Santa Ana

 

Any child of Southern California remembers the Santa Ana winds that would blow up and make your AYSO soccer games so miserable in the early fall. The dry heat and blustery winds fueled the brush fires that burned across the state at the end of summer. So why are the winds here in Rio?! I feel like I should be packing my backpack for the first day of school, not getting dressed for work! It is a flashback of the weirdest kind. One of my fellow SoCal colleagues even stopped by my office with the same thoughts going through her head.

Rio Weather

These winds are bringing us a change in weather patterns – winter is coming! (I don’t think saying that will ever get old – thank you, Game of Thrones.) That is almost a 20 degree drop in temperature over two days! I kind of like it… Fall in Rio is a lot like fall back home. Who knew?

 

Reading Goals

I read. A lot. It is an expensive habit. My Kindle, which I bought in 2010 right after joining the Foreign Service, is still going strong. But it makes it a wee bit too easy to buy new books. Finished the first in a series? Click here to buy the next installment! And while you’re at it, here are some handy recommendations of things you’ll also probably like! I think I have at least 100 books on my Amazon wishlist. Ouch.

I also, unsurprisingly, continue to collect paperbacks too. Not on purpose, of course – who needs the weight in their HHE? But here and there I’ve borrowed, been given, bought for a book club, etc… And I haven’t read them all! Nor have I read everything that is actually on my Kindle, either…

So! My new goal is to read (or re-read) every book that is physically on my bookshelf. And then read everything on my Kindle I haven’t read yet. And then read only e-books I can rent for free from my public library back home, or that are free from Amazon. No new books until Jan 2017! Can I do it? I don’t actually know… that is asking for a lot. I really like to read, guys! I do have to give myself an exception to the no new books policy for my book club. One new book a month, based on the Forever Young Adult list. I can do this!

I should do a calculation of how much money this will save me. Maybe that will be sufficient motivation.

I’m starting with my beloved Harry Potter books. I can’t get rid of those! And I did just visit Harry Potter World in Los Angeles while I was home… Amazing! The husband has never read (NEVER READ?!?!) the Harry Potter series, so we’re reading them together and it is really quite fun. I haven’t reread them since book 7 came out in 2007 (holy Hippogriffs, has it really been that long since it was released?!?!) and they really are so much fun.

Wish me luck!

 

The Other White House

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View from the Hassan II Mosque Plaza

Casablanca was neat. We were tired and jet lagged and only had about 12 waking hours on the ground there so we did not explore all that much, but what little we saw, I liked. And obviously, we went to Rick’s Cafe. It was great. And fun fact! Apparently the restaurant is owned by a former American diplomat who retired to Morocco after working there. She opened it because everyone came to Casablanca and it didn’t. actually. exist. And there wasn’t a good place to take visiting delegations. Go figure. Way to corner a market.

On to more high brow discussions… The architecture in Casa is stunning and the history in Morocco is absolutely fascinating. Our visit to the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca was humbling. The artisan-ship and passion that went into creating such a beautiful place… I’m running out of adjectives. The mosque was constructed in 1993 and is one of the largest in the world. The government used the construction of the mosque to reinvigorate traditional Moroccan artisan industry – thousands of craftsman worked on the mosaics, moldings, carvings, and painting. Every time you turned a corner, there was some new detail that I couldn’t look away from.

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Hassan II Mosque

It was also interesting being in the mosque – it was one of the first religious buildings I’ve spent time in that was not Christian of some denomination. I am nominally Christian, at least by upbringing, so visiting a church almost always evokes a feeling of awe and quiet reflection, coupled with a sense of some “otherness”. I recognize the imagery and know the stories. Being inside the mosque, I definitely felt awe and massive respect for the beauty and the scale of the building, and it had the sense of quiet I associate with churches or really big libraries, but it didn’t have that quality of “other”. Spiritualism that I relate to, maybe? We talked about it at the time, but it is hard to put into words. Respect and awe for the structure and the tradition and history and the connection to hundreds of thousands of other people, but not quite being part of the story. I wonder if it is similar to  what someone who is not Christian feels when they visit Notre Dame.

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The main worship hall

Anywho, enough philosophizing. Pictures! This building was so beautiful, I seriously had trouble choosing what to post. If this doesn’t inspire you to visit Morocco, I don’t know what will. The husband’s parents went to Morocco twice. Just saying.

Vacation Planning is Overrated

You guys know me – I like to plan. All FSOs like to plan. Its like the 15th dimension (after the 14th that is waiting, of course). FSOs must display Type-A tendencies. We all agonize over planning our careers, why shouldn’t we also plan out our trips to the nth degree?

Full disclosure. I have adapted a common State Department VIP Visitor trip itinerary format to use when I’m planning my own travel. Or writing a wedding day schedule. Or thinking about my Thanksgiving cooking plan. I have a problem. Admitting it is the first step to recovery, right?

Last June, when the husband and I met in Paris, we then continued on together to visit our relative where she worked in Morocco. The Foreign Service is a family affair! This trip was sandwiched between my last week in Mexico and my arrival in Brazil. I’d been packing out, saying goodbye, and mentally preparing for living with my husband for the first time – for once in my life I wasn’t thinking about planning a vacation at all. Could have been a disaster in the making, right?

Not so! Our relatives were wonderful hosts – they essentially planned our time in Casablanca, Rabat, and Fez  for us. Must do places? We’re taking you here. Favorite restaurants? We’re eating at these. Tired? You’re on vacation, no need to do anything! It was awesome!

Morocco is also awesome. Add Rabat to our “we’ll serve there” list. It’s about time I learned Arabic anyway, right?

We did a lot of firsts on this trip – first time in Africa, first time in an Arabic speaking country, first time in a Muslim majority country, first time visiting a Mosque. First time listing diplomat for my profession got me hassled in an airport too. I was a housewife when we left.

I started writing this entry and it got so long I decided it needed to be multiple posts. Up next: Hassan II Mosque, Rabat, and Fez!

Crazy Clouds

You can’t turn the corner in Rio without being treated to a stunning view. Seriously. Every time I get frustrated by work, I have to remind myself that I live in Rio and that it is probably one of the most naturally beautiful cities in the world.

For example, every day when we look out our window, we are awed by our view. Sunny, stormy, I love it all. Even, or especially, when the clouds do crazy things. Like so:

Isn’t that the coolest thing? I mean, I know what it looks like… but it was just a funky storm system and hot air expanding, etc… and instead of going out it was going up. We could actually see it moving and changing.

Anyone want to chime in with the technical name for something like this? Because I wouldn’t even know how to start googling it.:)

March Madness

I don’t care about Basketball. I really, really don’t. It is one of the few sports where I can’t even talk intelligently about the rules of the game – I watch games and could not tell why that was a foul or not. But it is March, so it is March Madness, and that means sports, in English. Which I love.

March Madness also means brackets. I’ve never done a bracket for March Madness before, because see above about how I don’t care about Basketball. But Cal got 4 seed in the tourney (that lasted…) and Wisconsin is in too, so the husband I did some brackets just for fun. I don’t think anyone will be surprised to hear that mine is doing terribly.

But I have found a few brackets this year that I’m following closely, and that I’m doing pretty well in! Two of my favorites blogs run March Madness brackets on non-sports related topics, and it is totally fun. The FugGirls over at GoFugYourself do a Fug Madness bracket that you vote in to determine who had the worst year in fashion. Kim Kardashian is the favorite, but Heidi Klum had an interesting year!

The women who run ForeverYoungAdult (of book club fam) do a different bracket every year – this year the theme is Teen OTP Madness. OTP = One True Pairing, for those of you who don’t speak interwebs. (Me. For people like me.) You get to vote for your favorite teen couple, limited to TV and movie characters to narrow the field a little bit. And it is fun!  Anne and Gilbert of Anne of Green Gables vs. Ron and Hermione from Harry Potter? Who do you choose?

See what I mean? I can get behind this kind of March Madness.

Where there is wine…

Can I move to Mendoza? I visit all of these amazing places, and I am always wishing I had a reason to move there. Usually I can say, oh great, I can work at the Consulate! But Mendoza doesn’t have one!!!

Basically, Mendoza was amazing. It helped that we went with another couple and the four of us had a fantastic time together. It helped that we had amazing weather. It helped that we had an awesome tour company. And the wine. Oh the wine. We bought about 15 bottles per couple, and could have easily come away with that many per person. I have become well versed in the U.S. customs laws governing importation of alcohol for personal use. Our place is going to be the place to be in DC if you like wine.:)

I was excited for Mendoza because they are known for Malbecs, and that is my favorite red. What I didn’t expect was to come away loving so many other varietals more. I’ve never had a $10 Merlot I liked so much.

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The other wonderful thing about Mendoza – the food. Wine and food go together, obviously, and there are so many amazing restaurants there we almost couldn’t choose. We went to O’Fournier for a multi-course lunch one day… actually, I think we had multi-course lunches and dinners everyday we were in Mendoza. It was just so. good.

I’m going to give you a bit of an itinerary run down, because I have so many recommendations.

We stayed at the Sheraton. Nothing special, just what you’d expect from a Sheraton. It was cheap, and we are Starwood points people. If I had unlimited funds, I’d stay at Cavas Wine Lodge, so some other similar place. Boutique, luxury, out in the middle of vineyards. There are lots of options like this, we just happened to visit this one for their spa. And another multi-course lunch. Both of which were amazing.

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Spa at Cavas Wine Lodge

We did our wine tour with Ampora Wine Tours. We started with their Lujan de Cuyo tour and had booked the empanadas and wine tasting evening for another night. You can’t do both the same day – too much wine. By the second winery on our day tour, we’d called the company to see if we could switch the empanadas event to a second day of wine touring – we were just having so much fun. We did Uco Valley for the second day of touring. If you have the time, do two days (or more) of wine tours. The valleys aren’t close to each other, and they really are very different. We had two different tour guides – ask for Sabrina. She was great.

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Pulenta Estate

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Pulenta Estate Tasting Room

The best part about the wine tour was that they took us to such different wineries, so we could really see big vs. small, traditional vs. modern, family vs. company, etc… We loved the wine at some and didn’t at others, but the experience at each was fantastic. We especially like Cassone, where we met the owner (who had studied abroad at Berkeley, Go Bears!), Pulenta, which was just beautiful, and Gimenez Rilli, where we did a barrel tasting and loved everything we tried. Most of these places don’t export, or if they do they only have one partner in the U.S. so they are really hard to find, even outside Mendoza. We didn’t go to any major corporation wineries like Rutini or Kaiken or Norton, which I liked because I can get those wines anywhere.

Writing this makes me really wish I could go back to Mendoza right now. But it is one of those places that I may never visit again, and if I don’t I can be happy remembering how wonderful our trip was.

Paris

We went to Paris. It was lovely. Paris always is.

I hadn’t been in over 7 years, and I really hope it won’t be 7 years before I go again. Plus of living on the East Coast for the foreseeable future? Long weekends over the Pond!

We stayed at the Park Hyatt, which was AMAZING. Free nights are the best. Spring for the breakfast, it is a thing of beauty.

We only had about 24 hours in the city, but we made the most of it. Saint Chapelle was open for the first time for either of us, and we did a quick loop through the Orsay to see my favorites. We also did a Seine dinner cruise, because why not?

Mostly, we just walked, and walked, and walked. Paris in June is beautiful. It was my “birthday” trip. I think I should always spend my birthday in Paris.

The last photo is of a shirt I actually bought in Rio by a local designer who used the chairs in the Tuileries Garden and the “love” locks all over the city (they’d just removed them all from the one bridge famous for them due to weight issues…) in the print. It makes me happy every time I wear it.

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Machu Picchu

The Lawyer came to visit! We went to Peru! I was sick. Joy.

For the Lawyer’s traditional trip to visit me at Post, we have to do ruins. And nice hotels. And food. It’s our thing. So, South America. Big continent. What ruins are we going to do? Machu Picchu of course! The Lawyer’s dad and my friend from Post joined us this time, and we all had a blast.

Peru, and Machu Picchu, are beautiful. We had a plane, train, automobile journey to actually make it to the archaeological site – it is really not an easy place to get to. Doing it in 5 days (2 of which were fully dedicated to flying) is not recommended. But when you only have so much time, you make it work.

Also making it work? I had a spectacular cold the entire trip. 11,000 feet elevation in Cusco? Not an issue if you can’t breathe out your nose anyway. Seriously. But I powered through, and even did the hike up Wayna Picchu for the view over the city. (This was not the Inca Trail. Me, do the Inca Trail? You must be confusing me with someone else…) The hike was cool, the views were spectacular, and I felt like I’d really accomplished something.

This was one of the more complicated trips I’ve taken in recent history, actually, considering all of the logistics required to get to the site. My sister is going soon and I recommended just paying a tour guide to plan it all for her. (Tour guide/car company recommendation: Cusco Transport. We booked them to pick us up in Cusco and take us through the Sacred Valley to the train station. Halfway there, the lawyer realized she’d left her passport in the hotel safe in Cusco. Cusco Transport sent another driver to pick up the passport and then meet us at the train station, 1.5 hours away, at NO cost. Customer Service for the win. The JW in Cusco was also extremely helpful in all things.)  If you are thinking about going and are not a backpacker, I’d recommend looking into that. If you are a backpacker, have fun. Aguas Calientes is backpacker heaven. I am definitely no longer a backpacker. In case you had any doubt.

Also. There were llamas. Just saying. The airport in Lima had some really funny ad for a phone company that was punny with llamas and selfies, but now I can’t remember what it said. Rest assured, we took some llama selfies.

*Almost all these photos were taken by the lawyer. Thanks friend!