Clothes

Sunrise on our final day in Argentina

Given how far South we currently are in relation to the rest of South America and also factoring in the time of year, there are some long days here in Mar Del Plata. Lots of daylight over the course of any given day. All of that made it even more challenging when we pledged to wake up and catch the sunrise this morning. We set the alarm for the official daybreak time of 5:30 AM, but in all honestly dawn starts lighting up the sky around 4:45. Somehow, we managed to drag ourselves out of bed and onto the balcony by the magical, early hour. Facing due east, we were able to watch the sun quickly rise right across the horizon on schedule. Moving from a slight sliver to a full glowing sphere in just a few moments. Sort of spectacular. Ocean view sunrises aren’t something we will have much opportunity to take advantage of moving forward. We’ve managed to see several sunsets during our trip, but this one was the first sunrise. I know it’s just a sunrise, but it was magnificent all the same.

Thus began the final, full day of our Around the World Trip. An easy going day overall. I finally stuck my toe in the ocean – oh so cold. Long walks around Mar Del Plata followed taking me to the cute and charming Guemes street. Another run in with a Post Office complete with long lines, difficult staff and overpiced ($3!) international post card stamps. Sweet Cliff Claven, I’ve come to loathe all post offices. Later on, I contemplated the gravity of the end of our trip at lunch while a plate of empanadas stared back at me. We’ll have more comprehensive trip reflections in future posts (oh, there is much to say), but as we wind down the trip and prepare to head home, I have a general feeling of accomplishment. I feel really good about things. Although, there are some clothes that I’ve been carrying around since July that I never want to see again. It also might be a sign of apparent good timing to head home as I just ran out of shaving cream this morning and I managed to pack exactly the right number of razor blades. On a more meaningful scale, I really hope that Brooke and I managed to expand our horizons and maybe, just maybe, grow a bit as travelers and as people.

Less stunning was the challenge we had with the local bus company later in the day. We rode all the way on two buses to central bus terminal where there, and only there, we could purchase a bus pass card. After interacting with the two most bored information booth employees I’ve ever seen (never a good sign when you have to wake one of them up), we thought we were all set. It wasn’t until we were headed back home boarding another bus that the driver yelled at us in Spanish that the card is not good. Apparently, there are separate bus companies in Mar Del Plata running different routes. Awesome. We bought a card we’ll have little use for. In hindsight, there were some clues that the 221 bus might not operate the same way the 581 bus does, but it would have been incredibly kind of anyone to have clued us in along the way. It’s actually reassuring to know that in our last days of our trip, we’re still getting bamboozled from time to time. Running into these small and ridiculously frustrating issues is all part of the package deal. It would be kind of shame if we had mastered world travel in a matter of a few months.

We closed down the day with one last, delicious, romantic Mar Del Plata dinner at a top local seafood joint named Alito. We’ve been in Argentina for a while now but we just can’t get the hang of eating out at 10:00 PM. In fact, when we sat down to eat at the reasonable dining hour of 8:15 PM, we were the only patrons in the entire restaurant. More guests showed up soon after, but they were mostly of the elderly persuasion. For a while, it felt like we wandered into the equivalent of the Early Bird Special. Luckily, this didn’t have any impact on a scrumptious meal that followed. Our dinner was bookended with a bottle of one of our new favorite wines from Mendoza (The Trumpetter Malbec, if you’re keeping score at home) and two over-the-top desserts. Brooke’s dessert that involved Baileys, ice cream, walnuts and cookies was served in a cocktail glass. There was a dish on the menu called Flan Solo that Brooke joked should be served with Luke Piewalker and C3POreo. Yeah, I’ve got a damn clever and funny wife. This trip has been made up of several wonderful moments spread across the globe and this would count as one of them. We toasted to our time in Argentina and enjoyed a nice, intimate, slow meal as is the style around here.

One last, delicious dessert!

Now, I’m going to get back to enjoying one last morning of seasside living. One of the nicest things about being here has been simply looking out the window and watching the waves crash into the giant rocks far below. Additionally, given how many hotels, apartment buildings, hostels and homes I’ve seen that are blocks from the beach, we’ve been so lucky to have this place. Having been through so many places (often for just one or two nights), and now having all these days in just one apartment has felt like a pleasant eternity. All we need now are some comfy pants and slippers. Soon enough, I suppose. Next stop, a bus to Buenos Aires, another bus to the airport, a flight to Atlanta and a final flight to Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

-Phil

Of all the currency we’ve encountered, Argentine peso bills are often ratty and tattered. This was my change from lunch today – the bills are falling apart!

There are commonly found at traffic lights in Argentine cities: Street Entertainers that perform for stopped cars in order for tips. This kid was a pretty fierce juggler.

This is a water tower designed to look like a medieval tower at the highest point in Mar Del Plata. Free to get in, but it was apparently closed for the day so this is as close as I got.

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Categories: Beach, City Visits, Clothes, Destinations, Eating, Hotels, Mar Del Plata, Random Thoughts, Relaxing, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Beautiful Brasov and Bran!

When we arrived in Romania, many people assumed we would be heading to Transylvania, a region north of Bucharest steeped in history and well known to Westerners for its role in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  We had no solid plans upon arrival, so we figured we might as well grab the train and head to Brasov, a city in the central region of Transylvania in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.

There is much to do in the Transylvania region, but to really see it all we’d have to be here for at least a week and take our time going from castle to castle.  Instead, we have only a few days, so we decided to base our exploration in the town of Brasov.  Having human settlements which date back as far as the Neolithic age, it has a rich history.  We decided to start a little closer to modern times with the town’s best known landmark, the Black Church.  Built in the 15th century, this remarkable church got its current name after being badly burned in a fire which consumed most of the town in 1689.  It has been cleaned up to the point visitors might not even realize there was ever a fire except for the four blackened statues which have been preserved in their post-flame glory.  This church marks the end of Gothic architecture in the region and claims to be the largest Gothic cathedral between Eastern and Western Europe.  Originally a Catholic cathedral, it is now Lutheran and serves the small German community here in Brasov by holding all its services in German.  The 4,000-pipe organ is still played weekly for public concerts.  Most notably, this church hold the largest collection of Turkish rugs outside of Turkey.  These were gifts over couple hundred years and are now proudly cleaned, repaired, and on display for public viewing.

We found a few things about the church particularly interesting.  One is the painted pews which designated seats for different guilds.  There were seats for the weavers, tailors, hunters, etc. all shown through symbolic paintings on the pews (we were, once again, unable to take photos inside so we cannot show you).  However, there were only 3-4 seats for each, so only the “higher-ups” in these communities garnered a seat.  The low wage workers were sent to the galleries up above.  We were also very interested in the “Black Madonna” painting.  It is a portrait of Mary being given gifts for Jesus and being attended to by angels.  Her dress was originally blue, but after the fire it turned black, therefore it has been given the name “Black Madonna”.  We had a wonderful young guide who gave a strong tour with insights we would not have otherwise had.

While there is more to see in Brasov (some of which we plan to do tomorrow) we decided to take this opportunity and head slightly south to Bran’s Castle.  Many people assume this castle was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Let me make something perfectly clear from the beginning–there is essentially NO CONNECTION!  There is the tiniest, most remote, slimmest chance that Dracula is based on Vlad the Impaler who has some miniscule connection to Bran’s castle, but the correlation is mostly created by people trying to drum up tourism.  Don’t get me wrong, the castle is awesome.  And Vlad the Impaler was awful.  But those two things aren’t really related.  Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself…let me start from the beginning.

Bran is a fairly easy bus ride just 45 minutes south of Brasov.  As we pulled into town we could see Bran Castle sitting up in the hillside.  It looks rather small from the outside, but once inside it is actually quite cavernous and impressive.  Housing impressively creaky floors and drafty hallways, Bran Castle has a long history dating back to the 15th century.  It has had royal residents as recently as the late 1940’s and is one of the only castles we’ve been in that we could imagine living in.  Many of the original rooms have been refurbished to suit more modern living.  It has beautiful views and a fireplace in each room to help keep us warm–it was a chilly 48 degrees today so we kind of wish those fireplaces actually had wood burning in them!


There were two rooms dedicated to explaining the connection between Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Bran Castle.  Let me break it down for you–Vlad Dracul was a prince in Transylvania.  He had a son, Vlad the Impaler, who killed people by running a stake from – brace yourself – through their anus to their throat without hitting any vital organs thus producing a slow and painful death. He was also rumored to be ruthless and enjoy drinking blood–hence the connection to Dracula.  That’s about it. Dracula is a completely made up character by Bram Stoker.  We still aren’t sure what the actual connection is to this castle; Stoker never came close to visiting Romania.  It doesn’t really matter, though, because the castle is pretty cool all on its own.  The Dracula connection does make for some fun and kitschy souvenirs and a couple of haunted houses in the town center.

After our visit to Bran, we had planned to head to Rasnov to visit this cool fortress, but it was so cold and so rainy, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to get off the bus.  Instead, we warmed ourselves over some delicious Guinness at Deane’s Pub listening to a big band play some jazz and swing.  There’s something surreal about singing along to Sinatra’s New York, New York while sitting in a pub in Brasov, Romania.  On our way home we stopped off for a nightcap at For Sale, a cozy little bar whose walls are covered with the patrons’ business cards.  We had a drink, posted our business cards on the wall just for good measure, and now are attempting to warm up back in our room.  We think this weather must be unseasonably cold as the heat has not yet been turned on in our hotel.  (Oh well…it feels like we are back in our apartment in New York.)  Now, we plan our next steps.  We aren’t sure exactly what lies ahead, but after a little more exploration of Brasnov tomorrow, it looks like we are headed to Sofia, Bulgaria.  Wish us luck!

–Brooke

Creepy hidden staircase inside Bran Castle. I wouldn’t want to be in here for long!

Phil isn’t really meant for the castle lifestyle–he is way too tall!

We thought this room actually looked like a room people would live in unlike so many of the cold, sterile rooms of the castle.

The inner courtyard at Bran Castle.

Categories: castles, Clothes, Destinations, Diversions, Europe, Exploring, Landmarks, Romania, Self Guided Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Many Differences and Surprises of Japan

Downtown TokyoDuring our time in Japan, we have naturally noticed that there is just so much that is different.  Different than we expected and also different from what we are used to.  Some of these things are small surprises, like the crazy numbers of ferris wheels and sky-reaching towers.  Some are more obvious differences, like the fact that we haven’t seen any places of worship besides temples and shrines (though we did see Mormons on riding around on their bikes).  And some are probably just silly–like how seeing an overweight Japanese person is so unusual you actually take notice.  With all of these differences and surprises, we thought we would take some time to highlight some of the more interesting things we’ve observed.

1.  Eggs, eggs everywhere–That’s right, believe it or not, the Japanese love their eggs.  This may seem like a strange thing for us to notice, but seriously, you can’t miss it.  One of the first quick meals we had here was an egg salad sandwich from the convenience store at the airport.  We figured they were just catering to Americans and didn’t think anything of it.  Since then, we have seen egg salad everywhere, from sandwiches to fillings inside of pastries.  In addition to that variety of egg, we are constantly finding sushi rolls filled with steamed egg and vegetables.  I thought it was tofu at first, but was surprised when the chef told me I was wrong.  Our ramen noodles had the optional hard boiled egg on top and the Okonomyaki (savory pancake) has an egg making up one whole side of it.  I’ve been to Japanese restaurants in the states and I swear I’ve never noticed a proliferation of eggs.  On a related note, we’ve seen no chickens.  Curious.

More Shrines2.  Super Polite People–Okay, perhaps it is no surprise that the Japanese people are super polite.  In fact, this is pretty much a stereotype that many Americans have of this country.  However, we had no idea how far this behavior would extend.  We already mentioned that people line up at the train doors rather than all crowding around in a mass.  Okay, that helps things be more organized, we can understand.  But even when the train is crazy-crowded, there is no shoving or shouldering past one another to get on or off.  People here are constantly saying “Domo” (thank-you) and bowing to you in greeting or departure.  But our favorite example came when we heard a fire truck barreling through a crowded intersection.  They were shouting over their loud speaker for people to get out of the way.  Of course, since it was all in Japanese, we only caught some of what he was saying, but he started the whole thing with “Konnichiwa,” essentially saying “Hello, good afternoon” before telling them to get the hell out of the road.  We thought that was the perfect exemplar of their incredibly polite behavior.

So many people crossing the street!3.  People, People Everywhere–Okay, we knew Tokyo would be crowded.  It is a big city with tons of people and Asia in general has the reputation for being overpopulated in many areas.  Fine, we get it.  What we didn’t get was that the entire country would be jam packed with people.  Whether it is a small town or a major city, it seems there are people everywhere.  We didn’t really realize how crowded it is until we were on Miyajima, a small island outside of Hiroshima.  Here, a ferry boat ride away, was the first place in Japan (other than a temple garden) where we found ourselves with some room to breathe.  We’ve lived in New York City for six years so we know what crowds can be like.  A typically crowded New York street is nothing compared to what we’ve seen here.  It is like Christmas at Rockefeller Center all the time, especially at the train stations.  We are not saying it is a bad thing that there are people all over, but it certainly has made us take notice and appreciate the quiet moments.

Kimonos in Kyoto!4.  Fashionistas–First, let me remind you that it is crazy hot here right now.  There is a ton of humidity, the sun is always shining, and people here walk a lot.  I am always a sweaty disaster looking like I can barely breathe.  On the contrary, the Japanese women look totally unfazed.  No matter where we are, whether it is a major tourist attraction or a small coffee shop, Japanese women are so well put together with nary a drop of sweat anywhere.  They are always wearing full make-up, quite often cute skirts, and 75% of them are wearing high heels.  (In order to keep themselves looking dry and fresh, most of them carry “sweat towels” to dab their faces.)  These are not all women who are going to and from work, either.  This is just part of the culture here.  Interestingly, almost all of the women wear some sort of stocking or hosiery all summer long.  It is completely normal to see a woman wearing stockings in the middle of summer with her open-toed sandals.  However, if they choose not to wear full stockings, many of them wear some sort of cute sock with their high heels and sandals.  It looks strange at first, but it is really cute and I bet it makes those shoes much more comfortable.  They sure look better than I do!

If this looks confusing, imagine the toilet!

If you think this Air Conditioning remote looks confusing, imagine the toilets!

5.  Awesome and Confounding Bathrooms Experience–The public bathrooms here vary from being completely awesome to totally disgusting.  I guess this is true in most places.  However, there are a few things that make their bathrooms particularly unique.  The first is the amazingly high-tech toilets found in some of the nicer restrooms.  These toilets are hooked up to a panel on the wall and they do all kinds of fun things.  The toilet seat can raise automatically, they spray water to clean you (you can adjust the pressure of the spray and the temperature), it will blow you dry with warm air, spray deodorizer and give you  multiple levels of flushing.  These are very refreshing bathroom visits.  In addition, even if the toilet isn’t this fancy, almost all of the restrooms I went into have a sensor on the wall so as soon as you sit down, a fake flushing sound starts happening.  This allows for a little background noise and some privacy to prevent any possible stage fright.  (Note:  Phil said the men’s restrooms were not this fun.) With all of these cool gadgets, you would think they would have amazing sinks and high-tech hand dryers.  To the contrary.  The bathrooms everywhere here do not have any air dryers or paper towels to dry your hands after you wash them!  We don’t understand.  Why can’t there be something to dry our hands?  Why do you want us dripping wet as we leave the bathroom?   Phil kept forgetting about the lack of towels and he would splash water on his face and have nowhere to dry it.  It’s very frustrating, but also kind of amusing.

Brooke and Gate at sunsetOf course, in any foreign country there are tons of differences both big and small, and getting to discover these is part of the fun of travel.  We were surprised to see both men and women dressed in traditional kimonos.  We figured this was outdated, but as it turns out this is common for formal occasions like weddings, funerals and fancy parties.   Another small surprise was the overwhelming number of vending machines.  They are everywhere, even in people’s front yards.  And they sell both hot and cold drinks.  Hot coffee in a can!  Genius.

We look forward to continuing our journey in Asia to see how these countries compare with one another and with the U.S.  No matter what, we will leave all of them with some amusing stories and having learned a lot about a new culture.  And that is what this is all about!

–Brooke

One of Brooke’s new favorite Japan snacks: Asparagus Biscuits!

As seen on Japan Rail

We saw this sign in a few places on the Japanese train line. I believe that when translated, it reads, “If you’re a small child who drops her hat onto the tracks, please wait for a man with a long, long pole to retrieve it instead of going down there”

What's Beef Kyoto

Sign on a restaurant in Kyoto. This one of Phil’s favorite photos from the trip thus far. As Brooke said at the time, “Well, if you don’t know what beef is, I’m probably not going to eat at your restaurant!”

Categories: Clothes, Customs, Destinations, Differences, Exploring, Japan, Random Thoughts, Reflections, Surprises, Temples, Tokyo, Trains, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Final Packing

A couple days before we left NYC, we made one last trip back to Paragon Sports at 867 Broadway just north of Union Square to pick up some final gear for the trip. We keep getting sucked back into the store like moths to a flame. Paragon keeps surprising us with an incredibly knowledgeable staff, impressive selection and price matching offers. Miles from Backpacks set me up with a nice Northface daypack to carry around and Zach from shoes helped me select my first pair of Tevas in years. Found out that they are actually pronounced “Tev (as in Bev)-as.” And Teva actually means “nature” in Hebrew. See? Full of knowledge. We can’t recommend Paragon enough. It’s a great place

Both Paragon and Eastern Mountain Sports have set us up with some versatile, good looking shirts, pants and shorts. Staples that are quick drying, wrinkle free and sweat wicking. The other night, we shopped until they closed down the store, checked off some final items on our list and gave the credit card even more action. Still waiting on my bank to give me a call and ask what exactly has been going on lately. We also stocked up on travel essentials: Ear plugs, clothes line and this Sea to Summit Dry Lite crazy towel. And the challenge from this pair of quick drying underwear? You’re on! Now we have jjjjjuuusssttt about everything we need.

6 Weeks and One Pair of Underwear?

Nevertheless, shopping has been a bit hard because we don’t know precisely what we need. We’ve been going on best advice and things we’ve read. Adding to our indecision, we caught European Travel Guru Rick Steves on TV the other night reflecting on his one itty-bitty backpack that he takes on every trip and that it is all anyone should ever need. That did a great job of making us fear that we’re packing too much. But the bottom line: we won’t know till we get halfway around the globe, which is half the fun yet half the stress as well.

Also what has made it a touch difficult is that, in general, I’m not that big on spending money on clothes. In a dream world, I would simply spend five minutes tossing everything I like into a suitcase and go. Including the ridiculous polyester shirt with dice on it that displeases my wife and that I actually do own. But then I would be unprepared and look like an idiot. It’s strange: I can spend $260 for two visas on a country that I’m visiting for five days, but balk at the same costs for some great clothes I’m going to wear for four months. Dumb. But, I’m coming around. Now that the final outfits are set, I’m kinda looking forward to wearing them from Singapore to Santiago. Just be patient when you see a lot of pictures of Brooke and I in similar looking outfits week after week. Hey, for all you know, we’re just standing in front a green screen every few days with a different background.

-Phil

Categories: Clothes, Packing, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Bling!

I have been married for about a year (actually, tomorrow, July 10, will be a year exactly–Happy Anniversary!) Anyway, Phil went through a painstaking process of choosing the exact perfect ring for me–he took our friends Stacy and Robin to help him choose, he inspected several different diamonds to get the one he really wanted and he ended up choosing a magnificent ring. The kind a girl dreams about. I love it!

It is important to note, I am a middle school teacher whose is constantly telling my students before our big end of year field trip to Washington, D.C., “Don’t bring anything that you don’t want to lose.” Now, when you think about it, this is a pretty good philosophy, especially for 13 year-olds. However, I’ve decided the same is true for me.

Travel Engagement Ring

I would be absolutely devastated if anything happened to my rings–if I lost them, or if they got stolen, I would be totally heart-broken. Yes they are insured, but that really isn’t the point. This is the ring Phil chose for me–I certainly don’t want to risk losing it. Also, I’m pretty sure it will be clear to most people that we are American tourists and I don’t want to give anyone more reason to try to rob us. I have some visions of someone just cutting off my entire left hand to get my rings. (Don’t they know those extreme measures are unneccesary?)

The solution, of course, is to leave my rings safely at home. However, I still want to have a wedding band so I still look respectable traveling with this married man. I decided to get a fairly inexpensive, very plain wedding band for the trip. I went to my friendly neighborhood Zales at 79th and Broadway and bought the band you see below. With taxes, it was about $185.00. I have worn it quite a bit since I bought it as it is perfect for playing softball, cleaning the apartment or going for a run (all things I would have just done without my rings on before). It is really comfortable and I kind of love the simplicity of it. Also, it is nice that even in those small moments when I am sweaty from working out or up to my ears in dust and grime, I have this ring on my finger. It makes me smile.

-Brooke

Categories: Clothes, Safety, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Packing

One of the first things people ask us when we tell them we are going on a trip around the world is, “How are you going to pack?” We were wondering the same thing. So, we did lots of research and talked to a lot of people who have traveled on long journeys. First, we had to decide how we wanted to travel. Pretty much immediately I ruled out back-packing. That just isn’t the type of trip I wanted to have–I have no interest in carrying all of my belongings with me at all times. That being said, we know we will have to carry our bags and we don’t want to be burdened with large amounts of luggage. So, the final decision is that we will each pack one carry-on roll aboard suitcase, and one regular sized backpack. So, we figured out what our bags would be, the next thing we had to figure out is what to put in them.

We know we won’t have reliable access to laundry, so we anticipate washing a lot of clothes in the sink. Don’t get me wrong, we can certainly wear clothes that are dirty, but undershirts, underwear and socks really need washing regularly. Plus, we are going to be in Southeast Asia in August so I’m sure we’ll be sweating a lot and we will really want clean clothes. We did a lot of research and what we learned is we should take half as many clothes as we think we need. That is so tough! We are going to be in both cold and hot weather, and we need the flexibility to be casual but also look nice upon occasion. I don’t want to travel the world looking like a total slob.

So, below is a list of clothes I’ve decided to pack (obviously there are other things besides clothes, but we can discuss that in a later post). Keep in mind that this is a list for me, not Phil. We are still workiing on him, but naturally he is much less excited about the clothes than I am.

  • 4 bottoms (1 pair pants, 1 capris, 1pants which convert to shorts, 1 shorts–both pants can convert to capris if needed)
  • 2 short sleeved t-shirts
  • 1 long sleeved t-shirt
  • 2 long sleeve button up shirts
  • 1 black dress
  • 2 camisoles
  • 1 pair running pants which can double as long johns
  • 4 pairs underwear
  • 4 pairs socks
  • swimsuit
  • 1 warm pull-over
  • 1 pair flip flops (especially for shared bathrooms)
  • 1 pair trekking sandals
  • 1 pair sneakers

I am still deciding about bras, I will update this post when I do. As for the clothes listed above, it is important for you to know that they are all lightweight, wrinkle-free, moisture wicking, and quick drying. We went to Paragon Sports in Union Square (www.paragonsports.com, 867 Broadway, New York, NY 10003) to try some things on and get an idea of fit and style. I found I liked the clothing from ExOfficio and also Patagonia. We bought a few things at Paragon and the awesome thing is that for every $100 you spend, they give you a $10 gift card to use at the store. These clothes are definitely expensive, so this is a slight consolation. After leaving Paragon, I went home and bought the remainder of my clothes at ExOfficio’s website (www.exofficio.com). I’ll admit that I had to take a deep breath to spend this much on clothes (around $700 all told) but I did read lots of reviews and figured I’d be wearing only these clothes for months, so spending some money is worth it. I imagine I will be sick of them by the end of the trip, but for now, I can’t wait to suit up and begin!

-Brooke

Categories: Clothes, Packing, Trip Prep, Wardrobe | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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