Random Thoughts

And The Winner is….(Part 2)

Continuing on our post from yesterday, we’re reflecting back on our four month trip around the world and picking out some of our favorite stops and visits. Through a series of intense discussion, secret balloting and contemplative reflection, we’ve determined our top choices in a variety of categories. So, once again below are our Luggage Tag RTW Awards! It was a real challenge to hand out top honors, but here we go again with our remaining choices:

Luggage Tags  RTW Awards!

Best Public Transportation– Tokyo and throughout Japan–  This one was a no brainer. The rail system in Tokoyo and throughout Japan is efficient, clean reliable, modern and incredible expansive although not terribly inexpensive. With a system that includes the Tokyo Subway, Regional Rail and Long Distance Trains, there are hundreds and hundreds of stations and stops. A single train map usually does not do the job. One thing we love is that many of the train cars have unique options–there is a quiet car and an all female car on some trains for rush hour.  Announcements and signs are often given in three languages including English. If the trains weren’t enough to win us over, the passengers would be. As a rule, riders are incredibly polite. They even line up in an orderly way to board the most crowded train and rude behavior is rarely seen.  There really is no equal.

Best City-to-City Transportation  Once you place air travel in another category, we have a two way tie. The train ride from Zagreb to Munich finally fulfilled  expectations of what we had hoped for in a European train ride. Up to this point, our train rides in Eastern Europe had been on outdated trains, lackluster, and disappointing. Our overnight ride in a private sleeper to Germany was comfortable, state of the art and packed with amenities. We even had an attentive porter who brought us water and handled customs at the border. Phil spent a good chunk of the night excitedly peering out of the window watching the night landscape roll by rather than sleeping. And pulling into the massive Munich train station at dawn was a fun way to end the trip. The other winner is the bus ride from Buenos Aires to Mendoza. At first, memories of rides on Greyhound made us dread a 14-hour cross country bus ride. It turns out, it was probably more comfortable than sitting in our living room! Over sized seats that rival first class airplane seats mingled nicely with the service that included two meals, complimentary cheap wine, movies and even bingo, It all made for a great ride. If this kind of bus travel was more common in the United States, I think people might rethink their attitudes toward long haul bus rides! 

Best Local Beer– Munich  Shocking, I know. Since every country has their own national or local brew, we tried beer in every city we visited. But virtually all the beer we tried in Munich was simply better than the rest.  We particularly enjoyed the Hofbrau and Lowenbrau labels in all varieties, but they sure know how to do a Dunkel.  Strong and smooth.  Absolutely perfect with a pretzel and currywurst.  Yum!  We enjoyed beers all around the globe from the Quilmes in Argentina, to Carlsberg in Copenhagen and Asashi Ichiban in Japan, but few of them were particularly memorable.  We will give an honorable mention to some of the smaller breweries we tried in New Zealand and Bulgaria, but overall they paled in comparison to all beer in Munich.

There is no doubt – they make some really great beer in Munch

Most Beautiful Nature Setting- We have a split decision here. Actually, we have a no decision. This is likely the thing we get asked about the most. Brooke immediately said the Rila Mountains in Bulgaria, with the thick forest and rushing stream.  Phil was convinced it was the panoramic view from the top of Mt. Fuji.  But then, what about sunset in Dubrovnik or the view of the Adriatic?  The rock formations in HaLong Bay or the Waitomo Caves?  For that matter, what about all of New Zealand where they really earn the nickname of the “God Zone”? Honestly, we can’t even choose.

Bridal Veils in New Zealand

Most Beautiful City Setting- Budapest is tough to beat.  The architecture is absolutely beautiful. It has an old style, but in a classic sense, not like ruins which we saw in so many other Eastern European cities.  In addition, Budapest’s wide sidewalks lined with grand mansions and historic homes give the city a Parisian air.  Just around every corner was another stunning building. Toss in Buda Castle, Parliament and the Danube River as landmarks and it only gets better. What certainly stands out is that not a single building or monument is covered by spray paint.  How refreshing!  It is important to mention that we considered Edinburgh as the winner of this award, and it is a close second, but it has a grittiness (probably from all the rain and the fact that it is hundreds of years older) that Budapest is missing.

Budapest at night

Best Surprise–  Dubrovnik. We really didn’t know anything about Dubrovnik before arriving.  We learned that Croatia was part of the Serbian conflict, and we may have expected it to look more like Belgrade and Sofia.  Instead we found streets paved with marble and beautiful seaside views.  Wow and then some. The relaxed atmosphere, beautiful walk along the city walls and the historic nature of the entire city makes Dubrovnik the best surprise of the trip. Walking the city wall provided some of the best views and moments of the trip, hands down.

We could gush and ramble for hours about some of our favorite parts of our trip, but those are some of the  real highlights. As you might imagine, there are tons of categories we could have listed. Anything ranging from Best coffee, Best Weather, Best WiFi Availability, Best encounter with a local and more. But, we have to draw the line  somewhere. We also have our share of low lights (I’m looking at you, Belgrade restaurant who served us massively undercooked chicken kebabs), but we’ll save those for another day. So, if you have any questions about our “Best of” awards or if you have any additional categories you would want to see, just drop us a line and we’ll wax nostalgically about those as well!

–Brooke and Phil

Advertisements
Categories: Beer, Best Of, City Visits, Exploring, Post Trip Reflections, Random Thoughts, Round The World Trip, Surprises, The End of our Trip, Trains, Transportation, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

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

More from Mar De Plata

Endless Ocean!Good morning again from beautiful Mar Del Plata, Argentina! We could rave at length about the endless amount of great features of this beautiful seaside city. But one thing particularly worth noting is just how relaxing it has been. Our time in this rented apartment has given us some of the best sleep we’ve gotten on this trip. Ranks way above the unbearable discomfort of the Reino Inn in Hiroshima and about on par with our time at the Hanoi Moment in Vietnam. All kinds of sleep from sun drenched naps on the couch with a subtle sea breeze or a long night in an oh-so-comfortable bed punctuated with the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks fourteen stories below. Probably sounds odd that I’m boasting about how rested we are, but we’ve spent so much of our travels up early, running around all day and then worn out by nightfall, that this is a good way to wind down the trip.

Cuidado!All of this makes it even more striking that we were woken yesterday morning by the booming sound of shattering glass. A quick look out the window confirmed that a car had sped directly into the glass bus stop directly across the street. No one was hurt, but that’s a hell of a way to start your day. Later when walking along the main road, we observed that a highly suspicious number of bus stops no longer seemed to have their glass siding. Driving and, for that matter, riding in cars down here tends to be a guaranteed white knuckle adventure. Given the examples of bad driving we’ve seen again and again down here, I’m going to start referring to waking up in that manner as an Argentine Alarm Clock.

Lovely Seaside Brooke!

Reckless motoring aside, it’s not hard to see why Mar Del Plata is a booming vacation spot during the summer. Even though its early in the season, the main walkway along the beach is teeming with joggers, casual walkers, groups sipping maté, rollerbladers and more. I’ll make the bold leap and say that you could draw comparisons between this town and parts of Florida. Seaside walks, hundreds of hotels and compact blocks loaded with shops, storefronts and charming homes. We’ve had a couple of surprisingly windy days and nights, so the beaches are somewhat empty but there is a steady crowd of aspiring surfers just off the coast. As Brooke mentioned, the view from our window brings us the ocean falling over the horizon during the day, the unfamiliar stars of the southern window at night and everything ranging from large group of bicyclists to racing cars a la Fast and The Furious on the street below. It’s been fun just to watch out the window.

Brooke and I have also been using some of this time prepping for re-entry back into a day-to-day life in the states and, more importantly, taking some early steps to settle into our new city of Louisville, KY. There is much to be done and much of it is exciting. Its easy to frame our next steps as a completely new type of adventure. In upcoming weeks, we need to find a car, a place to live and, probably most importantly, jobs. Between a slew of e-mails to potential Jefferson County school employers and some buffering and polishing of LinkedIn profiles, we feel proud of the head start we’ve gotten. Never under estimate the power of a strong WiFi connection. We plan to hit the ground running when we get back, but a little work in advance goes a long way. Once again, having our ASUS Tablet and keyboard on this trip has been a lifesaver.

Or Lobo Del Marina is you so choseBut don’t be fooled. We’re spending a lot of time enjoying all the Mar Del Plata has to offer. This city and weather combine to provide the perfect atmosphere for long walks. We’ve headed north, south and west outside our front door and found worthwhile treks in each direction. Throughout this trip, I’ve always enjoyed venturing down a new street for the first time. I dig the initial voyage combined with the exciting philosophy of “who knows what we’ll see!” Occasionally, you discover zip but other times you see Sea Lions. As was the case yesterday when we walked down to the main port. Sure enough, at the edge of the docks mingling among fishing boats, was a large pack of Sea Lions. A few were somewhat active almost clamoring for attention from camera-toting human guests, while others were just lazy bastards. If I didn’t know better, I would presume I was looking at two dozen beached Sea Lions. It was quite cool to see and hear these giant creatures up close; when they “bark”, they actually sound a bit like lions. Fun fact: Argentines calls Sea Lions “Lobos Del Mar” which actually translates as “WOLVES of the sea.” Along with serving as a vacation sport, this city has a very active port including scores of small fishing boats. I don’t think Brooke ever has to worry about losing me to the sea; days on a fishing boat looks like a rough way to make a living.  After a long walk out, we ended with a small victory as a local bus and the equivalent of 75 cents gave us a ride back directly to the aforementioned smashed bus stop just outside our building.

On another walk, we discovered the closest thing to a diner that we’ve seen in a long time. Manolo restaurant is apparently a Mar Del Plata institution and was recommended highly by our Air BnB host. Complete with massive menu, indifferent waiters and reasonable prices, it was a place where the selection is endless want but it’s unlikely that any of it is going to be outstanding. Following the “When in Rome” ideology, I ordered the house chicken burger which came with a ham, cheese, egg, olives, tomatoes and lettuce. Oh my. On the taste scale, it fell somewhere between interesting and delicious. Also, since every single person in the joint had at least one churro on the plate in front of them, I ordered one as well. I’m sure its part of a relatively small universe, but that was hands down the best churro I’ve had in my life.

Brooke and I have also spent some time in front of the boob tube. The best part? The commercials. I leave you with this strange, gem that had us bewildered when we first saw it. I’ve watched it 15 times since but I’m still scratching my head. Trust us, this is worth clicking on link to see this strange mishmash:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_sfTz2BTfY

-Phil

Another car that ran off the road. Keep in mind this is different than the one that ran into the bus stop- same day, 2 KM down the road. Yikes.

Sea Lions hanging out under the pier. There were tons of them! They sometimes fought and they reeked.

We’ve seen tons of these “Living Statues” street performers all around the world. This Angel outside a church in Mar Del Plata was hands down the best. He went all out! Click to enlarge to see the detail.

Good living in Mar Del Plata

Good living in Mar Del Plata

Categories: Argentina, Beach, Diversions, Driving Abroad, Eating, Mar Del Plata, Random Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

One Month to Go

We have officially hit the “One Month Left” mark on our round the world trip. It is amazing how fast the whole thing has gone! It seems like we only just began except that we have seen and experienced so much. It is hard to believe we have a whole month more left to see and do. Now that we have been on the road for a while, whenever we meet people or even talk to friends and family back home, we get many of the same questions. We thought we’d address some of those here for all of you. Here are some of our Frequently Asked Questions:

Lovely Wellington

1. What has been your favorite place?

This is a toughy. Favorite for what reason? The people? The food? Favorite as a place I’d like to visit again or as in a place I could see myself living? If you have been reading lately, then you know that Dubrovnik, Croatia certainly gets top billing when it comes to scenery. And if you’ve spoken to us, you know that Hanoi, Vietnam is a strong contender due to its vibrant nature and the ways it is vastly different from our own lives back home. However, if we had to choose and overall favorite, a place where we could see ourselves living, that has delicious food and beer, a place with friendly locals: Copenhagen, Denmark (with Wellington, New Zealand a close second). A surprise, right? It is an all around cool city and we wish we could have spent a little more time there. (I could go for one of those delicious hotdogs right now!) Although after a few days in Munich, it could easily fit the same bill. The truth is, there are just so many great places out there, it is hard to choose!

2. Have you been able to stick to your budget?

Absolutely. And not at all. It really depends on the region and the day. When we began our trip, we sat down and created a budget for each region we would be visiting. We have a daily budget and a separate one for nightly accommodations and transportation. We spent a lot of time on this, but really it was all a best guess. We came in under budget for our time in New Zealand and slightly over budget for our time in Japan. Not too bad. We were basically right on budget for Southeast Asia and the Cruise. Then we got to Europe. We found in Europe we easily stayed on budget with accommodations (we allowed $65/night), but our daily budget ($70/day) often was not enough and we found ourselves going over our allotted budget each day (I know this sounds like a lot, but keep in mind it is for 2 people and includes everything from museum tickets to pay toilets). This was especially true when we were with our friends both in Budapest and Dubrovnik. For them, they are on short vacation and they have a different mentality towards spending. Looking back, we should have budgeted more for these sections and thought of them more like a vacation from our trip. We allowed ourselves more for the UK ($90/night, $120/day) and hope we might be able to make some of the overage back while we’re here. The most important thing is that we are very conscious of our spending. I write down everything we purchase in my phone and then transfer it into a notebook where we can tally up the totals. This consciousness is very helpful and much advised for anyone on a trip like this because it is amazing how fast the spending adds up.

Brooke in Hong Kong

3. Are you still having fun or are you ready to go home?

We are definitely still having fun and enjoying every single day. However, now that we are one month away from going home, we have started thinking about real life just a little bit more. Not too much, just a bit. There is a lot we miss about home like cooking for ourselves each night and having access to all of our things–clothes, pillows, my hair straightener. We also look forward to being in one place for longer than three days. And oh, a guaranteed good bed and shower each day! But man, there is so much to see and do everywhere we go, how could we not have fun? Each day brings new surprises and we are looking forward to savoring every bit of the last month. But when we get on that plane to head back to the States in November, we’ll be ready.

Hanging out in Belgrade

4. Have you gotten sick of one another?

Before leaving, my dad kept joking that he only hoped Phil and I would come back married. Of course, he was exaggerating, but not too much. Another friend wondered if we were worried about spending so much time together to the point where we might get sick of each other. Because so many people voiced similar concerns, we planned on having one day a week where we spent the day apart. We are happy to be travelling around the world, but it certainly isn’t worth risking our relationship. Surprisingly (or maybe not), we haven’t really needed these planned days apart. We haven’t gotten sick of each other yet. Sure, there are times of frustration and we take 20 minutes to go our own way and meet back up. But generally, that is enough. We really like hanging out with each other and are interested in a lot of the same things. We are so happy with how it has worked out and think it definitely bodes well for our future.

The doors are quite big in Kyoto, Japan

5. What else do you have left?

After sharing all the things we have done already, people always want to know what is left to do. So, we are currently in Glasgow, Scotland where we will be for a few days. After this, we head to Edinburgh then a tour of the Highlands. We will say goodbye to this part of the world and fly south to our final destination: Argentina. Arriving in Buenos Aires, we will spend almost 3 weeks travelling around Argentina and perhaps even make a visit to Chile. Then, on November 14 we arrive back in Cincinnati, Ohio to the warm hugs and kisses of family and friends.

Hopefully, this has answered some questions you may have been having, or at least given you some interesting insight into how we feel about the trip. If there are any other questions, just ask. We are more than happy to share. Now, I must go explore Glasgow! Perhaps a dram of whiskey to get me started!

–Brooke

Categories: Budget, Doccuments, Exploring, Family, Finances, Homesick, Random Thoughts, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Impressions from Hong Kong

Nightly Laser Show in HKThere are no two ways about it: Brooke and I have really enjoyed our time in Hong Kong. We really dig it here. We’ve been in town just long enough to get a taste for this unique city. Three days has been enough time to allow us to get a sampling that left us with a quality impression of Hong Kong. This is a city that manages to be both part of China, but not much at all like the rest of China.

As with every destination so far, we had some miscues upon first arriving. After rolling into town, we were quickly misled by signs indicating a “subway.” Turns out that a Subway here refers to subterranean passageways underground cross walk and complicated network of pedestrian tunnels scattered throughout the city. These help with the flow of streets and are far more often seen than traditional cross walks. The subways also have an added bonus of being a fantastic way to dodge the summer heat. Of course, we had misinterpreted the “subway” signs for an subterrain train (which is in fact commonly called the MTR).

Food at the Night MarketSpeaking of the heat, we have been knee deep in it. The sights of Hong Kong during the day have been plagued by some tenacious haze, but I suppose that’s what you get for visiting Southeast Asia in the middle of August. As unlikely as it sounds, it somehow keeps getting hotter and hotter as the day progresses into night. We’re pretty sure that by 8:00 PM it was hotter than it was at 2:00 PM! Baffling. As we head even further south into Vietnam and Singapore, we’re thankful that (so far) we’ve had no trouble finding places to stay that have functional, soothing Air Conditioning.

View from the 55th Floor of the IFC Tower!

Brooke and the View from the free 55th Floor gallery of the IFC Tower!

Over the course of several bus tours and self guided tours, we’ve taken in a pretty good chunk of the city. One of the great things about this trip has been being able to make connections. We were surprised to see that the “Occupy Wall Street” movement is apparently alive and well beneath the HSBC Bank building in central Hong Kong. There is a public space beneath the bank’s giant tower, reputed to be Hong Kong’s best architectural example of feng shui, that apparently has been bereft of campers and protestors since October. A movement is underway to kick them out, but it is kinda cool to see what was happening all over America also in play in the middle of Hong Kong.

Speaking of banking, we’ve also found that Hong Kong hasn’t been the most inexpensive city, but it hasn’t been as costly as we expected a giant metropolis to be either. We’ve stumbled across some meals that are full of flavor, quick, cheap and no frills just the way we like it. But the (large) beers continually run us about seven dollars a pop. The only exception is during evening Happy Hours and in the outdoor markets where there are an abundance of deals to be found. In this weather, it is hard to resist a nice, cold beer in the middle of sight seeing during a hot day. We’ll keep looking for the perfect dive bar!

The famed Peninsula Hotel!Cost is all relative, I suppose, and flashy businessmen can be seen everywhere.The central neighborhood on Hong Kong Island is a spectacular mesh of glass and steel buildings banking, commerce, company headquarters and high quality hotels. It’s remarkable. There appears to be no end to the number of five star hotels. NEXT time, we will book a room at The Peninsula or the Ritz Carlton…or the Intercontinental! But that’s just one section of town. The culture here is a brilliant blend of 150 years of British colonial rule mixed with with an old Chinese City. The result is a mixed ethnicity, langauge and amusing juxtaposition like a Baptist church next to a market with fresh duck hanging in the window. One of our favorite common sites is buildings under construction with workers climbing on scaffolding…made of bamboo!

Bamboo Scaffolding could be found on buildings everywhere!

Bamboo Scaffolding could be found on buildings everywhere!

Hong Kong as seen from central with the HK's tallest building in the backgroundBeyond Hong Kong, as we continue to expand our world view, it’s been good to see that some things are universal. A bride in Cincinnati looks pretty identical to a bride in Guangzhou, there are lines at the post office no matter where we go, drunk 19 year-olds at a Hotel bar in Hong Kong act a lot like drunk 19 year olds in the states. My personal favorite is that the tired businessman who kept leaning on me while falling asleep on the subway in Tokyo reminded me a lot of the tired businessman who kept leaning on me while falling asleep in NYC.

And there are some shops we’ve found that are ubiquitous in any city. No matter where we’ve gone so far, we can count on seeing plenty of 7-11s (which have come in quite handy), Starbucks and McDonalds. Our one regret? We might have bought our souvenir set of Chopsticks too soon. Every other shop is selling an interesting set of chopsticks. It’s funny because when you are in the states, you never see stores falling over themselves to sell forks. I can’t wait to see what new experiences Vietnam brings. Onward!

–Phil

One of our favorite buildings- The twin Lippo Centre which are said to look like

One of our favorite buildings- The twin Lippo Centre which are said to look like Koala Bears climbing the building!

Brooke trying very hard to just get a dang spoon from the counter person at 7-11

Phil getting some food from the 7-11 – A surprisingly great place to get a quick bite

Categories: China, City Visits, Destinations, Differences, Discounts, Random Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Visiting China and Our Trip So Far


Neon Tokyo at Night
Greetings from China! By the time you read this, Brooke and I should have landed in Guangzhou and are likely out exploring the wonders of a brand necountry – our third on the trip after Japan and New Zealand. However, since the powers that be in China have decided to block internet access to WordPress (among other websites), we’ve written and scheduled this post in advance of arriving. We may be offline for a couple of days until we hit Vietnam, but that just gives us more time to get knee deep into unraveling the mysteries a new country.

On the way to the summit of FujiThis third leg, which we’ve dubbed our Southeast Asia section, is among the shortest portions of our Round The World trip. We landed on August 24th, so we’ll have about ten days to visit a small corner of China (which includes the Guangdong province, Hong Kong and Maccau), Vietnam and Singapore. For our Southeast Asia itinerary, we’re back to just playing it by ear with our stops and activities. We’re more than open to suggestions on anything that’s worth doing in the area. If you have any thoughts, please let us know in the comments section below!

That is one huge ass Japanese Lantern!We know, we know – ten days is nowhere near enough time to truly soak up the region, but we’re determined to make that time work for us. So far in both Japan and New Zealand, Brooke and I have had some long, full days where we’ve managed to pack in a ton. More often than not, we’re up and out of our hotel/hostel/guest house/yurt by early morning and then only returning late in the evening as a pair of spent but fulfilled travelers. Luckily, most of our beds and rooms so far have been uber-comfortable (notable exception – Reino Inn in Hiroshima. Blegh). We’ve been hitting the streets armed with city maps, transportation schedules and perhaps a travel guide to steer us to our next interesting discovery. Racking up the miles on our shoes, we’ve stumbled across wonders ranging from a magnificent a hot-spring geyser to the most stunning temple gate imaginable. And, yeah, sometimes a walk takes longer than anticipated or preferred, but that’s all part of the fun of not knowing precisely where you might be headed eighteen hours prior. At the end of the day, we tend to find ourselves exhausted but, if we’re lucky, just a pinch more worldly than we were that morning. The next day, we’re ready to get up and do it all again. To be fair, we’ve also had a handful of days where we’ve done relatively little. Thankfully, those are the days that help keep us sane and from burning out.

What is this strange yogurt?At this point, Brooke and I have been on this ole once-and-a-lifetime trip for a little under a month. In short, the trip has been going insanely well. This (temporary) lifestyle of being abroad and absorbing the culture, locations, landmarks, attractions and food has fit like a glove. The days are exciting, eye-opening and thought provoking. We’re constantly discovering locations that we didn’t even know existed a few days before – Miyajima in Japan is a great example. We’re learning a little bit more about how things work in parts of the world that are thousands of miles away from home. Which is incredibly important because that was one of our original primary goals in taking this voyage. Little things like learning that the Japanese tend to shun tattoos because most water parks and osens (spas) won’t let you in if you have one. Or the basic ins and outs of a Rugby game. Or even walking through the largest pedestrian cross walk in the world at Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo! We’re chalking up more memories than we can conceivably cram into our blog posts.

This map will direct me to the old sailing ship! Where could it be?So, what’s next? Come early September, we’ll be on a flight from Singapore to Copenhagen for three days in frighteningly expesnive Denmark followed by our Baltic Capitols cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines. We’re ecstatic for our cruise – in no small part because it will be nine whole nights in the same room and bed. A break from constantly searching for and checking into new hotel rooms. No need to schlep luggage around because our boat will be taking us from country to country! Also, we anticipate that it will be a nice change of pace from our time in Asia matched with a slice of easy cruise-ship living. But for now, let’s see what China has in store for us.

-Phil

Categories: China, Hotels, Random Thoughts, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 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

Blog at WordPress.com.