As a general rule, we avoid political, sensitive, and potentially divisive subjects in this blog. We write about our travels, our kids, and life in the Foreign Service while steering clear of the polemics of local politics and the issues we work on overseas. Despite spending some of our Foreign Service careers in Washington, we also try to ignore Washington intrigue and rarely discuss American politics. That said, it would be intellectually dishonest to continue posting about our goings-on without writing about the ongoing government shutdown, which is now in its 24th day and has come to be a prominent feature of our careers and our lives.
Posts tagged ‘history’
One wonders what the United States would look like now if the first colonists had landed on the shores of California instead of at Jamestown and Plymouth Bay. Would the lands comprising California’s nine national parks have survived in their pristine state if colonization and the War of Independence had played out on the West Coast? Would America’s eastern shore have been spared some of the ravages of industrialization?
The tendency when one is serving overseas is to use each posting as a springboard to explore the region, to travel around the continent one calls home for a few years. In Africa, this strategy hits two snags. First, the continent is immense. Second, with the exception of a handful of hubs, intercontinental flights are unreliable and expensive. Serving in eastern Africa, for example, South Africa was accessible but the countries of the Maghreb not at all.
The first thought that struck D on arrival in Prague was that the city was overrun by Russian-speakers. The Armenian taxi driver who picked D up from the airport and could barely string three English words together; the management company for the apartment D had hastily booked on hotels.com; the students and old ladies exchanging news on the street corners; even excluding the massive Russian tour groups, D heard about as much Russian during his first couple of hours in Prague as he had in Minsk.
D saw very little of the USSR during the ten years he lived in Moscow. Most people didn’t travel much around the Soviet Union. D vaguely recalls a trip to the Black Sea and a visit to St. Petersburg (then Leningrad). Thanks to his work, D now has set foot in five of the former Soviet Republics in the last few years: Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, and most recently Belarus and Lithuania*.
It seems only natural that, having met on the backpacker circuit in Ecuador, we would spend our life together indulging our joint passion for globetrotting. Although we have now been to 31 countries together (not counting the ones we have both visited, but separately), we have also traveled individually at times – S with her parents when D was unable to get away from work, D on various work trips to several countries well off the typical tourist circuit. This has enabled us to keep up a friendly, although admittedly one-sided, competition (D keeps meticulous lists; S has lost track of the number of countries she has visited).
Sprawling across parts of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, not only is Yellowstone America’s oldest National Park, but it is also the only one in the continental United States whose establishment predates that of the states where it is located. Yellowstone’s National Park status dates back to 1872. Montana wasn’t admitted into the Union until 1889, and Idaho and Wyoming the year after.
Roughly four centuries before bitcoin captivated the public’s imagination, a similarly unlikely commodity fueled the world’s first recorded speculative bubble. At the height of the Dutch Republic’s tulip mania, a single bulb of some tulip varieties sold for more than ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. The bubble burst in 1637, but the Dutch obsession with tulips persists to a lesser extent to this day, as we learned during our brief stay in The Hague. We missed National Tulip Day, but even better — our visit coincided with the heart of the tulip season.
The Ardennes Forrest covers a sizable portion of southeastern Belgium, spills over into neighboring Luxembourg, and extends into parts of Germany and France. Castles and other medieval ruins dot the landscape, extensive networks of subterranean caverns lie hidden in the Ardennes mountains, and Trappist monks continue to follow centuries-old recipes to brew perfect beer and make sumptuous cheese in abbeys scattered throughout this rugged corner of Europe. In other words, we expected to find a little slice of heaven and, despite our unpleasant reception in Dinant, the Ardennes did not disappoint.