By Antoine Kinch
Shortly after getting engaged, we started to think about the daunting task of planning our wedding. Collectively we had lived all over the country (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C, Norfolk & Richmond, Virginia, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area) and had family and friends all over the world! How were we going to pull this off? I wanted a big engagement party. I am also a DJ so naturally I thought that throwing a party would help relieve the pressure for people who felt the need to travel across the country/world to make it to the wedding. But would they travel twice? Also, we certainly could not afford to have 500+ people at our wedding at the scale that we wanted (catering costs are VERY HIGH) so we had to figure out a way to make everyone feel included without breaking the bank. And with that the idea for an "Engagement Tour" was born. Shaunté came up with it. Instead of them coming to us we would go to them! We planned engagement parties in different cities.
While the idea of doing a domestic city tour was fresh, we stumbled upon a flight deal that would take us from New York to Europe and then to China. It was cheap too. REALLY CHEAP. So, I immediately called Shaunté without hesitation and said "let's book it and worry about the rest later!". It was official, we were LITERALLY going around the world. We invited friends to join us on any and all stops on the tour. We started with an impromptu gathering in Richmond and then had an engagement party in New York City in January 2015. We spent Valentine's Day weekend in San Francisco and Napa.
Now, the flight deal was for March and it would take us from Raleigh to New York and then to Milan, Italy. We spent a couple days in Lake Como (Bellagio) Italy and then took an Easy Jet flight from Milan to Munich, Germany. From there we would take a train ride to Prague and then a flight to Paris with a 12 hour layover (enough for us to take an Über into the city and have lunch and dinner) and then on to Beijing. On this trip, we would get to see the Great Wall of China! We took a bullet train ride from Beijing to Shanghai and then flew home from to Raleigh. In April, we drove up to Washington, DC and had an engagement party at Smith Commons. The final location that we would celebrate with our friends and family would be in Chicago for the Chosen DJ's House picnic on July 4th.
We flew from Raleigh to New York with a layover before our flight on AlItalia to Milan. My parents came to the airport to see us off on our around the world journey. "Be careful" they repeated over and over again as they often do when we take long flights. We were on a red eye flight that left in the evening and would be arriving in Italy in the morning so we made sure to get some sleep on the plane. When we arrived in Milan, we couldn't help but notice that there were a lot of cameras and news reporters around. Then as I turned the corner in baggage claim I see Ron Artest aka Metta World Peace standing next to me waiting for his bags. He had apparently signed a contract to play in Italy and the news was there to cover the story. I spoke with him for a little bit, collected our bags and off we went.
Another thing that I noticed once we arrived was that my phone was working very well. I had the T-Mobile International Data plan and because Italy was a covered country, I was able to surf the web without worry. They sent me a text message when we landed that notified me that it was all set. I was used to having to buy sim cards in foreign countries and use an unlocked phone with them so not having to do that any longer was a welcomed change. I was curious to see how well Über worked in Europe so rather than hailing a cab I opened the app on my iPhone and proceeded to order a car to take us to the hotel. It was very seamless and easy! The car arrived and we headed to the DoubleTree Milan. It was a little outside of the city center but we were able to use Hilton points so it brought the cost of the trip down so we went with it. Taking the train into downtown Milan wasn't hard and of course there was always Über or taxis.
I sent our friends Arleta, Tiffany, Ademola, and Donielle a message to let them know that we arrived safely and then we going to hit the streets and go grab lunch. So, off we went to ask the Concierge how to catch the train to get downtown. We walked up the street and caught the train headed to the Piazza del Duomo (Milan Cathedral) which is right in the heart of downtown. We looked around for someplace to eat and finally settled on a cafe close by. If there is anything that you can do in Italy it is EAT and drink. We people watched while waiting for our friends to arrive. We walked in and out of high end luxury brand stores looking for deals. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Tom Ford, etc. You would think that they would be cheaper in Italy right? WRONG. Once we all got together the party really started. We drank and caught up, shared stories and enjoyed the evening. At that point, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel. The next day we were going to do a city tour and really explore the city.
The next day we woke up and made our way over to meet everyone at Donielle's friend's Soul Food spot named: Corey's Soul Chicken. I know what you are thinking and yes, the black people found the soul food chicken joint in Italy. Go figure. It was actually really good and they had the good Texas Pete and Frank's hot sauce too. After we finished eating we called 2 Uber's and met up at the tour bus. We coordinated the tour through Viator beforehand. It was very organized, with an air-conditioned bus with stops at Teatro La Scala (one of the world's top Opera houses), Castello Sforzesco, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Piazza del Duomo and the Convent of Santa Maria del Grazie where Da Vinci's "Last Supper" painting is housed. We even had mini radios so that we could hear the tour guide at all times. It was worth every penny.
After the tour, we went to grab dinner and drinks back at the hotel. Again, Über to the rescue. What a way to celebrate our engagement with friends in Milan. And this was just the first stop. Next we were off to Lake Como for a couple of days. This was truly the adventure we were looking for.
The driver called our room the next morning and we proceeded downstairs to head to Lake Como. After visiting the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas I always wanted to visit the place that was the inspiration for the famous fountain and the hotel. Also, I knew that George Clooney had a house there, they shot parts of Star Wars at one of the villas and recently one of my favorite characters - James Bond did a scene there in Casino Royale. So this was going to be another dream come true. As we approached the mountains on our drive from Milan the air changed. It was crisp and had a bite to it. You could tell that the ice caps on the mountains were melting and Spring was upon us. There were a lot of bicycle riders on the winding roads leading up to the lake so the driver had to be careful. We passed vineyards and boutique cottages that were just opening for the season. We came in late March, early enough for places to be open but without any summer crowds. Just perfect! We arrived at Hotel Bellagio but our room was not ready yet so we decided to go sightseeing and grab a bite to eat and some espresso while they got out room ready.
The town of Bellagio is right on the water and the view was AMAZING. This was definitely an unforgettable experience and we already knew that once we completed this and other trips that we would return. Once our room was ready we dropped our bags and set off to to a boat tour of the Lake. Our guide Fillipo (Barendelli Tours) gave us a fantastic tour of the Lake. Because the season was just opening we had the whole tour to ourselves and he was able to take his time, not feel rushed and explain everything in detail to us. All that I knew was that I wanted to go on a tour of Villa Balbianello where the movies were shot but he slowed down at each of the waterfront Villas explained the architecture, who owned which Villa (Pirelli family, Richard Branson, etc) and even allowed Shaunté to drive the boat! Once we arrived at Balbianello, he dropped us off told us to take our time touring and that he would pick us up from the dock in 1.5 hours. What a highlight! We toured the grounds of the Villa, took pictures and then boarded the boat to head back to Bellagio.
We spent that night just in amazement at the views, the food, the wine and how friendly the people were. We walked the cobblestone streets and found a nice candlelit restaurant to dine at. Shaunté loves basil so having all of this fresh Italian food was certainly making her happy. We watched the sunset from our hotel room balcony and looked forward to our next stop: Germany.
Do you know what Wienerschnitzel is? Or what the only six beers that are drank at Oktoberfest are? Do you know what the Rathaus-Glockenspiel is and what it does? Or the difference between Bavaria & Deutschland ? Well, I couldn't answer any of these questions and after we left I knew it all. I don't think either of us knew the vast and great culture of what is now called Germany before we got there. It was raining when we got to Munich. We checked into the Sheraton Munich WestPark hotel. The train stop was right across the street so we could just hop on and head downtown. We scheduled a tour with Sandemans, a free walking tour that takes you from Marienplatz the central square in Munich, around to churches, museums, and the town with a guide that gives you the history. we even stopped at the world famous HofBrauhaus to have lunch and a pint of beer. We headed over to the BMW MELT and Museum and also did a tour there. We saw all of the Mini's and BMW car and motorcycle models including the new i8. Once we got back to the hotel we had dinner and rested up to get ready to catch the train to Prague.
When we woke up and headed to München Hauptbahnhof, the central train station we saw on the news that there were wind storms in the area that were causing major traffic delays. Well, it turns out that some trees had fallen on the train tracks in our path so our train ride to Prague was cancelled. All trains were stopped. We looked for cars to rent and all carriers were sold out. The only way to Prague was on the bus, so we headed over to Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof München which was a short walk from the train station and booked aa bus ride to Prague. It started to get cold so we waited in the restaurant Vapiano, had dinner and waited for a few hours.
The ride to Prague took about 4 hours. We stopped a few times for bathroom breaks and so the bus driver could stretch. Funny enough, at one of the stops we heard hip hop playing through the speakers. The Notorious B.I.G at that! We messaged our friend Diana and told her that we would be late so we would just catch up with her the next day because we weren't scheduled to arrive until close to midnight.
Now, what Shaunté did not know is that I had reached out to a photographer (George Hlobil) ahead of time and that we would be shooting our engagement photos at Prague castle and on the famous Charles bridge. We woke up that morning and I told her what we were going to be doing so she could put on in a nice dress and do her hair and makeup. It was so cold and windy that morning we didn't know if we would get good pictures. We took an Uber to the castle and walked up the stairs to the main gate. It was FREEZING! We ducked into a Starbucks and walked around the castle grounds while we waited for George to arrive.
Once he got there, we immediately started shooting. However, it was freezing cold. After every take we would run over to our coats and bundle up before changing locations. We had no idea how each pose looked but we trusted that George knew what he was doing and just went with it. We would find out what the pictures looked like in about a week or so, by the time we got to China. After we finished shooting on the Charles bridge, we took a walk back to our hotel through Prague. We stopped at different shops and stores and passed by the central square where the Prague Orloj or Prague Astronomical clock was located. Once we arrived back at the hotel, we made plans to meet Diana for dinner at the Grosetto Marina, with a lovely view of Charles castle. I was very surprised at how well the US dollar did in Prague. Everything seemed so inexpensive! After dinner we went to La Bodeguita Del Medio, a Cuban bar in Prague where we could get Cuban cigars, good drinks and hear some live music. We continued to bar hop a bit, I tried authentic Absinthe and enjoyed the scenery. No I did not hallucinate!
After two days in Prague, it was time to move on to the romantic city of Paris. We had a 12 hour layover on our flight to Beijing so we decided to go into the city and tour around a bit. We had both been to Paris separately but this was our first time going together. It was pouring down rain when we arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport. Once again the T-Mobile international data plan on my iPhone was working fine & we relied on Uber to get a car to take us into the city. First stop, the Pont Des Arts bridge by Notre Dame so that we could attach our love lock. Even though all the locks would be removed later on in the year because of the weight on the rails of the bridge, we still have comfort in knowing that our lock was there.
From there, we got a bite to eat at a cafe, and grabbed another Uber to head over to the Lourve. We sat in comfort in the food court at the Lourve. The wifi helped us check on all of our accounts, we charged all of our devices and waited out the rain. What we found odd was that the bathrooms required that you pay to use them AND show a receipt or proof of purchase from the food court in order to use them. Also, you had to pay for toilet paper! YES. Very strange, very strange in deed. So to even stick it to you even more, they have fancy colored toilet paper, some with designs, some that look like money (US dollars and Euros). So that I guess tourists would get a kick out of wiping their ass with money. Oui?
So once we were recharged, we headed over to the Eiffel tower where we setup our tripod and took some more pictures to document our trip! At one point we just stopped and looked around in silence just taking it all in. Was this a dream? It was all so magical and romantic, taking a trip around the world after getting engaged and meeting up with friends in these amazing locations. Shaunté called another Uber to take us back to the airport. Next stop Beijing.
A bottle of wine, and a lot of Zzz's later the 10 hour flight from Paris to Beijing was over. We were in CHINA. Now, if you have never been to China I will tell you this: take everything that you think you know and forget it all! Beijing was HUGE. Everything was on a massive scale. There were so many people! I am from New York CIty and I thought that I would be ready for the rat race but this was on a whole other level. There were people on top of people on top of people. Just to look at the population numbers and do a comparison, there are about 8.4 million people in New York City. In Beijing, there are 21 million people and in Shanghai there are about 24 million people. And you can tell right away. There was a line of cabs at the airport that looked like a parking lot. And don't be confused: THEY WILL HIT YOU. So you better step lively.
Once we got our bags and were ready to go to the hotel, I immediately took out my phone to get a signal. It worked! We met up with our Uber driver and we headed to the Doubletree Beijing. Those Hilton points really helped out! There was a McDonald's across the street so we knew that if all else failed, we could get something to eat that was familiar! Now, very few people spoke English here so we knew the language barrier was going to be a real hurdle to get over. We got settled in the hotel and went to the Hilton Honors Executive lounge while we waited for our room to be ready. The wait staff spoke English so they helped us get acclimated. The food in the lounge included dragon fruit slices, different types of noodles, buns and dumplings. I always make it a point to try the local fare wherever we go so I tried it and it was tasty. We got on the Wifi, got a few snacks and drinks and headed to the room. We noticed that Google did not work when we were on the Wifi but with our T-Mobile phones on the cellular network it did. This is important to note and I will tell you why later on.
Shaunté scheduled a tour for us the next day to go to Tianamen Square, The Forbidden City, and The Great wall of China through Han Tang Tours. We had breakfast at the hotel and met up with our tour guide Wendy, who arranged a car to take us around for the day. She was very nice and very helpful because she also spoke English! So, we headed over to Tianamen Square first. We marveled at the roads because there were like 6 lanes of traffic. It was like a highway but as a normal street. People were moving around everywhere and there were guards directing traffic. Wendy warned us to cross when the signal changed quickly so we could beat the rush of people. It was hard to imagine that this was the site in the middle of these huge buildings where in 1989 there were student led protests calling for freedom of the press and freedom of speech among other things.
There was a separate line for tourists to get tickets to enter the Forbidden city, whose gate was across from the square. Wendy helped us translate and we walked right in. I kept getting so many looks from random people and many came up to me to asking if they could take my picture. Now, I know what celebrities must go through. They kept asking me if I knew Stephon Marbury! It was truly overwhelming. I couldn't go 10 feet without someone stopping to take a picture with me. Wendy was getting frustrated and started telling the people in Chinese to leave us alone.
The Forbidden City was amazing. To think that all of China's emperors once lived here and no one from the outside world was even able to see the inside until 1912 was truly astounding. We looked around at the details in awe. Wendy explained the way that merchants would come to sell goods, and how you had to go through 4 huge gates just to get to the inner court where the Emperor lived. It truly was a city indeed. There were big cauldrons that would have fires going to heat the city during the winter time and a moat of water around the edge to supply the city with water.
We took a break from walking around and used the restrooms and got ready for our next stop - the silk factory. Now, even though we knew that this was a tourist trap where they were going to try to sell us a whole lot of souvenirs we were still interested in hearing about the history of the famous Silk Road and seeing the process for turning silk from silk worms into fabric. The factory was very clean and there were all kinds of items for sail. Ties, scarves, robes, shirts, pants, skirts, comforters, & pillows. Pretty much anything you could think of. They even shrink wrapped whatever you purchased so that you could take it home easily. They had quite the system going. We purchased comforters and pillows which helped boost their economy slightly.
So now we were on our way to The Great Wall of China. For me this was a central part of the trip because when I turned 30, I set a personal goal of seeing all 7 Wonders of the World by the time I turned 40. At the time, I was 37 years old and this made World Wonder #6. The drive out to the wall was about an hour. Traffic was light and as we approached you could look up into the hills and see the wall winding into the distance. It was definitely something to see. I deliberately packed and wore my Wu-Tang t-shirt for this moment! We entered at the Juyongguan pass, one of the 3 great mountain sections of the wall. The steps up the wall were no joke. Each step was about 1 foot high so you had to hang on to the guard rails to climb them. Shaunté was definitely not feeling this climb. She was just happy to see it. Even our tour guide Wendy told us to go on ahead and climb and she would wait for us back at the lower platform. We walked up to get a better view, took some pictures and then looked down and pondered how we were going to get back down! It looked just as bad as climbing up! We made our way slowly back to our tour guide and headed back into Beijing. We made a few stops at the Dragon building and the Bird's nest where the Olympics were held on our way in.
As we got back to the city, Wendy asked if we wanted to go to a tea garden and try some of the local tea. Of course we knew it was another tourist trap but hey, why not? We were tourists! I love drinking tea and I remembered how good the tea was in Jaipur, India so I was curious to see if this tea would be as good.
There were all sorts of teas: Jasmine, Oolong, Green, White, Black, Golden Monkey, and ultimately what we ended up getting - Pu-er tea. It is said to have significant health benefits plus it tastes great, and with that we were sold.
When we got back to the hotel and bid Wendy fair well, the question remained: Where should we go for dinner? Now we had been hearing about "Peking Duck" that was famous in Beijing but which restaurant of the hundreds should we go to. Wendy recommended a particular spot called Dadong. As a local, we trusted her but then verified it on TripAdvisor. Deal! We called and made a reservation, then showered, got dressed, called an Uber and headed out. Dadong was located across town on an upper floor of a shopping mall. While we waited for our table, Shaunté wanted to get massages. We had been walking all day and the massage parlor was just below the restaurant. Why not? So we stepped in and luckily they spoke English (not very good but enough for us to make it work). Just smile and nod, and hold on to your wallet right?
The restaurant was brightly lit with a fountain and live fish swimming in it. The chefs were all visible with the ducks roasting on a rotisserie. The price wasn't too bad and after walking all day and having massages it was time to get down! Chinese menus will surprise you. There will be all kinds of things on the menu that you do not recognize. Pigeon, Sea Urchin, Frog, Octopus, it's all on there. We stuck with what we knew and were comfortable with Rice, Vegetables, Dumplings & of course the Roast Peking Duck. It was tasty. Slightly fatty, with a sweetish taste to it. Complimented with a good bottle of wine, full from our meal we headed back to the hotel. It was about 11pm and the streets were clear. Eerily clear as if there was a curfew. It was hard to find an Uber but luckily a car appeared and took us out of the cold.
Another experience that we wanted to check off of our list was taking the bullet train, so we planned to take it from Beijing to Shanghal on TravelChinaGuide.com. There are several things that you should be aware of when choosing this method of travel:
- GET THERE EARLY. The trains run extremely on time and they will leave you without hesitation.
- The ticketing office at the train stations do not take cash (Yuan), or any American credit cards. They only take UnionPay - China's domestic bank card.
- If you miss your train you can go to the ticket counter and exchange it for the same class ticket (First, Business, Second etc).
We learned these things the hard way, as I will explain in a moment. We checked out of the hotel, took an Uber to the train station, boarded the bullet train with our bags and headed to Shanghai. It was so smooth an clean. It was hard to believe that we were moving at 200 mph. That is, until we looked out the window and saw how fast we were passing trees and buildings. The bathroom, food car, and chairs reclined really well. The 5 1/2 hour train ride didn't seem that long at all. We arrived in Shanghai and again, the hustle and bustle of all the people was staggering. Uber came to our rescue and we headed from the train station to the Westin Bund Center Shanghai. The hotel was really nice. It served as a landmark with it's crown shaped tower so that we could always find it when we were walking around the city.
Our tour guide Annie, whom we coordinated through Shanghai-Lander.com, emailed us her phone number and we coordinated with her to meet up the next morning. We were going to go to the Oriental Pearl tower, then a walking tour through the city, the Jade Buddha temple, Yuyuan Garden and then later on an acrobat show at Shanghai Circus World.
We had to take the train over to the Bund to get to the Oriental Pearl tower. As we walked down by the Nanjing road, one of the busiest shopping streets in China , we saw all the hordes of people rushing into the train station. We stuck together and because I was taller than everyone else I stood in the back to make sure I could see Shaunté and Annie. It started to rain so we took a few pictures and walked into the tower. It was actually a lot bigger on the inside than I expected. There was a museum for Shanghai that detailed the history of the city that was nice. The tower offered a great panoramic view of the Bund and over Shanghai each stop on the way up offered different views with glass bottoms so that you could see the ground below. Learning the history of Shanghai through the tour was great. I didn't know how new, diverse and modern Shanghai was compared to the rest of China. It seemed like there were a lot of different cultures that blended in Shanghai. It was one of the most busiest port cities in the world at one point. There are still French and British influences in much of the city.
We toured the city, shopped, ate and had a great time before the acrobat show. The rain slowed down so it gave us a chance to see different sections of the city. There is actually a Chinatown in Shanghai! Go figure!
Once the day winded down we wanted to kick back and relax at a lounge after dinner. We happened upon a jazz lounge and figured we would have a nightcap there to relax and enjoy some live music before our final adventure of packing everything up and taking the bullet train back to Beijing to catch our flight back to the United States.
Not far from our hotel was CJW, which stands for Cigar, Jazz and Wine. This was the perfect place to get everything that we wanted in one place. We sat down and were instantly transported to another time and another place. There was a soloist from Boston (DD Martin) who had been headlining at the lounge and this was her last night. We lucked out. She was great and the mood was perfect. We spoke with her between sets and it turned out that she was going to be leaving the next day and heading back to the states as well. While we were enjoying the second set, a woman came up to us (being the only black people in the area) and started a conversation. She was the mother of one of the musicians who had flown in from Mauritius (Africa) to visit with him and see him play. She was really friendly and she sat and talked with us for a while. We told her about us getting engaged and going on our trip around the world and she was so excited for us. She said that we must visit her in Mauritius and that we would love it and that she would be honored to have us. We definitely will take her up on that offer one of these days. We practically closed the place down and headed back to the hotel. Now, to get home.
One Last Adventure
The trip was going so wonderfully. We safely made it from Milan to Bellagio to Munich to Prague to Paris to Beijing and now Shanghai without much, if any issues. Everything was going fine, or so we thought. We woke up normally, called our Uber, had breakfast and headed to the train station. Now, I didn't know then but I know now that Shanghai has four train stations: Shanghai Railway Station, South Railway Station, West Railway Station and Hongqiao Railway Station. We put in Shanghai Railway station because we thought that is where we were leaving from. The bullet train tickets were not written in English so we thought we were going to the right place. We get to the train station and the attendant checking the tickets says something we don't understand and points to the door. We had no idea what he was saying but luckily a woman who spoke English read our tickets and translated to us that we were at the wrong station and that we had to go to Shanghai HONGQIAO Railway station!
This is when the panic set in. We had to go back outside and call another Uber and head to the other train station. The only problem was that train station was almost an hour away! So I grab all of our bags and carry them across the street to a main location where the Uber driver could easily spot us and pick us up. The phone said the driver was en route but it would take him 15 minutes to get to us. We had no idea if we were going to make our train and what time the next train would be to take us 5 1/2 hours back to Beijing to catch our 6pm flight to Washington Dulles. The Uber app said that the car was a red BMW 3 series. I spotted it but he was across the street and had to go to the light and make a u-turn. As we waited by the curb a bus was collecting passengers. Shaunté was standing by the curb as we moved our bags off of it to make it easier to throw them in the car and get on our way. We thought the bus would turn but it stayed straight as it pulled off and as I turned around I thought it was going to hit Shaunté! I yelled out "BABE!" she turned and the bus just barely missed her. We stood there shaking as I grabbed her and she started to cry in my arms. The Uber driver came and we threw the bags in the car and got on the highway. I translated the words for "hurry" on my phone and showed him what time we needed to be at the train station. He spoke a little English and said he would go as fast as he could.
Racing through the streets and onto the highway, we were making pretty good time. I just knew we would catch the train. At this point I was just happy that we were still alive. We got to the train station, grabbed our bags and raced through the metal detectors and were headed to the platform. Oh no! They switched platforms! So we ran to the other platform just in time for them to close the gate and tell us that they would not let us board. But we still had 5 minutes to spare. The train was still there. "No!", they said. We were instructed to go to the ticket counter and get on the next train.
Now remember the bullet points that Iisted above? About what your options are when taking the bullet train? And how we learned the hard way? Yeah. This was that moment. We went to the ATM, took our more Yuan. We tried to buy train tickets to Beijing and couldn't. We tried to switch our tickets to another train but every train would have gotten us to Beijing too late to catch our flight. And the tickets were non-refundable. Shaunté got on the phone with United airlines to see if we could change our flights and leave from Shanghai instead. We sat there exhausted and stranded. Of all times for it to give up on me, my trusted T-mobile phone had no signal in the train station. So while Shaunté spoke to United, I went to get us some food. I returned with sandwiches and Shaunté tells me that we could buy one way tickets home from Shanghai but we would have to leave from this train station (which has Shanghai Hongquio International airport right next to it) and go to Shanghai's other airport (Shanghai Pudong International airport) another hour away. Remember when I said China was huge? Yeah. We go outside to catch an Uber or Taxi to get to Pudong and we got nothing. No signal, no Uber nothing. We hail a cab but how do we tell him where we are going? We try our best to tell him we are going to Pudong Airport but to no avail. We drive for a little way down the road and my phone finally has signal. I call Annie our tour guide and tell her where we are going and ask her to translate to the driver what we need. She gets on with the driver, translates and he gives us the thumbs up. Now we can exhale. We are on our way. When we get to the airport and check in for our new flight, who do we see? DD Martin, the jazz singer. She is on our flight and checking in at the same time!
At this point as we waited to board our flight home, we recounted the trip. We laughed, cheered, smiled and cried. We felt so blessed. All the high points we had, the lessons we learned, the cultures we experienced and people we met. By the grace of God, we were just happy to be alright. We circumvented the globe. 17 hours later we touched down in Dulles and waited for our connecting flight to Raleigh. Home sweet home.