A Mediterranean Honeymoon, Part 1

Casey and I said our vows on a windy day in Texas two years ago. We spent the following six months apart from each other as Casey completed his flight training in California and North Carolina, and then we moved across the planet. After arriving in Okinawa, we dealt with many adjustments in the time we were able to spend together. It would be dishonest to say it was easy. With all of the changes in our lives during such a short period, we did not have much time to focus on us. All the moves and changes also left us no chance to go on a honeymoon.

Last month, we finally made that happen– two years late, but incredible nonetheless. Two of our closest friends currently live in Seville, Spain, so we could not pass up the opportunity to see them and have them show us around (probably) the coolest country in the world. As I had never been to Europe, we decided to make a honeymoon out of it via a cruise through the Mediterranean. We packed as much as we could into this almost-3-week-long trip.

Our 30+ hour flight experience took us from Okinawa to Tokyo, Doha, and finally into Barcelona. Exhausted but excited, we found our way to our adorable bed and breakfast, ANBA, which provided tasteful modern decor juxtaposed with original nineteenth- century hand-painted ceilings. We cleaned up and then went out to meet Barcelona. We walked through the streets of Las Ramblas, spending time in the Boquería, the most colorful market I have ever seen. Everything from fresh squeezed fruit juices to paella, eggs, pastries, fish, jamón serrano, truffles, and lamb heads, are fresh and on display in gorgeous array.

Barcelona is a city that is truly alive. Everything from the architecture to the food pulsates with a vibrancy that is uniquely Barcelona. It goes without saying that I did not want to leave. We went to bed early on our first night there, then spent the morning and early afternoon at La Sagrada Familia, an unfinished masterpiece of the late architectural genius Antoni Gaudí. No photo can come close to capturing his brilliance, and I remain in absolute awe of his work. La Sagrada Familia in particular is an incredible work of art, as every elemental detail is cutting edge in its design and construction. I am amazed by Gaudí’s ability to plan and begin construction in 1882 on what is seen as a modern architectural marvel in 2014. Despite ongoing construction on the building, this was a major highlight of our trip.

That afternoon, we jumped in a taxi and headed to the port to embark upon the Costa Serena, our home and transportation for the next seven days. In case you are wondering, yes: this is the sister ship to the Costa Concordia, whose recent journey ended in the deaths of 32 passengers when it ran aground outside Tuscany in 2012. As we expected, Costa had ramped up their emergency procedures in response, and we felt safe but slightly annoyed by all of the safety reminders announced daily in seven languages. The ship was massive, and filled with passengers speaking every language you can imagine. We enjoyed multilingual performances, all-inclusive food and drinks, dancing, beautiful Mediterranean sunsets from our balcony, and making friends with an awesome British family who provided companionship and entertainment throughout the trip.

From Barcelona, the Costa Serena carried us along to Marseille, France. While our plans to hike Les Calanques did not work out, we enjoyed casually discovering the sights of this lovely old city. We visited a gorgeous old cathedral, walked through the shopping district, savored fantastic espressos and lunch at a local cafe, and relaxed in the sunlight looking down over le vieux port de Marseille. It was just the day we needed.

From France, we headed on to the shores of Savona, Italy. Our planned excursion to tour the local vineyards along the Italian countryside was unfortunately cancelled, so we took the opportunity to visit Monaco. The two-hour-long bus ride was the most beautiful drive I’ve ever experienced (sorry, Big Sur), taking us through gorgeous villages along the mountains of Liguria. As we approached Monaco, I understood why the wealthiest people in the world retire there. The entire (2.02 square kilometers) sits surrounded by stunning blue water and beautiful French countryside. In addition to its beauty, Monaco sports a very attractive tax code, explaining why it manages to be both the second smallest and the most densely populated country in the world. We visited the royal palace, the famous Monte Carlo casino, and walked around the immaculately manicured streets during our short visit. Casey geeked out a bit over the ridiculously expensive cars that frequented the streets, and especially enjoyed seeing the Formula 1 track that runs right through the city.

That night, we had a great time enjoying (more than) a few drinks with our new British friends. The following morning, we had room service before we pulled into the port of Naples, Italy. If you can imagine the world’s worst hangover, and then picture yourself on a boat in the middle of the ocean, then you might be able to understand the situation I was in as I decided that I absolutely could not miss out on our trip to Pompeii that day. Please note that if you are planning to visit Pompeii, there is nowhere where it is conceivably appropriate to leave your breakfast. However, there are some nice bushes outside the local cameo jewelry factory. Despite feeling like death, I fully enjoyed Pompeii. It is absolutely incredible how well maintained it is after so long, with intact mosaics and murals, ovens, wells, furniture, and even calcified human and animal remains. In short, there is something for everyone! ;)

Stay tuned for the second half of our trip to learn how we let ourselves get swindled in Africa, saw dead people in Palermo, and fell even deeper in love with Spain as we spend more time in Barcelona, and then spend time in Granada and Sevilla with our friends!

Always, Amanda

Categories: Culture, Exploring, History, Marriage, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Our Mainland Adventure

As Casey and I prepare to embark on an exciting adventure to the Mediterranean, I realize that I can no longer delay sharing our last traveling exploits with the world. In September, we toured mainland Japan with my brother-in-law and his girlfriend, visiting Kyoto, Matsumoto, Nagano, and Tokyo. We had an amazing time, and I somehow managed to fall deeper in love with this country that is now our home.

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Kinkaku-ji Temple

We flew from Naha into Kobe and then took the train straight to Kyoto, a city where I would be happy to spend the rest of my days. Kyoto’s deep cultural and historical roots bring traditional Japan to life. The medley of these stunning cultural hotspots interwoven through the busy, modern city, and against the backdrop of such pure, natural beauty makes Kyoto infinitely interesting.

2014-02-08 12.33.56From castles to temples and shrines, to fantastic restaurants hidden down dimly lit stone streets; Kyoto is a microcosm of the heartwarming contradiction that is Japan. We definitely plan to go back once we move to mainland this summer, although I may not leave next time.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine

We left Kyoto and headed to Matsumoto, where we visited an awesome wasabii farm and castle. Matsumoto castle is the most modern I have seen so far in Japan. We traveled around this quirky little city on bicycles borrowed from our hotel, and enjoyed a delicious izakaya meal for dinner before we were off to our next stop.

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle

We spent the next night in Nagano, a city known for some of the best skiing in the world. There, we did some hiking to a shrine and a lake, visited a beautiful Buddhist temple, and went to a tasting at a sake brewery. Casey had some trouble communicating his brewing curiosities to the gentleman at the sake brewery, who instead just sent us inside to tour it ourselves.

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Finally, we were off to our last stop: Tokyo. Tokyo could not have been more different than the other cities we visited. Tall buildings, bright lights, and busy streets made Tokyo an exciting, but slightly overwhelming visit. We attended the opening day of the Sumo matches there, which made the top ten on the coolest things I have seen. These massive, solid men were as intense as they come, and the locals took the whole event very seriously. I definitely need to attend another one before we leave Japan. After that, we spent a night out in Roppongi, did some shopping in Harajuku and Akihabara, and went to Tsukiji fish market. Here, we had the world’s freshest sushi for breakfast. (Of course, I went for the veggie and egg rolls).

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After their ten-day visit in Okinawa and Japan, we had to say goodbye to Devon and Lauren. It was wonderful to spend time with them on this incredible trip, which also left us with a renewed excitement for our move to Iwakuni this summer. While we will miss so many things about Okinawa, mainland offers something for everyone to love. Stay tuned for our next adventure on yet another continent!

Always,

Amanda

Categories: Culture, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

A Busy Couple of Months

World, it has been about four months since I have posted, and in that time so much has happened in our lives!

-Casey came home from a 6-week trip to Australia, and upgraded to a higher co-pilot status as the last step before making Aircraft Commander.

-My brother-in-law and his lovely girlfriend visited and together we toured mainland Japan

-I accepted a fantastic career opportunity on base, then was furloughed and recalled during the Government shutdown. (Yes, it has been that long since I’ve posted). I am now part of an awesome team and am really enjoying the work I am doing. It has been difficult to adjust to working full time again, but I cannot imagine going back now. I mean, how important is clean laundry anyway? ;)

-I ran my first half marathon! It wasn’t pretty, but I crossed that finish line! I need to start training again now to run another one. I was mostly miserable throughout the race, but the experience was amazing. There were thousands of people running, and people of all ages lined the streets wishing us ‘Gambatte!’ and handing out all sorts of treats, from fruit and candies to shots of awamori! I was lucky to have such a great support group among my running friends and of course Casey, who ran the race as well.

-We attended the 238th Marine Corps Birthday Ball, which was the last ball Casey’s squadron will have on Okinawa after 49 years here.

-We hosted our first of many future Oktoberfest parties, serving homemade beer and soft pretzels from scratch!

-We participated in the world’s largest tug-o-war battle in the city of Naha.

-Casey headed off to the Philippines to help with the post-typhoon humanitarian effort. His unit moved tons of supplies into areas hit the hardest by the typhoon, and moved people stranded in those areas into the larger, less affected cities so they could receive necessary medical care. He spent Thanksgiving there, where the locals threw the Marines a massive feast complete with American-style mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, turkeys, and a sweet musical performance by a local high school. It meant so much to him to be a part of that effort.

-We passed our 1- year anniversary of living in Okinawa! I cannot believe it has already been a year, as the time has flown by right before our eyes. We have spent much of this year apart, but have treasured the moments we have had together, savoring memories that will last us a lifetime. We have also made sure to enjoy our adventures alone as well, with Casey traveling the globe in his KC-130, and me making new friends to explore this beautiful little island with! There is still so much to see before our move to Iwakuni, Japan, next summer!

-Finally, the holidays have kept us busy this past month. It takes a lot to make Okinawa feel like Christmas, but I am determined to have home-cooked meals, lights, handmade cards, cookies from scratch, and Christmas music! We won’t be seeing any snow this year, but as long as we are together, it will be Christmas!

Wishing you all a happy holiday season, wherever you are. May you find yourselves happy and healthy, surrounded by people you love!

Always, Amanda

Categories: C-130, Festivals, Friends, Goals, Holidays, Military Life, Okinawa, Separation | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Barley the Okinawan Explorer

I met up with some friends at a gorgeous little beach on Hamahiga island today, and Barley tagged along to do some exploring.

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Since he was a puppy, he has always loved the feeling of his ears blowing in the wind. He is such a goofy little guy!

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Since Barley loves the water but not necessarily having to swim, I tempted him with some carrots to come see me away from the shore. Watching him swim took me back to his puppy days in Pensacola, when we took him out on the bayou and tried to distract him from crab chasing so we could get him to swim.

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After retrieving his carrots, he promptly headed back to shore to relax on the beach. Shortly after, he made some Japanese friends and tried to eat some coral.

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Overall, it was a great time on the beach. This little dude brings me such joy, although the bath I gave him afterwards was much less fun (for both of us).

May you find new and wonderful things in your world today, and maybe even let your ears blow in the wind a little!

-A

Categories: Barley, Exploring | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

A Walk through the Okinawan Jungle

About a month ago, Casey and I took a trip to Bios no Oka, or Bios on the Hill, a park celebrating Okinawan flora. It was a very hot and humid day, but I just had to check this place off my Okinawan “bucket list” with my adventuring life partner. ;)

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We ventured through all of the paths we could find, climbing beautiful sets of stone staircases along the way. Casey showed off his skills on stilts (after which some adorable elderly Japanese women smiled and told him to be careful).

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We then took a leisurely boat ride guided by a funny little Japanese man. I know that he was funny because he must have been telling jokes in Japanese while he led the tour down the river, as the rest of the boat passengers kept laughing. I could understand almost one out of every ten words he spoke, so unfortunately his jokes were lost on us.  Fortunately, we were there for the scenery rather than the comedy show, so all was not lost. (It did, however, renew my motivation to achieve fluency in Japanese).

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Along the way, we saw gorgeous orchids, a sad ox taking a bath, and a beautiful woman in traditional Okinawan garb.

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After our boat ride, we trekked through this awesome bunch of lily pads, along a little bridge built out of rope and 2 x 8 boards, dodging banana spiders all the way.

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Overall, it was a great day spent with my love. I am always inspired by the respect and reverence the Okinawans show for the land they call home. We have so many more adventures to share here, and I am already dreading the moment when we leave this gorgeous rock.

With love and lily pads,

Amanda

Categories: Okinawa, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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