May 2009 Archives

Nkuringo Mountain Gorillas Teaser

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Adorable Nkuringo Infant

While the photography was frustrating, the first day's gorilla tracking of the Nkuringo group in Uganda was a great success.  We even got a few keeper photographs.  Most importantly, it was just an unbelievable and memorable experience overall.  We've had some thrilling wildlife sightings the past couple years, but seeing a few of these 700 remaining beauties in their natural habitat easily takes the cake.

We're posting this from Musanze, Rwanda (formerly called Rugengeri), whereabouts today we'll spend another hour with a different group of mountain gorillas.  And it's also where the internet bandwidth is limited and thus photo uploading slow.  So this is regrettably all we will provide for now!  We'll be at the Sheraton Kampala in two days and I hear they have one of the fastest connections in East Africa.  If so, I'll be putting it to the test...

So please do check back soon!  We hope to make it worthwhile for the majority of you who don't care for airplane food photos...

Arriving in Uganda and Driving to Kisoro

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Full house in business class on the BA flight to Entebbe.  Very good flight attendants, average food, and a decent night's sleep in the older 767 Club World seats.  So no big complaints, really.

Lamb Chops Fruit, Tea, and a Fruit Smoothie

On arrival we purchased visas for $50 USD each and were then relieved to find our bags on the carousel.  I was concerned they wouldn't do well transiting all those airports with us.  We had a bit of a snafu with our airport pickup, but we eventually got things sorted out, losing about an hour in the process.  For anyone arriving in Entebbe, there are loads of banks and cell phone shops after exiting baggage claim.

Following all these flights, we had a quite long drive to our first destination of Kisoro, Uganda.  It's about 500km and with the road conditions this was about 9 hours driving.  Ugandans are apparently quite good at cramming many people into their cars:

Full House

Two points that somewhat surprised us about Uganda initially.  (1) the main roads are in worse condition than Madagascar's.  Never thought such a thing was possible!  (2) the landscape is more stunning than we could have ever thought.  Coming out from the clouds on British Airways we were immediately taken aback by just how GREEN the land was.  Then as we started passing food stalls on the road, we realized the farms are producing a huge variety of fresh produce (everything you can imagine from pineapple to avocados to sorghum).  We'll attempt to capture these points in photos further down the road...

We made the obligatory stop en route at the Equator.  We also passed through the Equator precisely a year ago while in the Galapagos, so we're vets at that.


For lunch we stopped in Mbarara at City Top Restaurant.  I found a tip somewhere online about this Indian restaurant run by some brothers from Tamil Nadu (my family's 'hood).  Definitely recommended as a change of pace from eating at tourist hotels.  Below is what parothas (very good) and "meat roast" (turns out to be lamb gravy--my mom's is better) shakes out to.

City Top Restaurant

After lunch and many more hours, the road eventually brought us to Kisoro where we stayed at the Traveller's Rest Hotel.  Maybe a tad pricey for some at $120 USD for full board, but we loved our stay here and I can't imagine a better place in this town.  It's managed by a Dutchman and watched over be a friendly brother/sister pair of Rottweilers.  All three of them were great to spend time with.

Traveler's Rest Hotel

Nice, clean, and big room (this is the Mutanda room we stayed in).  And there's even scalding hot, solar-heated showers if you fancy.

Mutanda Room

The food was phenomenal.  The menu below might seem silly for a a small village in southwest Uganda, but consider that it's all made with very local and fresh ingredients and it was simply delicious.  Plus breakfasts feature honey made from the local bees.

Traveler's Rest Dinner Menu

So after a night's rest, the following day would be what we really came on this trip for.  Mountain Gorillas...

En Route to Uganda

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We're currently killing time in the Galleries Club at T5 in Heathrow (this club is top notch--just ate some ice cream).  We board our flight to Entebbe in a couple hours and then our internet access takes a nose dive for a bit.

I think our hotel in Ruhengeri, Rwanda on May 24 will have some internets.  If so, we hope to deliver a photo or two from our first visit with the mountain gorillas of Nkuringo that happens on May 23 in Uganda.

Gotta run for our massages at the Elemis Travel Spa here in the lounge, now.  Until later...

A Few Hours in Budapest

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If there was a flight on our itinerary that we had exceptionally low expectations for, it was Malev Hungarian from TLV-BUD.  It didn't disappoint.  I won't bag on them too much as they are essentially a bankrupt airline, but the breakfast was horrible (I don't even want to post the photo!) and the service spotty.  They got us to Budapest a few minutes early, so in the end that's all that really matters on a flight like this.  The one highlight was the flight attendant randomly talking to Lillie in Hungarian when we first got on the flight (Lillie's roots are in Hungary, or a fourth of them, at least).

With five hours before our next flight we hopped the 200E bus to Kobanya Kispest and then transferred to the M3 train to Deak Ferenc—290 Forint for each leg of the journey that took 45 minutes each way in total.  Very easy and a fraction of the price of a taxi.

At 9am the weather was absolutely beautiful and we roamed around for two hours before heading back to the airport.  Here's the first building/sign seen upon coming out of the subway station:

Ford Tough

We stopped at a small coffee shop and grabbed some snacks to eat in the park.  Lillie's parents whip up a tastier version of the bottom pastry for the Gerencser family reunion each year.


Walked down to the Danube…


We saw the below street sign in several places.  Anybody have an idea what it means?  Men in top hats shouldn't solicit children to hold hands with them?

Weird Sign 

Budapest was an incredibly quiet city.  And by that we mean we saw lots of people, but nobody was talking. Or maybe they were whispering.  It was quite odd and quite pleasant at the same time.  This sense of peace could also be a result of missing the constant car horn blaring of Amman. 

Back at the Budapest airport we checked out Malev's Millennium Lounge before our British Airways flight to Heathrow.  Keeping with the Malev spirit, it was kind of terrible.  Horrible chairs and Pepsi products.  Nuff said. 


The independently run Platinum Lounge across the hall is the much better option (both accessible to BA passengers in business class).

Transiting Tel Aviv

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We came off our flight from Amman and followed the transit passenger signs only to end up in a completely empty baggage claim area with a security section all closed up.  There was a phone on the wall and a sign with a number for transiting passengers to dial.  I called, briefly explained where we were coming from/going, and the woman said they'd be right down. 

Next thing you know, we had seven people down there tending to the two of us: two airport employees, two baggage screeners, two security agents, and a Malev agent to check us in for our onward flight to Budapest.  The security questions were relatively tame (how long have you been married being the only personal one), and everyone seemed to get a big kick out of our trip and itinerary.

The whole process took about 70 minutes.  One upside to having not gone to Jerusalem is that now our passports do not have Israel stamps. We can keep our travel options in the Middle East open for the last 8 years of our passports' lives.  Lots of possibilities…

We spent the layover in the Dan lounge to try to get a few hours of sleep before the next flight.  Not terribly successful at that as they insisted on playing a horrible soundtrack over the loudspeaker.  Below is Lillie getting her Facebook on via iPhone.  You know we're in Israel because if you squint you can see a dude's yamika over her left shoulder.

At the Dan lounge in TLV

Hot Travel Tip for the Day

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Don't arrive at 4:05pm for the flight you think leaves at 5:45pm, but in fact leaves at 4:15pm.  Ooops!

It only took a solid four hours for Team Royal Jordanian at the Amman airport to get us boarding passes for the later 10pm flight to Tel Aviv.  We dealt with no less than ten people to get this sorted out.  Early in the process a check-in agent said: "you're going to Addis Ababa, yeah?"  While Ethiopia is pretty high on our travel list, Entebbe is our actual destination this time.

We spent a little time in the "Departure Manager's office" in the back of the airport through this episode.  This is where all sorts of angry passengers stormed in yelling in Arabic while Lillie and I sat in the corner with big grins on our faces, completely amused.  The Departure Manager at one point said to Lillie in English: "This man comes to me with no passport trying to get onto his international flight.  Do you see what I have to deal with all day?"  All of the requests seemed equally ridiculous with very unrelenting hopeful passengers.  Needless to say, we didn't yell once. 

The whole episode appropriately concluded with the ticketing agent saying "what the hell is the deal with this ticket?!" while handing us our boarding passes.  Smiles all around and we shook hands with a big thank you.  The downside to missing our original flight is that we missed our reservation at Eucalyptus in Jerusalem.  We were pretty pumped about that meal, so we'll save that for next time.

The pretty new Crown Club lounge at Amman is quite nice, by the way.  Got some lentil soup and drank some 7-Up.  Nicest feature of the place are little individual TV cubicles.  There's also a snooker table if you fancy that.  Plus don't forget to check out the family portrait of King Abdullah and Queen Rania by the entrance.  Decent place to spend a few unexpected hours at ol' Queen Alia International.

Crown Club at AMM

And just to explain a bit, in order to get from Jordan to Uganda our routing was forced to be rather horrible.  So now we're at the beginning of a long trek through many airports.

Driving in Amman

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Driving had been a breeze throughout Jordan, but it was only on the last night and following day that we had to navigate the streets of downtown Amman.  Oh my.

It's kinda like New York City driving, but take away the lane lines and all the other rules of the road you take for granted.  Basically, if you see room for your car to go...ya go.  Eventually got that hang of it, but it had its hairy moments, no doubt.  The biggest trouble is that our map situation for the city was garbage, so general navigating was unnecessarily difficult.  We've always bought maps from Amazon in the past, not sure why we didn't this time.

After much nonsense driving, we finally got to the Le Meridien Amman at 8pm.  I scored a sweet rate on a Royal Club Room there that included breakfast, 4pm checkout, free internet, and free drinks in their club lounge.  Racked up lots of Starwood points for the stay in the process, too.  This proved to be a very cozy place to hang out after a few days cooking in the sun.

Le Meridien Amman

Our big project after breakfast the next morning was to find a place to do some laundry (the hotel's pricing was just off the charts silly for a big load).  After a chat with the concierge, we fast learned that Jordanians don't do self-laundromats, but he pointed us to a dry cleaner a ten minute walk away.  This all worked out quite well, albeit much more expensive than we'd have liked.  We had to pay a 50% rush charge which brought our total to 44 JOD.  But now we have non sweat and sand drenched clothing for the East Africa portion of our trip.

Hertz Jordan gets a big thumbs down for pointing out a scratch on the car and proceeding to charge me 60 JOD for it.  First time this has ever happened to us, so we'll see if our friends at Amex can help us out when we get back home.

And it was while processing this annoying paperwork at Hertz Jordan that we were about to hit another speed bump along the way...

Floating in the Dead Sea

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After leaving Petra, we drove north back to Tafileh and then west towards the Dead Sea Highway.  While descending towards the Dead Sea, we watched the temperature gauge in the car climb a full ten degrees Celsius.  Things settled in the 100 to 104 F range. 

At a police checkpoint (these are all over and standard procedure), the officer was excited to hear we were Americans and invited us to join him for tea.  As mentioned above, it was over 100 degrees and we politely declined.

The Dead Sea highway is a snap to drive--you can just cruise at 100 km/h on a straight road.  After about 3 hours from Petra, we arrived at Amman Beach.  For 12 JOD/person, they provide some nice access to a beach.  The men's changing room was pretty dank, but Lillie reports the women's to not be too bad.  There are also swimming pools and a cafe, but we didn't partake in any of that.  So it's a bit pricey for just a dip in the sea, but oh well.

Anyway, we were all business from the changing rooms and raced to the water--the weather was absolutely stifling.  It was pretty much as advertised.  You bob like a cork.  This was especially weird for me as a person prone to drowning.  We both had some chapped lips which were quickly burning thanks to the salt.  But my Chacos did get nice and clean after getting super mucky at Petra.

Floating in the Dead Sea

Then back on the highway and off to live it up in our nicest hotel in Jordan (possibly nicest of the trip)--Le Meridien Amman...

Second Day in Petra – The Last Crusade

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No breakfast at the hotel today, so we hit up a local bakery for a plate of baklava for breakfast.  Inappropriate but delicious.

This time at Petra we switched things up by not entering via the Siq.  Right before the Siq we took a right into Wadi Muthlim, disregarding the warning sign posted that suggests you take a guide down this route.  Pshaw.  Instead of sharing the Siq with hordes of other tourists, we had this thing all to ourselves.

Of course, there proved to be a few obstacles along the route which is otherwise simple to navigate.  Take for instance this:


That one really wasn't a big deal, but it did crack us up when we first caught a glimpse.  The next obstacle proved to be a much better story.  This route is prone to flash floods during the spring time, so is impassable during that time.  We got to experience some of the aftermath from said floods.

Sidd Majjn is the junction where we bumped into two other pairs of tourists.  One pair threw in the towel and headed home.  Here's what we were first faced with:

If you squint a little, you can see the brown pool of water in the path ahead.  It was at this point that a random Bedouin guy came by and nicely grunted/pointed the way along.  I first attempted some Spiderman action to avoid taking the plunge in the murky water.  But in the end, we just had to suck it up.

Luckily it was only knee deep water.  The random Bedouin was clutch later when pointing us to a shortcut that helped us avoid at least 100 more feet of this wading.

Good times in the end!  And what these pictures don't capture are the rock carvings on the walls above.  This is where Lillie insisted she really felt like Indiana Jones while admiring/wading.  Then we were finally in Wadi Mataha that eventually lead us back to the main street.  This little route took us a shade under two hours while we were usually doing the Siq in 30 minutes.  A shortcut it isn't!

Back on the main drag, the Monastery was our remaining sight for the day.  It's about an hour slog up many, many steps (we've now reached mid-day again, of course, so the sun was a-blazin').  You think you're in the middle of nowhere until you arrive at this:


There's actually a really nice cafe up here--complete with ice cold Coke for 2 JOD.  On a scorching hot day they were doing brisk business.  Lillie made friends with some 60-something Catalan men on the trail.  She had fun name dropping things from her year in Catalunya, and these dudes loved her.  For some reason, they asked the two of us to pose for a picture.  Would love to see that slideshow.  Those guys held back our pace a bit, but otherwise we were down to the bottom in thirty minutes.

We then took off for the exit through the Siq for the last time.  Another five-hour day at Petra in the books.  Awesome stuff.

First Day at Petra

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About 80 km south on the Kings Highway from Dana is Petra.  Along the way, we picked up a hitchhiker.  Not our usual routine, but he was standing at a police checkpoint where we stopped.  And when somebody asks you "are you going to Petra?" on the road to Petra, there aren't a whole lot of excuses.  So no big deal in the end.

Again we timed our arrival perfectly for the hottest part of the day (around 1pm).  We purchased 2-day tickets for 26 JOD each and headed for the entry gate.  Trying to keep it real, we've stuck with long pants while in Jordan.  But upon entering Petra, we quickly learned the uniform for tourists here is short shorts and long white socks.  Duly noted.

The size of Petra is really staggering.  Throw in the weather conditions, and you really need to be smart and selective about what you attempt to see and do.  We're not going to get into all the history here, as that's a bit above our pay grade.  So here's the wikipedia entry if you need a primer.  Or rent Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

You enter Petra via the Siq, a narrow gorge, and after about 30-minutes of walking you end up with this in your sights:


That's the peek-a-boo view of the Treasury.  After emerging from the Siq completely, here it is in all its glory:

We then went the High Place of Sacrifice route looping down into Wadi Farasa and back to the main street.  It's a pretty healthy climb to the top, where the Nabateans performed religious ceremonies--likely including human sacrifices  Here's a view down:

We bumped into a dozen or so tourists up here, but then only saw one other tourist on the rest of the loop.  There are no directional signs at Petra, so unless you have your own guide book (we were using the Rough Guide) you really don't have a prayer of finding things off the main tourist track.

Plenty of Bedouins living down in Wadi Farasa with small gift tables, though.  You can see some of their goats hanging out here:

The below triclinium was one of our favorites.  Incredibly colorful and unique in that interiors were otherwise never carved.  There was crown molding on the ceiling and totally straight etchings around the windows.  Just amazing.


This is the view from the triclinium across to the Roman Soldier Tomb:

The Renaissance Tomb:

The Broken Pediment Tomb:

Five plus hours later we were back in the car and headed to our hotel to check-in.  We stayed at the Golden Tulip Kings Way Petra.  I got a pretty fantastic rate of $45 here thanks to an overly generous (and now expired) promotion from  It's supposed to be one of the nicer hotels in Petra, but it's definitely getting old and tired.  Though it absolutely served it's purpose.  If you don't have a car or aren't on a tour bus, there's no reason to stay here as it's a few km away from the main gate to Petra.

We relaxed here for a bit before heading out at 7:30pm for dinner.  We went to Red Cave on the tourist road outside the entry gate, and it was surprisingly good food.  Finally got to eat some of the lamb we've seen running around everywhere.

Then we went to Petra by Night at 8:30pm.  Two days per week, they light candles all down the Siq and around the Treasury.  You are ushered to a mat and served hot tea during a short performance of Bedouin music.  It's worth going to if you're there, but it's also super corny.  It's 12 JOD per ticket and you can buy these tickets at the Petra Visitors Center--all the guide books seem to say you need to buy them from some specific tourist agencies, but that's absolutely not the case.  Plus we purchased ours right before eating dinner that same night.

Here's a long exposure of the Treasury at night:

Dana Nature Reserve

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After much deliberation, we decided that Wadi Rum in southern Jordan was a bit too touristy for our nature tastes.  So instead we spent a day based at Rummana Campground in Dana Nature Reserve.  The tagline for the organization running this place is "Helping Nature. Helping People."  No brainer for us.

It wasn't particularly cheap, but it was acceptable given the social project you're in turn supporting.  A night in a tent, dinner/breakfast, water, and a guided hike was 140 JOD.  This was all booked directly with them via email.  They were very prompt and helpful with their responses, too.

Upon arriving, we parked our car at the Visitor's Center and then took this shuttle down the very, very steep road to the permanent campground.

Upon arrival at the camp, we threw our stuff down and then went with a guide on the 8km White Dome trail to the village of Dana.  It was about 3.5 hours in the blazing midday sun (morning would be the ideal time to do this).  A guide is required for this hike, but there are a few shorter hikes around the camp that can be done self-guided.  Great views of the Dana Valley and Wadi, though terrible photos as it was blazing hot and hazy. 

The hike ends at Dana Village where local women grow sage, thyme, nuts, pomegranates, apricots, etc. in a large garden.  It smells wonderful and gave us access to a pool of very chilly water running down from the mountain - incredibly refreshing after hours in the sun.  Their jams and dried herbs are available for sale at the Tourist Center and were used in our meals at the Camp.

Back at camp we unpacked a little and cleaned up.  The accommodations are really quite amazing considering the harsh location.  And all sparkling clean.

You can easily stand up in the middle of the tents, and the linens are fresh and wrapped in plastic for each new arrival.

Who doesn't love open air bathrooms with trees in them?  The bathroom facilities were super impressive.

There's a little man-made pool and bird shed behind the campground to hang out in.  Sadly, we don't have good IDs on some of these, but we'll look them up when back home.  However, these guys below are the Palestine Sunbird:

Again, a very great place to spend some time.  The staff was typically Jordanian (read: amazingly nice), the views fantastic, and very quiet (only two other people there the same night as us).

Here's a candid of us:

Arriving in Jordan

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(This post is pretty strictly logistics/boring)

Our Royal Jordanian flight attendants were pretty bored with us on MAD-AMM as we just weren't very demanding passengers.  They were ever vigilant and constantly waiting to get us something to drink other than water.  Even though it's a less than 5-hour flight, they treat it like a long haul--big leather reclining seats, multi-course meal service, and amenity kits.  Food was quite average, but they make up for it in every other regard.  Great airline for when you're in this region.

Chicken Vegetable Soup Penne Pasta and Veggies Almond Tart and Coffee

Upon arrival, we swapped some USD for JOD (dinars) in order to buy the 10 JOD visas for entry.  There are no ATMs at this point in the airport and you must pay in dinars.  Not a fast process, but easy.  Our bags survived yet another transit and were already on the carousel after we crossed immigration.

Booked an automatic via, and a rep from Hertz was waiting with a sign.  Signed some paperwork, and we were off to Madaba for our first night.  First song we found on the radio was Kelis' Milkshake.  Really weird.  Anyway, easy highway driving and we eventually arrived at Mariam Hotel (booked directly through their website) a bit after midnight.  For 40 JOD including a breakfast buffet, this is a perfectly fine little hotel.

We left the hotel around 9:00am, loaded up with dinars at an ATM in Madaba, and then began the 3-hour drive to Dana Nature Reserve...

Souffles, Souffles, Souffles

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A solid 22 hours in Paris...

After a much needed shower at Jess and Wes's, we hit the town.  Took a stroll around Luxembourg Park, drank some kir...

Lillie, Jess, and Kir

Then we had a 9pm reservation at Le Souffle, where we each had the three souffle tasting menu.  It was a lot of souffle.  Left to right you'll see the ham and cheese, blood sausage and apples, and a pistachio and chocolate dessert souffle.  Not pictured, but consumed, were cheese, spinach, wild boar, and a Grand Marnier dessert variety.  It was a lot of souffle.  But a tasty and fun experience with friends.

Ham 'n Cheez paris (3 of 4) Pistache

Next we hopped on bicycles (!!) at 11pm to cruise around the Louvre and back to Jess and Wes' 'hood.  It was a great delight to bang around on cobblestone roads and awesome to finally get some exercise.  The bikes were courtesy of the Velib' scheme.  Here are my attempts to capture the experience via iPhone while riding.

IMG_0034 photo(5) IMG_0038

After a pitcher of beer at O'Neils, Lillie and Jess headed home while Wes dragged me to his favorite haunt in all of Paris--Chez George.  You crawl down some stairs to what is quite literally a tiny cave packed with 40-ish Parisians drunkenly singing.  Wes said: "you want some wine?"  After an affirmative, he came back from the bar with a full bottle and two glasses.  Said bottle was then fully consumed.

A random dude we talked to claimed that Serge Gainsbourg used to hang out here back in the day.  We were skeptical, but that would be pretty awesome if true.  Further research must be done.

After going to bed at a very late hour, we were out the door at 9am for our next flights.  Big thanks go to Jess and Wes for their hospitality and putting up with us.  They've tempted us to maybe stay for a full day on our next trip to Paris.

We had an Iberia flight from Orly to Madrid--so we took the Metro to the RER B to the OrlyVal.  Very smooth and easy.  One lame point about Orly: the Iberia lounge is before the long security lines (and thus useless) so we didn't go in there.

IMG_0043 Short two hour flight to Madrid and it was the first Iberia flight attendant we've ever had that actually smiled and was nice.

The lunch actually really hit the spot, too.  Mesclum leaves salad with marinated king prawn, yellow cherry tomatoes, and courgette; fine herbs marinated chicken (which translated to fried dark meat and was awesome); brie/gouda; and white chocolate mousse

We're pressing the publish button on this from Madaba, Jordan right now.  Lots of missing hyperlinks in this post as is proving to be a bit confusing.  So apologies for that.  Anyway, we got here late last night and now we're heading out to Dana Natural Reserve.  It'll be a few days until the next post, but we should hopefully have some decent material finally...

And Away We Go…

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The first 24 hours of the trip has involved a lot of food and flying.  Lillie and I got off to a rough start from Seattle when her upgrade to DTW cleared and mine did not.  :(  I got over it, and we are friends again now.

This whole trip is pretty silly, but this first leg is one I always hate to explain because it looks so dumb on paper.  First, we flew SEA-DTW-PHL on Northwest with little fanfare.  We hopped in our tiny Kia rental from Hertz and went to John's Roast Pork for a 9:30am cheesesteak (good, but not near as good as the Dalessandro's on my last trip).  The place has never seen so much Patagonia.  We did not blend in.

We then drove to up to NYC to catch a 5:40pm flight out of JFK (where our award ticket starts from).  Some might ask: "why wouldn't you just fly to JFK in the first place?"  Well, that would have been too easy…and through various shenanigans we saved $200 this way.

We had just a few hours to spend in New York (Lillie's first time in NYC!), so we just did the essentials.  And by that, we mean making a long anticipated visit to the Dosa Man in Washington Square Park.  We love dosa.  We love street food.  And for $5 it was all we dreamed it would be.  He was nice enough to give us two "environmental plates" for our shared dosa, so the photo shows just half of what your money gets you.

Dosa Man

Took a quick lap around Times Square in the Kia and then were off to JFK to catch our Finnair flight to Helsinki connecting onwards to Paris to visit our friends Jess and Wes.  I was a big fan of Finnair's business class—Lillie is more lukewarm (no storage space!).  It was a less than a month old A330—see the cabin here, so it was sparkling clean.  The beds are angled, but we both got some solid sleep in.  Lillie was seen crying watching Bride Wars on the IFE.

Here's what dinner looked like: cream of pumpkin soup, salad, grilled veggies, fillet of trout, julienne of vegetables, potatoes and lemon butter, and crème caramel.  All washed down with Baileys and Koff beer.  Airplane food is airplane food—but this was very much above average.

Starters Trout Baileys!

Had our flight landed on time in HEL, we had a plan to hit up a mall nearby for kicks.   But having to wait for thirty planes on the runway at JFK caused a bit of a delay so we just stuck out the layover at the IKEA-esque Silver Wings Lounge complete with little space pod chairs. 

Silver Wings Lounge

The short-haul to Paris was uneventful, but again a good performance from Finnair.  We hopped the train into Paris, where we now are and will be until noon tomorrow when we're off to Amman (via Madrid).  We'll post from Spain tomorrow should there be any excitement in France this evening.

Posts should hopefully start getting more interesting from here on…

Black Canyon Wildflowers

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It was our last weekend at home with Zizou for the month, so today we set off to to check out some more wildflowers.

Black Canyon was the destination—about 25 miles outside of Ellensburg, WA on a sometimes paved, but mostly unpaved little road.  The last mile of road was especially rough.  You can see a bit of it in the below photo from the trailhead:

The hike itself was 6-miles round trip with about a 1,500 foot climb.  Two hours up and a quick hour back down.  The only snake we saw wasn't a rattler, so that's always a bonus in Central Washington.  Plus there were very few others out on the trail with us.  A very solid overall hike for this time of year.

An old homestead cabin off the trail:

Grass widows:

Sagebrush violets tucked into some ferns:

Shooting stars:

At the top are some nice vistas looking down to the town of Ellensburg.  Had we invested another ten minutes to pop over another ridge, we probably would have had a great view of Mount Rainier.  But it was rather chilly up there and we turned back.  Next time.