March 15, 2006

Back again, Back again

I made it to Kuwait, and will soon be back up in Baghdad. I have been gone for the past two and a half weeks, enjoying one of the best vacations I've ever had.

I went to Ukraine for a week, to meet up with friends and do some snowboarding in the Carpathian Mountains. And if that wasn't enough, I also went to Romania for a week of travels through Transylvania, including some wicked snowboarding in the mountains.

I've got lots of pictures to post, but right now I need to focus on getting my lucky butt back to Baghdad.

I'll update soon, once I've settled...

Posted by Dan at 12:02 AM | Comments (4)

March 17, 2006

EASTERN EUROPE VACATION

I'm back in Baghdad. Seems like I say that a lot.

I got here a few days ago, and it's like I never left. But I do have these vivid memories of snowboarding in the mountains and driving through old, rustic cities. Was it all a dream?

Enough of the dramatic - that's not really my thing. This is just a journal. But I did have a vacation in Eastern Europe.

This was my second trip to the region. I returned to Ukraine, to visit friends and do some snowboarding in the Carpathian Mountains. But I also visited Romania for the first time, and fell in love with the country.

Since I have so many pictures, I will have to break this into several entries, starting with my journey out of Iraq...

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Starting in the International Zone (IZ), the first to do is get to Baghdad Airport. That either means driving across town, or catching a helicopter out of the IZ. This time, it's a ride in the form of an armored bus, called the Rhino.

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Guns 'n Guitars. Not quite a rock group, but a very interesting photo. We are loading our bags onto a cargo truck, before climbing into the Rhinos. Those blue helmets are the obvious sign of the United Nations, although I really don't know what they do out here. And barely visible in the background is the defunct Believer's Palace. Click here, to read about my visit inside.

For the first time in many many months, the Rhino was cancelled. Just to make this clear, this isn't normal. The Rhino was designed for Iraq, so it would have to be something extremely dangerous to cancel the run. My unclassified guess is there were simply too many IEDs on the road, and EOD (Emergency Ordnance Disposal, aka the bomb squad) couldn't remove them all in time.

So what did that mean for me? Luckily, I found a security team going to the airport in a few hours. Always lucky... :)

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So I made it to Kuwait, and had a day to meet up with Rich, (a co-worker down there). I also met up with his wife, Ayse, and she joined us for the day. We went out to the malls to get some food and decompress a little. It's nice to just relax and not really do anything for a change.

The photo is of Al Kout Mall, a new dig in Fahaheel.

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Fantastic weather. Kuwait is beautiful in the early parts of the year, but it won't last...

Unfortunately, I have to stop here. I can't just work on the blog all day! I've got work to do. :)

But I will update more soon, so please check back in a few. Ciao!

Dan

Posted by Dan at 09:47 PM | Comments (1)

March 21, 2006

UKRAiNE WiNTER

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Being my usual self (translation: nerd), I made a map showing how many damn flights it took to make my vacation happen. Not counting the helo flight from Baghdad Airport (BIAP) to the International Zone (IZ), I traveled by plane 11 times in all. That's an awful lot.

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(As you can see, I'm all about the maps!) This map shows the two destinations that made up my journey: Ukraine and Romania.

The following article covers the first half of my vacation, Ukraine. I will post the second half sometime this week.

FIRST PART: KIEV

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February, I flew into Kiev and met up with my friends, Vitaliy, Anya, and Katya. My goal was to travel west, into the Carpathian Mountains, to experience real Ukrainian Winter, and to do a little snowboarding.

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We boarded a Yakovlev Yak-42 (scary-sounding name, eh?), and flew to L'viv, a large city in the west. Ukraine, like many Eastern-European countries, was conquered by many different empires over the centuries. As a result, towns like L'viv have a familiar Prussian/Austro-Hungarian/German feel.

By the way, the crowd in this photo is waiting for Vitaliy Klitschko to step off the plane. Vitaly is the 2004 World Boxing Council Champion. His younger brother, Wladimir, was one of the boxers in the movie Ocean's Eleven.

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This small mansion in L'viv belonged to a wealthy Polish Lord, though I cannot remember the name or history. It is now a gallery. An interesting thing about L'viv: A Pope from the 17th century gave the city the nickname "Semper Fidelis" - coincidently, the same motto of the United States Marine Corps. It is Latin for "Always Faithful."

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In March, the Ukraine Government will hold parliamentary elections, so the streets are filled with flags and political advertisements. Notice the multi-colored booths and orange flags on the side of the street.

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After a night in Dnister Hotel, we took a taxi south, to the base of the Carpathian Mountains. Our target was a hotel in the small mountain town of Slavsk'.

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We needed to rent some skis and snowboards, so we stopped by the local ski shop...Yeah, that little trailer is it! Actually, we did find a nicer one, more like something you'd find in Austria or America. They had everything you would need to rent (it costs about $10 to rent a snowboard).

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By the way, our taxi to the ski shop was this green thing. Reminds me of the van from Scooby Doo!

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We got our gear and made it up to the mountains, taking the chairlift to the top. Fortunately for me, a storm blew in, covering the Carpathians in more than 18 inches of soft, fluffy, powder. Mmmmmmm. :)

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The "DAN CAM"

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After a good day's riding, we cruised back down to the lodge, and I made a friend.

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My other friends out here: Anya, Vitalik, and Katya. They have never skied or snowboarded before, and the weather was much worse the next day, so we drove into town and went bowling. They have never done this either, and they loved it. I guess we take little things like this for granted in the US.

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The sign says "Bowling" in perfect phonetic translation.

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Even with the bar in the background distracting me, I managed to roll a few good frames.

Now back to the mountains...

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The next day, the storm passed and the sun was out. What perfect weather!

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And what a beautiful view.

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At the top of the lift were all these old ladies, selling chicken kebab and vodka. They also sold hot wine (similar to German Gluehwein).

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Hey, more friends! :)

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I'm goin' for a wheelie.

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Can I do two in a row???

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I guess not.

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I can't get enough of this view.

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And at the bottom of the valley, you can see our hotel.

After a few days of that, it was time to head back to Kiev, so we took a taxi from Slavsk' back up to L'viv.

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This is one of many churches I saw on the way back. It's not that I'm a fanatic about religion, but I love the attention and care put into these buildings. They just look so important. It's the same for synagogues and mosques.

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Yep, this is the Airport.

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This time, we crammed into an Antonov An-24.

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Does this seem strange to you? We normally "clear" the snow from the airfields before using them...right? :) I guess these folks just know how to fly.

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An hour later and we're back in Kiev (still snowing everywhere).

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We had a day to spare, so we paid a visit to the Pecherska Lavra Monastery. I had been here before, about six months ago. Click here, if you want to learn more about the Monastery and the caves. And click here, if you want to see my last trip to Ukraine.

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This was one of the photos from last year. It's really cool to compare photos from different seasons.

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The City Center. This is Maidan Square, also known as Independence Square. One last look around, and soon I would be off to enjoy the second part of my voyage.

I had a great time meeting with friends, doing my usual exploring, and getting some wicked snowboarding in. I will always love Ukraine, and I hope to visit again some day. Who knows?

I still have more photos to share. On top of that, I got to play with some cool toys today in Baghdad, and you'll see that too...in time.

Cheers.

Posted by Dan at 11:44 PM | Comments (5)