Good morning from Tel Aviv!

Today is a bit of a rest and relax day in our vacation.  We arrived in Tel Aviv late yesterday afternoon and we will meet our travel team this afternoon around 4 PM when they arrive from Dallas.  It will be so good to see everyone.  In the meantime, I finally found a way to upload our itinerary to my blog so you can follow us day by day and see where we will be traveling! Have a wonderful day!  Janet


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Rome: Day 2

Our second day in Rome was our only full day here. We had tickets for a tour of the Vatican museums including the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica. Sydney was especially looking forward to this morning because it was a chance for her to see first hand a lot of the art that she had studied in AP Art History this year.

We gave ourselves a full hour to get to the Vatican from the hotel via metro, not realizing there was a public transportation strike. The trains were packed, so much so that we had to split up as a family onto two separate trains to get where we were going. Thank goodness our tour guide was understanding when we arrived almost ten minutes late for our tour! The Vatican complex is huge (second largest museum in the world behind the Louvre) and there were about 20,000 folks there to see the museums that day. So while I was able to capture a few pictures, most of the day was spent trying to navigate through the crowds to see some amazing works of art. My favorite was the first sculpture that Michelangelo completed when he was only in his twenties. It is a portrait of Mary holding the crucified body of Jesus. Considering it was one of his first pieces, it was stunning and it was the only piece of art that he ever signed.

We finished up at the Vatican slightly after 1 pm and headed for the Spanish Steps and the shopping district. Some of the best designers in Italy have boutiques in this area and while we enjoyed looking at what Valentino was offering this year, we did not go home with any of his new clothes. The girls did find some cute things in the one off stores that were more affordable and my husband did enjoy looking for a new watch in some very nice stores, our afternoon of shopping around the Spanish Steps would probably have been better spent elsewhere.

Our final adventure out was to the Trevi Fountain at night. We had heard this was beautiful, especially in the evening when it was well lit. After dinner in the surrounding neighborhood with Caprese Salad and Lobster with Alfredo Sauce, the girls gathered their coins to make there love wishes into the fountain. When I messed up the picture and asked for a reshoot, I was informed by them that they were only allowed one love wish and a reshoot would mess things up. So alas, I don’t have a real good picture of this moment.

I will be the first to admit that 2 days in Rome is far too short, but the time was well invested and we saw many wonderful things. On our next trip, I would like to spend an entire day at the Vatican. They estimate that to see everything in the Vatican complex, it will take 5 full days.

Tomorrow morning we fly to Tel Aviv where we meet up with our friends for a two week tour of Israel. Looking forward to more amazing vacation time!

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Rome: Day 1

Our first day in Rome started as our 12-hour flight from the US landed at 8:15 in the morning.  We had all tried our best to get a good night sleep on the flight but the best we could hope for was about 3-5 hours each.  Regardless, we marched on….

After taking the train from the airport into center city and then a taxi to our hotel, we checked in, stored our luggage and headed out for the two venues we had mapped out that we wanted to see on Day 1:  The Coliseum and the Basilica San Clemente. 

The Coliseum was a no brainer, it was a massive piece of history that stood about 4 blocks from our hotel.  We were blown away by its size and grandeur (not to mention the crazy men dressed as gladiators standing in front of it).  We took some great pics of the outside, but the multiple hour long lines to get into the Coliseum and our lack of sleep for the last 24 hours, lead us to move on to lunch.  Our hotel rooms wouldn’t be ready until 2 PM, so we had no choice, but to keep moving. 

It was time for venue #2, the Basilica San Clemente

I first read about this Basilica when I was reading Mark Batterson’s book, Primal.  In the opening chapter of this book, he describes a historic basilica with catacombs that has layers of history underneath it.  Essentially, three buildings one on top of another.  

In the late 1800s, archeologists discovered remains of an older basilica underneath the present building.  They started digging and kept digging until they also discovered the ruins of a 1st century home underneath that.  Today for 5 euros, you can see (and practically touch) ancient frescoes and columns that were once a part of that old church as well and pagan worship altars and an active spring that were once a part of the first century home.  It was amazing to see such ancient history up close. 

 Our evening ended with dinner at Pasquale’s restaurant and with the girls returning home to rest while the adults watched the sun set and the full moon rise at the Coliseum and later on the rooftop of our hotel. 

The internet connections here in Rome are not great, but I hope to update you on Rome: Day 2 as we fly to Tel Aviv tomorrow.

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Summer Vacation 2013

I got a call from my mom last night.  Even though I am in my mid-forties, she never fails to check up on me when I am traveling, even to the point of asking me to call her when I get there.  Since this trip is an international trip, she just asked that I post a blog….so here goes!

The beginning of this year seems like a bit of a blur.  It started out with my husband being contacted by a potential new employer that was interested in interviewing him for a CTO position.  In his line of work, he gets a fair share of these requests and while he was not looking for a new job, he often views such requests as great networking opportunities.  The organization that called was Southwest Airlines and the “networking” that took place early in the year, turned into a job offer and acceptance by late April. He started commuting to Texas in early May and the girls and I followed once school was out in early June. Our house sold quickly in Florida and we were blessed to close on our house the last day we were in Florida.  Our Texas house won’t close until mid-July, so we are homeless and debt free until mid-July.

Last fall, before any of this occurred, we had planned a summer vacation to Rome and Israel.  We realize that we have only a few summers left with our girls who are in their late teens and we really want to expose them to as much of the world as possible.  Last year it was London, Paris and Scotland and this year, when friends of ours who are missionaries to Costa Rica organized a trip to Israel, we decided to take them up on it. One lesson we learned from our travels last summer was that jetlag on the first day is a killer, so we decided to start our trip with a few days in Rome to transition to the time difference and because our oldest is very interested in majoring in Art History.  After finishing her AP Art History class, she is excited about seeing all of the treasures of art that Rome has to offer.  We will spend the first three days of our vacation there and then we will meet up with our tour group in Israel.  If you want to follow our itinerary while we are there, I will try to post it when I have a better internet connection.

I always like to try to blog through our trips for several reasons:  1)I like sharing what I learn and see with others; and 2) I never got to travel across the ocean until I was an adult, so if for any reason, you won’t have the chance to travel this summer, I hope that you can travel along with me via blog, Facebook and Instagram.  My instagram name is @janetmacc, but even more interesting is my husband’s photography.  You can follow him on Instagram @ambassador_pancakes.  He will also post his pictures to Facebook as well, if you are lucky enough to be his Facebook friend. Hopefully, you will enjoy this vacation as much as we do.

Wherever you are, may you have a wonderful summer!

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Bonjour et Au Revoir, Bordeaux

We arrived in France on Tuesday. It was the first time in our travels where we traveled from one country into another, neither of which was our home country (UK to France). Entering France was remarkably easy compared to our entrance into the UK at Heathrow Airport where we spent at least an hour waiting to get through customs. I’m hoping this was not the norm for Heathrow, otherwise, the throngs of visitors that will be arriving for the Olympics will be in for an initial shock. Especially if they have to wait for hours in the long line for customs only to realize that they have to pay to pee afterwards as they run for the public restrooms. My hope is that they will find the money exchange stations before they get in line for customs or they will literally be up a creek.

But this story is suppose to be about our day in Bordeaux!

As I mentioned, we arrived in France with little fanfare. No customs card on the plane, no long lines at the plane exit. Just a border patrol policeman who stamped my passport with no questions. We headed from the airport to our hotel, the Grand Hotel de Bordeaux. It is part of the grand architecture of Bordeaux located across the street from the Opera House. While our time here did not allow us time to see an opera, it did a allow us a day to explore the history of some of the wineries of the Medoc region of France. We visited three wineries and did wine tastings — Chateau Phelan-Segur, Chateau Pontet-Canet, and Chateau Cantenac-Brown. I will review each of these for you in a moment, but if you look at my Facebook or Instagram, you will see that there are many more chateaus and vineyards that we did not get to visit, but we did stop by the side of the road for a “Instagram moment.” Most of these grand chateaus were built in the 18th and 19th centuries and some were built merely for show on the labels of the wine that were produced. A small portion of them are actually lived in by the owners of the vineyards today, but in most cases, it is only for a small portion of the year.

What I loved most about our visits to the vineyards was learning about the wine making process. Some of these processes have been in place for hundreds of years. When it came to the winemaking process, my favorite vineyard was Chateau Pontet-Canet. They are the only organic vineyard in Medoc and they also use all natural products as pesticides. In this case, their pesticide strategy is based in sage which is distributed over the vineyard by horse drawn carts. Five horses work the vineyard on a regular basis distributing the natural sage and maintaining the levels of the vines. While their process seems very primitive (grapes also continue to be hand picked and hand sorted), on their 2009 vintage, the renowned wine critic Robert Parker gave them a perfect score of 100 on their wine. Today a bottle of their 2009 vintage will sell for about $300USD.

But when it came to my favorite wine tasting, it was Chateau Phelan-Segur. The owner of this vineyard also owns Orange Groves in Florida and grows oranges for Tropicana, so we had a connection. What was great about this vineyard was that the tour was given by the winemaker himself. He taught us about blending the wine for taste and how that happens over the course of the winemaking process. At Phelan-Segur we also saw some of the newer technologies introduced into the winemaking such as an optical grape sorter that could scan the good berries from the bad and discard those that are not to standard. I also loved the wine tasting at Phelan-Segur the best. The wine maker allowed us to taste three or four vintages in a row so that we could see how wine tasted through the aging process. I love the younger wines and Craig loves the more mature wines, so we both agreed that we loved the Phelan-Segure wines, but just different vintage years.

Our day in Bordeaux was both wonderful and exhausting! We came back early and collapsed at the hotel. Tomorrow will be another travel day where we take the train to Paris to meet up with my sister Christy and her husband Erik. This will be the last leg of our trip before we head back to Florida on Monday. But we will be in Paris, so I’m sure there will be many adventures to come!!

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Our final day in Scotland

Keeping up with blogging is no easy challenge, especially with the scarcity of available internet on this trip. I’m sure 20 years from now, the availability of free internet will be a non-issue, but today it is still a challenge.

On our last full day in Scotland, we drove from on side of the country to the other, on the coastal route. We left our wonderful accommodations at Culzean Castle and headed for Melrose, home to Melrose and Dryburgh Abbeys. Two large abbeys that today stand in ruin, but are still beautiful examples of the architecture of the 13th-16th centuries. Our path took us through other small towns, ruins of other castles, and some amazingly beautiful countryside. We drove carefully through the valleys so as not to hit any sheep that might be crossing the roads, as they grazed with no fences on the beautiful hills and mountains.

Our evening destination brought us to our stay at the Dryburgh Abbey hotel. While the hotel itself was about a 2 star hotel, the food was amazing and the scenery was equally beautiful. After our five course dinner, we headed to bed in preparation for our early flight to Bordeaux, France.

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Chasing down our Family History

Father’s Day was super fun and special for all of us in different ways. One of the projects I have enjoyed working on is the family history for both sides of the family. I completed it years ago on my side, but just started working on in over the last year for Craig’s family in anticipation of this trip. I can easily spend a full day on tracing down ancient family history.

I had lots of help on this project from a man I knew only briefly, Craig’s grandfather, Kenneth Maccubbin (Grandpop), who loved to document the history of the Maccubbin side, especially Nicolas Maccubbin, a famous relative who was a wealthy land owner in Baltimore and who played a large role in financing the Revolutionary War. And several generations before Nicolas, we had John Maccubbin known as John the colonist, who left Scotland for America in an argument with his father over religion.

But it was John the colonist and his father, Laird (Lord) Fergus Maccubbin, that we spent Father’s Day trying to find. Laird Fergus Maccubbin was the Lord of an area called Knockdolian. The Knockdolian castle still exists in ruins on private property outside a small town called Colmonell. John was born in the castle and as the story goes, Laird Fergus Maccubbin also established the family burial vault in the cemetery of the Church of Colmonell in 1663.

So we headed out on Father’s Day to find both the church (and the cemetery) as well as the castle. To be honest, I expected we would either find gold, or it would be a total dead end. We were after all looking for history that is over 300 years old and in ruins. Our path landed us at the church, as they were just finishing up morning services. We met a wonderful lady who was locking up and asked us what name we were looking for on the gravestones. I told her “Maccubbin.” “Let me check the book,” she said.

After a few moments she came out to tell us there were no Maccubbins in the book. “But” she said, “There is a vault in the back of the cemetery. It is really old and locked. It is currently used by the Duke of Wellington for his family. But Billy Maccubbin (a local resident), swears his relatives are buried under there.”

We headed back to the cemetery and sure enough there it was. Carved at the top of the entrance was 1663 and a picture of a coat of arms. From my research on

Fergus McCubbin erected the tomb of the Knockdolian family in the church yard of Colmonell in 1663, and bears the armorial standards of the McCubbin’s.

So after we paid our respects to our ancestors, we moved on to see where they lived. The nice lady at the church, said it wasn’t against the law to enter someone’s private property as long as we were respectful of their stuff, so an unnamed member of our family took her up on this when we got to the castle and jumped a stone wall to get some better pictures. However, in this case the property they entered was owned by the Duke and Duchess of Wellington.

We all made it out just fine and a few unnamed members of the family got some great pictures of the ancestral home of the Maccubbins, Knockdolian Castle. I’m posting one from the internet, but when they are available from the other cameras, I will post them here as well.

While we didn’t get to bring Donald on this trip with us I know that he would have loved, loved, loved this portion of our journey. Grandpop would have too! And while I have not been a member of this family for that long compared to the rest of these folks (only 18 years), it was super fun for me to see all this history as well.


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Sleeping in the Eisenhower Apartment

On Saturday, we left Edinburgh and traveled across Scotland to West Kilbride. West Kilbride is known for its artisans and crafters, so we got a chance to see some beautiful art in a variety of mediums. The craft town is based in a restored old church in the center of down. While the outside of the church looks to be hundreds of years old, the inside was renovated and modern and provided shared space for artists to display and sell their work.

After leaving West Kilbride, we journeyed through the countryside of Scotland. At one point, we fought the GPS and took the back roads that allowed us to drive along the coast. While we have gone against the advice of the GPS in other countries and paid dearly for it, this time we saw beautiful countryside and even ran into the ruins of an old castle in Dunscore, which belonged to the Kennedy clan in the 14th-16th centuries. The castle had been abandon since the middle of the 17th century, but the city had created a park around it and if you wanted to, you could climb through the ruins of the castle. Craig and his mom took on the challenge and both came back raving about how wonderful it was. I have a feeling we will be climbing through alot more abandoned castles in this country!

After leaving Dunscore, we traveled on to our destination for the evening — Culzean Castle, also a Kennedy castle. Craig made an amazing online find when he found this castle and the Eisenhower Apartment. This 6 bedroom apartment and living area was given to General Eisenhower in 1946 as a thank you from the people of Scotland. The story goes that in 1945, the Kennedy family gave the castle and its grounds to the National Trust for Scotland. In doing so, they stipulated that the apartment at the top of the castle be given to General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, for use during his lifetime, in recognition of his role as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during the Second World War. The General first visited Culzean Castle in 1946 and stayed there four times, including once while President of the United States.

We have truly enjoyed staying in 2 of the 6 bedrooms of this apartment. The drawing room, although round, has the feeling of the Oval Office when you step into it. And our accommodations definitely have the feeling of being in the White House.

I’m sorry that I have not posted as many pictures on my blog as I usually do. I am working off my iPad and it is more challenging to post the pictures than it is with my computer. If you want to see pictures that correspond with all my posts, please see my Facebook or Instagram pages.

Today is Father’s Day — Happy Father’s Day, Dad! We are heading out to find the historic ruins of the Maccubbin family castle called Knockdolian castle and a corresponding family cemetery that is located in an adjoining town called Colmenoll. All created by Laird (Lord) Fergus Maccubbin in the 1600s. Research says these places exist. I will report back in my next post.

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Scottish Street Musicians

Amazing Grace!

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June 15, 2012 · 6:16 pm

Welcome to Scotland

At around noon on Thursday we crossed the border between England and Scotland.  Our train left King’s Cross Station from Platform 9 3/4’s (ok, actually it was Platform 2, but it makes the story better) at about 11 AM on Thursday and we arrived in Edinburgh around 3.  We will spend the next 2 days here on the Royal Mile which leads up to the Castle Edinburgh.  This castle dates as far back as 600 AD and has been home to Scottish Kings and Queens of the Canmore Dynasty, the Balliol and Bruce and the Stewart Dynasty.  King James I was born in the Castle to Mary Queen of Scots and became King a year later. Lots of good old history in this castle.  We even got to see the crowned jewels of Scotland, although as with many of these historical sites, we were not allowed to take pictures of them.  

After arriving last night, it was too late too visit the castle, so we searched for a place to have dinner.  We came across a new resturant that was opening called Michael Neave, Kitchen and Whiskey Bar.  We got to meet Michael, who was 21 years old and had just opened his resturant 3 days earlier.  He was a former executive chef at another highly respected resturant in town and we might have been his only customers that night.  The food was excellent and the deserts were even more excellent!  Micheal recommended the steak as the best item on the menu, but at least two of us had the pork which I thought was even better.  You didn’t even need a knife to eat it.  

Tomorrow we head for the Scottish Countryside where we will spend our first night at Culzean Castle in the Eisenhower Apartment.            

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