing we know, he bought a house, and he moves there full time. The entire family couldn't believe that he chose to move so far away from them in a foreign country, but for me, that's the day he showed me dreams can come true. Even though he didn't know the language or anyone that lives there, he loved the island and knew that's where he needed to be.

Because he lived there, I was able to take my first big trip outside the country. My now husband and I spent eight glorious days with Grandpa exploring the island and experiencing the culture.

 

Because he lived there, I continued to learn Spanish in college - thank goodness, because I had to bail him out so many times! Calling his bank, calling his girlfriends, calling the hospital...

Some of my favorite memories revolve around Grandpa and his 'girlfriends' from the Dominican.  One time he was home visiting and he wanted so badly for me to meet this girl.  I can't remember her name, but I just remember getting on the phone with her and hearing every single cuss word in Spanish because she thought I was his American girlfriend.  I could not convince her otherwise, so I suspect she may not have been around when he got back. 

Another time he was home visiting and wanted to buy his girl (different one) some bras.  But of course he didn't ask her what size she was when he was with her and instead begged me to call her and ask her.  So nothing like meeting a new person over the phone for the first time - she doesn't speak English and my Spanish was not that good - and I'm asking her what her bra size is so Grampy can buy her bras.  Pretty sure that lady thought I was insane and probably stalking her. Of course, after I had her bra size, we then had to go shopping.  Here I am driving Grampy to Kohl's to buy some random lady bras. Have you ever shopped bras with your grandfather? Well I have.  It goes a little something like this... "okay so she's a 36C, I'll wait in the car.  Maybe get something lacy?"  Okay Grampy I'm not buying your girlfriend lingerie.  He laughed, but then still made me buy them :)

I have so many stories about that, but it's because he was happiest when he was in the Dominican (or talking about the Dominican or talking to people that are in the Dominican). His smile was infectious and you never saw it quite as big off the island. I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the Dominican with him. 

I always felt connected to Grandpa on so many levels, and I think he chose me because he felt it too. Its an unexplainable bond that I'll always cherish. 

Ultimately Grandpa taught me:

   *Follow your dreams 

   *Jump even if you aren't fully prepared

   *Pave your own path even if it goes against the grain

   *When in doubt, Skype with your dog

A piece of my heart will never be the same, but nothing can take away all the memories we shared. 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2018/3/Grandpa Wed, 14 Mar 2018 03:28:17 GMT
Holy Security https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/holy-security In the last 40 house of being awake we've been through so many security checks, it's insane.

But I'm getting ahead of myself... Today was our last day in India. We woke up relatively early to say goodbye to the Patel crew. Keval invited is over for lunch at his parents which was very nice considering they are so exhausted. Quick taxi ride to the airport in Baroda and we began our trek.

Baroda to Mumbai (1 hour flight)
*Very inefficient process!
*‎5 different security checks
*‎delayed flight
*‎separate men and women security check

Mumbai to Hong Kong (6 hour flight)
*Weren't able to check our bags in when we arrived, so we sat around for about an hour.
*‎we were moved to a flight leaving two hours earlier
*‎lots more security checks, some segregated by gender
*‎Pizza Hut for dinner in Mumbai!

Hong Kong to Chicago (14 hour flight)
*McDonalds for breakfast!
*‎uneventful flight considering how long it was

*You guessed it...more security

 

Chicago to St Louis (1 hour flight)
*Original flight was scheduled for 4pm. American ended up cancelling it a couple months ago and rebooked is for a 6:40 flight.
*‎6:40 flight is delayed
*‎Chili's for lunch!
*‎Garrets popcorn for snack

*Yep... More security

We have now been awake about 43 hours with short bursts of resting on the plane as we could.

Awaiting our final flight which should begin boarding in about an hour. Thank goodness cause we can barely keep our eyes open.

I have no pictures today :(

 

PS. We will work through all our trip pictures in the next month or so if you are interested in checking back. Thanks!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/holy-security Sat, 30 Dec 2017 23:42:27 GMT
Indian Reception https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/indian-reception The last event of Hima and Keval's wedding is the reception.  Unlike a reception for an American wedding, Indian receptions have a completely different purpose and occur the night after the wedding. Because it started at night, we were able to sleep in a bit which was much needed. The whole morning and early afternoon we just lazed around and started to do some packing. Then off to get hair and makeup done.

 

The wedding day is all about the bride's family, and the reception is more about the groom's family (which is now the bride's family). So the event is the bride and groom standing on stage greeting all the family and friends of the groom. Some that may have never met her before. We were able to sneak up there and get a picture with her, but other than that we didn't really see her much.

You should have seen her dress... It had to have weighed 40 pounds! So having to stand up for hours to take pictures in a 40 pound dress... I can't even imagine.

Tons of food was eaten (at one point we even had a waiter just bringing us random stuff... It was a buffet, not a formal sit down place... It made us feel famous). To continue our Hollywood feeling, we had so many people take pictures of us and with us today. Most of Hima's family had seen us numerous times dressed in Indian clothes, but Keval's family had only started seeing us yesterday. So I assume most of those that stopped us were on Keval's side. I'd sure like to know how many Instagram posts I'm in :)

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One of the guys came up and said "my wife likes you very much, please a picture"....the second er agreed, his wife who was standing  behind us bear hugged us for the picture. Another came up to us a couple of times to compliment my outfit and then finally asked for a picture with us. Another asked to take a picture to send her daughter. We FaceTimed with another daughter.  So basically we are famous.

We were in bed by about 1 am with a fairly early wake up to say goodbye to all Hima's family who are traveling back to Surat today. Lots of hugs, exchanged contact information and offers to come visit (in India and in the states). Many asked how we liked India, if we would come back or when we are coming back. Some even invited us to weddings that aren't even in existence yet... ie when my grandson decides to get married, you should come. Hima's dad sat and talked to us for a while, and made us promise that just because Hima isn't living in St Louis anymore doesn't mean we get to forget about him and Hima's mom. We assured him that will never happen.

It just goes to show how hospitable and nice this entire family is. We will miss seeing their faces each day, but know we will see them soon.

 

Oh an the resort looks so beautiful at night...

Tomorrow we begin our trek back to the States.

Baroda to Mumbai (1 hour flight)
Mumbai to Hong Kong (6 hour flight)
Hong Kong to Chicago (14 hour flight)
Chicago to St Louis (1 hour flight)

Total 22 hours actually in the air, not including all the layover time.

Mumbai layover (6 hours)
Hong Kong layover (3 hours)
Chicago layover (6 hours)

37 hours of travelling.  Phew I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/indian-reception Sat, 30 Dec 2017 02:08:24 GMT
Hima is married! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/hima-is-married Today consisted of two significant ceremonies... Grah Shanti and the Wedding.

The Grah Shanti began a little after 9am poolside at the resort, beautifully decorated with orange flower garlands. I did some research on this ceremony since whenever I asked about the meaning behind the previous ones, nobody could really tell me much (but I was asking English speakers so I'm sure if I could speak Gujrati I could have learned). Anyways... My limited understanding is that this ceremony is more about the bride's parents showing that they have provided a good example of a happy marriage to Hima and actually remarried in front of us.

Hima then joined her parents for some part of the ceremony, and that was that.

Family pictures occurred immediately after along with lunch. No rest for the wicked, because immediately after lunch I had to head to the hair salon to get beautified for the evening event.  Hair, nails, makeup and dressed.... I am ready for the wedding :)

Once we were all dressed up, we had so many guests stop to tell us how great we look or take our picture, some even asking us to take a picture with them. It's so funny but as Hima's brother said, we are kind of a novelty here. As much as we try to blend into the background in normal situations, it is simply not possible here in India.

The bride's family is all at the wedding location, but the groom's family (including the groom) must all walk there in a grand procession called a Baraat.. this is very traditional to this region in India and is basically the groom walking to the bride's family home to take her back to their home. The groom must ride a female horse, and it must be white. All the close male friends walk with him wearing turbans representing honor. The bride's family meets the groom's family/friends at the door, and the bride soon follows. 

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They are then separated again and each make their own entrances into the ceremony area. It's set up as a very royal event with the groom entering with men dressed like knights-ish holding sticks of fire, and the bride entering with  the same men and female dancers dressed in white. 

The actual ceremony followed immediately with just a few family members watching on the stage. It's very different than a wedding in the US where everybody is paying attention the entire time. We were able to stand by the stage and watch everything. We were even allowed up a couple of times to stand and watch. It was really, really beautiful. 

One fun thing we don't want to forget... At every wedding, there is a family competition involving the bride and groom's shoes. When they are getting married, they are barefoot and so each family tries to steal the opposite side's shoes. The bride's family must get the groom's shoes and vice versa. It's really about protecting the family honor. Well somehow we were thrown into this game randomly when Hima's brother came over to sit by us and started talking to the group in front of us (who turned out to be Keval's friends from the US). These friends then explained to us what this game even was. Turns out the guy in front of us is the one that had the shoes all along. Our friends from the UK all knew it, and so they had come to us a couple of times along with Hima's brother to try to figure out how to get them back. For about an hour, everyone from the bride's side was staring at us wanting us to get the shoes, but the guy in front of us wouldn't move. It turned into a big ordeal with a bunch of the cousin's sitting all around him... Kevin asking the guy in front of us to take our picture... And a fight for the shoes.  The bride's side ultimately won the shoes and the bargaining chip that followed. Hima's brother negotiated for about a half hour and they ended up settling on a sum of rupees in return for the shoes (apparently the groom cannot leave the wedding ceremony without them). The groom's family had Hima's shoes as well, but after the long groom negotiation they just gave her the shoes back saying they are just happy she is now part of their family. It was a pretty fun thing to be a part of even if it meant that our new friends may not like us anymore.

Well that about sums up the day... We had a lot of pictures taken and took a lot ourselves as well. 

Here's the family that we stayed with in the village:

Here is the aftermath of my hairdo...two hair extensions and 52 hair pins later. 

And of course... The beautiful bride and groom!

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/hima-is-married Thu, 28 Dec 2017 07:24:46 GMT
Sangeet! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/sangeet Today we traveled to Baroda. We all piled into a big van with our luggage all on top...Indian Style. We also lost the air conditioning, so it was a pretty darn hot three hour drive.

Upon arrival to the resort (yes I said resort), we were quickly checked in and then able to relax for an hour or two before getting ready for the Sangeet tonight. Kevin's first time wearing Indian clothes and looked quite handsome if I do say so myself :)

The event was really cool.  The basic idea is very similar to the previous Sangeet we attended, but of course we will be partial to Hima's. It was beautifully set up, and the music performances were great. We danced a lot (I even got Kevin out there!) with Hima and Keval who both looked amazing (and happy...which is the most important part). As part of the performances, friends of the bride and groom were called up on stage and asked to talk about their friendship... Of course this was all said in Gujrati and was only translated for me about 10 seconds before I was handed the microphone. So for a non public speaker like myself, my heart instantly raced knowing I was gonna sound stupid because I had no time to prepare. Hopefully that wasn't the case...

We had so much fun :)

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/sangeet Wed, 27 Dec 2017 05:33:59 GMT
Did you know there is a 4...in the morning?? https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/did-you-know-there-is-a-4-in-the-morning The whole village attended Hima's cousin's wedding last night, except us and her it felt like. Nobody returned to the village until 3:30am which means we couldn't get into our house until almost 4 which means we had at most 4 hours of sleep available to us before we had to get up to pack. We are headed to Baroda today for the next three days of ceremonies, so we had to say goodbye to the family that let us stay in their home for the last week. We received an open invitation to come stay with them anytime. We are so grateful for all the hospitality that we've received in this little village. 

P.S. when we arrived in the village, they were putting the big canopies up. Now today they are taking them down. Kind of sad knowing we are so close to the end. 

P.P.S. did you know there is a four in the morning? I surely hadn't seen one in a long, long time. I didn't know they still existed...

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/did-you-know-there-is-a-4-in-the-morning Tue, 26 Dec 2017 04:15:06 GMT
Wedding Festivities Officially Begin! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/wedding-festivities-officially-begin Today finally started Hima's wedding festivities! Haldi Ceremony and Ganesh Puja (see "Nobody Comes to India" post if you need a refresher on what that means).

 

 

The ceremony was beautiful and emotional for her family. It's always so sweet seeing emotions on people who may normally be more stoic in nature. I was even able to participate...

The rest of the day involved hanging around the house for the Mehendi Party (henna!). I'm not going to post Hima's although it's beautiful, so that it's a surprise for Keval. But here's mine :)

Dinner was take out Chinese which was actually a nice change of pace as we've had nothing but Indian since we arrived. Seven days and counting eating vegetarian which for those that know me, know that this is a serious feat. Kevin, on the other hand, could be vegetarian at home if I would cook that way. But he is happy for a change of pace as well. 

Tomorrow we travel to Boroda for the rest of the time here in India. Our days are dwindling, but the best is yet to come. 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/wedding-festivities-officially-begin Mon, 25 Dec 2017 13:42:40 GMT
Spa Day and More Wedding Festivities https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/spa-day-and-more-wedding-festivities We haven't even begun attending Hima's wedding festivities, and it seems like we've done so much already. 

Today began at the spa... mani, pedi, and massage. We then rushed home (on an auto rickshaw!) to get ready for another Puja, dinner and then the Sangeet...all for Hima's cousin.

The Sangeet was a new experience, and really when we stepped off the bus that transported us there, it felt like we were celebrities. Granted we rode in with the groom so the second the eight photographers caught wind he was there they all came running.

Once we were in the venue, there was a huge stage with a DJ and live host who introduced the  entertainment. Many of the bride's friends and family performed.  There was about an hour of entertainment and then everyone ate (if you haven't noticed, you eat a lot here... To the point we skip meals because we just can't eat anymore).

Home after midnight with a 6:15 wake up call for Hima's first event tomorrow!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/spa-day-and-more-wedding-festivities Mon, 25 Dec 2017 11:36:30 GMT
Nobody comes to India in December and only attends one wedding... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/nobody-comes-to-india-in-december-and-only-attends-one-wedding The next door neighbor is also getting married and we were invited (this is the third wedding now... the first one we were not able to attend).  This neighbor is a relative of Hima's (everyone is a cousin, so I will go with that).  Since the weddings are very close together, all the women in each family walked around the village together to invite each woman to come over to sing the wedding songs. This ritual consists of drawing a swastik with red holi powder on the door steps and leaving rice.


Kevin's Day: 
We walked around the village and scouted out where the food was being prepared which was over by the house we are staying at.  I tried some of the bread.  Then we called a driver and headed to McDonald's where I ordered a Paneer Wrap (thankfully not the chicken wrap because one of the guys ordered it and it looked disgusting). It was time to head back for the wedding ceremonies, so we came back -- watched the ceremonies -- went to eat dinner -- ended up serving dinner -- and then back to the house to hang out with the crew.

Jessica's Day: 
While I was out walking the village, Kevin ended up leaving with Hima's brother and his group of friends, so when I returned, I hung out with Hima and helped her organize all of her stuff (boy does she have a lot of clothes for the next six days).  The afternoon was the next door neighbors Haldi Ceremony and Ganesh Puja.  The Haldi Ceremony consists of all the women relatives putting tumeric paste (bright yellow) on the knees, arms and face of the groom (or bride depending on which Haldi it was).  The significance of this isn't as clear as I want it to be because nobody really seems to know the specifics (at least the people that are helping us understand everything), but if I remember correctly from the research I did, tumeric is supposed to be cleansing but also makes the skin glow.  

The Ganesh Puja is a religious ceremony allowing everything to pray to Lord Ganesh to make sure that everything goes well for the wedding days.  Everyone then went to eat dinner together, and we all headed back to the house.  The day became full circle, because in the evening, all the village women gathered over by the house to sing the wedding songs.  Food was served, and we ended up meeting a couple of people that traveled here for the weddings as well (it was nice to sit and have a full conversation in English).  We take that for granted back home, but not here. It's all Gujrati and of course we can't speak it, other than those few words.

P.S. While I was walking the village, I had a conversation about my hair.  Someone asked if I spent all morning making it straight and shiny, and I was like 'oh no, I walked out of the house today with my hair wet... this is just what it does'.  Sometimes I wish I had hair skills, but I'm also really thankful that I don't have to do anything to it and it still looks okay.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/nobody-comes-to-india-in-december-and-only-attends-one-wedding Sun, 24 Dec 2017 03:53:30 GMT
Lazy day https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/lazy-day Today was a lazier day with a later start. First stop is always Hima's for lunch. Today we had roti, rice, and a potato vegetable mix all served with  curry. I never thought I liked curry but this kind wasn't bad. 

We then headed to Hima's other grandparents to spend the afternoon hanging out with them. Her grandparents were very nice serving us an array of biscuits (cookies) to try.  Their house was beautiful with two huge swings -- one thing I've not talked about yet is the swings in every house.  It was explained to me that here in India everyone loves to swing and so they have swings all over.  Almost every house I've been in (I've been in a lot... see yesterday's post) has had a swing in their living room.  They are the coolest things and I wish I had a place I could put one in our living room , because I would order one and have it shipped.

Her grandmother was very interested in speaking to us, but we have quite a language barrier as Gujrati is very, very different from English. Hima translated a bit, but her grandmother wanted us to learn Gujrati so she started teaching us (I'm sure I butchered the spelling)...

Kem cho=Hello, how are you
Pani=water
Beso=sit
Challo=let's go

That's about all we can grasp at this point. But it was so nice of her to want to communicate enough to begin teaching us.

Her grandfather showed us the housing that he owns behind his place which turned out to be 32 one room apartments. Not one bedroom apartments... one room apartments.  They are very low cost (around $10-15 a month) and were quite small. However for laborers that are only making maybe $4 a day, these apartments are all they will be able to afford.

Next stop was the local Hindu temple. This is the first one here in India that we've been to... This is a really old village temple that isn't necessarily kept up, but the atmosphere is still there. And because her grandparents come here so often, we were able to meet the guru and his family. The guru runs the temple... I'm not exactly sure what to think of this (Kevin compares the guru to a pastor, which may be true. However I'm not sure I got that feeling from him).

Anyways, we walked all around the temple and learned who each of the gods are...if you are unfamiliar with the religion you may think that Hinduism is a poly-god religion, when in fact, there is really one god that takes all different forms based on a point in time. For example, there is a god of health and a god of love.  So you would pray to a specific god for a specific reason.  Another way to think about this is if you picture your hand underneath a thin sheet -- each one of your fingers looks like a different object, but really underneath it is just one hand.  This is a very simplistic explaination and I'm sure a more western perspective, but I think it gives a good broad perspective.  And I can't take credit for the 'sheet' example as my World Religions professor in college explained Hinduism similarly and it really helped me understand better.

The rest of the day we hung out around Hima's house, ate dinner and killed a lot of mosquitos.  For real... the mosquito game is real.  We have some bug zappers and walk around the house just zapping.

See for yourself...

<insert bug zapping video>

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/lazy-day Sun, 24 Dec 2017 03:52:26 GMT
Part II: Shopping in Surat https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/part-ii-shopping-in-surat We had a bit of a late start, but it was for a good cause. We spent the morning getting our journal up to date. If you missed it, we were able to post our second day in Hong Kong and all of our days in India so far.

Lunch time at Hima's grandparents consisted of their homemade cereal which is corn flakes with a bunch of different dry lentils and peanuts in it along with some bread and butter.  Kevin ate some of the oatmeal we brought from home, because he's still not feeling great.  Since he's not feeling great, he decided to stay at home instead of going into town with Hima and I. So that means I'm going to write about two different days since we spent the entire day apart:

Jessica's Day:
After lunch, the ladies in the family (which included me) walked around the village to personally invite everyone to the local wedding ceremonies.  We passed out gifts and envelopes (which I presume is for them to give back to Hima).  This is for the guests that aren't traveling to Baroda, but probably will attend the local ceremonies.  It was quite an interesting activity, since we basically just walked into the houses unannounced.  Nobody seemed to mind, and many invited us to sit down and served us drinks.

After walking all over the village, we headed back to the house only to turn around and head out to Surat again today.  Hima had some more errands to run, and I decided to tag along.  We went to countless knock off jewelry stores and clothes stores. We also walked all around an Indian market, which really was pretty cool to experience. Even though Hima thought I was going to get lost, so she kept making me hold her hand. 

In the area that we are visiting, there are not a lot of tourists, and so I have found that people are always watching me and the market was no exception at all.  Even when we went into the clothing stores and it was said outloud that I was the one looking, we would get preferential treatment. Hima said that had it only been her shopping, we would not have gotten the service that we did. I had three sales people waiting on me.... sat us down and just started pulling things off the shelf and bringing them to me to look at.  They also all seemed pretty disappointed when I didn't buy anything. 

Other random errands that we ran included picking up wedding jewelry from a real jeweler (there were guards with guns and everything), and we had to pick up some of Hima's outfits.

After quite a long day of shopping, we headed home to eat dinner (some rice and vegetable mixture that is made when you don't feel well... kind of like our chicken and noodle soup.  Hima is not feeling well at all, and either is Kevin however Kevin didn't eat it).  It wasn't too bad.

Kevin's Day (as described by Kevin but typed by me):
After lunch, I sat with Hima and the men in the family while the other ladies walked around the village.  Then Jessica and Hima left to shop.  We watched some Indian TV and I took a nap.   One of the village weddings began, and we all walked outside to watch the Groom's processional (Baraat) which consisted of a band, fireworks, music and a parade.  Hima and Jessica came home, and then we walked back to our place

Again, I didn't take many pictures today, because we were so busy!

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/part-ii-shopping-in-surat Fri, 22 Dec 2017 07:56:31 GMT
Shopping in India https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/shopping-in-india Today was all about shopping.  Hima has quite a lot of errands that need to be done in advance of the wedding, and much of it is/was shopping. So off to Bordoli, we went (with six people in a five seater vehicle... seems to be a trend for this trip!).  This is where Hima actually grew up... we were able to see her old building and meet a lot of her old friends and family that still live there.

After stocking up on jewelry, we headed over to a dress shop, because while I thought I had all the clothes I needed, it turns out that I need one more for another wedding that we've been invited to. I know that it's 'wedding season' right now, but it's just crazy how many we've driven by and/or seen being setup. Even yesterday we were invited to a third wedding but with all the running we had to do, we declined (or rather Hima declined for all of us).  In reality, I was kind of glad, because I can't imagine having gone to a wedding yesterday after the travel day we had.

Lunch was at a local restaurant (however I spoke too soon yesterday, because this one made Kevin sick :( ). To get back to the shopping we had to cross the street. Remember the 'no fear' thing? Yeah, well we had to cross with all the drivers that have no fear.  We all held hands to make a four person chain and just went for it.  We may or may not have been honked at repeatedly.  Speaking of honking, I'm not sure that you can even imagine how much honking happens every single second here...

<insert video of honking>

 

The other new experience is having gone to a bigger village, we had many, many people including children begging for money.  It's always really sad to see children on the streets, especially when you can't save everyone.  We did give some of them some Rupees, but we also gave some food.  I always prefer giving food in these situations, so that I know the person/child gets a meal rather than potentially the money being taken from them.  We had a bunch of leftovers from lunch that we packaged up and gave it to one little boy, and I had numerous other little boys come up that I gave Jolly Ranchers too.  I had a set of boys that walked by a second time, and I could smell the blue raspberry candy. Small things are important too, so even if you can't financially help someone, there is always someway that you can whether it be food or time or any other resource.

We spent a good 8 hours running around, and we ready to head back to the house (especially with Kevin not feeling good at all).

Home.... smothered in bug spray since the mosquitos are rough. Kevin woke up this morning with his feet covered in bites. Thankfully I only have a few so far (good thing we have been taking our malaria meds).

Now it's off to bed. So we can go back to Surat tomorrow for some more errands.

Didn't take hardly any pictures today...

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/shopping-in-india Thu, 21 Dec 2017 04:31:25 GMT
Arriving in india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/arriving-in-india Another long travel day - 7 hours in the air to get to Mumbai and another five hours by car to get to the Surat area where Hima's family lives. We arrived at Hima's grandparents house around 7am, where we were promptly fed and then brought to where we are sleeping (about a block away from Hima's grandparents). The room is lovely with an onsuite bathroom and private balcony where we can watch guys playing Cricket if we'd like.  Kevin may sneak over there one evening to learn...

After a couple of hours of rest and a shower (colder water is the norm here as the water heater is solar heated from the roof... cloudy day? Cold water.  It's a bit of a shock to the system in the beginning, but not so bad after you get used to it). 

We headed back to Hima's for lunch -- vegetable quesadillas which were pretty good, and for a real tour of the area.  While on the roof, we saw parrots! I've never seen a parrot outside of a zoo before so that was pretty cool (supposedly there are monkeys around here too, but I'm not sure we will get to see any :( ).  

Their house is huge with a lot of land which is a rarity in India since land prices are so expensive, plus they have land that is being farmed which we we also were able to tour. Banana trees, cauliflour and sugar cane were all being grown by people who farm her grandfather's land.  

The rest of the day/evening we spent in Surat.  The drive was a whole new experience in itself, since we only had experience with the driving in Mumbai at night.  In Surat, as Hima's dad would say 'people have no fear'.  The lines on the road? Don't mean anything. The maximum amount of people inside a rickshaw, on a bike, in a car? Doesn't exist. Seatbelts? Nope. Helmets? Nope.  Red stop lights? That means go. Have to cross the street? Just start walking. No fear.

<insert video of crazy traffic>

I digress... 

I came to India with all my wedding attire, but we were advised to wait to buy Kevin's clothes when we get here, so that was the first stop. Of course, he's never worn Indian clothing before, so he needed to try the style on to make sure it would be comfortable.  He was about to go into the dressing room and was stopped (we didn't understand what was happening, but Hima told us that they thought he was too big to use it... meaning too tall... we think!).  Anyways, he had to try the clothes on, so he just changed right in the middle of the shop.  No fear. Two outfits later and he is set. Pictures to come (he's quite dazzling..).

Next stop? The beach! As I'm sure most of you know, I love the water. Anything to do with the ocean, I'm there.  This beach was much different than any others I've been to... it was the Indian Ocean which was grey and dark water, but there was a nice sandy beach that had a year round carnival set up.  As we were pulling up to the parking spot, Hima says "would you like to ride a camel?".  Long story short, we rode a camel!

Four of us on one camel was an entertaining sight to see, I'm sure. I was surprised that they had all four of us on it, but they did.  If you've never ridden a camel before, picture being on top of a really tall horse with really swaying hips.  As it was standing up with all of us, Hima and Uwi almost fell off, while the owner was yelling at us to 'sit normal, sit normal!'.  I'd like to know how one sits on a camel 'normal'?  Anyways, we spent the next seven hours (okay it was probably only 5 minutes, but felt like a year) riding along the beach.  All four of us were ready to get off the second we got on, but we were definitely ready when it was time to get down. However since the stand up was nothing short of rocky, we were all dreading the sit down... We survived to tell the story and we can all check 'Riding a Camel' off our bucket list.

At this time, it was time for dinner and we headed to a fancy restaurant called Black Pepper.  We let Hima and the crew order for us since we don't know the names of any Indian food, and we all passed everything around.  Surprisingly we liked most of the items -- enough so that we walked away full, so our fears of the food are starting to lessen each time we eat.  Three meals now of traditional Indian food, and we are not sick to our stomach and are going to bed full. I'd say that is a successful adventure.

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/arriving-in-india Thu, 21 Dec 2017 04:29:29 GMT
Day 2 Hong Kong: The Big Buddha https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/day-2-hong-kong-the-big-buddha Day two was much slower paced (thank goodness, cause we are still fighting some jetlag). Today's main attraction was Po Lin Monastery.  You can get there driving or by public transportation, but it would take an hour or hour and a half.  Instead, we paid to take the cable car over the water and through the hills... taking about 20 minutes each way. 


The big draw to Po Lin nowadays is the Big Buddha, and he did not dissappoint.  So many stairs to get to him, but he was beautiful.  

But really, the entire monastery was also beautiful.   The hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas was lined with golden Buddhas and every inch of the walls were covered as well. It was quite a sight to see (however you cannot see it, because pictures were not allowed out of respect of the worshippers...).

The rest of the day was quite slow -- taking our time to wander back to the hotel and head to the airport. We had another 7 hour flight to Mumbai that left at 8pm arriving after midnight.

The place we are staying near Surat does not have steady wifi, so please bear with us while we sort through getting any pictures attached to the posts. 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/day-2-hong-kong-the-big-buddha Thu, 21 Dec 2017 04:20:15 GMT
No Wifi https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/no-wifi For anyone following... We arrived in India yesterday! We don't have consistent Wifi, but I wanted to take a second to say that we are alive. Not sure if we will have any wifi before we travel to Baroda for the wedding in a couple days, but if we do, we will be sure to post.

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/no-wifi Wed, 20 Dec 2017 04:09:57 GMT
Day 1 - Hong Kong https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/day-1---hong-kong Meeting friends in a foreign city? My new favorite memory of any of our travels. We were so lucky to have Terence with us most of the day with Vincent meeting us for dinner and Winkie meeting us afterwards to explore.

But let's back up a little...

Jetleg is real, guys. I had a really hard time falling asleep last night, and I was awake by 3:30am (Kevin said he woke up at 5am).  For anyone who knows either one of us knows that this is not normal.  We were up before our alarm went off at 6am (the alarm we set, assuming maybe we could snooze it until 7 and then start getting up). Instead we were downstairs eating breakfast by 7 and ready to start the day at 8.  Breakfast is always interesting in a different country, because in the US breakfast is very standard - bacon, eggs, sausage, etc. I have a hard time eating "non-breakfast" food for breakfast, but I've been trying to be more open minded and just try it.  So today was fried rice, fried noodles and Dim Sum... plus some British breakfast of potatoes, bacon and beans.  I actually didn't mind the Hong Kong style breakfast which I think goes to show how much I really like fried rice haha. 



Our plan was to meet Terence at 11am, so we had at least two hours to kill before we headed into the city to meet him. 

We ended up taking the MTR (metro system) to Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple.  This is a Taoist temple and turned out to be one of the many that we were able to see today.  One key indicator in determining the temple is affiliated to Tao is that incense is burned along with an offering (often times the offering is some fruit). There was much hustle and bustle happening there, and it seemed very fragmented.  You go to this temple to pray for Wealth. This temple for Luck. This temple for Health.  Anyways, the Tao temple had incense with hustle and bustle, but it also had a tranquil garden off it which seemed more Buddhist.  It was very peaceful and serene.



We had killed enough time and headed to the MTR to meet with Terence.  Boy was it awesome to meet him. He was so nice and patient with us -- explaining parts of Hong Kong culture whenever he could.  He has lived here all of his life, and you can tell he loves his city.  We went to Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden which are both Buddhist affiliated.



For anyone who doesn't know, there are many religions practiced in China, including Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam and Confusionism (In 1997, Hong Kong transitioned from British rule to being a part of China).  Other religions have always really intrigued me, and Buddhism is no exception.  While I've known basic information from studying in college, on our flight from Chicago I learned a lot about Buddhism... how it began, who the Buddha is, and what Buddhism really means.  It's a pretty powerful belief system, and I can honestly see why so many embrace the Buddhist life style.  It's not about worshipping the Buddha (Buddha is not a god at all, but actually a common man), and in reality, you can be Buddhist but also be another religion.  Anyways, one thing I requested from Terence is that I see a couple of temples while we were Hong Kong.  Even though he is not Buddhist or Taoist, he was so nice to do so.

On our way to lunch we stopped in Temple street -- a famous street for shops and markets.  It was really interesting to see less of a touristy area, and more of where people live and shop. I ended up buying a scarf, because for some reason we didn't pack well and decided to wear short sleeves today (it was in the high 50s during the day, but dipped down into the 40s at night).  Luckily Vincent let Kevin borrow an extra coat in the evening since he was still walking around in his short sleeves. 

Lunch was an interesting experience where Kevin accidently ordered noodles with tendons -- so gross -- and of course all three of us laughed about it the rest of the day.  He read the menu as saying "Tenderloin" haha.

After lunch we visited a bunch more temples - mostly Tao - full of incense and beautiful red and gold decorations.  We also stopped and tried some Hong Kong tea, which was really good - however the point of the stop was to take a rest... we were pretty exhausted, but it was almost time to meet up with the rest of our friends, and so we had to pop on the ferry to Kowloon Island to watch the "sunset".  Unfortunately there was really no sun due to the clouds and smog, so instead we were just taking pictures of the buildings.

Dinner at Peking Restaurant was really nice with Vincent joining Kevin, Terence and I.  They wanted us to experience Beijing food, in particular duck.  I've never had duck before, but it actually was pretty good. They served it with a sweet sauce on a type of tortilla bread.  Appetizers included a cold chicken dish (which neither of us loved, but Terence and Vincent chowed down -- I think we had the hardest time with the bones still in it... which you eat!).  

Last stop of the evening was Victoria Peak where you can see the entire Hong Kong skyline.  Winkie met us on the way there, and we all taxied up to the Peak.  The taxi ride was an experience to say the least.  Some cars allow four passengers, and some allowed five (because they had the old government license).  We had five people, and we squeezed in :)



Victoria Peak was beautiful, especially at night. You could see for miles. So many buildings and so many lights. I can absolutely see why Terence says "The ladies love the peak".  By this point it was almost 11pm, so we were all exhausted and ready to head back.  We said our goodbyes to my new, Kevin's old, Hong Kong friends -- and headed back to the hotel on the MTR.



We are so grateful to have had such amazing hosts helping us to experience Hong Kong. We can't wait to come back to see them all again :)

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/day-1---hong-kong Mon, 18 Dec 2017 01:55:35 GMT
St. Louis to Hong Kong https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/st-louis-to-hong-kong 16 hours on a plane. 16 hours.

We survived.  

Food was hit and miss, and the last two hours were pretty rocky. BUT we flew over the Artic Circle, which is pretty darn cool in my book. While in the Artic Circle, Kevin snapped a picture of the sunset..



Cathay Pacific is by far the best airline we've ever flown -- the seats were comfy; they provided noise cancelling headphones; each seat had a recliner for your legs to provide optimal sleeping options; tons of tv shows and movies (including a movie called "Let Me Eat Your Pancreas"... no I did not watch it...)





Current time in St. Louis - 7:30am
Current time in Hong Kong - 9:30pm

We've been up for over 24 hours with most of that on a plane, and we are exhausted.  



However flying to Asia is interesting, because the time zones are literally night and day. And if you've done any travelling before, you know that when you switch time zones you need to stay awake until it's bedtime to avoid jetlag. So while we've been up for over 24 hours, we get to go to bed now. As opposed to when we land in Europe at 8am and have to stay up another 12 hours.  Hoping we fall asleep quick, so we can get our trip going...

Tomorrow we get to meet up with some friends and explore Hong Kong.  It feels so surreal to say 'We are meeting friends in Hong Kong for dinner"!  But that's where I'm at right now. We are so fortunate to have the opportunity to travel like this,

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/st-louis-to-hong-kong Sat, 16 Dec 2017 13:56:30 GMT
Excitement or Anxiety https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/excitement-or-anxiety Have you ever thought about how you experience very similar symptoms when you are anxious or excited? Rapid heart rate, chest muscles tensing, feeling in the pit of your stomach, restlessness, difficulty sleeping, etc etc. 

I am certainly not downplaying someone who has been clinically diagnosed with anxiety, but for someone who is not, these emotions feel very similar.  And they describe exactly how I'm feeling in advance of this trip.

I'm so excited.  To experience Hong Kong. Experience India. Experience the wedding ceremonies (all six of them!). 

But… 

I have anxiety around the food. Around the bathroom facilities. Around the 16 hour flight. Around having to use the facilities on the plane (fun fact: I've never done it!). Around all the new experiences.

Excitement certainly takes over any anxiety, but it's all still there.

We are now waiting on our Chicago to Hong Kong flight... walking around as much as possible in anticipation of the longest plane ride we've ever flown.  We are fully stocked with movies, books and of course snacks... like the adults that we are!!

We should land in Hong Kong around 8:30pm SATURDAY (considering we started flying today - Friday - at 5am in St. Louis.... we lost a whole day!).

The next two days are action packed, and we can't wait to start! Either can Boosie!

P.S. St. Louis to Chicago flight was loud (here's just a taste of the entire trip.... don't forget to turn your sound up)!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/excitement-or-anxiety Fri, 15 Dec 2017 18:43:26 GMT
All the Gear https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/all-the-gear I asked Kevin if he would be a guest blogger and talk about all of his camera gear…

He did not say 'yes'.  Apparently I'm the writer and he's the photographer...

So… as most of you know Kevin is a hobby photographer as well as a technology nerd (I say all of these words with love).  The problem with technology is that it is ever-changing.  Camera gear is no different.  We own quite a bit of "really old" gear, and so Kevin has been lusting after the latest and greatest camera equipment. Thank goodness we've discovered lensrentals.com… Kevin can now rent the best camera gear and we aren't constantly purchasing $8,000 cameras.

Every trip I think that he couldn't possibly order more than he did the last time, and he never fails to surprise me.  This round came in a very large suitcase, and so with the gear he already has and the rented gear, he looks like a professional photographer.

The trick now is to figure out how to pack all of this in our carry-ons…

3 work days!


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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/all-the-gear Tue, 12 Dec 2017 02:52:19 GMT
Holy Clothes https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/holy-clothes Well we started packing this weekend. Holy clothes!

I was fortunate that I was able to borrow all my traditional clothes from Hima's family -- mom, sister, grandma -- I'm so thankful they are so sweet. 

I recently met Hima's extended family, and they all allowed me to borrow clothes from their closets so that I would be appropriately dressed for all the ceremonies.   It started with Hima's mom allowing me to borrow some of her clothes, and the second time I came over to pick up more (cause, you know, I needed more), Hima's sister sent clothes up for me to try from Atlanta and Hima's grandma let me use one that she brought with her from India.  

I've been so lucky that Hima's family has accepted me and allowed me to be a part of so many things already.  My favorite memory?  The second time I went to Garba.  During one of the prayers, everyone grabbed their plates… kind of like offering plates holding candles, fruit and flowers (loosely described!).  Each family member held the plate and waved it around in a certain pattern, and then passed it to the next family member.  The first year I attended Navratri I was a spectator…soaking everything in, but the second year, Hima's mom passed me the plate.  I was so honored to be included in such an important family event, and from then on, always felt so at home with her family.

I'm now set with 30 pounds of clothes (did I mention I needed to pack regular clothes too?) And a ton of jewelry and makeup and shoes. 

We've never traveled with so much stuff requiring so many suitcases. This is a far cry from when we were backpacking in Europe last year.  But that's okay… it's going to be worth it :)

Four work days are standing between us and our flight!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/holy-clothes Mon, 11 Dec 2017 02:55:15 GMT
Where has the time gone? https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/where-has-the-time-gone I can't believe we are only 12 days away from takeoff.

It seems like it was just yesterday that Hima and I became friends.  Just yesterday that she asked "if I ever get married, would you come to the wedding even if it is in India?".  Just yesterday that she texted me a picture of ring.  Just yesterday that we booked our flights.

I'm so grateful for our friendship -- I know that I have grown so much from all of the experiences that she has included me in and I know that this trip is going to continue to grow me.

And really...this trip is completely different than anything we've ever done, because we are actually going for an event. But not just one event… eight events, because weddings in India are not just a couple hours long... they are days long!  Which means there is a lot of preparation and coordination required, and so these next 12 days are going to be nice and busy getting everything ready.

I anticipate the days will go just as slow as they will quick.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) our journey to india https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/12/where-has-the-time-gone Mon, 04 Dec 2017 02:24:17 GMT
Spontaneous Labor Day Roadtrip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/9/spontaneous-labor-day-roadtrip So Thursday night I put a bug in Kevin's ear that we should go on a little getaway for the long weekend. I'm thinking maybe we would drive four hours each way max.  I start throwing out ideas of places to go... none of which he loved.  On Friday afternoon, I get a text message saying "What about Niagara Falls?".  It was decided at 3pm on Friday that we would be driving to New York this weekend -- 12 hour drive one way -- I hadn't even packed anything at all. Who does that?!

Mad dash home after work to pack the car and off we went. We made it to the other side of Indianapolis last night and woke up really early today to get to Niagara. Arrived in New York by 1:30pm - checked into our hotel and then drove north to the falls.  After what seemed like two hours making circles trying to find parking we had finally arrived.

First stop? Walking across the Rainbow Bridge into Canada since they have the better view of the falls.  I've never 'walked' from one country to another, so that was pretty cool. We were able to straddle the line and be in both countries at the same time. Passport check and customs at the border and we were in.

They aren't kidding that the view is so much better on the Canadian side versus the US side.  On the US side you can see the top of Niagara, but on the Canadian side you can see the full length waterfalls -- American, Horseshoe and Bridal Veil Falls.  The amount of mist you can feel on that side is crazy too. It's almost like it's raining but it's the mist coming back down from the Horseshoe Falls.

Walking back across the Rainbow Bridge we had to pay fifty cents per person... such a scam! It's not like we can get over any other way and it's not like we can stay in Canada.  

Once we were back on the US Side we walked to look at the US view which was pitiful compared to what we just saw, so we headed back to the car to find some food. First stop was Anderson's Frozen Custard (a recommendation from a friend back home) -- Kevin had Chocolate Peanut Butter and I had Chocolate Fudge Brownie.  Both were so good.  Much better than Ted Drewe's.  Not quite enough for dinner since we hadn't eaten since breakfast, so we went on the hunt for a pizzaria. Franco's fit the bill. I was very impressed with my Hawaiian and Kevin really enjoyed his Taco Pizza.

Quite a quick trip as tomorrow we begin our trek back home.  Time to crash!

You can view all pictures here: http://www.jkennis.com/p742300028

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) niagara https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/9/spontaneous-labor-day-roadtrip Sun, 03 Sep 2017 02:54:38 GMT
Well we thought we were done... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/well-we-thought-we-were-done What an eventful (not in a good way) travel day. Dropped the car off this morning and navigated London's airport... Apparently the busiest airport in the world. They are not that efficient with bag drop but very efficient loading the plane. Although they don't assign gates until 30 min before boarding which seemed weird to us.

Made it to our gate in plenty of time, boarded and were set to take off about 15 minutes early. Kevin was thrilled since we had a short connection already.

Well an hour and half later we are still sitting on the ground in the plane. Some Air Traffic Control in Newfoundland was flooded and causing delays everywhere.  So we missed our connection. American rebooked us through Miami (which would have sucked), and due to weather that flight was cancelled.

Long story short we are now staying overnight in Charlotte on our dime with a very early flight in the am. So now we are trying to decide if we should stay up longer to kick jetleg or if they will make it worse with our 5am wake up call.

We sat down for dinner and reminisced about how every time we fly American something crazy happens. Cancelled flight out of the Dominican. Lost luggage flying into Chicago. Seems like a sign to stop booking with them...

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/well-we-thought-we-were-done Sat, 15 Jul 2017 23:02:50 GMT
Last Official Day :( https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/last-official-day Well it's finally here... the last official day of our trip.  It's always bittersweet when this day comes.  On one hand, we are ready for our own pillows (the majority of the time they are not great) and on the other hand, we have so much more to see that we don't want to go home.  I sure wish I could convince Kevin to move me abroad somewhere in Europe where traveling is so easy. Just hop on a train and in a couple hours we could be in another country.  Maybe someday.

Today was also a bit bittersweet as we left our best BnB of the trip after spending four nights with them. She went above and beyond for us the entire time we were there and when we left she seemed so sad giving us a hug and chatting with us for almost two hours before letting us walk out the door (her husband popped in about 45 minutes in and hung around too). These BnB owners are such great, wholesome people, and if we ever find ourselves in their hidden area of Wales again, we will definitely pop in to say hello... even if we aren't staying there.

Since this was the last day, it also meant we had to travel across Wales and England to get closer to the airport... fortunately there is never a road without something interesting/historical to see, so we stopped into Stratford-Upon-Avon for the afternoon.  This is where William Shakespeare lived -- we actually toured his fiance's childhood home and walked where William walked when courting her.  We also learned that there are absolutely no marriage records of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway which is quite odd considering church records are always the most complete. The tour guide was very doey-eyed when telling the love story and said that she is sure that whichever church they married at probably intentionally destroyed the records to keep the attention away.  However that doesn't seem like a plausible story to me, so I'm going to go with they never officially wed. I thought I had learned that in college and so when we were walking up to the town, I told Kevin so. Just to hear all about their love story and them claiming they surely married at some church somewhere (just no the church in their town... you know, the one they attended every Sunday... odd).  

We ended the day stopping at the same services area (not rest area... an actual mall of food along side the motorway) that we started at when we picked the car up.  It was by accident, but kind of cool that we did.  Now to spend the evening packing our bags and hoping we are under the 50 pound limit :)

Most of the pictures will be uploaded within the month or so if you are interested in checking back.

P.S. Total miles walked = 132 

P.P.S. We met a couple at one of our BnB's that was hiking the Wales Coastal trail which was 130 miles total. I was so impressed that they were doing that... and would you look at our number! We did just as many miles in just as many days.  Back pat...

P.P.S.S. Okay pictures now...


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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/last-official-day Fri, 14 Jul 2017 18:48:45 GMT
Day of Books https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/day-of-books So since Kevin hiked me to death yesterday, today was my day!  And what do I choose? Books, of course.  First stop ... Hay-on-Wye (literally the Town of Books). There are book stores after book stores here with such old books. We even saw an original Aesop's Fables signed by the author. If I wanted to spend a couple thousand, I could have brought it home. But sadly, books weigh a lot and Kevin probably won't let me buy a new suitcase just for books (even if my Grandma did when I came home from the coast with all the fossil rocks).  I really liked how there were outdoor book stores all over too -- all on the honor system.

 


Next stop was Hereford Cathedral.  Now what could this possibly do with books, you ask? They are famous for the largest chained library in the world. It's so interesting how libraries used to chain books to the shelves to reduce theft. But these books are worth so much money even back in the day, they had to protect them.  Also in the chained library is the only copy of the original Mappa Mundi -- a 13th century map of the world as Christian scholars knew it. The center is Jerusaleum and the rest of the discovered world was all around it. It's pretty to scale as well which is amazing. The original Magna Carta also resides here, but it was not on display, sadly. We missed it by a week (it seems like we timed our trip quite well as the English holiday starts next week which means all the kids will be out of school).

 


Last stop of the day was Arthur's Stone which is a Neolithic tomb (fancy way of saying it's dated from around 3,500 BC). All of the other Neolithic tomb's we've seen so far have been escavated, but this one has not.  At first, I was disappointed, but after we were there, it was cool to see it buried and to imagine what it looked like in it's day.  The legend around the stones is that King Arthur killed a giant here and that giant left an indention in one of the stones -- another legend says that after King Arthur killed a giant, the rocks were lain here. More likely this is a burial site just as all the other tombs are, but without escavating, you can never be sure there isn't a giant here...

We've come back to the BnB a bit early tonight as Kevin's not feeling too well, so I'm hoping he can sleep off whatever it is and then we can head back into town for dinner.  Lots of packing to do tonight too as we are headed into our last day tomorrow. 

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/day-of-books Thu, 13 Jul 2017 17:03:14 GMT
Hiking the 'not easy' trail. https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/hiking-the-not-easy-trail As many of you know, Kevin is a bit of a go big or go home kind of person. Hiking is no exception. When the lady at the BnB was walking through our hiking options, he did not choose the easy trail, he did not choose the difficult trail, he chose the most difficult trail.  Three peaks hiked in total, lots of sheep and 30,000 steps later, we are exhausted from the day.  It was a very hard hike and our feet are feeling it.

The views were nowhere near the views we had in our first hike with the ocean in the background, but I'm a bit partial to the water. This was mostly sheep farms and other mountains as our backdrop.  The weather was incredible though... we truly feel the people of the UK lie about never seeing the sun as I'd say we were sunburnt again today.  

We ended up eating dinner on the patio with the other couple that are staying here and have now crawled upstairs to bed for the evening. The sun is still shining away, but we are exhausted.

Kevin has promised that I get to wear sandals tomorrow and he's dropping me off at the front of every place we go to. I'm done with the walking for the trip...



 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/hiking-the-not-easy-trail Wed, 12 Jul 2017 20:19:30 GMT
Rainy Day https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/rainy-day We officially had our first rainy day today in the UK -- hard to believe we are on Day 12 of our trip and haven't had rain. We were beginning to think that the entire UK lies about how much "rain" they get. For goodness sake, we were sunburned just days ago!  Anyways, we came fully prepared for rain since we were vacationing in Wales and went about our day as planned.... with more Castles!



Of course, we started with breakfast at our new BnB -- she had quite the menu options and we had a nice chat with the other couple staying here. This is only a two bedroom BnB which is quite nice actually (I'm sitting in our own dining room as I type). The second couple are from Southern England and are here the same amount of days as we are, so we will get to know them quite well.  Tonight they are actually headed to Cardiff for the Coldplay concert (I honestly didn't know they were still touring... all of their music sounds like the same song to me... sorry Leah).

Ragland Castle was the first stop. Very different than any of the other castles we've seen in all the countries we've explored. The turrets weren't round but instead were hexagon shaped. Very unique.  And there was an actual moat with water in it still. We've not seen this before as most of the moats had either dried up or been drained.  Ragland also had many fashionable features, because the owners were a "keeping up with the Joneses" type.  Every time a new fad came out, they knocked down a wall and built a window if that's what the neighbor castle was doing.  It made for a very interesting looking castle, for sure.


Tintern Abbey was my favorite abbey we've seen this trip. I'm always so taken by the abbeys -- they are so grand and to imagine 
what they looked like in their prime.  The archways themselves were enough to knock you back a little.



Caerphilly Castle is the second largest castle in Britain, and surprisingly it also had a real moat. Two moats in one day! This one was not as impressive as Ragland but as I mentioned the family that owned Ragland constantly changed the castle, so it was so unique.  Although at Caerphilly we did meet a dragon...





We didn't make it to the last castle we planned today since it closed earlier than expected, so we headed to dinner and back to the BnB to rest up for the day tomorrow. We haven't really had a rest day, so it has been nice to kick back a little and relax. We are coming into the home stretch now.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/rainy-day Tue, 11 Jul 2017 19:51:46 GMT
Exploring... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/exploring I bet you can't guess what we saw today... It's okay, I'll wait...



If you said castles, then you'd be right.  Upon leaving Mid Wales this morning, we made our way down the coast to St. David's Cathedral and St. David's Bishop Palace. The cathedral was beautiful -- it's in use today still, and the wooden ceilings (a rarity) was so intricate and lovely. 



Next was Laugharne Castle was much smaller and where we learned about the four Guy's that owned the castle .... quite literally four men named Guy that owned the castle throughout the years. However not much is known about Guy #3 as he was possibly mad.  I also typed on a real type writer for the first time ever -- much harder than I thought it would be once I figured out how to get the paper in anyways.



The highlight of the castles today goes to Carreg Cennen Castle. Standing high on a hill surrounded by sheep which made for a long and poo filled walk, but once to the top, you cower at the size. And the views are amazing...


The best/worst part? There is a hidden cave that can only be accessible through the castle that Kevin made me explore with him. So we can now add caving to our list of activities for the trip.

One thing that I truly love about Kevin is how he constantly pushes me outside of my comfort zone. I may not love this about him in the heat of the moment, but afterwards I'm always reminded of all the experiences I would have missed if I didn't follow him (i.e. this cave, sky bridge in Austria, ziplines in Canada, driving through London, etc etc). Plus I know he's never going to lead me astray and that means so much. I would have never made it past the first set of stairs taking us outside into the cave if it weren't for him encouraging me and being my rock along the way.  This cave was probably 200 yards long, pitch black and cramped (we both had to duck most of the way). It was terrifying. Especially when you start thinking bad thoughts like what if the opening is blocked when we come back? What if there are bats at the end? What if there is an earthquake and it collapses on top of us? But then I just look three steps in front of me and there is my calm husband looking up at me holding out his hand.



With so much drive time between our stops today, it was time to head to our next BnB.  While driving through the Brecon National Park we were greeted with many different animals -- we even saw a farmer moving his sheep to a new pasture along the road with his sheep dog and four wheelers.  But the most notable animals being wild horses with their fouls.  The fouls crossed the street right in front of us to meet up with their mamas and to eat. It was an amazing thing to watch.



After many two lane roads, we meet our lovely proprietor (a quite bubbly woman) who walked us up to our very spacious room. It's not quite as IKEA modern as the last one, but it is a very very nice place. Definitely a step up from the usual rustic-y, vintage (panel walls and flowery chairs) looking BnBs.  A quick shopping trip and a picnic in bed, and we are ready to get some sleep.
 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/exploring Mon, 10 Jul 2017 21:06:22 GMT
Mid Wales, More Castles https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/mid-wales-more-castles Sylvia must have gotten up early today and left before breakfast, so we didn't get to say goodbye... Kevin thought it may be best as we would probably still be there with her instead of Mid Wales.

Today was really just a chain of random places along the way to our BnB in Mid Wales which consisted of a lot of 'two way roads'.

Cymer Abbey which was mostly ruins, but it had some beautiful archways still standing.  Castell y Bere was also mostly ruins, but it had some great views of the ocean.  Cardigan Castle was nothing but a wall, so we didn't stick around there too long. Cilgerran Castle was the best castle of the day, but still not much to report. It was a very modest sized structure with three of its four towers almost whole -- here we spoke with the Cadw representative and he recommended a ton of other places for us to see in our next six days.  

 

We mentioned we were headed to Pentre Ifan Burial Chamber next and he said well I guess if you like a rock the size of the table being held up with other rocks then you may like that one.  We very much want to see that thank you very much! We are talking about 3500 BC stuff... you don't see that every day, you know.



At this point we were very close to our next BnB, so we made an early check in. This is a newly created BnB inside a massive old house with huge rooms.  All of the decor and furniture is very modern and identifiable -- IKEA.  It also has a very young, hip feeling -- most BnB's have very old proprietors, but this couple is very young with two small children. They also seem to be a 'live off the land' kind of couple, so all organic eco-friendly. Certainly not a bad thing. Really it's the biggest room we've had here and it really has a BnB feel.  Of course it was too early to hang out in our room, so we headed right back out to drive the loop right near the ocean. After a couple hours of walking the beach, skipping rocks in the ocean and fossil hunting (we found one!), we settled back into our cozy room -- only for it to be 9pm and still so bright outside!

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/mid-wales-more-castles Sun, 09 Jul 2017 20:31:32 GMT
Conquering Mountains https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/conquering-mountains I've not yet talked about our new friend we've made here at our BnB... Her name is Sylvia and she's seemed to have taken a liking to us. Every time we see her we end up sitting and chatting. She's from somewhere in England and holidays at this BnB for at least a week every year, because she's friends with the owners. She's probably in her 70s, and has lost her husband John so she travels alone. Which means she scouts for new blood and we fit the bill. Anyways, we saw her at breakfast ( full Welch again), and she gave us a gift...a placemat with all the Northern Wales castles on the front and traditional Welch recipes on the back. It was very sweet since when we saw her on the way out yesterday we told her we were headed to conquer some castles. 

Anyways, today is Laundry day... It's always interesting finding and using laundry facilities in a different country, but we always plan for it. Pretty easy and uneventful this round actually, and we only spent a little over an hour so that was nice.

Today also turned into a hiking day. All around us are beautiful hikes and so onward, or rather upward, we went. Hiking for about six hours all around the mountains above the sea. Absolutely breath taking views. We debated whether it was prettier than Austria or Italy's sea views and we can't decide between them. It's like when you ask a parent to choose their favorite, or most beautiful kid... They never want to answer that question?!

We saw a ton of sheep and ewes as well as some really cool landmarks - an old iron mine, Iron Age fort, tons of old ruins, etc. We even summited a mountain...something I never thought I'd say I'd be doing, but here we are again. 





Oh... And we found our new home. That's right. We are just going to buy this plot of land and be sheep farmers. I think it'll suit me. I'd do almost anything if it meant I could live here...



And have this view...



Definitely a worthwhile hike even if we ended up with a terrible sunburn. I even put on sunscreen...thank goodness because I'd be a miserable lobster right now if I hadn't. Not that I'm not sunburnt... Because I am. Even Mr. Italian is sporting a sunburn. 

Off point... After we finished the hike, we had to walk back to our BnB and guess who was sitting outside.. Waiting for us to come home?! Ms Sylvia of course. So we had to hang out with her for awhile before heading down to dinner. Which meant walking back into town...did I mention we already hiked for six hours today??

But dinner was worth it for the ambiance more than the food. Food was okay... steak and Lamb. But the Welch Pub we chose was just a cool place to hang out. The whole time during dinner Adele was blaring from the jukebox. It was pretty darn great.

Side story: At the pub, there were a group,of girls who we discovered were having a Hen party, or as we call Bachelorette party. Kevin and I joked about having a having a bar hopping Hen party in a town with three bars is kinda sad when we run into the coinciding Stag party, or bachelor party. Reminds me of the Gilmore Girls episode where Lane and Zack have their Bachelor and Bachelorette parties separate in Stars Hollow. They run into each other at the town square to discover that they we're planning the same night... Dinner, stopping at the one movie theater in town and then going to the one bar in town. *end side story*

Came back from dinner to the most beautiful sunset over the sea that we've seen...



We are sad to leave Northern Wales, but we are ready to venture to Middle Wales tomorrow :) 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/conquering-mountains Sat, 08 Jul 2017 22:07:09 GMT
The Full Welch Experience https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/the-full-welch-experience Our day started with a full Welch breakfast (notice it is spelled with a 'c' not an 's'. Apparently in 1920ish the Welch military declared that Welch be spelled with a 'c') -- A Welch breakfast consists of eggs however you like, bacon, sausage, grilled tomato half, beans, sauteed mushroom top, toast and breakfast tea.  
 

The Good

Bacon: very similar to the bacon in Ireland which is ah-mazing.
Tomato and mushroom x2: Kevin really enjoyed both helpings of each.
Breakfast tea and toast: Thumbs up

The Bad Scrambled eggs: In our experience all over Europe, scrambled eggs are not cooked all the way.  I've always preferred my eggs with a little crisp on the bottom, and these eggs are practically eating raw chunky egg pieces.  Today's definitely wasn't the worst I've had, but it's no scrambled eggs at home.  

Sausage: like the size of a brat and it's kinda mushy. We are gonna give it another try in the morning with their red sauce (not ketchup), but we aren't expecting much.
The Different Beans: are not a breakfast food in my book, and for anyone that knows me, knows that I have a very hard time eating non-breakfast food for breakfast. They didn't taste bad, but they aren't a breakfast food. So I felt like I choked it down.


Next stop in our journey was CONQUERING CASTLES! Castles included: Harlech Castle, Criccieth Castle and Caernarfon Castle.

Harlech was such a picturesque castle by the sea -- almost perfectly symmetrical with towers fully intact. I anticipate one of our pictures making the cut for a wall photo. 



Criccieth was mostly in ruin but it was up on a sea cliff which made it very pretty.


The biggest castle today was Caernarfon Castle -- this is the castle that the Prince of Wales is always crowned. So Prince Charles of Wales (William and Harry's dad) was crowned there in the 60s... they had the coronation video playing in one of the rooms so that was really cool to see.  It's interesting how royalty names are picked so randomly -- like Charles is not from Wales, but he was deemed Prince of Wales, and had to come to Wales for the coronation. So when Charles married Diana, she automatically became Princess of Wales. And since William is next in line to the thrown after Charles, if/when Charles ever becomes King (Queen Elizabeth II will live forever!), William will become Prince of Wales and have a big shindig at the Caernarfon Castle as well. Pretty cool to know that we've been there.

Just like everyone, I've always loved hearing stories about Princess Diana and the royal family in general. I think that's why I love going into all of these castles -- to read the history around the different royal families. This particular castle also told us the story of Eleanor Castille. She married at 12 years old and together with her husband (14 years old at marriage) had 16 children, but only one male heir that lived long enough to be anything.  She ended up becoming an entrepreneur, actually more like a property shark buying up land all around promising to 'look after it', and became the first self funded Queen.

Gertie has a companion this year (introducing "Lil Boosie"). The story is long as to how this happened and how I was conned into bringing a beanie baby on vacation, but considering Gertie now has two broken legs -- her cast fell off the first broken leg, and she had a bit of a tumble when we were at the Aladdin show where I'm pretty sure that's when her second leg broke. Regardless, she can't stand up on her own anymore, so fortunately Lil Boosie is here to help prop her up. They both conquered the castles today as well :)
Dinner may sound reminiscent to all of our trips: Peanut butter, strawberry jam and pancakes :)  So glad there is always peanut butter to buy even though Europeans don't eat it...

It still amazes us how long the days are here -- sunrise is at 5am and sunset is at 10pm, so after dinner it looked like it was 6pm at night and our brain can't possibly sleep. Instead? We walk a mile down to the beach (we probably aren't a mile crows eye away, but to actually get down there it was a mile) and then all over the beach. It was very dark and ominous, but still really nice to be by the water.  Quick ice cream stop (definitely no gelato) and then to the train bridge over the ocean. Kevin made me walk on it which was creepy but pretty cool too.

In total we walked almost 10 miles!  Now to do it all again tomorrow starting with another full Welch breakfast!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/the-full-welch-experience Fri, 07 Jul 2017 22:19:51 GMT
A Room with a View https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/a-room-with-a-view Today was a travel day, and where we switch from "my" half of the trip to "Kevin's" half. Count the days... He got the better deal of course.

Back on the Chunnel to London. Picked up the rental car which of course is in my name so I got the pleasure of driving through London. Sitting on the wrong side of the car, driving on the wrong side of the street in aggressive city traffic while sick = serious anxiety in need of serious medication. But I survived and on we went.

It's about a four hour drive from London to our place in Wales, but it turned into an almost 9 hour adventure. It took us an hour to find the car rental place... Most don't drive so its apparently not important to put signs up and even when we asked directions they said "Just keeping going down then left or right, it doesn't matter". Super helpful. Just to get away from the train station, we sat in traffic for another hour. 

Then the real fun began. About halfway through (not even yet to Wales), we come up on crawling traffic on the M54. We crawled for about 30 min and then just completely stopped. Four firetrucks, three police cars, an ambulance and a helicopter show up. I pull my tablet out and start watching a movie since we had nothing else to do (She's the Man... My favorite's gouda :) ) An hour later, we start moving again, and quickly drive by the scene... Car fire. Not just a little fire... Whole car burned up. No tires left. I sure hope that the driver was okay, because it looked absolutely horrid. 

Finally made it to Wales and our bed and breakfast about the hours later than intended to be greeted by a disappointed innkeeper... I'm not the Olympian. He saw the name on the books... And thought 'no, it couldn't be, not my inn..' I always feel a little bad when that happens, but it is my name. It really comes down to being Kevin's fault...

Anyways, we check in and walk up to our room only to be met with the most beautiful views of the sea...

Well that's all folks... Internet is really shaky here, so the pictures will be scarce. Sad because boy is it beautiful here.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/a-room-with-a-view Thu, 06 Jul 2017 22:00:54 GMT
Celebrating Me in Paris :) https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/birthday Kevin (a couple months ago): What do you want to do for your birthday this year?

Jessica: I think I want to go to Paris...

 

Couldn't have started the last year of my 20s any better. We rang in my birthday watching the Eiffel Tower glisten -- all is right in Ennis land :)

I'm still down for the count with this darn sinus infection, but we still pushed forward. Picnic in the park under the Eiffel Tower, trained over to the Arc de Triomphe with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, explored Montmartre (Sacre Couer Basilica and the infamous Moulin Rouge) and then saw the Saint-Germain district which was really picturesque. Of course, we didn't bring our camera for this part because we didn't have any idea what we were getting ourselves into. Oh well. The memories are there.

The pictures are so much better than words today (I'm going to blame the sickness!):


 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/birthday Wed, 05 Jul 2017 18:54:57 GMT
Lazy Paris Day https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/lazy-paris-day Now that the secret is out we had professional pictures taken :)  http://www.jkennis.com/p660229809

We didn't do too much sight seeing today -- I've come down with a sinus infection and felt like I was dying all day. So sad since this was the part of the trip that I was looking forward to the most.  It wasn't a wasted day though as we spent the morning at the Eiffel Tower and then over to the Louve.  Louve is closed on Tuesday, so there weren't many people there which was nice.  Neither of us have much of an appreciation for fine art (surprising I think since I love to paint, but it is what it is), and we are not interested in actually exploring the Louve although seeing the Mona Lisa in person would be cool (although it is like an 8x10 picture... not at all what you expect the Mona Lisa to be).  Oh also, I used this contraption this morning. It's supposedly a hair dryer but it's terrible and reminds me of a vacuum. 



After a morning of walking almost 10,000 steps I was ready for a nap and some meds. Note to self: Start packing Advil Cold & Sinus on trips -- I always seem to end up with a sinus infection when traveling and should know better by now.  Walked into a French Pharmacy hoping we have an English speaking pharmacist -- we did! -- and walked away with two boxes of meds. She tried to give me three, but I told her I would start with the two. The main 'medicine' - an all natural something or other- looks and tastes like alfalfa and is so big. For those that know me, know that taking pills is not something I'm particularly skilled at so I was thankful I could break it in half. It's all natural so it's not like it can hurt anything.  

Back to the hotel -- a couple hour nap and a fire alarm later and we head back out to explore a little more. I was given very clear instructions and brought along my own containers for a special stop at Maille Mustard shop. My friend used to live in Paris and fell in love with this gourmet brand mustard and sometimes just flies to Paris to get more (I want his life!). Since we were going, he sent us with three containers to refill of this super fancy mustard.



Our reward is he told us about a fancy hot chocolate place near Maille to check out. Holy richness! We ordered hot hot chocolate, frozen hot chocolate and chocolate brownie to share. Neither of us could finish either drink or the dessert. But it was divine.



We've now wandered back to the hotel for another break because we have intentions of going to the Eiffel Tower at sunset -- 11pm Paris time!  The sun rises a couple hours earlier and sets a couple hours later than back home... it's crazy how much light they have in the summer.

I think Kevin is okay with the break too even if I'm the one that requested it. We are both introverts and recharge by sitting quietly. Some of the best times we have are just sitting next to each other not talking. Of course, sometimes I just need Kevin to use his words but that's another story for another time. 

If we are still awake enough to post our nighttime eiffel tower pictures after the adventure tonight, we will. But it may just wipe me out!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/lazy-paris-day Tue, 04 Jul 2017 17:15:28 GMT
Paris! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/paris After all the years of dreaming about it, I finally made it to Paris!  Well, we made it to Paris :)



After quite an early morning (4:30am alarm for a 7am train), we rode the Chunnel from London to Paris, and spent today just aimlessly exploring.  First stop was of course the Eiffel Tower - which by the way we can see from our hotel room! I always hear tourists saying how they always expect things to be bigger than they are -- the Colosseum, the Eiffel Tower, even a random person we met in Scotland said he couldn't believe how small the Arch actually is.  I don't normally think this. I thought the Colosseum was incredible and so is the Eiffel Tower -- it towers over you when you are right on it, so I don't see how we can expect it to be bigger.

Anyways, after spending the morning there, we stopped at a cafe for lunch -- we actually ordered omelettes and they arrived with french fries. I forgot how much Europe loves their pommes frites.  Stopped at the Notre Dame (holy lines) and saw some random churches and fountains.  Oh! We stopped at Shakespeare & Co which is a really old book store that is kind of like a house filled with books. So cool. Dinner was at a creperie, of course with a chocolate crepe for me and a strawberry ice cream crepe for Kevin.

Bit of a slow day to report, but the pictures should speak for themselves :)

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/paris Mon, 03 Jul 2017 16:52:56 GMT
Last day in London https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/last-day-in-london Everyone knows that Britain basically either conquered a country or pillaged it. What you may not know is that there is a whole museum that puts this pillaging on display.  I was excited to go to the British Museum or thought I was excited until I realized how many things the British stole from all the other countries and to this day still have them.... on display even! We aren't talking a couple pots and bowls -- we are talking about the mummy of Cleopatra, whole monument from Greece (this monument was a whole room!), so many things... I'm so baffled and disappointed in these pillagers.  Can you imagine being the King at this time? You send out these people to 'explore' far away lands and they come back with a head from Easter Island.  Okay fine... you now have a head of Easter Island and maybe you conquered the island and now own it.  When you don't own it anymore, you should probably just give it all back to the country. 

I can only imagine how angry Egypt is that Britain owns a whole floor of mummies including Cleopatra! One of the most well known and important figures in Egypt's history.

There were lots of other noteworthy items in the British Museum -- the Rosetta stone, money from all ages, so many clocks. But then there were a couple of random finds that were unexpected:  

  • Did you know that the Wizard of Oz book was an allegory for the debate on whether the US should adopt the bimetallic standard instead of just the gold standard?  You mean you didn't get that from the book or movie? Hmm...Well Dorothy's shoes in the book are silver, so basically you should have picked up on the bimetallic standard thing...
  • Did you know that Illinois was the first state in the US to decriminalize same sex relationships? Illinois did this in the 60s where most of the other states didn't decriminalize same sex relationships until 2002. You read that right... Two Thousand Two!  I guess because I grew up in IL I never realized that same sex relationships were still illegal in current day.  I was blown away by this. I'm grateful to have grown up in a more tolerant state in this regard (not saying that IL isn't conservative and that discrimination still to this day doesn't exist towards any LGBTQ community, just glad to know that at least it wasn't illegal to be who you are in IL after the 60s).


The rest of the day was really pretty laid back. Picnic in the park because that's what Londoners do (especially in this unually sunny and warm set of three days we've had). Trip to Harrod's, because, well, it's Harrod's. This store is a block long and wide and has so many designer shops inside -- Gucci, Prada, Jimmy Choo, Dolci & Gabana, etc.  Kevin almost let me buy a pair of $1,000 Jimmy Choo's... they were 10% off, it was a steal!  Nest stop was Twinnings -- the tea store. We picked up a Turkish Apple Tea because we had to buy something there. It was the cutest little shop smashed between huge buildings. 

Last tourist spot was Kensington Palace-- this is where Prince William and Princess Kate live. As we were walking by we heard two young kids playing in the back and after sneaking a peak, we are convinced it was George and Charlotte. So two days in a row of 'meeting' royalty :)

We've ended the day with a stop at Patisserie Valerie -- this is a dessert place we've passed numerous times in the Piccadilly Circus area and we finally stopped in and grabbed 'dinner'. We ate a late lunch and figured dessert is just what we need (Chocolate Mousse and Madame Valore).

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/last-day-in-london Sun, 02 Jul 2017 18:49:20 GMT
Mastering the Tube https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/mastering-the-tube We were all over the place today.  Our day started a little later than usual, but we definitely made up for how many things we saw.  Starting at the Tower Bridge ... such a cool thing to see! I've heard many people saying how much they liked it, but I always thought "it's just a bridge.. what's the big deal?". Well the big deal is that it's a really cool bridge! It overlooks the Tower of London (Castle where the crown jewels are held) and the HMS Belfast (warship). Plus it gives you such a nice view of the city even if the River Thames looks just as gross as the Illinois River.



Since we were right there, we walked down to the Tower of London to see how much it is to tour...you know how much we love Castles.  Only $35 a person admission. So we did what any reasonable tourist would do -- walk around the outside seeing all the free stuff :)  The Traitor's Gate and Queen's Stairs were noteworthy, but were really just a gate and a set of stairs.  So the many many queens may have walked from their boat onto the stairs and many many criminals walked through Traitor's Gate to be killed. No big deal.

At this point it was time to wander back to Piccadilly Circus to pick up the tickets for our show and grab a late lunch.  Normally I don't talk about lunch unless it's significant and this one was kind of fun. Food was nothing to write home about (we were lazy and grabbed Subway), but the company is worth mentioning. We were innocently sitting next to a father/son duo that seemed normal enough.  The son actually asked about visiting America and the dad went into a long response about how England is the best place to be with no need to visit America.  Anyways, towards the middle of lunch I began to pick up on the idea that he was in one of the Broadway shows.  At the end of lunch, I knew he was an actor in one of the Broadway shows -- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!  He told his son that he's not allowed to say what his character is  and nobody is allowed to post online who he is either. Moral of the story: We looked him up when we got back to the hotel and he's a star (David Annen). He's been in multiple TV shows including The Crown on Netflix and a couple of random movies along with all the Broadway.  And there is no sign online of who his character is, but he is listed on the cast list.

After our invigorating lunch, we walked around the Red Light district -- such a different experience that's for sure.  May seem like an odd place for the two of us to be wandering, but it's where the theater was located and we had a show to watch! This morning we bought tickets to see Aladdin the Musical... I'm starting to think my husband may like musicals :)  Aladdin was one of my absolute favorites growing up and still is one of my favorites -- I walked down the aisle to "A Whole New World" for goodness sake! This musical did not disappoint.  The Genie was amazing and definitely made the whole show mesh.  So glad we made the last minute purchase.



Seems like that'd be the end of the day? Not even close. We jumped back on the tube and ended up walking through St. James Park (the most beautiful and serene park we've been to in a long time). The willow trees and water and flowers were incredible.  



On the other side of the park we found Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Parliament and London Eye.  Across from the Parliament people were protesting... everything. You name it, someone had a sign about it -- marijuana, the Tories, the police, gay marriage. By the time we arrived, they were basically just partying in the grass, but judging by the mess made, I'd say there was a serious protest.



Jumping on the tube (we are masters now and have long ago discovered how sweltering hot it can be) back to Piccadilly Circus for dinner. A little place called Steak & Co where we, of course, ordered steak as it was their specialty. They bring you a rare steak out on a marble slab grill and you cook your own steak how you want it. You choose a butter flavor, a set of seasoning and a sauce to top it off with. Pretty cool experience and pretty good steak!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/7/mastering-the-tube Sat, 01 Jul 2017 22:08:35 GMT
London - Day 1 https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/6/london---day-1 Just as all day one's go, at this point in the day we are extremely tired, fighting sleep just a little longer to hopefully kick the jetlag tonight and not have any lingering affects the rest of the trip.  As I'm writing now, we've been up for 29 straight hours (the slight nap on the plane doesn't count because it is nowhere near restful). 

We hit the ground running today clocking in almost 15,000 steps, so we definitely are going to sleep well tonight.

Things we experienced/saw:

Navigating the tube
Picadilly Circus (basically Times Square in London)
Four Story M&M Store
Two Story Lego Store
Chinatown
Really late lunch at Byron's Hamburgers
Buckingham Palace
Queens Guards
Kings Cross Train Station
St. Pancreas Train Station
The British Library

A couple noteworthy items:

  • the tube is incredibly hot. You'd think it'd be cool because it's so far underground, but holy cow the commutes that are made in suits have to be miserable!
  • Hamburgers in Europe are not like hamburgers in the US. I think they are mostly grass fed in Europe where the US has many, many that are corn fed.  So with that in the back of my mind, I was quite skeptical about Byron's Hamburgers, but boy was I proved wrong. They have this special Byron cheese which is basically American Cheese but better (their joke, not mine), and they were absolutely right. Kevin and I both enjoyed our burgers and fries from Byrons. So much so that I'm going to rate them on tripadisor.
  • Buckingham Palace was really really big, but just looked like a really big house rather than a palace.  We aren't sure if the Queen was in the house when we were there, so we are just going to assume the best and say we basically met the Queen :)
  • Kings Cross is where Harry Potter enters the wizarding world - you know Platform 9 3/4, so I had to go visit the real King's Cross.  Beautiful beautiful architecture.  And they had a Platform set up that you could take a picture with. Of course the  wait was probably an hour, and you had to buy the picture from the photographer taking them.  So I did not wait in line and take a picture, but I did snap one between people.

Lego Store - wall made entirely of lego and a human sized lego Big Ben

                              

At the Buckingham Palace gate -- I'm certain the queen was waving at us from a window...

                                                                                                                                                             

Platform 9 3/4 along with the ridiculous line awaiting a picture,

                                                                                                                                                                                           

 

The King's Library

 

Well we are coming up on almost 7pm here, so I'm going to call it a night.  Especially since Kevin is already snoring beside me... We have a ton more of London to explore tomorrow!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/6/london---day-1 Fri, 30 Jun 2017 18:03:30 GMT
And we are off! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/6/and-we-are-off Every time we travel to another country we end up with leftover foreign currency that we put in a container on our travel shelf, and this trip is the first time that we actually had the currency we needed in our containers to bring back with us.  It's such a small thing, but really made me realize how somewhere along the way we've become seasoned travelers.  Why yes, I do have Euros and British Sterling Pounds lying around the house...

I digress... we applied for Global Entry a couple months ago and were lucky enough to get an appointment and approved before this trip which means we get TSA Pre-Check (amazing... how did we live without this?!) and quicker access through customs coming back into the US (hoping it is just as amazing but we won't know until we land in Charlotte).  Now sitting in the airport awaiting our first flight of the day -- a quick stop in Philly en route to London (too quick for Kevin's liking since our flight time out of St Louis was changed a couple weeks ago).  Regardless, we will be seven hours ahead of the central time zone landing at 9:20am London Time!!

I know you'd like to make the assumption that I overpacked which is why I have the bigger bag, when in reality Kevin couldn't move up to the bigger bag because he was already pushing the 50 lb weight limit where I'm still in the 30s even with the bigger bag :)  Plus we had some critical items that we are transporting that will make sense later on in the trip..

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/6/and-we-are-off Thu, 29 Jun 2017 19:37:20 GMT
Traveling in a threatened world. https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/6/traveling-in-a-threatened-world So many times before we leave for a big trip, something significant happens in the world. As of late, it's more terrorist related, but it could be anything from a plane crash to a bridge collapse. Regardless of the significant event, I have an onslaught of friends/colleagues/random strangers tell me that the world is too crazy to leave the US and that I should cancel my trips indefinitely.  I always respond in the same way -- "I appreciate your concern for my well being and safety, but this isn't my first rodeo. We are very aware travelers and take all the safety precautions that we can, however we cannot and will not allow any of these happenings to scare us away from our dreams". 

But every once in a while multiple significant events happen in a small time period before a trip (ie. Bombing in London, bombing in Manchester, stabbing in Paris, attempted bombing in Paris, cars driving into large crowds in London, etc) that it starts to put a tiny speck of doubt in my mind. Are we doing the right thing? Are these random strangers right?  But then I wake up the next morning to a train crash in Portland, a shooting in California and a triple homicide right here in St. Louis.  

Perspective.

There are people everywhere that want to cause harm just to cause harm. It's not because it's a democracy, or a dictatorship, or a Socialist country, or a Muslim country. It's because there are inherently bad people in the world.  A difficult concept to comprehend in a world that constantly stereotypes these 'bad' people to a specific population of people.  Not all Christians are good, not all Muslims are bad, not all white people are racist, not all African Americans are criminals, etc.  At the risk of becoming too political, I'll end with this -- If people would just start looking at the good in people rather than focusing on the bad (or more often the perceived bad), the world would be a much happier (and I'd argue, safer) place to live.

 

 

P.S. If you live in the US and travel outside the country, I strongly recommend you sign up for the STEP program through the Department of State.  This program allows you to place your travel into the State's system just in case anything significant were to happen while you are traveling.  For example, if you are in India and there is a massive earthquake in the town you are staying in, the State will know that an American is located in the rubble and they need to send aid.  It's a no-brainer.  Just sign up!  https://step.state.gov/step/

P.P.S. We leave tomorrow!! Nothing but travel posts going forward!

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/6/traveling-in-a-threatened-world Wed, 28 Jun 2017 13:00:00 GMT
Let the packing commence! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/6/let-the-packing-commence The days leading up to our travels are always hectic.  Gathering books, movies and music plus all the snacks you can imagine for the plane ride. Multiple (and I mean multiple!) trips to the store to pick up whatever odd and end we HAVE TO HAVE while also balancing the idea that we are traveling to a developed country -- one that actually has stores that we can buy things if we forget something.

Last year was all about efficiency -- making sure we had the smallest possible items since we were backpacking, and that bottle of lotion did not seem so important when it added to the weight on my back.  This year we are traveling with real suitcases, but I find that last year's backpacking adventure provided me with such a different perspective on packing that I'm not filling my suitcase.  More room for souvenirs I guess!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/6/let-the-packing-commence Tue, 27 Jun 2017 13:00:00 GMT
Three days and counting... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/6/three-days-and-counting A friend of ours once said "you guys don't vacation, you travel." What a true statement that is -- we never come back from any trip feeling relaxed, instead we return from our travels forever changed.  And I'm kind of okay with that.

It feels like just yesterday that we were planning our next big adventure trying to determine which spot in the world we wanted to explore.  I blinked and it's here!  In three days we will be jetting off to London for two and half glorious weeks of mostly unplugged travel across England, France and Wales. 

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) london paris wales https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/6/three-days-and-counting Mon, 26 Jun 2017 16:41:38 GMT
Day 5 - Bailey, Bailey, Bailey https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/1/day-5---bailey-bailey-bailey Today was reserved for a trip to Daytona Beach to see my newest little cousin/niece/not sure what she really is to me... Bailey!  Five and half months old and the sweetest little thing ever.  While it's no secret that we don't want kids, whenever you are around a particularly cute and quiet one, you sometimes wonder if you made the right decision.  Right about that moment, Bailey decided to throw up on me..... yep, definitely the right decision! We headed to lunch at Hannah's Restaurant and then drove to the beach to see the water. Of course it was ridiculously windy, so we didn't stay long. But always good to see the beach.

Back to Seth's house we went to hang out -- and then the short visit came to an end. We were off to the airport again to head home.



To see all pictures from Day 5: Day 5

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Orlando https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/1/day-5---bailey-bailey-bailey Thu, 26 Jan 2017 02:16:36 GMT
Day 4 - Lazy Day? https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/1/day-4---lazy-day Today was more of an extra day to kind of be lazy and do what we pleased. We also knew that we were expecting some pretty wicked storms at some point in the day (originally scheduled for about noonish). We had two days to get into the Universal Parks, so we knew that had to be part of the day. We ended up getting up earlier so we could take advantage of the early admission pass again to beat the crowds and the weather.  We were on the search for a souvenir, so we started at Hogsmeade again. It's really so cool how young the Harry Potter fans still are. It really shows how great the books are and how relateable the books will be for generations to come. We wandered into Dr Seuss land and ended up buying a humongous donut... like the size of my head... for breakfast. It was quite delightful and surprisingly decent priced for what it was and where we bought it.  Dr Seuss land also had an easy little train ride that we thought we could stomach so we jumped on it when there was only a 5 minute wait. It was nice and easy just like we expected. 

Really at that point, we were over the parks, so we went to the City Walk and grabbed a late lunch/early dinner at the Chocolate Emporium. I ordered completely out of the box and had a French Toast burger with avocado and eggs on it. So weird but somehow it worked.  Really the point of this restaurant was their dessert menu, but after dinner we were so full we couldn't even think about dessert. While we were eating the wicked storms were fast approaching, so we headed to see a movie to hopefully miss the storm.  We chose Hidden Figures and we were not disappointed. A very very well written movie! Seriously, go see it!  

Storm for the most part passed, so we headed back to the Chocolate Emporium for dessert and boy... we were not let down.  Holy chocolate chocolate chocolate brownie dessert! We split one ... and from the picture I think you can see why.

A great end to a great day.




To see all pictures from Day 4: Day 4 Pictures

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Orlando https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/1/day-4---lazy-day Thu, 26 Jan 2017 02:14:48 GMT
Day 3 - The Happiest Place on Earth https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/1/day-3---the-happiest-place-on-earth Today is our Disney day. I wasn't sure what to expect, but really Disney exceeded our expectations. We Uber'd over (Mom - Uber is a car service like a taxi but cheaper) which was a first for us, and boy is it easy to use. That is definitely what we will be doing from now on whenever we need to get somewhere. We then had to take the monorail into the park which was nice and easy.  Then came the speed bumps. We ordered tickets online assuming that meant we could go right up to the gate to get in. Wrong. We had to go through will call to pick up tickets which ended up being an hour adventure getting us into the park an hour after we expected.  Not a huge deal except we had an express pass scheduled for the Ariel meet and greet that we had to forfeit :(. 

Anyways, once we were in the park we instantly started looking for princesses to meet.  It's crazy the wait times on some of them, so we circled a couple of times actually get in.  All in all, we ended up meeting: Merida, Ariel, Jasmine & Aladdin, Rapunzel, Tiana, Belle and Tinker Bell.  All of them were quirky and fun to meet.  I was especially excited to meet Jasmine and Aladdin, since they were my favorite growing up. They chatted with us for a good five minutes planning their trip to visit us in St. Louis with Raja and Abu, of course. Kevin's favorite started as Merida since she is his favorite princess (besides me), but after meeting Belle, I think he's smitten. Belle's experience was different than the other princesses as hers was a story telling adventure where the audience members had parts in the story. Kevin was chosen to be a Knight in Shining Armor (just saying... I already chose him to be that, but Belle also did). So he had to stand in front of the group and say lines and be an actor.  Belle ended up saying how brave and handsome her Knight is and Kevin was just on cloud 9 the whole time. He was able to take a picture with her (I wasn't :(), and then we went along our way.

One of the other cool shows we saw was the Monster's Inc, Laugh Track which really was a comedy show with the characters trying to fill the laugh-o-meter which as you should know replaced the scream-o-meter when the Monsters realized that children's laughter is much more powerful than screaming.  Anyways, the show was really cute picking on random audience members to make everyone laugh.

The last really cool piece of the day was dinner. We made reservations at Tony's which is the restaurant in Lady and the Tramp. You know, the one that Lady and Tramp share a plate of spaghetti and meatballs... that Tony's. Well we ate there and I, of course, ordered the spaghetti and meatballs.  And thank goodness I have a husband that constantly humors me.... he shared a noodle with me lady and the tramp style. So ridiculous and so cute at the same time!

We decided not to stay until 10pm for the fireworks since we were pretty exhuasted and our feet were crying at that point. So we went back to the hotel and swam at night. They had a water slide that we went down about three times (afterwards reconfirming that we get motion sick on rides since we both felt sick that night...pathetic!).  They were playing the fourth Harry Potter movie on the screen at the pool as well so we got to relax and enjoy some HP before heading back to the room.



To see the amateur pictures from Day 3:Day 3 Amateur

To see the professional pictures of Day 3: Day 3 Professional

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Orlando https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/1/day-3---the-happiest-place-on-earth Thu, 26 Jan 2017 02:11:18 GMT
Day 2 - Three words... Harry.Potter.World https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/1/day-2---three-words-harry-potter-world I've been dreaming of this ever since they first opened and the day is finally here.  For anyone who hasn't been, Universal has two parks -- Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.  And you need separate tickets to get into each one, or you can buy a "Park to Park" ticket which allows you to travel between the two via the Hogwarts Express.  That's because in one park there is Hogsmeade and in the other park is Diagon Alley.  Since we stayed on the resort we were able to get into Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade) an hour before regular admission which was really nice so we could get a headstart on the big crowds.

Hogsmeade (Mom - Hogsmeade is the field trip that Hogwart's students take to a village close to the castle) was very cute with snow capped houses and butterbeer everywhere.  Lots of shops along with lots of storefronts that allowed you to use your wands to cast magic.  (Disclosure: I couldn't bring myself to pay the $50 for an interactive wand... but I did gawk while the kids were casting the magic. So cool.)  We ate breakfast at the Three Broomsticks and Kevin experienced Pumpkin Juice for the first time there.  We spent a couple of hours just wandering around the shops on this side -- grabbed a Butterbeer (can't say we loved it, but it was a must) and then we headed over to ride the Hogwarts express to get to Diagon Alley.

First off the train ride was really cute. It was very short and slow, but there was a screen in place of the windows which then shows you the path between the two locations. The characters made appearances and it was a little show which was cute.  The ride probably lasted about 8 minutes. When you ended at the other side you were at the Kings Cross train station in London.  So really when you walk out of the station it looks like it could be London. Just houses lined up and random items like a red telephone booth.  You could completely miss Diagon Alley if you weren't a Harry Potter fan and knew where to go.  On the way to the entrance, we stumbled upon the Knight Bus and the driver who ended up being the first of many characters we met on our whole adventure.  He was a fun character that we were able to take our picture with.

Heading into Diagon Alley really made you think you were stepping into the story. It was just incredible the detail taken to make it look just the way I wanted it to look. The Weasley Magic Shop, Ollivander's Wand Shop and Gringotts were most impressive. You get to go through a real wand experience when you tour Ollivander's... the show starts by Ollivander choosing an audience member and that person gets to cast spells to see which wand chooses him/her. It was a very cute show --- but I feel bad for the parents who now HAVE to buy the wand because it chose their kid and seriously it's at Ollivander's.  

Gringotts (Mom -- Gringotts is the name of the bank) allowed you to exchange Muggle Money (Mom - Muggle's are non wizards) for Wizard Money. It is free to swap the money and so that was a cool perk. Of course I had to have leftover Wizard money to bring home, which I'm sure is where they really make their money on these changes.

While at Diagon Alley, we witnessed a girl walking in for the first time. Her parents were obviously expecting a big response, because they were recording her. And they were right. Instant tears. Kevin, of course, consistently asked me after that when I was going to start crying. I guess my build up to the trip wasn't as significant as hers.

After we left Diagon Alley, we wandered around the rest of the Universal side of the park -- Simpsons, Minions, Betty Boop and Hello Kitty.  Since both of us get motion sick on rides, we focused on character meet and greets and the shows.  On this side of the park we watched a Sing Off show in the middle of the streets and found an Animal Show.  The Animal Show ended up being one of the best parts of Universal because all the animals were actually movie stars. It was very fun -- and at the end we were able to meet two of the stars snout to snout.  My favorite? Kevin from The Proposal! "The eagles will snatch him!". He was soo much bigger than he was in the movie, and he was soo sweet!

Dinner was at the Islands restaurant in one of the resort hotels -- it was a hibachi/stir fry place and was not too bad.  After walking around all day we were exhausted so we headed back to the hotel since we have an early morning the next day too.



To see all the pictures of the day: Day 2 Pictures

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Orlando https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/1/day-2---three-words-harry-potter-world Thu, 26 Jan 2017 02:02:49 GMT
Day 1 - Orlando Here we come! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/1/day-1---orlando-here-we-come Today is finally the day! We have planned an extended weekend getaway to Orlando aka Harry Potter World aka Disney aka The Happiest Place on Earth!
Flying out Thursday night has been nice so we didn't have to take off work, but it also means for a really long day. We will arrive around 11:30est and still have to get to the resort to check in. 


The best part of the day was seeing the airport Burger King with a sign that said "menu items with 'burgers' are unavailable". Good job BURGER king, good job.


The worst part of the day was the flight. Man was it bumpy and uncomfortable! I don't think I've experienced turbulents like this before repeatedly and it was rough.  But all was well because we landed just fine.  Tomorrow begins the real adventure.
 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Orlando https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2017/1/day-1---orlando-here-we-come Thu, 26 Jan 2017 02:02:29 GMT
Day 16 - Last Full Day :( https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-16---last-full-day Today is our last full day abroad. While we are sad about leaving, we are ready to sleep in our own bed. European beds are not the most comfortable with a lot of down pillows and their 'queen' beds are actually two twins pushed together with a big crater in the middle. Not exactly a comfortable spot for a whole in the bed especially when you (err me) gravitate to sleep in the middle every night.

We trained from Lucerne to Zurich - did a little shopping - bought a little chocolate! - and kind of poked around all afternoon.  We actually ate lunch at the Zurich train station... butter pretzel for me and bratwurst for Kev. Dinner was at Pizzeria Giardino which was the best pizza we've had so far. I had a Hawaiian which had pineapple and cherries on it... completely different than anything I've had before, but really good! Plus the cherries made the mozzarella cheese turn hot pink which was fun. Kevin had a chicken, sweet peppers, sweet corn and mozzarella cheese which was really good too. Two thumbs up for this place for sure!

We've now packed all of our stuff, and will be awaiting our 5:30A alarm to catch the shuttle to the airport -- which means this trip has come to an end. So sad :(

I'd say in about a week or so we'll have all our pictures posted to the respective albums if you are interested in seeing them. If not, we'll catch you on the next trip.

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-16---last-full-day Fri, 16 Sep 2016 19:08:31 GMT
Day 15 -- Walking in the clouds https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-15----walking-in-the-clouds Have you ever walked in the clouds before? No? Yeah, I hadn't either until today. What a crazy experience we had hiking up Mount Pilatus... It was raining when we woke up, so we almost called the day a rest day but I'm glad that we didn't. I would have had a pretty sad boy on my hands if his day was a wash.

We headed out past Lucerne to the train station at the bottom of the mountain, and then rode the steepest cogwheel railway train in the world at a whopping 49% grade up. It was crazy...the view was incredible...and the temps were a bit chilly...

Once to the top of the mountain, we hiked to the peak. Along the way we saw a bunch of wild mountain goats -- the babies were adorable -- and they were very close to us surprisingly. Onward ho, the last stretch of the hike was so hard, but so worth it. This was Kevin's second peak he's ever ascended but it was my first and it was liberating. You are on the highest ground looking in all directions (almost 7000 feet high). Of course, with the rain, there are clouds which on one hand meant we had limited views, but on the other hand, it meant we literally walked in the clouds for over an hour. It was a surreal experience.

On the way down, we rode the gondola (holds 55 people) to the luge track which was closed =( soooo sad about that, but it's a summer activity and we came two weeks too late. So obviously we will return to Switzerland for that some day. We returned to the gondola (this one only holds 4 and we had a car to ourselves... terrifying I know). This one offered beautiful views of the city below us.

The rest of the day we explored a bit more town history, and decided that we probably cannot afford to live here. The Swiss Franc to US dollar is pretty much one to one, but everything costs twice as much here. Want a whopper from Burger King? 15 CHF. Want some gelato? 3.50 CHF a scoop. We will happily settle in France or Austria and just visit sometimes.

Since heading back to our hotel room absolutely exhausted, I don't think we've moved from our spots for fear our feet will fall off. Until tomorrow..

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-15----walking-in-the-clouds Thu, 15 Sep 2016 18:45:44 GMT
Day 14 -- Travel Day https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-14----travel-day First off -- if you didn't notice, I posted the adventures of the last two days with pictures from Cinque Terre.

Today was mostly a travel day for us having to be at the train station by 9:30 to catch our first train and arriving in SWITZERLAND at 7:30pm. One more country crossed off the list!  But since it was such a long travel day there isn't much to report. We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant which is across the river from the famous (and beautiful) covered bridge. I had Rosti which is a traditional Swiss meal - basically a bunch of potatoes and onion rings with spinach and an egg on top. Almost every season of The Amazing Race has a leg in Lucerne, Switzerland at this bridge, so it was really cool to be able to sit and look at it during dinner. It's beautiful during the day but absolutely stunning at night as well.

The weather is showing rain for the next couple of days, so we honestly have no idea what we are going to do. But I'm sure it will involve some mischief as always.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-14----travel-day Wed, 14 Sep 2016 21:08:41 GMT
Day 13 -- Oh the hiking...AGAIN https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-13----oh-the-hiking-again
I'd like to preface this post with a story. When we were in the beginning phases of planning this trip, Kevin was quite distressed that he wasn't going to get to do any hiking. So the nice wife that I am said 'oh we can do some hiking on my part of the trip'. So my plan when we arrived at Cinque Terre was to hike the cliff side trails all along the sea... since there are five towns (Cinque), we had four different hikes to choose from. The two hikes that I really wanted to do, you know... the nice, short, easy ones... were closed due to a landslide. Instead we ended up hiking the two long ones -- even though there was this perfectly capable 19th century invention called the train that would take us to the different towns whenever we wanted. *end story*

Today we did some hiking... we rode the train to the first city on the opposite side of us called Monteresso.  This was mostly a beachy town and was quite touristy, however the actual town was not the pretiest of the group. We hiked to Vernazza which was about 4km and the hike up to the top of the mountain was excrutiating. I don't think I've ever been so hot and so tired, and every time we turned the corner -- another set of stairs were staring me down.  Don't get me wrong the views were incredible. The water was sooo clear and blue.  Once we got the heck off the side of that mountain, we found some gelato and fruit for lunch. Neither of us were that hungry - I think the heat stole the hunger from us too.

Next hike was from Vernazza to Corniglia -- another 4 km -- with tons of devil steps up again. Thankfully this one was a bit more flat, but it was the heat of the day at this point and so the heat was exhausting.  Headed back down to the train station was 350 stairs -- which made us quite thankful we chose the direction we did rather than having to take those stairs right after getting off the train. I felt bad for the people getting off the train because you could not tell that you had that many steps up ahead. 

We trained over to Manarola so that we could visit all five of the cities, and then headed back over to Riomaggiore.  It was finally dinner time -- Kevin realized the one pasta he hadn't had yet in Italy was good ole spaghetti, so he ordered Spaghetti ala ragu and I ordered Spaghetti Carbonara. Both were okay, but since we both love to cook, we felt like we could have made better on both accounts. But it was pretty cheap, easy and a nice break on our feet.

Last stop of the day was to the rocky beach off of Riomaggiore to dip our toes in the Meditteranena Sea (a first for both of us) and watch the sunset. It really was one of the prettiest we've experienced -- listening to the waves watching the sun go down together. 
Tomorrow we say goodbye to Italy, and head north. Our days are dwindling :(

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-13----oh-the-hiking-again Wed, 14 Sep 2016 21:08:18 GMT
Day 12 - We Found the Sea https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-12---we-found-the-sea Today we traveled from Rome to Riomaggiore which is one of the five towns that make up Cinque Terre (chink-kay tare-eh) which is located right on the Mediterranean Sea.  The train ride up was quite uneventful other than the two little girls that sat next to us - they were probably 11 and 7 and boy did they have energy. I dont think either of them breathed between words except when the older one decided to throw up... twice. You may not know but that is pretty much the number one reason why I can never have a child of my own - I cannot handle throw up. I am a sympathy heaver, and so the rest of the train ride was quite unpleasant.

Once we arrived in Riomaggiore, the son of the B&B proprietor met us at the train station - he is 16, dark hair and thin (this was how the owner described him to us lol). He was very nice and had pretty good English, so he showed us up to our room. And boy do we have a room! The view is phenomenal. I could sit at the window all day and be happy, and the apartment is quite big. It has a fully kitchen and washing machine which we've taken full advantage of today. 

We explored the town a bit this afternoon, but have mostly taken the day off. I needed to do some laundry and the heat has just wore us out. So we bought some bread and had pb&j + Wine and Lemonadi for dinner, and watched some Italian tv.

Tomorow we hope to hike some of the infamous trails to see the other four towns.

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-12---we-found-the-sea Wed, 14 Sep 2016 20:47:34 GMT
Off the Grid https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/off-the-grid We will be off the wifi grid for a bit meaning we will not be posting adventures again until Wednesday night at the earliest. 

Sneak peak of where we are...

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/off-the-grid Mon, 12 Sep 2016 15:07:14 GMT
Day 11 -- Roman Ruins https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-11----roman-ruins Another lazy morning, as the long days and heat are definitely wearing us down, but we also knew we had time to spare today with our adventure to Ostia Antica.  This is a roman ruin city about an hour away from Rome, which meant we had to master public transportation here.  Fortunately it was easier than expected, although on the way back it was raining, so we ended up making a couple of extra changes to try to get closer to our apartment. We were only successful in the sense that it was not raining as hard when we arrived at our stop. We also made a friend leaving the metro -- they wanted to know how far away we were from the Trevi Fountain, and since we are professionals now, we pulled out our map and showed them where to go.

Ostia Antica was pretty incredible -- so big and so well preserved considering we are looking at 7th century BC. That's over 2700 years old! There were definitely pieces of the town that were more ruins than others, but the ones that were in tact were amazing.

One of the buildings used to be a restaurant/bar back in the day, and the bar was still fully in tact...

The mosaics were breathtaking and so in tact after all these years...

Of course it wouldn't be an Ennis Adventure if we weren't causing mischief -- we ended up on the wrong side of the gate by honest accident -- but we were able to see an amazing sculpture that still had it's head.  A rarity when looking at Roman ruins since most of the statues depicted important political people of the time and new rulers removed their heads. Or if the person committed treason or some other crime, their head would be removed. So turning the corner to see this one was awesome, of course that's when we noticed the 'do not enter' fence on the other side and realized our error. Oh well... damage had already been done, so might as well take a picture of him...

After a good four hours wandering around this city, we came back to the apartment to rest for a bit before heading out to find some food. We found a nice little pizza place that served by the slice, and then surprise surprise, we went back to the Gelato place from yesterday. We are basically regulars there since we walked in and the owner smiled real big and said 'ahhh back again!'  Of course we would become regulars at a gelato place, of course we would.  Regardless, Kevin tried their Green Apple, Strawberry and Dark Chocolate, and I had the chocolate and oreo. So good. We are going to miss this place the most I think.

Well we've got an early start in the morning - off on the train again - so I better get to packing my stuff and get to bed. Until tomorrow =)

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-11----roman-ruins Sun, 11 Sep 2016 19:31:32 GMT
Day 10 -- When in Rome https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-10----when-in-rome Today was a slower moving day for us as we ended up sleeping in a little later than we probably should have, and we also enjoyed a couple of hours in the afternoon in our room taking shelter from the daily afternoon thunderstorm (Step Up was on, so all was not lost!)

Even so, we saw so many things today! Starting off at Palatine Hill and the Forum. This is a ruin of the Roman City, and it was massive. Very well preserved and interesting. Next stop was the Colosseum. We were advised to buy tickets in advance which we did, however the security line was ridiculous and unorganized, so it still took about 45 minutes to get in. We also weren't allowed to bring water in which was sad considering the heat, but Rome has free water fountains all over with one inside the Colosseum which forced me to try it (and continue to use the public water fountains throughout the day -- very good and cold water actually -- and much cheaper than paying 3euro per bottle). I'd heard so many different people say it was smaller than expected, but I don't agree. I thought it was big and impressive,and definitely worth the visit despite the amount of people. If you think back to when the Romans lived, the technology they didn't have and yet they still created these masterpieces. Truly amazing.
 

Caption: The Forum

Caption: Colosseum

By this point we were hot and ready for gelato -- I think Kevin would stop at every gelato shop here if I'd let him. Although it truly is delicious, and we are going to miss it. So we found a random shop and Kevin began his love affair with Strawberry here while I had a chocolate shake.

Other random places we saw while walking:

Circus Maximus which is the stadium where the chariots raced.

Trevi Fountain again... We were able to get right up on it this time and toss in a coin. Still a ridiculous amount of people there which baffles me a bit -- it was cool to see but I'm not sure why you would sit and stay for hours looking at it.
 

Caption: The madhouse surrounding the Trevi Fountain.

Teatro Marcello is a Roman theater still in use today. It looked a bit like a mini Colosseum.

Area Sacra -- another random set of Roman ruins.

Italian wedding -- as we were walking back towards our apartment, there was a bride and groom walking out of the church and rice was being thrown everywhere. It looked like a beautiful wedding <3

Street market -- We stumbled upon a local street market that did not seem touristy at all since we were so far off the beaten path. So much bread and noodles and jam. 

Spanish Steps -- this was more of an after thought to see the steps, and they are actually being cleaned/repaired so we could only see them through the blockades. As Kevin out it, "probably better this way since now we can get a picture with no people in it".

For lunch today we went into the Co-Op store and bought a sandwich, salad and apple sauce because we ate so late and we knew we were going to eat well for dinner. Dinner ended up eating at La Piazetta del Quirinale, because they had Fettuccini Alfredo which of course I had to order. For those that may not know, this is one of my favorite meals to cook at home and probably one of the reasons Kevin married me. Sooo I'm picky when eating it in a restaurant, and this one was delicious! Alfredo was founded here in Rome, and so it was a must try. Kevin chose Spinach and Basil Ravioli in butter sauce which was also pretty good.

We ended the day with gelato from Gelataria Valentino. Best gelato we've had so far. We will definitely be a repeat customer.

When discussing our trip, many had expressed their opinion on my choice of only two days in Rome saying it would never be enough. I was almost convinced to add a day or two, but I'm glad I didn't. We saw everything we wanted to see in one day... Starting at 2p yesterday to 2p today. This afternoon was lazy, so it doesn't count. Tomorrow we are venturing away from the city since we have an extra day to see some more Roman Ruins. Until then =)

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-10----when-in-rome Sat, 10 Sep 2016 20:30:13 GMT
Day 9 -- Another country down... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-9----another-country-down We arrived in Rome today via train, and I can already tell I'm gonna like this city better than Venice. It is definitely full of tourists, but it feels way more spacious and real.  We decided to walk from the train station to our B&B which may or may not have been a mistake depending on how our feet feel in the morning, but it was a nice albeit toasty (90 degrees!) trek. The B&B owner showed us up to our room, and we had to take the elevator up -- smallest, creepiest elevator I've ever been in. Like both Kevin and I and one bag could fit in. You manually closed to sets of doors behind you and then had to manually open the doors when you arrived on your floor after feeling like the elevator cord was snapping. Never again... I had tears in my eyes when I walked on and when I walked off. Four flights of stairs it is! Anyways... we dropped our bags and immediately began exploring crossing a bunch of items off my list. Kevin is infamous for arriving in a city and blowing through my items which I thought would take much longer - I guess this is a good thing?!

Caption: Elevator of Death

First stop was the Trevi Fountain since it was actually between the train station and our B&B. I'm not sure why, but I always imagined this massive square with this massive fountain. While the fountain was massive, it was the smallest piazza (square) with so many people crammed in.  You couldn't even get close to it -- although we may try to stop by again one of these evenings to toss a coin in. We ended up meeting a couple that live 15 minutes from us in Creve Coeur, MO, and we exchanged pictures - as in they took ours and we took theirs. We were still trying to get our barrings here since we are waiting for pickpockets to attack - it seems like every other sign is warning us of them, so when this couple approached us to take their picture, I wasn't sure if they were being nice or causing a distraction for their friend to take our wallet. Turns out they were fine, but sadly we have to be that cautious every time. Apparently gypsies like to throw babies at you causing a distraction, because you are instinctively going to try to catch it. Although jokes on them, I don't have any maternal instincts so the baby is gonna fall down. No joke -- there was a baby on the train that was screaming bloody murder and all the women jumped up looking to see what they could do, and I'm just over here reading my book.

Caption: Trevi Fountain

Next we headed to the Pantheon which is really, really pretty! And free which is a big deal here since everything is so expensive!

After the Pantheon we headed into country number 6 of the trip: Vatican City. If you didn't know, Vatican City is it's own country inside Italy, and it's guards are Swiss Guards who look like jesters (see picture below). The Vatican was bigger than I expected which very grand buildings all around St. Peter's Basilica which is just massive.

Caption: St Peter's Basilica on the right. This picture shows about half of the Vatican City. We did not tour the Basilica as I did not have proper attire (skirt/dress/etc), however ingenious women were wrapping scarves around their shorts giving the illusion of a dress. Seriously genius - and I will definitely remember that the next time our adventures require a skirt/dress.

Caption: Swiss Guards in their funny looking outfits. Their sole job is to protect the pope and secure the premises of Vatican City, and they were surprisingly young.

 

On the way back to the B&B we saw the Area Sacra which were ruins of four Roman temples and we saw the Castel Sant'Angelo (St Angelo's Castle). 

Nestled back at 'home', we made ourselves some pb&j sandwiches and are now off to bed. 20,000 steps in one day (after 8 days previously of that or more steps) makes for two very tired children.  Until tomorrow =)

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-9----another-country-down Fri, 09 Sep 2016 20:03:00 GMT
Day 8: Venezia https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-8-venezia To start the day off, I realized that I did not have my camera anymore. It's a bit of a mystery as to what happened to it, but I suspect I either left it in the rental car or it was taken out of my side pocket on the way to our B&B in Venice. Either way, it is gone :( So we will only have either Kevin's hi-def pictures or phone pictures.

Back to Venice -- What is really interesting to me is how romanticized this city is. I honestly expected to be swept up in its charm and romance, but I really wasn't. The city is pretty dirty - smells like dirty water and fish - and is overly crowded. I think the painters that were randomly painting scenery on the street made Venice look beautiful... I really debated buying one of the paintings, but I'm not sure how I would have gotten it home.  But overall, we did not get swept away, and were thankful for allotting only one day here.

One thing that we did not do is ride a gondola. It seemed overrated and wayyy too expensive (80 euro!!).  Plus it was crazy the amount of gondolas in the same canals fighting to get through. Seemed like an expensive mess to me. I think if I had truly been captured by the romance, we would have done it -- but it did not seem worth it.

The most interesting (and most somber) area we visited was the Jewish Ghetto. This is really our first experience in Europe, and I've been intrigued by how they represent their actions around the Holocaust. With Germany and Italy both on the Axis power side, in both places we've seen monuments expressing deep sadness and regret for the genocide. It's definitely a very dark part of their history, and it's interesting how they have owned responsibility. I can't help but think that the US would not do the same (ex. the Japanese Internment camps), however I suspect that Germany and Italy both felt, and continue to feel great pressure to recognize the wrong. 

All in all, we did a TON of walking (12.3 miles!) today just getting lost which really is a huge draw to the city. You can just wander and wander and never go down the same pathways because there are so many of them. We did manage to find our B&B again which is definitely a plus. Plus we found gelato =)

While no doubt everyone has seeing Venice on their bucket list, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to visit, I do not foresee us planning a return trip.  I actually think that Colmar, France has captured me so much that I'm not sure any other town is going to make such an impression. 

Caption: Gelato for breakfast! I had milk chocolate and Kevin had cookie and dark chocolate. Pretty darn delightful =)

Caption: The grand canal - basically the center of Venice where you catch the Vaporettos (water taxis) since it's the largest 'road' through Venice.

Caption: A smaller 'road'. We explored the residential area as well, so this is a non touristy neighborhood.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-8-venezia Thu, 08 Sep 2016 20:26:06 GMT
Day 7 -- Italy! https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-7----italy Today was a new adventure for us -- we traveled from Munich to Italy by train. It was surprisingly easy even though the 7 hour train ride was so long (our flight was cancelled, so we had to go by train..). It's crazy how easy it is to just get on a train - no tickets are checked until you are on board and even then it's random and there is no security check whatsoever which seems crazy to me. 

We rode first class for this trip and it was quite nice. We had power and tray tables and a compartment. Not completely to ourselves, but our compartment partners who were from Miami actually departed about two hours in and we had the whole thing to ourselves after that.

Since today was mostly a travel day, we didn't get to explore too much, but we did go grab pizza for dinner. I mean, seriously, it's Italy - of course we are gonna eat pizza.  We ordered a sausage pizza and it looked like hotdogs cut up and put on the pizza, but it tasted pretty darn good.

Tomorrow we will explore Venice and hopefully get some Gelato once or four times =)

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-7----italy Wed, 07 Sep 2016 21:21:36 GMT
Day 6 - Oh the hiking... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-6---oh-the-hiking Now that we have wifi - albeit, not great so I'm pretty sure we won't be able to post any pictures :(, let's talk about yesterday...

Our last full day in Germany consisted of driving on the Romantic Road (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romantic_Road) and stopping at the Neuschwanstein Castle. This is the castle that inspired Walt Disney's Cinderella castle commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria.  Interesting fact about this castle is that it was never built for war, but rather built for the King to hide in when he didn't want to be social. However he was never able to utilize it as he died before it was completed, so instead it has only been a tourist attraction.  Because it's not THAT old (1886) and it has no historical significance, we did not tour the castle. Rather we walked the grounds and hiked all around.  It was quite an intense hike to get to the castle, and naturally, Kevin wanted to get to the bridge above the castle for the 'perfect shot'. Totally exhausting hike, but definitely worth it. The views were spectacular.

Since we weren't touring the castle, we moved on to the next half of the day... We added another country to our list -- Austria!  Hands down the most beautiful country we have ever visited in all of our trips. Nothing compares to the Austrian Alps and rolling hills. Seriously, I've been trying to convince Kevin since we saw it to move there.  So beautiful.  

We stopped to explore the Ehrenberg Castle which turned into quite a hiking adventure, especially after the hike from the previous castle -- my calves were burnin'! It was quite a hike to get up to the Ehrenberg castle only to find out that Fort Claudia was an additional hike, as was the castle ruins at the top and the pedestrian suspension bridge. The lady we bought the tickets from said, and I quote "this hike is steep, but not dangerous" "you must go down the Magical Forest, very beautiful". While she warned us about the steepness of the climb, neither of us were prepared for what we had to endure. However once we reached the top, miraculously there was a soda machine - I've never seen a more excited Kevin at that point. The top height we reached was 4125 feet high with a 46% maximum grade going up.  It was intense. But oh my gosh were the views spectacular. 

But once that wore off, we were starting to realize we had to go back down. The Magical Forest was definitely pretty, but at that point in the day, we were over it!

We made it off the mountain and back into the car. It was my turn to drive which was quite unfortunate since our feet were dying, but also because it was going to get dark before we made it all the way home. We originally thought that maybe the Autoban would have speed limits at night since it's more difficult to see, but that theory flew out the window right along side the Audi going 200 km/h past me.  Quite an experience driving down the autoban though... earlier in the day Kevin beat my fastest speed presumably because I called him out on it in the last entry, but before it was dark, I caught right back up to him =)

Pictures!

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-6---oh-the-hiking Wed, 07 Sep 2016 21:03:23 GMT
Exhaustion beyond words.... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/exhaustion-beyond-words Kevin officially wore me out today with our ridiculous amount of hiking, and since we are just getting back to the hotel still needing to pack to catch our train tomorrow, I will not be posting about the day.  I'm hoping we have wifi on the train, and I'll be able to post it first thing tomorrow morning (which technically will be about 4am your time).

Sneak preview .... We went across the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in Austria today.  It was absolutely terrifying!

 

Caption: This was still miles away on the drive up to the bridge. I couldn't believe I could see it from so far away.

Caption: I was terrified, and Kevin was trying to make me feel better. I love this boy <3

Caption: You can see the castle in the top right hand corner... barely. More pictures of that to come tomorrow.

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/exhaustion-beyond-words Tue, 06 Sep 2016 21:00:57 GMT
Day 5 -- Inside the Walled City https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-5----inside-the-walled-city Today we spent the day exploring inside the walled city of Rothenberg ob der Tauber.

Our first stop was to walk along the wall above the city which was quite picturesque and where we made our first friends. As we were walking past, a German couple asked us to take their picture. They were celebrating their wedding anniversary at the same place they honeymooned 46 years ago, and they were trying to recreate a picture they took then. You can just tell how much love lives in their house. I love seeing marriages like that - such an inspirational start to the morning.

This is a very textbook, tourist town capitalizing on their historical looking city, but it has a cool atmosphere and some great food. Which is basically why all we did the rest of the day was eat... after changing into warmer clothes because it rained a good majority of the day sadly. Good thing all we wanted to do was eat.

Lunch consisted of a very large pretzel and apple struedel. My goal has been to find a pretzel the size of me and then eat it. This one was big, but I still think I can find bigger!

We then snacked on something called a Schneeballe, which roughly translates into "Snowball". It's basically deep fried pie crust strips rolled together covered in different toppings. We chose cinnamon sugar. These apparently originated in this area and there are bakeries that only sell schneeballes. While they were good, I'm not sure I get the craze.

After all those carbs, we took a short siesta before heading out to dinner at Gasthof Greifen. Dinner was the best I've had so far on this trip. I ordered a Schweineschnitzle served with pomes frites (french fries). This is basically a huge pork tenderloin...so good! Kevin ordered Chicken with red pepper sauce and rice which was also amazing. Oh and some beer, because when in Germany drink beer.

So much food we had to walk it off and went to explore the castle section of Rothenberg which was so peaceful compared to the bustle of the big tour groups herding through the center of town. We watched the sunset from the edge of the town over the rolling hills thinking about the couple celebrating 46 years of marriage. Our three years seems so short, but that same kind of love lives in our house too. We are gonna see 46, I just know it. (although I did the math recently... He's been following me around for 11 years now!)

Heading back to our hotel, we grab ice cream (and you thought we were done eating!). In Kevin's words, "I don't know when I'll ever see Green Apple ice cream again".

Now we are off to bed as we have quite the adventure planned for the day. =)


Caption: Delightful pretzel, but still on the hunt for a bigger one...


Caption: My cinnamon sugar schneeballe



Caption: In the town center after the tour groups finally left.


Caption: Kevin's beer that was recommended to him by the waiter.


Caption: Dinner: Schweineschnitzel and Chicken with stewed peppers and tomatoes


Caption: View of the town as the sun was setting

 

Caption: In the sculpture garden as the sun was setting
 

Caption: Town center at night

 

Caption:  Schokolade (chocolate) and Green Apple ice cream =)

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-5----inside-the-walled-city Mon, 05 Sep 2016 20:14:51 GMT
Day 4: The Black Forest https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-4 Today brought us back to Germany - which means the Autoban - which means I did some fast driving this time. Not that we are keeping track, but faster than Kevin =)  Our goal today was to visit the Lichtenstein Castle, hike through the Black Forest and get a sneak peak of Rothenburg. Success on all three!

Lichtenstein Castle is located in the Black Forest and was a quaint little castle to explore. The original castle was destroyed about a decade after the plague wreaked havoc across Europe, and the new castle was constructed in the 1800s. It was used as a summer home up until the 1990s by the current owner... I mean, why wouldn't you use a castle in the mountains as a summer home?   The original castle was in ruins about 1/2 km away from the new castle, and we were able to climb all over and explore which is always what we want to do.

Since the castle is in the Black Forest, naturally we had to hike it. However Kevin likes to con me into these hikes rather than just saying 'oh hey, let's go on a 3.2km hike up the side of a mountain'. No instead, he's like 'oh hey, there are some cool ruins just down this path'. Look at said ruins... 'oh hey, there is a cave down this path'. Look at said cave... 'so it looks like it's the same distance to go down this path instead of going back the way we came'. I think you get the picture.  My reward at the end? Bratwurst and french fries at the Biergarten = happy girl.

Last stop today was Rothenburg which is a walled city with cobblestone streets built just big enough for two horse carriages which is pretty darn cool.... if you don't have to drive through it with a full size car.  Since I was the driver today, I was the lucky winner to drive through the town. Illegally as it turns out. When we arrived, the Imperial City Festival was in full swing and apparently only vendors were allowed to drive in the walls. Well, and me... 

Regardless, we seem to be pretty lucky when it comes to stumbling upon festivals. This festival was very Stars Hollow-esque with period costumes, music, food and more. (Mom - Stars Hollow is the town in Gilmore Girls. Their festivals were always known to be very over the top, always historically based - although usually very stretched truth - and tons of music and food.)  Of course, we found an ice cream cafe and scoped out the town while eating our ice cream to determine our plan tomorrow (Kevin's favorite ice cream flavor of the day = Green Apple). It was a very cool way to end the evening.

P.S. it was the not the same distance to go down the new path compared to going back the way we started.

P.P.S. I did not fall today. I should have my own record sign... Days since last fall: 1

 

Caption: The view from the Lichtenstein Castle. You can definitely see why this spot was chosen for the castle. Such a view!

 

Caption: Lichteinstein Castle

Caption: Original Lichtenstein Castle -- All ruins now

Caption: Hiking through the Black Forest. The path was intense even though it doesn't look like it. Most of the time we could barely walk single line between the side of the mountain and the deep ledge. Even Kevin aka "Mr Hiker" said it was intense, so for a baby like me, it was a tad uncomfortable.

Caption: German Bratwurst and pommes frites at the Biergarten

Caption: Band performing at the Rothenburg Festival. Fun =)

All photos so far: http://www.jkennis.com/f239338192

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-4 Sun, 04 Sep 2016 20:40:26 GMT
Day 3 -- Have you ever met a monkey? https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-3----have-you-ever-met-a-monkey We had a bit of a late start today as we were quite exhausted from our very, very long day yesterday, but we had plenty to keep us busy.  To start the day off right, Miss Graceful fell on her butt walking down the stairs of our hotel, and ended up as a turtle on my back with my backpack on. I think on the outside Kevin was watching in horror while on the inside laughing at me. With my pride (and butt) bruised, we proceeded on our way.

Heading through Germany, we drove on the Autoban.... fast.  For those that don't know the Autoban is the interstate system in Germany with large parts having no speed limit.  Pretty fun to just drive the speed you want to drive, and watching a Mercedes flying by us.

We were driving fast for good reason -- today was the day we spent in France!  France turned out to be an awesome adventure with the first stop being La Montagne des Signes. The Mountain of Monkeys!  This was definitely one of the items on our trip that I could not wait to do, and boy was it worth it. Basically you drive to the top of a mountain, walk through a forest with popcorn and feed the monkeys. So fun!

Next stop was Colmar, France -- one of the accidental surprises of the trip so far.  Fun fact about Colmar: The sculptor of the Statue of Liberty was born here, and in his honor, they have a mini Statue of Liberty.  This is a random town in France, but it turned out to be the quintessential, picturesque town you want a town in France to look like every time. Plus an annual festival was in full swing when we arrived which made it that much more fun. Local entertainers including dancers and musicians were performing, vendors were selling all through the evening and so much food! We ended up eating at the Creperie, because when in France, you eat food from a Creperie. Kevin had a potato and ham crepe, and I had a bacon quiche... you know.... French food.

Tomorrow is another day full of driving since France was a little out of way, but seriously... monkeys!  However, tomorrow we will find our resting area for a couple of days allowing us to enjoy the city and surrounding area back in Germany which also means we get to drive on the Autoban again... maybe this time Kevin will let me drive =)

 

Caption: We met a monkey or two or nineteen.


Caption: Just look at him touching me! I was so excited =)

Caption: He's so good at humoring me...

 

Caption: He was just chillin' with us...

Caption: This year's version of lunch on the road.... Peanut butter and jelly with croissants (naturally as we are in France...).


 

Caption: Kevin's panorama of the view from the top of the mountain above the monkeys.  It was truly breathtaking. 


 

Caption: In Colmar -- the cutest town in France ever!

 

Caption: More of Colmar's beautiful architecture.

Caption: "Little Venice" in the middle of Colmar.

 

Caption: Dinner at the Creperie

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-3----have-you-ever-met-a-monkey Sat, 03 Sep 2016 20:57:52 GMT
Day 2 -- Pictures =) https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-2----pictures Now that we finally have decent internet, we can post more pictures!

 

Caption: The beautiful Rhine River (Germany)

Caption: This is the road we (as in Kevin) drove to get down to the Rhine.  Very windy and appears to be a one way...wrong. (Germany)

This is the road we (as in Kevin) drove to get down to the Rhine. Very windy and appears to be a one way...wrong.

Caption: Eltz Castle - A bit of a hike but worth it. This housed three different Eltz 'houses' through the years with one Eltz still in possession, however he has never lived there. (Germany)

Caption: Beaufort Castle - Another castle ruin we could climb all over in the country of Luxembourg.

Caption: The torture chamber in the Beaufort Castle. So creepy and cool at the same time. (Luxembourg)

Caption: Outside the Beaufort Castle -- to the point of exhaustion (Luxembourg) 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/day-2----pictures Sat, 03 Sep 2016 20:19:43 GMT
Two countries down... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/two-countries-down Since we have been up for 32 hours straight this is gonna be a short one as the first one usually is. For those that may not know, the trick to beating jet leg is to deprive yourself of sleep. Kidding but not really. We landed here at 11p cst but it was 6a Germany time. To not waste days with jet leg, we planned a full day with driving and hiking keeping us awake as long as possible. We will now head to bed giving us more than 8 hrs of sleep and also sleeping when it's dark here.

We've officially checked two more countries off our bucket list already... Germany and Luxembourg. I'm hoping a few pictures will be posted however I'm not confident that the post is going to even go live with the shotty internet connection I have. But they will be posted once we are able to.

In both places, I've officially experienced what so many people worry about... Not knowing the language and being absolutely useless. German is so different, and we just flounder through. But so far we've not gotten ourselves in any trouble... Yet.

Ps. If you ever get the chance to have a connection through Toronto, do it! They have vending machines that you can buy iPads and every waiting seat has a complimentary iPad to use while you wait. Very modern and high tech...right up our alley.

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/two-countries-down Sat, 03 Sep 2016 01:00:00 GMT
And we are off... https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/and-we-are-off 5:30am always comes too early, but today is the day!

 

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Taste of Europe https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/9/and-we-are-off Thu, 01 Sep 2016 13:51:57 GMT
Spontaneous Road Trip https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/7/spontaneous-road-trip Wednesday night a spontaneous trip was born... less than 10 hours to the ocean? Challenge accepted!

Bright and early Saturday we finished our long trek arriving in Mobile, AL around noon. First stop... USS Alabama, a warship used during WWII which seemed quite a fitting way to kick off the patriotic weekend ahead. We were able to walk all through the ship -- down to the engine rooms and up to the upper decks.  The heat inside each room was excruciating, so I can't even imagine how the sailors managed the temperature while serving (I could barely manage the two hour self guided tour!). One of the most interesting rooms held all the switches to shoot off the missiles/guns...  I never knew the sailors in charge of attacking were actually hidden deep in the ship with just a room full of switches to flip to shoot... very interesting! 

After getting through the ship and the grounds, we were exhausted from the sun and heat, so we checked into our hotel and went to see Finding Dory. So cute!

Sunday -- The day is finally here! Ocean and Monkeys!  We started at the Gulf Shores Zoo right when they opened to try to beat the crowd and quite honestly the heat.  The draw of this particular attraction is the ability to have one on one interactions with some of the animals.  In particular, Kevin chose the sloth encounter and I the lemur encounter. After walking through the small zoo, we stopped to see the sloths -- Sid and Silvia -- both were hanging out in the back room dozing which was just adorable to see. Kevin was so excited to pet and feed Silvia =)

Next stop... lemurs! And not just lemurs... baby lemurs! We unknowingly chose the entrance with the baby lemurs which turned out to be awesome, because little four month old Gonzo was so playful and fun. He hung out with us for about 10 minutes grabbing our fingers and licking them.

Onto the beach! The Gulf Shores State Park had a huge pier and a surprisingly empty, yet gorgeous beach that we decided was the right beach for us. Frisbeeing in the water, sandcastle building and picnicking entertained us for three hours or so... we are so not beach vacation people. Give us a castle and we'll climb it for hours - give us a beach and we are bored in an hour which is why a weekend beach trip is perfect for us =)

After a few hours of the heat and sun we were once again exhausted (not sure how you all manage the heat for so long!). We headed back towards the hotel, found frozen yogurt and a local Mexican restaurant for dinner. With a couple of hours more to fill, we headed to Village Point Park Reserve where they warned us to 'not feed the alligators'. I'm not sure about you, but if I were to see a wild alligator, the last thing I would do is try to feed it... Regardless I never wanted to see a wild alligator more in my life so we went hunting. We came up short, but I did attempt to catch a little lizard and touched it's tail. So that's a win.  This reserve had numerous docks out into the bay and a nice little beach front which turned out to be a  great place to end our spontaneous ro​ad trip.  

Monday will consist of a really long drive home and likely no trip for fireworks because my maid never shows up to do laundry :(

To view all the pictures from this trip: http://www.jkennis.com/p765259850

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(Wandering with Mr & Mrs Ennis) Gulf Shores https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/7/spontaneous-road-trip Tue, 05 Jul 2016 03:26:09 GMT
Puerto Vallarta Recap https://www.jkennis.com/blog/2016/1/puerto-vallarta-recap Our Mexico trip seemed to fly by and sadly I didn't blog in the moment, but I wanted to give a trip recap while the events are still semi-fresh.

Day 2: Tuesday was definitely a relaxing day with beach time and pool time.  We had our first encounter with the huge iguanas and the infamous turtles!  Anxiety was building with the possibility of releasing the little guys into the ocean in the days to come.

 

Day 3: Wednesday was one of the most memorable days for us as a group.... we were anticipating the baby turtle release AND we swam with the dolphins. I was so proud of my mamacita who cannot swim and is overall uncomfortable in the water. She did great hanging out with the dolphins and even taking a ride on a fin.  After this, we headed down to the ocean to release the baby turtles!  Sadly there are new environmental laws that don't allow us to actually hold the baby turtles :( Instead we just sat there and took pictures of the little guys while they raced to the water.