December 31, 2004

Looking for the Recap?

Click here for it. Enjoy!

December 25, 2004

Holiday Highlights

While Chicago hasn't been one of the blog's most exotic locales, it's still one of our faves (of course!). In lieu of that here's just a few excerpts of our '04 holiday:

1. At Karen (Janet's sis) and Tim's homestead for a post-thanksgiving feast:

Sami and her FAVORITE Uncle vegging

Samantha, thinking "will this guy just let us EAT?"

Alexis, Janet's sister Julie's youngest seeming to ask "Got Turkey?"

Caroline (she calls herself "Telly") posing after tackling her dessert

Best buds Kaitlyn and Sami

2. Decking the Halls. Christmas is a big deal at the Van Huysse household. Under the matriarch's careful supervision and tutelage, four Christmas trees, a host of outdoor lights and a miniature village occupying a full one-third of the TV room is assembled.

Father and Son putting up one of the 27 (yes, 27) strands of lights

Close-up view, pre-ornament trimming

Precarious Angel Placement

Mom and her best friend Eileen have been baking xmas cookies for 18 years straight (daughter Keri and others are more recent additions)

Fruits of our labors

3. A visit from our good friend David Lee and his fiancee Vivianne, in from Brazil (David hosted us waaaay back in Feb in Sao Paulo)

We actually look sober in this one

4. Christmas Eve at Grammy and Pa's (the Noel Clan), a tradition characterized by Pa's yummy appetizers, loads of present-unwrapping and an all-around good time:

Andrew and Zachary (I had to bribe them to pose)

Samantha, opening Aunt Janet's gift for her (note similarities to her Turkish boots)...

...and note her reaction to them. They are obviously cut from the same cloth ;-)

My Sister-in-law cum Reindeer Karen

5. Christmas morning at the Van Huysse's, another holiday tradition featuring a round-robin of present opening around the tree and copious amounts of coffee :-)

Dad opening up some sort of power tool

Sister Kate's fave present ('natch)

Scene of the unwrappin'

6. Christmas Dinner. Mom's features like 30 expertly prepared dishes that must take her 18 hours to prepare (she's a wizard in the kitchen). The feast's regular attendees include members of the Mangan Clan (my Mom's side):

Cousins Nora, the latest Mangan addition (Carrie and Mike's), Annie and Mary Kath with their Grandma Anne

The Chefs. This one is naturally more than a bit disturbing to me...

Does she set a mean table or what?

Cousin Tiffany and her cute-as-heck daughter Jacqueline

7. The annual Jasper trip. Every year J and I make the 350 mile trek south to visit my Dad's family in Southern Indiana. The trip always includes an excursion to the local Mexican restaurant for south of the border fare and about 465 pitchers of margaritas:

As you can see, clearly no fun was had whatsoever

This year featured all but one of the fabulous five famed Van Huysse sisters. Four was about all the restaurant could handle ;-))

Jim and cousin Courtney

Gramps and grandson

8. Sight-seeing in our hometown. We figured we should take advantage of our 2+ months in the Windy City and play tourist...a task which we felt required the importing of Melanie, whom we hadn't seen since we left her in Rio in March!

Wives No.'s Two and One in front of the Art Institute of Chicago

At Millennium Park, a newly constructed and coolly designed site in downtown Chi-town

Very Modern/Artistic for in front of this trippy LCD exhibit thingee

9. Great Grandma Noel's 90th birthday surprise party. This one featured Noel fam members from Massachusetts to California:


Great Grandma with a little help from Andrew, third generation descendent from Ginny (photo taken by his 8 year-old brother Zack)

November 24, 2004

Chicago style Welcome

Our first day back J and I were greeted as only a November day in the Midwest can: with 3+ inches of snow and chilly temps to remind us that we're not in Kansas anymore (or Mediterranean Europe for that matter).

Nevertheless, one far more positive result of this realization was the imagine Christmas-story-esque views:

Parent's backyard cum Winter Wonderland

"You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!"

November 23, 2004

Sweet Home Chicago

Well, thanks to pea soup fog in Madrid and a narrow connection window in Frankfurt we missed our Chicago leg...which was more than a little disappointing given we had pegged the 23rd as our return date for many moons. That said we got a free night at a 4* and some decent chow and business class on our 9 hour return flight :-).

My wife had me convinced that given the number of countries we've been to, the time that has elapsed since the start of the trip and the number of countries we hit that the Custom officials would probably scowl at us and give us a thorough search and detainment...but all we got was a couple of questions and a quick wave to proceed, followed by a 2 hour wait for Janet's bag to finally be delivered to us by the incompetent Luftansa baggage handlers.

A Sort of Homecoming

So...........we come home with (slightly) mixed emotions. First and foremost, we are pretty well ecstatic to be heading State-side to be with our families and Chicago-based friends in time for the Holidays. Towards the end of our journey we found ourselves imagining who we'd see and when, how big the Salapatek, Hughes and Mangan kiddies had grown in the last year, tree trimming with the fam, Illini basketball games w/ Alumni friends, what San Francisco will be like, etc. etc.

On the other hand, there was a slight tinge of sadness with the knowledge that this was indeed our last leg before returning to the oft described and mildly concerning "normal life", one in which the challenges are far different and the subject matter quite familiar.

That said, we return a bit travel weary and more than a bit grateful for what we have experienced thus far and that we will be sharing those experiences w/ peeps we care about.

J and I will be working on a grande blog re-cap, complete with learnings and observations that I cannot promise will be insightful or entertaining but will at least be cathartic for us :-).

It's good to be home!


November 22, 2004

Espania Recapo

Spain tied Thailand for the country we entered/re-entered the most times (four), so we covered a lotta ground :-):

Stuff we found endearing about Spain:

Stuff falling somewhere on the amusing>annoying>disturbing scale:

November 21, 2004

Our last day in Madrid

(Sniff!). After exposing Mr. Bill to the delights of a chocolat con churros breakfast we headed to the Prado, Spain's most famous museum (and one of the best in all of Europe).

It had a wide breadth of paintings but we (naturally) gravitated towards those with mythological themes or the 20th century masters, such as Pablo:

Kind of Blue

Don't think you were supposed to snap pics but I couldn't resist the above...

After spending the day roaming 'round the city (including a crowded and forgettable flea market) we sucked the marrow out of our last evening in Espania by sucking down some Spanish brews, more tapas than you could shake a belly at and a nightcap that insured I would be nice and hungover for the marathon travel day the next morning:

The Three Negra-clad Amigos

November 20, 2004

Mucho Madrid

Today Senior Bill, Janet and I explored the cosmopolitan splendor that is Madrid, starting with the Palacia Real, and if ever there was a "Real" Palace, this puppy would more than qualify. Aside from being absolutely massive...

Keeping it Real commanded a majestic view and, more impressively, had an interior about as gaudily decorated as they come:

It's good to be the King

After a bit of well-earned gelato (tourism is hard!) we mosied on over to the Museo Thyssen, said to have one of the best overviews of 13th > 20th Century art on the planet. We were a bit wiped by this point, but it still managed to impress...

After a bit of unfortunately disappointing Paella, the old folks turned in early on a Saturday night in Spain (sinful, I know).

November 19, 2004

Spoiling Ourselves in Spain

For our fourth and last trip back into mainland Spain we decided to spoil ourselves (my wife's bril idea) with one of the few remaining benefits of my former indentured servitude: hotel points.

We managed to snag three (free) nights at Madrid's The Westin Palace Hotel, our first 5* on this trip (and then some). While we have absolutely dug the backpacker/hostel/budget options of the past 9 months, it was pretty damn gratifying to indulge for a long weekend in one of Europe's swankiest cities (not to mention the rather hellish, cramped and sleepless sleeper train we took from Lisbon the night before):

Room with a view

B/C the hotel assumed they were dealing with a long-term, high faluting client (fools :-)) they gave us a suite. While it was nice to have a room 8X the largest we'd had since we'd left the States, I was more than a little worried that I would not get my wife out of the room :-).

After prying the hair dryer from Janet's clenched hands we headed out to the Parque del Buen Retiro, soaking up a little sun amidst the fall foliage:

Saturday, in the Park (it was not the 4th of July)

After being mesmerized by a trippy manifestation of abstract art (picture about 100 glass arms serving as bell clangers operated by hidden motors in turn pulling strings within a huge "crystal Palace" from the 19th Century) we headed to the southern end of the Park to check out the "Fallen Angel." Created in 1840, it won some artsy award and was the first modern-day statue dedicated to Satan (leave it to the Spaniards!):

The Nombre of the Beast

We left Lucifer for Rena Sofia, one of Madrid's many famous museums. Post modern art gaping we were joined by our friend Dave (Mr) Bill who was on business in Barcelona the day before who, funnily enough, joined us at the beginning of our Asia trip (which seems like EONS ago at this point).

We spent the night catching up over tapas and vino tinto at a great little restaurant in the city centre. Yummmm.

November 18, 2004

Portugal Re-cap

First, ze map:

Next, the stuff we found endearing:

Stuff falling somewhere on the amusing > annoying > disturbing scale


In the late morning J and I trained it to the nearby town of Sintra, whose pastoral views, castles and remote feel make it a favorite for Lisboan daytrippers.

We started our visit with one of the those hikes guidebooks classify as "vigorous" up to the ruins of Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle), built by the invading Arabs of the 8th Century and reconquered by the Portuguese 400 years later. We got some sweet views both below:

Moon shot

and from above:

Missionary view

Next we hoofed it further up yon road to the Castelo's younger cousin, the 19th Century Palacia Nacional Pena. Constructed in 1840 by King Ferdinand II one is immediately struck by its colorful exterior, giving the Palace a whimsical, Disneyesque quality:

Enchanted Kingdom

After taking in the stunning views the Palace afforded we returned to the city center to wander 'round the hilly, Christmas decorated streets, pausing to indulge my fascination with water sports:

Girl in pink hat, through fountain

We returned that evening to Lisboa to say goodbye to our extraordinarily generous friends who'd hosted our travel weary butts for the past 4 days. It was tough to say leave Rita and Diogo (and the city they call home) but Madrid (and the promise of Thanksgiving in Chicago) beaconed.

November 17, 2004

Monasteries, Towers and Tourist Trams

Today we hoofed it from Rita's apartment south to the Parque Edwardo VII, a vast expanse of greenery in the middle of the city whose centerpiece was a maze-like, seemingly infinite stretch of well manicured hedges stretching the entire length of the park:

Hedgehog Heaven

After strolling down the Aveneda de Liberada (named after the bloodless coup that toppled the dictatorship in '74) we walked up our third of the seven Lisbon Hills to the neighborhood of Bairro Alto where we took in a city view opposite the castle, then on to Belem, a garden neighborhood 3 km from the city center.

Upon arrival we were greeted with the opportunity to ride one of those cheesy "tourist trains" and given the absolute campiness and the fact that we had it to ourselves we simply could not spite of the laughs and jeers we received from the locals as we road 'round the Bellum :-)

Who wouldn't be this thrilled??

The Belum's main sites are the monastery (a really lovely building, especially by sunset):

Monasteiro dos Jermminos

as well as the famed Torre de Belem, the tower where the renowned Portuguese explorers of the 15 and 16th Centuries where given a blessing and send off before departing for the new world:

The bella Bela Tower

And we naturally had to end the day with a sweet (or four), stopping off at the 150+ year old Pastry factory, whose ornery waiters where more than offset by its sumptuous Lisbon specialty custard filled cakes was of:

Pasties DE BELUM(icious)

Later that evening Rita took us to a cool port tasting restaurant and then on to dinner with Diogo. A busy but properly indulgent day :-)

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