Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Next Episode

The photos that correspond to this post can be seen here

“In the City of L.A. we keep it rockin’, we keep it rockin’…its all good from Diego to the Bay, your city is the bomb if your city makin’ pay, pull up a finger if you feel the same way. Dre. Putting it down for Californ-I-A.” – California Love

Thursday night found me rippin’ down the road to L.A. I got into downtown around 11:15 p.m. or so and was burning through lights and intersections on my way to my sisters house when I came to a peculiar sight. It was a green light and nobody was moving (this is especially strange in L.A. because if you don’t go right when the light turns green, you will get an earful) and my brain didn’t process the reason why this would be, most likely because of sleep deprivation. As I approached the intersection I saw some flashing to my right in my extreme periphery and just then noticed a huge fire engine barreling down the road towards me. I slammed on my breaks and skidded to a stop 10 feet or so before the truck. Smoke from my tires enveloped my car; the fireman in the passenger seat gave me a grimace and my heart just about exploded out of my chest. I slowly reached down to my Ipod and turned the volume in the headphones down and could hear the siren and then realized why this practice was illegal…but it still hasn’t stopped me. I arrived at my sisters house in one piece (to some peoples chagrin, I know who you are so don’t play coy with me!) and arrived to a big hug, some shake n’ bake chicken, rice and wine.

Pitter-patter of little feet and the sound of a faint mama is what I awoke to at 7 a.m. My little niece Kaiya (who I haven’t seen since she was 4 months old and she is now 21 months old) was up and active along with my sister, Heidi, and her boyfriend Jeff. I was super exhausted so I didn’t get up and greet the little bundle of joy and the day but rather rolled over and continued to cook in my own juices (the heater in my room was cranked for some reason and with the door closed it felt like an oven). When I finally awoke around 11 I went downstairs and was frantically searching for something to drink as I was like a piece of beef jerky. All I could find was a baby-sized juicy juice. Jeff and I laughed about it later that day at lunch over some Thai food. The juicy juice is deceptively satisfying. At first you are so thirsty you just gulp it down and then when your thirst is almost quenched, it is gone; leaving one with a small juice box shaped hole in their dehydrated state. Jeff and I returned form our Thai lunch and hung out for a bit before he had to go pick Kaiya up from daycare. I finally laid eyes on Kaiya at around 6 in the evening. She had gotten so big from the little 4 month old I remember. She had personality, spunk, shyness, laughter, a little speech, could walk and worst of all, she was even more cute! I turned to putty immediately.

It was dinnertime for her and so she was placed in her high chair and enjoyed quite the banquet. She was so shy that every time I came over to see her she would hide her face in her armpit or with her little hands all the while trying to sneak a peek. So I went into the living room so she could eat in peace and watched some TV as I waited for my sister to return home from work. As I watched TV I noticed somebody peering from around the corner, still and quite so as not to draw my attention. That would have worked too if she wasn’t giggling while she was running over to do this little surveillance operation. I looked over at her, pointed and said, “I see you.” At which point she would run away giggling, stop down the hallway and turn around again and try to sneak another peek. This went on until my sister came home around 7. She was overjoyed to see mama (this whole thing still boggles my mind, it is my sister. Actually almost all of it boggles my mind…God is so good!) and was running up to see her and fell down and bumped her head on the tile floor. Those gorgeous big brown toddler eyes filled with tears as the bump reddened and swelled on her little noggin. Amazingly she only cried for a little bit while my sister and Jeff worked on the coordinated attack of ice pack on the head and Popsicle in the mouth…brilliant! The remainder of the night Kaiya would hang out with her huge stuffed octopus or run and jump on the couch where my sister and Jeff were sitting all the while keeping and eye on me and giggling.

Well as you can probably imagine love was in the air and this was especially true because it was Valentines Day. I remember back when I first laid eyes on Kaiya, held her in my arms and kissed that sweet little cheek how hard she took hold of my heart. This visit was no different except that she probably left a bigger presence in my heart then before. Well I spent most of the day just relaxing and watching TV (as Jason said, “What is the difference between you being there and at home since you are doing the same thing?” My answer, “more channels”). Jeff came home after picking up Kaiya with his mother (Auween [SP?]) and a full dozen of roses. My sister came home and was totally surprised which is always awesome to see. Both of the lovebirds went out for dinner and drinks while Jeff’s mom and I watched over Kaiya. I gave my mom a call to tell her I loved her and handed the phone to Kaiya and she said “gwama” and listened for a while as my mom told her how much she loved her. Then Kaiya said bye and closed my flip phone hanging up on my mom (I had a good laugh at that). My sister and Jeff returned and Kaiya was put to bed and Jeff’s mother went home so we decided to stay up and have some drinks. Well, Jeff made me this really strong and salty Vodka and Olive juice concoction and I had no problem falling asleep that night.

On Friday I decided to go do a little exploring in L.A. My first adventure was taking a super twisty and narrow Sunset Plaza Dr. up to Mulholland Drive. This scenic drive goes along the ridge of West Hollywood and is amazing. One has to be careful driving along this road because in many spots if you go off the road, you go really far off the road and lose a few hundred feet of elevation…if you get my drift and if you don’t then you are as the British say daft! I then got on I-405 (that’s right) and realized I had made a big mistake. Everybody talks about L.A. traffic, but I always thought that Seattle was comparable…not even close. It took me forever to get to Santa Monica Blvd and head into downtown Santa Monica. I headed south along the coast towards Venice Beach and found some parking near the canals. I always wondered why they called it Venice and now I know, it really does look like a little Venice, Italy. I strolled along muscle beach (had to turn down my people who wanted me to show them the proper technique for various lifts…sorry fellas, I don’t share my secrets.) and along the boardwalk (strange things were seen here) and finally ended up at the beach with my feet in the nice cool Pacific as the sun set. I returned to my car and made another big mistake of driving anywhere in L.A.; especially Venice Blvd. It took me an hour and a half to drive 9 miles to my sisters’ house from the beach! The remainder of the night was filled with peek a boo behind the huge turquoise octopus and a lengthy chat about life over some wine with my sister.

Saturday arrived with me finally figuring out how to get a comfortable temperature in my rooms so as not to turn into a prune. Kaiya was in good spirits as she ran around the upstairs and called out uncle, uncle, uncle. I got up and said good morning to the little munchkin and headed downstairs to grab some breakfast. As I descended the stairs she poked her little head through the guardrail and with her arms outstretched called out uncle again. I said, I am here QT and I see you. She would then run around upstairs and come back to the same spot and do the same thing as I tried to go downstairs to get some breakfast. She and I were having so much fun with this game that it took me 10 minutes to get downstairs. Saturday as many of you know is a day of running errands, and this is no different when good ole’ babysitter uncle Brett comes to town. I have noticed it is always in how you frame the question. For instance, this is the way they posed it to me, “Hey, would you like to watch Kaiya while we go run some quick errands? It will be really fun and you can walk her in her stroller to a park, and enjoy the sun and have a great time!” “Sure” I said, “What an awesome opportunity, I would love to hang out with her!” Reality. “Hey, we are going to be gone for 3 hours and we would like to get stuff done without having to deal with Kaiya and you are naïve, expendable and did we mention that she has separation anxiety?”

Some of the worst moments in my life soon followed as Kaiya and I waved bye bye to Mom and Dad. After coming back in the house and closing the door she immediately started asking for mama. I told her that mama was bye bye and would be back soon. As I noticed she became a little more agitated and unsettled by my answer nothing could prepare me for what happened next. She turned into Mt. Vesuvius and I was a unprepared Roman in Pompeii. She started to cry so hard that she drooled on her shirt (I thought I was the only one who really did this!) and wasn’t consoled by anything I could say. I basically turned into frozen victim of this eruption of emotion, which blanketed me and left me unable to move (this is actually serious, I was so scared!). I finally got up the nerve to ask her if she wanted a juicy juice and she stopped crying and nodded her head. Thank God! I got her some juice and she started to calm right down. I asked her if she wanted to go for a ride outside and she nodded again and so I put her in the stroller with her little hat, another juice, some cereal and a blanket and we headed out. I took her down by the Miracle Mile, over to the beginning of Beverly Hills and then around my sisters’ neighborhood. She was asleep 10 minutes into the walk with her little juice container in hand.

After walking many miles in the midday sun, I took her back to the house and just let her sleep in the stroller. She woke up a few times but I as quiet and let her go back to sleep. She then woke up and she wanted to go for another walk, I think because she missed out on all the cool stuff to see because she was sleeping. We went for another walk around the neighborhood and she was having fun pointing out things for me to tell her what they were. Tee, tee…oh yes Kaiya, a tree. That is a house. That is a car. I picked a flower and let her smell it (it really smelled good) and she smelled it and scrunched her nose up and got a big smile on her face. We had so much fun walking around naming things off, her eating her cereal and me getting tired out by all this walking I was doing (I am such a pansy!). We returned to the house and were greeted by my sister and Jeff and she was very happy to see both of them…as was I! We had to get ready though, because we were invited to a friend of Kaiyas birthday party. She had so much fun, playing with the other kids, being possessive over the toys she was playing with and going down the slide. On one slide, she really flew down and caught air and bumped her head, but she was fine (as Jeff, Heidi and I looked around to see if anybody had seen it so that they wouldn’t judge us as bad caretakers). She had fun pretending to drive the little cars around and even got her face painted. It was then that I realized that this kid has only 2 speeds: still and full speed; I will let you guess which one she uses most of the time. After this we turned in early because we had to be up early in the morning to go over to Jeff’s sisters house for her birthday.

I awoke early in the morning to head over to the Maronite Catholic Church just a few blocks away from my sisters’ house. This place is amazing, with a unique liturgy and amazing love for God. I even saw an interesting show on this very church and the Maronites themselves on EWTN while I was at my sisters. If you ever find yourself down in L.A., I highly recommend checking it out! After a great Mass (well, what Mass isn’t great?) I went back to my room and did the morning Liturgy of the Hours. The whole time I was praying, Kaiya was running around upstairs calling out uncle and trying to find me. I stayed quiet just so I could finish my prayer and then she found me. We played peek a boo until I finished my prayer and then she had to have her teeth brushed. We got in the car to head over to Jeffs sisters house and picked up his mom on the way. The whole time I got to hang out with Kaiya in the back seat. She and I would play games, I would try to give her some kisses and she would offer me “feeshies” (Goldfish crackers, her favorite! Just a side note, she is so generous, it was always one for her, and one for everybody else, are all toddlers this way?). We arrived at the house and they had a full spread of authentic Thai food (Jeff and his family are Thai). I am talking about huge shrimps with spicy dipping sauce, crazy fish, squid, egg rolls and many other treats. I really enjoyed all of the food and was amazed at how much Kaiya packed away (this kid can really eat!). I talked with Joyce and her husband Derrick (who is a criminal lawyer, very interesting talk and good food for thought) and hung out with the Jeffs side of the family. Then Derricks family came over (they are African American) and brought steak and fried chicken and all the goodies. Needless to say we ate well that night.

On our way back home, Kaiya kept calling out my name (which if you haven’t guessed yet, isn’t Brett, it is Uncle…I think she isn’t good at the R’s yet) and I would respond. We dropped Kaiya off at grandmas house and I said goodbye to her. She came up to me with her little hands outstretched (which means pick me up) and so I picked her up and she gave me 2 kisses on the cheek. It was really tough to leave her there and especially tough to say goodbye. As I finished evening prayer in my bed and thought about this time I got to share in this family, I was very thankful that God had allowed me to come down and share my life with them. It was a truly enriching experience that I will cherish for many years to come. Waking up at 4 a.m. and being on the road headed home at 5 a.m. on Monday won’t be something I will cherish though.

The final installment called simply “24” (after the TV show) will follow shortly so be patient, which if you have read to this point I am sure you don’t have a problem with. Thanks for reading and I want everybody and I mean everybody who reads this note (I don’t care who you are or how much you read or anything) to write a comment. I just want to know who my readership is. Just say something, and don’t be scared, I don’t bite…hard!

Random Factoid: Ask Kaiya what sound a Kitty makes and the answer is “Me-Mow”

Listening to: “California Love” by 2Pac feat. Dr. Dre & “Then Next Episode” by Dr. Dre. Feat. Snoop Dogg.

God Bless,
Happy St. Valentines Day! I love the ladies in my life!

West Coast Road Trip "Left My Heart In San Francisco" Edition

I stared at my dark ceiling Sunday night, hoping to get at least some sleep before the drive down to San Francisco …it didn’t happen. I got out of bed at 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning and had a big breakfast and started the long trek. I must say I love driving at odd hours of the day; it is such a different feel on the road, through the cities and in the middle of nowhere. As I arrived in Portland the sun began to arise and the blue sky came to life as the silhouette of the city laid ahead of me. Then the most horrible thing happened! I was forced to go 50 mph from the border down past Salem. It is like they just make you drive slow so that you have to spend extra time in their crappy state and that that might convince you to buy something else then just gas…nice try Oregon DOT. Needless to say I was not happy, but then I pulled up to a gas station and got out to fill my car up. To my surprise there was this old grizzly man there asking for my credit card to which I (with a puzzled look) said I am just getting some gas. “Actually” grizzlemaster said. “It is Oregon State Law for me to pump your gas.” I thought to myself as he filled my car that this is the weirdest state ever and if I could escape it faster than 50 mph then I would gladly take the opportunity. He almost helped me with that wish as he lit up a cigarette as I was leaving. My little sinister mind had a great thought of me looking in my rearview mirror and seeing this huge explosion and ball of fire and this nappy superstache land on my windshield…I know I am twisted, but it was funny. The southern part of Oregon was gorgeous and was a very nice drive into NorCal.

Racing up the Siskiyous’s I entered California and there was much rejoicing! I was awestruck at the beauty of the surrounding mountains, the valley below and Mt. Shasta jutting out of the ground and reaching skyward in the midday sun. California was an entirely new beast with speed limit posted as 70, but everybody else going 80+, my kind of state. I zipped past Redding and called my buddy Steve (who lived in NorCal) to see if he was around. Funny enough he and his fiancé were there and it was the last night before she was supposed to head back to Detroit, followed by him a few days later. It is especially funny because I missed them both b/c I went to Chicago for a wedding and was hoping to catch them on their way out and my way in, but it didn’t work and I am going to be a groomsman in their wedding. So I was pretty stocked and so we met up in Vacaville at a Chicago Style pizza joint (it didn’t hold a candle to the real thing). She was really cool and it was good to see him before he took off. I then headed down to San Francisco to catch up with Colin at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park (30 miles south of SF). I took the 80 over the bay bridge ($4, what a rip) and upon exiting the tollbooth was thoroughly confused. There were like 20 lanes and my lane was ending, so I changed lanes and then that lane ended until the 20 lanes were whittled down to 4 going across the bridge…crazy driving! I arrived at the Seminary at around 12 p.m. or so and caught up with Colin who gave me a quick tour of the Seminary. I asked him if I could sleep on the floor in his room and he said I couldn’t. So I asked him if I could keep my snowboard in his room and he said sure. I then said, wait a minute, my snowboard can stay in your room but your best buddy can’t? What is that? So I slept in my car.

I awoke to Colin knocking on my window telling me it was time for morning Mass. We went to Mass at 8 a.m. with all of the seminarians and it was awesome. This seminary is amazing and the chapel is like something out of Europe, super ornate and just gorgeous. We then had breakfast with all the seminarians and staff, which was great,...such good food! Colin and I took a quick trip to Stanford in Menlo Park and then into S.F. for the remainder of the day. We had a great time checking out SFU, St. Ignatius Church next to it, the convent next to that and the Coit Tower to see the city. Colin had to meet with some people from Opus Dei and so I joined him. Well needless to say they got my contact information and I will probably be having coffee with Mark when he comes up in March. The remainder of the night we hung out in Menlo Park and chilled. The next day Colin again woke me up in my car (I am really glad I brought that sleeping bag and pillow) and we went to morning Mass again only this time something was quite different. This Mass was almost entirely silent, no talking at all. Why you ask is this, well it is because it was done almost in its entirety in American Sign Language. This was almost the most amazing Mass I have ever been to. Not only was the priest solid, but we also learned sign to parts of the Mass. It was very contemplative, unique and exciting because all of your focus could be on the sacrifice. After breakfast, Colin went to some classes and I went to S.F. to check out more sights before I began my trip to L.A.

Well I was pressed for time so I went along the bay to Fort Point (an old civil war fort under the Golden Gate Bridge). I then hiked up to the GGB and walked halfway across it, which was really cool. I saw huge ships cruise under the bridge, dolphins in the bay below and felt the wind blow the fog in all while listening to “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” by Tony Bennet. I then headed down to Fisherman’s Warf, saw Ghirardelli Chocolate Company and rode the cable car up Hyde St. I then hopped in my car at about 4 p.m. or so and headed down the 101 South, big mistake. My parting knowledge for this first part of the super note is to never take the 101 South, take the 280 (I think). Anyways I arrived at my sister’s house in L.A. at 11:30 p.m. Stay tuned for WCRT Part 2, “The Next Episode” and for pictures to come later after the 2nd note.

Random Fact about my Heritage: I have a lot of family from my Grandma (on my Moms side) around the SF area, but I just didn’t have time to check in with Aunt Bev. If you ever get Facebook Aunt Bev, I am really sorry but next time. Also, my Grandpa Fred (who fought in WW2 in the Pacific Theatre) met my Grandma Patricia at a USO sponsored dance in S.F. He was with one of his buddies before he shipped out and he told his buddy, you can dance with the blond, I want to meet the brunette (my Grandma). They really hit it off and stayed in contact throughout the war. When my Grandpa came back he asked her to marry him and she accepted and they moved up to Washington. This is a super short version of the much better version that my Grandpa used to always tell me when he was alive and I would go over to hang out with him. This was what was going through my mind as I gazed upon the city from the Coit Tower and rode the cable car. This is why I truly did leave my heart in San Francisco.

Ephe-what, Ephesus

The photos that correspond to this post can be seen here for album 1 and here for album 2.

Hello my captive audience,

Flying down the road at 180 kph (90 mph) on our way to Salcuk (pronounced saljook) Mustafa (my pickup at the airport from Istanbul and well versed in English and American music) and i rocked out to some J.LO. Apparently in Turkey, you don't need to pick a lane on the road, you can take 2 or one or just drift around at breakneck speeds (I love foreign countries that don't have a ton of cops to ruin the dangerous fun!). We get to my hotel and i just chill out for a bit and hit the sack (this travel stuff sounds like a good idea when at home, but it is a lot of work to carry that pack, eat exotic food, drink crazy good beers, and not know when you will get the chance to shower again, my fave!). The next day i had some free time, so i walked around and familiarized myself with the area and grabbed a bite to eat. After that i headed just a little out of town to the ruins of the Basilica of St. John. It was built in the 6th century over the supposed grave of St. John the Apostle. This place was huge and it had Christian iconography all over the smashed pillars. I saw the old Baptistery, Treasury and of coarse spent quite a bit of time at the tomb. I got some good prayer in and blessed my scapular and cross necklace i got for Confirmation. It was so amazing being so close to St. John, the one whom Jesus loved and gave his mother to. He is also my favorite evangelist and so this was very momentous in my life!

As i was coming out of the Basilica, a dude came up to me and showed me some ancient coins and told me that he would sell them to me for a good deal. They looked real and for like 3 bucks i picked up 2, one of Constantine and another of Hercules. That night they had a huge festival in the city with fireworks and everything for something, so i just chilled in my room and did some trip planning and catching up on some sleep.

The next day was the big day. Ephesus, Temple of Artemis and Mary the Mother of Gods House.

The temple of Artemis was ok. It was basically one pillar still standing and it had a birds nest on the top. It was one of the 7 wonders of the world and the biggest building in the world at the time. I think she was the Greek Goddess of fertility b/c she had a necklace of bull testicles around her neck and fruit all over here. This was the second Ephesus, the first being where the Basilica of St. John is now.

The next stop was the third Ephesus. I hit this up on the first day of Ramadan (our tour guide was fasting so it was hard to hear her at times). This place had an amazing wealth of History. They had running water, toilets, the 3rd largest library and the only surving ancient library, 250,000 inhabitants and the 2nd largest amphitheatre in the ancient world. There was also Christian graffiti all over the place with IXOYE "Christ Is Lord and Saviour. It was the code the Early Christians used to talk to each other. There is just too much to talk about this place. It has the Goddess Nike ( goddess of victory) and the swoosh too! Check out Wiki for more info, i need to talk about Mary's House.

Nestled up in the hills overlooking Ephesus is this little house, meek and humble where Mary spent her last days on earth. It was so powerful! I did some prayer with Russians i think, touched my rosaries to the feet of the statue, saw the rosary that pope Benedict had placed there in 2006 and even got some water from a natural spring. There is a lot of reasons they think that this is Marys house but the main one is the fact that when Christ was dying on the cross he gave Mary to John and John died in Ephesus (cf, i saw his grave). I can't say enough and i prayed for all of you there!

Time is short so this last bit is not exhaustive. We then went to a pottery place (a gimmick on the tour, they all have them) but it was very cool, and the detail and skill is unparalleled. That night i got packed, woke up at 6:30 a.m. the next day and caught the ferry from Kusadasi to Samos Greece. I hoped another ferry from there to Paros, spend the night there and am now on my first day of the island of Santorini. Crazy Crazy Crazy! THANK GOD I MADE IT!

Prayers and peace,

Full On Istanbul

The photos that correspond to this post can be found here for album 1 and here for album 2.

I live to write again!

I was very worried about Istanbul, actually Turkey in general. Was it safe? I am a devout Catholic Christian & my scapular was always hanging out around my neck. It was too late anyways, i was on the plane, not understanding a thing and freaking out! In 4 hours i would be in Turkey! I arrived, got my visa and hopped on the Metro. The time was 10 p.m. Sitting on the metro, all 6'4" white guy with huge bag that i was i tried to relax, but to no avail. Everybody (like 10 Turks) were just looking at me. I was trying to figure out if i was just a novelty to them or an annoyance. When i looked their way, they quickly shifted their eyes away and when i look away, back they came. Especially freaky was these 3 youths on the metro right across from me, they just stared at me and grasped at an imaginary object around their neck ( my scapular) and pointed at me. I thought about making the sign of the cross, but prudence and self preservation took precedence (i had grown attached to my head after these 25 years...but of coarse in retrospect i am being overly melodramatic, the Turks are a warm people). I saw anther backpacker and quickly went over to him as the metro came to the end of the line and my transfer and made friends. 2 Germans, sweet! We tried to transfer to the tram, but the last one ran at 10:30...just missed it. So now we have to walk on the dark streets to my hostel (they hadn't booked one) which was who knows how far away. As we were walking we saw a tram roll by us and were just floored, that is the tram we needed..."all well" I though, "this wont be the last time i get owned in Turkey." So we manage to find my hostel after a 20 min walk, not too bad and i got to check in and Adem (this awesome young Turk dude) says he doesn't have a reservation for me and the hostel is full. Well i crapped my pants a little, regrouped and thought about the prospect of sleeping on the streets again (it would be a little warmer and a crapload scarier then Galway, but whatevs). As we were walking away to find another prospective place he called out to me and said he had found the reservation, it was written in the book b/c i had made it only 10 hrs before. I just went to sleep, what a day!

Well i was awoken to the Muslim call to prayer at about 10 or so (it lasts about 5 min and is broadcast out over loudspeaker at every mosque). and headed up for my complimentary breakfast. As i grabbed my unusual breakfast i noticed perfect American to my Turkish laden ears! The young man was C.J. from Jersey! As i ate my breakfast (a strange continental one indeed with a hard boilded egg, 4 black shriveled and salty olives with pits, cucumber and tomato slices and french bread with the Turkish equivalent of Nutella) i gazed upon the Bosphorus straight and Asia. I think now i will explain (using wikipedia b/c i a don't want to type it all out) why i chose Istanbul.

"In its long history, Istanbul served as the capital city of the Roman Empir (330-395), the Byzantine Empire (395-1204 and 1261-1453), the Latin Empir (1204-1261), and the Ottoman Empir (1453-1922). Byzantium is the first known name of the city. When Roman emperor Constantine (Constantine the Great) made the city the new eastern capital of the Roman Empir on May 11, 330, he conferred on it the name Nova Roma ("New Rome"). Constantinopl ("City of Constantine") was the name by which the city became soon more widely known instead of Nova Roma, in honour of Constantine I.

The location of Byzantium attracted Constantine I in 324 after a prophetic dream was said to have identified the location of the city; but the true reason behind this prophecy was probably Constantine's final victory over Licinius at the Battle of Chrysopoli ( Üsküda) on the Bosphorus, on September 18, 324, which ended the civil war between the Roman Co-Emperors, and brought an end to the final vestiges of the Tetrarchy system, during which Nicomedia (present-day İzmit, 100 km east of Istanbul) was the most senior Roman capital city.[8] Byzantium (now renamed as Nova Roma which eventually became Constantinopolis, i.e. "The City of Constantine") was officially proclaimed the new capital of the Roman Empire six years later, in 330. Following the death of Theodosius Iin 395 and the permanent partition of the Roman Empire between his two sons, Constantinople became the capital of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. As well as being the centre of an imperial dynasty, the unique position of Constantinople at the centre of two continents made the city a magnet for international commerc, culture and diplomacy. The Byzantine Empire was distinctly Greek in culture and became the centre of Greek Orthodox Christianity, while its capital was adorned with many magnificent churches, including the Hagia Sophi, once the world's largest cathedral. The seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople , spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, still remains in the Fener (Phanar) district of Istanbul.

In 1204, the Fourth Crusade was launched to capture Jerusalem, but had instead turned on Constantinople, which was sacked and desecrated. [9] The city subsequently became the centre of the Catholic Latin Empire , created by the crusaders to replace the Orthodox Byzantine Empire, which was divided into a number of splinter states, of which the Empire of Nicaea was to recapture Constantinople in 1261 under the command of Michael VIII Palaeologus.

Following centuries of decline, Constantinople became surrounded by more youthful and powerful empires, most notably that of the Ottoman Turks . On May 29, 1456, Sultan Mehmed II "the Conqueror" entered Constantinople after a 53–day siege and the city was promptly made the new capital of the Ottoman Empire. In the last decades of the Byzantine Empire, the city had decayed as the Byzantine state became increasingly isolated and financially bankrupt, its population had dwindled to some thirty or forty thousand people whilst large sections remained uninhabited. [10] Thus, Sultan Mehmed's first duty was to rejuvenate the city economically, creating the Grand Bazaar and inviting the fleeing Orthodox and Catholic inhabitants to return back. Captured prisoners were freed to settle in the city whilst provincial governors in Rumelia and Anatolia were ordered to send four thousand families to settle in the city, whether Muslim, Christian or Jew, to form a unique cosmopolitan society. [10] The Sultan also endowed the city with various architectural monuments, including the Topkapı Palace and the Eyüp Sultan Mosqu. Religious foundations were established to fund the construction of grand imperial mosques (such as the Fatih Mosque which was built on the spot where the Church of the Holy Apostles once stood), adjoined by their associated schools, hospitals and public baths."

It is the History, both empire and religious. Looking over the Bosporus i understood why so many people had fought for this, the enchantment of the place, beauty and serenity. Walking down the streets, viewing the ancient buildings and their varying architecture according to the culture of the builder, smelling the sweet air, feeling the hot sun and watching the city flow through the blood of the Turks was exhilarating! Istanbul is where East meets West in an amazingly creative way that is just to deep to really describe.

So, Day 1

I was staying in Sultanahmet which is in the center of it all. I first went to the Blue Mosque and it was amazing. This is the first time i had ever been inside a mosque and it was huge. The ceiling was ornate and the carpet soft. Out of huge support pillars were water spickets to wash your hands and face. Huge chandeliers hung down and illuminated the inside. Pictures will do more justice to this than i can. I then headed over to the Hippodrome, which contains the Obelisk of Theodosius which was erected in 390 a.d., the Serpent Column in 4th cent. a.d.and the Column of Constantine in 10th Cent a.d. This was all in front of the Blue Mosque contained in a vast park with a huge fountain, vender's selling cooked corn on the cob and water. Wanting to do some bartering, i headed over to the Brand Bazaar. They are not joking about the Grand part. This place is a consumerists dream with anything one could want. Leather, jewelery, hookahs, pipes, rugs and the list goes on! I did a little shopping and haggled some good prices (a tip, always offer half of what they ask, they will grimace and wave their hands, but if you go to put it back, they will deal!). I took a load off on a chair by a shop and saw a guy walking around with some apple tea (very big in Istanbul...but more like tourist tea) and told him i wanted one. With 2 lumps of sugar i waited for it to cool and it was delicious! I asked him where he wanted the cup and he said on the ground by where i was drinking it and he would come back and get it later...crazy!
When i travel walking is my mode. I don't usually take mass transit unless i have to. There is just something about walking the streets, meeting the people, hearing the noises, smelling the smells and eating the local cuisine. On my way north i noticed a huge old aqua duct. I saw some people on it and so i found the entrance. I did have to climb on a ledge through a restaurant and through a gate that looked formidable and was not supposed to be open, but i just needed to get the view. What a view too, it was worth it. I could see all of Sultanahmet and the Golden Horn. Coming out was a little more tricky then getting in. Those cats who had passed me on the way in, locked that huge barb wired gate behind me and so i had to shimmy over it and get out...which of coarse i did like a cat! I hit up the University of Istanbul and it was huge, not much to tell there but was really nice and on my way North. I also went to the Fatith Mosque (Faith) which was very cool. But my main reason for going North was the Orthodox Patriarch. As i wandered around aimlessly trying to find it i got further and further from the main drag and people looked more and more Muslim (Turkey is very westernized, but in the backstreets here, women wear the black robes with only their eyes showing). Well, i didn't find the Patriarch, but i did have a huge meal on my way back for only 6 bucks!. They eat really organically in Turkey, a lot of rice, meat, and tons of veggies.

Well i dropped my stuff off at the hostel and after walking for the whole day i decided to go to the Turkish Bath and get a wash and massage. It was crazy, i was wearing only a towel and this huge hairy Turkish dude worked out every kink in my body. I never knew i had so many vertebrae in my back to crack. He then washed me and gave me a good scalp scrub and i rinsed off. He took a towel and put it on my head like a turbin and i changed into my clothes. After feeling like 100% better and more relaxed i headed over to the bar Cheers where C.J. worked and got a Raki (pronounced Rocky). This stuff is potent, so potent in fact that you have to mix it with half water and it turns a milky color. It smells and tastes like black licorice and is like honey on the tongue. I also had an Efes (made in Ephesus) beer and that was really good too. We BSed about tons of stuff and on my way back to the hostel another dude from Jersey came stumbling up to me and said, "Come with me, i will buy you a beer." Well faster then you could say free beer i was having one with him and some of his friends. I talked with a devout Muslim from the North of Africa and we had a very interesting conversation. We just both were happy that we believed in God and we left it at that.

Day 2

Well as your eyes are probably bleeding right now, take comfort in the fact that my fingers are too, but i must finish this before i head out to Paros (Greece). Everything is the same except i went to the Aya Sofya (Chruch of Divine Wisdom). This Church was built in 537 a.d. and was the biggest building in the world. It was converted into a Mosque by the Ottomans in 1453 but now is a museum. One can see the mosaics of Christ, Mary and other Saints in tandem with the Muslim art. It is very strange in deed, maybe they should make it a Unitarian church? (Bad joke, sorry if you are Unitarian). I also went to the basilica cistern. This underground water world is supported by 336 columns, 2 of which have huge marble carved upside down heads of Medusa. The lighting is very eerie with reds and greens and fish streaming by the walkways. After the cool cistern, i finished up some shopping at the Bazaar and picked up some Raki for the road and headed to the airport for i was off to Ephesus.

I will write soon about Ephesus so stay tuned. Thanks everybody who has responded, it is good to hear that you are enjoying these and that things are going good in your lives too!

Love and Prayers,

The Craic Was Mighty

The photos that correspond to this post can be seen here

Hey My Chillins,

Chris and I had a blast in Ireland, it was an amazing place! We spend a few days in Dublin and i can't say how much i love the Irish. Our Hostel (The Brewery Hostel) was so much fun and the people were so chill, i felt like a was at Western. So where did i leave off...?

So after a solid nights sleep (thank God for sleep!) we headed out to explore Dublin. We went to this old Church just down the street called St. Audoeons, an old church that i can't find any info on right now, but it was before 1000 a.d...i think. We then saw a cool little sticker on a power transformer, here is its description and tell me what you think it is (or movie it is from). It was a lamp with a heart in the middle of it and the letter I above the heart (insert Jeopardy music now). We then took the light rail down to the Busarus (Bus Station) and saw this awesome uber Catholic bookstore (Colin would be in heaven!) and continued on to Connolly Square. This place was hoppin' (actually not very much in comparison to the later on in Ireland). They have the Millennium Spire and some really cool shops to check out. We walked down the square over the River Liffey and to Trinity College.

Trinity College is an amazing campus filled with great architecture and history. It was originally a Protestant Seminary, but now is a full collge and Catholics make up 90% of the student body (big surprise in Ireland i am sure). We headed down the street to Temple Bar (a large cultural area lined with old brick buildings and tons of bars) and marveled at all the amazing places to get a good cold brew. I still had not had a Guiness yet. We checked out this castle area and just chilled for a little as a young man played the spanish guitar...he was really good! We meandered over to St. Patrick's Cathedral and caught the Choral Evening Prayer which was fantastic. Ireland has had some amazing Authors, like Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and Bram Stoker, i will have to get my read on when i get back home. On our way back to our hostel, we saw Christchurch Cathedral and i took a picture of it. I still hadn't had a Guinness yet.

We had a BBQ that night at the Hostel and just chilled with a bunch of people. There were Spaniards, Aussies, English, Irish, French, American, Swedish (yeah Mark Sherman! Another one besides you!) 12 of us in all for an evening pub crawl. We went down to Temple Bar and Chris and I were wondering if there really was a real Bar called Temple Bar. We soon found it and it was hoppin'. I have never seen so many people in a bar, as loud a music or as much Guinness flowing! I had the local brew (no not a Guinness, a Temple Brau) and had a blast!

The next day we set out for Galway, a 4 hour bus ride to the other side of the Island. We were feeling a little adventurous that day and since the Craic was still Mighty, we didn't book a hostel. After dropping our bags off at the overnight luggage hold we walked around and saw the ocean (Atlantic) and both had a "Brilliant" (think Guinness commercial...and no i still hadn't had one so stop asking me already! Are you trying to build the suspense or what?!) idea...lets go swimming. One problem, our swimsuits and towels and all that stuff was locked up for the night. Well once the Craic is Mighty (look it up now if you haven't already, i am going to be using it quite a bit) one doesn't just put a damper on it because of a little technicality of not having swim wear. So we walked on the wrong side of the street and ended up going to a place where we couldn't swim, but along the way back we saw what appears to be (insert anthropologists voice here) an ancient Galway sport...put the shopping cart in the canal. There were like 10 of them along the route, it was really odd (and i have been described as an odd person, so you know how much it takes to make something odd to and oddball like me...odd). We headed over to the Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas and i finally heard mas in English (Irish English i mean). We walked for like 2 or 3 miles and finally got to Salthill beach. We went down and stripped down into our drawls in broad daylight and went for a swim (very refreshing, look for the video post when i get back). Uh oh, time for a paragraph break...sorry.

So we walked around for the remaining hours of sunlight and went to the nightlife drag. This place was even more crazy b/c Galway is a college town. There was a dude there from Switzerland wearing a shiny red outfit, with a big pot-belly and angel wings (his bachelor party). We had a beer. No not a Guinness yet. So you remember in my rambling incoherent writings above to which i am going to get awarded not points and my God have mercy on my soul; when i said we didn't book a hostel. We thought to ourselves...selves, this is Ireland, the bars will be open until like 5 a.m. and we can just hang out there, milk our beers and catch some breakfast and the 11 a.m. bus back to Dublin. Nope. Bars close at 2. So we headed back over to the church and found a little nook and tried to sleep. 45 min. later we were freezing and hungry and really just big pansies. It is really hard to be homeless, i truly have a more profound respect for the struggles they face in their lives on a day to day basis. So we walked up and down the main drag like forever and we were passing this Hotel called Mayerek and i said, "Chris, lets try to get in." So we knocked on the front door at 5 a.m. and i told the the two gentlemen that answered the door that we were weary travelers from the US that had not booked a hostel for the night. Thank goodness for the pity of the Irish on us b/c they let us come in out of the cold and sit in front of their gas fireplace. This hotel was very upper class and since Chris and i were looking our dirty selves, i was surprised they let us in. They came over to us and asked us if we would like some coffee to which we humbly accepted and in a few minutes we had some hot and delicious coffee. A few minutes later they asked us if we wanted to have some nice warm out of the oven croissants and after a long debate (1 or 2 seconds in our heads) we had our croissants on their way with their buttery goodness. We stayed there a few hours and then caught our bus back to Dublin.

We were really wiped out after no sleep (again) and so we were hoping to catch a few z's on the bus. We were getting on the bus and i noticed a little holy card by the bus driver. I said, "Hey, nice ( i briefly forgot what it was, but recovered in time not to look like to big a dork) Divine Mercy Holy Card. To which the Bus driver responded, "I am glad you didn't call it a Sacred Heart Holy Card (As If! Haha, it was totally not the Sacre is fun to have such an amazing and crazy theme park in my makes the loneliness go away...awkward silence, blank stare). So we proceeded to our seats and settled in for the 4 hr. bus ride. Now on the previous trip, i had somebody sit next to me for 3 hrs of the trip, whilst Chris was all alone in his sprawled out bliss in his own seat. I will reveal a little bus trip for y'all now, pretend or actually be asleep, and you too can enjoy two seat comfort for long hauls. This time though, i was really asleep and don't remember much of the bus ride. Only one part really woke me up. Apparently there were these two kids (bro and sis) who were arguing and yelling at each other. Well the bus driver wasn't going to have any of that so he stopped the bus (oh evening prayer at the Mosques is starting, it is 7:35 p.m. on a Monday here and i can hear the call to prayer in my Hostel...Istanbul will come later so be patient which if you have read this far, i am sure you are) on the side of the road, got up (and so did i at this point) and said, "We will not be having any of that on the bus, people are trying to relax on the journey so be quiet please!" as he moved his finger back in forth (the Irish are tough!). We got to Heuston Terminal and got off the bus and Harry (our bus driver) got off after us and came up to us and asked me if i was Catholic to which i responded "Hardcore" (I need a shirt that says that for future trips...maybe not here in Istanbul though). He handed us a few Miraculous Medals on rope and said today is Our Ladies birthday, have these and God Bless. I love the Irish and Ireland!

Ok, take 5, you have been reading for a while. Smoke em' if you got em'

We had a few hours of daylight left so we decided to go do the Guinness Factory tour at St. James Gate. All i can say is amazing. Amazing process, amazing beer. We made our way to to The Gravity Café Bar and that is where it happened. Overlooking the great city of Dublin, i sank my lips into my first real Guinness. As my lips departed the glass with my mouth full of Guinness, it gave me a little kiss on my upper lip with its foamy goodness and i was ready to be assumed into heaven. My feet began to depart the Earth but i told the Lord that i still had much to do here on Earth so he let me stay a little while longer. Well with all good things, it had to come to an end and then start back up again later that night with a few more Guinness's down at the Oliver St. John Gogarty pub in Temple Bar. This place was packed and had great music and people from all over the world...including Pennsylvania. If you are into debauchery, life doesn't get any better than any night down in Temple Bar. We refrained from most of the debauchery, but did have a few beers (to which my cousin is partial to the Ciders and i can see why...mmmm good!). We didn't get much sleep that night (is this a vacation i am on?) so the pattern continues and we awoke to overcast skies (the weather had been clear and great every day). I felt at home. After a final farewell to our hostel hosts, we went to the airport and Chris and I parted ways; I going to Istanbul, Turkey and he is in Paris, France...I hope. So this is Ireland, it was amazing, super Craic and i would go back in a heartbeat. If you have are asleep b/c of this right now, good get a full nights rest for me. If not take two more reads and call me in 18 days (do not operate heavy machinery or drive for at least 8 hours of reading this.).

Fun Fact:
I was in Ireland for 64 hours and 49 minutes without having a Guinness, talk about willpower!

God Bless,

(James Bond Credits style)
Brett- played by Brett
Chis- played by Chris
Harry- played by Harry

Brett will return in "Full On" a journey through Istanbul (Kiwi & Aussie Style) in a little while.

Pray For Me!

Sunrise, Sunset, Sunrise, Sunset

Photos that correspond to this Blog Entry can be viewed here

So the Fiddler on the Roof had it right, but i don't think he meant this in the modern context i will be using it to describe the first 33 hours.

This might be a little boring, but it was really crazy for Chris and I...

We woke up Washington at 8:30 a.m. (PacificTime) went to Edmonds and picked up our Eurail Passes and caught a flight to Chicago at 1:30 p.m. Arrived in Chicago at appox. 5:20 p.m. (Pacific) 7:20p.m. local and barely caught our next flight to London. The sun set over New York or so and arose over the sleep on the 7 hour flight. Land at London Heathrow at 10 a.m. (Local Time) 2 a.m.Pacific. Hopped on the Underground Picadilly Line and got off at Hyde Park Corner. Checked out Buckingham Palace, St. James Park, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey and St.Margarets Church. We then jumped back on the Picadilly line and switched to the Victoria line at Kings Crossing and headed up to Tottenham Hale. In haste we transferred to the Stansted National Rail line and took a 35 min train up and out of London to this little airport.

(a paragraph break for all of you pansies that always complain about my super paragraphs!)

Onto a RyanAir plane for 1 hour or so and i think i might have caught some sleep b/c i didn't even know the plane was going to land until we hit the ground and this Bugle sound came on over the intercom that sounded like a charge call. After that they spouted off how RyanAir has a 90% on time record, the best in Europe and people actually clapped in the seats! Got to the airport, tried to find a working ATM (for 30 min) there were only 2 in the whole dang airport! So we ended up having to exchange some currency (Pounds for Euros) and the lady ahead of us was like taking all the money and time in the world (if these eyes bloodshot eyes could kill!). We got up to the counter and there was a 1.35 Euro charge for transfers over 15 Euros. I had 10 pounds which was close. So i asked her if this would get the service charge and she said why don't we both (Chris and I) exchange at the same time. I was tired and so i just gave her the money and got charged, then she charged Chris and we were just so pissed. She even made fun of us "Why didn't you do it together?" If this doesn't make sense to you, don't worry, i am still a little hazy on the whole deal.

Out to the Bus stop to catch the 478 to Heuston Station (the one we needed to get to our Hostel) and we had missed the last bus by 20 min! F! This awesome Irish young dude came up and just started to help us. He gave us a map, told us to take the other bus to Conolly and was really cool. Then an Airport worker came up to us and helped us buy the ticket and hold the bus for us and gave us instructions to catch the 25 at Conolly for the Heuston Station. We got off at Conolly and had some Burger King and caught the 25. We here just chillin on it when we noticed we were on the freeway. Yeah, we missed Heuston, and got a late night tour of Dublin and its suburbs and even got to chat with the bus driver on his break. We got off on the right stop and i was getting some final instructions from him to the Brewery Hostel and Chris kept pushing me out of the way. He told the driver to open the door and he just started vomiting. Well Chris doesn't do well with large amounts of motion (and the bus driver was like the reincarnation of Dale Earnhardt) and so the king of burgers came up! We collected ourselves and went back up the hill and down Thomas Street to our Hostel. Into the hostel we go and they can't process our paperwork b/c it is after midnight, but they are super chill and just give us our stuff.

Bed is achieved at about 1:30 a.m. local time (Thursday), 5:30 p.m. Wednesday (Pacific Time...the time we woke up in!). That is 33 hrs of solid awake time.

I have only stayed awake longer one other time, at Western for 36 hours.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Gunned Down In Chicago

Hi Everybody, (say in Dr. Nick Style from the Simpsons to get full effect)

Well i am back from the Windy City and had a blast! I really fell in love with Chicago and all of its Midwest charm, fantastic food, salty cold air and faith. I went there for one of my best buddies (Michael Gunn) weddings. So here are some of the amazing things i did while i was there.

I got to catch up with Michael and his family (more like my second family) for the whole time i was there. They are such a fun group of people (esp. Grandma and her shenanigans). I got to meet the brides family (Katie) and they were all so full of life and faith! Especially Cossette, she was a riot! She was so smart for a 3rd grader and made all of us laugh so much (Are you Serious?, Cossettes favorite line). While we were there we did a ton of wedding prep work from cleaning Michaels apartment to finishing party favors.

For the bachelor party we stayed at Michaels place (b/c it was freaking super cold) and made Irish car bombs and took shots of Jameson. I was surprised by Pelton who rocked at drinking at arm wrestling. We ordered some pizza and drank some more before the manly competition finally came out (although when the pizza guy came to the door we put on YMCA and i yelled out "hold my spot on the twister board!"). It was time to separate the men from the boys by an old fashioned arm wrestling match. They were all good competitions but the battle royal was between both Dave's in which they broke the table! Needless to say we needed to venture out and have a little more mischief so we went to the bar behind Michaels place and grabbed some more beers. I thought it would be funny to get a picture of my tongue stuck to a parking pole, but it turns out that that was a bad idea. I left my taste buds as well as blood frozen on the pole. It wasn't the only blood spilled that night as Paul slipped and fell on the ice and hurt his chin (but Paul and i are hardcore, we love Mike so much we bled for him!). We ended the night with some Wii tennis, late night Denny's run and some Dunkin' Dougnuts!

Next day we had some famous Lou Malnati's deep dish Chicago style pizza with all of the wedding party and family! This pizza was so good! The Bride and Groom gave us our wedding presents (a brown Fedora and a bottle of Chivas Regal 12 yrs Scotch) and we headed for the rehearsal which was held at St. Mary's in Buffalo Grove. What a crazy church, actually 2 churches in one with the first being an old immigrant German church and the other being a modern counterpart both united my a singular altar. Through working with the wedding coordinator i found out that she was also the the Youth Minister. Her name is Lacey and apparently she knows Casey the guy that took over my job in Everett (crazy small world). After that we picked up our tuxes (all brown on brown pinstripe & top it off with the brown fedora...gangsta or as Cossette the 9 yr. old would say Gang Banger, she knows all the bad words by her own admission).

The day of the wedding had arrived and everything went off with only one hitch...them getting married (i made that up myself!). The only really crazy thing was that we were running a little late so we ran a railroad crossing (like through the arms), but what is a wedding without a little danger!? The Limo driver was so awesome too. He looked like a bouncer and i told him that and he told me he had been and had carded Jean Claude Van Dam! Now off to the reception. The theme of the wedding was 1920's Chicago Gangster and it was all perfect (of coarse it was, it was Michael after all). They had a classy joint in the heart of Libertyville with swing music and all the decorations. They also emphasized their heritage with Guinness and their coat of arms colors. Well the liquor was flowing and i danced with almost every Cougar (older lady) i could find and even tried to teach Pelton the foxtrot (he did pretty good). Mary and Paul Gunn had the swing dancing down to a T and Jacob could really cut a rug with a beer in his hands! Fun was had by all and i really enjoyed my time having a smoke in the sub-zero temps with Patrick (i know i quite, but it was a special occasion).

The next day Michael G and i headed down to downtown Chicago. We hit up the Sears tower Sky Deck which is the tallest office building in North America at 1730 feet to the top of the spires. The view was stunning! We could see the frozen Lake Michigan, downtown, Soldier field, the Chicago Sun and Tribune buildings and lots of other stuff (even a 737 flying really close to the building). The ride up the elevator actually made my ears pop! We then got some really deep dish pizza (when people say pizza pie, this is what they mean!) at Giordanos. While waiting for that we went to Millennium Park and saw the Bean (a super reflective metal object that is in the shape of a bean). We also saw the frozen over Lake Michigan. On our way back to get our pizza we saw that the temp was -11, it is so cold that your teeth hurt! We then headed over to see Casey Karbowski at UC and catch up with Dan (my cousin) and Liezel (his GF). We went to Mass at St. Mary of the Angels, one of the most beautiful parishes in Chicago and better then St. James. Best of all (for Colin esp.) it was an Opus Dei Parish and super hardcore! We then went out to dinner and caught an awesome Jazz show at the Green Mill (where Al Capone had frequented).

The last day we awoke to find the water shut off in our hotel and so we went over to Katie's house to shower. We had some authentic Chicago style hot dogs (with all the goods and no ketchup) and got to say goodbye before we headed out. Apparently the day before Cossette thought we were leaving that day and was crying in her room (that really tugs at ones heartstrings). I headed for ORD and was delayed b/c a huge snowstorm blew in and they had to de-ice the planes. I was only an hour late leaving but i was really worried about he frozen pizza i was bringing back for me and my roomies to scarf down tonight (it turned out delicious).

All in all, i love Chicago and wouldn't mind living there. The food, the culture, the faith and the Midwest charm all got their hooks into me. I love Seattle, but Chicago is gaining ground.

God Bless,

Song: Chicago by Frank Sinatra
Funny Quote: Hey ladies, just hit snooze on your biological clocks -Michael G.
Random Fact: The tongue is one of the quickest healing parts of your body (i should know!)

Friday, November 23, 2007


Cell phone vibrates at 7: 15 a.m. this morn and I awake to the brilliant sun radiating the cold crystalline landscape below my window. I run out the door, no time for breakfast for it will be penance, to my frozen car and find my credit card and begin scrapping. The biting cold gnaws at my fingers as I look at the peculiar ice hairs growing upward from the top of my mirror like the fortress of solitude. Black leather cold to my warm legs, heat; ice cold, windows down so I can put my head out and see where I am driving…what a great morning! Why such the rush you ask? Well it is morning Mass on Thanksgiving down at Blessed Sacrament and it starts at 8 a.m.

I arrive a few minutes late and see no cars. Uh Oh. I walk up to the church and the doors are open. I step into the warm church with the old radiators clanging and pouring out their much-needed heat and find only a few people there. A homeless man talks to a women about the street and another comes up to me and asks me to tell the young man that was trying to find information about a Thanksgiving dinner put on by St. Vincent de Paul that he must leave or go hungry that day. He was praying so fervently and greatly desired to go to Mass, but was also starving. As he hopped on his bike, the young man came back and he and I rushed out and caught the man before he took of into the cold.

Mass starts at 10 a.m. today a man told me as I perused the bulletin for information. I had a good hour and a half to wait before Mass and I need to pray very badly. Busyness, Laziness, heck loch ness were the monsters keeping me from plumbing the depths of my heart for God. Now I had the time and the great need of his mercy. I needed to go to confession before Mass, but I thought this unrealistic, it is hard enough to get a priest after Mass yet alone before. I prayed that I would at least get to confession today, even if I didn’t get to have communion. Doubt filled my mind even of this happening. I will not worry about it; I will let God take care of it. Lord have mercy!

Hey, a priest coming toward my way, sweet…stand up, go by the door, act all stealthy, check cell phone…make it look like you are checking it for time and… pounce. “Hey Father, is there any chance I could get Confession from you after Mass?” “How long will it take, like less then 5 min?” “Oh, yeah, it should only be like 3 or so.” “Well then lets do it right now.”

Walking out of the confessional everything seemed perfect. The cold had lost its bite as the sun rose higher and filled the church with its colorful stained glass luminescence. The choir was singing a song with lyrics that said “with great mercy” and “sing to the Lord with great Joy”. People began to file in and soon the empty church was full. Life was all around, and best of all was alive in me again. The Gospel that morning told the story about 10 lepers that had been cleansed and the one that came back and glorified Jesus and fell prostrate at his feet. I too had come from my own outcast state, corrupted, but realizing that Jesus had healed me in the confessional as he had healed the Samaritan leper. Not only that, but the leper had only asked Jesus for healing. Jesus took the little that he asked for and because of his little act of thanksgiving and praise Jesus bestowed unto him what he really wanted, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you." Similarly, I asked for so little, just confession if at all possible, and I gained life restored and Christ in me himself! (Cf. Luke 17:11-19)

Here is the point. We truly do ask for too little of God, he wants us to consult him in everything. Nothing is too mundane for the almighty or to grandiose. He has already given it to us; we just need to learn to ask in faith and trust. In fact, the “Little Way” has become a sort of battle cry for me lately. It doesn’t matter what you do or how much you do it, but that you do it through him, with him and in him and in the intention of giving him thanksgiving and praise. Also, he is always there, leading you on in subtle and silent ways, make sure to listen to the native voice inside you. Finally, as I dined at my two thanksgiving dinners, I know that I first dined at the true Thanksgiving (Eucharistic) Dinner, the feast I hope to enjoy for all eternity.

My love, prayers, hopes and thanksgiving to each of you and your own on this blessed day!

God Bless,

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Last Day In Phi Phi

Hey All

So it is our last day in Phi Phi, and we leave in about 2 hrs so i thought i would send out a quick update. Friday, we hiked to Long beach and got to do a little swimming. It was the first day we really had a chance to relax, we have just been going like crazy for the last 16 days. It was nice to get away from Patong Beach (Phuket) and the crazy Tuk Tuk drivers, unequaled night life and the LadyBoys (trannies). We went to an all you can eat Asian buffet and ate some really good food. We had sushi with curry, Ginger, fresh muscles, squid, fresh tuna and other fish and some amazing chicken along with some Thai food and a nice cool Chang Beer! After dinner we hit up the 7-11 (they are huge over here) and then went to a club. This was unlike any club you have ever been to in the states. It featured life Thai Boxing. First up was some 10 year old boys and man were they scrappy. I am not sure how i feel about that, but the ACLU would love it i am sure! Then, you (as a tourist) could fight another tourist for a free bucket (a literal bucket full of alcohol). We saw a couple of Brits go at it for 3 rounds, they gave a good show. Then we saw a real match with adult men and it was crazy! They can kick so fast, and they each got rocked by a few roundhouse kicks. Not a bad show for 80 Baht ($2.25).

Yesterday we went on a cruise all over to different islands and it was amazing. We started in the morning and it was very stormy, like huge swells and the guide was like "close the windows, we don't want a lot of water in the boat" It was a little sporty to say that least. We couldn't go to Maya bay, which is on the other island but we did go to this other little cove and snorkeled and swam. It started to rain really hard but it was like taking a show, warm and nice. We then went to Monkey Cove and kayaked out to the beach and fed some monkeys. I actually touched one of them, that was awesome! After that we headed out to Bamboo Island, the surf was a lot calmer and Dave was a lot more comfortable. Bamboo island is a national park and it was pristine. White sandy beaches, turquoise water and just wonderful. We headed over to Mosquito island (that name is fitting) and did an hour of snorkeling which was amazing. I saw sea urchins with big black spikes and and eye in the center, super colorful fish with amazing neon greens, blues, yellows and even some camouflage fish that totally blended in with the sea floor. We hoped back on the ship and headed back for a little R&R and it was nice to just chill for the evening.

Today we hiked up to a viewpoint of the whole island and took some amazing shots of the isthmus and the turquoise water...breathtaking just like the super hard hike to the top. Sweat dripping off like i was hot! In a few hours we will catch the ferry to Krabi and hopefully check out James bond island and some other cool spots before we hit the bus and train ride up to Bangkok. I hope to see a cobra fight and get a massage before i head out, but i will have to see how my sunburn feels about that! Hope all is well!
God Bless,

Friday, June 15, 2007

Phi Phi Islands

Hey Everybody,
this is going to be a short e-mail so here it is. Phi Phi islands are like paradisio, it is amazing. We have had such an amazing time here withe the white sandy beaches and hiking on the island to secluded beaches. Tomorrw we will head out to a boat cruise for a few more islands and hopefully see some monkeys. Keep you posted as i can!
God Bless,

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Hey Everybody,

Ok, so so much has happened since my last post. I have gone on a trek up into the mountains of Chang Mai and it was amazing. It was super hot, crazy bugs and our amazing guide told us about the King Cobra he saw the week before (I wish i had seen it!). We stayed in a tribal hut with some other travelers and it was super amazing except for one when the hut caught on fire. There was a candle over on the ledge and we were all like, "shouldn't we put that candle out before we go to sleep, but we thought it would be ok and went to sleep. Well somebody woke up in the middle of the night and noticed the wall on fire and put it out. I was sound asleep, but Dave said he saw it b/c he wasn't sleeping much that night. We were woken up by a damn rooster at like 4:30 a.m. and pigs and dogs, it was like i was on a farm. The hilltribe people here are so poor, they made all of these scarfs and bracelets and other various things (beer and coke were big sellers to thirsty trekkers) just to get by. The next day we went elephant riding which was so amazing and fed the elephants bananas and it was super! Then Bamboo rafting down a river for a while and back to Chang Mai. We hit up the night market which was just crazy with all the stuff one could buy, pretty much anything one could want. I was able to go to Mass in Thai, which was crazy but missed it on Sunday b/c i was on the trek, so i got a dispensation for Sunday on Friday daily Mass from the priest (I hope this works? Colin, Val?). I went to Sacred Heart Cathedral...thanks Colin! Then the next day we went to the Golden Triangle and on a speed boat trip over to the Laos border where it dumped rain and i bought Cobra Whiskey (whiskey with a big cobra stuffed in the bottle, and yes you can drink it, b/c i tried some with an ex Buddhist Monk there!). Then we looked at Burma (not good for U.S. citizens to go to right now) and that is the golden triangle (Laos, Burma, Thailand). It used to be very big for Opium. We then went to the Long Neck hill tribe people and it was so amazing. Huge rings on their necks make them very long, it is surreal! Then we woke up early today (Tuesday, almost Wednesday when i write this) and caught a flight to Bangkok. We had a later connecting flight but we opted for an earlier one and of coarse, our bags were lost (F!). Phuket has actually be the biggest pain in my rear on this whole trip thus far, but not too bad. We went down to the beach and were the only tools with long pants and shoes on (and me looking as pasty as ever). We watched a sunset and where heading back when i decided to look at a custom tailored suit. So now, i am getting 3 cashmere (w/ silk lining) suits, 3 silk ties, 3 custom tailored pants, and 3 custom tailored shirts for $350, so cheap and hopefully good suits. I need to pick up some more knock-off stuff like sunglasses, watch and maybe some shoes. The night life in Puket is crazy, so many bars, live music, good food, cheap merchandise, Tuk Tuk or cab and a lot of prostitutes with older white guys (sick!). All in all, i can't wait for tomorrow, sand, sun and surf. On Thursday we head off to Pi Pi Islands and then to Krabi and Bangkok for a day and then home. I will keep you all posted as much as i can! More stories, but don't have a lot of time to write (1 baht a minute...34baht = 1 U.S. Dollar). Hope all is well!
God Bless,

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Hey All,

Ok, so Dave and i made it into Bangkok and spent a couple of days there just chillin. It is so crazy over here, the traffic, pollution, food, heat and people not to mention the prevalence of 7-11's. We saw the Huge palace, the Temple of the Dawn, took a river boat, saw the reclining Buddha, the 10 story tall Buddha and all sorts of other stuff. We ran into a history professor on the street and he took us to a Buddhist Monk class (actual monks learning more about meditation) and into some of the hidden places that only a local knows. He was a devout Buddhist and we learned a lot about his faith, the king, the state of things in their country and so on. He took us to this amazing place to eat and at first Dave and i were a little weirded out by the food (it was all raw) but they cooked in a charcoal soup and it was really good. We also had a lot of beer with him. Rice Beer is very different and he just kept ordering them and we had a splendid night. The next day we took a Tuk Tuk (a little 3 wheeled truck that you sit in back of) and toured part of the city. We think we were involved in a scam, but can't be sure, it was really smooth, but they didn't get anything out of us. Over here you really can't trust anybody, maybe it is because i am white and like 6'4" and stick out like a sore thumb. They always come up and ask you where you are going, start making small talk and ask where you are from and then tell you that the Grand palace is closes at 1:30-3 but they would be happy to drive you in there Tuk Tuk or cab all over the city until it opens again. Real story, they want 60 Baht and the Grand Palace is open all day long. A lot of scammers here and contestant pestering for Cabs, Tuk Tuks, food, and anything else you can imagine. Lying is the modest operondi for a lot of people on the street. Poverty is rampant, so i am not surprised that they pester you so much b/c they have to live to. Buddhism is a very interesting religion/Philosophy and i have learned a great deal about it over here. When before Buddha, you bow 3 times while praying something and your sins are gone (or at least that is what i got from our friend and history prof. Don). You cannot show the bottom of your feet to the Buddha or a monk, step on an image of them, put them image down on the ground or step on the bottom of a door sill, that is where the spirit of the building is. Motorcycles are very common over here and they weave in and out of traffic even in the oncoming lane of traffic as do Tuk Tuks. It is just unbelievable! It is super hot over here, like 95 and hot! Last night we caught a train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai which is where i am writing this now and it was crazy. 14 hours on a train that barely seemed to move. We slept most of it but it was really slow and long. They have an open sewage system on the train which means that we do our duty on the tracks, you can see the tracks fly below where you are going the bathroom...spicy! So now we are in Chiang Mai, and it is a lot cooler, people are more chill and we have a huge 4 days planned up here. Tonight the night Market, then tomorrow we begin our 2 day trek and ride elephants and go through the jungle and stay at the Hill peoples huts. After that we have a few options, the Golden Triangle into Laos and Burma with a mineral bath and boat ride. Or see this huge mountain top Wat (temple) that has 330 or so stairs to the top. Then we fly down to Phuket for some time on the beach, over to the Pi Pi Islands for some more time on the beach, snorkeling and tanning (i need it) and then ferry over to Krabi to finish up our southern experience. After that we head back up to Bangkok for a night and get a good massage at the Wat Pho and head out at 3 a.m. I will try to keep you all posted as much as i can and let5 you know that i am still alive. Hope all is well and God Bless!
Brett Herrmann