Friday, April 30, 2010

Hey Hey

I am loving the fact that they say "hei hei" (pronounced like 'hey') in greeting here.  It reminds me of some ridiculously flamboyant gay man from the '90s.  It can be confusing though, because sometimes they say "hei" and I think they're yelling at me.
One of the aforementioned gay men from the '90s.  Only kidding.  It's Matt.

On a related note, I still love Finland.  The weather isn't too cold most days, although yesterday it was and it rained all day.  Matt still hasn't started work and won't until Monday, so that's been nice hanging out so much together... although we're both getting a little bored, I think.  We came to the conclusion today that it's okay to get bored even in nice places because we don't have any of those "normal" hobbies that people with more stable lives have, like a house (to clean) or a dog (to walk) or a baby (to play with... and raise into the perfect human, of course).  We get bored in Chicago, too, especially in winter, so I think it's okay we're bored here.  We'll get over it.

That said, we have actually been doing lots of sightseeing the past few days.  We took a ferry over to Tallinn, which is the capital of Estonia (like you didn't know that).  It only took about an hour and a half, and the water wasn't very choppy, so I did not get seasick at all.  I know you were all worried about it.  Anyway, Tallinn was really cool... the new part of the city had a sort of Eastern European feel (like I would even know what that was...) but it has a really amazing old medieval city within the old city walls.
Archery practice in front of the old city wall, in front of the old cathedral.
It wasn't quite as amazing as Rothenburg (in Germany... see my archives for all the details on that place... as you'll recall I got a mean case of food poisoning there a couple years ago), but it was still really nice.  
Us in front of the old wall and tower.
The best part by far was the medieval restaurant we stumbled upon as soon as we got there.  The weather was beautiful, and we wanted to sit outside, so we stopped at the first place with outdoor tables... never mind that it had flags and banners fluttering everywhere and the servers all wore the most ridiculous outfits, complete with pointy shoes.  
Matt at the "Old Hansa" restaurant.

We ordered from menus where the food was listed by who would eat it, ie, the high food was for the nobels, and low for the commoners.  I had the meat soup (an unlikely choice for me, I know) which came with fresh homemade bread and soft cheese, and I washed it all down with a mug of mead.  It was all pretty incredible.  I know it doesn't sound like it could get any better than that, but wait, it does!  The best part were the bathrooms... yup.  They are virtually pitch black with only one candle in each stall, and one by the sink.  The toilets are part of a wooden bench, with a wooden toilet seat and wooden button to flush it.  The sink had a pot of water hanging over it that you tilted to pour the water over your hands.  I'm not explaining it well enough, but just use your imaginations, because I didn't take my camera in there.  That restaurant was pretty much the highlight of our Estonia trip, and maybe the highlight of our Finnish vacation so far.
Town Hall in Tallinn

A couple days ago we went for a drive to Porvoo, which is the city near the refinery where we're supposed to stay.  We would have stayed there, but all the hotels are full... poor us, having to stay in Helsinki instead.  Actually, we really enjoyed Porvoo!  It's super cute with rows of painted wooden houses, and adorable little shops selling adorably quaint things that no one needs but everyone wants.  It's much bigger than the Bad Goegging (the "city" we stayed in during our Germany days), with lots more shops and a nice river running through it.  I'm a fan.  I might go back one day after Matt starts work... if I can get some manual driving lessons in first.  I know, I'm supposed to know how already.  Well, I don't.  Get over it.

Photo of Matt for the H&M catalogue. Again, only kidding.
Yesterday we went shopping at the brand new H&M, which is right down the street from the "old" one... which isn't closing; I guess they just wanted a new one.  Anyway, yesterday was opening day, and we had to go because we got a 20% discount on top of any opening sales they had.  We're not usually the type of people that rush out to a store on opening day, and let me tell you, this experience has not changed my mind in the slightest.  First off, they had music blaring and a countdown going for when the store's doors would actually open.  And then, as we walked in the door, ALL the staff stood on either side of a red carpet clapping and cheering for us as we came in.  And there was a photographer there who just happened to be right in front of Matt for most of the time... I wouldn't be surprised to see Matt in some Finnish papers and magazines.  I'll be on the lookout.  Anyway, of course we bought some stuff, but mostly because we needed it.  Really!  I bought another long-sleeved shirt, which now brings my total to 2.  I think those will last me until we leave.  Maybe.  Unless they have another sale.

Today is the start of the big spring holiday here... apparently it's HUGE in Finland.  I'm not exactly sure what it is, so I'll have to check it out for myself and then fill you in later.  So far we've seen lots of people drinking outside and tons of people selling helium balloons.  I have no idea how this represents the festival, but they are ridiculously expensive at 10 euro a pop.  Who are they kidding?  While I'm on the subject, it is crazy expensive here.  We literally cannot find a meal for dinner (at an actual restaurant, not fast food or mall food court) for under 30 euro for two people.  And that's with one of us getting an appetizer and one getting a main dish.  Apparently Finns only eat out on special occasions or weekends, so the restaurant prices reflect that.  20 euro is about standard for a main dish.  That's more than $25!  Call me cheap (and you can, because I am) but that's too much.  We went to a supermarket yesterday and bought stuff for sandwiches, which I suppose we'll be eating for dinner from now on.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Can I Finnish?

Helsinki from the ferry boat.  Look at that ominous black cloud.  There's snow in there.  

I love Finland.  And I really mean it this time.  It's nice to say that and actually feel good about it! It's amazing here!  Pretty cold when the wind blows, but other than that, it's great!  Helsinki is a pretty modern city but still has all the cool old buildings I've come to expect of Europe.  It's kind of like living in downtown Munich, but with less cool sights.  I've seen lots of churches from a distance, but have only been in one, Rock Church, so far.  
Dome of Rock Church from the outside.  I was scared to take pictures inside.  Too holy.  

It's actually built in a rock, which I found really cool. The walls are all rock and the inside reminds me of the Indian Rock House at home (that's the Buffalo National Park to you outsiders) if it had a domed copper ceiling and pews inside.  
Beth (left) and Matt (right) in Soumenlinna.
Beth left us today, but not before we ferried to Soumenlinna, an old Finnish sea port.  It was really pretty there, and really cold with the wind blowing, but aside from that, I don't know much about it.  Sorry guys.  History's not really my thing.  It was really fun to go with Beth, though. 
Cannon on Soumenlinna

 I think both Matt and I enjoyed having someone else to talk to for a couple days besides just each other.  It was nice to tell all our same stories to someone who hadn't heard them... or she said she hadn't.  She was probably just being polite because she sensed our desperation.  Anyway, she flew out today, so now it's back to just husband and wife. I guess I can put up with Matt a little while longer.  
View of Helsinki from Soumenlinna.         Fortress walls.

We just looked at the roadmap and saw that Australia, Dagang (China... aka my own private Hell) and Pakistan (everyone's Hell) are all coming up... Matt's convinced he'll get Pakistan.  I'm convinced he'll get Dagang.  I think we'd both be floored to get Australia.  Don't look into tickets just yet... it'll never happen.  But if it were to happen, you guys should all come visit!  But seriously, it won't.  

Me leaning on the church on the Soumenlinna.  Clever.  
Did I mention it stays light really late here?  This is outside our hotel window at 8.30 pm.  Now if it'd only stay warm that late then we could enjoy it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

No One Ever Checks Up On Finland

We made it!  Ha, I bet some of you didn't even know we were leaving... we just got our tickets issued 4 hours before our flight.  The volcano scare seems to be mostly over as we didn't have any problems with our flights at all.  Flew all through the night to Frankfurt and then to Helsinki.  We're pretty tired, but at least we're in the same time zone as Jordan so our sleep patterns won't get messed up.  Anyway, Matt doesn't have to work for a few days because they aren't ready to start up yet... I guess UOP thought it'd be cheaper to send us here to wait it out than fly us all the way back to the states and then here.  I was pretty impressed with their foresight.  Doesn't happen often, but when it does, they really shine.  We haven't done anything much yet... after we checked into the hotel, we made a beeline to the nearest H&M (there are several) for some jackets and long-sleeved shirts.  Sadly, we don't get to expense them... good thing they were on sale.  They had all their swimsuits out and people were buying dresses and shorts... it's 40 degrees, you guys.  Who swims in Finland?  Anyway, we're meeting up with Beth (the advisor Matt's replacing here) tonight for dinner and then are going sightseeing with her tomorrow before she leaves Monday.  Should be legen (wait for it) dary.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


I guess I've kept you in suspense about our trip to Petra long enough.  We were really worried about how to get there because it's about 4 hours away, and we didn't want to spend ridiculous amounts of money.  Luckily, Matt was able to sweet talk some engineers at the refinery into getting us fixed up with a driver... for freeee!  I'm not sure how that worked, actually, but it was awesome.  Probably saved us $100 or so.  Thanks, buddy.

So, some history (courtesy of Wikipedia... to be taken with a grain of salt, of course): Petra is an ancient city established around the 6th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataean people, but evidence shows that the area has been inhabited for more than 10,000 years. Ooold.  It was a major city with people coming from all over to trade in frankincense, myrrh and spices - just like the wise men!  The buildings and tombs left standing are all cut into the huge red rocks, which helped to preserve them.   It was eventually taken over by the Romans  sometime in the 2nd century, and started to decline pretty swiftly from there.  The world outside the Middle East knew nothing of Petra until 1812 when a Swiss explorer bribed some guides to disguise him as an Arab and take him in.  His notes and sketches caused it to blow up as a tourist destination.  Now known as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it's also Jordan's most famous attraction.  And it's ridiculously expensive to get in.  It costs 33 JD ($46) per person for non-Jordanian visitors.  And that's only if you are staying in Amman.  If you come from Israel or a cruise ship for the day to visit, it's 55 JD.   Oh, but don't worry... included in your ticket price is a "free" horse ride to the start point, which is 2 km from the ticket booth.  I say free, but of course you have to tip.

Me on the horse.  This is the best picture Matt got.  No one said he was a good photographer. 

As amazing as this place is, no historical site is worth $50 for one day.  That's just gouging.  They're raising the prices in a couple months though, so I guess we were lucky to go when we did. 
Walk through the Siq
Anyway, after the horse ride, you start out walking through the Siq, (a long gorge) sometimes on the original stone road. Along the way are lots of carvings of deities and such in the red sandstone cliffs, and two rock-carved irrigation channels run on both sides.  There's even a camel caravan carving meant to represent all the people coming from afar to visit... although you have to use your imagination and get pretty creative to see it.  
The lead camel herder's feet are still visible. 
     Deity wearing a cape flanked by lions.

The walk through the Siq culminates in a view of the Treasury, probably the most impressive sight in the whole place.  It's topped with a funerary urn, the legendary hiding place of a pharaoh's treasure.  The Treasury's original function is a mystery, but it's believed to be the mausoleum of the Nabataean king Aretas IV.  Or so says my brochure.  

First view of the Treasury through the rock walls.  
The Treasury.  It's surrounded by rock cliffs, which must be why it looks so good.

From the Treasury, you walk out in the open to see tons of ancient tombs, from the ones for royalty to ones for regular folks like you and me.  They are all pretty impressive.  There is also a "shopping street" that would have been lined with columns, but most were destroyed in an earthquake in the 4th century.  


Me in front of the Queen's tomb.

The Palace Monument and the Corinthian tomb.  Two of the Royal tombs.

Camels and the Royal tombs in the background.  You could pay for camels or donkeys to take you around, or even horse drawn carriages.  We decided not to spend any more money as we were still in sticker shock over the price of the tickets.  

There were a bunch of other things to see as well, but I feel I should leave some things for you all to discover when you visit Petra.  I don't want to spoil everything.  All in all, it took us about 5 hours to see it, and we even skipped some of the farther sights.  Combined with our 8 hour round trip from Amman, it made for a pretty long day.  It was pretty amazing, though.  

Anyway, I think I spoke too soon when I posted that we weren't going to Finland.  Let me clear this up: we ARE in fact, going to Finland.  We'll be leaving from here... sometime... and getting to Helsinki for Matt to start the startup... sometime.  One of his co-workers already did the loading, so it shouldn't take too long. Mary, (another roadwife... surely you've heard of her.  Who hasn't?) has been to Helsinki before when her husband did a job there almost exactly 2 years ago.  Funny how these jobs keep popping back up.  Anyway, she said it's a nice city and there is plenty of shopping and lots of sights to keep me busy.  So now I'm excited, which probably means they'll cancel it and we won't go.  See, I'm learning to play the game.  

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Land of Milk and Honey

Matt finally got a day off yesterday, so we got to go see some sights!  Hiring a car from the hotel to take us everywhere was way too expensive, but we were not to be daunted in our quest.  So desperate were we to go check out the sights outside the city, that we decided to go a little random and take a shuttle from the hotel to the Dead Sea, and from there we thought we could just flag a taxi to take us to our other interests.  Not so.  First of all, the Dead Sea, while it has resorts galore, has no city to speak of around it, thus no public taxis zooming around like we thought.  We ended up having the front desk at the Dead Sea public beach call a cab for us, much to the dismay of our shuttle driver.  I guess he thought we were using him for the ride...
View of the Promised Land from Mt. Nebo             

Anyway, from there we went first to Mt. Nebo, where Moses led his people and looked out over the Promised Land.  Poor guy didn't make it, though.  He got to see it, but then he died.  Matt said something about how God had told him he wasn't going to get to go, but he'd get to look upon it.  I am not current on my Bible stories, so I have no recollection of this.  Anyway, the mountain was pretty cool, but not a lot to see up there... which was good because we were in a time crunch trying to get back to the Dead Sea and swim before our shuttle left.                                                                        
Staff on Mt. Nebo
After Mt. Nebo, we drove about 45 minutes away to Bethany-on-the-Jordan, the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.  I know, it sounds like we were on a religious pilgrimage or something, right?  Not so.  Just a historical one, I guess.  The baptism place was really pretty cool... not because of the sights really, but just from a spiritual and historical standpoint.  Our guide was non-intentionally hilarious as he repeated everything he said at least three times, I guess to make sure everyone understood him.  He'd point to a map and say, "This is the river Jordan.  The Jordan River.  The Jordan River.  The Jordan River!"  We got it, dude.      We walked along that important river through the trees until we came to the place where "John was baptized Jesus Christ.  Where John was baptized Jesus Christ..." You get it.  It's really just a small pool with old stone structures from a church that was once there.  They said they found an iron cross in the bottom of that pool from the time of Jesus.  Either that or they've placed a new water pipeline... I didn't get too much from the guide, as you can see.  

The place where John the Baptist was baptized Jesus Christ

Anyway, then we walked to a place on the Jordan River (!) where you can touch the water and feel holy.  Matt and I both dipped in quickly without thinking much of it, but it was really cool to watch these old men with us who washed their rosaries off and said prayers in the water.  You'd think all these Christian holy places would be lost on someone like me who doesn't have a very religious background, but in any case, it was amazing to watch other people getting so much out of it.  And, of course, from a historical standpoint, it was incredible just to be in the place where such a huge historical figure had been.  Also, as Matt said, it was hard to get a spiritual feeling from the place when you had all these random workers walking around kicking rocks and smoking cigarettes.  They kind of ruined the heavenly feel.  Thanks, guys. 
Matt getting his Jordan River water
 Meanwhile, back at the river, they were having a service... in Chinese!  I kid you not, all these Chinese people were circled around a Chinese monk and priest who was reading from the bible.  It was incredible!  I couldn't get over the fact that we were in Jordan, a traditionally Muslim country, at a holy Christian site, with people from all over the world, and they were having church service in Chinese next to the Jordan River.  Tell me that's not cool.  

After that, we went to John the Baptist's new church (there were these two people making out next to it... like really going at it.  I think they were on their honeymoon... but really, making out where Jesus was baptized?  Get a room.) and then we headed back to the Dead Sea.  We only had a little more than an hour, but we made it worth it.  The Dead Sea is incredibly salty, and I guess that does something to the buoyancy because you can float like crazy!  It's actually hard not to float.  Matt, who has never floated in his life was bobbing around like a buoy and doing all these different poses.  It was really cool.

Us floating in the Dead Sea.

The salt does have its drawbacks, however.  It burns your skin like crazy, and it's very hard not to get it in your eyes or mouth.  There are also pots of "mineral mud" you can put on your body for the purifying benefits... but you have to pay, of course.  It was incredibly thick and slimy, and reminded me so much of the pictures of Aura from South America where she walked around covered in black mud for weeks.  Gross.  This probably wasn't the same stuff though, because as ours dried, it started flaking off.  After rinsing the mud off in the Dead Sea, and then rinsing and re-rinsing (and getting walked in on while I was naked in the shower by not one but two different women) we headed back to Amman in our shuttle.  All in all, a pretty great, if impossibly expensive, day.  Good thing Matt got per diem then.  We used it all plus some.
Don't we look good in mud?
So that was our first big Jordanian adventure.  We just went to Petra yesterday, but I don't have the time or energy to post about that yet.  Suffice it to say it was incredible... also incredibly expensive, but I'll save that story for later.  We are currently stuck in Jordan for the time being.  That volcano in Iceland has really put a damper on world travel, so we'll be here at least until Friday night/early Saturday morning.  We had planned to leave Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, but there just weren't any flights.  Matt got some weird e-mails from UOP yesterday saying he was going to Finland, but he never got clarification, and there was only one ticket (meaning I couldn't go and would be stuck here alone), so I think they scrapped that idea.  I hope.  Like I said, we're not really sure what's going on.  Anyway, that's the newest (sort of) news.  I'll try to post about Petra tomorrow or the next day.
A mosaic of His Majesty the King of Jordan.  They looove him.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

Matt and I had our 2nd anniversary yesterday.  He celebrated by going to work, and I celebrated by going to the Roman Amphitheater.  He did get off early, but after taking a walk around town looking for a liquor store, and not finding one, (I have to have a chaperone for alcohol purchases... I'm not sure if that's a law, but I think it's probably just a good idea... I'm already pushing the boundaries with my exposed calves), we got too hungry to find a place to eat, and so came back here and ate free food at the happy hour.  It was mostly potatoes and hummus.  Consequently, we've decided we'll have a real celebration when we get back.  I want to go to Six Flags.  He wants to go eat.  I think we could probably squeeze in both, but we'll see.  I can't believe it's been two years already!  It seems like only yesterday that Nick gave that wonderful best man's toast about us "being about as good a couple as any".  Thanks, buddy.
View of the amphitheater from The Citadel.
Anyway, things have been going just fine here, and the amphitheater was a pretty amazing sight.  I tried to put it off so I didn't have to visit everything in town twice (once alone and once with Matt), but boredom won out.  It was a good call as it was pretty spectacular and I don't think I'll have a problem going more than once.  It's billed as "the highlight of Amman", and while I haven't seen enough of the city to agree wholeheartedly, I did enjoy it.  I guess it's the best remnant of Roman times from back when the city was called Philadelphia.  Imagine that.

It was built in the 2nd century A.D, and while not making it to the top of my "oldest things I've seen" list, it gets pretty far on the "oldest things I've walked and sat on".  The Great Wall comes in pretty high as well.  I know, I know.  I'm very spoiled.  Ahh, but never forget the hardships I face.  Anyway, my taxi driver (when not trying to solicit work from me for a jaunt around the country) told me they have a huge party at the amphitheater in the summer.  I asked him when "the summer" is in Jordan, and he said something along the lines of "3 or 6 days or weeks".  I'll let you make of that what you will, as I couldn't get much from it.  On another note, the driver also told me that 70 percent of people who live in Jordan are from Palestine.  I guess they had a huge influx of people who emigrated from Palestine in the late '40s during the war with Israel.  He said his parents came then and though he was born in Jordan, he considers himself both Jordanian and Palestinian.  And he was very careful to explain to me that while there are a lot of immigrants from different countries, they are "all one people.  Just like America".  Yeah, kind of.
Roman pillars.
View from the top.  

So that's about all that's been going on here.  I've been shopping a few times, and while Matt and I have hit up several Western fast food joints, we are having the hardest time finding Jordanian food!  It's getting kind of embarrassing, actually.  The closest I've come to is one tiny falafel ball at breakfast, and a lot of hummus up at the happy hour.  They were both fabulous, but we need something more!  Our hotel is in kind of a bad location for restaurants, so we'll probably have to research restaurants and take a taxi.  Maybe we'll have at least one Jordanian meal before we leave.  Cross your fingers.  Don't know our exact plans for departure yet, but Matt should be done with work in the next three or four days, and then we're planning to do some sightseeing around the country.  I was going to go see Petra by myself and then again with Matt, but I didn't realize it was a 3 hour car ride and will probably be kind of expensive to get there, so it'd probably be better if we just went once.  We also want to see the Dead Sea, which is less than an hour away... surely the minerals will cleanse our bodies and souls and we will return to you totally radiant and purified.  And riddled with bacteria.

This is the king of Jordan.  There are posters of him all over the city.  

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I Love Amman

This is the view from just one direction... the city is huge.  

I ventured outside the hotel today and
had a pretty great time!  I went to the Citadel, or Jabal al-Qal'a, which is one of the seven hills that originally made up Amman.  (I didn't have a guide or guidebook, so I'm getting all my info from Wikipedia after the fact... that's why this post is strangely informative.)  Along with having the most incredible views of the city (which is massive, by the way) it's one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited places with settlements going back 7,000 years (thanks wiki).

The Temple of Hercules at the top of the hill.  And yeah, some sort of hand statue in front of those other columns.  

A scroll written on leather.  
There have been loads of excavations uncovering artifacts from the Neolithic period and beyond.  Pretty impressive, no?  There are also lots of ruins from different inhabitants that are amazing to see standing in the middle of the city.  The first national Archaeological Museum is up there as well, housing many of the artifacts from the various excavations, as well as stuff from all over the country and surrounding areas.  It's small, but has enough cool stuff that I wandered around for about an hour.  My favorite things in the museum were the Dead Sea Scrolls... of course it took me a while to realize which were the scrolls and which the  reproductions, but I got there eventually.   

The reproduction is the one on the wall, the actual scroll is made up of all the green pieces.  

So that was my adventure for the day.  Everyone here has been unbelievably nice to me, and I only had a few groups of locals come talk to me and take pictures... and they didn't follow me when I said goodbye!  That never happens!  The taxi driver from the hotel told me Jordan is a very safe country and Amman a very clean and safe city.  He said "Thanks be to God" when I told him I liked his city and country.  He was really kind of unnaturally excited about it.  I think maybe they want to spread the word about how great it is.  Well, I'm doing my part!  My Internet is really slow at the moment, so I'll end here, but never fear, I have TONS more pictures that I'll add later.
The Umayyud governor's palace from around the 8th century.

Though to be one of the first sculptures in the world from around 6500 BC 
The girl who took my camera and starting shooting random pictures.