Monday, July 15, 2019

The Last Match

The Poland ladies returned a few weeks ago and we had a decompression session a few nights ago. You should know this but if you don't, decompression is one of your big responsibilities if you are involved in cross cultural teams. It is the make or break, the smoking gun, the silver bullet. If you help students process their experience, they might change and grow. If you skip it, they almost certainly will not.

We worked through Ember's decompression toolkit, something that we have put together over the years of our experience. It includes things like having students write a few different summaries of their trip, exploring re-entry patterns, and thinking about missional imagination and idea models. As good as this is, I've said for many years that Seth Barnes has the treasure trove for debriefing here.

This was our last Ember project for the foreseeable future. Since these ladies are some of Emily's best friends, we've known them for years. Not only have them been involved with lots of Ember's projects, they've been an integral part of our lives. We've gone to the beach with them, they've spent countless hours at our house, they have eaten so much of our food. Could not think of a better last match for The Ember Cast.

This blog goes into pause mode for a little while. Thanks for joining us for the last incredible 16 years.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Travel Notes - Corinth, Spetses, Athens, Greece

To celebrate our younger daughter finishing high school and because our kids are going to be scattered around the world in a few months, we decided to spend 3 weeks as a family traveling through the Balkans.

Here are some details about our time in Greece. Greece is, of course, a travelers destination with lots to see and an incredible amount of places to visit, so you will have to accept the fact that you won't be able to do it all. For us, since we spent a few days in Athens last summer, our goal was to get on an island, see another city and spend some more time in Athens. See part 1 about Venice here and part 2 about Croatia here.

We left Croatia from Dubrovnik and flew into Athens. From there, we picked up a rental car and drove an hour into Corinth, that place from the Bible. We opted to stay one night near ancient Corinth instead of modern Corinth and we were definitely glad. Ancient Corinth is fascinating and the museum there is excellent. Well worth the price of admission. There is also a quaint little town right outside ancient Corinth where we had dinner the night before. Probably the best gyro I have ever had and no ATMs in this little village.

From Corinth, we drove about 2 hours through the mountains to Kosta, a little port. The only thing I know about Kosta is there is a parking lot that you can park your car there for multiple days for cheap. Our goal was to get to Spetses, a tiny island and an easy (!) ten minute boat ride from Kosta. No cars except for delivery vehicles are allowed on the island and there are 4 or 5 different beaches there. Lots of places to eat and hotels to stay in. We spent four nights there and it was beautiful. Our goal for these few days was just to sit and relax and our mission was accomplished. We did take a bus 20 minutes around the island one day to go to a different beach and Katie and I rode [electric] bikes back. Deanna and I also went on a horse drawn carriage ride and every meal we had on the island was excellent. We stayed in a hotel right down the street from the port - convenient because of too much luggage - long story.

As we were sitting on the sea wall watching the sunset one night, there was an older lady fishing with a hook on a line and clumps of bread. The first night, I only saw her catch small fish and she had me and a stray cat as the audience. The second night, I saw the real catch - a squid.

Our hotel, family owned and run, was managed by two brothers. As beautiful as the island was, they said it was dismal in the winter. Cold and rainy with no visitors - the same boring people in the nightclubs every night.

Our time in Athens was centered around hanging with the Streetlights team, although we did see the Acropolis Museum, had our good friend Spyri give a little reflection about the apostle Paul on Mars Hill, and a few of us went all the way up to the top of the Acropolis. The Acropolis is a little expensive but definitely worth it. If you go there with students, people aged 18 and under are free. Like I referred to in this post, 4 Ember students joined us for our time in Athens at the end of this little family excursion. And this excursion, man, this was one for the books.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Travel Notes - Croatia

To celebrate our younger daughter finishing high school and because our kids are going to be scattered around the world in a few months, we decided to spend 3 weeks as a family traveling through the Balkans.

Here are some details about our drive down the coast of Croatia. Stunningly beautiful, if you get the chance to visit, take advantage of it. See part 1 about Venice here.

We picked up a rental car in Umag after taking a train from Venice to Trieste and then a shuttle from there through Slovenia into Croatia. It would have been far easier to take a ferry directly from Venice to Croatia, but I'm not a big boat person. Also, renting a car through more than one country was prohibitively expensive. I've had good luck with Sixt rentals in a few places in Europe. Umag is a cool little beach town.

We spent one night in Pula, where we hiked up to some ruins and saw the Roman amphitheater. No tour, just a walk around. We then drove to Zadar and spent two nights there. You can drive from Pula to Zadar via the highway or on a little road that hugs the coastline - do the latter. It's about a 4 hour drive with stunning views of mountains and beaches and lots of places to stop for a break and food. Also lots of places to stop to jump in the ocean. June in Croatia is nice and hot so the ocean is perfectly cold.

Our Airbnb in Zadar was a bit outside of the old city so we didn't see much of Zadar. Instead, we planned it so that we could take most of a day to see the Plitvička Jezera National Park which was pretty incredible. Very worth the beautiful drive through the Croatian countryside. There are a few circuit hikes with some combination of lake crossings via boats you can choose from in Plitvička so do a little bit of planning before you get there. There are a few restaurants in the park so you can grab lunch and coffee there. The water falls are incredible but you can't swim in them although you can at the Krka National Park though but we didn't make it there.

After Zadar, we spent one night in Sibenik which also turned out to be a favorite. Sibenik is an old stone city on the beach that's been inhabited since around 1066. The King Kreshmir Heritage hotel is an amazing property. The property is brand new with an incredible staff and each room has a toilet/bidet combination. No cars in the old city of Sibenik so we had to hoof our luggage up lots of stairs. This was a common theme for us though this whole trip - it's a long story. Sibenik also has a quaint aquarium that takes about an hour to go through.

We got some recommendations for our trip from Paula, a Croatian friend of one of our kids and although we couldn't do everything on the list, the ones we did were awesome. One of the best tips was dinner at Baćulov dvor, a historic farmhouse where the owners give you a tour of the property and treat you to a traditional Croatian dinner. Really incredible experience including trying to find it, seeing houses that are centuries old and the great food. Paula arranged this for us - she's an up and coming travel professional so ping if interested.

Next was two nights in Trogir, another car-less, old stone European city. Trogir has 2300 years of continuous urban tradition and is busy with tourism. During our stay here, Deanna and I took a boat [boat count is 7 in 8 days at this point] to Split for an afternoon while our kids went to a local beach. We stayed in an apartment in a guest house in the center of the city - sort of like a budget hotel - and our host was named Diyanna.

Split was packed with tourists but worth it and one of our best decisions was taking the boat instead of driving. It is a large city so you might not want to deal with the traffic. Seeing the remnants of Diocletian's Palace is definitely worth it, especially the basement - pay the roughly $7 to get in. It will give you a nice break from the heat too.

Our final city was Dubrovnik and it was just as beautiful. We instead should have spent more time here as well. A huge walled city with lots inside and just as much outside the walls. We had a good amount of trouble finding our Airbnb here, it was just off one of the main roads but to actually get to it, we had to weave through a neighborhood as well as squeeze the rental car down a walled road with our mirrors in. Spend a whole day here if you can. The Dubrovnik airport is 20 minutes outside of the city and we flew from here to Athens.

Croatia is unbelievably beautiful - really stunning. It reminded me a lot of Iceland - that touch of wild with water, islands, mountains and rock, all tumbled close together. Granted, we didn't make it very inland in Croatia and all of the places we went were tourist attractions. But what we saw was fantastic and I would easily go back. The people were overly hospitable, there was lots of history we didn't even know about and so many old European cities. And believe it or not, we've never seen an episode of Game of Thrones but we saw a lot of the sights.

We definitely could and should have slowed the pace down of this, except there was so much to see. Paula told us in advance that Croatians don't serve coffee to go, instead Croatians choose to sit and enjoy coffee together over conversations. Next time, we get more coffee and slow it down.

Monday, July 08, 2019

WRGY Training Camp

Em is off to training camp for WRGY for 10 days. Proud and excited, go Em!

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Travel Notes - Venice, Italy

To celebrate our younger daughter finishing high school and because our kids are going to be scattered around the world in a few months, we decided to spend 3 weeks as a family traveling through the Balkans.

I believe that parenting requires both quality and quantity time [I picked this idea up from Mark Oestreicher] and this requires that sometimes, you and your kids go on a trip somewhere. And travel is one of the best way people learn important things: navigating the unknown, solving problems, resiliency, and of course, the world is a big place to see.

Below are some travel notes in case you are interested in trying the same thing or visiting these specific places.

+ The Journey
Fly into Venice, Italy.
Take a train from Venice, Italy to Trieste, Italy.
Take a shuttle from Trieste, Italy to Umag, Croatia.
Pick up a rental car in Umag, Croatia. Renting a car for driving in more than one country was very expensive compared to just staying in the same country and I'm not much of a boat person, which is why we did the train and shuttle. It would have been easier to take a ferry from Venice to Umag.
Drive down the coast of Croatia, stopping along the way, eventually to Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Fly from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Athens, Greece.
Pick up a rental car and drive from Athens, Greece to Corinth.
Drive from Corinth to Spetses.
Spend a few days in Spetses.
Drive back to Athens.
Spend a few days with youth and community leadership dev org in Athens, Greece.

Venice is one of those bucket list cities, you really must see it. But it was very, very crowded - there were times where the smaller, tighter streets were jam packed with people. We stayed in an Airbnb right in the middle of the city and loved being able to do that. We also went to Murano for an afternoon. We were fortunate enough to have an old friend who lives in Venice and just started a lifestyle and travel curation service so she gave us great tips and advice. Like connecting us with a great gondolier - a gondola ride is a must.

Skip going in San Marco Basillica. Going in the Bell Tower is worth it when not crowded but you might want to try going to the roof of T Fondaco dei Tedeschi instead. Lots of places to eat cheap so take advantage of that and cicchetti is their version of small plates. Some of the places in San Marco Square that have live musicians charge you money for that, so do it only if you really want to. You can get to Venice on a boat directly from the Venice airport. There are tons of fresh food markets right near the Rialto Bridge but go in there in the morning. Spend an afternoon just wandering around, getting lost. If you have more time, take a vaperetto, which is the public waterbus, ride to Murano and watch the glass blowing demonstration in Ex Chiesa Santa Chiara. There is nothing like a gondola ride in Venice. Mestre is a neighborhood on the Venice mainland is starting to open up lots of hostels and hotels and the Venezia Mestre train station is right there. Join Genius Card Lifestyle, run by one of my local friends, for some local discounts.

One morning, I was walking behind this delivery man. His cart looks like an expanded hand truck, a bit wider with two extra smaller wheels by extension off the front. He will use those smaller wheels to help get over the many steps in this city - all those lovely bridges have steps. It made me realize that for all the beauty and novelty, transporting stuff in this city is difficult. Stuff like my luggage. Or if you run a retail store or a cafe, materials to run your business, which must come via boat and then to a delivery man and his cart like the one I was following. Our friends told us most restaurants get their deliveries in the middle of the night when the streets and waterways are clear of tourists. Some of us are aware of some of the logistical challenges in the developing world and this is a similar example - very expensive and laborious transportation costs.