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Some Wonderful News!

We just received the best email this morning.  Issac Emoru, the uncle of University of Rochester student Lendsey Achudi, followed up with the head-teacher at St. Mark Kidek Primary School in Western Kenya.  Issac lives nearby the school and promised to stop by after our visit to see the progress that was made with the help of our donations.  If you remember from our previous blog about the schools in Kenya (see blog post from March 17 for information and before photos), Kidek was the school that was made of primarily mud and sticks, where the teachers did not have an office, chairs, or even desks!  Of the three schools we visited, this school was most in need, and we are so happy to see that our efforts had a positive impact on the lives of the teachers and students.  We thought we would share this update with all of you, as many of you helped with your donations!  Thank you again, and we hope you enjoy this update as much as we did!

(Click each photo for larger image)

The Final One

Sunset at Ross Castle- Killarney, Ireland

Calling at: London, Dublin, Galway, Killarney, and Doolin
After our week in Italy, we flew to London to visit Shea’s friend Michelle for a couple of days.  While we were there, we toured her local town and caught a show (Wicked) at a theatre in London. From there we flew to Dublin where we have been staying with our good friends, Ross and Brianna.  Shea has spent a great deal of time in Dublin in the past and wanted to take some time to show Zach a place she considers home. We will spend the last couple weeks of our trip here in Ireland, touring the countryside, hiking the Gap of Dunloe, listening to some great Irish music, and catching up with our Irish friends!

As we near the end of our journey, we have spent some time reflecting on everything that we have learned over the last several months.

From Zach:

There were many things I was hoping to learn, see, and do when setting out on this journey.  We gained a lifetime’s worth of interesting stories and saw half a bucket list worth of amazing sights.  What was much more important was what I learned about myself and my beautiful fiancé, and the growth that we both experienced in the process.  It is not possible to come to one singular conclusion when so much has been learned.  One thing I know for certain is the importance of spending your life with someone who will challenge you, bring adventure into your life, and someone you can manage to get along with living in hostels on five different continents!

The importance of education is also something that has really stood out for me.  The perspective that people have of the culture they live in and the world outside of their own home is limited by how they are educated.  Sometimes people are miseducated about other parts of the world, which I noticed when many people had an incorrect view of the culture I come from.  I also had a limited view of theirs, until I was able to learn from them firsthand.  I could not recommend anything with higher regard than taking the time to learn about another culture with an open mind, because it allows you to better understand people from multiple perspectives. I am so grateful to have had this experience and to be able to live the rest of my life with a new and much more educated view of the world.  As sad as I am to see the end of the road, I am excited to be coming home to plan a wedding and a lifetime with the person who means the world to me.

From Shea:
Zach and I have already been asked “how is the trip going?” and “what is your favorite and least favorite place you visited?” among many other questions.  Never did I imagine that such questions would be so difficult to answer.  Obviously the answer to the first question would be “GREAT!”…but what can I say after that?  I can’t even begin to explain all that I have learned about the world, myself, and my fiancé in only a few, well-organized sentences!  I feel so grateful to have seen some of the most beautiful places in the world and have met some of the most interesting people along the way…but how do I articulate my experiences and how I’ve interpreted them?  I think that the most important thing, however, is that my eyes have been opened to new cultures, I have become more globally educated, and am able to see the world from a whole new perspective.

I am excited to return home and begin a new career using the knowledge I have gained on this trip, as well as continuing to practice a lifestyle of simplicity that I have adapted through our travels.  A special thank you to Zach for his strength, laughter, comfort, and understanding during our journey.  I can’t imagine traveling around the world with anyone else and am so thankful that we have created some unbelievable memories that will last us a lifetime!

Thank you all for following our journey, supporting our fundraising efforts, and caring about our well being and safety over the last few months.  Your comments and emails have meant a lot to us, inspiring us to keep writing about what we have learned in each place we visited.  We look forward to seeing you soon!

The Gap of Dunloe-Killarney, Ireland

Cheers to the future and all the exciting events to come!

The Expected and Unexpected

Every time we decided to travel to a less popular tourist destination, our experiences turned out to be some of our favorite.  This happened again…in a big way.  Instead of going to Venice as we had planned, we decided to spend an extra two days in Verona. However, our hostel in Verona was unavailable over the weekend, so we had to look for alternative accommodation options for two more nights. The options in the city of Verona were either too expensive or unappealing, so we found a small B&B an hour bus ride outside of the city center that looked perfect.  Because of our other positive experiences outside popular cities, we thought “why not?!” and booked it. We didn’t know anything about the area, except that it was located only 2km away from Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake.

After we arrived at the designated bus stop, we walked 300 meters up a very small but steep road that took us directly to Violetta B&B.  The views from the top of the hill were incredible, as the B&B overlooked several vineyards, mountains, and Lake Garda.  Even further in the distance you could see the snow covered Alps, which just added to the already beautiful scenery. The outside of the B&B was also beautiful, and looked exactly like an Italian home in a quaint village in the middle of Tuscany.  Upon arrival, Franco, the owner, welcomed us with a glass of wine and some Italian bread on his balcony.  It seemed that every time we turned around, Franco and his wife were offering us either wine or food, or both!  We were a bit worried at first because neither of them spoke English (and we don’t speak Italian), but somehow they were some of our favorite people to talk to on our trip!  With the few Italian words we know combined with our high school level Spanish and lots of nonverbal communication, we were able to understand each other.

After settling into our room, Franco offered to drive us to a nearby town called Bardolino, next to Lake Garda.  The weather was perfect (80 and sunny!), so we spent the day relaxing by the water and walking around the small lake town.  The next day was not as nice so after a wonderful breakfast at a picnic bench in their backyard, Franco’s wife showed us a nice hiking path by the vineyards.  At the end of our stay at the B&B, Franco was nice enough to drive us 20 minutes to our train station so we didn’t have to take two buses… This was much appreciated!

Our first few days in Italy were spent in Rome, Florence, and Verona where we saw the usual tourist sites and ate way too much pizza, pasta, and gelato!  All of these places did not disappoint, however, our unexpected trip to the Lake Garda region was definitely the highlight of our time in Italy.

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Inside San Pietro Cathedral in Vatican City

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Enjoying the view on Florence from a distance!

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Juliet’s (Romeo and Juliet) balcony in Verona

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We stumbled upon a dance off in the middle of the main square in Verona

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The Arena in Verona. Similar to the Coliseum in Rome except that it is still used for events today.

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A view of Verona

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A better view of Verona

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Lake Garda-outside of Verona

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Walking along the lake

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A view of the Alps in the distance

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Outside of our B&B near Bardolino

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Vineyards by the lake

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Our lovely B&B!

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When in Rome…go see the Coliseum!

6 Ways To Identify a Central European City

Over the last two weeks we have traveled from Bucharest (Romania), to Budapest (Hungary), to Prague (Czech Republic), to Krakow (Poland) and finally Berlin (Germany). Each city was unique in their own way, but shared several similarities as well. Here are 6 ways to identify a Central European city:

Churches: Every city we went to we saw large extravagant churches.  St. Stephens church in Budapest was the most impressive, and took over 50 years to build in the 19th century.

St. Stephens Church in Budapest

Obwarzanki stands: They are cheap, delicious, and everywhere. If a pretzel and a bagel combined into one, it would be this delicious snack.

Rivers: Most major cities in Central Europe (and around the world) are built next to a river. Rivers served as the main source of transportation for trade when these cities were first established. In one instance, two cities built along a river both became so big that they just combined them into one capital city-Buda and Pest.

The Danube River splitting Buda and Pest

A view of Prague

Bakeries: Oh. My. God.  For any fellow carb-o-holics, the bakeries don’t get better than this.  The best time to go is early in the morning when everything is fresh out of the oven and plentiful. And if bread and pastries aren’t your thing, the cakes and tarts are just as incredible. Just ask Zach who almost put his head through the glass window when trying to get a better look at a slice of cheesecake!

 Crazy street artists: Designed to entertain tourists, these street artists seem to get more and more creative everywhere we go. From mimes, to character artists, to a guy who juggles in between green lights in the middle of a busy intersection, we have seen it all.

An awesome band jamming out in the middle of Berlin

Beer, Wine, Meat, and Potatoes:
Yes we know we have these things back home, however, Central Europe really seems to know what they’re doing!  Chicken paprika and pork goulash in Budapest, potato perogies in Krakow, any beer in Berlin, and wine in Budapest were all incredible. On a side note, Hungarian wine is very good and very inexpensive. We were told that the Hungarians know how to make wine but don’t know how to sell it. And for 75 cents a glass, we believe them!

April 19, 2012

This is not a very happy blog post, however, we have been sharing all of our meaningful experiences with you and felt it was important to share this one as well.  Since we left Romania we have been to Hungary, Czech Republic, and Poland. We will update you on what we have been up to in those countries at a later time because we felt this experience deserved its own post.

This year the holocaust remembrance day begins on the evening of April 18 and ends on the the evening of April 19. We decided to travel to Poland so we could visit the Auschwitz concentration camps during this time.  On the 19th, they will hold the annual “March of the Living,” an opportunity for students from around the world to visit these camps and march silently between Auschwitz and Birkenau.  Auschwitz is closed on the 19th for this reason, so we decided to visit on the 18th instead.

It is hard to comprehend the extent of the horrific events that occurred during the holocaust, but seeing the site of many of these events makes it that much more unfathomable.  While touring Auschwitz we learned many details of what life was like as a prisoner and the extent of the crimes committed by the people running the camps.  You may or may not already know this information, but we thought we would share with you what impacted us the most:

1.) Auschwitz is actually the German name for the Polish town,
Oświęcim. Within this town there are three concentration camps, Auschwitz-I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz (no longer existing). Auschwitz I was originally a Polish military barracks site, converted into a small concentration camp with one gas chamber. When this camp became too small, Auschwitz II- Birkenau was established nearby, allowing space for 100,000 prisoners and four gas chambers capable of killing 8,000 people per day.  Auschwitz-Birkenau is MUCH bigger than Auschwitz-I (see photo below)

2.) The town of Auschwitz is located almost exactly in the center of Europe, which makes it easily connected by train to all European cities. Auschwitz is also located between two rivers in a heavily wooded area, which provided a sense of seclusion for the camps.

The blue lines are the rivers and the black and white dotted lines are the railtracks.

3.) The Polish people who lived nearby Auschwitz were forced to leave their homes, and many SS officers and their families moved into those homes.

4.) Out of the estimated 11 million people murdered in the holocaust, 1.1-1.4 million people died in Auschwitz, 90% of those Jewish

There was 14,000 pounds of human hair found in Auschwitz during liberation. It was used to make socks, blankets, etc for German soldiers

5.) As you enter Auschwitz-I there is a gate that says “work liberates” in German. No prisoner was ever released for doing good work.

"Work liberates"

6.) More Hungarian-Jews died in Auschwitz than Polish Jews

7.) 80% of the people brought to Auschwitz-Birkenau were taken directly to the gas chambers.  We were able to tour a gas chamber in Auschwitz-I, but out of respect to those who lost their lives in there, we did not take a photo inside.

Exterior photo of the Auschwitz-I gas chamber

8.) Auschwitz-Birkenau consisted of a women’s camp and a men’s camp, however the men’s camp was 6 times larger. This is because most women and children were taken directly to the gas chamber as they were deemed unfit to work.

9.) We toured the inside of one of the barracks in Auschwitz-Birkenau and surprisingly they had four chimneys, but were rarely given firewood. The roofs were often leaky, which led to extremely cold temperatures in the winter.

People slept 6 to a bunk and sometimes had hay as a mattress

10.) We toured the inside of one of the “bathrooms” (see photo), and learned that prisoners were only able to use the bathroom twice a day for 10-15 seconds each time.

The row of toilets

11.) We toured the basement of one of the buildings in Auschwitz-I, which was used as a torture cell. Prisoners were often taken to “starvation rooms” and left for days to weeks at a time without food.  They would be sentenced for 31 days, but no one ever made it that long.  In other instances they were taken to standing cells where four people stood in a cell about 1 square meter wide all night long, and then had to do labor intensive work all day.

12.) When the Soviets were getting closer to Auschwitz, the Germans forced 60,000 prisoners to walk 60 kilometers to a nearby town, and then take a train to another concentration camp.

13.) Many of the guards in Auschwitz were former German prisoners/criminals themselves.

Walking through the camps makes you realize how real it was, but at the same time, so incomprehensible that something like that could happen only 70 years ago.  We are very thankful for the opportunity to be apart of the holocaust memorial day and will definitely remember this experience forever.

A view of the main gate from inside Auschwitz-Birkenau

This was one of the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Nazis blew up the gas chambers to try to destroy any evidence before the camps were liberated. Notice the barracks of the women's camp in the background

A view of a road in the middle of the men's camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau leading to two gas chambers

The Most Beautiful One

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Santorini has been on Shea’s list of places to visit ever since she saw “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” in high school. The bright blue ocean in contrast with the white homes situated on a rocky cliff seemed like it could be the most beautiful place in the world, and after seeing it in real life, we can both agree that it’s the most beautiful place we have ever been.
Santorini is part of a group of Greek islands called the Cyclades that were formed when a volcano erupted 3600 years ago. The islands used to be one large island before the eruption occurred, which wiped out the earliest settlements in this region. Santorini itself has a beautiful beach coastline on the east side of the island and steep cliffs on the west.

We arrived in Santorini a month before the tourist season, so the island was quiet except for the 13,000 locals who live there year round. We spent our time touring the island via ATV, checking out all the beautiful scenery, unique architecture, wineries, and of course, trying the local cuisine. This time of year is extremely affordable because it’s the off season (but the weather is still beautiful and warm!) so ATV and car rental prices were very low, along with hotel costs. We would highly recommend a trip to this part of the world for a relaxing vacation for those who are looking to get away!

After a quick stop to check out the beautiful island of Santorini, our next stop was to meet the beautiful John Breen in Bucharest, Romania! John is a friend of Shea’s from Ireland who has an apartment in Romania and offered to meet us there for Easter. It was great to see a familiar face during the Easter holiday and learn about a city that means a lot to him. He shared some of the history of the city of Bucharest, showed us many sites including the church he was married in, and took us to a fantastic Easter dinner at a traditional Romanian restaurant from 1879. Romania gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1989 and seems to still be recovering, however, in the last ten years they have made huge progress.

From Bucharest we traveled to Budapest, Hungary… But not without a little heart pumping thrill! We got lost several times and drove the wrong way down one-way streets (props to the Irish guy who is used to driving on the left side of the road!), but we made it to our overnight train with two minutes to spare! We are now safely in Budapest….but who knows where we will go from here!

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One City, Two Continents

Due to a cancellation in our flight from Nairobi to Athens, we had to figure out a new and affordable option for our next destination. We contemplated many cities, but the most affordable and intriguing was Istanbul. We are so happy with our choice because this unique city situated within two continents (Europe and Asia) has a lot to offer.
One of the highlights has been spending time enjoying the beautiful city scape, while walking along the Bosphorus straight. The city is split in half by the straight, connecting the Aegean and Black seas. Given the long history of the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires, this city is packed with historical buildings, many of which are still functional today. The Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar are large markets which were used to trade goods in the 15th century, and with heaps of spices and other traditional Turkish goods, we can only imagine they look similar to the way they did 500 years ago. One thing that amazed us was just how incredible and detailed these buildings were given how long ago they were constructed. For example, we visited the 6th century Basilica Cistern, used to store 100,000 tons of Istanbul’s water underground. Completely built below ground with 336 columns, this cistern seemed like it was way ahead of its time.

The Blue Mosque ın Istanbul

A vıew of Istanbul from Topkapı Palace

Spıces at the Spıce Bazaar

Insıde the Grand Bazaar- notice the old fountaın whıch can been seen all over Istanbul

Turkısh Delıghts, a yummy treat that are found all over Istanbul (and now on Sheas hips!)

After spending a few days exploring Istanbul we decided to visit another part of Turkey, and were told that there was no place in the world like Cappadocia. We decided to take a 12 hour overnight bus to get there, but it was well worth it once we arrived. Cappadocia was formed about 1 million years ago by volcanic activity and erosion, leaving fascinating rock formations. The landscape is formed into large cone shaped mountains, which have been hollowed out to form homes and churches for people over the last several thousand years. The churches still have the original frescos painted on the ceilings, which also date back to as late as the 6th century. Throughout history this region had experienced many changes in power, forcing people to hide their homes and churches inside the rocks and even below ground. We had the opportunity to tour one of the underground cities, a complicated seven story structure hollowed out of stone that includes graves, kitchens, stables, and even wineries! Cappadocia is like someplace out of a Star Wars movie….oh wait…. It was! (Luke Skywalker’s home town was based here, however, they were not allowed to film the movie in Cappadocia because the government wouldn’t allow it).

Although we are always on the move exploring the next city, we do take some time to catch up on what is going on in the news back home. We recently read an article about an Iraqi woman in California who was beaten to death because she was Muslim and from Iraq. This article really bothered us for many reasons. Through our travels we have had the opportunity to observe many religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. This has been one of the coolest experiences for us because we are better able to understand people and their culture through their religion. One evening in Istanbul, we spent a lot of time learning about Islam through our Muslim hostel owner. Most people in Turkey are Muslim, however not everyone wears stereotypical dress( hijab, etc). We learned that the Islamic religion can vary greatly depending on family and culture, which is why many Turkish Muslims have different practices and beliefs than Muslims from other countries. Through this conversation we also learned that the extremists we read about in the news couldn’t perform such cruel acts if they were truly following the Islamic religion.
Also in the news we have read about the possibility of war with Iran. Ironically, we had breakfast with a middle aged Iranian couple, who were on vacation for their new year. The conversation started with the Iranian man jokingly asking “I’m from Iran, are you scared?!” It was nice that he was able to have a sense of humor about it, and it made us feel comfortable enough to have a deeper conversation about current events. We learned that the Iranian people really like Americans and want to live a similar lifestyle, but since their country’s revolution, the new government has made life very difficult for the people. They told us that the Iranian government does filter their news and informs their people that America can’t do anything to them, however, the economic sanctions America has placed on Iran has devalued their money causing everything to be twice as expensive.

I (Shea) won’t deny that I was slightly worried to travel to a Muslim nation. Even though I have had many wonderful experiences meeting Muslim people, I was still hesitant given all the recent negativity in our news towards people of this religious background. However, after learning more about the Islamic religion and meeting people who practice this religion, I am ashamed that I allowed the actions of corrupt leaders to give me false fears about a place that has been one of our favorites throughout our travels. Sitting with the Iranian couple who made us feel as comfortable as if we were sitting with our own parents, verified for us that judging people can be very harmful and unjust. This experience made us feel for that Iraqi woman with deeper emotion and greater empathy, who lost her life for no reason other than her religion and nationality.

As beautiful as Turkey is, some of the greatest travel moments happen because of the people you meet…you never know what you will learn along the way!

On a lighter note…we know Turkey is good with gravy, but we learned its also a fantastic place to visit! (yes, we just went there!)

Cappadocıa

Insıde the underground cıty ın Cappadocıa

Overlookıng Cappadocıa

Cant fıgure out how to rotate the photo! Insıde the cave church-notıce artwork

Mom: Thıs ıs not me sıttıng on a rock ledge
Everyone else: Thıs ıs me sıttıng on a rock ledge

Checkıng out the local real estate ın Cappadocıa!

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