Monday, June 13, 2011

Only a Week?!

It does not seem as though a week has gone by already - serious, where does the time go?!

During the week we decided to go the our favorite restaurant in Aliaga - the one on the hill I mentioned upon first arriving. You would think by now we would write it down and learn how to say it but nope.  We went twice this past week just because the food is so yum.  My favorite part is the salad because the different types of olive oils and vinegars as a dressing then topped with cheese and olives!  I think Turkey has officially changed my outlook on olives, not all but some.  Ramo was our waiter and, of course, was extremely nice - he even took us back to the kitchen area and showed us the proper procedure to make Turkish tea!  Do you recall my mentioning there are a lot of stray cats around here?  We believe they are just tolerated and why wouldn't you, they are just adorable.  We had the cutest kitty by us during the meal but then he proceeded to jump up on my lap, multiple times, which when you are not expecting startles you for a second.  He was cute but a little annoying.
Beth, Ramo and me

Really, how could you resist this cute face?!
Friday night we decided to drive into Izmir, have dinner, and catch a later showing of X-Men:New Class.  We ate dinner at BayDoner and had delicious slices of lamb over cubes of bread covered in a slight tomato sauce with a side of yogurt!!  For dessert we went to a cafe shop for Cay(tea) and Kahve (coffee).  The movie situation was a little interesting and new for me.  Our ticket said 9:30PM for the movie to start.  Upon arriving at 9:25PM to the theater doors closed we thought maybe previews and/or the movie already started; however no one was in the theater.  Doors opened at 9:30PM and we were ushered to our assigned seats.  After 20-25 minutes of pre-movie entertainment of commercials and previews the movie began.  Alright, up to this point everything seems fairly normal.  During an action scene of the movie the theater lights started to come on and we hear the announcer speak Turkish.  Only an hour had pasted so I knew the movie could not be that short; turned out this was a 20-25min intermission with commercials and previews as well.  All-in-all, our thought to be 2 hour movie experience turned into almost 3 hours.  We are going to try to catch an earlier show next time or at least not a late show during the week. 

Saturday was our day of relaxation since we did not know whether we would have to work Sunday yet.  That night we drove to a local winery that Beth had spotted on the side of the road while driving to Foca.  As expected the food and wine was good.  As the evening progressed the mosquito's worsened so we did not stay too long into the evening.

 Turns out the catalyst loading contractor would not be ready until the beginning of the week so we decided to take Sunday and go on a boat tour of the islands around Foca - including the Siren Rocks as in the Odyssey.  The tour lasted 6 hours and we cruised around to various locations to swim in the Mediterranean sea.  We anchored for lunch and was served fresh fish the captain caught and prepared himself plus a local beer, extremely nice meal.  The boat only had 8 people aboard but more than enough areas to spread out if you wanted to rest.
Siren Rocks

In case you do not remember your Odyssey literature, Odysseus is supposed to pass by this area on his journey.  He went to a prophet who said you must not listen to the sound of the Sirens.  Any ship that has listened has crashed upon the rocks.  Odysseus returned to his ship and told his men to put wax in their ears to avoid hearing the Sirens singing.  He, however, was curious and wanted to hear the beautiful singing so he told his men to tie him up and not let him free as they pass.  The men held him tight as he struggled to get free to follow the sound of the beautiful singing of the Sirens.  The ship pass the Siren Rocks safely.

Beth avoiding the singing of the Sirens
Me leaning in to hear the Sirens sing.

                      More pictures of the Foca Boat Tour are on my Picasa page if you click HERE.

Monday, June 6, 2011

First Weekend in Turkey

Smoked Turkey, apples & cheese - a type of Toast
Beth and I packed a lot of activity into two days!  On Saturday we drove to go see the ancient Greek/Roman ruins of Ephesus or Efes in Turkish, which is near the present day town of Selçuk.  For lunch we ate at this Mom and Pop type cafe, St. John's Cafe, which we gravitated towards out of Beth's handy Lonely Planet book.  It was delicious and highly recommend.  They noticed Beth looking at the Lonely Planet book and actually asked if we would write a review on the cafe in addition let the authors know they had some information in the book that was incorrect.  Pretty cool!

Lone column from Temple of Artemis with Stork's nest on top
 Afterwards, we stopped at one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - Temple of Artemis.  There is no temple there anymore but a lonely column, which was once accompanied by 126 others.  Typically the goddess Artemis is worshiped as the goddess of hunt but in ancient Ephesus they instead looked upon her as the goddess of fertility.  They say a stork's nest can usually be seen at the top of the existing column.

Ephesus in the later afternoon
At Ephesus, we were free to wonder about the ruins area.  It was very cool to be that up close and personal with some of the artifacts.  Since so much has been unearthed there are random bits of columns places along the pathways.  My friend Kathy, who has previous been, pointed out that she was surprised at how unprotected these ruins are from tourists compared to others - such as Italy or Greece.  That thought did not even come into my mind but probably should have seeming that I was climbing all over the place :-)  We went later in the day since we had to go into work that morning but it worked out for the better having less people there and the temperature slightly cooler.  An extravagant wedding was being set up while we were walking around - it would be an incredible place to get married. Beth and I were planning to hide out and crash the wedding but opted not since we were not dressed appropriately - next time!
Breathtaking Foca

Sunday afternoon was a day for relaxing.  About 40 kilometers away is the town of Foça, Turkey.  It is a smaller town that is known for the fish caught by the local fishermen.  The views going to and from Foça were incredible.  I did not think the water was going to be that crystal clear and blue!!  We found a public beach area but went a little further where not as many people were located.  The water was a little chilly to me, not to Beth, but once I was in and swimming around I warmed up a bit.  There were many sea urchins on the rocks so we wore our sandals in the water to avoid accidentally stepping on one!  To dry off, we laid out on the wooden docks basking in the warm sunlight.  This area would definitely be one where you could easily fall asleep in the sun and burn because the breezes are so cool that you do not realize the sun is beating down on you!  No burn for me - just lightly sun kissed :-)
Drying off on the docks

 More pictures of Ephesus and Foça can be found on my Picasa page if you click HERE.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Joys of the Job - Now in Izmir, Turkey

I have seen people return to the office from an assignment to turn around that day or the next to travel to their next assignment.  Luckily, thus far in my road career, I have been fairly lucky where I have had a minimum of a week between assignments...until this past Friday!  I had Memorial weekend planned out plus plans the following weekend; however, on the first half work day Friday of the summer, I received an email stating I was assigned to Turkey at the last minute to assist another UOPer (which happens to be my friend Beth).  Beth already had a plane ticket to fly out the next evening - which I was able to book the same flight path.  It turned into a 24 hour hurray up to run all errands you put off and pack day.  It's the name of the game with this job and I am definitely not complaining - but I am bummed I am missing what was planned!

Pardon the mess - Guest House room
The assignment is located in a smaller town outside of Izmir, Turkey called Aliağa.  I believe I pronounce the town close enough to correct as 'a-li-ah', because when you have a ' ğ ' in Turkish it is essentially silent in the word.  The town is very pretty, clean and the weather is gorgeous.  We arrived Sunday afternoon and made our way to refinery guest housing in Aliağa.  This is my first time staying in refinery housing and I find it pretty decent.  The area is quiet, surrounded by many trees; the rooms themselves have a larger mini fridge, sitting area, large closet with drawers, large open space, a decent size deck with good view and a shower with incredible water pressure and hot water!

View from my deck of my room - already have wine to sit outside and enjoy after work!

Beth enjoying our first meal in Turkey at the Guest House.
 The first night after Beth and I already ate dinner at the small restaurant in the guest house, which only had one option it was that small, Mehmet from the refinery came to greet us unexpectedly.  He took us to dinner at the restaurant at the top of a hill which overlooked the water, city center and the refinery in the distance.  It was beautiful - the camera shot with my point and shoot just does not do it justice.  He ordered lots of food which probably only a third was consumed.  We had calamari, Turkish meatballs, salad and of course local beer!  Needless to say, Beth and I were overly stuffed but it was delicious!  It was quite chilly being being night but the waiters came out with shawls for those who wanted one - apparently this is quite typical here.
View at dusk from the restaurant on the hill our first night.

We have our own rental car which is nice so we can explore on our own a little easier.  Beth and I went into town to walk around, grab dinner and pick up a few snacks at the local grocery store.  City center has both a slight European and Asian feel to me.  Many people were walking around or sitting in front of stores conversing, eating or observing, although we noticed it was mostly men.  Beth and I sat down at a little grill stand to have some food.  We were not sure how it operated and of course our Turkish is slim to none, but closer to the none, therefore we made an open/close motion with the hands saying "menu" in English.  The young man at the grill looked at us, turned around and grabbed a half loaf of French bread that was sliced down the middle.  He made the same open/close menu motion with the bread as we did - so we smiled and said "Yes, two please." 
Many stray cats but the look reasonably healthy compared to stray dogs we have seen elsewhere.
It has not even been a week yet and so much has happened.  We have a variety of places on our list to try to visit and I will do my best to update you in the meantime!

Link to more pictures HERE

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Indonesia Update

I've been in Balikpapan, Indonesia for 3 weeks now.  Please forgive for the absence of photos after stating I would have them posted shortly after my last entry.  The Internet here at the hotel has been extremely crappy - I would go for 24-48 hours without access.  Whatever they have done recently seems to have done the trick, fingers crossed!

We spent 10 days doing the loading of the catalyst working 10-12 hour days - it was exhausting.  Since most of the population is Muslim they take longer breaks during the day to provide those who need to pray enough time to eat as well.  I end up getting sometimes a 2 hour lunch and dinner break but after sweating all day I rather just power through.  This coming home and getting relaxed then having to put the nasty nomex on to head back to work was not enjoyable.  Let me just state that the 2 hour lunch and dinner break is not included when I say I worked 10-12 hour days...Unit to be started up shortly!

Yan, my coworker and Ida, hotel sales manager - this is a view from the refinery housing area.

Streets of Balikpapan - looks calm but they really aren't!
 Since we have been working so much there has not been enough time to really see Balikpapan.  I have gone out to dinner with my co-worker Yan as well as some of the refinery guys to taste local dishes.  I never ask what the meat is and if the texture is funny, I just swallow without chewing!  So far the food is delicious but some items are a bit spicy.  I have my first chief, Afshin, to thank in helping increase my spice level tolerance by putting spicy sauce into my food in Trinidad :-)  While at work, this is my first time to experience eating snacks right by the reactors (in addition to the lunch and dinner we get provided). Sometimes it's boiled corn on the cob, others is this fried egg thing and another one time we had this green crepe that had coconut and brown sugar in the middle - just up my alley.  They do have American fast food here - more than any place I have been yet that hasn't been a major city.  So far I have seen: A & W, KFC, McDonald's, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and Pizza Hut.  I have yet to eat at any of them.
Karaoke on a work night - Me, Aloq, Yoga & Yesay jamming out!

In China I would have people come up to me and want to take a picture with me but I swear I have been asked more times while inside of the refinery here by the workers to take pictures with me.  It's flattering nonetheless - just funny.  Of course when I say a few words in Indonesian they just laugh because my accent makes their language sound funny :-)
Aloq, Me & Yesay just chilling on the bench during catalyst loading.

Hopefully I will get a little time to explore Indonesia before making the trek back to Chicago in a few weeks...until I have something else interesting to post.  Take care everyone!

See more pictures at my Picasa page HERE.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Yea, yea, yea it's been about two months since I have last posted but I really have not traveled anywhere too exciting.  I did go to Shreveport, LA but again, I reiterate that I did not really travel anywhere too exciting.  Although, I met some nice people while in Shreveport and I was able to try Which Wich sandwich shoppe for the first time...

 I am now in Balikpapan, Indonesia for a new assignment.  The reload and restart of this unit is scheduled for 6 weeks at this point but as y'all have gathered from my past assignments, it could be shorter or longer.   However, this type of assignment I believe is pretty on target.  I had to stay in Jakarta, Indonesia for two days while getting my work permit.  I had high hopes to travel around the city one day but there is so much traffic that after it took me an hour each way to get to the Immigration office and back to the hotel - I decided I didn't want to spend half my day sitting in a taxi.  Driving in Indonesia is exactly the same as in China - a two lane road can occupy 4 lanes of cars with motorbikes weaving in and out of traffic. 

I arrived to the hotel I am staying at in Balikpapan which is not bad - the room actually has a small apartment style fridge, microwave and large sink which is more than I can say for some of the rooms I have stayed at in Chicago!  The rooms are quite large which makes long term living more bearable - bed is hard as a rock but I have dealt with that before.  Immediately when I got into the tiny elevator after check-in, the smell was STRONG in cleaner smell, similar to pine-sol but worse!  Exiting the elevator you think you are in the clear but you enter the hallway to your room and your nostrils get stung with the smell of dampness and vicks vapor rub...I think I am going to start taking the stairs up to my room! Super glad my room doesn't smell like what I just described. 

When I was researching this area prior to leaving, I had read that Balikpapan suffers from frequent blackouts which can last up to a few hours.  I was not even in the hotel room for 30 minutes and there was a power blip - probably only for a minute - but it really makes me wonder how accurate that statement is now!

Pictures of the area to be posted soon....stay tuned :-)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Daesan, S. Korea and Atlanta, Georgia

I was able to check off another city - Daesan, S. Korea.  It's a smaller town about 2 hours south of Seoul on the coast.  It's the first city that did not have a McDonalds or KFC around.  I did experience the local cuisine and it was delicious!  Not exactly sure what the place was actually called but I heard it referred to as the Seafood place.  You ordered a basket of scallops, which were still alive, and cooked them at a coal grill at your table - extremely fresh!
Tom cooking the scallops.

A little shell that you had to suck the meat out of - it was very salty.
L to R: Tom, me, Mike, Ellen, Nataylia, and Luis at a typical Korean restaurant.
 I spent a week in Korea and then Tom got released so we headed back to the States to Atlanta - avoiding the nasty snow storm that was occurring up North.  I had been to Atlanta before but did not really experience to true taste.  I definitely recommend everyone to go to the Coca-Cola museum - it's very cool.  You can see the bottling process, see old advertisements, watch a 4D movie (cheesy but still cool) and taste test Coke products from around the world!
Taste room to try various Coke Products

 I went to my first NBA game - Atlanta Hawks versus LA Clippers featuring Blake Griffin.  It was a bleak rainy night so we assumed that not many people would show up - boy we were wrong.  It was definitely a good game.  Al Horford hit two free throws with 0.6 of a second left and the Hawks won, 101-100.  The following week, we went to another Hawk's game.  After the game, at the Philips arena, GA State took on GA Tech in the intramural basketball game, rivals I guess.  While they were warming up a few of the Hawks players came out - didn't get any good pics however.  The player, who happen to score the winning shot, from the other team also came out and walked right by us to get to the other side of the stadium.  He has this HUGE diamond embedded watch and ring - it looks ridiculous in magazines and even more so in person!!
Tom & I - prior to game starting
 I definitely ate well while down in the South - lots of sweet tea and greasy goodness.  Carver's is a small old shop on a corner in Atlanta but still very well known.  There was a sign at checkout saying the Food Network channel would be there a few days later - I should watch Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives to see if I see Carvers :)  I think I went into a food coma after that meal - which probably could last me three meals.
Oh The goodness!

 My first beer brewery tour was at the Sweet Water brewing company in downtown Atlanta.  It's a small brewery, only one warehouse, but the beer is yum.  I recommend trying Sweet Water Blue - it has a hint of blueberry taste.  The tour lasted all of 15 minutes but the real fun came in the tasting.  You get a pint glass and 6 tickets which allows you to try up to 6 beers if you like!!!

Hadn't seen my Aunt since I went on the road over a year ago.  Luckily we were able to set something up to split the driving time and meet halfway.  Tom wanted to check Applebees off his list of places to eat at while home - so we ate there and went bowling afterward.  My goal is always to try to break 100 which I did on my 2nd game.  Didn't win but still had a blast!  
Aunt Deed and me
The weather got a little nicer each day I was in Atlanta.  I was able to enjoy not wearing a winter jacket while throwing a football and Frisbee around in shorts and a t-shirt.  It was glorious.  I made the mistake of wearing my watch which I later realized had somehow been torn off my wrist.  Tom, Tim and I did a three person search on the hill and Tim actually found my brown watch in the brown grass.  It's been more difficult searching for a replacement wristband than it was finding that actual watch - who knew.

Tom and I at Piedmont Park.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Vacation Time After 1 Yr on the Road

My vacation continued after I returned from Tokyo.  I went to Wisconsin to visit the parents - well actually more so to see my cat, Bode.  My parents have been able to visit me on my assignments so it's not as though I hadn't seen them in a year - still love y'all though :)  Tax is substantially cheaper in WI/MN than Chicago so I wanted to run a few errands before jetting down to see my sister.
After a visit with the folks, I flew down to Texas to meet up with my friend Kyle, whom I have known since 2nd grade.  Of course, I had to go to Sonic while down south.  If you know Sonic you'll understand - he took me to the only one he and I know to be a sit inside and drive through but no drive up. That evening we went to a really nice wine shop where you could taste wine - I had red and he had port, yum!  Next was a sports bar which was really neat but by this time I could hardly keep my eyes open because I had been going on 3-4 hours of sleep a night for the past few days.  I was in bed by 10pm - glorious!
Oh it tasted so good!
Me and Kyle at the Wine Shop.
The next day I drove up to my sister's in Oklahoma.  I was greeted with a warm welcome from my niece and shy one from my nephew.  He was only 10 days old when I last saw him but it did not take him long to warm up to me!  It was a nice relaxing visit with Ryan, Tina and the kids.  Again, I ended up falling asleep at 8pm the night I arrived because I was so exhausted and I had a little bit of a cold.  They took me to a nice hole in the wall place on the reserve to have delicious Longhorn burgers.  I played Candyland and Pretty Pretty Princess for hours with my niece.  My sister was super excited when we went shopping together and she had no kids - we had fun in the dressing room together making fun of the clothes that didn't fit us properly.  I ended up getting the same sweater as her and we both picked up sunglasses - the same kind no less.  My sister was nice enough to set up an appointment to get my hair done with her hair dresser - it was definitely in need of a cut/color; now we shall see how long it will be until I am able to get it cut again :)
Pretty Pretty Princess - it's like I was in Japan again :-)
My sister, Tina, and I after my hair was done.

More pictures can be found at my Picasa page if you click HERE.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Katie Invades Tokyo

At the Base of the Tokyo Tower
Alright, well I didn't really invade Tokyo rather I leisurely toured by myself and with my friend/co-worker Suzuki, who is Japanese.  I have probably mentioned this before but I love this job because of all the connections world wide you make.  I was able to have a personal tour guide one day of Tokyo - thanks Suzuki!  He took me to the Tokyo Tower; the day was fairly clear but not clear enough to see Mt. Fuji from the tower which would have been cool.  I wanted to find the look-down window they advertised in the brochure and....
We thought this was the look down window....a little disappointed

But then we found the one advertised...happier

I am a HUGE sushi lover and the one thing I really wanted to do above anything else was eat Sushi while in Tokyo.  Suzuki was planning to take me to this place that was very popular but had great quality sushi.  It was definitely popular - a line out the door and curved around the side of the building.  Needless to say, I was excited to have sushi but was not willing to wait in that time was precious and I wouldn't be able to tell a difference anyways.  We walked through the ever popular Shinjuku area and found a yummy Sushi place that you stood while eating.

Shinjuku Area - I made sure to cross diagonally in the crosswalk cause it's legal!
After lunch, he took me to a coffee shop that is the most unique shop I have been at.  Apparently they are gaining popularity where Japanese girls can go and practice English while having afternoon tea.  There were butlers - with penguin flaps on their jackets, rules where we could use our camera but don't capture the butlers.  We both agreed that this shop would be perfect to little girls because they treat you 'like' a princess....I felt more awkward at time - I don't need a butler to escort me to and from the bathroom....go about your business thanks.  The best part was when you rang a bell for the butler, they would stop what they were doing and say "Yes My Princess" loudly...I laughed so hard every time!  Although the tea they had there was fabulous and treats were delicious!

Yes, Yes I am wearing a Tiara
After being completely full from sushi, tea and treats, we walked for a few hours around Tokyo.  We visited the Meji Shrine, although I didn't go to far inside because it would take forever with the crowds of people, took me to a market place that also were full of people so I just looked...didn't have any space to take stuff back anyways.  The next day I walked for hours around the Imperial grounds and gardens.  I could tell that in the Spring time it would be beautiful however it was Winter and everything was brown.  
I liked the Old to New perspective!

My favorite spot in the gardens.
Luckily, Suzuki was able to meet up for dinner again as well as Junpei, another co-worker I had yet to meet who is Japanese.  We went to a traditional Japanese restaurant and I of course had traditional Japan beer with dinner.  I miss the food from Japan!  
Me, Suzuki, Junpei

Shinjuku at night
The short time I spent in Tokyo makes me want to go back and explore more of Japan, I loved it!  More pictures can be found HERE.

Christmas in China and Bringing in the New Year in Seoul, S. Korea

We were RELEASED = China job completed.  No one thought a release would happen in time for Christmas though.  Many people were able to make it back to see families.  Me, on the other hand, well I decided to take advantage of being on the other side of the world to see Seoul and Tokyo before heading back to the States.  I knew I would be able to see my family when I got back - love y'all; thanks for understanding :-) 

Christmas Day was spent in China.  Tom and I had a quite relaxing evening in the lounge at the hotel drinking wine, eating yummy h'ordeuvres and desserts while watching CSI: Las Vegas, and movies Death Race and Four Christmases on TV.

I had never been to S. Korea so I was super excited to see Seoul for New Years.  However, we ended up staying up until 4am each night causing a early afternoon wake up...not the best for seeing the sights but we were still able to enjoy some.  The weather there definitely prepared me for the cold blast I was expecting back home.  The 1988 summer Olympics were held in Seoul and I wanted to see the Olympic park.  Being freezing cold and windy to me who did not have winter clothes, we didn't end up walking around the park but warming up in the free museum - which was really neat and modern however we did find many mis-spellings in the English translations....even mis-spelled Beijing as Beijinf.
The Flame's Still Lite
In front of the Entrance to Olympic Park
In trying to find the Seoul Tower cable car entrance we came across this area that appeared to be an old traditional Korean village complete with an ice sculpture. It was really neat to look at and crawl around.... 
Our New Years was spent bar hopping all night in the area of Itaewon, the foreigners street.  It didn't really feel like I was in a foreign country because everywhere we went was not really Korean.  It was fun and I made sure to eat a late night burger at Uncle Kim's street food!!  Dominic and Luis, who have already been there for a few weeks on assignment, met up with Tom and me in Seoul for new years.
Luis, Dominic, Me, Tom
More pictures of my time in S. Korea can be found on my Picasa page,  HERE.