My Heart is Glad & My Soul Rejoices!

“I will declare Your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise You” ~ Psalm 22:22 

With my husband, my travel partner for life! Juneau, AK

My husband recently told me that the travel bug bit me. May be he has a point? Looking back though, I don’t think I remember when I first got interested in traveling. Growing up in Rwanda, you can easily drive from one end to the other in less than a day. It’s that small! Many Rwandans don’t necessarily vacation outside their homes, and still a few do get the luxury to travel outside Rwanda today. Like most, my first plane ride was later in life. While in college in Rwanda, I was awarded to attend an international conference organized by ITU (International Telecommunication Union) in Cairo, Egypt for young IT engineers. It was a huge deal!! First time on the plane and outside the country!

High Falls, Rochester, NY

Couple years later, when I first moved to the United States, its size and opportunities it had to offer must have stirred something in me. The idea of flying for hours inside one country left me puzzled! While I took some history and geography classes in high school (least favorite topics then for a Math & Physics major), I was still clueless about the world map and where countries were located on the map. For example, when I first moved to the States, in Rochester, NY, that’s when I found out that Canada was right across Lake Ontario just north of me. How shocking!

Hanoi, Vietnam. 2019

While in grad school @ RIT, I didn’t get to travel much even during breaks; while it may be normal for students not to have a lot of money, my situation has always been unique. Even after I got a full time job that paid relatively well, I had already been used to splitting 4 ways every blessing that ever came my way. The more I had, the more I felt compelled to make sure that my siblings didn’t need anything in this life. Although I very well know that our parents will forever remain irreplaceable in our lives, but I have come to believe that I was spared for a reason. If it is to play even a small role in their healing process, I have no regret in this life!

Amsterdam, 2016

Honestly, it never bothered me that I couldn’t have everything other girls around me had. It was no different when I had my first job: to this day, one of my greatest fond memories is when I received my first paycheck as a Teaching Assistant, a job that was offered to me at the same college I went to in Rwanda. Prior to graduation, the College chose a few of graduate candidates with top grades and offered them a Teaching Assistant job. I didn’t have to wait, or do job hunting; I felt so lucky! After a month, my first paycheck, about $400 (in 2005), all of it, was mine! I couldn’t believe it. This was the largest amount of money I have ever owned.

Downtown Kigali, Rwanda, at night!

As soon as it was deposited in my bank account, I called my siblings, with the most exciting news: I was taking them shopping! This very first time, they were not going to be wearing hand-me-downs. Up to this time, a cousin had been picking clothes that were too small for him and handed it down to my brother. I shared clothes with my sisters. But this time, they were all going to pick whichever ones they liked, brand new. I sat down, watching their excitement; I got emotional! I told them to pick anything they wanted. I didn’t really care, that a half of it went to their clothes, and I gave them the rest for school. I knew I’d get more next month. To this day, this personally remains a fond memory that I treasure all my life. The joy of my siblings I call my kids has been my greatest gift! My heart rejoices in the Lord of my Salvation!

Duomo di Milano, Italy

While memories like this one are an absolute treasure, I have tons others that I wish I could blot out completely and erase forever. Memories like that of relatives who have hurt and abused my siblings and I instead of being there for us. An aunt who told me that I would never amount to anything in life, and later burned all my clothes and high school diploma. She was so sure that this would stop me from attending college where I had been awarded a full scholarship. She probably thought this would mean the future filled with uncertainty for me! Read Beyond Broken Memories or Hope; God is Real!

The Pont des Arts. Paris, France 2012

But some of the most humbling experience were my early days of college where I lived off campus. Since there were no rooms on campus for incoming freshmen, I had to figure out where to live, a place that’d allow me to walk to school everyday. While this was absolutely a concern, the major challenge was $50 to register for college. Miraculously, I got that money and started college. However, the next 2 years would bring days where I had to visit people I knew around lunch time, in hopes to eat with them. It was my last resort, after not eating for couple of days. I had been close to becoming homeless, or worse!

Food in Croatia was the best. The country and its people stole my heart ❤

Recently, my husband and I traveled to Alaska, It was my first time there. I was struck by beauty and nature found in its capital, Juneau. We participated in a few things as any tourist would do, without going crazy. We hiked to the Mendenhall Glacier, visited Nugget Falls. However my favorite part was whale watching. While it’s an incredible experience watching those creatures showing off their water skills, my favorite part was when our tour boat was cruising around Juneau (for 4 hours). There were about 40 or so people were onboard. My husband being like me instead of sitting inside, we went out back and rode on the deck. As we cruised chasing whales around, the engine was very loud at 30 miles/hour. Since a conversation was not an option during that time, I got time to reflect.

The Glaciers in Juneau, Alaska 2019

With the water as far as my eyes could see, perched between beautiful mountains designed to perfection by the Creator, I couldn’t help but praising the Lord! I marveled at their beauty and got lost in their gaze. The water was so beautiful, and waves splashing, clear blue sky, warm weather that Juneau has not seen in 112 years, it was a dream! Somehow my brain raced back to when I had nothing, and no one. I couldn’t believe the beauty, majestic creation that surrounded me, while in the embrace of the most amazing man that only God could have created just for me! I thought of my siblings, my past, my nonprofit, my life, my husband, my adopted parents, my friends, my blessings!

London Tower Bridge, 2016

As if in a prayer, I whispered to God, my Father & Provider, counting my blessings: I could afford to be in Alaska without breaking a pocket. I experienced luxury without my siblings missing a meal or school. I can eat or afford anything I want. I have stayed at 5-star resorts and luxury hotels, flown first class without spending a fortune. My travel & hotel statuses often afford me a treatment that is more than I anticipate or expect. I have traveled almost everywhere, from small towns to big cities and everything in between. I am truly grateful!

At the United Nations Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland!

I have been blessed with a job that had allowed me that opportunity for the past 7 years. I didn’t ask for it, but perhaps God knew that I enjoyed traveling but couldn’t afford it so He gave it to me! Yes, I did work so hard in school, but so did/do many people. However, while things may seem like it’s going great, there is something that I had asked God long time ago: not to allow my heart to be too merry to forget my painful past.

“Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with the food allotted to me. Lest I be full and deny You, and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:8-9

Downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, 2018

Just like Moses pleading with Israelites & cautioned them against disobeying God after entering the land God prepared for them.

“So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant—when you have eaten and are full— then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” Deuteronomy 6: 10-13 

While my daily prayer is that I am able to forgive and love others as Jesus has loved me, I never want to allow myself to forget my beginnings; I want to use my suffering, tragedy, loss, hunger, struggle, and wounds of my past to help and be a blessing to those who aren’t as fortunate. I have been given a chance, not because I am better or righteous; it’s far from it! It’s only God’s Grace! For that, I am forever humbled & amazed by His love!

Beautiful downtown Kigali (on the top of the hill), the Capital of Rwanda

It is for this the reason that I weep for people who are hurting, I can relate to them. People in need, poor, homeless, move me with compassion! I have been given a chance, a voice, and an opportunity to serve God. I eternally pray that I always seize opportunities God makes available for me to act! Simply put, I am able to truly love, because I am loved so well, by the Lord!

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory.” 1 Samuel 2:8

I ❤️ Ottawa! For Real! 

Earlier this week, I got a chance to visit one of my favorite cities, Ottawa, Canada, for the second time. Like many other places I travel to, my favorite thing to do is that I just like to observe what is unique to each place and its people. Howbeit, I try to keep and share only good and funny aspects! My goal writing this is that you will find humor or inspiration or both, in my writing.

Our Cisco Office Buildings in Kanata.

Personally, I simply love Ottawa. Since the first time I visited in May 2007, I fell in love with the city. My travel adventure to any place isn’t necessarily as anyone would expect; for example, ancient ruins, historical castles, downtown, coffee shops, shopping centers, restaurants or museums don’t always spark my interest about a place, unlike normal tourists. When you read what I highlight below, you will understand.

When I booked my hotel, although I looked it up on Google maps first, I guess I overlooked the fact that I was actually staying in Quebec, instead of Ontario, where my work office was going to be. I didn’t find it a big deal though, since I was renting a vehicle to get around. I loved the Ottawa River that separates Ottawa and Gatineau; I imagine it’d be beautiful in the summer! At the time of my visit, it was mostly covered by sheets of ice. I also liked the bridge between the 2 cities with double lanes each way, one of them being a HOV lane.

  • Ottawa’s winter, just like most of the country, is brutal!

Aerial view of the Ottawa area

Well, this is a given about Canada, but before you judge me for living in the south for so long, I have had my share of snow and cold. I lived in Rochester, NY which sits right below Lake Ontario, between Toronto and Ottawa, for about 4 years. It didn’t matter if a few feet of snow fell overnight or a monster blizzard descended over Rochester; schools didn’t close and we didn’t get a day off from work due to the inclement weather.

Besides being Canada’s capital, apparently Ottawa is also the 4th largest and the most educated city in Canada. Ottawa is also the 7th coldest capital in the world and apparently, nearly a half of its population is under 35 years of age! Very interesting! Although I really love the city, it is extremely cold there. My few days visiting reminded me how much I definitely do NOT miss the north!

  • HOV lanes everywhere 

Champlain Bridge (between Gatineau & Ottawa)

I have not been to a place that is comparatively not large but has many high occupancy vehicle (hov) lanes practically all over the place. Seriously, even in a 2-lane bypass each way, I saw HOV lane signs. The funny part about it though, I noticed that most people don’t adhere to the rules. I don’t know if HOV means something else in Canada, but each time I glanced at cars moving to my left in the HOV lane, there was often a single person in the vehicle.

Also, ironically, I didn’t see any sign for traffic cameras in those lanes, so may be that explains why people just don’t follow those rules? Still, as a visitor, I played it on the safe side, and stayed in regular lanes. I am not as fearless as those people, or, unless HOV means something else up there on our northern border! Normally HOV lanes in the US are mainly in the major highways, not traditional alleys.

  • No traffic law enforcement officers in sight

For 3-4 days I spent in Ottawa – Gatineau commuting for 30 minutes one way everyday, I didn’t spot a single LE officer vehicle, traffic or otherwise. Either, police officers there look different from those here in the US and I didn’t see them or simply people don’t violate traffic laws up there or the crime rate is extremely low. Either way, I was surprised.

  • Extremely patient drivers

I travel very often but I have never been to a place where everyone drives below the speed limit, literally, almost everyone. For 4 days I was there, I only saw one or 2 people speeding but the rest drove really slow. While I used to speed, several years ago I decide to stop and be responsible about it.

While in Canada, as I juggled between remembering miles versus kilometers on my Canadian rental SUV dashboard, I often noticed that in a single lane road all drivers were trailing way behind me. Then I’d slow down, although I was not really speeding. Also, people don’t honk or tailgate up there. People drove as if it was for fun and not in a rush to be anywhere important.

  • Small traffic light panels

Tiny Traffic Lights

Canadians have to have the best sight vision than the rest of the world! The green and yellow light panel holes are awfully small; in some locations though, I noticed that the red lights were mostly normal size. I will let you judge for yourself from the above photo. I think all other countries I have been to, the lights are often the same size but I could be wrong. I found it quite interesting.

  • People randomly walking in the rain

When I landed at Ottawa International Airport, the weather was really damp. It was very rainy and very cold. However, what puzzled me was that I would see people, on several occasions, just walking in the rain; some had umbrellas, others didn’t. Some were walking their dogs on the side of the roads, others were just busy going to places. I thought it was quite interesting!

  • Food Menu

Drinks are part of the main course? And entrees mean appetizers there?

Of course I would talk about food; albeit, not in a sense you’d expect. I found it hard to understand the restaurant menu at the hotel I stayed at in Gatineau. I didn’t anticipate appetizers to be called entrees (or may be because it’s really entrées in French?), and definitely not the main courses to have sodas on the list etc. Or, I am probably clueless and this is normal? I loved breakfast choices though. I am glad I was only there for couple of days, otherwise, I would have easily put on a few extra pounds.

Delicious breakfast choices for sure! Glad I was there for a short period of time!

  • French & English

Well, thankfully I could understand both languages but apparently if you live in or travel to any part of the Quebec province, you are absolutely expected to understand or speak French. It reminded of Belgium’s Fleming and Walloon. Although I stayed with a Hilton hotel, an American franchise hotel chain, everyone introduced themselves in French and it seemed like they expected others to do the same. However, if you respond in English, they will switch to English too.

All TV channels, almost all of them, are in French. It took me a while to scroll through many channels to find ABC, CNN or anything that sounded a little American enough :). Also, you should have listened to my Google maps navigation lady trying to pronounce French roads: chemin, rue etc. I laughed so hard! But as soon as I entered Ontario, my lady would gain her momentum!

The pronunciation of this in English by my GPS was priceless !!

  • Quebec, Je me souviens

I remember!

Something that caught my attention and made me wonder its meaning was the Quebeckers vehicles license plates: the top said Quebec, obviously, but the bottom had the phrase “je me souviens” which means “I remember or I do not forget“.

It turns out that this is the official motto for the province of Quebec. Although its full significance isn’t known according to articles, but it can be paraphrased to past political memories (perhaps between French and English), ancient lineage and traditions, which is beyond the scope of my article’s intention. I was just curious when I saw that on all cars on the upper side of the Ottawa River.

One other thing I noticed a lot is that Canadians are openly vocal about their views of the current American politics. I am especially very uncomfortable expressing about my political opinions anywhere, live alone with strangers, and in another country.

Delicious meal prepared by friends from Rwanda who live in Quebec!

In the overall, I simply love the people there especially that I got to stay a few days and drove around this time. The city is beautiful, even during a bitter cold winter, people are very polite, strangers will go above and beyond to make you feel welcome, with great intention. At the hotel, restaurant, work, everyone was extremely nice to me. I joked to my friends that I was thinking of staying there for good :). I hope to visit in the summer though!

Tour d’Europe Number 2, and counting!

The London Tower Bridge in the background

The London Tower Bridge in the background. Isn’t this the most beautiful view ever?

Earlier this year, I had a great opportunity to go to London, UK for a business trip. It was my first time there and I was thrilled about it. Thankfully, my work location was in central London, right by the River Thames. Mind you, before you are ridiculed because of pronouncing the Thames the American way, you may want to ask a Briton first or consult Google, or Siri, or what have you! Apparently, Britons read it like “tems” and rhymes with “gems”, or “James”.

Fortunately, my black cab driver from the London Heathrow Airport was extremely friendly. After a long red-eye flight into Heathrow from RDU, NC, I couldn’t have asked for a better ride. Although I was very exhausted and sleepy, since I was up the entire flight (we landed around (5am London, 1am EST, my bed time), my brain was surely awakened by the beauty that this city is!

The view of the River Thames from my office building

The view of the River Thames from my office building

The cab driver of 40+ years of experience under his belt, kindly explained everything from the airport to my hotel, without even being asked. He gave me tips on must see places and where to be careful. As we crossed the River Thames bridge to my hotel, he made it clear that it’s pronounced like “tems”. Oh how I love the British accent. Although later I was told that Britons will hide their annoyance behind a pleasant smile, I personally found them to be extremely kind. During my 8 day-stay there, there was not a single person who wasn’t extra nice to me!

Citizens and tourists outside the Buckingham Palace waiting for Changing the Guards ceremony

Citizens and tourists outside the Buckingham Palace waiting for the “Changing the Guards” ceremony

Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace encompasses colorful spectacle and British pageantry. The ceremony lasts about 45 minutes and usually takes place daily at 11:30 from April until the end of July and on alternate days for the rest of the year, weather permitting. ” ~ Royal Collection.

I must say though that people there aren’t necessarily good at giving directions: when you ask someone where the bus or metro station is, they will simply point that it’s over there, when there’s no such a thing in sight. I found that quite interesting. I got to ride the London tube once, otherwise I mostly took taxi cabs. While in Europe, I also got to visit Belgium and the Netherlands. My last time on this continent was in 2012. Remember the post “Tour D’Europe, In My Own Words!”?

  • FOOD

Now the fun part of my experience there besides the fact that it was bitter cold and windy the whole time I was in London, was food. What’s up with arugula on every meal? The first time my meal arrived I wondered if it was a mistake; I definitely remembered my order at this Italian restaurant pretty well. Also, while in London, if you order chicken, make sure you specify that you want chicken breast. Otherwise, chicken legs/thighs will land on your plate. When I ordered the chicken pasta meal, at an Italian restaurant, I was shocked when they brought this:

Chicken pasta brought to you by Jamie's Italian Restaurant, London

Chicken pasta brought to you by Jamie’s Italian Restaurant, London!

I undoubtedly signaled the waiter that he may have brought the wrong order. To my shock, he confirmed my fear. I may not know much about different cuisines, but this doesn’t look like chicken pasta to me. Not only that there was bread in lieu of pasta, the chicken didn’t taste good at all :(.

IMG_1081

Arugula salad for ever meal! I guess I eat a lot of pasta. I must be Italian somehow, somewhere!

If you know me very well, you know that I can eat pretty much anything, right? Kidding aside, even in a place like London, it was not easy for me to venture outside my hotel and find food that I like :(. My taste in meals is a real challenge for a frequent traveler like myself. The good thing is that at least I now know restaurants to go to and meals to order during my travels. Salmon is my favorite fish.

When I searched for seafood places near the London Bridge and the Borough Market, I was excited to find the Wright Brothers Borough, a seafood restaurant. It was only minutes from my hotel. When I got there, not only that there was no salmon to save a life there, they didn’t have fish. I am not kidding! Luckily, I found Black and Blue Steakhouse right across from them, and I finally enjoyed a normal American looking meal there.

That's more like the food I like to eat, unfortunately! I can't help it

That’s more like the food I like to eat, unfortunately! I can’t help it. @ Black and Blue, London 

  • A playground for grown-ups 😀

London has other many unique things, such as this one here in the picture! Those people are not children I promise.

I didn't get a chance to explore it though, but it seemed like a lot of fun!

I wasn’t brave enough to bounce on it though, but it seemed like a lot of fun!

I loved London and its people so much. I hope to go back when it’s warm and sunny.

  • Belgium

Now, moving across the water south east to Belgium. Judging from the next picture, I am pretty sure that this country may never have an issue with obesity, in my opinion. After a long day visiting the Netherlands, I was very hungry when I arrived back to my hotel room in Brussels. I was too starved to wait for room service, so I immediately headed down to the hotel restaurant, Bien Belge.

Fish of course is always my first choice and lucky for me, they had salmon on the menu in French and English. I don’t always eat large portions, but when the waiter brought my dinner, it made me wonder if they thought that I needed to lose a few pounds ;). I will let you judge for yourself, from the next picture. Salmon is in there somewhere 🙂

A $USD 22 meal to quench your hunger

Lo and behold, a $25 dinner to satisfy your hunger. I am not kidding!

  • Bedding

Another observation while in Europe was about bedding. This sounds like an odd one, but please bear with me. I grew up in Rwanda, where a normal bed has one fitted and one flat sheet, or 2 flat sheets, and a comforter on top of that. This is the same in the United States. Europe is different apparently. You only have a fitted sheet and a comforter. You should have seen the look on their faces, every time I asked the hotel staff for a second flat sheet.

Of course the sweet housekeeping ladies spoke practically no English, so the front desk was the main contact. The only problem, every morning when the housekeeping came through, my flat sheet was obviously gone, understandably. Then it’d be the same thing over again in the evening. I just don’t understand how people use the comforter only. I am going to spare my imagination from wondering if they wash the comforters every time a guest leaves!!

  • Egg mystery

First, I must say that the European hotels breakfast is nothing similar to what I often see here in the United States, even in similar hotel brands. In the US, many hotels don’t offer complementary breakfast to their guests; and some that do, choices are limited. Take it from someone who has had her share of traveling, although I don’t always have time to eat breakfast before work.

In European hotels, not only that breakfast is absolutely complementary, they have no shortage in breakfast item choices. That was my observation in all European countries I have been to so far. I may be biased toward the Hilton hotel chains I stay at, but I can’t imagine that it’d be different from other hotel brands.

The Hilton Executive Lounge, London @ breakfast

The Hilton London Tower Bridge Executive Lounge @ breakfast

Now, while in Brussels, one morning after breakfast, I grabbed a snack for later. One of the few items I took was an egg. I was pretty sure that it was a hard boiled egg that I was going to snack on later. Well, “later” came around, and with excitement, I cracked the egg, only to be surprised with a mess everywhere on my room desk. I was horrified. The egg was raw; I will spare you the rest! I guess I can’t tell the difference between a hard boiled and a raw egg, but I think that I simply did not pay too much attention.

One thing I remember though is that in the morning when I was at the restaurant, there was no chef, I am positive, to make omelets for guests on spot, or hard boiled eggs for that matter. I spent 3 nights at this hotel, and grabbed breakfast every morning. What raw eggs were doing next to bread, fruits and other breakfast items is beyond me. I still haven’t found an answer to what Belgians do with raw eggs on the go 😀

The sign says it all ;). I enjoyed touring the city of Amsterdam

Amsterdam Centraal: I enjoyed touring this city too

In addition to Amsterdam, I also visited Haarlem, in the Netherlands. I plan to write about my trip specifically to Haarlem in another post. I am so thankful to my friends in Brussels who took me to Amsterdam and Haarlem. It made my trip easier rather than having to figure things out on my own, especially that apparently Amsterdam is known for drugs and prostitution, and I was certainly there for neither!

While in Haarlem, it was obvious that it’s not a diverse town, whatsoever. I have never laughed so hard than when one of my friends (all from Rwanda) made a joke. She said that if our other friend lowered his hat and held it upward, that everyone around us would have started putting Euro coins in there. Not sure if poor people there are mainly black but the town is exclusively white for sure. The joke made my day because I laughed so hard!!

Needless to say, it was an amazing experience and getting to connect with my friends in all these places made it even more enjoyable. I hope that my next visit to Europe will be to Germany and Poland at minimum. Can’t wait!!