Foreign Service Update

To our great surprise our departure date has been moved up from June to the middle of April!  This is actually a great thing, but it does make my "right on track" status in regards to planning more like "just behind the curve".  BUT I'm maniacally making lists and checking them twice as I am want to do.  The gist of our big list is as follows:

-Make sure that our travel orders are correct, schedule flights, UAB/HHE (our stuff) pickups
-Get housing, car, etc, figured out in Casablanca
-Get our diplomatic passports
-Make a Coscto run for spices and all things Mexican, pick up other things we will need in Casablanca that are hard to find.  We just bought a Christmas tree last week for example.
-Max has his language test in a couple of weeks and I have a few training courses I hope to get into

on that note...

About three months into French I had to quit for health reasons that made it difficult for me to get to class everyday, but I am still chugging along on my own with Rosetta Stone and go into FSI when I can.  I just started my Masters classes again so hopefully that will get my study butt in gear and I can hit the Francais more frequently.

In a few weeks French will end for Max and he will start his Consular training.  Exciting!

We are both going to a "Security Overseas Seminar" on Monday and Tuesday where I hope they will teach me the ever so scrappy Israeli handfighting skill of Krav Maga.  Krav Maga employs "wrestling, grappling and striking techniques, [...and is...] mostly known for its extremely efficient and brutal counter-attacks".   ....but maybe I'll have to pick that one up on my own when we make it back to Israel.  


On the Bus: Boston Edition

 Over the course of two days we made a total of 19 transfers connecting us between the 21 legs of our journey through Boston and to Salem and back*.  If you think traveling is glamorous...prepare to be disappointed by public transportation that smells vaguely of urine - unless you are made of money I guess.  Despite the complexity of our travel strategy, we spent most of the time walking the streets of Boston and Salem and learned a grundle about American History - both wholesome and a little more back alley.  

We packed one light backpack so that we could get to Boston's Historic 'Nawth End' for our 11 o'clock tour without having to drop our luggage off across town first.  Our tiny French tour guide Michelle showed us around in freezing temperatures just shivering through animated stories of immigrants, priests, brothels, and revolutionary heroes.  We ate at a cozy Italian restaurant and stayed as long as we felt we could to warm our frozen toes without ordering more food.  The weather was actually beautiful: blue skies, no wind, but freezing none the less.

We wound our way backward through most of the Freedom Trail, but made a slight detour to see the Boston Aethenaeum.  The Aethenaeum is one of the oldest independent libraries in the United States and is one of the few 'members only' libraries left.  For the record, I'm not sad about the trend away from private libraries toward public ones over the past century, but there was something a little awesome about a library that felt more like a private learning club than a homeless shelter.  The library was founded in 1807 and overlooks the historic Granary Burying Ground including the graves of Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. 

From there we hopped on the E train and barely made it to the last showing of the Maparium in the Mary Baker Eddy Christian Scientist Library.   Not familiar with a Maprarium?  Nether was I.  In 1935 an architect named Chester Lindsay Churchill built a three story tall, stained glass, to scale replica of the world.  This wonder is hollow on the inside and you walk through it on a bridge.  There is  a brief presentation describing the ways in which the world has changed (USSR, French IndoChina) and also highlights figures who changed it with quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi.  It was quite moving actually.       

With several hours to go before our dinner appointment and the Boston Symphony later that night, we holed up in a corner of a Boston Market and played paper triangle football for sometime.  You know, where you hold your hands up like goal posts?  Winter traveling is harder than other seasons I think.  At least its more expensive.  If we had a few hours to kill during May we could have read our books in a lovely park, sat by the sea and ate ice cream, or drawn pictures of the historic buildings from a park bench, but in the dead of winter you have to find shelter and most of the time that means paying for something.

We had a lovely tapas dinner followed by the Boston Symphony, for which we stayed mostly awake.  It was a long day. 

I think I'll leave tales of Salem, Saudi Arabian Lime Tea, and hand drawn genitals for the next post.   
First Italian Catholic Church in Boston
"One if by land, two it by sea" Historic Steeple where Paul Revere hung his lanterns

*Many of our legs had to do with getting to and from the airport.  We wanted to use our free tickets so we had to get to Baltimore at 6 in the morning, which required a few early morning maneuvers to keep the cost down.  I also included things like the free shuttle from the Amtrak Station to the Airport. 


Who Goes to Boston in January?

We do.
Details forthcoming.


Stuck at the Airport...in an Awesome Way

I realize that posting a picture of a cemetery is a pretty lame way to celebrate Christmas, so a belated, and much less existential, Merry Christmas to all.  This Christmas holiday brought the gifts of Family, Wii, Thai Massage, and six free round trip tickets anywhere that megacheapairlinenottobenamed flies.  God bless us, everyone. 

Max and I visited my sister and her sweet family in Wauwatosa Wisconsin this year, just outside of Milwaukee.  We played tea party, dress ups, legos, and wii; we colored pictures, visited the Milwaukee Natural History Museum, and gorged ourselves on the delicious food my sister made.  Much fun was had by all and Santa Clause even found us all the way over there (thanks Jenn).   

On our way to the airport I said to Max "I hope that the flight is full so that we can volunteer to go later and get free tickets!"  Max refers this kind of attitude as "Getting my coupon's worth" and it has taken us many places so I don't apologize for it.  I got the idea on the way to Milwaukee when the flight next to us was over booked and they called for volunteers to go on a later flight by offering two free roundtrip tickets.  My heart literally began racing and I started planning all the trips we could take with two free roundtrip tickets.  

I like to plan trips.  I'm a little compulsive about it actually.  I've probably planned several dozen trips in my head (with the help of my nerdtastic "Travel Spreadsheet") that we have never taken - down to the price of hotels and food.  In general I think it's helped to hone my travel skills...if made me a little bit crazy.   

So, when we got to the farthestawayterminal at the airport and I saw it was packed with screaming children and frazzled parents returning from their Christmas visits I had a hunch we were in luck.  As soon as our flight showed up on the board I approached the gate and asked the nice woman working at the counter how full the flight was.

"Oh, it's full honey.  We need a few volunteers to bump until tomorrow morning actually"
(Me, feigning like I'd never thought of the idea)"Really?  Well, what kind of compensation could you offer?"
"A round trip ticket for each passenger as well as a hotel stay tonight and a free meal"
"I think I might be interested in that.  Our schedule is pretty flexible"
"Can I send you into Reagan National instead of Baltimore? (WAY closer to our house and easier to get home from)"
"Yeah, I think that would work."
"You know, if you are flexible you should just keep bumping all day tomorrow morning and rack up the tickets"

...!  Of course!  

So after the nice women dealt with a dozen or so passengers who just didn't get on their flight because they were roaming around the airport she helped us with our vouchers.  

"You know, because you guys were so patient about the whole thing (having to wait forever while she dealt with people threatening to never use the airline again - which they will, because it's super cheap.  Silly) I'm going to bump you up to first class"

We spent the night in a nice hotel and ate a lovely filet mignon in a restaurant akin to the restaurant in The Shining with old timey music and a formally dressed maitra d.  The next morning we bumped one more time, this time getting TWO free round trip tickets for our 'troubles'.  We ended up getting home at 1 pm the next day instead of 12:30 in the middle of the night.  A win win as far as I’m concerned. 

A nice old woman with a suitcase full of cheese latched on to me after signing the volunteer sheet and we chatted together about the places we’d go with our free tickets.  She was so nervous about the whole thing and wasn’t sure it would work, but when it did and she realized she could go see her children a few more times she started scheming about doing it again.  Just as I was boarding our 10:30 flight (our patience waning and our remaining three day weekends already booked)I heard her name called as a volunteer to get bumped to the next flight again.  You go. 

Where are we going to go?  Well, the first is a no brainer – visit our moms in Utah.  And secondly, I think we are going to take a nice midwinter trip to the Caribbean.  We are pretty set on the Dominican Republic, but we’ll see.  And the third is still just a twinkle in our eye at this point. 

But other than rocking the system, I wanted to blog about this to impart some airport lessons learned this past week.  They are as follows:

1.     BE NICE.  If you think that being a brute to the only people with the power to help you in a missed flight situation is going to get you what you want – think again.  There are times to be firm, but if you smile and ask nicely and be understanding you WILL be compensated in kind.  If not in tangible services then at least in good travel Karma, which I think is real and very important. 
2.     Check and re-check your gates people.  During times of high volume traveling, the airport gets nuts and gate numbers change and announcements get drowned out.  If it’s about time for your plane to leave and you haven’t seen the announcement flicker across the gate screen where you are sitting – you are in the wrong place. 
3.     Be Nice.  Don’t reserve your niceness just for when you want something.  People get stressed in airports and a smile or kind word is an easy way to help someone out and spread some old fashion good will across connecting airports the worldwide. 
4.     The people at the gates have power.  They can re-assign your seats, upgrade you, and offer things in the case of a full flight.       

So, happy holidays and happy travels...from my 3 year old self (in the middle)!