A Swim with a Whale Shark

Exmouth, Australia was our last stop during our 18 day trip to Australia. Exmouth is located at North West Cape in Western Australia. We specifically included visiting Exmouth in our Australian trip because we wanted at least the opportunity to see a whale shark.

While I never actually located it on a map, I always thought that the Indian Ocean would be warm. It seemed a reasonable assumption that it would be warm since it was close to India. I could not have been more wrong. It was SO COLD!!!

At the start of the trip, we snorkeled in the shallow water in Ningaloo Reef so that the staff could make sure all the participants knew how to snorkel. It was fun. The reef was beautiful. There were a large variety of colors among the coral.

As we continued on the voyage, we came across a large group of manta rays. Most of the visitors jumped in the water to get a look at the huge manta rays, my husband and nephew included. My son and I stayed on the boat to get him warm. The first swim left him extremely cold so we were trying to get him warmed back up and ready for the eventual (hopefully) whale shark swim.

After the manta ray dive, we lunched while the boat continued in the direction the whale shark.  As soon as we knew were close to the whale shark, we jumped in the water and waited expectantly. When he finally arrived, he did not disappoint. He (I’m not actually sure of the gender) was young and “small” but so magnificent. There are international laws preventing interaction with him so we just swam beside him (from a distance) the best we could. The guides said “Don’t try to keep up. Just enjoy the experience and let him leave you.”  The whale shark circled our boat for about an hour so we had many opportunities to see him. It was the time of our lives.

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While the whale shark was far away from the boat, my husband got back on the boat to fix our waterproof camera . He didn’t have time to get back in the water before the whale shark came back around, but he did get this amazing video of the whale shark approaching and passing the boat. We were so excited the video turned out as well as it did. He couldn’t look through the viewfinder to take the video. This was truly a point and hope the whale shark was in the screen.

On the way back to shore, we saw dolphins and several humpback whales as well, but the visit with the whale shark was the highlight of the trip.

References:

http://www.environment.gov.au/marine/marine-species/cetaceans/whale-and-dolphin-watching

Meandering through Ancient Pompeii, Italy

We visited Pompeii on July 12, 2015. News reports that several buildings had crumbled or were crumbling prompted us to move Pompeii to the top of our “to visit” list before more buildings collapsed.  Pompeii dates back to the 8th century BC and was destroyed on August 24, 79 AD when Mt. Vesuvius erupted. The eruption lasted for several days and completely covered numerous cities, including Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae, in ash and pumice 15 to 20 feet deep. In Pompeii alone, more than 2,000 people died during the eruption.

Explorers first rediscovered the ancient city in 1748. Because of the sudden eruption, Pompeii offers us one of the most complete  and untainted view of ancient life.

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The ancient homes and markets were very similar to those we have today. They had sliding doors, counters, huge fireplaces, public toilets and roads. Scientist found that the Pompeian people had pipes for water, but the pipes were made of lead. It is unclear if the Pompeian people had realized that the lead pipes would lead to health issues.

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The most sobering artifacts still in the city were a cast of a child, dog and a crouching adult – all of whom died during the volcano eruption. We saw them at the end of our tour, for which I am glad because seeing them changed my mood instantaneously. The casts were the proof of the eruption’s devastation. Thousands of people lost their lives, many of whom did not have the means or the ability to escape. The child could not have been more than 4 years old. While I realize these were casts, they are remarkable lifelike. It felt like I was looking at their petrified bodies. The casts were created by the ash and pumice that completely covered the city. Over the next 2,000 years, the bodies decomposed leaving pockets where the bodies once were. As the archaeologist exhumed the city, they realized the pockets in the ash. They poured plaster into one and realized that they had molds of the people who had died in Pompeii.

 

Mt.Vesuvius is still an active volcano. It’s last eruption was in 1944.

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My husband with Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

 

Heads Up:  Most of the  Pompeian artifacts have been relocated to the Naples Museum. If you decide to visit Pompeii, you may want to include a trip to the museum as well. That is where the Pompeian personal items and home decorations are located.

 

 

Additional references:

http://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/pompeii

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/nov/11/the-second-fall-pompeii

Ball, J. retrieved from: http://geology.com/volcanoes/vesuvius/

Sheldon, N. retrieved from: http://decodedpast.com/human-remains-pompeii-body-casts/7532

A Stroll through Italy’s Florence Duomo Cathedral

We visited Florence (Firenze is the original name), Italy between July 4-12 in 2015. We arrived at our hotel in the evening so after dinner we decided to stroll the city. As we turned the corner from the restaurant we discovered the beautiful Duomo. The official name of the church is the Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiore.

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The Duomo was designed in 1443 by Paolo Uccello and construction began at the end of the 13th century. The dome was added to the design in the 15th century by Filippo Brunelleschi. The church was finally finished in the 19th century. Florence’ Duomo is the 4th largest church in the world.

The dome is a magnificent feat in archaeology as it was built without scaffolding.

We had been in Florence for a couple of days before we found out that the church allowed paying tourists to go to the cupola of the Duomo. We had no idea of the beauty that we would discover inside (& outside) the church.

The Duomo Capula

On our last day in Florence, we finally had the time to climb the 463 steps to get to the cupola of the Duomo. The staircase to the cupola was very closed in, but occasionally provided magnificent views of Florence.

Once we got into the upper part of the dome (about halfway through all the stairs), we walked into the cathedral which took our breath away – which was bad because I were already out of breath from the steep climb.  The artwork in the dome was astounding.

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The frescoes were designed by Giorgi Vasari but most were painted by his student Frederico Zuccari. The frescoes were finished in 1579 and last restored in 1996. Did you know that frescoes are created by painting the wet plaster? We discovered this on our Florence tours.

When we finally made it to the top of the cupola and onto the observation deck, we were delighted with the beautiful Florence cityscape.

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RoadRepair

There are significant differences between road construction for roads that are 5 or 6 centuries years old roads and roads that are only about a century old like we see in the U.S.

 

The Duomo Tower

After descending the Duomo cupola, my college-bound son and I decided to tackle the 414 steps of the Duomo Tower located across the plaza.  The wide-open levels in the Tower made the climb feel much more open and spacious than the climb to the Cupola did. But the staircases between the floors were very similar to the Cupola staircases.

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At the top, we once again we had spectacular views of the city.

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Reference: http://www.visitflorence.com/florence-churches/duomo.html

 

A Peek into Ancient China – Xi’an

One of my husband’s Chinese co-workers told him “To see 50 years of China, visit Shanghai; to see 500 years of China, visit Beijing; to see 2000 years of China, visit Xi’an.

Xi’an was my favorite place in China. We went in last weekend of April 2011. Spring flowers were in bloom. Xi’an felt ancient but was beautiful.

Xi’an City Wall

The Xi’an City Wall was originally built between 618-907 with layers of dirt, lime and rice extract. In 1568, the wall was rebuilt with bricks. It has been restored twice since; in 1781 and again in 1983. Parts of the wall show signs of wear and the moat surrounding the Wall is still used. The Xi’an Wall is the most intact ancient defensive system remaining in the world.

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For a different view of the city, we biked around the top of the City Wall.

 

They try to keep inside the walls as ancient as possible. Officials have put laws in place to keep skyscrapers from inside the Walls. Inside the walls, ancient buildings are cared for and look similar to what they did long ago.

Xi’an Terracotta Warriors

The first emperor of China, Emperor Qin Shi Huang, was a tyrant and forced hundreds of thousands of peasants to construct the Terracotta Warriors between 246-206 BC.

When first unearthed, the Warriors are painted with vibrant colors. Unfortunately, the colors oxidize and fade quickly once exposed to air.

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When first exhumed, the Terracotta Warriors are covered in bright, vibrant colors

 

There are approximately 8,000 warriors, horses and chariots among the four Pits (dig sites). Scientists do not plan to start on Pit 3 until they resolve the paint oxidizing and fading issue.

The Emperor had the Terracotta Army built to be his army in the afterlife. However he was a harsh leader and when he died, the people revolted, smashed and set the Terracotta Warriors on fire in an effort to prevent the Emperor of having an army in the afterlife.

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The first Terracotta Warrior was discover in 1974 by a farmer digging a well. Rumor is that he thought is was a demon. Since then, scientists have worked to exhume and piece together the broken warriors. Pit 1 has a Terracotta “hospital” where they catalog and reassemble the warriors. They’ve found that each Terracotta Warrior has unique with distinct hair, eyes and armor.

They’ve found only one intact Terracotta Kneeling Archer. Notice, in the image below, that he still has a little red paint on his back. He is considered a national treasure.

 
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Ever since I heard of the Terracotta Warriors, I dreamed of visiting them. I am so excited that we saw them while we lived in China.

The Bridges of Dandong, China

The Bridges of Dandong, China

Dandong was our first sight-seeing location after we arrived in Dalian for a two-year expatriate assignment. We joined two other expat families for an adventure during the Chinese holiday “National Day” weekend (Oct.3-6,2009). We were so excited for our first road trip in China!

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After checking into our room the first evening, we strolled down to the riverside and came across two bridges. It appears as though the bridges lead to nowhere so I was very curious about the other side.

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In the morning, we discovered that the bridges were the Yalu River Bridge and the Broken Bridge. Sinuiju, North Korea is on the other side of the river. With a couple of exceptions, the North Korea side is completely dark at night. It makes me wonder what their lifestyle is like. Do they have a electric light curfew or limited electricity?

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The Yalu River Bridge

The Yalu River Bridge, which was built in 1937, is one of only a few ways to enter or leave North Korea. It was originally called the Sino-Korea Friendship Bridge but renamed in 1993. Americans bombed the Yalu River Bridge in the Korean War but rebuilt. It is a railway bridge connecting Sinuiju, North Korea to Dandong, China.

 

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Yalu River Bridge

The Broken Bridge

The Broken Bridge, which was built in 1909, was the first bridge built over the Yalu River. On November 8, 1950, the Americans bombed Korean side of the bridge. Four sections of the Broken Bridge remain intact on the Chinese side.

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My family at the entrance of the Broken Bridge.

 

Our children were extremely popular with the Chinese. The Chinese love children. An older gentleman walked up to our son and started navigating him over to the bridge entrance. Naturally we were concerned about where this man was trying to take our son. In broken English, he explained that he and his family wanted a picture with our son at the Broken Bridge entrance.

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We paid to walk down to the bridges’ mangled remains. It is hard to imagine the force that twisted these metal beams like they are plastic and weak.

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Broken Bridge looking into North Korea.

 

The Broken Bridge was unique because it has a section that could rotate 90 degrees to allow ships to pass.

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This is the turning mechanism for the rotating section of the bridge. Notice the bullet hole that was able to pierce through the side.

 

Our last night in Dandong we set off a hot-air balloon with all the kids names on it.

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Notice the lady taking a picture of our kids. We had more pictures taken of our group than we took of ourselves.

 

There are now tours available to take Westerns into Sinuiju, North Korea. With the current hostilities between the United States and North Korea, I’m don’t think I would try. Maybe one day it will be safe.

I highly recommend a visit to the bridges in Dandong, China. The history behind the bridges is somber but important to remember.

 

Sausage & Spaghetti

My stepmom’s spaghetti was one of my favorite dishes when I was young.  I associate her spaghetti with a lot of good family times. She would make ALOT of it at one time so it was the go-to dish when family was over for dinner.

I remember one time, my cousin, Ty and I had to do the dishes after dinner was done. Not fun a job for tweens and we made it worse by fighting over every little task. He got me in trouble for not washing right or leaving the cabinet open. I’m sure I reciprocated, but I don’t remember what his transgressions were.

Of course, once the job was done, we got along great. We would go for long walks around the neighborhood to talk about how great we thought our family was. One time, we got home after dark. We didn’t see the big cactus in grandma’s front yard and he walked right into my grandma’s huge Agave cactus. I couldn’t figure out why he suddenly started screaming.

Below is my stepmom’s recipe as I make it today. From what I remember, her’s was a more liquidy because she kept a lid on the pot as the sauce simmered. My husband likes the sauce thicker so I simmer uncovered for the last thirty minutes.

Ingredients:

1 pkg. Johnsonville hot (or mild) Italian sausage links, sliced

3 stalks of celery, cleaned and sliced

2 tblsp celery greens, chopped

1 medium onion, diced

1 – 14 oz can diced tomatoes

8 ounce can of tomato sauce

6 ounce can of tomato paste

10 white mushrooms sliced

1/2 green bell pepper, diced

Spices: minced garlic, parsley, oregano, crushed red pepper, salt & pepper

Spaghetti noodles (or another favorite pasta)

Parmesan cheese

 

Directions: 

Fry sliced sausage in a frying pan until sausage. When sausage is almost thoroughly cooked, add the diced onion to the  sausage. The onion will be translucent when the onion is done.

In a quart sauce pan, add in diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sliced mushrooms, green pepper and sausage/onion mixture. Stir ingredients together then season to taste. Simmer about approximately a hour (1/2 hr. covered & 1/2 hr uncovered). Taste test to double check seasonings and additional seasonings, if needed.

About 20 minutes before sauce is done simmering, prepare selected paste per the directions.

I suggest serving spaghetti with garlic bread and salad.

Michelle

 

My Favorite Recipes

Green Chili Chicken Casserole