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Mission Trip to Nicaragua

FullSizeRender1On Friday, May 13th, my husband Skip and I arrived at Cleveland Hopkins Airport at 3:45 AM to catch a flight to Managua, Nicaragua.  It was going to be our first mission trip ever!  Unfortunately, mechanical problems delayed us and 3 others for 13 hours at the airport.   When we finally arrived in Houston, we missed our connection by 5 minutes.   Stuck overnight at the airport, we headed to Pappadeux’s Seafood Restaurant in the terminal for what would be our last real meal before heading to Managua.   We over-nighted at the Holiday Inn, and left the next morning at 5:00 AM to board our flight to Manauga.

Upon arrival, we were met at the airport by a friendly Spanish couple who drove us on our two hour scenic and mountainous drive to the town of Chacraseca, Nicaragua.   The old and very hot rickety van finally made it to our destination.  However before we could settle in, we met with the locals who were preparing their carts for the annual procession.   It  was the Feast of St. Isidro which represents the farmers.  We helped decorate a horse-drawn cart with balloons, flowers, and ribbons and began parading down along the dusty road to the beat of a small band, singers and the omnipresent fireworks.

The procession had its fill of livestock, with decorated horns, and scarfs wrapped around their necks.  Walking in a hot 100 degree temperature along the muddy road to the church, I looked into the faces of the people that I met for the first time.  They were welcoming us with love and hope. The purpose of our trip was a partnership program with the people of this village, to help tear down a concrete block bread oven to make room for a community center,  to interact with students in the schools, learn about their culture, their hopes, and dreams, and to unite our church with theirs.

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I knew this was the beginning of what was always in my heart.  It was a hands on labor of love in a whole new culture that I have never before experienced.   These beautiful people who had nothing welcomed us with no expectations.

Back at the Casa de Paz, or Peace House, after the long two travel days, it was time to set up my sleeping quarters. The small room for the ladies had 3 bunk beds and there were 8 women. I opted to sleep on the porch in a cot outside under a mosquito net.  At least the nightly temperature was in the low 90’s, vs the heat inside.  The thin cot was workable, and although I kept my arms and legs covered to avoid any bites, a few insects manage to make it through. I was so tired, I just fell asleep, but was quickly awoken at 4:00 AM to what sounded like fireworks, and a series of explosions. (I was reassured that the Nicaraguans were still celebrating the feast). However an hour later, the rooster at the foot of my bed started crowing, and nestled by my head was a stray dog trying to get my attention… so needless to say, I had very little sleep that night. Most mornings were like that and although the rooster was very cute, I didn’t want to become too friendly with it, since it would most likely be tomorrow nights dinner. Although I spotted a Scorpion on the wall, and some ugly looking bugs crawling by, there was such feeling of peacefulness.

IMG_1956We were served rice and beans at all three meals, along with fruit or some other peeled vegetable. Our favorite cook, “Estelle” walked 3 miles to work every day and cooked our meals in a wood burning stove. The other women who cooked for us, brought their children to work, and we all fell in love with one little boy in particular who would rest in a hammock while his mom continued to work. Despite the fact that I barely ate anything, I didn’t lose any weight.  (Maybe it was the chips and granola bars I took with me).

IMG_17481The next day, we had a firsthand look at the efforts of Just Hope with its micro loan program which helped women become self-sufficient.   We stopped at a Ferreteria (a hardware store), where our donations helped the business to sell these items for a small profit and also visited the home of a women who has established a business by making about 100 tortillas daily and selling them to the locals.

We visited the schools and brought them supplies, and led them in songs and dances. Meanwhile, back in the center of town, the others donned dust masks, safety goggles and wielded shovels, sledge hammers and a pick axe to remove debris and take apart a concrete  oven.  We all went different ways; some to the clinic, to the families homes, the schools, the upcoming farmland, and to the church.       Many of the homes only had dirt floors, and no plumbing; but one thing in common is the loving family bond that was shared.

IMG_2065We visited the town of Leon, and also a beachfront restaurant where we watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.  The dark volcanic sand and numerous shells were glowing. There we met children who with a “pinky-finger” promise, asked us to buy their goods.  They also waited for us to finish our dinner so we could box left overs and they could take them home. Of course, we ordered extra meals, and knowing this, the last of my fruit snacks and goodies were pre-packed for them. I received a parting gift of shells from a young man whom I gave my boxed food to. In Spanish he said to me  “Nunca me olvides”……..translation ……”Never forget me”.  (I never will).

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We traveled to a Coffee Plantation called Selva Negra where we spent one night.  It was a beautiful balance of an organic farm, coffee plantation and wildlife forest area.  It is tourism at its best in Nicaragua. There was also horseback riding, long hikes in the forest, solar cabins with beautiful views, white swans on the lake, and being in the mountains, it had a welcoming cool temperature.

IMG_22611To sum it up, I am so appreciative for what I have, for all that I take for granted, for my family and friends.  Reality check: America… a wonderful place we live in.

One of the best gifts we received, was to bring back to Cleveland Ohio with us Padre Tomas from the church in Nicaragua.  He stayed here for 3 weeks.  It was an awesome journey.  He had never been to the United States before, and our fellow missionaries, our priest Father Sal Ruggeri from St. John of the Cross, and many others showed him respect and love.

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Tour of Russia and Latvia

cathedral christ savior

If you are thinking of heading over to Russia and have a couple of concerns, let me just tell you that you shouldn’t be worried. After a week in Russia with stops in Moscow and St. Petersburg, I would recommend making the journey and taking on the task of getting the visa. Let’s start with the visa process. I think this is more in place to try and limit the people that come in, but don’t be deterred. I used CBIT Visa service and had no issues with getting the application and the visa approved, yes it’s a pretty high cost but worth it. The only weird thing that was needed was an invitation from the Russian company inviting you in. This can be obtained through the hotel that is booked or even the tour company. Josh and I went ahead and paid the $10 to get it through the tour company.

 

So let’s start with the journey over there. My friend Josh and I took United out of Cleveland to Heathrow with a lay over in Chicago. Be prepared, Cleveland-Hopkins is going through some renovations in preparation for the 2016 Republican National Convention. Get there super early! After getting into London-Heathrow at 8 am, we were through passport control and customs in less than 45 minutes.

 

We spent the day in London getting used to the time difference. Then it was off to Gatwick for the 6 am flight to Moscow on EasyJet. They are sticklers for their baggage policy and if you try to take on more than one bag they will make you combine them right there at the gate or you have to pay the fee to get them checked. After an uneventful flight we landed to snow in Moscow. We had arranged an English speaking taxi to pick us up at the airport. It was worth the money because all the metros in Moscow are in Russian and there are no English signs.

 

We arrived to the hotel, Sheraton Palace Center in city center which was walking distance from everything. The hotel had a great front desk reception that spoke English and made some amazing dining recommendations. There is also a transportation desk that will arrange taxis for you to make sure you are getting the best value as well as legit taxis. This I highly recommended so you do not get taken advantage of due to your tourist status.

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After a little nap, it was off for dinner before heading out for a night tour of the city. The cost of everything in Russia is extremely reasonable. We then met Zhanna from Moscow Private Tours at the hotel for the 2 hour driving tour. We started with a stop at the Red Square to see the Kremlin, St Basil, and Gum Shopping Center. She was an amazing guide with great patience for when you are taking pictures and ask weird questions. After learning a brief history, we were off to the warmth of the car and headed over to see some additional churches and other amazing buildings that lit up the sky.

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What I liked was that it was more of an introduction to this amazing city but didn’t go too much into detail to overwhelm you the first day that you are in town. That would be the next couple of days where we would revisit the sites during the day and actually be able to go inside. After the tour, we were dropped off at the hotel, where we crashed for the night. I made sure to wake up extra early and hit the hotel gym before going to breakfast. The gym was pretty standard with cardio and weight machines and was open 24 hours. After getting ready, we had breakfast at the hotel. I strongly recommended including this with your booking. It was delicious and filling. The best part was the omelet station.

 

Again, Zhanna met us at the hotel. Then it was off to see the superb metro system. Let me tell you that I never thought I would need to tour a metro station before, but do it. They are more of a museum then public transport. You may even be lucky enough to catch the train that is an actual art gallery; we missed it by one train! After learning the history and the superstitions, we were presented with the before and after pictures of when Stalin was removed from the art work.

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After taking the metro to Red Square, we were able to get some amazing pictures of all the buildings in the area, history, and the reason behind the name. She then took us to a local café to try some of the honey tea, which was the best tea I have had since China and warmed you to the core on yet another snowy day. Word of advice: wear sneakers, not ballet flats or heeled boots like I did. After the quick snack we were off to see the inside of St Basil’s.

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Do it and pay for the guide to come in with you. Its 350 rubles which converts to about $5.00 and the history that they give you is better than anything that you can get from the audio guide. They’ll be able to take you to the best places and make sure that you make it in time to hear the men’s group sing in the church. Then we whisked off to visit the GUM shopping center and taken to the local food area to be able to try some local drinks and sweet treats. I didn’t very much care for the beer with honey but did rather enjoy the soda made with tarragon.

 

We went ahead and booked the Russian lunch with vodka tasting so we headed over to a local restaurant where we had he chance to try Borscht which is a beet soup, a Russian salad with chicken, and the main dish was a chicken patty. Along with the food journey came 4 shots of flavored vodka. Don’t sip; just throw them back to be like a local. I will say that I did not like 2 out of the four but I’ll let you decided if you like it spicy.

 

After being taken back to the hotel, we went ahead and got ready for the ballet at the historic Bolshoi hall. For the best pricing and seats, you need to book months in advance. The performance is everything you should expect from the Russian ballet and then some. We had learned the history during the day but to actually sit down and see a performance in such a historic setting takes your breath away.

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The next day was some more touring of the metro system, the world fair site, flea market and visit to the mansion. I would recommend skipping the vodka museum because it seemed like just a museum of bottles. However, take a couple of moments to wheel and deal at the flea market. You can get some amazingly warm handmade socks out or even some Russian nesting dolls.

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After saying goodbye to our new friend, we headed for a tourist walk down Arbat St and saw some interesting people while hitting some of the shops for last minute gifts. Then it was back to the hotel and off to bed for the early meeting with the guide for the Kremlin. With an early morning work out, breakfast and check out, we met Nadya in the hotel lobby to take the metro back into town for a tour of the Kremlin. Everything for the Kremlin is done with their own guides, needs to be booked in advance, and should include the Armory.

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We toured the many churches on the grounds, visited the gardens, saw the president’s helicopter pad. Then it was off to see the sparkly things on the inside. From clothes, to carriages, to crowns; it was an extraordinary experience to take in. If only we had more time to take in every little piece but we had a train to catch to St. Petersburg.

 

With a quick journey through the country side on Russia Rail, I was able to use the time to edit some of the pictures from Moscow and enjoy the hot tea and drink that came with our tickets. Even the bathrooms on board were pretty decent. We arrived in St. Petersburg where we met our transfer right at the rail line and was able to beat some of the traffic to get into town.

 

We headed over to the Official Hermitage Hotel and was greeted with drinks of either water or apple juice. We were surprised to learn that we were upgraded, provided tickets to the Hermitage and even transportation to and from the museum. We headed up to the room and settled in for the night. Now the gym here was a little bit smaller. The spa services take up the basement floor, and you have to ask the front desk to open the doors if the spa is closed. However, I was able to get a run in and headed back up to the room to try out the heated upgraded toilet. Something I think should come standard in the homes in the North.

 

We met Olga from St. Pete Private Tours in the lobby and then headed out for the driving portion of seeing St. Petersburg. Make sure to bring along a scarf or something to cover your hair. With some stops in churches, ladies will need to cover their hair. We even had the great experience of heading over to the fortress and seeing the noon salute of firing the cannon. It is super loud so cover your ears. It was then time to head over to Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood. Go inside. The mosaics there are jaw-dropping and you will not stop taking pictures of the details that have been restored back to all their glory. The church is not open on Wednesday so make sure that you book it any other day of the week.

savior blood

With the little extra time that we had the driver, we choose to be dropped off at St Isaac’s Cathedral which is also closed on Wednesday. Again another beautiful church with amazing details to the mosaics. We even took the 200 steps up to walk around the top and get an amazing view of the city.

 

Afterwards, we went on the recommendation of Olga to this little restaurant that does home style cooking and decorated to look like a cottage in the forest. Always ask your guides where they would eat; they will never lead you astray.

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Now the metro in St Petersburg is just as beautiful as Moscow but they are also in English so you shouldn’t have any issue getting around. We were able to use it to get back to the hotel with no issues.

Our final day in St Petersburg was a walking tour of the city to see the buildings and even had a guided tour of the Hermitage. Again this is another place that tickets need to be booked in advance and I highly recommend having the guide come in with you. They are able to take you to the best pieces while avoiding the crowds and making the most of the time that you have there.

hermitage

There is the palace outside the city that is amazing and the gardens are a must to see but we just did not have enough time. There are not a lot of flight option from St Petersburg to London that didn’t require a day flying so we made a decision to take an overnight train to Lativa and spend a day in Riga before heading home.

 

So let’s talk about Russian overnight trains. This is not for the faint at heart. You will need patience and the ability to adjust to culture shock. First off, no one at the train or on the train speaks English so finding the track took the help of other passengers and a lot of apologizing on our side. I still have no clue what happened when we went through passport control leaving the country, where the showers were, where the food carriage was, or other than it being the end of the line when our stop would have occurred. There was no assistance with bags on or off the train and finding which compartment you are supposed to be in. We used the Google Translate app to read the paper work. This was also first class so I don’t even want to know about the other levels of “service”. So again, I only recommended this for people looking for a challenge.

 

We stayed at a hotel that was within walking distance from the train station, the Wellton Hotel Riga. They were nice enough to hold the bags while we walked long the park before heading over to our walking and food tour booked through EatRiga.com. We headed on a journey through the Old City and Moscow district before heading over to the Market. The best part of this city was the Market. It is huge and the pricing is amazing. I was able to get 200 ml of paprika for less than $2.00 and 5 pounds of walnuts for less than $10. Granted I had to shell the walnuts but it was a great way to get an arm workout in at the end of the day.

 

We headed to bed early to catch up on the sleep that we lost on the train, it was pretty rocky and not in a rock the baby to sleep way. I did make Josh join me for a run in the morning through the park instead of the hotel gym. Afterwards, it was pretty standard breakfast that was included with the hotel then off to the shooting range.

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After 20 rounds of shots, we headed over to the local cat café. Yes, cats! They had stray cats that lived there so that you can pet them while you enjoyed a drink. I missed my babies so it was a prefect fit. With a little extra time before we needed to be at the airport we went and saw Pan at the movies. It was in English with Latvian and Russian subtitles. I may have learned a little bit of those languages based on reading some of the movie.

 

All in all, it was an amazing journey to start off my three month sabbatical. Next up on the list is some time in London before heading over to Wales for a little hike up Snowdon.

Legacy of St. Patrick – Faith-Based Travel 2012

10 days from Dublin to Dublin, or 11 days incl. travel

Vacation Overview

Enjoy the “Emerald Isle’s” scenic vistas and fascinating history. Begin in Dublin with a welcome dinner and orientation tour featuring visits to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Oscar Wilde’s Trinity College. Travel through dairy-farm country in the heartland to Knock, where the Virgin Mary appeared to the townsfolk in 1879 and where pilgrims today come from around the world. Visit Knock Shrine, the Church of the Apparition, the basilica, and the Folk Museum—and maybe join the evening rosary processions. Stop to visit the Croagh Patrick Visitor Centre in Murrisk and the massive Benedictine Kylemore Abbey, then spend two overnights in Galway. From here, enjoy an excursion to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands, including a tour of the island and a visit to clifftop Dun Aengus, one of Europe’s most dramatic prehistoric stone forts. Travel across the limestone plateau known as The Burren and visit The Burren Centre at Kilfenora on your way to Killarney for your 2-night stay. Join the famed “Ring of Kerry” for a panoramic drive around the island’s southwestern tip and take a horse-drawn jaunting car ride through the national park. Pass into County Cork and stop in Blarney, renowned for its castle and magical Kissing Stone, before arriving in Waterford for a guided tour of the newly opened Waterford Crystal Experience. Next, stop at Avoca, Ireland’s oldest handweaving mill, and then at Glendalough, the early Christian monastic site founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. Return to Dublin for an overnight and the end of your wonderful Irish vacation.

Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrive in Dublin, Irish Republic

Check into your hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax in the Irish capital. At 6 pm, join your Tour Director and traveling companions for a welcome dinner at the hotel. (Dinner)

Day 2 – Dublin

An orientation drive in the “Fair City” includes statue-lined O’Connell Street, elegant Georgian squares, and visits to ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL and Oscar Wilde’s TRINITY COLLEGE, famous for the 1,200-year-old Book of Kells and the magnificent Old Library. Balance of the day is at leisure. (Breakfast)

Day 3 – Dublin-Knock

Head for dairy farm country in the center of the “Emerald Isle” before arriving in Knock, where the Virgin Mary appeared to the townsfolk in 1879. Today, the site attracts pilgrims from around the world. Visit KNOCK SHRINE, the CHURCH OF THE APPARITION, the BASILICA, and the FOLK MUSEUM. Maybe join the evening rosary processions. (Breakfast, Dinner)

Day 4 – Knock-Murrisk-Kylemore Abbey-Galway

This morning, visit the CROAGH PATRICK VISITOR CENTRE at the foot of St. Patrick’s Holy Mountain in Murrisk. Afterwards, visit KYLEMORE ABBEY, the massive yet graceful castle acquired by Benedictine nuns as a precious heirloom for Ireland. Arrive in the port city of Galway, where you will spend the next two nights. Tonight, you may wish to join one of our optional evening outings. (Breakfast) Note: The overnight on Day 4 will either be in Knock or Sligo. Due to limited hotel availability in Knock, we have selected the best available hotel that satisfies Globus’ high standards of quality.

Day 5 – Galway. Aran Islands Excursion

At Rossaveal, board a comfortable, modern FERRY for the 45-minute crossing to Kilronan on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands and where Gaelic is the first language of the islanders. Many Catholics fled to this island during Oliver Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland during the mid-17th century. In these harsh conditions, they developed a strong self-sufficiency in order to survive. Your fascinating day continues with a presentation on life on Inishmore by an island historian. After a lunch break, board a minibus to enjoy your driver-Local Guide’s commentary on a tour of the island, ending with a visit to clifftop DUN AENGUS, one of the most spectacular and dramatic prehistoric stone forts in Europe. Back in Kilronan, board your ferry for the trip back to the mainland. There are plenty of dining options in Galway this evening. (Breakfast)

Day 6 – Galway-Kilfenora-Bunratty-Adare-Killarney

Take the scenic route across the desolate limestone plateau known as The Burren. At Kilfenora, visit THE BURREN CENTRE. The newly restored ancient cathedral and Celtic crosses in the churchyard form an important center of early Christianity. Continue to Bunratty, where there is a lot to see and do: visit the castle; stroll in the folk park, which depicts Irish life in the early 1900s; browse the complex of shops; or try a refreshment in famous Durty Nelly’s Irish pub. Skirt the metropolis of Limerick and continue south via quaint Adare with its thatched cottages to the popular resort of Killarney, your destination for the next two nights. (Breakfast, Dinner)

Day 7 – Killarney. Ring of Kerry Excursion

Join the famed “Ring of Kerry” for a 100-mile panoramic drive around the island’s southwestern tip. Have your camera ready to take photos of the spectacular scenery that includes both land and sea. In Killarney, enjoy a fun horse-drawn JAUNTING CAR RIDE through the national park with beautiful vistas of the Lakes of Killarney and ancient Ross Castle. (Breakfast)

Day 8 – Killarney-Blarney-Waterford

Cross the Kerry Mountains and drive into County Cork for a visit to Blarney, renowned for its castle and magical Kissing Stone. Time for lunch, to walk up to the castle, and to shop for traditional Irish handicrafts. In the afternoon, proceed via Cork to Waterford, a stronghold founded by the Danish Vikings, and look forward to a guided tour of the HOUSE OF WATERFORD CRYSTAL. Before dinner, why not join an optional pub tour? (Breakfast, Dinner)

Day 9 – Waterford-Avoca-Glendalough-Dublin

An exciting agenda today: Enniscorthy, site of the final battle of the Great Rebellion of 1798; Ireland’s oldest HANDWEAVING MILL at Avoca; the Wicklow Mountains; and GLENDALOUGH, the early Christian monastic site founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. See the engaging audiovisual presentation Ireland of the Monasteries, then let your Local Guide show you the remains of this ecclesiastical settlement. Back in Dublin, why not join your traveling companions for a fitting farewell to Ireland? (Breakfast)

Day 10 – Dublin

Your vacation ends with breakfast this morning. (Breakfast)

Rome… The Eternal City

Twenty million visitors a year can’t be wrong; there is something about Rome that fascinates and attracts people, year after year, and century after century. This incredible hold on the world’s imagination has made Rome one of the most fascinating and sought out tourist destinations in the world. The Eternal City contains layer upon layer of history leaving its mark upon countless monuments, ruins, museums, and catacombs. Considering the long, impressive history that has molded Rome, the historic centre is actually quite small and easily visited within a short time, and the city itself can be seen as an enormous open-air museum. Furthermore, art works as magnificent as Michelangelo’s Moses or the Pieta adorn parish churches and basilicas, allowing visitors to admire them completely free of charge. Rome is home to so many churches that seeing them all, at a rate of one church a day, would take more than a year; and that is not even mentioning the majesty that is St Peter’s and the Vatican.


In the end, however, Rome is more than just a collection of world-renowned monuments.

  • Italian cuisine is one of the most popular worldwide with an unparalleled degree of international influence. But the experience of having Italian food in Rome is unique, becoming a blend of cultural and culinary imagination. From 5 star restaurants to street side cafés, there is something magical for every palate.
  • Rome is a haven for fashionistas and the perfect match for anyone who loves to shop. Picturesque streets are lined with high-end, designer, artisan boutiques as well as quirky, unusual shops offering every imaginable type of merchandise.
  • There is a special atmosphere that is unmistakably Roman, a timeless charm that is palpable as you sip a cappuccino in front of the Coliseum, indulge in a gelato and watch the street performers in Piazza Navona, admire the sun setting behind one of the Tiber bridges, get lost amidst the labyrinthine streets of the Centro Storico or simply unwind in one of Rome’s many, lush parks.

Roma : Non Basta Una Vita (A Lifetime is Not Enough)…

The winter weather is considerably milder in Italy than in the north and central US. In summer evenings are cool, especially in the mountains. Summer afternoon thunderstorms are common in Rome.

Bernini Bristol
Hotel Eden
Radisson SAS ES Hotel Roma
Regina Hotel Baglioni
Beverly Hills
Grand Palace
Hotel La Griffe
Hotel Milton
Quirinale
Augusta Lucilla Palace
Hotel Atlantico
Hotel Mediterraneo
Kolbe
Massimo D'Azeglio
Royal Santina
Savoy - Rome
Universo
Domus Sessoriana
Donatello
Hotel Nord Nuova
Trevi