you say dubai, and i say hello

i thought i would try to play catch up with 2013 on this blog. not only because, well, it’s a travel blog and i haven’t been doing a good job updating my travels, but because i want to look back and remember things- the places i go, the people i meet, and the adventures i had. it’s fun to look at the photos, but there’s something cathartic about writing it all down.

so first up in 2013 was going to dubai. i went to dubai for work, for a sales and marketing meeting dubbed “Journey to the Vision.” my company’s vision is “to touch half of the people of the world every day with our products and services.” we are about half way to our goal, and we fully expect to get to the goal by 2017. so every four years from 2009 on we have had this meeting to build morale, to be encouraging… to get to go to cool places like paris and dubai.

and really, the place was super cool. we stayed at the world’s tallest hotel only hotel in the world. it’s called the jw marriott marquis, if anyone wants to check it out. it had tons of different restaurants and entertainment. oh, AND it had a bar called “the vault” on the top floor, which had bank vault type doors as the entrance. there was also a cigar lounge, so you could also smoke up there. not that i did or anything. 😉

smoking

i had to travel to dubai early to help set up for this 3 day meeting. normally i would have loved this opportunity, but for some terrible reason i was sick beyond belief at this point in the year. that, piled on top of a 14 hour plane ride, made for a pretty grouchy amanda. but i got there, we hammered out some last minute details, worked with the musical (yeah… we brought actors out to put on a musical), did run-through’s for lighting and sound, and i loaded up on cold medication. basically anything that would help me swallow, breathe, or sleep.

after a few days, other people started arriving to dubai and heading to registration. despite feeling so miserable, i was pretty excited to see people. besides the presidents of the different business units and the few of us on the plenary teams, we really hadn’t had much time to converse or even leave the hotel. so when the taxis started to pull up and a few of my favorite co-workers were spotted, my mood was lifted dramatically. it lifted even more so when most of the the corporate marketing group (aka: my team) went up for a drink in the vault. i got a grapefruit infused vodka for 40 dirham, which is a little under $11 US dollar. alcohol = expensive in dubai.

vault

vodka

marketing in the vault

the next few days were honestly a bit of a whirlwind. i had been in charge of producing the opening “skit” (it was a WWF parody), which went off smoothly. the opening reception was in full swing. when the reception was done, everyone meandered up to our private (poolside) bar and continued what we do best. drinking. networking. (ha, see what i did there? see?)

i won’t bore you with the details of the whole meeting, but i will say that the last night was something extremely special to experience. our closing ceremony was in the middle of the desert in a man-made stadium area. there were different stations for food, drinks, and there were people there to make it a more “authentic” dubai experience. i was able to hold a falcon, ride a camel, and get a henna tattoo. there were also arabic hand writing stations, palm readers, and a nice showing of fireworks. i thought six hours in the desert was going to be a ridiculously long time (again, had to go early to help set up). but the time flew by and i still hadn’t gotten to all the stations by the time the night was over.

camel

falcon

fireworks

unfortunately, all the energy put into the meeting made me feel even worse once it was all over. after the meeting, there was a tour for the people who had helped and didn’t get to go do any activities. it was fun, don’t get me wrong. we got to go shopping in the spices and textile souks, do a bit of sight seeing, a little bargaining… but by the end of the day i was napping in the van while the rest of the group was continuing. the souks were beautiful, though. so many rich textures and colors and even smells. i walked away with four different pashmina scarves and a few other knick knacks.

spice souks

the next day a smaller group of us went sandboarding and dune-bashing– the dune-bashing was enough to test even the strongest of heads and stomachs– and went inside the Burj Kahlifa, the tallest building in the world. i also got to see my friend tim kucera who is spending the year in afghanistan. he just happened to be in dubai at the same time getting his visa renewed, which was a great twist of fate as he got to join us for a few activities.

boarding

goofy feet

burj

the worst part of the trip, however, was that i had even scheduled to stay a few extra days with my friend rohit, who lives in dubai. i obviously stayed, but i was so sick at this point that i was unable to attend a VIP party at atlantis (underwater club in a fancy hotel) with a group of his friends and instead went to bed about 9pm and woke up at around noon the next day. but rohit really saved the day by getting me some more medicine (mine had ran out), and my co-worker brad and i still got to see some cool additional sights. i bought a really unique soapstone chess set in “Africa” in Dubailand, a theme-park looking area that has markets with food and merchandise from all different areas of the world. it was like a magnified and less cheesy version of disney world’s “it’s a small world” ride.

rohit and friends

dubailand

all in all, it was a great time and adventure, though! i don’t know if i will ever make my way back to dubai, so i can honestly say it was a once in a lifetime experience.

here are some odds and ends or highlights of dubai or my time there:

  • because it is a muslim country, alcohol is super expensive. it is so expensive, in fact, that we had to have drink tickets at this event to prevent people from going over our allotted budget.
  • if you want to get any of this said alcohol, you must be in a hotel or a restaurant located inside a hotel. brad and i ate at applebees *cough shut up don’t judge us we were in a bad mood cough* and almost ordered some tasty adult beverages before we realized they weren’t very adult at all.
  • tina is an awards master. we had an award’s ceremony on monday night of the meeting, and she won first place for every entry she submitted. as i do most of her graphics work, i felt a nice sense of pride for my teammate. T&A (Tina and Amanda, you perverts) Harmonious Way.
    TA
  • dubai is a strange culture of the very rich and the poor. when the recession hit, it hit dubai hard. rich business men dropped their cars off at the airport and just left, never to return because they knew they had gone broke. you will see extravagant and beautiful buildings next to worn down, half-built structures with construction tape wrapped around it.
  • bring sunglasses. there are dust storms.
  • be conscious of the culture- in muslim countries it isn’t appropriate for women to be scantily clad. they aren’t making you wear a burka- but they don’t want you wearing short skirts and strapless tops either (although we did see our fair share of those).
  • 14-15 hour plane rides suck. i did a non-stop in order to get there faster, but maybe would suggest taking flights in segments if you get the chance. your body might thank you.

“Birth.”

as some of you may know, i am moving to belgium next year for work. for those of you that don’t know, don’t feel bad. i mean, how could you have know? i haven’t updated this thing for nearly a year. but yes! it’s happening. living and loving abroad for at least two years starting january 2014.

the move is a little bittersweet for me. don’t get me wrong, i’m beyond excited for a new adventure. and as far as countries go, you really don’t get much better than belgium. for instance, most of the belgians i know can understand and flip sarcasm just as well as an american. and they do it in a secondary language (i’m sure they can do it in dutch too, but i wouldn’t understand). but that’s a huge thing. they speak english. they are known for chocolates, waffles, beers, bicycles… you know. the finer things in life.

and i’m attempting to learn dutch. i already drink a(n un)healthy amount of beer. i’m not too terribly worried about making friends. having said that and expressed my excitement, i must admit there is a bit of sadness as well.

you see, there is a part of me that will always love and have a loyalty to iowa. sure, our four seasons are brutal. we get mocked for having so much corn growing across this fine and flat state. outsiders don’t know the difference between iowa or idaho or ohio… but the people in iowa are wonderful. we have that “midwestern work ethic” which means we don’t stop until we get the job done and we get it done right. but we not only WORK hard, we play hard too. we are loyal. we’re nice. we’re a little backwards, not on the peak of fashion or the finest, but we are good people. and i will miss that.

so to bring a little bit of home with me overseas, i’m commissioning art off of some of the greatest artists/designers/inspirations i know… my friends. that way i have a constant reminder of people back home and i also get to display some damn good art while i’m at it.

the first piece of art i collected is a piece by my good friend Jon- the title of the piece is called ‘birth.’

i absolutely love it. i originally requested a painting from him about two years ago and jon gladly accepted the challenge. i told him i didn’t care what he painted, i just wanted something unique. i also told him there was no hurry or deadline on the piece, which i think he took to heart. the painting traveled with him for 2 years between three different apartments, and a multitude of people had the opportunity to see it in its different phases. it started out much like a skeleton head, then slowly turned into outlines of fish. then we watched in amazement as the fish became more detailed, and beautifully so. also, the piece is huge, like 27×39″, so i plan to have it be the center piece of my “iowa-inspired” wall in belgium.

birth by jon pearson

birth by jon pearson

fishy fishy2

i’ve known jon for about as long as i have been in des moines. one of my favorite things about this silly guy is that he just does not understand sarcasm. with me being one of the most sarcastic and flippant people i know, i’m not sure how our friendship budded the way it did, but i am so glad for it. he’s one of the most genuine people i know- he is always thinking, questioning, and pushing himself to be better. and throughout the years i think his art has really reflected this.

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if you want to check out any of Jon’s other work, you can go to any of the following. he also does commission work (although if it’s anything like mine, it may take awhile). 😉

thanks again, jon! it will be the highlight of my des moines wall.

i’m not going to apologize

okay, i will apologize. i’m sorry i haven’t written in this for about a year. i am getting back into it, i promise. the problem is the year just got incredibly busy. and there was so much i wanted to write about, but then more stuff happened… and then it got overwhelming.

but enough excuses. i’m back and ready to attack.

august was a good month.

oh, august. you threw me for a curve.

as most of you know, evan and i decided to end our relationship. it was a very hard decision for the both of us, and it was a decision that was made with much care and thought. you don’t just throw away 2.5+ years without a certain amount of regard…

we are both okay. i think that’s the main question that i’ve been asked- and i know people are checking in because they genuinely care for the both of us. but yes, we are both okay. i think we are both sad that it had to end and will both be adjusting to not being together, but we are still good friends and talk on a regular basis. we recognized the good times, we apologized for the bad. at this point in our lives it is not practical for us to be together. and that’s all. and that is life.

but it still reminds me of what evan says he’s learned over the years– that you have the choice to either make it a good day or a bad day. a good year or a bad year. bad things can happen, but it’s your perspective and how you choose to react that makes it reality. so, all in all, august was a good month. the day we broke up was a good day.

and here are some other things that happened in august:

  • dexter season 5 came out on DVD. this is a big deal, people.
  • i sold some photography at a local market back in my home town area. i can officially cross that off of my bucket list, which feels nice.
  • my family has gotten big into biking. i have joined them a couple of times on some trails- it’s a lot of fun. it’s nice to leisurely ride around.
  • some of my favorite co-workers flew in to des moines for the world wide scientific meeting. i get to see these people maybe once or twice a year, and they are a guaranteed good time. plus the event was right after evan and my break up, so i was so busy making sure everything ran smoothly it didn’t give me much time to feel sad/bad for myself.
  • i brought a small group back to my hometown of dayton, iowa for the rodeo. every labor day weekend by town of 850 people grows to approximately 10,000. we brought a tent, cowboy attire, and lots and lots of booze.

july takes the cake

okay, so far i’ve had a pretty exceptional 2012. besides a few minor snafoos (snafus? spell check isn’t getting that, but that can’t possibly be right…), i really can’t complain. it has been a remarkable and busy year.

but july definitely takes the cake. not only for how busy, but for how wonderful it was. so many high emotion things happened. so many things that make me thankful for being alive, for being well, for living in the moment. congratulations, july. august, you have a tough act to follow.

  • 80/35. one of the best music festivals, right in downtown des moines. my favorite band, the avett brothers, were playing the main stage on friday. it was absolutely wonderful- seriously one of the best concerts i have attended.

    i had two day tickets, but gave away my second one because…
  • i won a contest. that doesn’t sound like much in itself, but i wrote a short summary for a pennzoil contest about why i love my car. it had to be 250 characters or less, and the winning submission won 2 VIP tickets to a pre-show, acoustic set with country legend tim mcgraw. even though my submission didn’t have the most votes, the judges liked it the best and my best friend mallory and i got two free tickets to the kenny chesney/tim mcgraw ‘brothers of the sun’ concert in minneapolis. even better? two backstage tickets to see tim mcgraw, in which we scored front and center seating (standing).

  • fourth of july. had a low key night, hung out with evan and the family. ate sweet corn. delicious, iowa sweet corn. you haven’t lived until you’ve had iowa sweet corn. and you won’t die happy until you do.
  • i went to denver (with Ms. Jessica) to see a good friend of ours. we had all known each other from way back when we used to work together at a church camp. i will expand on my trip to colorado, but, heck, what an awesome and well needed vacation.
  • evan and i had our first “real” fight- well, not really a fight, i guess, but a realization that we might not make it as a couple. through that time we addressed issues, concerns, joys, and i believe we will come out stronger because of it. and even if we don’t, i can’t say i would want to take it back even if i could. i know i gained invaluable life lessons from him and i’d like to say that our time together has made me a better person and helped shape who i am today.
  • RAGBRAI – or “The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa,” went through my hometown. For those of you not from this fine state, RAGBRAI is an annual seven-day bicycle ride across the state. It’s mostly a big party on a bike, but it is the oldest, largest, and longest bicycle touring event in the world. Even American biking legend Lance Armstrong has ridden in RAGBRAI.
  • friends moving galore. 😦 it seems like everyone is in a transitional phase right now. alex has moved to portland. meredith is moving out to colorado springs. marsha is on her way back to holland… everything is up in the air. i’m not complaining, it’s just an observation.
  • ugh work. when is work NOT busy? so much has been accomplished so far this year. i’m looking forward to the rest of this year and seeing what the future with kemin holds.

waffles and chocolate and beer, oh my!

oh man. besides saying that i wouldn’t mind living there for the rest of my life, what is there to say about belgium? it’s beautiful. it’s clean. it’s biker friendly. its… its… it’s 1/5 the size of iowa and yet so rich with culture and history.

evan and i took off for belgium on friday, april 27. i was being sent there to help direct and edit our company’s first town hall meeting of the year, and evan was going because he’s always dreamed of going to belgium. since the first part of may was a holiday for europe, we decided it would be a convenient time to go and have a mini-vacation before my actual work week started.

we had to take separate flights because we booked at different times, but we arrived in the brussels airport roughly about an hour apart. while i was waiting i caught up with our hostess with the mostess, adrianna, a colleague who used to work in the united states but was transferred to our europe office a year and some ago.

once we got our bearings (and our luggage), adriana took us back to her apartment in antwerp where we promptly took a nap. i know they say you’re never supposed to nap when you get somewhere because you won’t adjust to the time zone, but eff that. i’m always tired and when i’m tired, i will take a nap. don’t even try to stop me.

that night, after waking up bright eyed and bushy tailed from our slumber, evan and i went exploring around antwerp- he had a meeting he wanted to attend and i had a friend i wanted to see. while evan was at his meeting i went to the something-plaats (it’s been awhile, the name escapes me) — DAGERAADPLAATS! (i remembered 15 minutes later and came back to update, but had to leave what i had before to show how proud i was that it came back to me) …

…ahem. i went to the dageraadplaats and had dinner with jeroen, a sarcastic former-coworker who loves antwerp with his whole heart and loves to bad mouth/trash talk my love for des moines, iowa even more. we shot the shit and drank beer for a good hour before evan showed back up, and then we went to a different restaurant (the one we were at was closing) so ev could have a meal. he ordered a steak tartare, which is basically raw meat mixed with some onions, capers, and some seasonings. what a daring man. i mean, i wouldn’t order it, but i did try it and it really wasn’t too bad. it kind of tasted like meat loaf.

after we left jeroen, which was around 11:30 pm, we realized the buses had already stopped for the night. the city bike rental places also had shut down– all of which probably would’ve been a problem for most people. i mean, sure it was quite the distance back to adriana’s apartment. and sure, we could’ve gotten some internet or phone access to get ahold of her to come pick us up. but like any good ol’ iowa farm couple… we walked. and we got lost. and we read some maps. and we got caught in the rain. and evan got to babysit a slightly tipsy amanda. and we walked some more.

we finally arrived back at adriana’s apartment at around 2:00 in the morning. we were tired and wet from the rain, but still extremely happy. antwerp was such a great city to walk around and get familiar with. we loved the idea of the “red lane” in the middle of the sidewalk which was reserved strictly for bikers and motorbikes. we loved how the city felt safe and everyone was friendly. we got home and immediately crashed into bed. the plan was to meet my co-worker drew and his wife chelsea in bruges the next day and figured it’d be good to at least get a little bit of sleep.

let me just stop to say, i do not have an international plan on my phone. i think it costs a ridiculous amount of money for the purpose it serves, and as long as i am somewhere with wireless t i can contact other iphones and use the internet. it may not have served me so well in italy (uggggh that day), but i think it served me fine in belgium. i will admit, however, it would’ve been easier if drew and i had phones to contact each other, because getting the hook up for bruges was a mess. we finally got connected and agreed to meet at the train station a little before noon. evan and i had adriana’s car and drew and chelsea were taking a short train from brussels (where they were staying).

by the time we had met up with d&c, we were all starving. i was on the verge of getting hangry (a mixture of hungry and angry) so we walked around the small city of bruges and scoped out what restaurants struck our fancy. it was starting to rain, so chelsea picked a nice little place and we ducked in for some heat and for some food.

the place was a bit expensive- not only pricewise, but because of the exchange rate from the euro to the dollar. but we weren’t going to let that hinder our good time- we got ourselves a feast. drew and i sampled a few different types of belgian beers and he and evan also tried mussels (i’ve had those before, highly enjoyable). our menu was set- we got to pick from an appetizer menu, then a main course, and a small dessert. it was all really good, and from the restaurant we had a nice view of the lake and watched people do boat tours.

side note: have you ever seen the movie “in bruges?” if you haven’t, first off, you need to. it’s absolutely hilarious; subtle humor mixed with over the top, ridiculous situations, beautiful scenery….

and it has the best quotes. “If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me… but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”

so many things to see and do in bruges. we explored some abandoned streets, had our first belgian waffles, took a boat tour, saw a carnival area, and just soaked in the belgian life. okay, sure, bruges is probably the most touristy part of belgium, but i can’t really blame people for that. i mean… it’s like a fairytale town.


“It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s f*cking thing?” 

the next day we all agreed to meet in brussels for the day. again, this is where having a phone would’ve come in handy. it took longer than evan and i anticipated to get from the bus to the train station, and by the time we got to the train station, we found our train was delayed. so while we were already a half an hour late to brussels, we ended up being closer to 50 minutes later than the time we told drew and chelsea we would meet them.


evan sleeping on the train

determined to not let it ruin our day (as we assumed drew and chelsea had given up on us), we did some touristy things and explored brussels by ourselves. as fate would have it, i found a small coffee shop with internet access and drew happened to be on skype at the hotel at the same time. they met back up with us and we continued on our merry way, onto one of the merriest places of all: a place with beer. lots and lots of beer.

we also got a little reckless, in our own harmless way. we went to a casino and blew a bit of money and smoked a few cigarellos we picked up in a shop (evan had bought some cigars for my dad and the cigarellos were nice and cheap.) you know… when in rome. we also had our fill of belgian waffles, chocolates, and well, beer, of course.

the next day was probably the most low key day of our vacation. adriana brought us out to this little town called balen (which jeroen says translates to “it sucks” and advised us not to go) because koen had convinced evan that he should go orienteering while in belgium. since evan had never done that type of race before, the boys did a little bit of practice orienteering for the afternoon.  i sat on a terrace, drank, and watched gliders go up.

afterwards we had dinner with koen and his wife hendrika, and then they took us to the b&b where we were staying at, an adorable little place located on a sheep farm.

the rest of the trip was rather boring overall, so i will spare you all the details. basically i got to go to work and evan got to rent a bike and ride around belgium. sounds like he got the better end of the deal.

these were the highlights of the rest of the trip:

  • being able to network and meet new coworkers– i love the people/company i work for. it’s always good to get to know them better.
  • helping (successfully) organize the first town hall meeting of the year.
  • koen gave me a ride to work every day. (i love koen.)
  • i ate horse. don’t judge me.
  • recapping with evan at night about what we each did during the day.
  • going out to dinner with a fun group at the Kathedral restaurant.
  • airport hang out time with penny (i love penny… but in a different more work appropriate way)
  • actually getting to sit next to ev on the plane ride home

^Ja, ik zal.

a half-hearted apology, my letter to june.

Look, I don’t really have a good reason for why I’m not keeping up with this blog as well as I should. Realistically, I have three trips and a ton of events in my life that I’d like to tell you about. It’s just finding the time to do so.

I mean, it’s not like work has been ridiculously hectic (it has). I mean, not that I’m stroking my own ego (I am), but since the beginning of 2012 I have completed–as in from conceptualization to finalization– imagery/layout for over twelve advertising campaigns across the animal divisions of my company. Plus over five more products that are waiting to go through testing. (And about 25 products that probably never will.) Put that on top of daily graphic design work, add being the sole video person for a 1500+ employee company, and try to fit in a personal life… let’s just say my dance card is full. But hey, I mean, I think anyone could do it (they can’t).

I’m not complaining (I am), it’s just that I’ve been a little stressed out. But, things have seemed to calm down a bit (or I have just stopped caring),  so while I have your attention, I would love to tell you about my month of June.

  • the weather broke 100 degrees F. i know i probably sound like an old farmer, talking about the weather, but seriously? that is ridiculous. it usually doesn’t get that hot until late july/august
  • i had forgotten my old running shoes in mason city and i needed them for a race in des moines. evan, being a wonderful boyfriend, shipped them to me. i thought maybe he would include a note in the box, but he did me one better. he included a pre-eaten peanut butter sandwich. if that isn’t love, i just don’t know what is.
  • i celebrated my birthday on june 8 and evan celebrated his on june 21. for our birthdays, we went out for a nice steak dinner and we got addicted to a board game called settler’s of catan. it’s funny (sad), i got it for my birthday and we still play it daily (i’m writing this in late july)
  • speaking of celebrating my birthday– i didn’t really do it up this year. but i did get a lot of quality time with some good friends, which i appreciate even more than extravagant/ridiculous parties.
  • i ran my first 5k. i (kind of really) hated it. but it was a mud run with obstacles and a lot of stopping and starting. i think i would enjoy an actual 5k , sans mud (or so i’m telling myself).

    mud run

  • the dj girl talk came to des moines. it was the sweatiest, most outrageous dance party i have ever been to. i had two bottles of water poured on my head and i’m still convinced most of the moisture was sweat.