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That’s Amore – Engagement Back Story and Video (Part II of II)

Almalfi CoastLet’s take a trip back in time to May 2009. On a leisurely Sunday stroll down Michigan Avenue, Ash and I found ourselves talking about our post round-the-world-trip lives. Among the obvious questions, we wondered what city we would call home. Then a round item that goes on a girl’s finger took over the circuitous conversation. Next thing I know, Ash had seemingly tricked me into a detour down Chicago’s most expensive street full of clothing, hand bags, and jewelery boutiques. There on Oak Street, Ash had designed her dream engagement ring after two hours. My mental camera took a flurry of photographs and visions of living like a pauper clouded my vision.

Our Vessel View from Positano from Harbour Bryce Showing Off His Abs

Throughout that Summer, I exchanged several emails with my Brother’s talented jeweler in the City of Seven Hills. During our Cincinnati farewell tour, I was able to sneak away for an engagement ring design meeting with Rachel. With the size four platinum setting and accompanying shiny stones created one month later, I patiently waited for the perfect round-brilliant diamond to present itself. Jeff (my brother) took a trip to inspect one potential winner in October, but it did not past muster. But in November, I smashed my piggy bank and purchased a stunning example of Earth’s toughest mineral. It has been said that once a man buys a ring, the proclivity to exchange it for a “yes!” is nearly insurmountable (seems like a fair trade). Gladly, I faced no such difficulty with the ring locked in the Franklin Savings & Loan safe deposit.

Capri's Tunnel of Love Cathy Reading the Inscription

Ash's Engagement RingEight months passed and my only route to see the finished product was a heavily guarded online photo. With the assistance of two covert collaborators (Sue, my mother and Cathy, Ashley’s lovely mom), a plan was hatched to discreetly ship the goods to Kansas then subsequently flown to Zurich, Switzerland with the Miller family. To mask Operation Taxes, all emails related to the mission were held under the subject of “Taxes.” This ensured Ashley’s prying eyes were never awakened. A white lie to throw Cathy off the scent was told when I informed her the extraordinary moment would take place in Greece. While in our villa on Italy’s Almafi Coast, I took possession of the ring and got my first look at it. I was blown away… it was precisely what Ashley desired. I couldn’t wait to pop the question!

I Think She Likes It! An Engaged Couple's Embrace

June 14th was a brilliantly sunny day along the Almafi Coast, perfect for an all day boat adventure to the island sanctuary of Capri. Once on board the 33 foot vessel, I alerted Captain Antonio and First Mate Barbara of my prearranged plan. A basket of shells was arranged with the ring box buried under the eight envelopes containing pictures with meaningful inscriptions. Barbara informed me that two hours would pass before we reached the natural rock feature, the Tunnel of Love. Nursing a few Peroni beers and my heart pounding, I did my best to absorb the beautiful coastline as the minutes ticked by. When the obvious rock formation came into focus, my nerves turned to excitement. Antonio, a masterful boat Captain, rocked the vessel into a shaded position just short of the watery tunnel. Barbara snuck around port side and delivered the goods. The Millers, Ashley included, were clueless to the gravity of the event ahead when the envelopes were disseminated. But once Kiley began reading her picture’s testimonial to love, the situation became clear. One by one, each Miller read aloud and as the final moment drew closer, tears welled up in my previously determined eyes. Once Ash fought through the terrible handwriting, my rehearsed speech turned into a jumbled mess of emotions. Then I spun around until I rested on one knee. With a flurry of tears and grins on board, Ash and I embraced for the first time as an engaged couple!

Braden's Dance with Death Capri's Blue Gratto Game Over

This video says it all:

The rest of the day was unforgettable including Capri’s luminous blue gratto, Braden’s tango with a jellyfish, and celebratory toasts!

June 14, 2010… the happiest day of my life.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Making such an important purchase of compressed carbon certainly takes reassurance that you have selected the right ring. If possible, find a confidant to view the ring before buying. My circumstances obviously required this assistance to the nth degree. Many thanks to Jeff and Kim for their invaluable help.

That’s Amore – Engaged! (Part I of II)

Ash's Ring Plan A (Winter 2010): Place the engagement ring in a clean diaper of my nephew-to-be and tell Ash he needs to be changed. I jokingly ran this one by Ash and she wasn’t buying what I was selling. Contrary to what you may be thinking, this was a serious idea.
Plan B (July 2010): Hire a donkey peasant in Santorini, Greece to tie the ring around the animal’s neck and meet us on a bluff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. This wouldn’t work because there was no way I would carry such precious cargo in a backpack for months.
Plan C (June 2010): Incorporate Ashley’s five siblings and parents in a hands-on moment near the island of Capri on Italy’s Almalfi Coast. Bingo was his Name-o.

After perusing thousands of photos, no joke, I settled on eight that told our story while exemplifying one of Ashley’s traits that I adore. While Ash was having her blond locks sheared, I snuck away to have a strange man at a Hong Kong Kodak film shop print 4×6 copies and cut them to the proper size. Then on three early mornings in Dubai, I penned the inscriptions below on the back of each photo. Aboard a private thirty-three foot pleasure boat made in Sorrento, we approached Capri’s Tunnel of Love (cheesy, I know). Next, the Captain’s First Mate revealed a basket with colored envelopes containing the photos and sea shells disguising the ring box.

One by one, each Miller opened their personalized envelope, displayed the photo, then read the printed text. Here are the photos and the corresponding inscription.

1) Falling in Love – Reader: Kiley (oldest sister) – Photo dated: July 31, 2009

Falling in LoveThis picture is from the British Virgin Islands. We may have met in Chicago, but the moment I fell in love with Ashley Elizabeth Miller was on February 17, 2008 aboard the ferry from Tortola to St. Thomas. Through all the mayhem of that listing ship, my feelings for you were steadfast. My heart and life became entwined with you and you alone. Like most things I enjoy in life, I have given you 100% of me since that moment and you have returned that love in an incredible fashion. My love for you will never end.

2) Overcoming Fears – Reader: Remington (middle brother) – Photo dated: January 17, 2010

Overcome FearsOne thing I truly admire about you is your willingness to overcome your fears. This picture from our extraordinary night dive on the Great Barrier Reef exemplifies your desire to confront things that make you sweat. It took some real soul searching for you to jump into the black abyss with sharks, but you did it! Your #1 fear of scuba diving, while it continues to test you, is just one example. New Zealand’s tallest bungee jump, stinky tofu, and downright horrifying guesthouses are others. We will confront and discover new fears and trials in the years ahead, but I am confident in our ability to triumph together.

3) Beautiful In Every Way – Reader: Bailee (youngest sister) – Photo dated: April 23, 2010

Beautiful in Every WayOuch. This picture after our moto crash in Laos may not show off your beautiful face, per se. But what it does show is that your beauty encompasses your whole self, not just your exquisite exterior. Your loyalty to friends, fierce defense of your family’s well being, and your selflessness are among the things that make you beautiful. In my heart, mind, and eyes, there couldn’t be a prettier girl. I find myself being taken aback by your beauty at the strangest of times: bleary eyed after a transcontinental flight, bamboo rafting, or hiking in Patagonia.

4) Common Interests – Reader: Braden (oldest brother) – Photo dated: August 31, 2009

Things in CommonThis is the very first picture taken by us on foreign soil during our Round The World jouney. The Lima International Airport, taken on August 31, 2009. The list of interests we share are too long to list, but sushi, travel, and adventure come to mind. I couldn’t think of a better person to share the experiences we have had around the world. But our differences are what make our relationship strong and lasting. You can educate me on fashion, pen all notes, and urge me to sleep more. I will take care of details, push the envelope of fun, and annoy you about the Reds and Bengals. The Jayhawks versus Hoosiers argument could be the only divider.

5) Values & Family Fusing – Reader: Cathy (mother) – Photo dated: July 30, 2009

Importance of FamilyOur folks are going to love this picture from the life sized Jenga game. You and I would be a great tandem alone. But we are far from being solo. We are both blessed with caring, giving, and loving families. And oh, the future is bright, what with the way our families already interact. Underlying all this is the fact we share the same values. Family is #1 to both of us and that will never change. Your excitement about Jeff and Kim’s first child is palpable. And I find myself grilling you with questions about your extended family, siblings, and parents. Both of these examples exhibit how we each care for each other’s family.

6) Chicago and Great Times Together – Reader: Brad (father) – Photo dated: Autumn 2009

Having Fun in ChitownAh, the Windy City. Where it all began. This picture was chosen because it features many things, including Jacalu, our mutual and dear friend whom, in a roundabout way, introduced us to each other. Also featured in the picture is the fact that I have so much darn fun with you. Be it the Recession Pub Crawl, a cheap bottle of red coupled with a terrible romantic comedy of your choosing, or hiking SouthWest China’s Tiger Leaping Gorge. Knowing that you and I can laugh with each other and at ourselves / odd situations makes the future alluring.

7) Future Family – Reader: Bryce (youngest brother) – Photo dated: December 12, 2009

Future FamilyHow many times have we talked about a return visit to New Zealand? But the next visit will be with our own young family. This picture of Bazils at Lake Moke reminds me of our #1 goal for the future together. That is to raise a beautiful family of our own. Three kisses for three healthy babies, that is how we go to bed each night. I would be honored if some day in the future you are the Mother of my children. And what a great mother you will be! I am thankful to have met someone who shares the same ultimate life goal.

8 ) Big Heart – Reader: Ashley (bride-to-be) – Photo dated: April 3, 2010

BIG HeartNala, the thing I love about you the most is your BIG heart. Your love rubs off on everyone, even orphaned Cambodian children as seen with Poun’s sincere embrace. Even while you were getting your cheek stitched up in Laos, your heart was with the grieving people that lost their family member. This picture couldn’t do a better job describing your big heart. If your friends and family could only know how much you truly care for them, they would blush for eternity. You say sometimes that you love people so much it nearly hurts. I don’t doubt that with your big heart. And I know your love for me is unconditional. Please know that mine is too.

Part II of II shall paint the moment in more detail, including the climatic proposal in video. Thanks to all our dear friends and family that have wished us well. Now it is my job to keep Ashley focused on train schedules, hostel bookings, etc. and not on bouquets, seasonal colors, and table arrangements. That ought to keep me busy.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Planning the logistics of this engagement took a monumental effort. From creating a custom ring while continents away to finding the perfect venue for the occasion. But all that work is certainly worth it for the one you love.

3…2…1… Action: Thailand’s Andaman Sea

Watch Ash and JRob feed Sinja and Keawa after an impromptu elephant ride while cruising on motos near Krabi, Thailand:

Spring Break 2010 aboard a private longtail boat to Chicken Island! Warning, JRob’s pale skin may be blinding:

Walking Koh Phi Phi’s jungle to Maya Bay, made famous in Leonardo DiCaprio’s backpacker hit, The Beach:

Another look at Maya Bay, this time from the azul water:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Thailand is chalk full of islands… and plenty of tourists to occupy the white sand beaches. A little research will yield lonely beaches as fantastic as their well known brethren. Even a ten minute walk away from where the longtail boats arrive will ensure a private experience.

Gandhi & Khan

India is a sensory overload. There is no other way to describe the uniqueness of this proud country.

Indian BoySight: cats eating sewage soaked garbage, men openly urinating in the street, people riding atop train cars, amazing clifftop views.

Hearing: loud belching, incessant car horns, different Hindi dialects.

Smell: delicious Indian food and raw sewage at the same time.

Touch: marble of the Taj Mahal, friendly then aggressive monkeys, filthy squat toilets.

Taste: naan, curry, tea, dangerous tap water.

India GateWhat better place to wrap up the insanity of India than in its capital, New Delhi? With a burgeoning population showing no signs of slowing, this metro city area of nearly nineteen million can be chaotic one moment and peaceful the next. Unlike most Indian cities, New Delhi is relatively fresh having been founded by the British in just 1911 (there are older parts of Delhi). There are a multitude of interesting sights to spy so we hired Tumar as our driver for the day and saw much of the sprawling metropolis. Our first destination was the Laxminarayan Temple which was inaugurated in 1939 by Mahatma Gandhi under the condition the sacred place would be open to every person, regardless of caste. Next we spent some time around the red sand stone India Gate that honors the 90,000 fallen soldiers during World War I. It was an impressive monument to say the least. After a quick stop at the Qutb Minar, the world’s tallest brick minaret, we took a pit stop at a textile shop. After a marathon negotiating session, Ash picked out a gorgeous bed cover adorned with exquisite beads. Carrying around six pounds of fabric in an already full pack was a joy not to be missed.

India Gate From Afar New Delhi from Rooftop of Pearl Plaza Hotel

By far our favorite sight on the tour was the immaculate Lotus Temple. We checked our shoes at the underground dugout then performed a loop around the enormous white flower. The reflecting pools surrounding the 27 free-standing white marble petals gleamed in the bright sun. Ash and I found a bench from where we spent twenty minutes watching the interesting people admire the temple. The next hour was spent inhaling the life of Indira Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma) inside her residence turned museum. As the first female Prime Minister in the otherwise male dominated India, the assassinated Indira Gandhi represents feminism in the Subcontinent. The sidewalk on which she took her final stroll is now clad in crystal and a sheet of clear glass marks the spot where she fell.

Indira Gandhi Crystal Path Lotus Temple

Finally, we made it to the spot I was looking forward to all day, Raj Ghat where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. During India’s independence movement, Mahatma was their fearless leader who pioneered the idea of non-violent civil disobedience. At the age of 78, Bapu (as he is referred to in India) was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist prior to his leading a prayer meeting. After cremation, urns were sent across India for additional memorial services in his honor. The grounds of Raj Ghat are pristine for the most part, yet we witnessed a woman shove a styrofoam cup into a bush not more than ten feet from the cremation spot. We made one last quick stop at New Delhi’s Red Fort with its intimidating entrance before bidding adieu to Tumar.

Raj Ghat Red Fort

The following day was spent on foot exploring Connaught Place. This center of finance and commerce was under much construction yet it was easy to see its urban garden appeal. From the first day in India, every television and newspaper had broadcast the controversy over My Name is Khan. The ruffled feathers were a result of the lead actor, Sha Rukh Khan, supporting the inclusion of Pakistani players in the Indian Premier League (cricket). This created such a stir that no theaters in Mumbai would screen the movie for fear of violence. So we found a theater near Connaught Place where we even had to smuggle our point-and-shoot camera through metal detectors by separating the battery from the camera. The controversy over the actor wasn’t very significant to us, but once we viewed the Hindi film (no subtitles though much of it is in English), Ash and I were filled with our own angst. The feature picture, filmed partly in the USA, is about a Muslim man who suffers from Apserger’s syndrome. His disability is mistaken as suspicious behavior and he is subsequently detained by LAX airport security. As the main character journeys to meet President Obama in order to clear his name as a terrorist, Americans are depicted as religious bigots post 9/11. The message was so powerful that an anti American feeling was palpable in the room. Part of me wanted to stand before the packed house and rebuke many of the film’s themes and the other part wanted to flee for fear of bodily harm. Once outside the theater, we both calmed down and two helpful Indian men assisted us in getting a rickshaw at the local price. Once again, the kindness of the Indian people shined through. Do yourself a favor and rent My Name is Khan and see for yourself how this Bollywood film unfairly portrays ordinary Americans.

School Boys, LOVED Posing for Photos Streets of New Delhi

India will forever hold a special place in our hearts and minds. One minute Ash is dry heaving from the filth and the next our taste buds are watering in anticipation of scrumptious food. Without a doubt, the locals are the friendliest and most helpful people we have met on the world road.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) If you want to push your comfort limits, go to India. If you want some of the best food in the entire world, go to India. If want an authentic experience hard to find elsewhere, go to India. It won’t be a vacation in the traditional sense, but more of an adventure.

2) In the bigger cities, hire a personal driver with air conditioning for around $30 for eight hours. You will cover a lot of ground while learning about India firsthand from a tried and true resident.

3) Be careful with your timing when traveling to India as the Summer can be brutally hot, hitting well over 100 degrees. If some of the smells were intense at 70 degrees, we can only imagine what baking trash would smell like in triple digit temperatures.

3…2…1… Action: Taj Mahal, Rickshaws & Monkeys Monkeying Around

The sun is rising on Agra’s majestic Taj Mahal in this dawn video:

Check out the streets of Agra during this evening rickshaw ride:

Monkeys monkeying around Agra’s Red Fort:

This time the monkeys play King of the Shrub then Ash and I realize that we are in such a historical place:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Though cute and fun to watch, monkeys that have grown accustomed to a human presence can be quite aggressive. While Ash was enticing a young monkey to come closer to the camera, the baby’s mother jumped on her back while unleashing a terrible howl. As I helped spring the angry creature from Ashley, another monkey scratched my leg. You have been warned, beware monkeys!

Taj Mahal & Rabid Monkeys

Short flight or twenty-three hour train ride? Smiling flight attendants or pushy touts? Air conditioned waiting area or platforms filled with hogs and sacs of grain? The choice was obvious. Train.

Mumbai to Agra Train - Bathroom Mumbai to Agra Train - Bathroom Sink Taj Mahal East Gate

Agra Pet Pig Who Happens to Dine On TrashIt was the Indian education we yearned to experience. Sure, utilizing the squat toilet aboard the listing train was like performing brain surgery aboard a rocket ship. But for one long day and an even longer night, Ash and I became just another traveler across the Subcontinent towards Agra. Awoken before dawn with the head scarf of a yapping Indian in my face, a special Valentine’s Day card for Ash, and dang good curry were all part of the journey on rails.

At 9:30pm the following night, the train lumbered into the Agra Train Station and as we watched it chug West, a horrible stench engulfed our nasal passages. Such is traveling India. Desperate to get some sleep and a hot shower, the rickshaw dropped us a short walk from the Taj’s East Gate and the Sheela Hotel. We checked in only to discover our room was outfitted with a bucket that the staff would kindly fill with boiling water to bathe. We gladly handed over an additional $2 for a room with a proper shower!

Taj Mahal At Dawn Taj Mahal At Dawn with Minaret

Taj Mahal & AshWith the crescent moon still draped in white satin, we waited patiently for the gates to the storied Taj Mahal to swing open. Once they did, we were among the first one hundred tourists on the hollowed grounds. It was as if we had a private invitation to an exclusive viewing. And there it was, far across a vast garden and reflecting pool. The beautiful and entrancing Taj Mahal. Considered the greatest example of Mughal architecture in the world, which combines components of Persian, Indian, and Islamic styles, the Taj was completed in 1653. Thousands of craftsmen, artisans, and heavy laborers strained for twenty-three years to construct Emperor Shah Jahan’s temple dedicated to his late third wife who passed giving birth to their 14th child. What a masterpiece.

Taj Mahal Taj Mahal with Us

Taj Mahal - Dirty Diaper... Really?The Taj Mahal is one of those things that everyone learns about in grade school just like the beginning to the Gettysburg Address or Man landing on the Moon. It did not disappoint. In the early morning light, the marble radiated as we found ourselves sitting in awe. After canvassing the monument to love from all four sides and marveling at the symmetrical minarets, we dawned white slips for our slaps and proceeded inside. But not before I nearly stepped in a strategically placed dirty diaper on the steps leading to the entrance. The elegantly simple interior is focused on the central tomb and the walls are dotted with intricate calligraphy. Upon close inspection of the large marble bricks, one must be impressed with the craftsmanship performed so long ago. The Indian government recognizes the need to preserve the icon after having gone to great lengths to erect scaffold to confuse the German Luftwaffe and Japanese Air Force. Aerial bombings are less a worry today when compared to the air pollution that is slowly turning the Taj Mahal a mild yellow color. Here is to hoping that future generations may some day view its beauty.

Red Fort - Taj in Distance Red Fort

With time to kill before our evening train to New Delhi, we hired a rickshaw to the Red Fort that was built in the 16th Century. The immense size of the fort was incalculable as Ash and I explored its crumbing nooks and crannies for two hours. Maybe our minds had enough info crammed into them for one day at the Taj because we spent more time watching the resident monkeys than reading factoids. They were everywhere. Balancing on railings, scaling walls, or gallivanting around green spaces. One furry guy captured our hearts as we intently watched him play with a discarded piece of chewing gum. Cute and cuddly one minute, vicious the next. As Ash was luring a young monkey closer to her camera, his mother didn’t care too much for the human interaction. She jumped on her back with a fierce shriek and Ashley began a squirming waltz. As I moved quickly to release the angry monkey from the clearly terrified blond girl, another monkey took a swipe at my leg, scratching it. The monkeys had fired a warning shot across our bow and we fled to the dusty streets of Agra with the troop of monkeys giving a light chase all the while hissing.

Monkey with Bubble Gum Mama Monkey

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. If you are making the journey all the way to Agra, make it count. Spend the night near a gate to the Taj Mahal (we paid $6 including a hot water shower) to ensure you are one of the first to see its majesty at dawn. You will have the place to yourself and watch the hordes of tour buses arrive as you exit.
  2. Be prepared to bargain hard for nearly everything from rickshaw rides to whips. For example,we bought an authentic whip outside the Red Fort for $1 after the tout started at $10.

3…2…1… Action: Slumdog Millionaire Slum, Bollywood Beach & An Indian Railway Experience

Slumdog Millionaire depicted the Dharavi Slum accurately. The video rolled while Ash and I were on the verge of tears, appalled by the living the conditions and bubbling waters of the moat surrounding the slum:

Ash commentates while at Mumbai’s Juhu Beach where the Bollywood stars live:

Bollywood stars love a good beach carnival:

Watch as our Mumbai to Agra (Taj Mahal) train pulls into the Bandra Train Station with hundreds of men in line:

Take a peak inside the cramped restroom and sleeper car of one of India’s long distance trains:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Flying from city to city is certainly doable at reasonable prices for the most part in India. However, part of understanding the Subcontinent is riding with the locals. The 2nd Class Sleeper (AC2) cars are comfortable enough. Just mentally prepare for an odd ride with numerous stops, roaming touts, and noisy nights.
2) Everything you need to know about riding Indian Railways can be found on The Man in Seat Sixty-One website: http://www.seat61.com/India.htm.

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