Thursday, October 07, 2010

Travel and Blog Hiatus

So, with the baby due in just about 10 days, this blog will be on a longer hiatus than usual.  Unfortunately, no exciting travel plans in the near future, except for perhaps a trip to the States to introduce the baby to everyone :)   We do hope to have a nice trip or two (or more) in 2011, but the destinations are unknown as of yet!

Anyhow, our new adventure is just around the corner!!! :) Yippee!!


Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Babymoon to Portugal

In between parental visits and other small side trips and things, Arno and I planned a babymoon - a kindof 'final, pre-baby, just the two of us' trip to Portugal. Of course, the baby was actually very present, making it difficult for me to walk up big hills and stairs in the blistering Portugese sun, but well, you get the idea...

We traveled from the North of the country - Porto - to the South, the more touristy area - the Algarve - over a 10 day period. It's a nice country with some beautiful architecture, azulejos (tiles adorning buildings), food and landscapes (most notably the jagged Algarve coastline). Unfortunately, I did not try any port - yes, I go to the country where Port
originates and I did not try a drop! Sad, eh? Well,
when you're pregnant and with pregnant people,
alcohol is obviously not as much a part of the, I am sure there will be a next time, since I didn't get to explore Lisbon and the port/wine producing region enough.

Anyhow, all in all, it was a lovely trip. So, now, enjoy the photos (by clicking here), particularly all of the rock formation ones! The camera doesn't do them justice, which is naturally the reason to only take more! :)

>> I have never seen a Jesus figure like this one! Love it!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Greece, Athens and Agistri island

It has taken over a month, but I am finally posting about our short trip to Greece at the end of April. As I said in my previous post, Athens is not a great city. Of course, my photos tell a different story. I must say, though, if you get a little outside of the center, away from the busy streets and pollution, it is quite nice indeed. Funnily enough, 2 days after we were at the Acropolis, protesters temporarily seized the Acropolis, hanging large anti-government, etc. banners everywhere....glad we missed that!

Agistri, the little island we escaped to, was a nice retreat from a chaotic Athens and a crazy month for me. There was no shortage of beautiful photo ops - vines and flowers adorning houses and walkways, lovely seascapes, etc. Needless to say, our Greek experiences in the future will again center around its island life :)

Here are some photo highlights. And click HERE for the rest!

-->A convenient way to sell flowers - Athens

--> How would you like your seafood prepared?
-- Ah, Yes, I'd like it blow-dried, please...

--> Simple rustic charm

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Travel Craziness

The last 3-4 weeks have been nothing short of crazy. My U.S. trip (and Target visit) was not as exciting as anticipated, given the wonderful volcanic eruption in Iceland and related canceled and re-routed flights, lost luggage, and unexpected extended stay...although I was lucky (or unlucky I guess) to have even gotten a flight out in the first place -- my flight out was the day of the eruption so some were still going and I was (sadly) persistent enough to get on another flight to the U.S....This is my U.S. travel nightmare in a nutshell, because I am too exhausted to recount it in detail at the moment.

I was only home from the U.S. a couple of days before having to travel to Greece for a business meeting and short me, it sounds great, but it wasn't very relaxing and we managed to get out just before the economy-related strikes and protests (and further cancellation of flights) got underway. Note to travelers: Athens is NOT a nice city. It is extremely polluted and just not very nice, i.e. not a lot to see/visit, not a very walkable city, etc - sorry that I cannot elaborate further, butif you have specific questions, I can answer them :) . My suggestion is to spend 1-2 days maximum in Athens to visit Acropolis and museums, then head to a nice island somewhere. We headed to a nearby island which was great, but next time I will be flying directly to one of the islands!

Finally, 2 days after our return from Greece, my family (dad + stepmother + 2 toddler siblings) arrived for a 2 week visit!! We took a family roadtrip to southern Germany - the Bavarian region - for a week and drove ALL around upper Bavaria...very tiring to say the least, but I am happy to have seen some new towns...strikingly religious down there!

At this point in time, as I sit here and type away, my family are all out visiting the Keukenhof flower gardens and I am staying home to rest, because at almost 5 months pregnant, I need a BREAK from all of this. The pregnancy is just now starting to 'hit' me and I can't walk around as much as I used to! Aaah!!!

I am definitely looking forward to my life returning to normal. I need it to normalize a little, so that I can actually begin to grasp the next adventure ahead - having a baby. Even at 5 months, it's hard for me to get my head around and I definitely need some down time to mentally prepare and also to get everything else ready! 20 week ultrasound in 2 weeks! Yay!

I will also post travel photos soon! Stay tuned....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Caged Bear

Next weekend I am flying to the U.S. (Clemson, South Carolina to be exact). WHY? To be in a friend's wedding. Only for a weekend. Crazy, huh? I am not rich and this kind of jet-setting is really not my style, but, hey, my friend flew from southern Africa to attend my wedding, so I think I can fly to hers for a weekend, especially since she has asked me to be a bridesmaid...unfortunately, I have not been able to do this for all my friends' weddings, which I have sadly missed over the years :(

But, anyway, that is not the point of this blog story. The point of the story is....aside from the wedding and the beautiful Southern summer scenery and SUN, do you know what I am most looking forward to???

TARGET! Yep, after many months of not visiting the U.S. (and years not living there), when I do visit, I am like a caged bear who has been released back into the wild....only for me, it's release into the world of consumerism and I have a particular thirst for the unbeatable quantities and varieties of products one can purchase in stores like Target, Walmart, etc. You see, in Europe, well at least in The Netherlands, these kinds of stores simply do not exist! Ikea is the closest thing and who wants to buy everything there - ick- boring!

When you do need to buy several different things here, you have to go to several different stores to find them. Not so in the U.S.A. - the land of plenty (ignore the fact that so much of it is manufactured in China)....If I need something for the bathroom, for the living room, some clothes, some toiletries, and don't forget FOOD, you can go to one place!!! ONE PLACE! And you have so much to choose from in that ONE place!!! Different colors, prints, styles, sizes, etc. It's a consumer paradise. Sure, it's sometimes nice to browse around all of these little European shops, but it's also time consuming and - not to mention - not cheap!

First of all, finding which shops have which products takes forever, and then learning the pricing of products at these numerous shops, takes years to master!!!!!! I still don't know where to go to find certain things (recent example - one of those hangy thingys for the shower)! This is why I most often resort to online shopping, which involves learning the word in Dutch and then googling different varieties of the word to see if there is a shop even selling it online)!

Needless to say, I am so incredibly looking forward to walking into Target, breathing in the wonderful smell of ultimate consumerism and embracing it, at least for the few hours I have to do so. I will soak in the variety of choices, take time to browse and decide, and do what Americans do best, CONSUME! :)

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Upcoming travels

We have lots of European travels coming up with my family visiting in May and July!

- April: Greece for business and pleasure!
- May: Munich and Bavarian region with the father, stepmother and half-siblings

- June: Portugal --> Arno and I will also finally have a belated honeymoon!! Never been to Portugal, so really looking forward to exploring the country over a 2 week timeframe.
- July: Paris, for about the 5th time with my mom! I love this city!

Unfortunately, no fun trips outside of Europe, although, if I am really lucky - maybe a long weekend to Istanbul....hmm.....

Anyhow, will be posting photos from Greece in a couple of weeks! Stay tuned. Fun times!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Brief article I wrote from my MSF trip to the Congo a little while ago...

...I don't think I ever shared this on here, but here's a brief article I wrote based on an interview I did with a family in Shamwana, DRC (Katanga province). It was translated and put onto the Dutch MSF website, but here is the English version. I am reminiscing about my trip there and just thought I'd share! The interview took place in their humble home and it was a very interesting, wonderful experience! This healthy baby is more the exception than the norm, unfortunately...

Bifani from the Democratic Republic of Congo

Throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is customary for people to seek the guidance and treatment of a traditional healer. The healer performs a range of rituals for a variety of illnesses in an effort to heal the ailing person. This health-seeking practice has partly to do with long-held local customs as well as the lack of quality medical facilities. In the experience of MSF staff throughout the country, the traditional healers’ remedies can have positive, but also negative effects.

MSF works in 2 hospitals in Shamwana and Dubie, in south-eastern Congo. There, we've seen that there is a custom which requires mothers who have just delivered a baby to wait to start breastfeeding their newborns until after a visit of a traditional healer. The traditional healer must first perform a small ritual before the breast milk is deemed ready to give to the baby.

However, the mother may have to wait a week or more until the traditional healer's visit, thus preventing the baby from receiving the special first breast milk (the colostrum) containing vital nutrients and antibodies a baby needs in its first days of life. As a result, and without the availability of milk formula, this widely practiced tradition has unfortunately led to the death of many newborns in the region.

However, newborn Bifani Kenna – who is named after a former MSF nurse who worked in the Shamwana hospital – is more fortunate. Her parents, Willy (38) and Hatti (25), recognize the importance of beginning breastfeeding immediately after a baby is born. Willy and Hatti have also tried to spread this information informally by talking to other mothers and families, but have met with resistance from other villagers who strongly value this particular custom with the traditional healer.

In order to provide health services to better meet the population’s needs, MSF is also beginning to address this paradox by adapting its programming. In Shamwana, and in other villages where there is a similar concern about some of the negative effects of the customary health-seeking practice, MSF is starting to engage with local traditional healers to establish a positive cooperation. One possible solution, for example, is bringing the traditional healers to the hospital immediately upon the birth of a child to perform the ritual for the breast milk. The challenge facing MSF staff is a delicate balancing act, but one, if achieved, can result in more healthy babies.

During my conversation with Willy and Hatti and as they proudly showed me their newborn Bifani, they asked me to share this significant issue with the wider public to raise awareness of some contradictions which exist between traditional customs and Western medicine, and the dilemmas which regularly occur as a result. Willy and Hatti wish more parents will be able to have a healthy baby like their Bifani

Melissa Ruggles

Melissa was in the Congo to accompany and support the MSF operational advisor in her work.

Willy and Hatti are both Congolese nationals who came to Shamwana from other parts of Katanga. Willy works for MSF in the Shamwana project as a Social Mobilizer. In addition to newborn Bifani, Willy and Hatti have 3 other healthy children, 2 boys and 1 other girl, and they hope to have at least 5 kids in total.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Morocco Part II

The beauty of this meticulously hand-painted, hand-carved door (probably a couple of centuries old) exemplifies the beauty found all over this land. Morocco is like a huge rough rock with many precious gems to be found inside.

I've taken a lot of photos and I hope you do take the time to look through them to see more of this very interesting country. I can't wait to go back in the future and explore some more!

Click here to see the photos!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Morocco Part I

(NB: The videos work now - had to upload them to YouTube)

We recently traveled to Morocco for a short holiday trip (it's only a 3 hour flight, so why not?!). We spent our time in Fes and in the Erg Chebbi dunes in the Sahara desert. Until I get the photos uploaded, here are 2 short videos for you.

One is from within the Fes medina in the souks. This medina is far more interesting and dynamic than captured in this video. The noises, smells and stimuli were endless. Several times, I even had to jump to get out of the way of loaded donkeys hauling various goods, lol!

This short one is in the dunes...

What I can say, even from our short visit, is that this country is simply amazing. The country is is incredibly rich in both culture and nature. The diversity of nature and dramatic, scenic landscapes was really a surprise for me...we traveled through snow in the Atlas mountains, through rugged moon-like and Irish-like landscapes, and of course experienced the desert...there is also much more to this country (incl. beaches, other interesting ancient cities, etc. etc.) than we were able to see on this visit.

I highly recommend this country to travelers. People are very friendly, it's not a strict Muslim country; however, I do recommend traveling with someone if you're female!

We'll definitely be heading back to explore Marrakesh and other interesting places in the future!

More to come soon....