Flashback to Texas - San Antonio

Friday 28 September 2012

During our 2009 stay in Texas, we had to head up to the Fort Worth/Dallas area for a couple of weeks while Joe took part in a course.  We decided to take a little detour on our road trip to San Antonio.

Just over 1.3 million people call this Texas city home and many tourists come to check out where history was made at the Alamo.  Apparently, San Antonio is also the birthplace of chili and home of the Frito, Cheeto and Pace's Picante Sauce.

While we were definitely interested in the Alamo, we came to see the River Walk.  We'd been hearing about this city and it's fantastic downtown area from many people so we booked the Hotel Valencia for a night in order to explore the surrounding area.
Hotel Valencia from the River Walk

One level below the regular streets of the city sits the San Antonio River Walk which is exactly as it sounds; a river with pedestrian walk lining the sides.  It is lined with restaurants, shops and hotels.  One can wander the snaking river by foot or take a boat through the channel.

The River Walk really came alive at night as the heat of the day subsided and people flooded the restaurants out on to the sidewalks.  

The next day as we departed San Antonio, we made a stop at the Natural Bridge Caverns.  These caverns were discovered by students in 1960 and are the largest caverns in Texas.

As we descended the 211 feet into the caverns, the temperature continued to drop providing a little reprieve from the Texas heat.  While the attraction has obviously been developed for tourism, many formations sit untouched and water still flows and drips.  We chose to do the standard tour however if you are feeling a bit more adventurous, you can put on climbing gear to take you into other areas of the cavern.

San Antonio was a really great city to visit with endless amounts of things to explore.  We only really grazed the surface in our overnight stay 

Flashback to Texas - The Lyndon B Johnson Space Center

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Unfortunately, Joe's been told to prepare to work evenings and weekends while we're in Houston meaning we can't really plan much fun stuff while we are here.  Not to mention, our hotel is not in the greatest of areas and the public transport here is practically nonexistent.  This means I'll be spending most of the time at the hotel pool but I thought it would be fun to share some of our previous experiences in Texas.


One of our favourite Houston experiences was visiting NASA.  My husband, an engineer, loves things like this and even I couldn't help being wooed by the amount of extraordinary things that have been connected to this Space Centre.

The Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center is located on the South side of Houston and it sits on 1,620 acres of land and is home to the astronaut corps, training all future NASA astronauts and Mission Control which controls all activity on the International Space Station.

The entire space centre is tightly monitored and visitors have very limited access to a handful of buildings.  A tram transports everyone around the property starting and ending at the tourist centre.  We passed by several unmarked buildings without windows and you couldn't help but ponder what kinds of crazy things go on in there.
One of the most interesting segments was when a former NASA employee who worked many of launches in this very Mission Control Centre gave his perspective on what it was like witnessing history being made.

A mock- up of the International Space Station - Astronauts learn this inside and out before they see the real thing.

One of Canada's contributions - The Canada Arm 
This rocket was built but funding was cut and it never made it to space. Instead it sits here on display.  (Fun fact - the Astronauts travel back to Earth in that tiny copper capsule on the very top.)

Our trip to NASA left us reeling from copious amounts of information yet yearning to learn and understand more.  One couldn't help but feel like we were somewhere where BIG things happen and what we wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall in some of those unmarked buildings!


Tuesday 25 September 2012

"Did you love Africa?"

Someone asked me that the today.

As casual as, "Wasn't that dinner fabulous?"  

In one word...


Did I have some wonderful & life altering experiences there?

Yes, of course.

You would be surprised as to how much I get that question or similar variations.  "Oh I want to visit Africa so badly" or "I'd love to go and live there for a year or two" or "I've heard Africa is amazing."  I think a lot of people say these things with no idea as to what that actually encompasses.  I know I did.

Africa is hard.  Really hard.  It finds ways to challenge you beyond ways you've ever been challenged. It beats you down and just when you've dusted yourself off and picked yourself up, it finds another way.  It's not easy to love.

Had my 2.5 weeks in South Africa been my only African experience, I might utter those same words, "Oh, Africa is amazing."  Perhaps even somewhere in my honeymoon phase in Gabon I might have said the same thing but then the water goes out for days on end and you can't flush the toilet and then you're robbed and you don't feel safe and then the police harass you on the road and there's no way getting around paying a bribe and then it's not so amazing anymore. 

I don't say all of this to deter anyone from going or to say that you will only have an awful experience if you do but I do say it to be realistic.  Africa is a MASSIVE continent that's landscapes and people are diverse.  There are beautiful places and beautiful people but it's also coupled with poverty, corruption, lack of infrastructure, disease, political instability and a barrage of other problems.

My 2 years in Africa were filled with adventure, excitement and uncertainty and I don't regret our choice to move there for an instant but can I say that I loved it like I loved my last trip to Spain?

It's not quite so simple.

{As always, these are my experiences and my opinions only.  Certainly, others will differ.}

Brussels - Part 2

Monday 24 September 2012

In case you missed it, you can find Part 1 here.

Joe and I had underestimated just how much time the race would take so between the commute to and from Spa and the F1 activities, we didn't have a lot of time to explore Brussels throughout the weekend.  Luckily, our flight back to Norway was scheduled for Monday evening so we had the entire day to check out anything we might have missed.

The Atomium was built for Brussels's World Fair and Expo in 1958 and the towering metallic spheres are something to see.  It stands 102 metres high and is representative of an elementary iron crystal, 165 billion times larger.  The monument was to stand for the peaceful use of atomic energy and was intended to be deconstructed after the World Fair.

We purchased tickets to ride the elevator to the observation area within the top sphere where we could take in views of Brussels and the rest of the World Fair Pavilion.  

Afterwards, we rode a couple of psychedelic escalators down through the spheres to the ground.

We chose not to but, one could visit Mini Europe as well as the World Fair pavilions near the Atomium.

While it was nice to escape the busyness of the Grand Place, it was by far our favourite area we were able to explore.  I'm certain I could have spent the entire weekend moving from pub to cafe to restaurant to chocolate shop to waffle stand.


- We stayed at The Dominican which was a bit of a splurge but we loved it.  It was located mere blocks away from the Grand Place and it's swanky hotel lounge was the perfect place to unwind from the day or start the night.  We had an upgraded room which featured a large rainfall shower and a separate, deep bathtub.
- Our favourite meal of the 5 nights in Belgium was at the Belga Queen as recommended by Jess.  The restaurant is beautiful and the food was fantastic.  


Friday 21 September 2012

We moved in to our new apartment this past weekend.  It consisted of moving over our 6 suitcases that we've been living out of for the last 2.5 months and any other things we've acquired since moving to Norway.

Most housing rentals come furnished in Stavanger which is convenient for us as we sold all of our furniture when we left Gabon.  Our new place is basically set up so that we can unpack our suitcases and live.  I spent the weekend organizing my clothes and rearranging to kitchen cupboards to my liking - humming & hawing over which cupboard is best suited for wine glasses.

Monday morning our air shipment showed up.  As part of our relocation agreement, we get to ship our belongings to our new home and ours consisted of 1000 lbs of stuff.  I was excited to see my things again - things that would help me make this place feel like home.  I couldn't wait to get my pillows out and replace the pots & pans with my better quality set.

The 2 men arrived first thing in the morning and promptly delivered 24 large boxes into my living room.  I began opening up those boxes like it was Christmas morning - unwrapping all of my 'treasures,' tossing paper and cardboard left right and centre, reminiscing as I found gifts people had given us as we prepared to depart Gabon for good.

And then I took a break...
When I looked around, it was like a bomb had gone off.  Stacks of dishes intermingled with piles of packing paper and bubble wrap.  There was stuff everywhere and there was no where to put it.  You see, this apartment is full.  I mean, we could live here without all of these things.  Where was everything going to go?

I panicked.

I looked around our apartment, that was spotless only an hour earlier, and I panicked.  I started to look at my possessions with disgust.

Why the hell am I carting around a vacuum that doesn't work with the voltage here?

3 vacuum bags stuffed with clothes?! I've survived the last 2 months with them, do I really need them?

2 tennis rackets that we never used once in Africa - why did we decide they needed to visit yet another continent just to take up space?

I wanted to phone those 2 men to come back - I could take my pillows, pots & pans and pictures and they could take that mess right out of our apartment.

So I escaped to the terrace and told Joe that he may come home to find our belongings floating in the harbour below and his wife & an empty bottle of wine lying on the terrace floor.
Instagram: cjstjohn

Do you ever feel like your life/home has been overrun with 'things?'  Do you purge every once in awhile and if so, do you ever regret getting rid of it all?


Wednesday 19 September 2012

Joe & I at a Houston Texans game 2009

Before we moved to Gabon, we spent close to 6 months in Houston.  Joe worked in his company's office there and I worked on the best tan of my life and read a billion books.  It was great.

This weekend, we're heading back to Houston for 2 weeks.  Joe's been selected to take part in a workshop there and I'm tagging along to reclaim my position at the hotel pool and soak up as much sun as I possibly can before the long, dark Norwegian winter sets in.

Texas - get ready! We're coming back!

F1 - The Spa-Francorchamps Grand Prix

Monday 17 September 2012

It's safe to say, I wasn't much of an F1 fan before Joe came along.  

Driving multiple laps around a track seemed ridiculous and I couldn't imagine how anyone could be interested in such an event.  But, as time went on and the more races I watched, I started to enjoy it.  I picked my favourite drivers to root for (which may have been chosen as to how nice they seem and/or their looks) and became a bit more invested in the whole thing.
1, 2, 3

Joe has always wanted to go to a race.  In fact, we were in Singapore the entire week leading up to the race but departed the day before the events started.  Barcelona's race took place not long after we left Spain as well so when we learnt we were moving to Europe, we decided we'd pick a race and go.  A couple of Canadian friends decided to join us and it was a done deal.

The Grand Prix is an entire weekend event, starting with practice rounds on Friday, qualifying on Saturday and the actual race on Sunday.  We had weekend passes so we were able to watch a little bit every day.  I was really only interested in the main event but as with most sporting events, it is actually quite cool to take in the atmosphere.  

One of the best parts about F1 is just how international the sport actually is.  

20 races take place on 5 continents and 19 different countries

Watching the race in Belgium meant there was a large range of nationalities travelling from all over the world to take part.  We had spectators from Mexico, Japan, the UK, Belgium & Finland immediately surrounding us.  Brazil had a fairly large contingency as did countless other countries and it was fun to watch everyone come together on common ground.

Come Sunday, we joined 70 000 other fans at the Francorchamps track.

Race day was gorgeous and we had arguably some of the best seats on the track.  I outfitted myself showing my support for Lewis and Jenson, we had mini TVs and headphones to follow the parts of the track we couldn't see, and snacked on frites and beer.

Our seats were on the first hairpin corner after the start line and we knew it would be eventful before the race even started.  The corner is tight and with 24 cars speeding around it, there was bound to be some action however, we were all shocked to watch it unfold.  A major crash happened immediately after the start sending one car flying overtop of a few others and taking several out of the race.  Unfortunately, one of those wrecked beyond repair was my man Lewis (the only consolable fact was that it also took out 1 of my nemisis', Ferrari driver Alonso.)

The wreckage was cleaned up and we watched 44 laps of pure race goodness and celebrated when Jenson Button took the trophy.

It was an awesome weekend and I would certainly attend another race!


Friday 14 September 2012

a park near the centre of Brussels

It's been an extremely busy week +.

:: We returned from a fantastic trip to Belgium ::

:: We welcomed our very first guest to Norway. ::

:: We hiked to Preikestolen and still can't get over the entire experience (nor can my legs.) ::

:: Joe's sister gave birth to a gorgeous little girl, Gabrielle. ::

:: Someone decided to rent our temporary apartment a little ahead of our scheduled move meaning we'll be moving to our new home this weekend! (Yippee!!!) ::

While I originally was looking forward to a quiet weekend, Joe and I will be packing our suitcases and moving but we're ecstatic to be doing it!

Hope you all have a lovely weekend!

Brussels - Part 1

Wednesday 12 September 2012


Home of frites, beer, chocolate, and waffles.  It's possible to indulge on an overload of carbs around every, single corner.

We spent most of our time in the Grand Place, the central square of Brussels, where we couldn't help but stop and stare at the buildings and the statues perched on top of them.  The cobblestone streets lined with shops and restaurants smelled of chocolate and there were endless little alleys and squares to peruse.

We also were able to visit the Royal Palace - while it is not the family's residence, it is used for meetings and hosting events and still stands in it's grandeur.

By far, the most unique room in the palace was the Mirror Room home to "Heaven of Delight," where the ceiling and central chandelier are have been covered in 1.4 million Thai jewel beetle wings.  Apparently, 29 artists spent 3 months completing this work.
Facing the palace is Brussels Park where we found people lunching, exercising and enjoying live music.  Perched throughout the gardens are some of the things that Belgium is famous for.


Stay tuned for more on our trip to Belgium.


Monday 10 September 2012

Joe and I have been meaning to hike Preikestolen since we first arrived in Stavanger so when a friend from home decided to visit and the weather looked promising, it seemed there was no better time.

Preikestolen or Pulpit Rock is a massive cliff that towers over the Lysefjord and it is this region's most visited site.  While only about 25 km from Stavanger, it is about an hours car & ferry ride to the base.  Once at the base, it's a 3.8 km hike to the cliff.

While it's not considered a very difficult hike in Norwegian standards, the terrain is challenging.  Rocks and boulders form the paths and at times, it's a fairly steep climb jumping from one slippery rock to another.

After 1 hour and 45 minutes of solid hiking/climbing my legs were shaking and my stomach growling but when we rounded the last corner (which was hugging the cliffside and shuffling along a skinny ledge) we immediately knew it was worth it.  The adrenaline rush having conquered the climb paired with the sheer beauty of everything around me had me in complete awe.  It was one of those rare moments where you look around and think, "I can't believe I'm here.  I can't believe this exists" and you can do nothing but stare in wonder.
The below photos are completely unedited.

That's me - looking down all 604 metres (1982) feet.

In the words of our guest, "You know it's good when it's even better in person than it is in the professional photos."

(And good enough to get us through the 3.8 km hike down.)
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