Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Best Trip of my LIFE--Spain and Italy


On the west coast of Italy there is a region called Cinque Terre (Cheen-qua-tear-eh) which means Five Lands. Its a chain of 5 little towns that hang off the cliffs of the Mediterranean coastline. This place it amazing. The towns are tiny and so full of personality. We hiked from town to town and marveled at the the amazing sites.


We stayed in this little village and just soaked in the wondrous moments of life far from the city.






see more photos on the trip to Cinque Terre go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIqtPPLWYg8

then Florence Again:



This trip also brought me to Spain during Semana Santa (Holy Week) where the festivities were unreal!

A wonderful couch surfing family that fed me and treated me really well.
In Granada Spain with Ruby

This video shows an example of the many processions that occur during holy week in the south of Spain. Those who dress with pointy hat are not from the KKK. the KKK totally stole the idea from these Catholic Nazarenes. Still scary nonetheless.

video

In Madrid.


When I got back Joe Biden came to talk to us in Brussels. Very interesting.
After three months here I've decided that these times been the most exciting and wild of my life. I got to meet so many people and see so many places. I feel fortunate to have had this experience.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Normandy

I took a quick weekend trip to Normandy where I stepped into a world of history I never before understood or even knew about really. They call it D-day; June 6 1944. The day then allied forces composed of Americans, French, British and Canadian troop boated across the English channel to the heavily fortressed beaches of Northern France. The Germans had occupies those beaches for years and therefore had built up massive bunkers and bases to counter any invasion. The amount of destruction that took place on that day and the days that followed is horrifying. I went to every memorial imaginable as I was traveling with two WWII-savvy men. They took me everywhere and told me every story. Walking on those beaches was a reverencing experience.

I was able to walk around the massive plot of land above the beach where 10,000 marble white crosses are planted into the ground, row by row, marking the graves of the deceased americans.


Look how much respect I have for these sights. I even hugged the giant rusty gun.




I feel like this experience opened my mind to what was done to maintain what we call freedom in our part of the world. I have a greater appreciation for the liberties I enjoy. I believe everyone should have some sort of grasp on the magnitude of the events that transpired in WWII. I am not avid about history, in fact I don't find much interest in knowing dates and places. But I do now feel the need to know about events.

I am going to Spain and Italy next week. That will be the greatest of all the adventures I think.

Until then,

Johnny

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Into the Tuscan Adventures--Italy

The Internship is going well. Many new things everyday. The FEMA head administrator comes Monday the 15th so we are doing a lot of planning for that. NATO truly is a complex organization full of many powerful tools.

My five day sojourn to Italy started on Tuesday night when I took a train an hour south to a city called Charleroi. I arrived at the house of Frank, a 50 year old man who I met on the Couch Surfing Network. This man lives in a very big, old house. He was born in that house and has lived there his entire life. He welcomed me with such warmth, I thought I was in Mexico again. He told me that he had invited some friends over to partake of a fun night with the American traveler. His two friends arrived, they were young; perhaps 25-30 years old. They came in and anxiously shook my hand and then both friends took the occasion to brandish the expensive Belgian Beer that had brought over to share with me....I thanked them and simply insisted that they drink my share and that I'd be fine with berry flavored water.

Frank Proceeded to make grilled shrimp in cream sauce and a smorgasbord of other tasty classics from Belgium. His friend showed me video after video of French singers and I loved every moment.]


video




The Next morning Frank graciously drove me to the airport at 5:15 am where I flew to Rome. I met up with my friend Danielle who has been there for 6 months and knows the city well. We zoomed off and saw in 3hours what it usually takes tourists 2 days to see.








When I lost Danielle as my tour guide I wondered off on my own and found this garden trail that looked over a part of the city. I sat there and took in the beauty of ancient Rome.

The Next day I visited the Vatican and loved seeing the root of the church I had learned so much about in Mexico during about my mission. The place is truly a beautiful piece of art.


That night I got on a Train and headed to Florence. There's a girl named Gaby who I met on my mission. She goes to school in Florence and I've been writing her since I got home last August. We met up in Florence on Thursday night. After not talking in person for over a year (and having never spoken English to one another) we broke the awkward ice and started hanging out. She showed me the beautiful town and all the wonderful secrets therein. Before the visit was up we both realized that we had a connection more than just pen pals. If you're wondering what that means, it means she's now my girlfriend. It took us a a day or two figure out that that is where it was going and we shared some beautiful time together in that beautiful city.



I never thought I giant rock figure shaped like a naked man could be so breath taking. But it is.


This Clown's name is Jimmy Thunder. He's the Brother of a Truck Driving Stocker from New Hampshire.I think this is the most beautiful city I've ever seen in my life.
I returned back to Brussels having felt like I really lived a wild dream/fairy tale. I'm back here for some more work at NATO before I head out the door for Spain (and a little more Italy...just because it's nice) at the end of the month.


Hope everyone is doing well. I would like anyone who reads this to leave a comment below telling me how you are and/or what's new. Or just email me.

Until the next adventure,

Johnny

Saturday, February 27, 2010

NATO, Brussels, and Trilingual Bums

I don't think the phrase "Melting Pot" does this place justice. This week has been a wild exploration of so many new thing. I was sitting on the subway when a homeless man of 35 years old boarded and began to approach each person asking what language they spoke. Then he proceeded to ask for money in the appropriate language (Dutch French English or whatever). I never thought I'd see that.

I awake each morning at 7:30, dress up like a "professional" and head to the corner where the white NATO shuttle passes. Upon arriving at the head quarters I pass through a first gate of security where I flash the badge that hangs around my neck to a group of guards. then upon entering the building, another gate asks me to slide a security card to access the innards of the building. The chic entrance of NATO looks more like a hotel lobby. Glass sliding doors and high-teck plasma screens create a very "international" ambiance. I then walk down the long main hall to where the US delegation is. I flash yet another badge (this time a state department one). Everyone has to empty their pockets of cells phone or any electronic device for such items are not allowed within the delegation. The US wing of NATO is the biggest and "best" at NATO (would our government let it be any other way?). I work in what is called Civil Emergency Planning (CEP). This branch of NATO is a body that coordinates efforts from the different ally nations to respond to man-made or natural hazards. I cannot even begin to explain how extensive the processes are that are involved in CEP's planning. It is a HUGE political game that is very SLOW and often contentious. Every nation has their idea of how it should work and the ideals clash. There is no soveriegn power in the internaional system, and therefore the decision making procedure is long and arduous. Within CEP there are 10 or so committees that take on various roles and responsibilities. My boss belongs to several of these including SCEPC (the senior council of CEP) so I sit in on a lot of these meeting. I wish I could snap a photo of how it works (though I would be shot if I did..I'm almost not kidding) It's so interesting! All the nations represented around giant oval table formation. Translators in the booth. There are so many aspects to this whole NATO thing that I would have never imagined. It is fascinating.

I've been exploring the city of Brussels. So full of old culture mixed into a modern concoction of Government buildings and businesses.

So much chocolate.
What a beautiful city
video


I got lucky and ran into a Musical Instrument Museum. 5 stories of the history of musical instruments. I loved that.


video

this is a double necked guitar. I had thought that Jimmy Page invented that idea. I guess not.
video


So it's been so good being here. Overwhelming and a bit lonely at times but I am happy overall. I am going to Italy in 10 days and I'll surely have photos and stories to share.

Until then,


Johnny

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Accross the Sea--San Diego to Brussels

I flew out of LAX Thursday afternoon. With a mechanical delay of about an hour, and a 10 hour flight ahead of me I found myself very happy to be seated next to a very nice, outgoing, sarcastic lady from Pennsylvania. We talked as if we had been friends for 13 years. Then after an hour on the ground, ten more in the air and a crummy meal on the plane she slipped me some NyQuil, assuring me that is was way worth it...so I gave in, popped a pill and was out! I woke up at 11am London time just as the plane was landing. I thought I had it made having slept all that time. I had no idea what I was getting into.

After walking across Heathrow international airport (no less than 2 miles I swear) with literally 150 lbs of luggage I was beat. I got onto a tube only to find that the line on which I was traveling had "severe delays" so when it stopped



I got off on pulled a classic Johnny and stepped on to some random subway, the first one I saw..luckily this one led me directly to Parliament Square, exactly where I was planning on going to meet my friend Ruby. I had planned on leaving my luggage first at the house of where I was staying, but since I was on this train I decided to just take it with me.


So there I am lugging a bunch of bags in front of parliament. Then I arrived at the rendezvous point which was Westminster's Abby.

It was quite a day.
And those are some serious bags under my eyes.

This morning (Sunday) I got on a train and arrived here...finally, to Brussels Belgium. videoI am here with an American family that is hosting me for the next three months. They are very kind and I think these next few months will be great. Tomorrow morning I will be picked up to go to work at NATO headquarters.
I have to go to the embassy for State Department orientation on Tuesday. I really have now idea what its all going to be like.

I'll keep everyone updated.

Johnny

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Week One--Wedding and Mexico

After two months of waiting for a US Government security clearance from NATO, I finally embarked on the adventure. I flew down to LAX on Friday the 12th of February. My plan was to take a shuttle to Laguna Hills, CA where I was to participate in the wedding of a friend from the mission. As the plane descended in to LA I over heard the man next to me saying that he would be renting a car and driving to San Diego. I swiftly used the skills I developed during my hitch-hiking experiences and asked the man for a ride south. He agreed and before I knew it I was in the rental car of 60 year-old Terry Potter (Great Name!), a Native of Grants Pass Oregon who had been on a plane only once in his life before this experience. He had a very funny vocabulary and was very kind.

Listen to the video to get a slice of the conversation.:

video


The wedding was in the San Diego Temple.

It was beautiful indeed.They asked me to play their wedding song on the guitar for their first dance.

It was a wondrous day. Between the wedding and the reception we all went to Laguna beach for a swim.



The next Day (Sunday) Some mission buddies and I slipped across the boarder for church in Tijuana. I then proceeded to visit old friends and converts form my time there.


















I hitch-hiked up to a far away area in the Hills in Rosarito to see a couple that I became very attached to, Juan and Laura. They are happy and progressing so much in life and in the church.



video










That evening I went to the beach where I used to baptize people. this time I swam.
























The Next day I took a bus to Mexicali and had a more fun visiting people I knew a long time ago. The Wong family lent me their car for the time I was there (as well as their food and their house).
After some time there I came here to San Diego with my Aunt and Uncle. Tomorrow (the 18th of Feb) I fly out of LAX straight to London where I will be for a day and then take a train to Brussels. It's been good so far and I am very excited to see what adventures come in Europe.

Until Next time,

Johnny