Black Isle Brewery – Scotland

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It wouldn’t be a DG family adventure without us checking out the local brew scene. We discovered a stellar brewery just outside Inverness, Scotland. The Black Isle Brewery started as a Homebrew operation 20 years ago and now ships all around Europe and as far as Canada and Japan. They haven’t broken into the USA market yet, but I’m certain they will at some point. They are that good!

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In 2011 they moved to their current facility located north of Inverness and 2 years ago opened their first brewpub in the city itself.

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We visited the brewpub first for some delicious pizzas and to sample a few brews before making the 20 minute trek to the brewery the following day. At the pub, the atmosphere is light and funky, combining the classic wood and industrial look of the brew world with pops of tangerine and painted murals of the local landscape (pictured behind our sleepy kid below, ha). In addition to the food and beverages, you can also rent a room and stay for the night as you romp around the highlands or if you’ve just one too many Migrator DIPA’s to continue on.

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Having had a lovely evening the night before, we were happy to visit the brewery itself. Kate, our brew guide, met us at the door and invited us on a tour of the facility to learn about their process and their space. She was so kind to our boys and didn’t mind their silly questions and odd comments like “yum it smells like pasta!” What?! Not like this is their first brewery, ha! Boiling wort does not smell like pasta, I promise!

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We learned that they are committed to a totally organic process and grow most of their malts on the farm next to the facility. Once the mash is finished, they feed the spent grain to the black sheep in their pastures. Since Scotland is too cold to grow their own hops, they source organic hops from California and New Zealand, depending on the recipes.

I really dig their logo as well, design geek that I am. It features the flower of Scotland, the thistle, and each brew has a designated color for the bloom of the thistle. The creative behind the labels and logo is the brewer’s wife. She recently started to develop variations on the their original labels to differentiate between their flagship brews and their special ones like their barrel aged oatmeal stout and collaboration brews. Oh, and we learned that each of the brews is named after a bird in from the area too, pretty cool.

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We had the honor of interacting with the master brewer himself. He overheard us and recognized that the hubs is a true brew lover, so he stopped and chatted for a minute. He demanded that we take home two bottles of the newest brews literally fresh off the label line! He was correct in his suspicion that we love us some hops!

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Another great note about Black Isle Brewery that makes them stand out from other local UK brews are their higher ABVs (alcohol by volume). Although they do have sessions ales at about 3%-4.5%, good for a few rounds at the pub, they also have some heavy hitters at 8-10.4% (specifically of interest to my beer guy!). We found it rather interesting how low the average ABV is here, but it makes sense if you plan to be watching a rugby match for hours. Interestingly, I did recently learn from some British friends that if you go outside the main cities to the small towns, the pubs have taps with higher ABVs. It’s good to be “staggering distance” from your lodgings though!

If you’re visiting Scotland and like a well crafted, organic brew, we highly recommend tasting one of the many Black Isle ales they offer. They even have a tasty Gluten Free brew called the Gold Finch. This brewery truly was a standout for us. Try it and let us know your thoughts!

Cheers!

kdg

Follow along with our brew adventures with #dgbrewphotos on Instagram.

An Outlander’s Adventure in Scotland

“I had been in a number of cold places in my life, but there’s something remarkably penetrating about the Scottish cold.”  – Diana Gabaldon, Outlander 

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I have Irish blood, but it is paired with some tropic and humidity-loving Puerto Rican blood, so I was flipping freezing in Scotland in March! Meanwhile, my beloved husband breathed it in like the cold was refreshing his soul. The cool 40 degree temps went well with all his Scot and Viking blood. Our tiny one was with Dad on this one, he kept pointing to the snow capped mountains of the Highlands saying he wanted to go there! Apparently, his Celt blood is stronger than the few drops of islander blood in this particular case. Meanwhile, our older one was wearing layers like his momma ready to run indoors!

That said, I do love it there too. In addition to my husband’s obvious connection through his heritage (which was so fun to teach the boys about), the landscape is breathtaking and the people are down right lovely and hospitable!

This was our second trip to bonnie old Scotland. The first time was in May 2013 with just one wee laddie in tow and my brother-in-law. That was an awesome adventure and our first travel abroad experience with kids. Needless to say, we have learned a lot since, ha!

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When we arrived in Scotland from our London adventure we made Inverness our home for a few days. We particularly love the city of Inverness, which means mouth of the River Ness in Gaelic. The city is split with the River Ness running through it with multiple bridges connecting it along the way. There are several churches and steeples dotting the skyline, as well as Inverness Castle on the hill overlooking the bustle of the capital of the Highlands.

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Fun fact: Scotland is home to the largest dolphins in the world, they can grow to be as long 4M (12FT)! Inverness is located near the North Sea where these clever giants call home, so you can even take a dolphin cruise to search of them. Sadly we didn’t see any this time, but the boat ride was a fun addition to our trip and our tour guide was super informative.

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We stayed at the Westoburne Guest House overlooking the river. It was fantastic and the owners went over an beyond to take care of us. Kirsteen, one of the owners, even packed this prego a bag of her amazing homemade shortbread for the road! It is seriously the best I have ever tasted! We highly recommend the Westbourne, but wherever you stay, include visit the infamous Culloden battlefield and ancient standing stones at Clava Cairns, both of which are points of interest for fans of Outlander books and Starz series, which we are. Funnily enough, visiting these two sites began our spontaneous Outlander tour.

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Even when we visited Beauly Priory we overheard a kilted guide discussing the real dynamics between the MacKenzie and Fraser clans.

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Then on the way from Stirling (a post all it’s own) to Edinburgh, saw signs for Blackness Castle where they filmed the scenes of Ft. William, so we took the chilly detour. However, the highlight to our little tour was visiting the dilapidated Midhope Castle – the fictional home of James Fraser – Lallybroch.

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Needless to say, it was such a fun adventure finding our way into the imaginary world of Outlander and exploring the areas around the River Ness and Highlands. It was especially special to share it all with our laddies. If you plan your trip to Scotland we hope you will not miss out on these beautiful areas.

Cheers,

kdg

 

Nomadic Friends

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In a way I was born to be a nomad. I’m a second generation military brat and we moved every two to three years. Like other military brats, I never knew how to answer the question, “where are you from?” That is until about 5 few years ago when I moved from Virginia to Kuwait.

After a stint of almost 8 years in Virginia, (literally the longest I have ever lived in one place), where I graduated from college, met my husband, and had my babies; our little family of four left home and moved to Kuwait. I was confident that we would love this adventurous life and that raising citizens of the world would be amazing, but I had forgotten one lesson I had been taught all those years as a military brat: how to “bloom where I was planted.” I convinced myself that it was about this family I was building and that I didn’t need any new friends. I had “my people” back home. I could make it on my own until our next trip home.

Who was I kidding? I’m an extrovert! Within a week of settling in I dropped my proverbial basket and had a complete meltdown about how lonely I was. Life in a foreign country is hard enough. You need people who understand  just how foreign and often times frustrating a place/people can be, to support you and help you laugh your way through it.

A few weeks later, at pickup from Montessori school, I saw this mom and thought, “I’m going to be her friend.” It took a few more chit chats at pickup to find my way in, and I pretty much forced a coffee/play date on her. Love you Liz!

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Although she was my first real friend in Kuwait, she was just the beginning of our crew that we now call the ABCDGs. Five families (including Lindy-Ann’s) that became each other’s village. Our kids grew up together for a time, our husbands teased each other endlessly (still do), and we kept each other sane living the desert life. Even though a couple of us have moved away, we’re still connected and share our lives with each other thanks to technology. However, the best thing is when we get the chance to travel together or to visit each other. It’s in those times that we continue making memories, laughing, and bonding.

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Over this past spring break, the ABCDGs ladies met up in London, prompting my family’s latest adventure to the UK. Sadly, Lindy-Ann couldn’t join us, but she was definitely there in spirit! It was such a fab time to be with 3 of my 4 buddies and I will cherish those moments until we are together again!

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No matter where you are in your journey, whether an expat or in the same town for decades, don’t close your heart to new people. You never know how they may change you forever. Thank you, Kate, Lindy-Ann, Liz, and Michelle for being a part of my life – you and your families mean so much to us! Until the next ABCDG adventure…

With Love,

kdg

Acrobranch – Tree climbing adventures for all ages.

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We are very slowly getting back into our old routine living here in our beloved desert homeland. By slowly, I mean snails pace. I think that may be due to an extended period of humidity which has been challenging, but we’re getting there. What the kids miss most, other than family, are the trees… climbing the trees to be exact. I keep going back to the time when we went to Acrobranch in Centurion, South Africa. If any of our South African readers have not yet been to Acrobranch, please read this post.  It is an aerial tree top adventure that caters to the whole family. All ages from children as young as 3 to adults of all ages.

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I went there with my three minions, plus their cousin and her mom, and we had such a wonderful afternoon. The kids were climbing for over an hour and we then settled in to The Big Red Barn for lunch. It was truly a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Side note: The next time you find yourself there over lunch do yourself a favour and order the house fries. I may or may not have eaten the entire plate #sorrynotsorry.

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“Acrobranch is Kid Heaven! Swinging through trees, dangling from branches, balancing in the air. But wait, Acrobranch also takes care of every parent’s fear and tucks those kids safely into snug harnesses, hooked into secure lines all through the course. It’s all with adult supervision, but the children are encouraged to go at their own pace and move their own clips themselves.

All courses are designed with specific ages in mind to keep your kids entertained…and safe. Check out your desired park for more info on our kids course age and height requirements.” – via Acrobranch website.

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Now what I appreciate the most about this concept is the benefit to a child’s physical development.  A child is constantly thinking about which hand they need to put where, which foot they need to move first, and which clip goes where. They work on balance, how the brain interprets where the body is in the environment it is in, they need to orientate their whole being to work as one to navigate the course safely, they build core strength, and improve flexibility and reach.

The next time I go, I promise to take more grownups with me, which should leave me hands free to carry my ‘big’ camera and get proper photos, but hey, they say the best camera is the one you have with you, so thank you iPhone.

Acrobranch – super affordable rates and fantastic for kids parties, I can only imagine how much fun it would be for team building too. You can contact them on +27 86 999 0369 or visit their website for more information. I highly recommend it.

If anyone has tried them out and would like to share your experience with our readers, we would love to read your comments below.

Cheers.

la

Fall in Israel – Rosh Hashanah

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The weather, the holidays, and the spirit of Fall in Israel are all definitely different from our beloved Virginia, but we are enjoying the adventure. This was a big weekend for us and the country as we celebrated the New Year, also known as Rosh Hashanah. Until last year, I used to be unfamiliar with the Jewish/Israeli holidays, aside from their dates pre-labeled in my calendar over the years. For all of you like me, living in Israel means three days off of school, celebrations and toasts, religious observances, lots of new traditions, and it is a great time to travel or explore for us non-observant expats.

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Since we have missed our Fall traditions from back home, we took the long week and went camping at Horshat Tal in the Golan Heights with a few of our favorite outdoorsy friends.  We also toasted the new year at our favorite Israeli winery, Pelter Winery and one of our favorite Israeli craft breweries, Galil Brewery (they have pumpkin ale!). It was a wonderful time to be removed from the pressures of school and work and just be together and laugh a lot. Plus, I checked a few things off our Fall bucket list!

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I know I say it all the time, but experiencing the cultures of the country we live in (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and those of the people we befriend is truly one of my favorite things about living abroad. It makes me so happy to listen to the boys sing holiday songs, share the salutations in the language, and try traditional eats and treats. Their favorite Rosh Hashanah treat is apples dipped in honey, eaten to symbolize a sweet new year.

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It is especially fun to experience each of the holidays through our youngest at a local Hebrew gan (pre-school). On the Friday before the holiday the parents were invited to join a toast to the new year. The littles all wore white, the traditional color worn on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and for holy days. There was a rabbi who talked (in Hebrew of course) about the holiday and blew the shofar for us. We sat and watched the children sing and clap to songs they had clearly been learning leading up to it. I couldn’t help but smile at the tiny hands holding up glasses of tirosh (children’s wine) toasting and shouting “Shana Tova”!

Our big kid had his own Rosh Hashanah celebration at the international school and learned about the holiday in Israeli Culture class, which is one of his favorite classes. He just loves the teacher too! She has them singing fun songs, speaking in Hebrew, and excited to share it all at home with us. Let me tell you, we have learned a lot because of it! Fun fact, similar to our beloved Greeks, the Israelis see the pomegranate as a symbol of prosperity, health, fertility and happiness and they are particularly important and given as gifts at Rosh Hashanah.

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To learn more about the holiday check out this fun video. I can really get behind the heart of starting fresh and walking into the new year on a sweet note!

Here’s to a sweet (and intentional) new year!

Shana Tova!

kdg

Origami birds courtesy of fellow gan mom, Noa, check out her blog post: I’m on Leave

Ein Hod Artist Village

{Guest post by: Keturah Maraska}

Have you ever thought about running away to live amongst other artists? Well, if you ever do feel the urge I have the perfect location – Ein Hod. Last week I was lucky enough to join a group of ladies for a tour of this quaint little village and learn a bit more about the wonderful artistic culture here in Israel.

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This Israeli artist colony is nestled just south of Carmel Mountain National Park and has a great view to the Mediterranean Sea thus providing the perfect picturesque inspiration for new pieces of art. Artists first began to move here in 1953 when artist Marcel Janco invited some of his talented friends to join him in settling in a colony with like-minded individuals. The original group of villagers was part of the Dado movement arising post WWI. Though there were just a few initial residents of Ein Hod, the village has grown to approximately 150 artists and their families.

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What makes this village unique is that only artists are allowed to own homes and live in town. Artists are not permitted to deed their property to their descendants unless they too are artists who are living and working in the community. This policy maintains a creative culture inside Ein Hod, even leading to second and third generation artists living in the neighborhood.

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Artists in Ein Hod consist of photographers, potters, painters, jewelers, sculptors, those who work with textiles, and even musicians. During our tour we had the privilege to meet a few of the artists and experience short demonstrations of their craft. First, we encountered the Magal sisters. These twins are second-generation Ein Hod residents. They are potters who use glaze to paint their pottery before they fire it. They do not paint and then glaze, but use the glaze as the paint, which makes the process more complicated since the glaze melts and blends during the firing. This technique is laborious and tedious, but these women spoke of their work with a passion that filled the air. The final product is vibrant in color and often very detailed. My favorite pottery items are the sheep they painstakingly create by rolling and looping each piece of “wool” before glazing and firing the final product. As I admired their work it was clear the Magal sisters love what they do and are extremely proud of their craft.

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As second-generation artists, the Magal sisters first found themselves in Ein Hod due to their father’s love of painting. His original oil works are available for a hefty penny; however, the sisters produce silk screens of his work which are much more economical. The sisters are also quite proud of the work their father produced and will gladly discuss his inspiration – the Mediterranean Sea and elements of Jewish culture.

Another artist we met was the potter Tal Shahar who opened her Ein Hod workshop in 1985. Shahar shares her workshop with budding potters and serves as their mentor and guide. Her palette is more earth tone than the Magals though she does paint her creations at times. Cups, dishes, and vases that Tal produces in color are usually developed by using a pigment and underglaze. One more unique technique that Tal employs is the Japanese style of Raku – firing at a high heat, them removing and “smoking” the ceramic so that it darkens and cracks in spots. I have seen this technique before, but I did find Tal’s finished products rather beautiful. The most interesting were a white design made through useof the “naked” Raku process. (For more information on ceramic pigments and stains visit this site).

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Finally, our tour guide, Lea Ben-Arye, demonstrated her silkscreen technique for us on the steps just outside her store. Nestled under the trees in a corner, Ben-Arye’s shop is the perfect location of group lessons in silkscreen. She has her own technique that allows her to reuse her stencils and create unique designs. Her husband Dan Ben-Arye works beside her creating jewelry, wooden sculptures, etc. She said he likes to learn from the other artists in the colony and then develop his own technique. Their store is filled with many of their creations from scarves, necklaces, wooden benches, and Dan’s newest passion – photographs of the clouds of Ein Hod. The one item that really caught my eye was their necklace design of a pomegranate and Star of David in one – both very symbolic of Israeli culture and life.

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Should I ever decide to run away this would be high on my list of places to end up. Art is everywhere – from the garbage cans, to chairs, to roadblocks, etc. Sculptures are on just about every corner. You can’t help but have some pop of color catch your attention around each bend in the road. Traffic is almost non-existent so strolling through the streets and admiring all of the craftwork around you is not only possible, it is almost demanded. Oh, and don’t worry, there are great restaurants and a coffee shop or two to fill your stomach and please your eye with “art on the plate” in order to energize you for the next set of galleries and workshops on your list of “must-sees”.

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It doesn’t take much of an imagination to understand why people would be drawn to this location; it takes even less of an imagination to see why generation after generation would want to stay here; once here, though, your imagination is the only thing that can limit what lies ahead.

keturah

 

 

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Keturah is a Marine wife and mother to two high school boys, and an Elementary school teacher.  Their family is currently transitioning back to the United States of America after a year abroad in Israel. She loved living in Tel Aviv and will miss living on the Mediterranean Sea.

Katie featured her family’s photo session earlier this week and shared about their creative bond and friendship. We are so thankful to have Keturah as a part of our creative community and look forward to  having her share her adventures with us again.

Colorful Oman

{Guest post by: Jillian Bellamy}

As Lindy-Ann described in her recent Sepia post, life in the desert can become a bit…. monochromatic. Sure, we get to enjoy the ever-changing blues of the gulf, and the color of sand has its own charm; especially when it blows in and turns the whole world orange, but there is a lot to be missed when you decide to call a Kuwait  your home. Of course, there are the obvious changing autumn leaves, bright blooms of spring, and even the dreariness of a grey winter sky, but what my family and I didn’t realize we were missing were the not so obvious scenes. The colors of the earth itself were lacking in our palette. That is, until we hit the road out of Muscat, Oman and embarked on a feast for the eyes and the soul. This was our third trip to the Sultanate of Oman, and this gem of the Middle East is certainly worth the repeat visits.

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We have been fortunate to travel to some pretty enchanting places on this planet, and Oman nears the top of the list. I’ve never felt so beckoned to explore every nook and cranny and venture down so many paths less chosen. Oops, back to reality – we had two kids in tow, so ALL of the nooks and crannies may have been off limits, but we managed to stumble upon our fair share.  

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Our first stop was Jebel Shams. Our journey to the highest peak in Oman took us through an otherworldly landscape of colorful rocky mountains that had our 4 year old chiming in from the back seat to ask, “Are we still on the Earth??”  In addition to the usual greys, tans and browns of the mountain rocks, we were surprised to see the mountains reveal deep, earthy purples, sandy reds, and sage greens; all set against a clear blue sky and dotted with funny, little goats. At the end of our drive awaited an orange-pink sunset, that transformed the rocky landscape into an amazing blue-grey before the night sky became a blanket of stars. We treated ourselves to a campfire and a little taste of home as we roasted marshmallows in the orange glow.

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Our next stop, the highlight of our trip, was a visit to the quaint farming village of Misfat al Abriyeen. Nestled in the mountains, we came upon this village of crumbling mud brick homes and countless palms.  A meandering path took us through alleyways donned with colorful doors in various states of disarray before passing through an archway into a hidden world of date palms, an ancient aqueduct (falaj) system, and terraced farming fields of papayas, mangoes, bananas, corn, pomegranates, limes, figs… the list goes on. We were mesmerized by this oasis of green and life tucked away in these barren mountains, and neither words nor photos can really do this village justice.

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Before heading out of the mountains, we stopped to browse the souq in Nizwa, whose main wares were clay pots, silver, and dates. The people of Oman greeted us warmly with their deep brown eyes, friendly smiles, and hospitality rooted in Bedouin tradition. The men in the shops wore perfectly pressed disdashas that strayed from the typical whites and creams and seemed to emulate the colors of the landscape – earthy blues, greys, greens, browns, and even purples were complemented by beautifully embroidered caps called kummahs. I would be remiss if I failed to mention that my camera met its demise at this souq, which was both devastating and, admittedly, liberating.

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We descended from the mountains, armed with only our cellphone cameras, to the fringes of the Empty Quarter, a vast expanse of picturesque sand dunes inhabited by Bedouins. Along the way we saw tiny mosques with domes of glistening gold and colorful mosaic tile set against the mountainous backdrop, as well as dozens of whirling sand tornadoes that conjured up images of genies and desert mystery.  When we crossed the threshold into the desert, we were surprised to see so much greenery sprouting from the red-orange sands. The abundant shrubs and bushes were being happily munched on by camels and goats alike. After arriving at our chosen camp and being greeted with dates and Omani coffee, we settled into our Arabic tent surrounded by the familiar black and red fabric that we are accustomed to seeing in the diwaniyas of Kuwait. We scaled a giant dune to enjoy another sunset, another campfire, and another star-filled sky.

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On our last night in Oman, we sat poolside on a bluff, and we talked about how grateful we were to have had the opportunity to visit this colorful little piece of the world.  We watched the big orange ball of a sun dip behind the sparkling sea, framed by two perfectly silhouetted palm trees. I wished I’d had my camera to document the scene, but instead I jumped into the cool blue pool to watch the little guy enjoy his last holiday swim. It turns out that some moments are best captured with your mind.

Safe travels,

Jillian

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Travel: Petra, Jordan

“As much as we like to think we can go it alone, we need friends.” – Emily Ley

When I arrived at our first posting abroad in Kuwait I was convinced I didn’t need to make any friends, I had people back home that cared about me and that was a enough. Wrong. So very wrong. When I opened myself up to the beautiful women around me, they changed my life. Although it is bittersweet to be a nomad and meet amazing people and then have to say goodbye to them, you end up making friends you just know you will see again.

This weekend after a year and a half of planning and strategizing, we met one of those cherished families from Kuwait for an adventure in Petra, Jordan. It has been amazing, if not surreal at times. We have literally picked up where we left off, especially two older children. The memories we are making now will be perfect for those bitter days when we are missing them again.

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Here is a little recap of our adventure and some thoughts to help you, if ever get the opportunity to take the trip.

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Named one of the new 7 wonders of the world a decade ago and an UNESCO World Heritage Site, Petra is an awe-inspiring place to explore, and photograph. It is commonly remembered from the scenes in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (definitely a classic), but to see it close up is just incredible. (wikipedia)

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The main entrance to Petra, where you can buy your entry tickets, souvenirs, water bottles and use the bathroom; was packed. My suggestion here is to pre-order your tickets, bypass all of the chaos and head straight to the ticketed entry gate. Once through the gate we still had a bit of a walk before the actual entrance to the Siq. The Siq “the shaft” is a 1.2 kilometers (0.75 mi) long gorge that winds it way to the famous Treasury carved into the sandstone. (wikipedia) It is simply unbelievable to think that someone climbed to those heights to carve such perfectly symmetrical and intricate lentils, columns, and sculptures. You can still make out what looks like carved ladders of foot and hand-holds on either side of the Treasury facade.

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Along the way be prepared to be bombarded by bedouin children selling postcards, jewelry, and the rides on horses, donkeys, and camels. I recommend you decide in advance whether or not you want to ride the animals, prep your kids for that decision, and have cash ready, we paid 5JD per donkey and horse one way each, plus tip. We did decide that the kids would walk to the end of the city, just before the hike up to the Monastery, and ride a donkey back, but that did not stop the begging or complaining, ha! The older ones did great walking for the most part, but my little guy rode on daddy’s shoulders for the majority of the trek. Another note for those with little ones: the Siq narrows down to 3 meters (9 feet) at times and, with the crowds of tour groups and horse drawn carts, keep them close so you can grab them if necessary.

At the end of the city we split up and the dads went on to hike to the Monastery and the moms returned with our little adventurers to the hotel for a relaxing late lunch. Friends that had gone before us had shared that the steep incline was a little scary with kids on donkeys and that there were no railings or guards at the top, so we were not going risk it. The dads returned sweaty, but happy, about two hours later with some fantastic photos of the incredible views from the top. Check out their awesome shots!

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Overall, I think we all appreciated the wonder of Petra and the fun excursion. Experiencing it with our long-distance friends made it all the more special. I even overheard the older ones telling each other that it was “the best day ever” and the other said it was “one of the best days of my life.” See we all need friends, if nothing else but to share our lives with them. {We love you, Drennans!}

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Wishing you a wonder-filled day!

kdg

PS – What a happy coincidence that the hues of Petra continued month’s study of the color orange! #itsanorangeworld