Sunday, March 23, 2008

T'was The Day Before Easter…

22 March 2008

T'was the day before Easter and who should we run into this morning in the chow hall, but Santa Claus!! So now you’re saying, “Yeah, right! And tomorrow the chow hall will probably have a special visit by the Easter Bunny?”!!!

But seriously, two weeks ago I ran into the big red guy back at Ali As Salem and he told me that he was headed back to Camp Victory. (Who would think that Santa would spend his summers in Baghdad, of all places!!!) It was a bit shocking, but as always a pleasant surprise to see him again…especially so soon and in the off-season.

So when I mentioned to the guys I was sitting with at the chow hall at breakfast that I just saw Santa walk into the chow hall, they were certain that I was pulling their legs or hallucinating. Once he got his breakfast and as he was walking toward the area where we were in the chow hall, I caught Santa's eye. Of course I waved to him (I'm still a little boy at heart when it comes to the big red-suited man!) and he came right over. (He was eating a little lighter these days)

“Hey Santa, good to see you again! These guys want to know what to do to get on your “Nice” list this year,” I told him.

“Just be good,” he replied with a smile and a wink. I then asked him to show them his ID card (because the guys I was with still had but a twinge of doubt about the true identity of the guy before us) which has him all decked out in full seasonal red regalia (minus the reindeer, of course!)

I am pretty sure they’re now convinced that he’s the real deal. I think Steve is still in shock at meeting Santa Claus and I know you skeptics out there are still doubting me, but that is your burden…I’m not taking any chances. ;)

But in all seriousness, I met Santa (Mike) back in 2004 when he worked for Antion and I worked for ITT. We worked for the 54th back then in the same building. With his pure white hair, white beard, cherry (and cheery) red cheeks, round "Santa" glasses and the round belly, someone had made the comment (more than once, I’m sure) that he looked just like…”Yeah, I know, I hear it all the time. In fact, I do the Santa thing every year no matter where I’m at.”

Going back to Ali As Salem on my way back here two weeks ago; just after I arrived in Kuwait, I got my tent assignment and was just exhausted and ready to get into the tent and catch a few zzzz's. I muscled my suitcase through the door and into tent Q6...and who "to my wondering eyes should I see, but Santa" sitting there right in the first bunk!

He looked at me and recognized me right away with a smile and I remembered him too. Funny how often we run into people here that come back or are still here making the rounds of the different stations in theater. There is always a feeling of family when you run into old acquaintances over here. So there you have it, my Easter Story for 2008.

Ho, Ho, Ho! A Merry Easter to all and to all a Good Night!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Berlin, Chicago, Kuwait and Iraq in a Blink

19 March 2008

Wow, hard to believe it's already the 19th of March. I didn't even make the updates I thought I'd make while on vacation. Part of the problem was just being busy on vacation, but then I had a difficult time getting computer time in Kuwait on the way back. The Rip-off Zone ($5 per hour) was down and the wait at MWR was over an hour to get a machine. Then once back in Iraq, I kind of hit the ground running and this is my first time since I got back that I could hit the MWR on Victory to get access to the blog. The mil network is restrictive as to what sites we can access, so I have to go to MWR to access the blog...but at least all the upper echelon officer-types have their access to Facebook and tons of streaming video for their Mommy-calls, etc! (Yes, that was a snotty, snide remark!)

In a nut shell, here are the only two emails home from Berlin:

27 Feb 2008

Berlin is wearing my feet OUT! These dogs are barking. I arrived Monday morning and walked around a bit to get familiar with the city and my location. The Swissotel is beautiful and in a great location too a half-block and around the corner from the K'dam. I had to buy clothes since all I have is jeans and running shoes, a down jacket and a jean jacket. Talk about standing out in the crowd. The only other way I could not remove any doubt of my being an "Ami" might be to eat my french fries with my fingers in public with ketchup instead of mayo!!!

The weather has been mostly cooperative. mid 50's on Monday. Near 60 or just above today but it drizzled in the pm. Tonight has been in the low 60's and tomorrow is supposed to be overcast and about 60 also.

I have to admit that my first official meal in Berlin was to go to the Hard Rock Cafe and do the touristy stuff right away. I must say that I had a hankerin for some medium-rare dead cow in my stomach and a cold clear Kristal Weissbier!

Today I went to Checkpoint Charlie. They have a museum that has all the info you could ever want to know about concerning all the escape attempts; successful and not. An altered VW Bug sits in the museum with a dummy in the front trunk showing how 18 people were able to escape with a false cover over where the spare used to be but was altered enough to allow a person to fit in this very small space. I also bought my piece of the Berlin Wall at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum.

I had never done Berlin when I was stationed in Germany due to the time required for permission to travel (since I had a clearance) and the time required to ride the troop train there and back. I must say that this probably makes it more difficult for me to imagine where the wall actually stood at one time. In the areas I have been in, it is hard to even see where the wall may have been.

Wed I'm going to the museum and to see the Brandenburg Gate. Not getting anywhere what I wanted to get done and seen, but still having a good time. The food is outrageously great and the beer goes without saying! My German is getting a vocabulary is coming back, but my grammar is hopeless! But...I am still able to get my point across without a game of charades!

I'm sending pics of the Wilhelm Memorial Church (also known as the Hollow Tooth since the spire was bombed off during the war) and of the very modern new church that rises up like a modern black tower next to the old one. Also sending pics of the Swissotel and of Checkpoint Charlie. Hope you enjoy the pics and I'll send more tomorrow night.

28 Feb 2008

Another really busy day and my feet are aching again! Started off the day by getting up early and got breakfast. Germany got me started on 2 minute eggs in the shell and it is something not many Ami's can stomach. Truth be told, I won't touch runny eggs otherwise, but go figure. Then got a bus/train ticket for the day and took the bus up to the Brandenburg Gate area which was right near the Reichstag German Parliament Building. I was going to go in, but the crowds were too much and the wait would have been too long. So I took pics of both Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag Building and then headed over to the Pergamon Museum.

The Pergamon is a collection of Middle Eastern pieces and of Ancient Roman and Greek pieces. Not just pieces though, whole friggin temples are set up in this museum! I mostly wanted to go to see the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. It was unearthed by German archaeologists between 1897 and 1914. They have set up in lifesize fashion, the small Ishtar Gate and two sides of tiles that were along the road leading into Babylon. Really a beautiful display. The lions in the tiles lining the streets into Babylon were supposed to intimidate potential conquerors of the city.

But what turned out to be even more blinding to me was the complete setup of the Pergamon Alter with as many of the friezes of all the lower walls of the temple. The temple tells of all kinds of mythical stories in Frieze fashion and is gargantuan! It must be about a city block long and three or four stories tall! The whole middle of the museum is dedicated to this monument of Grecian history. I thought I was impressed by the Egyptian room with the one temple in the Met in New York, but this has it waaaaayyy beat!

After the Pergamon, I had passed the 12 Apostles under the railroad tracks on the way to the museum. So I took the opportunity to have lunch there since it was recommended by I had an authentic Italian thin-crackly crusted pizza (the closest thing to an authentic real-live Italian pizza I've had since my trip to Italy in 2002) and a tall weissbier for under 11 Euro. They have lunch specials with pizzas only 7 Euro, so what the heck.

Got back to the hotel about 1330 and dropped everything and just relaxed for about 15 minutes before going out and shopping for some clothes for the trip home. I didn't have much to wear here, so I have been kind of forced to shop for my clothes every day. Good thing I'm only here for three days! Oh, I did manage to expand my old German 80's music collection while I've been here. I'm constantly working on replacing those old LP's with CD's of all my ancient musical tastes from way-back when I was here in 1984-1987! Add to the acquired list: Modern Talking, Muenchner Freiheit and Nena.

I'm including pics of the Brandenburg Gate which was on the West side when the Wall was put up. The Wall was put up within probably 100 feet of the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag. I've also included the crosses which still stand as dedication in remembrance to those who lost their lives trying to escape East Germany/East Berlin to the West side. You might even notice that the last guy to lose his life did so only a few months before the Wall came down and reunification started.

Also including a pic of the Reichstag. It was restored in the 1950's, but the West German government was not allowed to conduct any government business in it while the two Germany's were divided. The building wasn't officially opened for Government functions until 1990 after the government Capital was moved from Bonn back to Berlin after nearly 50 years.

Back to 19 March in Iraq:
Sorry I didn't write more down while I was there. As expected, the trip home was very nice. The only problems faced were with the doggie. She got into something and a huge clump of hair came out of the top of her back. Took her to the vet and they shaved it to find a rash or large infected area. They still suggest that she was bitten by something, but we don't have anything around for her to be bit raccoons, squirrels or critters I can think of.

Then when we spoke with our neighbor (over cocktails, of course!), she said that their dog cornered an opossum under their porch. Maybe Cayenne cornered the same one in the pine trees and it bit her?! Who knows. But a week after I am back here, the infection has healed and the biopsies taken to make sure it wasn't a cancerous sore will have the stitches out on Friday. She is like a kid to me, so I still worry!

Nothing else goin on at this end.

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