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The End

July 9, 2009

1IMG_0089_2.jpgSadly, tomorrow (Thursday July 9th) marks the official end of our year “Exploring the Marble.”  Kelli, Ainsley, Jack and Eliot fly from Zurich, Switzerland to Cape Cod where they will have a reunion with Kelli’s parents and siblings.  I’m so proud of each of them.   They were amazing on this trip. 

You might see some fear on Jack’s face in the picture above from our departure day.  Each of us was nervous and excited at the same time, unsure what the future would hold.  Well, it held a magical, special and unforgettable experience.  We learned a lot about ourselves, each other, our family and the broader world.  No two days were the same.  Each of us comes home changed from the experience.  Thanks to all of our family and friends for all of your support.  We couldn’t have done it on our own.   

My Experience Traveling with J, K, A, Ja and E

May 18, 2009

100_0743.jpgWritten by Gail St. Clair, aka GG


Having recently returned from my travels in Turkey and Greece with our “around the world” travelers, John, Kelli, Ainsley, Jack, and Eliot, I feel compelled to share some of my observations. First of all, traveling around the world is definitely a full time job! I observed John at the computer very early in the mornings researching places to stay, sights to visit, and writing entries for their blog, Exploring the Marble. Kelli worked behind the scenes on all of this as well. Their planning was very fluid and productive: just witness my trip which originally started out to be a visit to Athens and mainland Greece and turned into a visit to Turkey, the Greek Island of Samos, and Athens. I loved every moment.

Ainsley, Jack, and Eliot have each grown and matured during their travels. Ainsley did a great job directing us to the street that our Student and Travellers Inn was located on in Plaka, Athens after our long ferry ride from Samos. When I reported this to Claire Dugan, she replied “Ainsley is just like her Mother”. Ainsley was our wonderful tour guide in Ephesus as well. She does a fine job of managing her clothing and her back pack; she fits an amazing quantity of clothes into her stuff bag. I loved bringing books for her to read; she devoured them all. Eliot and Jack also loved reading their books. Jack kept remarking about how much he appreciated my bringing his books.

Jack’s fertile mind has created an imaginary island called Dancho, replete with detailed maps and distinct provinces. Jack’s attention to detail is incredible. Each of us had to select a province in which to live. He told me before I arrived that he was looking forward to telling me some of his favorite stories from the trip. At dinner one night he entertained us with many tales. I am amazed by level of detail the children remember about their travels; their minds are like sponges. Unfortunately, Jack was stung by a bee on the instep of his foot while we were at lunch in Pnaka on Samos. I told him that he had the distinction of being the only one in the family to be stung by a GREEK bee; not much help. Ainsley engaged him in discussions about Dancho as we hiked back down the trail after the bee sting and that did the trick. One other time, after a full day on the Acropolis, the adults decided to do a little more sight seeing that evening. Ainsley and Eliot elected to stay behind at the inn. Jack said he would like to have some quiet time, too, but then with both hands held up high he said, “I don’t want to miss anything!” He joined us for my last stroll through Athens.  That is so Jack.

Eliot attracts unbelievable attention just by being the cute little tow head that he is. After returning from a visit to a monastery, I told Gabi (the hotel proprietress on Samos Island) that one of the monks wanted to pat Eliot’s head and she replied, “Who doesn’t?  Eliot is like a china doll.”  This appears to be true.  When heading out for dinner on our first night in Athens, all the waiters, who double as salesmen drawing in customers to their cafés, patted Eliot on the top of his head as he walked by. Eliot takes it all in stride.  Unless he’s hungry, of course.  While on our many hikes, it became very apparent when Eliot was in need of food; he would just “lose it.” Once given some nourishment, though, he would then display his boundless energy, an instant transformation. Kelli and John are doing a fabulous job of keeping the children fed, hydrated, safe, and happy in many unique settings far from food and drink.

What an amazing experience the around the world trip has been for all of them. I am thankful that I could be a small part of it.

Greece - Athens and Levidi

May 17, 2009

Here is one of many backdated postings to catch up on things and make sure that our website serves as a good historical reference of the trip for us. Or, you could look at some of this too as a bit of foreshadowing because I am now back in Durham as of last Thursday evening (June 18th and I started back at RTI on Monday the 22nd). Kelli, Ainsley, Jack and Eliot are still in Basel, Switzerland, with our friends Stefan, Katharina and their four (yes four!) children, Oliver, Sophia, Fabian and Marion. They will stay there until July 9th, when they fly to Boston and then drive to Cape Cod to spend a few weeks with her parents and other family before heading back to Durham to prepare for the start of school a few weeks later.

You may notice that no pictures accompany this post at all. We had a most unfortunate and awful experience in Venice, Italy (again a bit of foreshadowing) when our computer bag and all contents were stolen from our hostel room while we slept. Ugh!! Two other rooms at the hostel (a very nice Catholic hostel/convent) had similar thefts that night, and frankly, I am trying to forget about it and won’t go into much more detail here. Suffice it to say, we are happy to have all of the pictures we uploaded to Exploring the Marble, to have a full complement of all of our South America time (we had exchanged computer hard drives in Los Angeles in November, ironically for greater capacity for photographs, and mailed the original back home) and to have a few snipits that remained on the camera, which was not taken that fateful night. Other people we have met along the way have sent random photos to us as well. But, we lost virtually our entire catalogue of photos and video because in addition to the computer, our external backup drive also was stolen. In the end, the stuff that was taken was just that, stuff, and we are comforted in knowing that if this was our worst expereince of the trip, we are fortunate. It has been a painful process nonetheless to accept the loss of our photographs and video. We could have easily walked away from the loss of the electronics themselves, but losing our photos has been very difficult for us all. On a brighter note, as I mentioned before, we are very grateul of have uploaded so many images to Exploring the Marble. Sadly, we have no pictures at all from time in Levidi because we took many, many photos while we were there, transferred them to the computer, and deleted them from the camera but had yet to upload to the web.

Back now to the past for those of you (a very small number I’m sure) who are really following our travels and have been left hanging as to what happened next.Yes, GG did leave us in Athens and returned safely to Colorado. Everyone loved having her visit and were sad to see her leave. We stayed one additional night in Athens to wander around the Acropolis and soak in just a bit more Greek history and scenery. I’ll try and get some pictures from my mother to post soon. From Athens we went to Levidi, a small town on the Peloponnese Peninsula. It is not a major tourist spot. Actually, it does not even appear anywhere in the Lonely Planet Greece guidebook, not even a spot and name on the map! So, why did we end up going to Levidi? Nick, our backdoor neighbor in Durham, grew up there and left when he was 28 years old. He still has family, friends and a house there. As Jack said, “it would be a shame to be in Greece and not go see where Nick grew up.” So, that is what we did.

Nick arranged for his unoccupied house to be opened up, cleaned and equipped with sheets, towels, etc., all of the basic items that we needed for our stay. His recently retired friend George, who lives in Athens but still spends time in Levidi, offered to drive us there and to nearby sites. His daughter also volunteered to be our translator because George and most other residents of Levidi speak only Greek. We spent just under a week there and it was clear that everyone in this small village had heard of our arrival and knew all about us and our visit. News does move quickly in such a small place. We had many visitors and invitations to dinner and tea. Everyone made us feel very welcome and special. Ainsley, Jack and Eliot played soccer and other games in the streets with local kids, caught up on some math work and wrote in their journals. It was great to see the old stone house where Nick grew up and to see his sister and other friends.

We did a bit of sightseeing on the Peninsula too. Wish we could share some pictures, but perhaps some will enjoy a respite from more pictures of us?! Our driving tour one day included stops at Mycenae (a Citadel with remains from 1500 - 1200 BC with the famous lion’s gate and the very impressive tomb of Agamemnon of Trojan War fame), Epidavros (a 3rd century theater seating 14,000 people with acoustics so perfect that one can hear a coin dropped at the center of the stage from the last row of seating), and Napflio (a picture perfect seaside town with a 17th century Venetian-built citadel looming from a hill over the city).  From Levidi we took a bus to the port city of Patras, and then an overnight (two-night) ferry to Venice.  More soon about our time in Italy.

Transitions – Changes

May 17, 2009

img_7165.jpgHere in Greece, the cradle of Western Civilization, we are learning about thousands of years of history and looking at mystical ruins and ongoing archaeological excavations. There were so many transitions from one leader to the next, changes of whole cultures, the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Empire, and almost all of these changes, including those in recent history, transpired amidst ravaging war. But the Greek people are so welcoming and proud of their beautiful Greece and their historic culture; it is an extraordinary and fascinating place.

We are now facing transitions and changes of our own. While they certainly aren’t as important or momentous as those here in the history of Greece, they are weighty enough for us.

GG left yesterday after a wonderful and enjoyable visit. We were really happy to see her and share some travel experiences together. Now, she returns to Colorado and we return to our travels as five, not six, and sad to see her go. Eleven days went by so quickly.

Bigger changes lie in front of us as well. We are beginning to feel them more by the day. In the early part of our trip in South America, more than a few in the family questioned how they or we would survive the challenges of near constant travel for a whole year! Could Kelli last that long without her bed, or the kids without their friends, and for all of us, without our extended family? In the absence of daily routine, a comforting fixture especially for children, we at times struggled to find a footing in our new world. But, as with many of life’s challenges, we all rose to meet them and soon hit our stride. Now, some of us do not want the trip to end.

Today, our return to Durham looms large, and life as we left it at home is within sight. Thoughts about the end of our travels are creeping in, stronger and stronger by the day. Returning home means something different for each of us. For me, returning to RTI and a regular work schedule is coming soon. The kids will reunite with friends, who probably didn’t feel their absence in Durham as much as Ainsley, Jack and Eliot missed them. They will go back to school too. Ainsley will be a fourth year in the middle school, Jack will head to a new school and Eliot will be in third grade. Kelli heads back to the seemingly thankless and constant job of driving to school, packing lunches, and taking care of countless things in our day to day lives (although I am sure she will be happy to resume her daily jogs, something she has missed on the trip). No more figuring out where to go and what to see in what we’ve always thought of as exotic locations. No more daily meeting and interacting with people from new and interesting cultures. While we all look forward to these well-known and familiar routines, how will we adjust to the change in pace and stimulation?

At the beginning it felt as though we had the whole world and plenty of time ahead of us, which we did. Today, we know that we have only a few places to go and time is running out. We leave Athens tomorrow and go to the small town of Levidi on the Peloponnesian Peninsula where Nick, our neighbor back in Durham, grew up. He introduced us to his neighbor in Levidi who will take us there. We’re really excited to get to know a small Greek mountain village with around 300 people. From there we plan to take a ferry to Italy where we will stay with friends in Rome (who we met in Chiang Mai) before heading on to Switzerland for a visit with more friends and a possible stop in France in the middle. This is where my return timing to RTI begins to make things a bit fuzzy.

Now on to some recent travels and events as we did not bring the site up to date with our last week in Turkey before GG’s arrival. We spent one week in a small apartment in the town of Kas, a favorite spot of Murat and Leslie’s, on the south Mediterranean coast of Turkey. We too really liked it, especially because we arrived a few weeks before the hordes of tourists hit the streets so it was still sleepy. Everyone in town was busy preparing for the arrival of summer tourists and we were left to explore in a relaxed and quiet manner. We had our very best meal in Turkey there too: mountain lamb, ordered a day ahead, that fell off the bone much the same way that a really great Osso Buco does. We also hiked on part of the Lycian Way, which runs for more than 500 km along the Mediterranean Coast of Turkey. Now that would be a hike!

After GG joined us for three days in Selcuk (see her recent posting and pictures) to see the sights of Ephesus, we left Turkey via ferry for the Greek island of Samos. Yes, we got back on a ferry after our trying ferry experience in Thailand. This time the sun was shining and the seas were calm. GG even got to experience a small Turkish bus on the way to the ferry where people were packed in like sardines!

We have a lot to say about Samos, Hotel Atlantis where we stayed, and Dimitri and Gabi, the proprietors. We’ve said it before many times, but this one too will be a huge highlight of our travels. The island itself was overflowing with spring flowers popping up everywhere. The ground must have some magical formulation because nearly everything that touched it was green: olive trees, orange trees, grape vineyards, sycamore trees, etc, except for the flowers, bright red poppys, intense yellow broom, and various flowers in purples and pinks and whites. We hiked a number of days through the springtime growth to find beautiful, quaint mountain villages with unbeatable views and tasty Greek food only to finish the day swimming in the crystal clear and as cold as Balston Beach Aegean water. One day we hiked up a canyon that felt as though we were transported to a different place. Again, the water was crystal clear and a little cold, but still tolerable. That would have been our experience anyway on Samos, but staying with Dimitri and Gabi is what in the end made it really special. They welcomed us as though we were good friends returning from a long absence. They also welcomed our kids in a sincere and special way. Gabi took them all under her wing and soon they became part of her daily routine with all of her much loved animals. Each day they helped feed newborn orphaned kittens with bottles. They played with the two dogs, Diego and Lily. They helped find the 10 chickens when they escaped over the wall into a neighbors yard. They explored the greenhouse where Dimitri and Gabi grow Birds of Paradise and keep a horse, pony and rabbits. Mostly, they were able to feel completely relaxed and at home for the week. One night, Gabi and Dimitri graciously invited us and some other guests to dine with them. They prepared a rustic and absolutely delicious meal they called pitta, home-made, fried in their own olive oil, dough, layered with fresh goat cheese and a salad of tomatoes, basil, onion and feta. Eliot and Jack did all the rolling of the dough, and we all drank from the large bottles of Dimitri’s own vineyard-grown cabernet.

Another ferry, but as someone said to me, a nine hour ferry ride isn’t on a ferry, it’s on a ship! Yes, it was more of a ship, really just a stripped down cruise ship with airplane seats and a few snack bars. It was an easy and comfortable way to travel from Samos to Athens. The only bad part of the trip was when Eliot noticed that his Nintendo that he set down on our table wasn’t anywhere to be found. We unfortunately immediately turned our thoughts to a young boy who had been watching over the kids’ shoulders and continually walking through our seating area near the front of the boat. We alerted the crew to the problem and shortly after hearing from many of the nearby passengers in Greek about the boy (we couldn’t really understand what they said) they returned with Eliot’s prized item.

We’ll post about our few days in Athens soon. For now it’s off to Levidi.

GG’s Visit

May 13, 2009

img_6847.jpg(Written by GG)

What an incredible day we had in Ephesus. St. John the Evangelist went with the Virgin Mary to Ephesus where she lived until she died. We visited a restoration of what is believed to have been her house there. We all thought of Lita, who would have loved to visit Mary’s House.

Ainsley read from our guide book on Ephesus at each ruin site, from the Library of Celsus, which held over 12,000 scrolls, to the Great Theater, to the Terrace Houses etc. etc. Amazing restorations going on at the Terrace Houses, one putting together 120,000, yes 120,000 pieces, to restore a beautiful wall. Lunch at a Gozleme Evi, pancake house, where we watched a woman roll a small piece of dough into a full, very thin, 36 inch circle that became the pancake which was then stuffed with cheese, spinach, meat, etc. and cooked on a concave grill. Yummy!

A walk to the ruins of Artemis’ Temple, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, concluded the day. Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and her temple drew people to Ephesus, which actually had a population of about 300,000 back then. Dinny, you no doubt already know that Artemis, the Greek Goddess of fertility and the hunt, is also known as the Goddess Diana.

The next day we wandered around the ruins of the 6th century AD Basilica of St. John, an unbelievably large church on top of the tomb of St. John. PopPop would have loved to visit this basilica. At the wonderful Museum of Ephesus, visiting school children besieged us. Two sculptures of Artemis were there along with impressive medical instruments.

We met an Australian couple on the very crowded bus from Selcuk to the port at Kusadasi. While waiting to board the ferry, the Aussie volunteered that it was a good day, new clothes! I could understand that; I was wearing the same hiking pants that I had on when I arrived four days before. According to Ainsley, clothes are dirty when they are the color of dirt or when you spill on them.

Our stay in Agios Konstantinos on Samos Island has been extended two days; it is a gorgeous island with beautiful beaches, so many hiking trails leading to small villages (each with its own church) and, in one case, to waterfalls, monasteries, lovely flowers, and port towns. The first morning on Samos, Gabi, the proprietor of the Atlantis Hotel, took us to their green house (2,000 square meters according to her husband, Dimitri) where they grow birds of paradise that they sell in Athens. There they also keep a horse, a pony, bunnies, cats, and a sheep. Gabi is from Germany; she says a bale of hay costs 50 cents in Germany and 6 euros on Samos! Ainsley, Jack, and Eliot each rode the horse, Nikita, and found the bunnies that live in the green house, good weed control. After that, Dimitri showed us their vineyards, the land for which they rent from the adjoining 19th century church. They grow muscat and cabernet sauvignon grapes.

While visiting the Monastery of The True Cross, Moni Timio Stavro, a tour bus driver (Christo) handed me a cell phone and said, “You have a phone call.” I replied, “No I don’t,” and he said, “Yes you do, it’s Gabi.” It turns out that Christo lives in Agios Konstantinos, had seen us walking in the village, and must have known that we were staying at the Hotel Atlantis. He called Gabi, whom he knew from her 20 years as a tour guide on Samos, hence my call. No secrets in a small village. As I write this, the fish monger is driving through Agios Konstantinos hawking his fish through a loud speaker. Not nearly as pleasant as the music we heard at 2 AM from the christening party held in the village directly below our hotel.

Tomorrow we take a nine-hour ferry ride to Athens.

GG Arrives in Turkey!

May 7, 2009

img_6770.jpgAll of the excitement and anticipation about my mother’s arrival came to an end when she arrived at the Izmir airport on Tuesday. We’d been talking with her about coming for a few months and the time was finally right. She was a real trooper and traveler, flying three legs; from Denver to Atlanta, Atlanta to Munich and then Munich to Izmir. Twenty four hours after leaving her house in Colorado Springs she arrived in Turkey, more than a bit tired. Then, as GG (Grandma Gail), she had to listen attentively to the many, many stories that Jack and Eliot were dying to share with her on the way home from the airport.

Yes, this is GG of WGGSH or Would GG Stay Here? from the Where We Stayed section of the blog. We now are putting that question to her directly, not raising the level of accommodations while she is here, instead having her dovetail into our travels as another one of our group. After three days I can say that she fits in very well and acts as though she’s been traveling with us the whole way.

Ainsley asked her to pen an entry on the blog and she will do so before she departs, so for now I’ll just post a bunch of photos from her first few days and will leave more of the story for her to tell.

We get up at 6 AM tomorrow to catch the dolmus (small bus) to Kusadasi from where we will take the ferry to the Greek Island of Samos. So, we only have a few more hours left in Turkey and then we get on our first ferry since our fated ferry back in Thailand.

Where are you from?

April 30, 2009

eliot-voting.jpg(Voting in the 08 Presidential election in Lima, Peru)

Where are you from? This is a question we have heard frequently over the last eight months. One might think that it is an easy question to answer, but it takes us a few times in each country to figure out how to answer. It turns out that saying “the United States” in most countries is greeted with a blank, questioning stare. No, most people don’t know our country as the United States. The correct, or most understandable, answer ends up being “America.” No, we don’t really live in America. America technically includes Canada and Mexico. North America that is. What about people living in Central America and South America? Aren’t they from America too? Well if you’ve ever heard that famous song “I’m proud to be an American” by Lee Greenwood, which I was sentenced to hear over and over again at the Naval Academy, perhaps it is common knowledge that we are American and thus must be from America. Well, at least that’s how we answer most of the time, but we still try with United States on occasion because it just seems right.

Some people guess where we are from before we even answer or before they hear our voices and accents. Often they think we are from France, Canada, New Zealand, or Australia. One time while walking along the river in Phnom Penh we were mistaken for being from England. A couple saw us walking as a family and said to each other that we surely must be from England because it was highly unlikely that an American family with children would be in Cambodia. It then turned out that they were from Chapel Hill. Go figure! Another time in India the questioner could hardly believe that Kelli was telling the truth. The woman said that Kelli must be from Australia because everyone from the US is fat?!?

The responses to our nationality have changed quite a bit over the last eight months. Initially in South America, before the presidential election, after hearing we were from the US we were greeted with a very quiet, meek “Obama?” People were eager to know our political leanings, but cautious about offending us. Upon hearing of our support for his candidacy a smile would break out upon their face or a thumbs up would result or even a high five would happen. Many people we met knew quite a bit about US politics and the upcoming election. They made it clear that election day in November 08 was not just for us; it was an election for the world.

Now the response we get is an immediate and enthusiastic “Obama!”, especially here in Turkey. President Obama visited Turkey a few weeks before our arrival and left a lasting and positive impression on this country. We spend a few minutes talking about him, the US, the economic crisis, etc. and many people volunteer that he is not just our president he is also the world’s president. The other day a cook sitting on the step outside of his little restaurant, one where we ate earlier, asked me the question as I walked by. “Where are you from?” I answered America and a quick smile came across his face. He and the woman next to him practically said in unison, “Barack Obama!” I repeated it back to them. Then he corrected me and said “Barack Hussein Obama!” I repeated his full name this time and then he gave me a high five. Turkey is somewhere around 99% Muslim and I couldn’t help but think that President Obama’s diverse background, and yes his full name, create connections with people all over the world in new ways. It seems that our damaged reputation is in the very early stages of repair. I can’t help but think that our reception would have been very different had we been traveling a few years ago.


April 20, 2009

img_5529.jpgOur first day in Istanbul we went to visit the Blue Mosque. On our way we stopped for juice. We had fresh orange and pomegranate juice. As we were getting up to leave a seagull pooped right on my dad’s head and then splattered on the rest of us. I hope it is good luck to get pooped on by a seagull, but I have my doubts.

We went to the Hagia Sophia, a church turned mosque that is a thousand years older than the Blue Mosque. It now no longer functions as a mosque and is only a museum. The ceiling used to be made up by a lot of mosaics, but after being restored much of it is painted. The big dome has been restored with mosaics, but it is constantly being worked on. When we visited there was a giant block of scaffolding going from the floor to the top of the dome. One really interesting thing for me was the ramp to the second floor. The ramp that we went up was made of slick stone, but the ramp that we went down had ridges on the stones. When we were in Jaipur, India we visited the Amber Fort. The Maharaja that lived there had many wives. The robes that the wives wore were so beaded and heavy that they had to use wheelchairs to get around. The ramps that they used were slick to go up and had ridges to go down. The ramps in these two places were very similar in shape also.

We also went to see the basilica cistern. They were first discovered when people said that they were getting water and fish out of holes in their basements. The underground reservoir was used to store water for the palace. Now you can go to visit and walk on elevated ground inside the cistern. We saw all kinds of little fish swimming in the shallow water.

So far Istanbul has been a magical city. I’m sorry to say that after our first lunch we struck out with food, but then again we aren’t willing to pay some prices. We leave this evening on an overnight bus to Cappadocia. Did you know that you can’t go to youtube in Turkey because someone posted something not nice about Ataturk (the founder of modern day Turkey), but for some reason I can still get it on my ipod. Go figure!

…..not quite!

June 23, 2008

We plan to go here, but haven’t yet arrived. Take a look at the map at the top right side of the home page to see where we are and the “Where?” page for where we intend to go.