Thursday, May 29, 2008

It's a wrap.

Hello, Brooklyn...

While Kate is getting ready for some job interviews today, I figured it would be a great time to write up one last post.

It's official, we have met some of New York's finest; and we're not talking about the police. During the last whirlwind of a week while looking at at least 30 rentals to call home, we have met some greaseballs, slimeballs, flakes, dirtbags, and sleazeballs, all who think they can manage properties. There are 2, however, which have made their own categories: "Hi, I'm a Chihuahua on crack from Staten Island", and "Hi, I'm high on Pain Meds from knee replacement surgery." Obviously, the latter made the most of an impression on us:
The Chihuahua was about 5 feet tall, thin as a stick, and spoke about 400 miles per hour. She also admitted that she smoked too much pot over the weekend and that was why she couldn't find the rest of her listings. Instead of viewing in person, we drove around for an hour so that we could "learn about our neighborhood." And if there is a three bedroom for $1600 per month, then it's probably too good to be true.
Ms. Pain Meds said, "I have been doing this for twenty-two years, and I'm going to find you the best place to live. We'll be signing a lease in a week." Well, I don't know what she's been doing for that long, but it probably wasn't listening to what her clients are asking. Instead of looking in the correct neighborhoods and price ranges, she kept confusing herself by trying to hit the search button. It could have very well been her first time using a computer. That, or they replaced more than her knee. It was a ridiculous week.

That being said, we found a place to live...two doors down from my sister. In all of Brooklyn, we end up two doors down!!! It couldn't have even been planned that way if we tried!

We still have managed to fit in some fun already in New York. Memorial Day Weekend was spectacular weather, so we spent a lot of time outside. Meeting up on the rooftop on Memorial Day with some friends, which has a spectacular view of the skyline, for some fried chicken and growlers (of beer) from Whole Foods was a great way to end the weekend. That Whole Foods has one of the best beer stores around.

As for the last weeks of our trip before heading to New York, we had an amazing time in Seattle and relaxed in Anchorage while getting to know our nephew. If you haven't been to Seattle, get there! What a wonderful city. It's full of life, and we are convinced it doesn't rain there as much as they say.

Our good friend Nelson (hence the corn in the cup picture from Malay), and camp counselor for the weekend, planned a lot of activity into our one full day. Fortunately, the Mariners were in town, so the baseball game was the highlight. If it's our country's pastime, why not get a game in? Mike and Joy, some more friends from Colorado, joined us for the day. It was great to be around familiar faces again!

While the game was awesome - comeback win for the M's - there is a mini-rollercoaster at the bottom of the space needle which is quite mind numbing. It's loud, fast, and packs a punch, and left all three of us a little woozy when it was all over. Kate and I rode it years ago after a meal of sushi and some beers, so we had to go back!

This post seems to be going backwards, chronologically, and visiting Alaska feels like a long time ago. Kate and I were finally able to meet our nephew, Owen. He's a good looking kid, and I am sure he'll be able to haul in those King Salmon and Halibut in no time at all. We were also eager to test out our cooking skills while there, so we offered to help out the new parents by cooking them dinner almost every night. Cooking is way more gratifying after going out to eat every night for months on end.

And now, for the reflection part.
We are full of mixed emotions about the trip abroad coming to an end: living out of our bags, missing our friends and family and other normal "comforts"; but of course now that we are back to the "normal" life, we are wishing we have nothing but a small bag. Like many things, it's a catch-22. The one thing that we do realize is that we have been so very fortunate to be able to leave the country for so long. We hope that everyone reading this will be able to find the opportunity to experience the world in person, rather than view our "credible" news channels. There are tremendous cultures abroad who are happy no matter what the living situation. We have met so many people who were excited to share their thoughts and life experiences, good and bad, and who are anxiously awaiting the results of our election (aren't we all?)

Cheers for now, we hope that everyone enjoyed being a part of our travels.
And.....Whatever you do take care of your shoes.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The home stretch

BULA!
It's 9:15 pm, and it's light out!

We have arrived in Anchorage after a 30 hour travel day. And it truly was A day. May 8th lasted more than 24 hours with the date line being crossed. Starting from the island of Nanuya in Fiji, we had a 5 hour boat ride to the mainland in a minimonsoon - it put the swells from the Barrier Reef to shame - thank goodness for motion sickness pills. From the boat to the LAX arrival, it took 15 hours, followed by another 10 hours of flights and waiting on standby to get to Anchorage.

Fiji is as beautiful and exotic as all of our preconceived notions made it out to be. Water with every shade of blue, deserted beaches, small islands; we can truly call it paradise. It's only a 3-6 hour flight to get there from New Zealand or Australia, so it's almost like going to Mexico for them...LUCKY! We decided to bump up to the "Captains Lounge" on the boat to the Yasawa Island chain, and Kate decided to make sure we got our money's worth of complimentary beverages. Arriving 5 hours later at Nanuya Island Resort, she was cheersing the group of couples we got to shore with...and just think, they all thought she was being friendly. The weather wasn't completely cooperative with us the entire stay, but we were fortunate to have a clear first night. The stars were so bright and plentiful, it almost looked fake.

The following day, we started to a hang out with some of the people staying with us and rehashing Kate's exit from the boat. It always made for a good laugh. The "resort" was only 12 bures, so it was kind of like summer camp for adults. A few of us went on a snorkel outing for a couple of hours and when we returned I realized "this is the first activity I have done apart from Kate in over 3 months." The resort was super relaxing with daily highlights being: watching the new people arrive on the boat and waiting for the dinner menu which was updated daily. The food was beyond incredible!

Shortly into our stay, a couple arrived to the resort who were going to be getting married a few days later. After hanging out with them for a day, we got invited to the wedding and reception! The wedding was a nifty little ceremony with about 10 other people, a local minister, local church choir, and local music. It was great to get some of the local vibe that night and we sat and drank kava with the band and spoke about their way of life. It was a lot of fun!

Another activity was a cave exploration trip that requires you to swim underwater to get into the cave. We loaded the boat up with the 6 people we had become friends with and headed out. Thinking it would just be our boat would have made too much sense, and when we got there, it turned out to be about 30 people! At first the inner cave was a dark quiet place, but then all the backpackers came in and it became a dark, loud cave with everyone kicking each other while treading water. Not a comfortable feeling...claustrophobia definitely comes to mind. However, swimming underwater from the dark cave out into the light was a neat sensation.

Fiji was the perfect ending to our time abroad and left us ready to get back to the States. We are thrilled to be in Alaska and to meet our new nephew, Owen. Our plan for the next couple of days is to reintroduce ourselves into American culture, get in some great hikes, and to eat as much mexican food as we can handle. First steps today were a trip to Costco, activation of our cell phones and a huge burrito!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Adventures from the Van: Early bird catches the worm

Since the short hike from Taupo didn't quench our thirst for activity, we decided on more of a full day hike along the Tama Lake trail. A drive further south to the Volcanic Zone, led us to the Whakapapa village. While the typed name is quite entertaining, the correctly pronounced name of "Fakapapa" is even better!

It is fully autumn here, and the walk through the alpine tundra in the shadows of Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu was surreal; the fall colors, blue sky, and looming volcanoes were all so vivid. Knowing that Ruapehu erupted as recently as September 2007 and the trails were just recently reopened, and Ngauruhoe for its cameo as Mt Doom and Mordor, Kate and I had plenty to keep our minds wandering about as well.

Starting the hike at sunrise allowed the two of us to have the trail essentially to ourselves. It's currently the ANZAC holiday here, similar to our Veteran's Day, so we knew that there would be a lot of traffic before long. The lower Tama Lake was our first destination, which protruded as a brilliant turquoise blue while being surround by volcanic sand and rock. A quick 30 minutes later, up a steep ridge, the upper Tama Lake was where we rested for lunch of cheese and salami sandwiches, apples, and a few Oreo's! Of the two lakes, the lower would be our favorite. On the way back down, we started to pass the human train of hikers walking with huge bags for the long weekend. It surprised us at what a late start they were having!

The sun hasn't shown itself too much while in New Zealand, but we still can't help ourselves from visiting coastal beach towns, especially when they are next to vineyards. We are in Napier now, which is home to the famous Hawke's Bay wineries. We have been a BIG fan of the NZ syrah's so if you're looking for something to drink, see what you can find in your local stores.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Adventures from the Van: Mt Tauhara

Quick update here, more for the pictures, and to keep the total time at the internet cafes minimal.

In Taupo right now, which is home to the biggest body of water in New Zealand: Lake Taupo. The town is on the north end of the lake, and is right on the edge of the Taupo Volcanic Zone. Maui rolled us into town yesterday and into a superb holiday park. Incase we didn't mention this before, "camping" in Oz and NZ are in holiday parks; this is basically a glorified RV park. So, it can be safe to say we have been living next to trailer homes for the last 3 weeks! Fortunately, the holiday park here is next to mineral hot springs, so they do have their advantages as well.

Kate and I wanted to go for a hike after indulging the night before at a New Zealand restaurant. The lamb here is quite delectable, and I am not one to order lamb when dining out. This is quite a treat after too many dinners of 2-minute noodles! Mount Tauhara is right in town and makes for a perfect day trip.



It is only about 2000 feet of vertical, but it goes straight up! The growth in the forest was the most unique and stunning either of us have witnessed. All the trees were covered in moss and other various greenery.



We are about to head into the thick of the Volcanic ranges, which is home to another LOTR mountain: Mordor. We really shouldn't have watched the LOTR trilogy while here, it's the only entertainment we've watched in a month and it's seared into my brain.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Adventures from the Van: Finding Frodo

It's week three of living in the van, and the hunt for Frodo has been in full throttle while in New Zealand. We are only sticking to the North Island during our two weeks, but that's good for hobbit hunting since the Shire is located somewhere around here.

To quote one of our book of maps "Long before the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy redefined New Zealand's scenic wonders, a 1936 National Geographic article exclaimed: 'here in an area approximately the size of Colorado are grouped the snow-mantled peaks of Switzerland, geysers of Yellowstone, volcanic cones of Java and Japan, and the lakes of Italy: the mineral springs of Czechoslovakia, the fjords of Norway, sea coasts of Maine and California, and waterfalls higher than Yosemite."

We have to completely agree. It has been an experience just to DRIVE around this country. Around every corner we are stopping to take photos and just marvel in the amazing scenery. The hills, spotted with sheep, are the deepest and brighest greens; it's hard to believe it's real.

We started by heading north of Auckland to the Bay of Islands and staying over at a beautiful beach town named Russell. While hiking around the rain forests near our site trying to locate the cute Kiwi bird and somehow stumbled on a bizarre and hilarious ceremony honoring the late Edmund Hillary. It was being lead by a crazy women from New Hampshire - even though the official ceremony was postponed due to an unfortunate canyoning accident from an Edmund Hillary adventure camp. Both of us are completely convinced that she had hit the bottle, hard, before the ceremony. The drive continued through the bay and stopped at the Maori Treaty signing house to take in some of the incredible native carvings (and a few new tattoo ideas for Kate...kidding, kinda). Further south we visited the "Lord of the Forest" the largest Kauri tree in New Zealand. It was pretty much the biggest tree that we had ever seen.

The roads in NZ are not like the usually US Interstates. It's like driving from Aspen to Leadville via Independence Pass to get anywhere, so the going is slow. It's really good that we are only sticking to the North Island on this visit.

We have made our way down to Rotorua via the Coromandel Peninsula. During our pass back through Auckland we realized that our Kiwi transporter, NAV, had some features we had to get rid of: A strange smell of mildew and vomit came out of the vents, so it was time for an upgrade. The VW TDI van is awesome. Her name is Maui and diesel turns her on.

We had a specific adventure in mind for Rotorua, and it is called Zorbing. Basically a Zorb is a large inflatable ball inside of a ball that you can roll around down hills.

They fill it with water (warm today) to make the ride like a slip'n'slide. We laughed ourselves silly today rolling down the hills in New Zealand in large plastic balls. Unfortunately the photos of the adventure are lost, but we do have some epic video footage from inside that we can hopefully post soon.

Rotorua is full of sulphur thermal hot spots, so the town occasionally has a wild odor. That hasn't kept us from our favorite pastime of soaking. Most of the holiday parks we are staying in have hot springs, and we spent a good few hours yesterday soaking away the driving in the lakeside pools at the Polynesian Mineral Pools here in town.

There is one week left in the camper van, and then we head to the island of Nanuya in Fiji for our "honeymoon".

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Adventures from the Van: Adrenaline Aussie style

Rush of water below
Raft guide holding you up so you don't leave his grip too soon

KNEES UP...KNEES UP!!!!
ONE. TWO. GO!!
HOLD YOUR BREATH NOW

Over the drop with the rest of the water
Breath caught too late.
Inhaled more than just air
Getting pushed deeper into the lava tube
Ears screaming from pressure
WHEN WILL I SURFACE?
Open eyes to search for light.
Green yellow bubbles above
Need air...Swim for it
Light getting bright white getting close now
Surface at last coughing for air
Kate laughing that my sunglasses were still on


Raging Thunder Extreme Rafting really was as extreme as the name. The day was spent getting nearly drowned, willingly of course, in a variety of ways. Getting dropped from 15ft up into a lava tube (not sure how deep) for around 10 seconds, was by far the most ridiculous experience.

A couple of days prior, we made our way up to Airlie Beach to take a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. Not taking any snorkel tours in Thailand, we decided this would be a much better experience. We took a two hour boat ride with 6 foot swells out to a section called Bait Reef. By the time we arrived at the mooring, my head was starting to feel a little light. In the water we went, hoping that would calm the unsettled feeling I was developing. It definitely did! Huge Double-Headed Parrot fish with teeth the size of our fists were chomping away on the coral. The purples, blues, and yellows were outstanding on this portion of the reef. "That was one of the highlights of my life" is what Kate said immediately upon getting back into the boat. Heading back to mainland and the swells were even larger. All I am thinking is hold it...hold it. Common sense made me run to the back of the boat near the motors to find a spot that didn't move around as much. Just in time! Returned the bucket to its spot in its original condition. Phew!

The last of our adrenaline themed activities was canopy surfing in the Daintree rainforest - "where the rainforest meets the sea" is its theme. This was pretty cool since usually the tree tops are so far overhead.



The lush farmlands also let us find the ideal location to be reincarnated as a cow.

If anyone was ever in question about which region to eat a steak from, the answer has been found. Australia. The cows here have acres and acres to roam free and eat as much grass as they want. Just think, you have to pay extra at Wild Oats and Whole foods for grass fed beef, but it appears to be the standard here. No kidding, the entire eastern coastline from Sydney to Cairns is nothing but farmland for cows or sugar cane.

Our road trip in Australia is about done now, and so is my internet card. We have driven around 1700 miles and are bummed to leaving this country after seeing only one coast. Another trip it will have to be!

Afterall, if you do everything the first time 'round, what reason would you have to go back?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Adventures from the Van: Gettin' High down under

(No parents, not that kind of high)

Back to where we left off, Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Langkawi was a really chill island reminding us of Maui. After eating the same menu for the last 4 weeks in Thailand, we were ecstatic to see all sorts of food to quench our cravings. We rented a car to drive around and see some sights. This also doubled as practice for driving on the left side of the road. They have an amazing tram ride up to the top to get a spectacular 360 degree view of the island and neighboring country Thailand. After 2 days, we went to Kuala Lumpur to see the only attraction, the Petronas Towers. We really didn't do too much more since we enjoyed our plush hotel with the first true hot shower we had had in too many weeks. Plus, the complimentary happy hour was too good to pass up!



Let the Southern Hemisphere adventures begin!

Sydney is a beautiful coastal metropolis, reminding us of Seattle, Boston, NY, and SF. While in Sydney, we had 3 items on our to-do list: eat a salad, pick up our van, and scale the Harbor Bridge. We had heard about the bridge walk from a couple we had met in China, and it lived up to the expectations. We spent about 3 hours climbing the bridge at sunset and had amazing views of the Sydney Opera House and all of the water front development around the city. The best part was the cheesy pictures that they took for your purchase on various parts of the bridge. We definitely took some doozies!



The next day, we met our home for the next two weeks, VAN. VAN is a single, swinging, extra long white male who enjoys long rides near the beach. He is also our new best friend (can you all tell at this point that we have been LIVING in a van for the past week and are a little crazy?)

After exciting navigation through Sydney at rush hour, we headed to the Blue Mountains west of the city. It is famous for the blue haze that settles over the mountains from the eucalyptus trees. This was the spot for our first night in van where we also experienced the first true frost of the fall. We almost froze to death in VAN and threw on all the layers we owned by the end of the night. After that frozen first night, we decided that if we were going to freeze every night, we might as well be drinking good wine while doing it. So we headed off to the Hunter Valley, birthplace of Australian Shiraz. Our favorite factoid that we learned on our wine tours was from the Wyndham Estate winery. We found out that they employ backpackers to hand-pick their grapes for the premium wines. Needless to say, we were majorly disappointed that the harvest was over.

From the Hunter Valley, we headed towards the famous Gold Coast and epic surfing beaches. Along the way, Kate spied a sign for a Koala rehab/breeding center and almost had a heart attack, so we stopped, fed kangaroos, and encountered a very active koala. The highlight was feeding a mother kangaroo with a joey stuffed in her pouch.



During our drive, the clouds started to build and plagued our next two days on the Gold Coast. Torrential rain kept us off the beaches at Byron Bay and Surfers Paradise, but in Byron, an hour of evening sun let everyone enjoy a killer rainbow and some good waves. Waking up to more torrential rain, we headed north to escape the weather.

After a ridiculously long drive in VAN to Airlie Beach, our efforts have paid off; the sun is shining and we are preparing for a snorkel trip to the Great Barrier Reef tomorrow morning. More adventures from the van will come soon!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Same Same but Different

Our jaunt through the Land of Thais is now complete, after 4 weeks spent throughout the country. It was a different place than we originally expected; for instance, when you go to Mexico you feel like you're in Mexico. We never quite were able to put a finger on what the Thai vibe was to make us feel like we were in Thailand, other than the wonderful food, but we know that we enjoyed the Buddhist lifestyle...maybe that is just what the Thai vibe is.

To pick up where we left off, we hung out with our English friend, Simon, who joined us on our minivan trip into Pai. He was able to bring lots of good conversation, my favorite being his response to finding out that USA is country code 001. "You're 001?! We're 044...aren't we the motherland?" So, now I wonder, do all Brits have the same concern as being 33 codes behind? The highlight of our time in Pai was going to Joi's elephant camp and riding an elephant into the river. Kate was petrified, so the ride down to the river was entertaining to say the least. The 3 of us turned our heads at the giant piece of dung that floated to the surface when the elephant got in, and enjoyed every minute of being drowned while clinging to her back.



It could have been the river water, or it just could have been the first time we relaxed in nearly two months, but immediately upon returning Kate got sick, really sick. Sick as in, antibiotics...stat. The timing was good because the next day, I too got sick, but not nearly to the extent as Kate. However, I had a really strange experience:
While my sickness peaked one night, I woke up with near charlie horses in my legs since I was sooooo dehydrated, and my tongue was stuck to my molars. I took what might have been a full sip of water while still half unconscious. Drifting back off to sleep, I had these dreams and sensations of firefighting ships (like what would be used on a body of water) shooting the mineral water into every part of my body. I could literally feel the H2O being replenished in my legs, fingers, thighs, everywhere! It's when I knew I was over the hump and on the good road back. However, it was by far one of the most bizarre sensations.

At this juncture, we realized we lost about 5 days of travel time just to get our energy and motivation back to even attempt leaving Pai and going...well, who knows! We had to can the portion of our trip to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. It would have been too much for us at that point, and at least now we have a reason to come back to this part of the world.

Como esta beaches!!

First stop, Railay. The Lonely Planet guidebook describes this as their favorite beach in all of Thailand. It did not explain that this is a favorite destination for day trippers. While, yes, the beach was the most beautiful we saw with the karsts on each side, and yes, there are no cars, it was over crowded. Uncomfortably crowded. We stayed for a couple of days to see what the fuss was about. Fortunately we found a nice spot one of the days and treated ourselves to some BBQ seafood which made the trek worth it! At night the beach at Railay was magical and deserted. It was our favorite time to be out and about.

Onto Ko Lanta. We found what we have been searching for. Peace and quiet, and our German friends Sven and Anna who we had parted with weeks before in Pai. We lucked out and spent about a week on Lanta on a beach with only two places to stay and three bars. A crowded day on that beach was about 30 people at a time. It was hard to leave, but we wanted to see what else Thailand could offer.

We ventured onto Ko Muk, which was a recommendation from some Brits we had met on Railay. The sand and water on this island were exceptional, but with a lack of places for everyone to stay, it was a bit like the Amazing Race when we stepped of the longtail boat. We ended up at a rickety bungalow in the middle of the jungle the first night and were treated to the electricity turning off the fan in the middle of the night - it got hot quick, a lizard mating call above our heads, and an island dog fight near the door. Needless to say after a sleepless night, Kate booked it out of there wide eyed in the morning and secured other accommodations for the following night. We stayed for a two nights and were able to explore the island. We stumbled upon a tsunami rebuilding project that we unfortunately were unable to get photos of. It was interesting to see the mini-village that had been rebuilt from relief funds. Another long boat trip down the coast led us to Ko Lipe, the smallest island that we visited.

Upon arriving to Ko Lipe, we thought that it was going to be another overcrowded, overpopulated island, but we were slowly enchanted and decided to stay six nights. The island does not have any roads, only sandy paths that meander through the jungle from beach to beach. The paths made for some exciting post-bar, late night walking back to our bungalow. We stayed on one of the highest points on the island and had almost nightly thunder storms that raged lightning directly above our roof. The beach that we were based at had a great sandbar that you could swim out to at low tide and sit in the middle of the channel between islands and watch the sun set. There was a bar located right on the beach that we frequented for mid-afternoon shade and soothing drinks. During one afternoon, Kate discovered a fellow Alaskan and his girlfriend who were living on the island and they made for some fun companions during our stay. Our favorite night out on the island wasn't the cloudy full moon party, but the dinner at Bundaya Resort served by Lady Boys. "80's fashion is bad enough, but 80's fashion on Thai men pretending to be women who serve us food, is a whole other story." -Kate Made for some interesting guessing during our walks through the village the next morning, "Is that our waitress, that MAN over there?"



We have finally made it down to a cheap internet connection on the Malaysian island of Langkawi. The plan is to spend a couple of days exploring the beaches here before heading to Kuala Lumpur for our flight out to Sydney. Because of the extra time we spent in Thailand, we decided to head to Australia a week early. We have rented a sleeper van to head north from Sydney to Cairns. We are sure that some epic stories will come from us living in a van...stay tuned! Lots of love to all the friends and family who have written us telling us they miss the blog posts. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

talkin' Thai

Click-clack
Click-clack
Click-clack

No, this isn't an UnderArmor advertisement, but the lovely sound effect heard over and over and over from small confined spaces on public transit by those who love to cut their nails in what must be their only free time during the day. Long fingernails freak me out, and we have seen some freakishly long specimens, but cutting nails in public spaces might be my #1 pet peeve. I swear I saw one fly by me on the train from Bangkok to Ayatthuya.
Please just let our trip go by without getting hit!

We have made it to Thailand, and neither Kate or I can actually talk Thai. This city has been known to many to be the Sin City of the East, but it can also be a wholesome city if you look hard enough.

Kao San Road is the infamous backpacker street where you can be altered to look just like the characters in the Beach because you want to "fit" in. Want some dreads? How 'bout some wide legged pants, or tank tops of local beers? If you want it, you don't have to click your heels more than 3 times, that's for sure. We thought it would be a lot different, and after some perusing the many stalls of DVDs, flips, and knockoff brand name clothes, we took off hoping to not have to return!

We will admit, our trip so far has been a whirlwind around many intense places, so a nicer hotel with a pool is where we retreated to for some much needed R&R. The Thai's have definitely figured out a nice public transit system, consisting of a skytrain and subway, so moving around town was a breeze. You do NOT want to drive here if you can avoid it. Makes the Delhi traffic look like nothing. A large population of students seem to ride these systems, so hopefully they can focus on being doctors or lawyers, right? I think they all still want to be pop stars and nothing else; this being confirmed by the multiple "American Idol" type tryouts seen by all the major malls. I just don't think a bunch of amateurs singing on TV, in any language, will help the situation of any country ;) Fortunately, we did get out to see some great sites!


After waiting a few days to get our Visas for Vietnam, we headed north to a small city, Ayutthaya. It was once a capital city of the province it's located in, but it didn't have that ring to it. It does, however, have a lot of really nice temples! "Temple, Temple, Very nice temples" (as said so often by our driver in India). We chose to rent bikes to see the sites. Wat Mahathat, has the famous Buddha head wrapped in tree roots was an awesome site. After only one night, we were outta there!


A bumpy 14 hour train ride north to Chiang Mai followed by a 3 hour van ride over the mountains has brought us to Pai (pronounced bye). Who would have guessed the 9 hour bus trip we didn't take would have been faster?!?! We have driven on our fair share of mountain passes, but nothing has been even close to pitch or swerviness of the road to Pai. At the beginning of the ride, all 10 passengers were talking and laughing and when we all spilled out in Pai, everyone was a bit green and sick from the ride. It was a killer!

We plan to be in Pai for a couple of days checking out the infamous hot springs and the towns waterfalls before heading on. We might head through Laos and over to Vietnam, but the beaches of southern Thailand seem to be calling our names. I guess only time can tell....

Thursday, February 28, 2008

King Kong

The city of Hong Kong is the biggest we have seen. Considering it is the financial capital of Asia, one could easily expect it to be, but it is just massive. It comes with a price, of course, the air pollution here is awful. There is rarely a clear day as you can see in the pics from the top of Victoria Peak. That being said, it is also a lot of fun. You can try your fighting techniques against the mast of fighting, Bruce Lee (or Ree). It is sensory overload in some ways, thousands of people most of which make our 5'7 frames seem like NBA players; neon lights at night just about everywhere; strange night markets; and double-decker buses hauling ass. A city to visit for sure!

Our friend Sam, who is a writer has been kind enough to lend us some words about a "custom" here. It is something that is hard to describe, but I think he has done it well:
"You're supposed to refrain from adverse judgment when travelling to new and exotic places and to accept that different peoples find different practices acceptable...Table manners are the first thing. The constant open-mouthed mastication I can live with. Ditto the nosepicking and regular dinner-table hand down the pants. It's the spitting of pieces of unwanted gristle – which constitutes pretty much the entirety of a cheap Chinese meal – in a perfect parabola within inches of the visitor's face that really gets my blood up. But the spitting during meals is nothing – nothing – compared to the veritable celebration of expectoration that goes on absolutely everywhere else. The Chinese spit in the street. They spit in a car. They spit on the floor of a bus or in a hotel foyer. They spit on the wall of the train station. And worst of all, they'll spit on the wall of your sleeping compartment on the train. (This, by the way, is even done by the sartorial elite in soft sleeper class, heading from one city to another for a business trip. The mind boggles at what it must be like further back in the train. Like standing in a saliva rainstorm without an umbrella I suppose).

The spitting itself isn't even the worst part. It's the preliminary cacophonic wind-up. Whereas the Indians (world-class spitters, themselves, it must be credited) measure social status using a complicated and ancient caste system based on ethnicity, profession and skin colour, the Chinese – to their own credit – have simplified the system wholesale. Social status in the Middle Kingdom is directly proportionate to the volume, duration and raspiness of the phlem-finding process. It begins in the lungs, whereupon the truly aristocratic spitter can, in an impressive display of only four or five hacks, raise five ounces of honeyish snot to his larynx, hold it there, while using his tongue and teeth to produce a lump of blackish fluid the size of a tennis ball before hurling it through a curled tongue at the nearest wall, piece of furniture or mortified backpacker. From there, he will watch it glissade languidly down the wall (or furniture or mortified backpacker) admiring its leisurely track downward (the highest socio-economic stratum can manufacture such viscosity that it'll descend so slowly as to be undetectable in movement – like a medieval pane of glass which is thicker at the bottom than the top). The peasant spitter is profoundly incapable of such virtuosity – no doubt why he remains a peasant. He probably had a job interview in the 1980s, enthusiastically spat in the face of the interviewer but it splashed down onto the prospective employer’s coat instead of clinging impressively to his nose."


And that is how it's really done. Quite amazing. We have had a blast in China, now it's off to SEAsia for some 6 weeks in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. We are looking forward to getting out of some of the most populated cities in the world to a slightly slower paced environment.

Cheerio!

Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo

yeah, ok, so it's been a little while since our last post and we have definitely done our share of traveling around this massive country. And to clear the air, this post is in honor of the children's fairytale story about the Chinese boy who fell into the well.

Since our days in Beijing, we have travelled south towards Hong Kong. Our original plan was Beijing to Xi'an to Shanghai to HK.

Xi'an was a welcome change from Beijing: it was slightly warmer and had a lot of people in its streets. It felt lively, fun, and full of food options! Since we arrived from Beijing by sleeper train, we took it slow the first afternoon. Wandering to the local Muslim district was surprisingly a great choice. This is one of the few places in China where the locals are Muslim. They also have some great food vendors and if you're looking for fake NorthFace, they have that too. The following day, we tried to buy our train tickets to Shanghai before heading out to see the Terracota Warriors. Lightning does strike twice...all tickets sold out for 3 days. Well, we didn't want to hang around a cold city for long, so we had to find other choices. The ticket window attendent didn't give us very tempting options to get to Shanghai, so we decided to look at the map while at the window and pick a spot. The locals didn't like us taking time up, but when we picked another destination, Guilin, it too was sold out! Unbelieveable. So we ended up buying plane tickets before breakfast to Guilin. It ended up saving us money because we no longer had to buy a train ticket to HK from Shanghai....great! Another great bike ride around the wall of the old city allowed us to see the city from all around. The mob scene of the train station, local singers, plays, and parades were all spotted by chance...a lot of fun.
As soon as it was dark enough, 2 HUGE telescopes we noticed we full of people and they both had lasers on top beaming up at the full moon. Turns out they were aiming to have a great view of the lunar eclipse. The Chinese will also be sending a man to the moon in the next few years, so we will see if the Armstrong moon landing was true or not. However, far and away the highlight of Xi'an was being able to witness the Lantern festival, which was 1 week after their new year. It was like there were competitions between neighborhoods, buildings, and individuals to see who could light off the biggest and most fireworks. From dark until midnight it sounded like a war and smelled like gunpowder.

A ride to the train station brought us to the local buses that run to the Terracota Warrior site. The Chinese bus system is unique. The driver will pull over anytime, anywhere to pickup or drop off passengers. Not only that, the locals have about 45 suitcases and boxes with them, so it gets crowded; fast! The Warriors were an interesting site. Quick history story: a farmer started digging for a well, and found some clay pottery and this led to uncovering a massive field of warriors. It was a strange place...the whole site has been built up with modern building to house the 3 dig sites. Extremely spread out and reminiscient of Beijing. The warriors themselves are all unique; not one is identical to another, but because we cannot get close it becomes difficult to tell. We had to hurry out of there because we needed to catch a plane.

Arriving in Guilin at night, in the warmth, we could only see the faint outlines of tall, jagged mountain-looking formations. It was creepy at first, almost king kong like. We didn't really spend time here, but instead went to a small town called Yangshuo. The famous formations are called Karsts and are based on limestone errosion. This place is a slice of heaven.

It was like Crested Butte of the East. A small "mountain" town with lots to do around it. A bike trip was in order here, for sure!!!! Finding out about some local country roads and a trip to one of the many caves sounded like it would take up our day well. Weaving in and out of traffic and other cyclists for about 15k, we made it to the Budda Cave. No one was there we thought and the gora inside the cave we thought worked there to translate for the workers. It turns out Sam, was not working there, but in the middle of a year trip around on his own. So, we joined up for a while around town for the next 2 days and spent some good time chatting it up. The caves were fun, the formations inside were of all sorts: hollow that have different tones when they are knocked; guilletien looking limestone curtains; chairs; even mounds that look like "titties" as the guide described while laughing. Back onto our bikes, Kate and I tried out our map of the country roads. All was going well, until our trail faded out...some locals were asked to point the way, and before too long we were back out on the main road. This was definitely a lot of fun. Before leaving Guilin, we made sure to try to buy our train tickets more than 1 day ahead of time. We aren't sure if the train was all "hard sleepers", but let's call this part of the trip from Guilin to Hong Kong,
THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT: (by Kate)
The train car consists of one long hallway with 2 sets of triple bunk beds coming off of it in each section, all open to the hallway....no privacy. Phil and I are in the lowest bunks and the train is packed. They turn the lights off at about 10:00 pm and these little, tiny hallway lights come on that illuminate the path way. So we go to sleep. (P.S. I am reading the Lord of the Rings right now) I am having really evil dreams lately, and sleeping on a full train through rural China was totally unsettling. Around 3:00 am in the morning, both of us are dead asleep and all of the sudden I feel hands rubbing my feet and my legs. It awakes me out of an evil dream and I look towards the foot of my bed and there is this small head with narrow eyes sitting at the foot of the bed lit only by the small hallway lights...looked like Smeagol a little. Ok, so I FREAK OUT and start screaming "oh my god, oh my god" because I was so startled. This wakes Phil up who is completely disoriented and starts screaming "GET OUT!!!" (which, btw, I have NEVER heard Phil scream like that). The little boys father calmly walks down the hallway and takes the son by his hand and leads him away. So this little child was in my bed rubbing my feet and legs!!!! It was seriously the most creeped out I have been in my entire life. I did not sleep the rest of the night for fear of what would end up in my bed. EWWWWWWW. Thank god it was only a child and not some toothless, dirty man.

Yeah, it was as strange as it sounds. If I had been more with it and someone wasn't in the same bed as my wife, I may have not growled loudly, but what was done was done. At least I was able to go back to sleep!!

In Hong Kong now, it is incredibly crowded here. Makes Manhattan seem like Omaha...or at least some other smaller city. I guess that'll be good for when we move back to NY. Took the trip up Victoria Peak today, some nice views from up there. But for now, I am going to stop typing and head out to eat.

One last quick interesting travel note that may (or maynot) only interest us. We haven't met a lot of American's yet, but plenty from England, Australia, and New Zealand. Within the first 10 minute, can you guess what subject is brought up? The US Presidential Election. Everyone seems to be into it more than most Americans. In their eyes, it affects them just as much right now, and to be honest, we believe it!!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Beijing 2008

We have made it to the far-East and everything is very different than the countries we have visited over the last month. Beijing is a modern and large city gearing up for the Summer Olympics, but somehow or another you can hardly tell that the World's largest sporting get-together is around the corner. There's almost no advertising on billboards, no stores devoted solely to Olympic merchandise, and any construction seems to be hidden by large screens.

This part of the trip so far has been great. We were generously offered help by a local at the airport to make sure we got on the right bus to get to our hotel...and he didn't even want any baksheesh! HAHA. It turns out he was just in the states as an exchange student at Cornell and just finished his semester abroad. Arriving late to the city limited our choices of dinner, but fortunately, Beijing has some amazing dumpling shops. Not like the Soup Dumplings at Joe's Shanghai in NYC, but all types of flavors and in various broths. There's the usual of beef, pork, or shrimp, but there are also other meats, seafood, and vegetables. By far, the oddest menu item has been "Jew's ear". Surely it was a misprint due to translation, but it definitely was funny to see. We are guessing it is Pig Ear. Kate and I decided to pass this one up.


Compared to the previous destinations, northern China is bitterly cold. Not having down jackets or multiple layers made our trip into Tieneman Square & the Forbidden City quicker than it should have been. It was a bummer that some of the major buildings were under restoration, but stunning nontheless. It is on a very large piece of land and was very calming and quiet. The best part was the garden on the northern wall.

Today was awesome...we got up early to hike the Great Wall! This snaking, stretching structure is amazing. It is steep, winding, and went on in both directions for as far as the eye could see. We did a 6mi (10k) hike along a stretch of it that is in decent to crumbling shape. Starting in Jinshaling, we ended up in Simatai where there was a chance to take a tandem zipline down a steep hillside and across a small lake. Why not!?!


Tonight we tried one of Beijing's food specialties...Hotpot! Think of it as fondue, but in a soup form. First step: do you want the broth spicy or not; Second: order ingredients while broth heats up; Third: cook your food in the broth. It was a lot of fun and think it could be a hit back home.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Quick post

Just a quick post from our hotel in Beijing...we were finally able to get the photos from Cairo uploaded.

So far, we are a fan of Beijing...more to post later.

Good night!!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Namaste

We must be in one of the most unique places in the world right now, and words and pictures can only do so much justice.
The sights: People everywhere; poverty everwhere; animals in the streets; 5 different kinds of transit - with and without motors; the colorful sari's worn by women; architecture of all types.
The smells: Human; animal; fumes from autos; fumes from factories; and hopefully the sweet smells of food.
The sounds: Well, there isn't much that is quiet. It is amazing how much people use the horns on their autos here; people talking; dogs; cows.
Whatever you have heard about it here is probably true. It is an amazing web of all of this that makes India, India. It definitely was a shock to the system on the first day there...it could have been the overnight flight, but I doubt it.

We had a lot of ground to cover in such a short period of time...the driver is the way to go. No stress, always knew where to go, and made for some good information about the country. In 5 days, we visitied Pushkar, Jaipur, Agra, and Delhi.
Pushkar was the most different town of them all. It is considered a spiritual haven, so there were many "hippies" visiting from Spain and Israel. It was definitely a place everyone should go, and we wish that 1 more day would have been arranged there instead.

Jaipur - aka Pink City - is the capital of the state of Rajisthan, so it was large, and very very busy. There was a lot to see: the Pink Palace, Monkey Temple, Hindu Temples of all sorts, baby elephants, Shri Laxminaryan Temple, and more. This place had more of the true feel of the country than others. The highlight for Kate, without a doubt, was a chance visit to where an 8mo old baby elephant was being raised. It was a fun moment!!! Our driver, K. LAL, was kind enought to take us to some wonderful restaurants that were common with the locals=Tasty food at tasty prices. We liked it for the 2 days and were ready to move on...

Agra is where the Taj Mahal rests. It is one of the few quiet places in India, so that makes it even more special. Our tour of India had to be changed once it was booked, so we ended up here on Valentine's Day instead of today. I am not much of a romantic, but the Taj on V-Day did make it all click...I can see why it is on the World Heritage list.

One other strange occurance to be noted...for some reason the locals in Egypt and India have this "game" that involves us. They love to try to have pictures taken of Kate &/or I with and without our knowledge. They end up using our photos to show their friends/family that they have foreign friends. Personally, we are not a fan of that using us as a game, so we have to make sure to keep an eye out.

We definitely wish we have had more time here, but that will just have to wait for another day!!

We are still having some difficulty with getting pictures uploaded and saved, so hopefully our next stop will be better for us...but, check out the photo album links on the side, as I got a few new ones posted. (Still no Egypt though)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Walk like an Egyptian

It has been awhile since our last post due to the middle east internet power outage that effected egypt and sent the internet connections back to 1995. We have made it safely to India and now have a moment to let you all know about our Egyptian adventure.

We arrived in Cario early in the morning, and finally made it through the infamous Cario traffic out to our hotel to be greeted by a view of the pyramids from our window. We hit up the pyramids later that afternoon and rented a camel named Columbo to get out into the desert a little to see them from afar. Amazing. The sphinx was by far my favorite, but you can no longer get close to it since it is very close to crumbling. Phil and I were surprised to see that they let you climb on the pyramids...that would never happen in the states.

The next morning we went early to the train staion to try to book tickets for our leg to Luxor. What a circus! Long story short, we bought plane tickets to save us from sitting in Cario for three extra days. Luxor was extremely relaxing, we enjoyed the intense sun at our hotel pool that was right on the banks of the Nile. Sight seeing in the morning and pool time in the afternoon. Due to a computer problem, we lost all of our photos from our Luxor leg. We had great photos from the Valley of the Kings, Husa-Luxor-Karnak temples, sunsets along the Nile. The history and preservation of Luxor is incredible. The highlight for us was renting bikes and riding them through the back roads of Luxor dodging buses and horses.

We were very happy to get out of Muslim countries and leave the middle east towards different cultures. Being american traveling through parts of Egypt felt a little hostle, especially being female.

As I write this, we are sitting in a cafe in Pushkar, India...it is the place that Phil and I are calling the Boulder of India. It is located on a holy lake surrounded by mountains with european hippies everywhere. It reminds us of a Phish lot. The women are all dressed in sari's, a huge departure from the women we have seen over the past 3 weeks. It is a welcome change to see their faces!

We have hired a driver to get us from Pushkar to Jaipur to Agra ending up in Delhi on Friday. Again, due to the lack of train tickets. It is long trek, but worth it to see the most of the country in the six days that we are here. We wish it could be longer, but we have seen the news from Kenya and we are happy to be safe here instead. We are going to spend valentines day at the Taj Mahal.

Once we get a good internet connection we will post more photos...stay tuned.

We love you all very much and think of you all daily!

XOXO,

Kate

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Casa-blarga

Haven't had the chance to send out something from our last few days in Morocco.
Kate and I had some grand idea about Casablanca, this White city, before we left on this trip, so we decided to spend a fews days there.
About 5 times we were told by various people in Marrakech, Fes, and the train, that we are spending too much time there. "It's just another city with nothing to see" is the main attitude it seemed. We didn't believe them.
The line from the movie "fundamental things apply, as time goes by" couldn't be more true...if by fundamental you mean deterioration with time and turning every restaurant into a coffee shop that serves no food.
Let's just say that we didn't eat or take any pictures while we were there since the camera lens' probably would have been instantly dirtied. The "blanca" part of this city is looooong gone.

Next time, listen to the locals!!


We are in Cairo now, unfortunately, this internet connection is much too slow to upload photos, so another edition will have some great stuff in it, trust me. As I just found out the large Middle East interruption of internet service is centered in Egypt. Apparently Egypt is a big connection point for fiber optic infrastructure. But that's not important to anyone else.

Finally, congrats to the Maggie & Justin Harth, they just had their first child!! We are excited to get to the Alaska portion of our trip to meet our first nephew.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Cold Land with a Hot sun

As we sit in the Medina of Fes, there were a few things from Spain that we didn't have a chance to update you with; so here's a quick flashback:

We took a day trip south to the beach town of Sitges. A great escape it turned out to be to get away from Barcelona. As the sun came out, the ocean turned blue and we kicked off our shoes to chill in the sand. What started as a cool day, ended with us sitting in the warm Mediterranean sun sipping on Sangria...or at least Kate was.

Kate enjoys the view in Sitges
Personally, I still counldn't think about a beverage after the Czech incident!! But after a little convincing, a large beer ended up at my seat. SUPLISE!!!!!
A little later in the night, back in the City, I realized we may be missing out on one of the wildest construction spectacles in a long time: The Sagrada Familia. If you don't know about it, here's a quick rundown: It started being built in 1889 and it won't be completed for another 25 years! What a sight it was!!! Maybe we'll go back when it's done.

Gaudi Church in Barcelona

Off to Morocco we go.

A great British couple we met at the Riad Amira told us of a saying about this Country: It's a cold land with a hot sun, in the winter months. Couldn't have said it better any other way! Marrakech gets quite warm, as opposed to Fes, which has been comfortable.
Marrakech is a historic city; not doubt. It was surprisingly touristy with the locals associating tourists with $$$$$. Kind of unfortunate as you cannot make eye contact without being asked to buy their stuff, but I mentioned that earlier. Other than that and the really bad air quality, the city is wonderful!!

CocaCola in Arabic

Main square in the Marrakech Medina
We love the food here, safron, cumin, citrus, all blend together so well. The Souks in the medina have some great products, so the mind was busy taking it all in.
Our Riad was started by a young couple from Spain who have a nice thing going, so it made for a great place to escape the city every now and then. The rooftop is very chill, and gave a nice view of the Atlas mountains, a mosque, and the fighter jet demos in the far distance.


It was bound to happen: a less than pleasant travel day; but I don't think quite up to par with PJ & Blut's in South America. A 7 hour train ride from Marrakech to Fes turned into 10 with no AC on the first day of a weeklong holiday for Moroccan residents. It was like a sardine can; packed, hot, and no airflow. Fortunately, our compartent had younger travelers so it made for good company. We are sure it'll happen again.
The city of Fes actually reminds us of Golden/Boulder/Denver! Foothills on either side with a large city in the valley.

Above Fes
Our Riad strange at first, but it is turning out to be one of the best places we have stayed.

Riad Ghida bedroom
The staff at the Ghida is very accomodating and they make a heckuva Tajine Chicken. Recommended to us by some of the kindest Aussies staying in the same place, we decided to use a guide to show us around Fes. (SEE YOU IN APRIL!!) Fes is LARGE, and its historic Medina district is confusing compared to Marrakech's and the vendors haggle even more. We thought it would be a good place to try one. Rashid looked like a Moroccan version of Danny DeVito! GREAT! Since he has a car, we were able to cover a lot of ground and he brought us to some spots that otherwise we probably wouldn't know about. Some highlights were The Jewish cemetary, hilltop city views, Tannery (but strange at the same time), and the ceramic tile/pottery factory. It was money well spent.

Mosque in the Medina


Also, what would we do without the internet? In countries where they wash clothes by hand and hang dry, a lot of locals appear to use these caf├Ęs as a way to call friends and family with Skype!! And they're everywhere!! So, if you have Skype, let us know and keep it signed on...you never know if you might get a call.

We love hearing from everyone, so speak to you all soon. Enjoy the new photo galleries on the right.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Africa

Kate and I have made it to Marrakech, Morocco. Our first stop in Africa. This city is quite the spectacle to say the least...pictures will not do it justice. Typing on an Arabic designed keyboard is tricky, so this will be quick, but fortunately an hour of internet is 7DH, or just under 1USD
There are plenty of tourist trap spots, but also plenty of similar looking spots to check out the locals who don't hassle as much. Maybe hassle isn' the right word, but more offer their services or products.
The women dressed from head to toe with little more than their eyes visible is somewhat intimidating especially at night, just because it is so different from our normal clothing choices. But the people here are very friendly and crossing the streets is very exciting!!



Here we are doing the snake thing, because, why not!! Kate loves them

Off to Fes in a couple of days...catch up later

Monday, January 21, 2008

Futbol y Football

It´s been a few days into our trip and already we are ready to come back to the states.
NOT!
Barcelona is a very nice city; full of nifty allies, classic Euro architecture, and a lot of people. We think it is busier than Manhattan...except on Sundays when just about everything is closed.

We were walking through one of the mort popular streets the first day there, and I popped my head into a doorway of a store and was shocked to see what reminded me of a hilarious scene from Bittersweet Motel; Kate too. Some of you will know what this is from, others, don´t worry bout it.

Since everything was closed, we had to wait until dark to have our fun. The best part about this Sunday was that Kate and I were able to go to a FC Barcelona futbol match and then cruise on over to a local Irish pub to watch the Giants-Packers game. The stadium, Camp Nou, is huge; about 100k, and they love their futbol. After the game at the pub O´Hara´s we met up with some guys who were also at the futbol game. Note to self and others: folks from the Czech Republic can drink a lot. I am not sure if they really made it out skiing today, but I know it wouldn´t have been pretty.
Unfortunately, the pub closed at 2:30am so we didn´t get to watch the 2nd half, but that´s alright. Let´s just say Kate was able to plan a few things for the next couple of stops of our trip today.
Tomorrow, we are off to Sitges, a nice beach town south of the city.


Check the side of this page for links to our full size photo galleries.


GO GIANTS!!!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mapped Out


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