Category Archives: Travel

Quebec City!

Last weekend was Victoria Day weekend in Canada, which meant that we had Monday off.  I went crazy and took Friday off, too, and decided to check out Quebec City.  I hadn’t been, and it seemed like a neat place to check out.  It was indeed neat and I’m glad I went.  It’s apparently the only walled city in North America north of Mexico City, and has a super-cute old town with cobblestone streets and cute little shops.  I highly recommend it!

Without further ado, here are some pics!

 

Quebec's Parliament

Quebec’s Parliament

Chateau Frontenac as seen from the Citadelle

Chateau Frontenac as seen from the Citadelle

Governor General's Residence w/ period actors posing in front

Governor General’s Residence w/ period actors posing in front

This being Canada, there's STILL snow that hasn't melted.

This being Canada, there’s STILL snow that hasn’t melted.

The 22nd Regiment, based at the Quebec Citadelle, has a goat as its mascot.  The goat's ancestors were given to Queen Elizabeth II by the Shah of Persia. Fancy goats.

The 22nd Regiment, based at the Quebec Citadelle, has a goat as its mascot. The goat’s ancestors were given to Queen Elizabeth II by the Shah of Persia. Fancy goats.

The largest cannon at the Citadelle.  It's pointed south down the St. Lawrence river because that's where they thought the Americans would attack from. ;)

The largest cannon at the Citadelle. It’s pointed south down the St. Lawrence river because that’s where they thought the Americans would attack from. 😉

Buildings at the Citadelle of Quebec

Buildings at the Citadelle of Quebec

Buildings at the Quebec Citadelle

Buildings at the Quebec Citadelle

The seal of the 22nd Regiment, the only French-language only regiment in the Canadian Army

The seal of the 22nd Regiment, the only French-language only regiment in the Canadian Army

Gate to Quebec City's Old Town

Gate to Quebec City’s Old Town

Dog parking, 10 minutes max.  Not sure if they ticket dogs that are parked there longer.

Dog parking, 10 minutes max. Not sure if they ticket dogs that are parked there longer.

The Chateau Frontenac and old town as seen from the Citadelle

The Chateau Frontenac and old town as seen from the Citadelle

The mighty St. Lawrence

The mighty St. Lawrence

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Filed under Canada, Ottawa, Pictures, Quebec, Quebec City, Snow, Travel, Vacation

Toronto!

Good Friday and Easter Monday are federal holidays in Canada, so I had a four day weekend and decided to go crazy and head to Toronto to do some sightseeing.  I’ve been a couple of times for work, but those were really short trips with limited time to do any sightseeing.  It’s finally really started to act like spring and it was a beautiful weekend.  I had a great time wandering around. 🙂

I went to the CN Tower, which is a giant radio/TV tower that you can tour, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Steam Whistle Brewery, Kensington Market, Chinatown, and some general wandering around and shopping.  I’d intended to meet a friend at the new aquarium near the CN Tower, but when we went, the line was awful and it was packed so we made a change of plans and checked out the Steam Whistle Brewery instead.  I think we made the right choice. 🙂

So, without further ado, here are some pictures from my wanderings.

Toronto's CN Tower

Toronto’s CN Tower

CBC's English Language Programming Headquarters

CBC’s English Language Programming Headquarters

Friendly Mountie Moose at the CN Tower

Friendly Mountie Moose at the CN Tower

Lake Ontario from the CN Tower

Lake Ontario from the CN Tower

Downtown Toronto from the CN Tower

Downtown Toronto from the CN Tower

Hudson's Bay Company

Hudson’s Bay Company

Hudson's Bay Company is known for their point blankets with blue, yellow, red, and green stripes.

Hudson’s Bay Company is known for their point blankets with blue, yellow, red, and green stripes.

Ontario Provincial Parliament

Ontario Provincial Parliament

Totem Pole at the Royal Ontario Museum

Totem Pole at the Royal Ontario Museum

Dinosaur at the Royal Ontario Museum

Dinosaur at the Royal Ontario Museum

Steamwhistle Brewery

Steamwhistle Brewery

Street signs in Toronto's Chinatown

Street signs in Toronto’s Chinatown

Canada and China meet in the Lucky Moose Food Mart in Toronto's Chinatown

Canada and China meet in the Lucky Moose Food Mart in Toronto’s Chinatown

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Filed under Canada, Ottawa, Pictures, Shopping, Spring, Toronto, Travel, Vacation

Escaping the Ottawinter

I went home to Texas again to see family and to escape the cold, snow, and ice here in Ottawa.  I had a great time seeing my parents, spending some time in Austin, shopping, enjoying the awesome weather (I wore flip flops!), aaaaand going to see the Alamo!!  I went to the Alamo when I was about 10 but didn’t really remember much about the visit.  And, what kind of Texpat can I be if I can’t remember the Alamo?

My flights home went smoothly, but my flights back to Ottawa were a different story.  I was originally scheduled to fly back to Ottawa through Dulles airport in the Washington, DC area on the 21st, but got a notification on the evening of the 20th that my flight from Dulles to Ottawa had been cancelled.  I called the airline’s customer service line and the agent rebooked me on an earlier flight through Dulles that had not been cancelled.  However, that meant that my flight from Austin would leave at 7:20am.  Add in the extra time to drive down to Austin from my parents’ house, get through security, etc. and we had to leave at about 4:30am.  I made it down to Austin, through security, and was waiting for the flight when I got a notification that the new Dulles to Ottawa flight had been cancelled.  The agent rebooked me for a second time on a flight to Ottawa through Chicago…the next day.

So, we went back home to my parents’ and I crashed for a couple of hours.  The flight to Chicago left Austin even earlier, so we had to leave home around 3:30am.  Fortunately, all went well with that flight, and I got to Chicago on time.  However, the flight to Ottawa ended up delayed close to 3.5 hours.  It did, however, eventually get off the ground and I ended up in Ottawa about 30 hours later than intended.  I was exhausted and relieved to get home.  And the diplokitty was very glad to see me. 🙂

So, without further ado, here are a few pictures from the trip.

WiFi and Inspiration.  What more could you want?

WiFi and Inspiration. What more could you want?

The Alamo

The Alamo

Alamo Grounds

Alamo Grounds

Alamo Grounds

Alamo Grounds

Alamo Grounds

Alamo Grounds

Lovely Austin Weather

Lovely Austin Weather

Neat tunnel at the Chicago airport

Neat tunnel at the Chicago airport

Back in Ottawa!

Back in Ottawa!

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Filed under Alamo, Austin, Canada, Chicago, Diplocat, Home, Ottawa, Pictures, San Antonio, Texas, Texpat, Travel, Vacation, Washington DC

Mont Tremblant

Last weekend, I went to Mont Tremblant and met up with a friend who’s now posted in Montreal.  It was Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, so the resort area was really packed, but we had some fun wandering around a couple of the lakes in the area, shopping, etc.

Fall is in full swing in this part of Canada and the foliage was just beautiful.  The drive up there from Ottawa was mostly two lane roads through cute little towns, and despite my GPS not being able to find the road I was driving on (and it was not a new road!), the drive up there and back was very enjoyable.  I wish I could have taken some pictures while I was driving, but that would have been a bad idea, especially given my recent luck with raccoons. 😉 (I got my car fixed by the way, but that’s another whole story).

The most exciting thing of the weekend had to be finding a Mexican restaurant that actually tasted like Mexican food from Mexico.  I’ve been to a few Mexican restaurants in Ottawa and they’re not bad, but just don’t taste at all like the food I was used to in Mexico or the Tex-Mex food that I know from home.  This place, however, was amazing and tasted like the real thing I remember from my time in Ciudad Juarez.

I didn’t take a picture of the delicious Mexican food, but without further ado, here are a few pics from the weekend.

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Filed under Canada, Mont Tremblant, Ottawa, Pictures, Quebec, Shopping, Travel, Vacation

Suicidal Raccoon

Last weekend, I drove from Ottawa down to Ohio for a family event.  It was a long drive, but good to see family and to do some shopping. My cousin’s son was baptized and I’m one of the godparents, so that made the trip extra-special!

However, on the drive back, about 45 minutes south of Ottawa, a raccoon decided to end it all and ran out in front of my car on the highway.  I was going about 60mph/100kph and I tried to swerve, but I couldn’t entirely miss the raccoon and I hit it.  The raccoon seemed to die on impact and it also damaged the front of my car.  Fortunately, a very nice couple stopped about 10 minutes later to make sure that I was ok, and the guy was a mechanic so he took a quick look at the car to see if anything critical was damaged.  Shortly after that, a police officer showed up and made a report so that I can file with my insurance company.  The car was drivable, so I drove back to Ottawa and then called the insurance company to start the claims process.  Fingers crossed that things will go smoothly, but so far things seem to be moving along and I’ll try to get the car in to a shop in the next few days so that they can start the process of getting it all fixed again.

I’m taking this week off and this wasn’t exactly how I’d planned to spend the week, but at least the damage was relatively minor and I didn’t hit a moose!

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Filed under Canada, Family, Ohio, Ottawa, Travel, Vacation

Montreal

Last week, I had to be in Montreal for meetings and went up a couple of days early on my own dime to sightsee.  And, I have to say, that Montreal is awesome.  Montreal is a much larger city than Ottawa and it’s got a lot to see and do.  One of my friends from Juarez, whom I’ll call “J” on here, just got to Montreal for her next assignment and I met up with her and we spent a lot of time sightseeing, wandering, and exploring Montreal.  We went down to Old Montreal, out to the Botanical Gardens, and wandered around Montreal’s massive underground shopping areas.  Montreal has a great Metro system that makes it easy to get around and a lot of the downtown area and Old Montreal is pretty compact, so it’s easy to walk and wander around.

Without further ado, here are some pictures from my trip:

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Filed under Canada, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Montreal, Travel, Vacation

Happy Happy!

Sooooo, as you might have guessed from the title, this is a happy entry!  I just got back from a great long weekend in the DC-area.  Now, why was I there?  So see my excellent friends L & S get married!  L is a Foreign Service Officer and was posted in Ciudad Juarez with me and she met S while living there and one thing led to another and now they’ve gotten hitched before heading off to Morocco for L’s second post.

Since the wedding was actually about an hour outside of DC and I wanted to do a bunch of shopping while I was down there, including getting some liquids, I decided to drive instead of fly.  It’s about 10 hours of driving to get from Ottawa to DC, which is doable in one day.  However, Mother Nature decided to make the drive down a bit of a challenge.  First, Ottawa was forecast to get 5-8 inches of snow on Friday, the day I left.  So, I left at 0-dark-thirty to try to avoid it.  I succeeded in avoiding the snow, but managed to drive through about an hour of freezing rain.  By the time I crossed the border in to New York, my car was covered in ice.  Not only was it covered in ice, but when I stopped to get gas in the car there, the gas nozzle was covered in ice.  Have I mentioned that this is in APRIL?  Yes?  Ok, then.

After Ogdensburg, it changed to regular rain and rained on my for another 3-4 hours.  Then it cleared up for a bit, but I wasn’t in the clear yet.  In Pennsylvania, I ran in to bad fog, where I could only see about 100-200 feet in front of me.  That obviously slowed me down a bit.

Finally, it cleared up and I made the rest of the drive to Maryland.  When I finally got to the hotel, I stepped outside and just basked in the glorious 78F sunshine for a few minutes.  It felt sooooo good to stand outside in the nice, warm sun.

The wedding on Saturday was wonderful!  It was outside at a nice vineyard and the weather was beautiful.  The ceremony really reflected L & S and was super fun.  The reception at the vineyard was also really nice.  The company was especially wonderful.  I saw several other friends from Ciudad Juarez and it was wonderful to be reunited with them for a bit.  My time in Juarez was definitely tough, but I’m really lucky to have come away with some really good friends from my time there and spending time with them made me realize just how much I miss them.  There was much laughing, much fun, and even some dancing.   And, of course, L & S got married. 🙂

On Sunday, I ran a bunch of errands, returning things I’d ordered online, buying new things, and so on.  I got a lot done and then finally checked in to my hotel closer to DC.  I also met up with some of the same and some different Ciudad Juarez friends for a nice dinner.  Again, it was really fun to hang out with them for a few hours before we all had to go our separate ways.  Several of them are wrapping up language training before heading out to their second posts.  One was on R&R from her second post and I’d driven down from Canada.  While we used to see each other every day, we’ll now see each other less and less and will almost certainly never all serve at the same post again.  So, it was nice to be able to get together before everyone heads off to their new posts.

On Monday, I ran more errands, and finally finished stocking up on all the stuff I was after.  Between shopping in Ottawa and in New York, I can find almost everything I want, but there are a few things like Shiner Bock beer* and whatnot that I can’t find.  So, now I have all the peach salsa, pepper jelly, frozen enchiladas, and so on!  Nom, nom, nom.

Finally, I drove home today.  The drive home was much less eventful than the drive down.  It was smooth sailing.  There was some rain, but not too much and it didn’t slow me down too much.  The Diplokitten was happy to see me and all the frozen stuff I got actually fit in my freezer here.

Tomorrow, I go back to work and will have to hit the ground running since this is a busy time.  Also, on top of the busy-ness, I now have to do an Employee Evaluation Report (EER) because I found out last Wednesday evening that I got TENURED!  Tenure in the Foreign Service is sort of like academic tenure.  It’s a decision to keep you around and it means that it’ll be harder to fire you. Mwahahaha! 😉  Kidding.  Still, it’s an important step and nice to have out of the way.

So, that’s been my last week or so.  A very happy one for a lot of reasons. 🙂

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Filed under Canada, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Ottawa, Spring, Travel, Vacation, Washington DC, Weddings, Winter

Home Leave Adventures

Home leave has been really great!  I’ve spent a lot of time catching up with friends and family in the Austin area, Houston, and Los Angeles.

I went to Houston for a long weekend and got to see several friends from when I did a co-op there.  They’ve been really great friends and it was great to catch up, see how they’re doing, and hang out.  I even got to see some of when NASA was unloading the mock space shuttle they’re getting from the barge it was on.  Super cool!  Of course, the Shuttlebration made for some crazy traffic, but it was so worth it to catch up with my friends there. 😀

A couple of weeks later, I went to California to visit a couple of friends from high school.  It was also really great to catch up with them since I hadn’t seen either of them in about a year and a half.  While my friend was at work, I went to the California Science Center and the LA Museum of Natural History.  They were both super interesting and continuing with the shuttle theme, the California Science Center will eventually be the home of one of the retired space shuttles.  During the weekend, we also went to the Getty Center and spent hours wandering around taking in all of the amazing artwork they have there. I also did crazy things like reading in a park since the weather was so nice and it was a nice area.  It was so nice to walk around a real city and be able to enjoy simple things like just being outside without being afraid.

I’ve also done a ton of shopping on home leave.  I’ve bought a new car, new gadgets, and I’ve bought a bunch of clothes because I was tired of some of what I had and because one of the side effects of not leaving my house much other than to go to and from work was gaining weight, so a lot of stuff doesn’t fit or doesn’t fit well.  That’s an issue that I plan to work on in Ottawa, but in the mean time, I need clothes that fit.  So, I’ve been doing my part to support the American economy while on home leave. 🙂

That’s most of what I’ve been up to lately.  I have some more things planned while I’m on home leave, so I’m sure I’ll post another update about the rest of home leave soon.

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Filed under Austin, California, Home Leave, Houston, Los Angeles, NASA, Shopping, Texas, Travel, Vacation

Belgium!

I know that I haven’t updated for about 3 weeks now, but I have a good reason for once.  I just got back from a super-fun, 10-day trip to Belgium!  Once upon a time, I was an exchange student to the good country of Belgium, where I had an amazing year and met a lot of wonderful people.  I’ve gone back to Belgium several times to visit them and it had been a couple of years since I’d last been back, so I decided it was time for another trip.

So, after work on Friday, I went over to El Paso and stayed at a hotel near the airport since I had a super early flight and didn’t want to risk missing it or having any issues on my way from Juarez to El Paso.  Last time I had an early flight, I did not stay over in El Paso and met some lovely federal police officers at a checkpoint on a deserted street in the dark then finally made it to the border only to find no one at the booth and to have to wait awhile before someone realized I was there and finally came over. Since I didn’t think I could handle so much fun again, it just made sense to stay in a hotel.

Saturday morning, I got up on time, checked out of the hotel, made my way to the airport and got checked in and through security with no problems.  I had a 5-hour layover on the way over, then got on the airplane, we started to taxi to takeoff only to find that one of the planes behind us saw that our plane had a flat tire! Of course, this had to be checked out, two tires had to be changed, and 3 hours later, we were finally on our way.

Other than the delay, the flight to Brussels was fine and I finally arrived, exhausted but thrilled to be back in Belgium!  One of my host families met me at the airport and we proceeded to drive back to their home. After spending two years in the desert, and not getting out of the area in four months, I was dazzled by how absolutely green everything was!  Even though it was still winter and not everything had its leaves/flowers/etc, it was so much greener than life here in Ciudad Juarez that it was dazzling.

While I was there, I saw my other set of host parents, all of my host siblings and their children, members of the organization that facilitated my exchange, and generally had a great time catching up with people, seeing people I hadn’t seen for awhile, and trying to remember my Dutch.

I also went shopping several times and enjoyed just being able to walk around in (mostly) nice weather without worrying about my safety, shopping in a pedestrian-friendly area, and so on.  The first time I took the bus back to my host family’s house from shopping, I accidentally got off the bus too early and I decided to enjoy just sitting outside in nice weather and waiting an hour for the next bus rather than trying to walk back or find another way to their house.

It was also really nice to have a nice break from work and not worry about anything work-related or even have to talk about work that much.  In hardship postings, the line between work and personal life gets really blurry since you end up spending a lot of your free time with coworkers and while my coworkers are pretty awesome, it’s nice to have a break from them, socialize with other people, and not spend the whole time talking about work.

The trip back went really smoothly.  I didn’t have any delays on the way back, made it through customs in plenty of time to make my connecting flight, and had a smooth trip back to my house in Mexico. So, overall it was an amazing trip and I’m really glad that I got to go back to Belgium, see wonderful people that I’ve missed a lot, and really relax.

I now only have a little over a month left in Mexico.  My packout is in a couple of weeks and then I’ll need to do some final cleaning, wrap up a few work projects, and then I’ll be on my way to home leave!  Hard to believe it, but the end is almost in sight. 🙂

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Filed under Belgium, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Travel, Vacation

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

This weekend, I went to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, up in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It was a ton of fun.  I didn’t know much about hot air balloons and still don’t, but it was really neat to see soooo many balloons and to be able to walk around them as they set-up and launched.  There were balloons and balloon crews that traveled from all over the world to participate.  There were also some fun fair things, like souvenir shops and fair food, and it was just nice to be able to sit outside in a big park and enjoy the awesome weather and the park, since I don’t get to do that very often.  So, I highly recommend the Balloon Fiesta if you ever get the chance to go.

Here are a few pictures from the Balloon Fiesta.

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Filed under Albuquerque, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, New Mexico, Pictures, Travel, Vacation