Saudi Update – Missiles and More!

Welcome back to our wonderous, fabulous blog! It’s time for a bit of an update on our time here in the KSA!

We started school almost 2 weeks ago and while Ana is teaching in person (mostly), I am still 100% remote. The Saudi Ministry of Health has its own guidelines that we are following. If the country reaches 70% vaccination rates, which it hopes to do by the end of October, all students will be allowed to return in person. So…we’re hoping! 🤞 Aside from that, however, school is moving along well enough!

We’re getting fairly well settled in also. Banks set up, water deliveries, food deliveries, everything we could need! All that’s really left is to figure out how to order online from a few places, like Amazon Saudi, and to get driver’s licenses and a car. We’re hoping to get one before October, but who knows. Inshallah. We don’t really want a car, but for the weekends and navigating, it will be incredibly useful!

Now on the fun bit! This past weekend, we had a fun missile scare! The Houthi rebels in Yemen like to try and disrupt different things in Saudi Arabia, one of which is oil production. The eastern coast of Saudi is the largest oil production area in the country and home to Saudi Aramco, one of the largest oil producing companies in the world.

Anyways, the rebels launched several missiles across the country, but thankfully the Saudi government intercepted them. That said, there apparently a few people injured, though as I understand it, it wasn’t bad (I could be wrong) and some very minor damages to buildings.

It was certainly a bit tense when it happened as we were not sure what was going on and the chats were all abuzz with speculation. We finally learned what happened and there are several news outlets who covered it as well. You can read more about it here at Reuters.

Having been through a few shootings, both by myself and with Ana, this was definitely scarier in terms of the ideas that it’s completely out of the blue and our control with zero warning. That said, we are not worried, nor does anyone here seem to be worried either, so we go forward! C’est la vie!

Anyways, that’s all for now, but keep an eye open as Ana and I are planning to start a podcast, in which we HOPE we’ll have our first one up this weekend! Stay tuned!

Saudi…with a picture!

Hey all,

So it is Tuesday and our third day of work here and Saturday and so far it’s been a pretty great experience though we do feel a bit overwhelmed with work coming into a coronavirus related world and a new school. There are a great deal of many things to be done and to learn and to understand but we are trying to go in with the mindset of will do what we can and learn as we can.

We will be moving to a new campus in January or at least that’s the plan and we are very excited about that because it is on our compound which means that we will be able to walk to work rather than have a 30 to 40 minute commute each way. That will reduce our stress it will reduce pretty much everything for us which is really nice however that said the commute is nice to take a nap after work or listen to some podcasts so you know pros and cons but mostly pros in this case. Anyways I’m going to add a couple of photos here so you can see what somebody looks like! As for the moment you’ll see desert but there are parts of Saudi, which we haven’t been to yet that are not desert so hopefully at some point will get posted pictures of those too!

Enjoy!

Desert on the way to work!
A time-lapse of our whole commute to work!

Spring Break on The Big Island – Only Paid for Meals!

One of the biggest changes for us since coming back to the US is traveling less than we used to when we lived in Asia. Also, we now live in Hawaii, which is far from EVERYTHING (look it up on a map. We are surrounded by ALL THE OCEAN!). The first year anywhere always involves adapting, and Hawaii is NOT like the rest of the USA (more on that in another post), which means we’ve traveled a lot less. We did make our one trip of last year count – we spent five days on the island of Hawai’i, aka the Big Island.

The Big Island is known for many things – among them, being the site of the original Ironman competition and the home of the tallest mountain in the world if you count from the bottom-of-the-ocean origin. It also became widely known a year and a half ago for the extended eruption of the Kilauea volcano. While there was no lava when we went, the effects of the eruption could still be felt, most notably in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

In this post, we’re going to focus on two things: what we did and how we went for cheap for a whole week. Let’s start with the money business, shall we?

We kept our costs down by using miles and points to pay for flights, hotels and car rental.

Inter-island flights for two adults came to about 15,000 miles through United. Flights are on partner Hawaiian Airlines. We paid somewhere between $20-$25 in taxes and fees. Inter-island flights are typically very inexpensive on their own, and they’re relatively short. From Honolulu to Kona, we were in the air for maybe 20 minutes, in reality. Thanks to the arrival of Southwest to the islands last fall, airlines are really making an effort to keep flights competitive. Southwest flies between Oahu, the Big Island, Maui and Kaua’i. If you have Southwest points, I can see how using them to either come to Hawaii and/or island-hop could be worth it.

Hotel:

We didn’t really feel the need to stay in Hilo, the more rural and rainforest-like side of the Big Island. We decided to stay in Kona (closer to the airport, better serviced and with better beaches) and play it by ear regarding Hilo. I’m glad we decided on that because it doesn’t really seem like it’d be worth staying in Hilo for very long but again, it depends on the vacation you want. Most excursions to go stargazing at Mauna Kea, for example, leave from Hilo.

Let’s establish something from the start. Hotels in the Hawaiian islands are at a level of expensive we have never. ever. seen. Accommodation is probably going to be the most expensive part of your trip if you come to Hawaii, which means two things: 1) If you know someone here, save the money and stay with them; 2) If you can use miles or hotel points to save money on accommodation, use them. The recent clampdown on vacation rentals in Oahu hasn’t helped the case either.

So we stayed in Kona for a week by using all of our Marriott Bonvoy points and the free anniversary night that came with our co-branded credit card. Thanks to that we saved about $1500 in the hotel.

The rest of Cam’s United Miles went to renting a car – very necessary if you want to actually go out and explore. Drives are not short and there isn’t a lot on the roads. I don’t recall ever seeing a bus.

Our plans were fairly simple and not that ambitious: the only thing we planned to go see as a must was Volcanoes National Park. At the time, there were still a lot of areas of the park that were closed to the public, and some that may never open again. It is still incredible to see the Earth so alive. There is steam coming out of the ground. Going when you know that there’s magma down there that could come up is weirdly striking.

The National Park Service keeps their page very up-to-date so you can plan your visit.

Would we go again? Yes.

You can go to Volcanoes for more than a day and camp. It is a significant drive from Kona and roads are mostly two-lane, so keep that in mind when you’re making your plans.

The rest of the time was primarily spent following the Vacation Trifecta of reading, napping and swimming…minus the swimming. The ocean on the Big Island is far too cold for my Caribbean sensitivities.

One of the highlights of our trip was going to Punalu’u beach, a black sand beach where turtles often come out to rest. In our afternoon there, we saw two! Turtles are not uncommon in Hawaiian beaches and people tend to be careful with them. However, not all tourists have that kind of education and can be rather aggressive when taking pictures. If you ever see an animal on a beach (like a turtle, or a seal) give them space. We are the ones visiting their home, and not the other way around.

Some things we want to return to the Big Island to see:

  • Visit Volcanoes National Park again – We only picked one trail to explore and there are at least six more if I’m remembering correctly. Since we went last March (yes, yes, I know how late this entry is!) some areas of the park have reopened too.
  • Hilo – while the town of Hilo doesn’t seem to be anything to write home about, the rainforest around it is worth exploring.
  • Mauna Loa and/or Mauna Kea – We would love to go up one of those two for stargazing/sunrise hiking. You have to go on a tour and they are quite pricey. But we intend to do that before we leave Hawaii, whenever that is.

Other travels we still have to share with you here:

  • Maui this past Thanksgiving: One of the most relaxing vacations we’ve had in a while. Short but sweet.
  • The Dominican Republic this past Christmas. Here we will mostly share some of our favorites, old and new, in terms of accommodation. Find great service and give them your business. Being a return client can make a huge difference in the service you get, especially in small hotels.

Enjoy the striking nature of the island of Hawai’i. And remember, Southwest flies here now! Hundred percent not sponsored, but their inter-island flights cannot be beat, seriously.

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Hawaii – The Bad (or 1st post)

Okay so let’s start with the bad of Hawaii now and believe you me, there are some things here I truly despise, but above all else (yes even including the astronomical cost of living) is the roads and drivers. 🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬

Roads first, yeah? So Hawaii’s roads are…..horrendous. I mean horrendous. Part is due to the amount of rain and the traffic, I get that, but where taxpayer money goes, I know not because I know it doesn’t go to a) education or b) roads. Both of those are terrible here.

If it isn’t an enormous pothole, it’s construction. Like construction elsewhere, it lasts forever, however here, when they’re done fixing the road…it’s worse. I don’t know how, but they manage to make the roads worse! Unless the replace the entire width of the road, they do this terrible patching job that is completely uneven and at least as rough as the potholes. How a state manages this is beyond me. Hawaii’s roads are worse than China, Korea and Russia and NEARLY as bad as the Dominican Republic…a tiny developing country. I hate driving here.

Now…on to the drivers! First and foremost, signals. NO ONE USES THEIR TURN SIGNALS! Turn signals are such an infrequent sight and that even the DOT uses their huge, digital freeway overhead signs to encourage people to use their turn signals. No one does it. It is impossible to predict where another car is going. Ugh.

Next up is speeding and running red lights. Hawaii has zero, yes zero, traffic light cameras. As such, I see one person run a red light a day. Add that to how fast people drive here (which is nuts considering how bad the roads are)  and the lack of turn signals and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Finally…aloha. Many Hawaiians are courteous drivers…to a fault. Many will unexpectedly stop to let others go or just simply do things and stop in places that one does not generally expect. I truly appreciate how nice it is, but it also causes accidents (two I’ve seen) because people don’t expect someone to blatantly disregard the rules of the road, even if it is to be nice.

All of these things add up to me, Cameron, raging out in the car each and every time I slip into the driver’s seat. There was a time I’d thought road rage was behind me, but then I moved to Hawaii.

Until next time dear Readers, when we hit some more of the good and perhaps some of the weird!

~Cameron

2017 Travels: The Happiest Place on Earth

Hello readers!

Coming in hot on the first day of 2018! The goal is to catch you up on our travels for 2017 within the first few days of this year so we can start 2018 fresh.

Ever since the early days of this Team, one thing has been very clear: Cameron loves Disneyland, and Disney World, and probably all forms of Disney Parks. While I went to Disney World with my family when I was five, and it WAS awesome, admittedly, the experience of going to a Disney Park changes as you get older. I confirmed this when we visited Disneyland Shanghai a little over a year and a half ago. Disneyland is fun and magical. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are.

Needless to say, the plans to visit Disneyland (the original one, in California) had been on the books for a few years. Cameron hadn’t visited since well before California Adventure had opened, and I hadn’t visited, well, ever. Over the past summer we looked at some options and settled on it for our fall break, which happens in November.

From our experience, I can make a few recommendations:

  1. It’s not a bad idea to book your vacation through a travel agent. Usually, travel agents can give good deals on multiple day passes, transportation passes, and other amenities you may need, like car rentals. We used Costco Travel, but if that’s not available in your area, I’d say talk to your travel agent of choice. A person, not a search engine on the Internet.
  2. Get a Park Hopper pass. We got a five-day Park Hopper, which meant we had access to both Disneyland and California Adventure during this time. It allowed us to go on our favorite rides multiple times, and to take a break from the busyness of one park by going to the other.
  3. Get a transportation pass for the same number of days you have a park pass.
  4. Get waterproof bags for your valuables, or a locker. Splash Mountain is no joke and you will get drenched, pretty much regardless of where you sit.
  5. Wear comfortable shoes – you will stand around a lot.

Other notables of this trip:

  • We flew the Dreamliner for the first time! United uses a 787 for their Seoul (ICN) to San Francisco (SFO) route – admittedly a lighter plane that can fly higher, where turbulence is less prevalent, and the seats are smaller. Seats are not that comfortable, at least on United. Food wasn’t bad. We had a better Dreamliner experience on our Singapore (SIN) to Hong Kong (HKG) on Scoot (more on that on our Christmas Break post coming soon).
  • I rode two roller coasters! More than once! Including one with an upside-down loop. There was a lot of sheer terror screaming and gasping for breath. It all subsided after the first time riding, and I managed to enjoy them!
  • Cameron fulfilled a childhood dream of eating at the Bayou Cafe on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It was delicious. And expensive. And VERY BUSY! Book well in advance.
  • The breakfast burritos on the cafe in Tomorrowland (by the Star Wars stage) and the beignets at the Mint Julep Bar (in New Orleans Square) are delicious and worth every penny you pay.
  • We caught the last legs of Halloween and the first glimpses of Christmas. A decoration dream.
  • The castle is really tiny! After being at Disney World and Shanghai Disneyland, the Disneyland castle looked like a gingerbread house. Or a dollhouse? It’s still pretty, but I was definitely shocked to see how small it was. I guess you may have not been able to go any higher in 1955.

Don’t be fooled by whatever time of the year you go on. It was the first week of November and both parks were VERY busy! Lots of BYU and Utah shirts, and LOTS of Seahawks jerseys. We suspect there is a fall break in Utah and Washington at that same time (Early November). No big deal.

We didn’t really know what to expect from California Adventure. Turns out it’s either very kid-friendly rides or not kid-friendly at all rides. Except for the Toy Story ride – that’s for everyone and it’s awesome. Worth the line though. It’s super fun.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to California Adventure was to see their water show, World of Color. I hadn’t really heard about it until the Sheldon Cooper character mentions it on an episode late in Season 3 of The Big Bang Theory (“We stayed for the California Adventure water show. It was pure Disney Magic”). IT REALLY WAS!

World of Color is spectacular! It has water fountains. Lights. Lasers. Fire. Music. (Apparently I remember A LOT more of the Little Mermaid songs after watching it on VHS every afternoon for like 3 months, and I didn’t even know English then!) All our favorite Disney characters. I had a really bewildered (stupid?) face the whole time. I don’t care, it was magical.

It was a bit surprising to stop for a minute and notice that in a lot of ways, Disneyland is kind of supposed to feel kind of like a utopian place. It’s so well kept and beautiful, and you’re having so much fun that I suppose that’s what the whole thing is about. If you have kids, though, wait until they’re at least old enough to go on the rides to take them. Toddlers are pooped as soon as they go on one ride and have a churro.

I don’t know that Disneyland is THE happiest place on Earth, but after going, I get the hype.

Enjoy the pictures, the lights and the magic!

The Team

Two fun events in our last weeks in SH

Not everything during our last few weeks in Shanghai was stress and business. Two very cool things happened before we left and I’m glad we got to do both. Well, there was one where it was only me, but it was kind of a big deal.

My student teaching seniors graduated.

Not that I didn’t think they would not graduate, I knew they would, but when you see people that you have taught celebrate such an accomplishment it’s incredibly special. Hearing the college acceptances of some of the kids, seeing them get called for honors…it’s definitely a proud moment. This might sound corny, but seeing how happy they were to see me there meant everything. It made the long months of student teaching worth it and made me look forward to celebrating more academic and personal accomplishments with future students.

Here are some snaps with just a few of them:

Most importantly, I didn’t cry.

 

The second fun event I’ll highlight here on the blog was our day at Disneyland Shanghai.

Yes, it’s open, and yes, we got to go before we left. And it was amazing!

I went to Disney World when I was 5. Cameron’s last visit to a Disney park was to Hong Kong Disneyland 10 years ago (it had recently open). He is more excited about rides (and more daring) than me. So I wasn’t sure how well I would do, but I did pretty well.

I can’t compare to other parks because a) it’s been a long time, and b) I know a lot of changes have happened over time. I have to say, the delays in finishing the park were worth it. In my personal opinion it feels a bit more kid-oriented than other parks but it’s still lots of fun.

Waiting times are insane. Some rides had a 4 hour waiting time ON SOFT OPENING, which is when we went (one of the families in Cameron’s class has a parent who works for Disney as an engineer and helped design the park, so the tickets were Cam’s class present for the end of the year). Overall though, we got to go on our favorite rides more than once, so we were happy with that.

Here are some snaps from my phone. Doesn’t it look magical?

With love and magical fantasies for all,

Ana

Last weeks in Shanghai

Hi y’all!!!!!

We, the Nomadic Gregors, lived in China for 3 years and lived to tell the tale without anything super scary happening to us (especially on the food department, haha!)

We are now in the Land of the VPN Free, more specifically in the beautiful Evergreen State, enjoying some down time (and doggies!!!) and watching all the soccer our guts can handle. It’s a beautiful thing.

Our last few weeks went in a blur, just as expected. There were some arguments, and some crying, and lots of panic during the getting rid of stuff process, but downsizing is always a good exercise. We started packing and advertising for stuff to sell around mid-May, after taking some stuff to Jeju during our look-see visit. During May and June, our apartment was a giant mess of bags, taken-apart stuff, and bubble wrap.

We did get a few nice days here and there – springs in Shanghai are rather rainy, during which – while running errands – we went to the city and got some soothing sights like this:

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The Jing’an district in Shanghai is easily one of our favorite parts of town. These are signature trees lining its streets.

The last few days were pretty much spent doing last minute packing and deliveries, saying goodbye (or see you soon!) to people, and trying to soak it all in. This is what Cameron’s classroom looked like after being all packed up. He had to pack up every year but since he wasn’t coming back this year, it became a bit more significant so I snapped this picture from a corner:

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End of an era!

At the end of the day, we made it safe, with all our bags through the airport, and despite all the I Hate China Days we both had, we left China with our spirits intact and smiles on our faces:

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PVG < ICN < SEA one last time!

The Year of China Travels Part 1: Qingdao

Hi all!!!! We’re back!!!!! This is Ana transmitting from my desk because I have a prep period. Haha!

The life of a teaching couple is tiring!!!! We’re both out of the house early, we work in opposite sides of Shanghai, we are at school for long hours, well, that’s the job! Understandably, by the time we get home it’s workouts, dinner, relax, sleep. But in a way, we spend more time together because we don’t see each other as much during the day since I’m working so late.

This year we are focusing our travels inside China. China is a very big country and we do not expect to see all of it in the break periods we have, but we do want to see some of it. For our first holiday this year, we headed northeast to see Qingdao, capital of the Shangdong province and former German concession. As a result of the latter, Qingdao is the beer capital of China sort of – it is home to the Tsingtao brewery, probably the best known Chinese beer overseas. Tsingtao has been a-brewin’ away since 1903 – pretty impressive!

Our goals for this trip were simple and not ambitious at all: we wanted to rest and relax, see the Tsingtao brewery, and be by the water – oh yes, Qingdao is by the ocean so there are a few beaches! This is where the sailing competitions for the 2008 Olympics took place, so there is a marina, and a place to take sailing lessons, rent boats and so forth.

Chinese behavior on the beach is rather interesting: they definitely don’t go to the beach the way we do. Most people had their clothes on – not a lot of swimsuits, and definitely no bikinis -although I would say Chinese women are a bit more modest in their clothing choices. People mostly sit and hang out – no kiosks or waterfront restaurants/bars, you just sit on a rental chair and that’s it. There were some people in the water but not many. We were surprised at how clean the beach was. Maybe because it was a national holiday? It was also not crowded at all despite it being a nice day. It was still interesting.

Here are some phone snaps from the trip. Enjoy!

With love, breweries, and boardwalks,

The Gregors

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Phuket – 2015 (1st Post)

About a week ago now, Ana and I headed off for Phuket (well, actually I left from Malaysia…but a post about that later) to meet up with our good friends Justin and Travis. The trip was just over a week, but what a great week it was!

First off you should know however, that at this time of year, Thailand is unbearably hot. I mean ridiculous, life-hatingly hot.  At one point, my phone said it felt like 117°F. Too hot for the beach, too hot for anything but sitting poolside…and enjoying a nice, cool beverage.

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So relaxing by the pool…who doesn’t enjoy that?

Despite the heat, however, we also managed to do a bit of sight-seeing!

We made our way to Phuket town, an older, less attractive city and far less touristy and wandered for a while, managing to stumble upon a school for upcoming monks!

That day we also managed to go up to Raya Hill and caught a pretty sweet view of Phuket town, the bay as well as a monkeys which totally surprised us!

 

Next post about Thailand will be up soon! Enjoy!

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