Posts Tagged With: RTW Trip

Farewell Scotland, Buenos Dias Argentina!

Before the clouds, anywayOur time in Europe is coming to a quick close. Brooke and I spent one last quiet day in Edinburgh today before we shut the door on Scotland and set our sights on our next and (can it be?) final leg of our Round The World Trip: Argentina and possibly Chile. I’ve enjoyed being in the same country for more than just a handful of days. It’s allowed us to see more, do more and offers a nice change of pace. There is less debating nightly lodging choices, zero sweating inter-country transportation details and no need to work our key phrases in new languages. One big lesson learned on this trip: longer stays over fewer stops has its benefits! Of course, the other side of the coin is that you see a smaller number of places in the end. At this point, I wouldn’t trade any city visit for more time in any other city. Okay, maybe less or zero time in Guangzhou. Sorry, Guangzhou.

Last night, for our last evening in Edinburgh, we enjoyed a quiet dinner at a cozy pub called the Green Mantle. If there is one thing that Scotland isn’t hurting for, it’s cozy pubs. We were first lured in by the rare promise of dinner being served after 7:00 PM and it turned out to be the perfect place for a meal and drinks. Intended or otherwise, our meals keep coming with potatoes served in one form or another. Chips, jacketed, crisps, boiled and more. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I’ve consumed at least one potato every day since I landed in Scotland. Each one was exceedingly delicious so I’m not complaining, just pointing out that this might be a terrible place to visit if you have some strange, unique potato allergy. To our dismay, the bartender at the Green Mantle told us that we missed the ubiquitous Pub Quiz evening be one day.  Probably for the best since our skills at American Bar Trivia probably don’t quite translate directly into British Pub Quizzes. Questions like “Which footy forward kicked the equalizing point for France in the 2006 World Cup” would sabotage me.

Over buffalo burgers and tasty Tennet’s lager, Brooke and I mulled over some final reflections on our time in this part of the world. I know we’ve said it before, but it bares repeating: The Rabbie’s three day tour was outstanding and we can’t recommend it enough. Some of our most exceptional experiences abroad have been with knowledgable, passionate locals who have led walking, biking and bus tours. That includes our time with a lively guide at the Edinbugh Castle Tour and the extraordinaire Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour. A plan to do more of these tours moving forward is now part of our agenda. We were introduced to a great website named Viator.com that aggregates tours. Kind of like a Kayak.com for sight seeing. The tours left me with more stories, facts and impressions on Scotland and The Highlands than my wee brain can possibly remember. Local Scots are such a proud people who wear their Scottish Pride and passion for history right on the hem of their kilt. It tends to rub off; we feel like we’re leaving Scotland beaming with pride even though we’re just visitors. In the end, we’re both so glad that we included Scotland on our itinerary. Aye, a great visit.

This morning, we decided to take the day to regroup and relax. There was sleeping in. There was a postcard writing blitz. There was window shopping. There was time in a coffee shop. When you travel for four months, we’ve found that you need these kind of days to keep you sane. We did stumble across a unique store called “Americandy” that left us rolling our eyes. The theme of the store is that they stock all of the incredibly bad-for-you, over-the-top candy that’s popular in the states, but harder to find in Europe. We’re talking NERDS, GummyWorms, and Twinkies. So, to be clear, the one store we saw that boasts selling American goods is peddling the worst junk you can imagine. The kicker? They also sell boxes of cereals such as Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms but no other breakfast foods. A bit eye opening that a stores that sells novelty candy has kid’s breakfast cereal bunched in.

And, yeah, they even have the Blues Brothers out front.

Soon the time came to leave Edinburgh. The bus ride out made me a bit sad, but the unrelenting fog that blocked the usually stunning view of the Edinbugh castle made leaving a little bit more palatable. Actually, we split town just in time as the forecast calls for snow on Thursday. (Go ahead. Ask me about the Buenos Aires forecast. That’s right. 75 degrees and sunny!) Brooke and I were kind enough to leave Edinburgh just the way found it – in the rain! Our bus ride out of town gave us one last lovely view- rows and rows of captivating, old, giant homes made from stone that have been turned into B&Bs and small hotels.

Stop! Time is getting away!Right now, we find ourselves back in Glasgow while we wait for the overnight Megabus to speed us down to London. We’re downing just a touch of whisky (the true Scottish way is to spell it without the “e”!) and killing some time at a bar. Now that I’m back in Glasgow, I can say that Edinburgh feeels much bigger and more cosmopolitan even though it is the smaller town of the two. I’m also clearly hearing now how the accents vary so dramatically in this country. Man, I can’t believe I missed it before. Speech patterns change even over just a few miles. Most of the time I have no trouble understanding the locals, but other times I struggle to pick up every third word. Hell, it might very well be like this in every country we’ve visited, but since we actually speak the English language, here it is much more noticeable. We’re told that every little region of Scotland has its own accent. But the important thing is that apparently absolutely no one speaks with the strange brogue that Sean Connery invokes.

What's a sheep's favorite song? Ba-ba-ba-Babara Ann.So, we find ourselves changing gears again. Time to break out the Lonely Planet book on Argentina and brush up on the little Spanish we know. (“Donde esta la biblioteca?”) We’re not just leaving the United Kingdom, we’re leaving Europe where we’ve been hanging out since early August. It always takes a little adjusting mentally to go from one region of the world to another. But, as always, we’re ready to discover and absorb a new place. It’s another chapter closed on our RTW trip as we say goodbye to lovely Scotland (and Europe for that matter!) and head west.

-Phil

A much quieter High Street in Edinbugh at night!

Just your average pub lined street in Edinburgh!

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Categories: Beer, Exploring, Scotland, Self Guided Tours, Tours, Transportation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Meeting literary ghosts in Edinburgh Pubs

It is hard to believe that the calendar today reads October 20th. I’m somewhat amazed because that must mean that Brooke I have now been traveling from the middle of summer to the middle of fall and now we’re knee deep in Scotland. I’ve said it before, but it bares repeating – this has been one hell of a trip. The day often concludes with so many reflections, reactions and impressions that it usually ends up being way too much for a single blog post. I’m left instead with copious notes scribbled on pieces of paper stuffed in my pocket, and later, in my suitcase. However, as long as I continue to find myself in interesting places learning interesting things, I think there is room to share a bit of what I picked up. During an unintended wayward bus ride today we learned that the popular American clothing store TJ Maxx is called TK Maxx in the United Kingdom. We learned today that the Scottish menu items “Neeps” are turnips. While looking at old gramophones during a visit to the National Museum of Scotland we learned that the name of music provider “HMV”stands for “His Master’s Voice” – an allusion to the image of the loyal puppy with his head in the record player speaker. And we learned on an exceptional Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour, that the correct pronunciation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic is “Jeek-yl” and Hyde.

Our time in Edinburgh continues to treat us well. We’re enjoying each day, despite the fact that we’ve still got gray skies as far as the eye can see. The sun glasses we packed are as useless as a coffee pot made of chocolate, but not much to do about that other than to resolve never to actually move here. Even the realistic locals won’t offer any encouragement about the forecast. (“But it’s really nice here in August, right?” “No, it still rains an ungodly amount.”) The real talk of the town isn’t the weather, but the upcoming 2014 referendum vote for true Scottish independence from the UK. That should make for a couple of interesting years. We love the walkability of Edinburgh and had a chance to stretch our legs all over town today. In preparation for the forthcoming cold of the Highlands and adding a whole new dimension to my wardrobe, we both bought used jackets and I purchased a pair of jeans from a used-clothing charity store. Jeans! Sweet Gravy on a platter, denim pants! I had packed none for the trip and now they feel…hmm…heavenly is not the right word, but it will do. A long journey like this has a way of making you feel a bit run down sometimes, but in the last three days I’ve gotten an overdue haircut, laundered all of my clothes and now some snazzy new (to me) wares. It really, really makes a difference in how you feel.

Check out stylish Brooke- new jacket and all!

After shopping, self-guided sight seeing and some delicious lunchtime pies (one with steak and gravy, the other with meat and onion), we took a quick spin through the National Museum of Scotland. We went partially because it looked interesting and partially because, well, it was free. The museum is giant and packed with well curated displays.  It also offers a surprising number of dining options. But at this point, with the sheer number of museums we’ve seen since New Zealand, our bar to be impressed has been raised quite high. We definitely liked what we saw especially concerning the Scottish history over the last 400 years. Although it is a bit embarrassing to visit the museum’s Scottish Sports Hall of Fame, celebrating 50 native athletes and their achievement in the fields of boxing, rowing, football, racing, golf and more, and find you’re familiar with approximately zero of the names. Not a one. After traipsing around the museum for a while, fatigue gave in and we headed back to the apartment. Well, that was the plan. Unfortunately, it was remarkably easy to confuse bus #49 with bus #42 and we received an unintended tour of greater Edinburgh. Not a bad thing, actually. It’s kind of fun getting safely lost when you’ve got no where to be and there is no additional cost (we were on a day-long bus pass). Plus, it is no where near the first time we’ve gotten on the wrong bus. With a little patience and time, two must-have qualities on a trip like this, Brooke and I always manage to end up where we need to be.

I would kill for this to be my nieghborhood barBut the peak of our day came just after 7:30 PM when we started our journey on the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour. While we didn’t know exactly what to expect, what came next exceeded any possible expectations! Part historical tour, part pub crawl and part performance art, this was a lively, informative and colorful way to spend a few hours in Edinburgh. And this is the perfect city for such a tour – with so many bars that date back 300 and 400 years, there is bound to be some amazing stories just waiting to be told. We made stops all across town at the Beehive, The Jolly Judge, Ensign Ewart and Kennilworth. We were entertained by stories and history on Scottish greats such as Stevenson, Walter Scott, Robert Byrnes and more. We heard some sensational tales like the one of craftsman Deacon Brody who built the gallows that would later be used to hang him. Being sucked into the middle of all this history with a Guinness in my hand, there was no where else on Earth I wanted to be. We want to rave about this tour to the far corners of the globe. It’s a must for anyone who enjoys literature, compelling local history, bars and/or beer! If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with Simon and Dewi as your hosts and guides.

Tomorrow, we’re taking off on a three day tour with the much beloved Rabbie’s Trail Burners. One nice thing about having so much time in one country is that we can venture away from the big cities and into the countryside.  We are both looking forward to visiting the famed and romanticized Highlands and getting away from the hustle of city life for a while.

-Phil

Hanging at Edinburgh Castle

A look at the stone streets of Edinburgh

Categories: Beer, Europe, Exploring, Reflections, Scotland, Self Guided Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Belgrade, Serbia–A Wonderful Surprise!

When planning our trip, we did not know exactly which cities we’d be visiting.  We had our flights and a basic plan, but we did not map out specifics in order to allow ourselves flexibility.  If you had asked us before we started whether or not we would visit Serbia, our answer would have been, “You never know, but probably not.”  Now, here we are, thrilled to be in the heart of Serbia: Belgrade.

Belgrade has a lot to offer, so we decided to start our day at the Nicola Tesla Museum.  Going into this, Phil knew a lot more about Tesla than I did.  In fact, if you had asked me who Tesla was, I might have made vague reference to a crappy band who covered the song “Signs.”  As it turns out, Nicola Tesla’s inventions changed the course of human history and we all use his technology daily.  In case you are like me and don’t know who he is, Tesla is best known for inventing the alternating current (AC) electrical system.  You may have heard of the Tesla Coil, his most well known invention which is integral to the AC system.  Nicola Tesla was born in Serbia, and here in Belgrade they have a museum dedicated to celebrating his work and his contributions to human history.

The Tesla Museum was a fun, interactive and incredibly informative experience.  We were given a tour by a young woman who just graduated with a degree in electrical engineering.  Her passion and knowledge for the topic shone through in her presentation of the material. The one floor museum situated in a beautiful old 19th century home was as much about Tesla as it was about his inventions. We learned that Tesla was a legitimate genius level inventor who could never be accused of thinking small. His inventions ranged from Hydroelectricity to a theorhetical global communications array that was never completed. Especially cool was the interactive exhibits like the giant Tesla Coil and a reproduction of the world’s first remote control toy boat that was showcased in Central Park in the early 1900’s. What really helped make the museum, or any museum for that matter, is that the guides were certified experts on the subject matter and sincerely passionate about all things Tesla. After our visit, our head was swimming with fascinating facts and information about Tesla. It is truly a sensational museum!

The light bulbs are being lit by the magnetic field created around the Tesla coil. Phil’s body is the conductor. Don’t get too close or you’ll get a shock!

After the Tesla Museum, we slowly wandered through the city toward the Belgrade Fortress.  Our eyes were filled with wonder at seeing bombed out buildings, still in crumbling ruins, adjacent to beautiful, historic structures.  The NATO bombings of Serbia, which took place over the course of almost 3 months in 1999, have left evidence almost everywhere you look in Belgrade.  At the same time, this city already feels more forward thinking, cosmopolitan and progressive than either Bucharest or Sofia.  We were expecting a sort of sadness…or at least the feeling that they were still trying to get back on their feet.  Not only are they standing on their own two legs, Belgrade is thriving.  There are cafes, corner stores and markets everywhere.  The streets are bustling with people and the nightlife here draws visitors from all over Europe.  There is a pulse and vitality that we haven’t felt in other Eastern European cities.  However, wages are still quite low and the younger population is dwindling as they leave to find jobs in other countries which are unavailable here.  The city seems to be growing, but it is not happening at a fast enough pace for to meet the demand of people in need of jobs.

We continued to walk along Knez Mihailova, a pedestrian only street which leads toward the fortress.  We happened upon a robotics exhibition and also discovered that Serbians love their popcorn like Romanians love their pretzels.  Finally, we made it to Kalamegdan Park, a huge park created on a plateau in front of the Belgrade Fortress.  Filled with people, the park is the best place to watch the sunset at the spot where the Danube and Sava Rivers converge.  It also houses several public art pieces, including a series of photographs of depicting gorgeous landscapes from each state in America.  We got a little misty at both the photograph of the Roebling Suspension Bridge in Cincinnati, Ohio and the view of the city from New York’s Central Park.  As we gazed out over the river, talking about all things past, present and future, we realized we are missing some small things about America.  This was punctuated by our discovery of several Buckeye Trees.  The characteristic seeds lay all over the ground, and I picked them up, dreaming of home and just wishing they were made of chocolate and peanut butter (a popular treat for Ohioans).

We finally found the fortress at the top of the park.  Originally built in the 1st Century A.D., it (of course) has been destroyed several times over the years.  This is somewhat surprising because the location is the highest spot around and one could easily see the advancing enemy coming in by river.  The current fortress has been turned largely into parkland, but also houses the Military Museum, an Entomology Museum and an Observatory.  Hunger spoke louder than our desire to see these exhibits, so we plan to head back there tomorrow.  As we strolled back through the park toward the tram, we realized that we have had yet another day of perfect weather.  With the exception of Brasov, Romania, Eastern Europe has been a meteorological utopia.

It had been such a lovely day, and we were excited to experience our first real Serbian meal.  After a recommendation from our Air B ‘n B host, we went to Orasac.  Our stomachs growled on the short walk to the restaurant, so we were psyched when we spotted the sign.  The man who greeted us warned that they were busy and it might take a while for the food.  We decided to stick it out since we were already there and didn’t really have a back-up plan.  In retrospect, we should have left when we had the chance.  Annoyed that we didn’t speak Serbian, the waiter was brash and rude.  We ordered “light domestic draft”, which is how the beer was described on the menu.  No brand.  No other option.  We think it was Lav, but we aren’t completely sure.  After being told the first 3 items we asked for were unavailable with a brusque “Ney,” we hastily ordered our meals.  Willing to overlook the bad service, dirty tablecloth and crumbs at the bottom of our beer glasses, we finally drew the line.  Phil cut into his chicken skewers and they were completely uncooked on the inside.  Bright pink.  Raw.  After the experience we had thus far, we decided it wasn’t worth it to try to explain or argue.  Instead we just showed it to the waiter and asked for the check.  The message was clear and we soon left unsatisfied.  We’ve had some really amazing meals in the last week, so I suppose we were due for a stinker.

Dinner aside, today was really wonderful.  We have such a positive impression of Belgrade and we are excited to explore it further tomorrow.  We are planning to explore the Military Museum, plus partake in a bike tour which sounds awesome.  We’ll let you know how it goes!

–Brooke

Wishing these Buckeyes were the sweet treats I love so much!

The fortress offers beautiful views of the Danube and the entire city of Belgrade.

 

Categories: City Visits, Diversions, Eastern Europe, Europe, Exploring, Homesick, Landmarks, Museums, Serbia, Surprises, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

Away we go!

Last night, I enjoyed a delicious homemade dinner on a back patio with some of my family. In a way, it was the quintessential American home cooked meal: Pork Chops from the grill, chopped & sautéed summer veggies, succulent corn on the cob and more. About halfway through dinner, whilst picking corn out of my teeth, it dawned on me that this is the last homemade American-style dinner for quite a while. Starting tomorrow, I stop carrying keys or anything around in my pocket. I’ve stopped sleeping in my own, comfortable bed.Very soon, I will stop being able to speak the local language. And all my cash is going to be in funny colors. In short, tomorrow Brooke and I are going stop doing what we’re used to and start diving into the unknown.

After all this yapping, planning and anticipating about the trip, we’re less than 12 hours out from our first flight. Amazing. Intimidating. Daunting. And then exciting all over again. It’s here, baby. (Some last minute shopping aside…I still need to procure a second dang money belt.) I’m ready to expand my horizons a touch, enrich my life if I’m lucky and come back with a treasure chest of memories. Embarking on the trip of a lifetime is right around the corner.

There is so much that is just unknown about this trip and that, in part, is what makes this all so damn electrifying.  Where will we be sleeping in Scotland? What will we be feasting on in Zagreb, Croatia? How on earth does an ATM work in China? Even the stars above our heads are going to look different when we’re in the southern hemisphere. But I am ready.  It has been an astounding amount of fun planning this trip over the last few months and getting set for it all. Every morning I feel like waking up and shouting, “What’s next?” This massive doings that began as idle conversation a long time ago is now, suddenly, somehow, unlikely, here. We are going to be travelers on a journey around the world for the next few months. Exciting. Well, surreal and exciting. It’s going to be a whole new way to spend our days. And we hope you guys enjoy following our journey through this blog. For now, however, I think I’ll catch a couple of innings of Reds baseball while I can.

-Phil

Categories: Eating, Flights, Random Thoughts, Trip Prep | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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