Archive for September, 2008

After an article was recently published about us in The Tennessean, a morning radio show in Nashville (Mix 92.9) contacted us for an interview.   The interview was broadcast on September 15, 2008 and is available by clicking HERE and scrolling down to “One Year On Earth – Newlywed Travelers Trek the Globe to Perform Acts of Service – September 15, 2008.”  Enjoy!

homeward_2After visiting 40 countries over a period of 366 days, we are leaving for the airport in a few minutes to board our final flight of the trip–one destined for Nashville, Tennessee. By the end of the day today, we’ll be home. It’s hard to even estimate the number of times we’ve thought about this day–about how it will feel to step off that plane onto U.S. soil, about what it will be like to hear English spoken everywhere we go, about how nice it will be to talk to our loved ones in person, rather than over email. Now that the day is actually here, it feels a bit surreal.

We already know that the experiences we’ve had over the past year are usually reserved for fairy-tales. The things we’ve seen, the people we’ve met and the challenges we’ve overcome are difficult for us to even comprehend. In fact, as we look back at some of the pictures over the past year, it’s hard for us to even believe that they ever really happened. The trip has gone far better than we could have ever imagined. We’ve been incredibly blessed and lucky–as well as safe–at every turn. While we are incredibly excited to get home, we are also overwhelmingly sad to be leaving our journey behind us. We know that it has been a defining moment of our lives.

It’s hard to come to grips with the fact that it will soon be part of our past. We will spend the next two weeks visiting friends and family in Nashville and Rochester, Michigan before driving to Washington, DC in mid-September to start our new lives. During that time, we will post several entries about our return home and our post-trip reflections on the past year, and we’ll make sure to share some of our favorite pictures, too. Stay tuned!

provence_pic1Even people who have never been to Provence, France probably have a pretty good idea about what it looks like; images of the lovely region in Southeast France are everywhere at home. Nashville has a chain of bakeries with the Provence moniker, and of course there’s the fancy soap and lotion store that you can find in almost every shopping mall (and, as it turns out, in countless upscale shopping areas around the world) called L’Occitane en Provence. Whether they’re selling bread or bubble bath, the stores conjure up images of fields of lavender, stone houses with colorful shutters and a world painted in yellows, blues and purples.
After spending a few days in Provence itself, we can say with conviction that, if you make a trip there and that’s what you’re expecting to see, you probably won’t be disappointed. (Just make sure you go in late spring or early summer, before the lavender is harvested. We got there too late and saw only the fields where the purple stuff once grew.) An old Provence motto advises people to move “slowly in the morning and not too fast in the afternoon.” Whoever said that would be proud of us; we certainly took it to heart while we were there.
We spent most of our time in Provence meandering through small villages in hopes of getting a taste of the “real Provence.” In Carpentras, we browsed through the morning market, sampling local cheese and sausage and stocking up on lavender-scented soaps. In tiny Oppede le Vieux, we hiked back to ancient ruins and had a long lunch at what looked to be the only cafe in town. In Menerbes, we wandered along cobblestone streets and happened upon a magical little garden that allowed us a stunning view of the area’s rolling hills. In Gordes, we stopped to see the Senanque Abbey, home of monks who live in simplicity and silence and earn their keep by growing lavender and tending honeybees. And in Chateauneuf du-Pape, we sampled some of the wines that have made the town famous the world over. Delicious.
We also spent a lazy afternoon in Avignon, which from 1309 to 1377 was the seat of a papacy that had temporarily relocated from Rome. Seven popes in all reigned from Avignon’s extraordinary Palace of the Popes, an imposing fortress made of interconnecting towers that looks out over the hustle and bustle of the town below. And the town itself is unendingly charming, full of museums, boutiques, sidewalk cafes and even a carousel to entertain the masses of tourists who wander its streets.

We fell so in love with Provence while we were there that I wouldn’t be surprised if we find ourselves wandering into the bakeries and shops at home that have adopted its name, hoping for another little taste of the places we enjoyed so much.

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The over-the-top Monte Carlo Casino
When we waved a loving goodbye to Piedmont, Italy the other day and, once again, loaded our backpacks into the Peugeot and set off down the road, we were headed into unknown territory. Literally. We’ve had a guidebook for every country we’ve been to so far, but we were headed into France without so much as a Europe on a Shoestring between us. We had a vague idea that we wanted to be someplace in Provence in the near future, but we knew that we had a day or two to get there. Consulting our map, we realized that one way to get to that area was by driving down the French Riviera, through Monaco, Nice, Cannes and a bunch of other places whose names tend to appear on the pages of glossy magazines in stories about where celebrities dock their yachts. With visions of turquoise water and swaying palm trees dancing in our heads, we set off in that direction.
Entering Monte Carlo
After a few hours, we pulled into Monte Carlo, Monaco. Monaco is a tiny “principality” on the Mediterranean Sea whose territory is completely enclosed by France. It is a constitutional monarchy now led by Prince Albert II, but more famously once ruled by his mother, Princess Grace Kelly. Citizens of Monaco pay no income taxes, a fact that has made the little place a haven for wealthy Europeans who move there as “tax refugees” and now make up the bulk of its population. Monte Carlo is an “administrative area” within Monaco (Wikipedia tells me that it’s technically not a city) that is best known for its extravagant casino, its celebrity spottings and the fact that its streets are pretty much paved with, if not gold, then at least glamour.

Derek and I had both been to Monte Carlo years ago, and we decided to take a look around to see if all was still as we remembered it to be. We stopped by the tourist information office to get a map, and then we got stuck in some kind of Monaco vortex. Within 30 minutes, we were inexplicably checking into a hilariously over-priced hotel and trying to decide where to have dinner that night. Consulting (a great resource for people who love food as much as we do), Derek read out some restaurant options. A French place with a coat-and-tie dress code. Nope. Another French place whose entrees were priced starting at $125. Not so much. An American-themed sports bar that served Tex-Mex. No way. We decided to venture into town without a plan, spend the afternoon exploring the area and worry about dinner later. We changed into our fanciest clothes, which is to say I put on Billabong flip-flops and a cotton sundress with a broken zipper and Derek donned something out the of the pages of the REI catalog, and headed out the door.
The over-the-top Monte Carlo Casino
Monte Carlo has a few tourist activities, but its people are by far its most interesting attraction. It has got to be the best place on earth to people-watch, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do. We found just the place–a busy cafe right in front of the casino with a prime view of the U-shaped street where Beautiful People cruised, revving the engines of their luxury cars and enjoying the envious sighs of the Unwashed Masses who looked on. A table opened up at the cafe just as we arrived, and I made a beeline for it. A few seconds later, a living version of Monte Carlo Barbie and her pal, Ken, both of whom were clad in matching shades of shiny pink, approached and glared at me with such a sense of entitlement that I determined that I must have somehow stolen their table (which, as it turns out, was not even close to being true). While putting this in print makes me cringe with embarrassment, I admit now that I turned and fled. Even from a distance, I could feel their disgust with my choice of footwear.
Renting a Ferrari
Happily, another spot (with an even better view–take that, shiny table thieves!) opened up fairly quickly, and Derek and I settled in to watch the veritable parade of luxury. Old men in white linen sauntered toward the casino with women who could only have been supermodels on their arms. A pack of olive-skinned teens, one of whom was sporting a fedora, loitered on the corner, each with a cellphone attached to his ear. They all shared space with an endless parade of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and even the occasional Rolls Royce. We laughed at one guy who was driving a shiny, red Ferrari while wearing a red Ferrari hat. Brand overload, perhaps? (Walking around town later that evening, we discovered the reason for the man’s brand-redundant hat: he was the Ferrari rental guy. He accompanied poor, sportscar-less souls who were willing to shell out about $120 for a quick spin around town in an Italian masterpiece.)
American fix at Stars N Bars
After a couple of hours spent trying to make one $22 drink last long enough to justify our presence at the cafe without requiring us to buy another one, we found ourselves suffering from Monaco overload. We fled back to our hotel room and gave ourselves a quick Don’t-Even-Begin-To-Think-You-Can-Afford-To-Play-Alongside-These-People reality check, and then we revisited our dinner options. This time, the $8 plate of nachos available at the American sports bar sounded pretty darn good. And you know what? They were.