Showing posts from 2008

Presov at Christmas

Finally! Here are some more pictures from Slovakia including Christmas trees and Nativity scenes. I think it' appropriate that I post them today. You can see them by clicking the link below.

Last word is my house will close on 29 December. A week late, but I'm still very excited.

Merry Christmas to all my friends out there!!


Merry Christmas!!

I was supposed to close on my house next Tuesday, the 23d, but it was delayed through no fault of my own. The new closing date is projected to be either the 26th or 29th. Oh well, as long as it's done before the new year. I can't wait!!

I hope all of you have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Take care.

Getting Closer . . .

. . . to purchasing a home. Actually, it's a done deal. Yesterday, I had the house inspected and got back a very favorable report. The inspector was surprised I was getting such a good deal on it but the economy and the seller's imminent transfer affected the price I'm sure. It's also in a great location for future appreciation and driving to work. I should be closing before the end of the year.

Oh, it is a four-bedroom and this begs the question, why do I need so many rooms? Well, it's easier to sell a house this size and, who knows, I might get married eventually. I just hope I'm not as impulsive in doing that as I was in buying the car and the house. In the meantime, I'll turn one room into a gym and the other into an office.

Back to work tomorrow and happy about it. I've been able to reconnect with old friends and even make new ones amongst the employees who've arrived since I departed a few years ago. I will probably travel again in a year or so.

Recent Purchases

Another warm weekend here in South Central Texas. As you know, I bought a new car and am seriously looking at a house. I've included pictures of the car and the house I'll be offering on in the next week or so. Let me know what you think. This shouldn't affect my traveling too much. I have friends who can watch the house and start the car on occasion. Still, I plan to stay here for at least a year before the next trip.

Still in San Antonio

I will be looking at a house today. The price is a little high but I'm sure they'd drop it. It's really a buyer's market now. I had located a house that was perfect, but had already been sold unfortunately. When you find a house that you really like, you tend to judge all others by that high standard. Oh well, I plan to take my time with this process and the worse that could happen is home prices could drop even further.

Travel Postponed?

A lot going on lately which explains why I haven't posted in a while. I bought a new vehicle last month (will post a picture of it someday) and have been very busy at work. And now, I'm thinking of buying a house. This won't affect my traveling in the long run but I'll want to enjoy the house for a while before I take off again.

I'll try to post some pictures of past travels this weekend.

Two Months On

I've been back in Texas for almost two months now. Under normal circumstances, this would be about the time I would be getting ready to go overseas again. However, I've decided to stay here for a while, at least a year and maybe longer. There are two reasons for this. The first is, because I've been away for most of the last two years, I feel my career has been put on hold. Those who have come after me have moved on to other departments and seem to be a bit ahead. The other reason I want to stay here a while is that it's been good to reconnect with old friends. No matter how close your friendships are, people have a tendency to forget about you when you've been gone so long. I had forgotten how nice it is to interact with those you have a lot in common with. It's much easier than trying to negotiate all the cultural pitfalls you face in other countries.

Not to worry though, I have enough pictures from past travels to keep this site alive. I can also travel Te…

Travelogue Slovakia (17) More Food and Drink

These pictures were taken in the closing weeks of my time in Slovakia. The first two were at an afternoon dinner scheduled by my work place and the third was the spread of food at the goodbye party for which I've posted pictures previously. I would have posted these before, but some of my friends had just sent them to me.

Travelogue Slovakia (16) Aircraft Part 3

This the last few of the group. I especially like the close-up.

No word on the travel front yet and that's probably my fault. I'm finding myself more comfortable here probably because I just returned from Afghanistan. Anyway, there's no rush. I can always go overseas.

Enjoy the pics.

Travelogue Slovakia (16) Aircraft Part 2

Some more pictures from the airfield in Slovakia. We pretty much had the run of the place.

I won't write too much today. I bought a new vehicle yesterday (a Ford Escape) and am enjoying that. I'll post a picture or two of it in the near future.

West Virginia Festivals

While visiting my family last week, I went to two festivals. One was a Greek festival held at the local Orthodox church. The other was the 'Cabell County Pumpkin Festival.' I took a few pictures of each. In the first few, you can see traditional Greek dancing. In the other three, you see the winning pumpkins, a wood carving (using a chain saw) of an alligator, and the cooking of lye soap. I liked the former festival rather than the latter because the crowds were so big at that one.

Travelogue Slovakia (16) Aircraft

Finally, I'm posting some more pics from Slovakia. Just the other day, one of my former trainees sent me a multitude of pictures from a trip we all took. I have already posted some from the same trip on this site but he had many more I had not seen before. They include pictures of various aircraft and some group pictures.

Also, be sure to check out the picture I'm using as wallpaper at the bottom of this page.

Back in San Antonio

Well, I've returned to San Antonio arriving three days ago. I'm in-processing this week and going back to work next week. Everyone keeps asking when I'm going back overseas and I tell them not anytime soon. I want to reconnect with old friends and get to know some of the new employees. Actually, I'll probably start looking to travel again sometime next spring. In the meantime, I'll explore Texas a bit. I've heard there're some wonderful towns with European heritages.

An Interesting Travel Companion

On my flight to WV, I sat by an interesting person in uniform. I could tell by his unit insignia that he was a special operator (green beret), but asked him just to be sure. He confirmed this and told me he was just returning from Afghanistan. As it turns out, he and I had been on the same flight out of there but didn't realize it. Now, we were on the same flight home. What a coincidence! Anyway, he told me a few war stories and also made it clear that things WERE getting worse. The news had already reported this, but it was enlightening to hear specifics from someone on the ground.

That was one of the few times I was happy that a fellow passenger was talkative!

I don't have any immediate plans to travel except in Texas, but I'll probably be looking to go out again in the January/February timeframe.

Greek Festival

Yesterday, I went with my mother to a Greek Festival at the local Orthodox church. The first surprising thing was there were any Greeks who lived in this part of the US. The second surprise was that they had retained so much of their culture. My mother was primed for the event since she had recently seen the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding!" I was primed because I had lived in Greece for several months and was already familiar with many of the things I saw there. There was traditional dancing, Greek food, etc. but the best part was the church tour. The priest asked us what we first noticed when we entered the church. One person said a lot of lighting and another said a lot of gold coloring. I wanted to say the church was very 'iconic' but decided not to draw any atttention to myself. Fortunately, I refrained from this because the priest went on and on explaining the purpose of all the icons. Had I said what I wanted to, I would have felt I had put him on the defensiv…

Off to West Virginia

I'm off to West Virginia to visit my family for a week. I'll try to take some pictures for posting. Please keep checking in.

Thailand '97 (2)

Here are some more pictures of my '97 trip to Thailand. I have to resort to pictures taken 11 years ago since I'm currently NOT traveling. I hope to rectify this in the next few months.

Anyway, these pictures include shots of the Burmese railroad, the Bridge over the River Kwai (Remember the movie?), and a cemetery containing prisoners who died building these structures. It was a very informative tour.

Trip Recap

It's Monday morning and I'm still a bit jetlagged although I slept well last night. The return trip was tiring but also satisfying in a way. On the flight, there was a certain cameraderie that existed between myself and the military guys because of our shared experience. Everywhere we stopped, people expressed appreciation for what we had done. At the Baltimore airport, people were actually waiting at the exits to applaud us upon our return. It was a good feeling and I imagine very different from that experienced by Vietnam vets. It shows our country has matured in some ways. Or, perhaps those who might protest us were still in their respective opium dens!

Back Home!

Well, I'm in Baltimore and will fly to San Antonio today. It's good to be back. I'll give more details once I get settled in.

Adana, Turkey

I just landed here and am awaiting reboarding for the leg to Ramstein AFB. The trip from Kyrgyzstan took about five hours and went a little slowly even though I slept a lot. Keep reading this blog for updates on my trip home.

Killing Time

I'm still in Kyrgyzstan just killing time. My roommate and I are having sleeping contests, but I think it's a tie. He's from the deep south so I know I can trust him. Anyway, at least he doesn't have arguments with the TV like my roommate in Afghanistan did.

Should be leaving on Saturday morning and arriving in Baltimore Saturday night. I can't wait to get back!


I am now in Kyrgyzstan. I can't say much about the country since I'm not allowed to leave the American Air Force base. Still, I'm enjoying the downtime here since I got very little of it in Afghanistan.

I departed Kabul early Sunday morning on a small prop plane. The flight to Bagram AFB was only about 30 minutes and the scenery below was beautiful. I wish I'd had more of a chance to explore the country. Anyway, I dreaded arrival in Bagram because it was so difficult the first time through. Bagram's terminal is notorious (according to a Major I traveled with) for being the worst in the country, kind've like O'Hara in the US. Sure enough, getting through Bagram proved to be as difficult as before. No one to guide you upon arrival. People giving you answers in an uncertain tone. The worst was when I returned to the terminal for my next flight. We had to file into a room and dump all the contents of our suitcases into bins. Then, MPs inspected the c…

Almost at the End!

It's 8pm, Friday evening, Afghan time. I will leave early Sunday morning on a flight out of here. I'll spend approximately five days in Kyrgyzstan awaiting my rotator back to the states. I can't believe the end is almost here. I regret I wasn't allowed to see the countryside but not enough to return. The Afghan people are wonderful and this country deserves our help, but it's someone else's turn to provide it. I'm outta here!

Last Day of Work

Today was my last day of work in Afghanistan. Everyone said their goodbyes, some I will miss and some I won't. I will miss the trainees who have the best attitude of any I've ever met. This country is definitely worth saving based on the people I've known here.

We have a meeting on Friday but pretty much nothing to do for the next three days except prepare for departure. I leave Kabul on the 14th.

Eastern Kentucky

I just thought I'd throw some pictures in of the area I grew up in. These are pictures of my father's farm in Eastern Kentucky. He doesn't live on the farm and it's a bit unkempt, but I like it because at least it's green. I haven't seen much green in the last several months!

Afghanistan (4)

Just a few more pics of aircraft in Afghanistan. I probably won't post much else since I'm leaving in a week and can't get outside the base. I regret that I had absolutely no chance to see the country. However, I think it's a good idea for us to have a presence here because these are great people and they deserve a chance to succeed. I don't know if I can say the same about the Iraqis from what I've heard. Anyway, check out the pictures below.


Not only do I have to deal with occasional rocket attacks, I also have to worry about natural disasters. Around 1015 local time, the building begin to shake and we evacuated immediately. I had experienced a minor earthquake last year in Japan, but this one was very strong. One more week, am I going to make it out of here?

One More Week . . .

. . . and a few days. I begin my last week tomorrow. We plan to work for four days and then begin outprocessing for four more days. After that, I'll catch a few military planes out of here to Kyrghzstan where I'll have several days to kill. I liked Kyrghzstan on the way over so it will be nice to have a few days to look around. I should be back in San Antonio on the 21st.

Goodness! There are so many things I want to do when I get back. The first thing I want to do is enjoy the privacy. It was tough having a roommate in a conex for three months. After that, I'll take a hot shower that lasts more than two minutes. Finally, I'm going to get out and take a long drive. It will be like paradise.

Just a few more days now!

Afghanistan (3)

Here are the last of the pics from the MI-24 sighting. I wish I could have taken more but I was always confined to our base. Check them out and let me know what you think.

Life Is Cheap Over Here

All of our trainees have a sad story to tell. When I first arrived, I couldn't believe the number of funerals they were attending. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has lost a relative to the war. The odd thing is that they go about their business the next day as if nothing had happened. I guess I would be desensitized to it as well if I had experienced as much death and destruction as they have. It really makes you appreciate the stable life we have in the West. I imagine the fight is worth it just to preserve that.

15 days to go!

Afghanistan (2)

Finally, I got to be proactive and see some action instead of just waiting for the rockets to drop on my head. A friend and I assaulted this MI-24 and took some pictures. Actually, this wasn't too hard to do since it had been shot down years before!! Anyway, these pictures are of me getting some much needed rest on the way out. The other two are of me with body armor and weapon standing by our trophy. Will add some more pictures in my next posting.


A Note on the Ads

Some of the ads popping up on my site recently have had questionable content in them. In my defence, I do not choose these ads. Google randomly assigns them based on keywords in my postings. So, for example, if I write about Thailand, something pertaining to 'Asian Brides' may pop up. I just wanted everyone to know this!!

'Taliban Tim'

Do you remember the episode of M.A.S.H where a North Korean pilot named 'Five O'Clock Charlie' dropped bombs in the area every day at 5 o'clock? Although he never hit anything, he still created a lot of havoc for the members of the 4077th because they had to stop what they were doing every time he appeared. Well, we have our version of this in a person we have dubbed 'Taliban Tim.' He interrupts our sleep every Thursday night/Friday morning with his rockets that never come close to hitting anything. I can't wait to get back to the world where I don't have to worry about being called on alert. Geez! I'm seeing more action now than when I was in the Army proper!!

They Strike Again!

Let me tell you, there is no worse feeling than being asleep for an hour and then hearing there's been another rocket attack. You have to get up, put on your gear, and then hustle down to the bunker. I really don't see the point of rushing though. The rockets have already hit wherever they were aimed and it takes another 10-15 minutes to send out the alarm. Also, whoever launched them knows that for every additonal one they fire, there's a better chance of them being located and targeted. It's senseless for us to run for cover after the fact.

Anyway, I'm starting to get the feeling the enemy is becoming more active. This is the second attack on our location in one week whereas, there were none my first two months here. Oh well, I'll be out of here soon.

Thailand '97

Here are a few pictures of a traditional village outside Bangkok taken in '97. I eventually returned to Bangkok in '01 and worked there for a year. It was a nice respite after Saudi Arabia.

The pictures include traditional dance, Muay Thai boxing, and a temple.


I had a dream!

The other morning, I was in a deep sleep dreaming about being in a room. In the dream, I imagined someone knocking on the door violently. The knocking kept getting louder and louder until I woke up shaking. Later, I found out that a massive explosion had occured at 0330 about a kilometer away. It seems that the Taliban are on the offensive again. I've heard travel is extremely hazardous south, east, and west of the city. 24 days to go!

Afghan Independence Day!

Lo and behold, we finally have a day off! Today is Afghan Independence day. You're probably wondering, independence from whom? Well, from the British although I think the holiday would be equally applicable to the Russians, Taliban, and probably Americans in the future. Anyway, it's good to have a day off in the middle of the week.

I'm also looking forward to the month of Ramadan. I experienced this several times in Saudi Arabia but I think it will be less stringent here. We'll probably be working half-days because the Afghans are fasting and can't endure work for the whole day. I'll miss the Eid (festival) unfortunately because I won't be here at that time.

Speaking of which, I began packing a storage trunk today for shipping ahead of my departure. That was very cathartic. I expect to depart Afghanistan around mid-September. It's been a long haul but I can see the end in sight.

Italy (1986)

Here are some photos from Italy in 1986. The first group are of the area around Hadrian's villa. The second includes a shot of one of the canals in Venice and the Pope giving his papal address on Easter Sunday. The final group shows the Forum area in Rome. Looking forward to my next trip there.

Rocket Attack!

We had a little bit of excitement this morning. At about 5am, alarms went off and we had to deploy to the bunkers. Apparently, three rockets had been fired into our compound. We had had a practice alert before but this was the real thing. I was surprised at how calm both myself and the others were. I guess that comes from fearing death from boredom rather than rockets.

28 days to go!

Perception of the Russians

One thing that really surprised me when I first came to Afghanistan was how many of my colleagues viewed the Soviet occupation as a sort of 'golden age' for them and their country. I had always believed the Afghan people had suffered so much under the Russians and could not wait for them to leave and/or be driven out. Of course, this was true to some extent but not everyone felt this way. To my surprise, many Afghans had studied in Moscow and even met their wives there. Essentially, they view the Russians in a similar way to how they view the US, a foreign entity trying to help their country improve but also making some egregious errors. It's very intriguing for me to hear this perspective as my preconceived notions so clearly differed.

Athens, Greece (1985)

This is a blast from the past! Here are some pictures from Athens, Greece 1985. My best friend in the military was Greek-American and invited me down to Athens for a visit. I fell in love with the place and lived there for a while before I returned to the US after my military service. I think my experience was much different than most tourists because I was able to meet 'real' people rather than those working in the tourist traps.

Anyway, these pictures were taken during the Christmas season of '85.

#1 My friend's relatives showing me around the Acropolis and the theater below.
#2 A picture of the Parthenon and Christmas Eve in the Kato Patisia neighborhood of Athens.
#3 Christmas day with more relatives and an imitation of Zorba the Greek!

The quality of these pictures is not good obviously. This was before the day of digital cameras.

Travelogue Slovakia (15) Roznava

I'm running out of pictures of Slovakia which means I need to take another trip there asap! Actually, I think I have some more but they're at home while I'm here in Afghanistan. Anyway, here are three pictures of a castle and the area near Roznava, Slovakia. As a bonus, I'm going to include some old pictures from Athens in the mid-80's in the post above this one.

Not Much Longer Now

I received word the other day that I will be departing Afghanistan on or about 12 September. I really can't wait and have been recently thinking of all the things I can do that I used to take for granted. The first thing I want to do is take a long, hot shower. Then, I want to take a drive not having to worry about IEDs or other assorted dangers. Finally, I look forward to an uninterrupted night of sleep with no roommate snoring in the bed next to me. I will appreciate life to the fullest!

37 days to go!

Afghanistan (1)

Finally, I took some pictures from here in Afghanistan. Nothing special because I'm limited to what I can see nearby. Hopefully, I can return here in the future as a tourist when it's safer. Anyway, the mountains in the pictures are quite majestic with those in the background being around 20,000 feet. We are living at 7,000 feet in Kabul as it is. 42 days to go.

Budapest (October 2006) Part 3

Here are the final pictures from the Hungary trip in 2006. I enjoyed the trip but it was definitely a different atmosphere from my life in Slovakia. Hungary is a nice place to visit, but I'm not sure I'd want to live there. You can see the pictures at the link below.

Budapest (October 2006) Part 2

I got distracted from this trip due to my impending trip to Afghanistan. Anyway, here are some more pics mostly of the downtown area. The next time I post some pictures, I'll show you some of the countryside.

Gender Relations!

I had an interesting thing happen this week. I was told I was having a visitor in one of my classes, an Afghan translator. What I didn't know was that the translator was a woman. Having lived in Saudi Arabia for several years, I never expected to meet a woman under such conditions in a conservative Muslim country. I didn't know whether/how to speak to her. Anyway, in the end, everything went well and the male trainees acted normally around her. Just another example of how Afghanistan is changing as of late.

Another Exciting Weekend in Afghanistan

Yes, AF is a dangerous place and people certainly die over here. However, my biggest fear is dying from boredom. For security reasons, I can't leave the compound. Supposedly, we have TV but I can't recall it ever working. Really, there's nothing at all to do here besides work. On a more upbeat note, I really enjoy the Afghans I've been around. They're very polite, accomodating, and even fun-loving. Still, I can detect, for lack of a better word, a certain wildness in their character. I suspect that if they like you, they would defend you to the death. If they didn't, they would probably do the opposite. It's a shame I can't get out and meet more of them.

As I said, another exciting weekend in AF.

Angkor Wat (2)

Here are some more pics from Cambodia and the temple complex. The first picture is a story of a battle carved out of stone. The fourth picture shows someone using a rope to climb down temple steps. Believe me, the rope was necessary because the steps were so narrow that normal-sized people could not use them.

Angkor Wat (1)

Here are some pictures from the Angkor Wat temple complex taken in early 2005. Although we think of it as being one temple, it's actually several temples spread out over a city-size area. I'll include pictures of several other structures over the next few weeks.

More Happenings!

A little more excitement today that I won't go into. Just let me say, that I didn't have to go into work which was a bit of a break. I'm a little disappointed in my stay here so far because I haven't been able to take any decent pictures. I hope to take some in the next few weeks.

The Day After . . .

Well, things are back to normal here after an exciting day yesterday. Apparently, the blast was the worst since 2001 and the government is blaming Pakistani elements for the explosion. Hopefully, this is the last time something like this will happen at least while I'm here. Keep checking in.

Car Bomb in Kabul!!

This morning, a car bomb exploded outside the Indian embassy in Kabul. According to the most recent news reports, 41 have already died and 141 were injured. There will probably be more deaths over time. Anyway, I'm okay and things seem to be normal where I'm at. I can't overreact to what happens over here (nor should anyone else) or I'll be upset all the time.

Two Weeks In . . .

Okay, I've been in AF for two weeks and have gained some insight into what I'm dealing with here. Let me take it by topic:

The Climate

As soon as I arrived, I caught a cold and a nasty one at that. One of my colleagues predicted this and gave me a bunch of Nyquil and Sudafed on my first day. When I asked him how he knew I would be sick, he said that everyone gets sick from the 'fecal matter' in the air. After hearing that, I had to ask for clarification. He told me the farmers plow up their fields and this throws particles into the air.

The People

I have been immensely impressed with the people. They are extremely outgoing, helpful, and kind although you can sense a little wildness in their nature. Michener describes the Afghans as friendly at the first meeting but deceitful and cruel in later encounters. I have yet to see the latter.

The Country

Not much to report here since I'm only allowed off the base under certain circumstances because of the danger factor. …

Travelogue Slovakia (14) Salt Museum Part 2

Some more pics from the Salt Museum Tour. It was quite tiring and refreshments were necessary as you can see in the last picture.

Travelogue Slovakia (14) Salt Museum

Here are some more pictures from Presov. Some of my friends took me to a Salt Museum one day. It was very interesting hearing about the history of the place and techniques used to extract the salt. I'll put some more pictures of the place up in the next few days.

The First Week

I'm still fighting the jetlag although it's getting better now. When I first arrived, one of my coworkers insisted that I take a supply of Nyquil/Sudafed from him. I resisted but eventually yielded after he kept bugging me. He told me that I would catch a cold the first week as all the others had. He was right, I caught a cold and a nasty cough within the first few days. Apparently, the change in altitude (7,000 feet) and the 'fecal matter' in the area have this effect on everyone.

In Afghanistan

Well, I arrived here in the wee hours of Thursday morning after a arduous journey that began last Saturday. I tried to see the trip as an adventure, but it was also very tiring. It was also quite the experience trying to catch military flights from point A to point B with luck playing a big part. All in all, my first impression was positive with the base I'm living on resembling a small, European village. It has many ethnic restaurants to go along with it's multi-cultural population. I'll give you more details after I get settled in and recover from the jetlag.

On my way . . .

I'm currently in Baltimore awaiting a late flight this evening that will ultimately take me to Afghanistan. I'm a little apprehensive and a little excited, but mainly, I just want to get there and get settled in. The airlines lost my luggage of course but I got it back early this morning. I will be off-line for the next week. I'll post something as soon as I can get internet access. What in the world did we do before we got the internet?


Departure Date

I just received an update on my departure date to Afghanistan. I will be leaving on 14 June and flying to AF via Baltimore, Germany, and Kyrgyzstan with possibly even more stops in between. I have a feeling I'm going to be pretty tired at the end of that trip.

Travelogue Slovakia (13) Goodbye Party!!

About a month before I left Slovakia, some of my friends decided to throw a 'goodbye' party for me. They rented a villa at a ski resort (although there wasn't any snow yet) and we spent the night there. We had a wonderful, catered meal as you'll see in the pictures. The roast pig was especially delicious and cooked in the traditional way.

I want to assure you that all drinks appearing in the pictures are non-alcoholic!

Budapest (October 2006)

Here are some pictures of my trip to Budapest in '06. I took the train from Presov and enjoyed viewing the countryside on the way down. I spent about three days there touring the city and surrounding area. I found both the scenery and people quite different from what I experienced in Slovakia.

Here are the pictures and no, the bullet holes are not from me firing my 9mm. They are evidence of shots fired during the uprising in '56.

I should have one more series of pictures from this trip posted later this weekend.


New Poll!!

Please vote in the new poll above for the next country to be included on this site!!

Travelogue Slovakia (12) Betliar Manor Part 6

I am trying to move on from this topic but I find these pictures so unique. I hope you agree. Obviously, the Hungarian royalty were quite the collectors and not shy about displaying these ostentatious items.

Travelogue Slovakia (12) Betliar Manor Part 5

I thought about moving on to a different subject but these pictures are too beautiful not to show. You will see various types of furniture that reflect how the wealthy lived at that time (19th century). Keep checking in because I plan to post the final ones from this manor in the next few days.

Travelogue Slovakia (12) Betliar Manor Part 4

And now, even more pictures from the manor. I'm probably boring some people with all these but they're so unique that I feel compelled to post them. One thing you'll notice is that the inhabitants of the manor collected items from throughout the world both directly and as gifts. Here are some more photos:

Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Oh, I'm still looking for village pictures and will post as soon as I can.

Notre Dame

These pictures were taken during my last trip to campus in 2004. It's about time for me to return as I always feel energized after visiting my alma mater. I attended the school in the '80s and that was a great time for Notre Dame football. We had a Heismann winner (Tim Brown) and one national championship under Lou Holtz. Great memories!

I think there are seven pictures, but my favorites are the Golden Dome, the Grotto, and St. Joseph's Lake. I spent a lot of time walking around the lake with my friends and enjoyed sitting in front of the Grotto late at night. It was so relaxing. I really miss those days living the contemplative life.

Travelogue Slovakia (12) Betliar Manor Part 3

Here are some more pictures of the interior of Betliar Manor. There's not much I can say about them, I'll let them speak for themselves.

Once again, it may take a while for me to add these pictures to the 'Slideshow' link so click the link above to see them.

New Ratings System

Google keeps upgrading the options on its blogger sites. Now, you can rate any of the articles you read using a 'star' system at the bottom of the article. I'm not sure if I like this; it will depend on the results!

Time to make it official

It's time to make it official. I've known where my next assignment was going to be for a few weeks, but waited until now to announce it. I decided it was time to do my bit for King and Country and volunteered for Afghanistan!! Yes, I will depart for Kabul sometime in mid-June. I think this will be a fascinating tour and should provide some good stories for my site.

Don't worry about me going there though. I won't be out on patrol; my job doesn't entail that. Still, I may have to put myself a little at risk to get the best pictures!!


'Slideshow' working again

No need to click now unless you want to see the larger pictures . . .

Travelogue Slovakia (12) Betliar Manor Part 2

Finally! I've put some more photos of Betliar on my site. All of these photos are from the inside of the manor. Next week, I'll try to include more photos from the outside and surrounding area.


PS You'll have to click the link above because, for some reason, I can't capture the new pictures in the slideshow feature. It happens sometimes.

Flying back to San Antonio . . .

I'll be heading back 'home' today flying out of Charleston WV at 4pm. I had a great flight up and hope the return flight is equal to that. I still have one week of vacation remaining thank goodness. I will be posting much more next week since I'll be back to my own computer with photos, etc.

Update from WV

Let me begin by apologizing for not posting anything exciting this week. I've been visiting with my family and my computer (with photos) is in San Antonio. I have taken some pictures here in Kentucky/WV and hopefully, will post some of them next week.

Normally when someone talks about the weather, they've run out of things to say but I must comment on it. I've been freezing since I arrived here!! The temperature today was in the 40s and this is a huge change for me having just returned from Djibouti. I even had to buy a jacket!

I did find out where I'm heading to next but I think I'll keep it secret for a few more weeks just to be sure I haven't counted my chickens before they hatched to use a cliche.

Please keep checking in, Russ

Flying to West Virginia!!

I will be flying to WV to see my family today. I'll stay there for one week and then return to San Antonio. I hope to take some pictures while I'm there. Although they won't be as exciting as those from other countries, I believe they'll be quite interesting for those who haven't traveled to that part of the US.

Oh! Check out the new link for Presov in the right margin under 'Slovak Links.' This site was established to promote Presov as the 'Cultural Capital of Europe.' It certainly has my vote.

Travelogue Slovakia (12) Betliar Manor

In November '07, I went to southern Slovakia to a town called Roznava. One of my favorite students had invited me to spend the night at his family's house and I was happy to oblige. The next day, we went to a summer manor that used to be occupied by Hungarian royalty. The name of the manor is 'Betliar.' The first picture is from the outside but in no way reflects the actual enormity of the structure. It took about two hours to tour the whole manor. I was very surprised at how well the pictures from the inside turned out. Here are two other pictures from some of the rooms.

More pictures from this trip coming next week!

Back in the US!!

Just letting everyone know that I'm back in the US now (specifically, San Antonio). I had a very long trip and am currently suffering from jet lag so give me a few more days to put up another travelogue. I was in transit a total of 28 hours with relatively short layovers in between and my body is sore from the cramped conditions. Still, I'm very happy to be back.

More later, Russ

So Little Time . . .

I depart in three days and am feeling the stress of trying to get everything done. It hasn't helped that I've developed a nasty virus the last few days. Fortunately, I have access to a military clinic so I was able to get medicine which seems to be helping. That's okay. I'm getting on that plane one way or another.

I am so looking forward to coming home!! I will never be critical of living in the US again.

I'll post again after my return. Thanks for reading.

Travelogue Slovakia (11) MI-24 Helicopter

Just when you thought it was over! I still have a few more adventures to send you. These pictures are from a trip we took to the Slovak Air Force base in Presov. In the first picture, you can see me sitting in an MI-24 helicopter. I thought we couldn't take pictures but the Public Affairs officer approved it. Things have certainly changed from the Warsaw Pact days! The next picture shows my Slovak coworker Susanna in the same one. Finally, you can see the same type of helicopter in the air although I was not flying it! It was a good trip, but very cold from what I remember.

I still have many more pictures from Slovakia that I'll eventually dig out. I probably won't do this for a few weeks however because I'm flying back to the US on the 19th. So, I'll be a bit busy next week.

I want to say 'hello' to my Slovak friend Palo who is currently stationed in Kosovo. I hope he's re…

Homeward Bound In Two Weeks

It's Friday evening locally and a new week begins tomorrow. This will be my last full week of work here in Djibouti. During the final week, I will be tying up some loose ends and outprocessing. I'm starting to feel how close I am to leaving and this makes me a little sad. However, I am looking forward to getting back to the US for a while and visiting my family and friends.

In my time here, I've tried to stay positive for the most part but honestly, there are some things I will not miss. I won't miss the constant begging/scamming that I encounter on the street every day. This really wears you down after a while and you dread going outside at times. I realize that people have to make a living, but there has got to be a better way. I will also not miss the constant request for favors from coworkers/acquaintenances. Everything you accomplish here is based on relationships, but I seem to be the only one giving and not receiving anything!! On a smaller scale, I won't mis…

Travelogue Slovakia (10) Bardejov Trip

Written on October 10, 2006

Well, this is the tenth travelogue so a milestone has been reached so to speak! I went to Budapest over the weekend but that report will have to wait for a few more days. Prior to sending that one, I need to update you on what happened the week before.

Some of my students had suggested that they take me to a town called Bardejov which is about 30 minutes from Presov and very near Poland. Anyway, they wanted to do this on a Monday departing during the lunch hour. Confident that my supervisor would say 'no,' I was very surprised when she agreed. She referred to it as sort of a 'field trip,' a field trip that I knew would cut into my personal time in the evening and cause me to cancel a previous engagement. I tried to psyche myself up by thinking about the fact that this city is a UNESCO site and should be interesting to see.

One hilarious thing did happen prior to the trip. They asked me if I had any swimming trunks. I said that I didn…

Family Justice, Djibouti Style

I had to wait a day to post this entry for fear you'd think it was an April Fool's joke. The other day, one of my coworkers requested a day off because he had to take care of a family problem. Once his commander heard the problem, he immediately gave him permission to go. It turns out that this guy's brother had been guilty of domestic violence against his wife. Therefore, according to Djiboutian custom, the guilty party's family had to administer justice to him. This is why the brother was leaving for the day.

Well, the punishment consists of the following. First, the guilty party has to go to the family residence. He also has to bring his own rope to be tied down with. Once he's tied down, he will be beaten with sticks by all male family members. Then, a sheep will be sacrificed and its entrails will be drained onto the guilty party's upper body. I have to ask myself at this point, what did the sheep do wrong? I think this is a way of purifying the body after …

Another Goodbye Party

Last week, the embassy staff held a 'goodbye' luncheon for me and another staffer who was leaving soon. We ate at a Vietnamese restaurant here in Djibouti which was creatively called 'The Vietnamese Restaurant.' The food was actually quite good maybe because it was free! I had chicken and cashews which is similar to a Thai dish I've eaten before. Anyway, the best part was the gifts. I got a certificate of appreciation from the State Department and a clay plate with a map of Djibouti on it. I also got a cap, coffee mug, and shirt all Djibouti-related. The shirt had writing on it that said, "Property of Djibouti." Those of you who have lived here can appreciate the humor/horror in that statement.

I continue to take pictures of Djibouti but will not post any more travelogues of Djibouti till I return to the US in three weeks. I'm just too busy right now. Of course, I'll continue to post TLs that were previously written such as the Slovakia o…

Travelogue Slovakia (9) The Pieniny Region

Written on October 6, 2006

Well, last weekend I went to an area called Pieniny to go rafting. The town is on the Slovak/Polish border and is idyllic as are so many other places here. We missed the rafts at 11am so we had some time to explore the area by foot. Finally, at 1245, we were able to board a raft and ride down the river for about two hours. It was much less demanding than the death-defying feat I did the week before. When we finished the raft trip, we had a choice of riding the bus back to our original location or renting bikes and biking back. We chose the latter and I'm so happy we did. We were able to follow a bike trail back and stop and enjoy nature whenever we wanted. It was really a great day. Please see descriptions of the pictures below.

#1 Here is the 'river.' On the right is Slovakia and on the left is Poland.

#2 The bridge to Poland.

#3 On the water.

#4 Our navigator. He spent the whole…

To Give or NOT to Give--That is the Question . . .

Whenever I've traveled/lived in a foreign country, I've always tried to be culturally sensitive to the practices/beliefs of said country. I'm not a big fan of the relativist argument, but I also don't believe that one culture is inherently superior to another. I guess I try to take the middle road for the most part.

Still, having lived in Djibouti for several months now, I'm starting to view 'culture' differently than I ever did before. I will use the example of foreign aid and how it's affected the culture to illustrate this new perspective. Here in Djibouti, there seems to be a certain 'dependency' on outside assistance that has developed at all levels and this dependency is stifling any solutions to the real problems that continue to exist. In essence, the dependency has become a part of the culture to the point that there is an entitlement mentality permeating society. I see it every day and it has become very tiresome!!

Am I viewing this th…

A Disaster of Epic Proportions!!

A few days ago, I took my usual stroll downtown. It was about 6pm and something seemed out of place. Restaurants that were usually empty or had very few customers were packed. I had never seen so many Djiboutians eating out before. Because of the cost, most Djiboutians prefer to eat at home. Anyway, the difference was big enough for me to take notice and mention it at work the next day.

Well, there was definitely something to what I saw. It seems that that day, the airplane responsible for bringing 'Khat' from Ethiopia had had mechanical problems. Therefore, no fresh Khat was delivered! I thought there would be other planes, but apparently, only one plane is dedicated to bringing the supply in every day. To provide an analogy, it's like all the planes, ships, and other vehicles that bring drugs into the US were somehow stopped. Can you imagine the commotion? Anyway, the custom when the Khat is not delivered is to eat out at a restaurant with your friends. It'…

Travelogue Slovakia (8) Mt. Rysy Part 3

Taken on September 9, 2006

Here are the last pictures from my Mt. Rysy climb. It hurt terribly to climb it, but I gained some wonderful memories in the process.

#1 The view was beautiful but I really wasn't admiring it at the time. Honestly, I was looking for a place to be buried!!

#2 At the summit! I didn't realize at that moment that the worst was yet to come.

#3 My blood brother (because we sweated so much together that day) 'Palo' at the summit. He had me by 15 years! He's a helicopter pilot and I was wondering why he didn't bring it that day. Oh, be sure to check out the beautiful lakes below him.

#4 Here, we were coming down and my body was really aching from all the pounding.

#5 About halfway up or down, you have to use chains to navigate the mountain. I felt like I was the weakest link at this point.

What a wonderful adventure! I honestly want to climb this mountain again some day.

Next weeks T…

When exactly is someone rich?

Back home, when we say someone is rich, we usually think of a magic number such as having one million dollars. Here, in Djibouti, 'rich' has an entirely different meaning. I didn't understand that until very recently. In the past, one of my coworkers kept referring to someone as being rich, but I just couldn't see it. The individual in question drove a beat up car and didn't seem to have a particularly good salary. In a developing country, I think of rich as those who can afford almost anything and like to flaunt it to the hoi polloi.

But, I now know that 'rich' has a different meaning in Djibouti. Basically, a rich person is someone who can afford to pay the rent and buy food every month without worrying about where the money will come from. Money beyond that ability is almost irrelevant. That explains why even though I've been pleading poverty since I've been here, people still refer to me as rich!

It's Official!!

I got my itinerary today and know the date/time of my departure from Djibouti. I'm scheduled to fly out of Djibouti City on Saturday, 19 April and arrive in San Antonio, Texas the next day. I will be flying Air France (Oh, No!) to Paris and switching over to Delta (Yikes!) for the trip to SA via Atlanta. The layovers are about three hours at each stop which is perfect for international connections.

When it first hit me that I'm actually leaving this country to possibly never come back, I felt a little down. However, I consoled myself, as I always do, with the knowledge that many great adventures lie ahead. Even if I stay in the US awhile, I can travel to many exciting places. Right now, I'm fantasizing about hopping into an SUV and driving due north of Texas. I could drive all the way to the Canadian border and then drop back down to see my alma mater, Notre Dame. I just wish it were football season!! Then, it would be perfect.

More TLs coming later in the week.


Travelogue Slovakia (8) Mt. Rysy Part 2

Taken on September 9, 2006

Here are some more pictures from the Mt. Rysy ascent!! For the full story, refer to the previous Mt. Rysy TL.

Picture #1--A beautiful lake about halfway up the mountain. Unfortunately, I could not fully appreciate it at that time.

#2--The same lake below me.

#3--The restaurant/hotel at about 2,200 meters!!

#4--Inside the same building.

#5--Getting closer to the summit.

I will put one more set of pictures up next week for this adventure!

It could only happen to me!!

On weekdays, my usual routine is to drive out to Camp Le Monier for lunch. Before I enter the camp, I have to make a right turn at an intersection that's begging for an accident to occur. I've often wondered why I never saw one at that location. Well today, they finally had one at least, I think they did. As I approached the intersection, I noticed that two taxis had stopped in front of me. In front of them, were a fire truck and an ambulance being manned but what I assume were Frenchmen. There was also a crowd of people surrounding the 'incident.' I sat there for at least 15 minutes trying to discern what was going on and how long I would have to wait. Finally, someone started directing the traffic forward. As I got close to freedom, a herd of goats crossed in front of me and lingered there for another 15 minutes. Cars behind me were blasting their horns but the goats (and their shephard) were oblivious to the delay they were causing. I pulled out a newspape…

Weekend Postings

This weekend (Thursday and Friday for me), I will post more pictures pertaining to Mt. Rysy. I'm also going to subdue my fear of the African wilderness and venture out once again to gather pictures for a Djiboutian TL.

One of my coworkers has promised to take me to visit some nomads before I leave. He will translate for me. I plan to ask a lot of questions and take a lot of pictures. Should be interesting!

I've been told that I have a tentative departure date of 19 April. It could be earlier than this but not later. It will be surreal returning to the US.

More later,


Travelogue Slovakia (8) Mt. Rysy

Written on September 10, 2006

I must really care about you guys to be sending this letter today. Why? Well, every muscle in my body is aching. I've been popping aspirin all day, but it doesn't seem to help much. It hurts to stand up and I'm walking around in slow motion. When I went to bed last night, I alternated between having violent chills and sweating profusely. What has caused this, you ask? Yesterday, I climbed Mount Rysi (2,600 meters) and it was the most physically demanding thing I've every done. From start to finish, we spent about 10 hours going up and down. I'm going to try and narrarate what happened including pictures. I'll ty to send even more pictures in a follow-up to this e-mail.

So, about a month ago, some students of mine asked me if I would like to climb 'Rysi' with them. At the time, I thought how hard can that be and agreed. We planned the trip and traveled …

Travelogue Japan (7) The Long Goodbye

Written on August 4, 2007

Hi, Everyone! I hope you're all doing well. This will probably be my last entry (and a short one) from Japan as I'm due to return in the fall. I can't believe I have to leave this wonderful place. Ingmar Bergman, who died recently, once said that he could not make another movie after his last one made 20 years ago. He said this because he had derived so much satisfaction from the last one that any other movie he made would be a disappointment. That's the way I feel about Japan. I may never travel to another country again for fear of a letdown. I guess I will have to force myself to travel in the future!

Anyway, my coworkers threw a 'goodbye' party for me this week and I had a blast. I got some wonderful gifts, a personal seal with my name in Chinese characters and a summer kimono to name a few. My colleagues insisted that I try on the top and I did so as you can see in the picture. The others in the picture are the Japanese ins…

Six Weeks Remaining . . .

. . . till I return to the US. The time is going by too fast. Still, I'm looking forward to going home for a while. I'll be leaving here in mid-April and taking three weeks vacation. The first week, I'll just chill out in San Antonio and try to recover from the jet lag. The second week, I'll fly up and visit my family in West Virginia. The final week, I'll begin to mentally prepare myself for the return to work. I will feel like a new employee learning all the rules and regulations again and trying to adapt to the stress. All in a day's work!

I'm not a creative person by nature and it takes me a while to figure these things out. But, I have started to post photos of the current travelogue in the slideshow area. In that way, you can preview them while reading the story. I'll continue including the link to the web album so the photos can still be accessed at a later time.

I'm still trying to figure out where I'll be sent next. I'll p…

Travelogue Slovakia (7) Plum Jam in Slovakia

Written on September 4, 2006

Hi, Everyone!!

Well, this is becoming a recurring theme for me . . . I promise to stop sending these for a couple of weeks and then I break down and send another one the very next week. Here is my dilemma, there is something going on every week and if I don't send stories now, I'll never send them! So here goes . . .

A word of warning before I start, there is no way in the world that this version could be as exciting as last week's in Prague. Please forgive me but I can't jet out of the country every weekend!! All I can promise is that it WILL be different.

Now, let me recap. The weekend before last, as you all know, I went to Prague. It was great but also very tiring so I decided not to go to Budapest as originally planned for this last weekend. Once they heard, I knew my friends would schedule something in lieu of this and they talked about going rafting. However, this was never mentioned later in the week and I got my hopes up that the torri…

Travelogue Djibouti (4) Near the Beach

Written on December 14, 2007

Hi! I hope this travelogue isn't boring compared to the last one. I did try to include more dangerous animals and you will see from the pictures that the level of danger continues to increase. Do you remember the person who followed grizzlies and was eventually mauled to death? They made a documentary from his footage but I can't recall the name of it right now. Anyway, I hope to avoid his fate!

Not too much new to report here. I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the support I receive from the embassy. Unlike previous MTTs, most of my acquaintances here are Westerners who either work at the embassy or Camp Le Monier. I also meet a lot of people just passing through on TDY usually at the Monday night basketball games. Anyway, I used to think you could only get visas at an embassy but I now know there's a whole social network to be had there.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. For my profession, this has to be the best job in th…

Travelogue Japan (6) A Local Temple

Written July 15, 2007.

Wow! It's been a long time since my last letter. My only excuse is that I've been so busy living life that I haven't had time to write. Work continues to be great and I still whistle when I wake up on a weekday morning. My favorite saying is 'TGIM' (Thank god it's Monday!). One of my coworkers told me that she's never met anyone so enthusiastic in her life. I tell her that it's only because I'm in Japan.

I've read several stories with a common theme . . . a westerner inadvertently ends up in the Far East and is at first viewed as a complete outsider. As time passes though, he earns the trust of his hosts and gradually gains access to the mysteries of the Orient. I have finally entered that stage. It feels as if the keys to the kingdom have been handed to me. I would love to reveal some of these secrets to all of you, but then I would lose my exalted position.

One thing I can tell you though, in a Japanese office, th…

Where will the wind carry me next?

Time is ticking away. I have only seven weeks remaining here in Africa. I've reached the point where I've started to wonder where I'll go to next. Perhaps I won't go anywhere and will be stuck in the US for a while!! I guess Texas wouldn't be too bad but I wonder if my travels there would generate much interest on this site. Still, I'm not going to worry too much about it. I'm fortunate in that there are a lot of travel opportunities in my job. I'm sure I'll be selected for some country.

Travelogue Slovakia (6) Prague Part 2

Written on August 29, 2006

Okay, to continue the story after passing out on the bed last night . . . I think picture #1 accurately conveys how I felt after the long trip to Prague though I'm not sure if I'm giving or receiving injury. We saw this statue as we departed the complex and the changing of the guard in #2. Heading back down to the city center, we got another wonderful view of the old city in #3. These sights started to bring me out of my coma and I got a burst of energy that recurred off and on throughout the day.

Let me make one more observation before I continue with the story. Prague is an incredibly expensive city especially in the downtown area. I heard that there were cheaper places that the locals went to, but I never saw them. For me, it's just a matter of principle not wanting to pay such high prices. For the locals, however, it's a matter of survival. Anyway, the prices are th…

Djibouti--The Hotel Kempinski

I am currently living in a hotel (which will go nameless) in Djibouti and am quite comfortable. Although it's not the nicest hotel in the city, it has everything I need including cable tv and wireless internet. The other day, a colleague of mine invited me over to The Hotel Kempinski (the nicest hotel) for one of their 'theme' buffets. These are quite popular in this part of the world. Some nights, you have Arabic food, other nights you have Asian, and there is even a Tex-Mex night at this hotel. That was the night I chose hoping the food would remind me of all my friends in San Antonio. Anyway, the food was good but not great especially considering the price. Although it was 'all you can eat,' the price of DJF 10,000 (roughly $56 American) shocked me! There was no way I could get my money's worth if I wanted to stay on my diet. This reminded me of a phenomonen that I've encountered in developing countries before. It's as if there are two econ…