This post is out of order and only has one theme: Scott taking photos around the world. While he photographed some of the world’s prettiest places, I had to practice being patient while I waited for him and in the process I took a ridiculous amount of photos of Scott taking photos. Also, if you haven’t noticed in some of the other posts his photos are REALLY good. Without further commentary, here are my favorites of Scott taking pictures in cool places. You may need to give this post a minute to load!
Oh, Patagonia. We sure do love this place.
Our time in Patagonia was amazing and completely opposite of Buenos Aires — it is hard to believe they are in the same country. We stressed about our itinerary a lot….was it wrong to make it all the way to Patagonia and not do the W trek in Torres del Paine? Was it smart to go backpacking for 5 days when we had to rent all of the gear we might need – not only would that be expensive it would be difficult to be stuck with gear that was only adequate? Where do we store our laptops and other technology while we backpack? It was frustrating since we have everything we might need back in Denver, but we were left ill-prepared. For this post, I am going to let the pictures do most of the talking.
El Calafate and El Chalten
Laguna de los Tres (16 miles), Laguna Torre (15 miles), Chorrillo del Salto (5 miles), and Los Condores and Las Aguilas (3.5 miles)
Things We Liked
NATURE and views like the one below
Things We Disliked
Expensive, bad food, rainy, windy, unpredictable weather and our lack of camping/hiking gear
Ultimately we decided to skip Torres del Paine (and the 3-5 days backpacking with rented gear) and instead spend 4 nights in El Chalten exploring some of the premier day hikes. The hikes were long, but stunning. The weather rarely ever cooperated. There were days when we hiked with cold, sideways rain and with wind about to knock us over. We had read that the views in Los Glaciers National Park rivaled the views in Torres del Paine National Park (and that some people even preferred Los Glaciers National Park). A few days we rented hiking boots two of the days (thank goodness!) and even some day packs for some of the longer hikes (7 plus hours). Although they were not the greatest boots they saved our feet and I am so thankful we were able to rent some gear!
My favorite hike was Laguna de Los Tres — although the last kilometer very steep and almost straight up, but the stunning views of three glacial lakes and and Mount Fitz Roy made every step of the 16 miles of hiking. The pictures really say it all….
Our other favorite hike in the area was Laguna Torre, clocking in at 14 miles round trip. I would have loved this hike even more if there wasn’t rain the entire day and clouds obscuring our view most of the hike.
After El Chalten we headed to El Calafate to check out Perito Moreno Glacier. We have seen a couple glaciers before but this one was really special. Every so often pieces of the glacier would fall of into the water and it sounded exactly like thunder. To hear the glacier creak and crack was amazing. We took a boat ride to get a better view before trekking on the glacier — it was touristy and I loved every minute.
Don’t Drink the Water
Fun fact about Patagonia is that you can drink the water. I am not talking about water from the tap either (although you can drink that too) — I am referring to lakes and rivers. Never have I ever heard a park ranger encourage me to dip my water bottle into the river and drink it. There was nothing better than filling my bottle up with some nice, cold glacial runoff water and drinking it. We even had ice cubes from a glacier in our whiskey on the rocks at Perito Moreno Glacier.
We really loved our time in Patagonia. It is incredible here. It also reminded us of Colorado and made us so, so excited to go back and explore our state more 🙂
We went to Argentina in February. It is now June. Oops. I knew this would happen eventually, but I really wanted to stay up to date and stay in real time (which actually never happened). We have just returned home and have so much to catch up on the blog. We also have so much to process in terms of being home once again. I have no words to describe any of that yet. Until then I am going to time travel back to Argentina and think about all the wonderful times there.
South America…finally! I have been itching to get to some Spanish speaking countries for a while now. Emalie, my sister-in-law, wanted to come visit us in South America and we decided Buenos Aires was just the place to do that! We never really anticipated making it to Argentina on this trip and we certainly did not expect to spend 18 nights here. Our original plans included Maccu Piccu in Peru and the Bolivian Salt Flats, but our plans on this trip are constantly changing in a way that has been impossible to predict. We had no gear for Maccu Piccu, we would be arriving in rainy season, and we would be unable to do any of the treks we wanted to do because we didn’t sign up in advance.
Since we would be so far south in Argentina in Buenos Aires we started thinking that maybe Patagonia would be a possibility. The weather is perfect this time of year, we found relatively cheap airfare to get there, and we have always dreamed of going there so a new plan was born (Sidenote: This plan really makes no more sense than Maccu Piccu since we still have no hiking gear, but I digress). Since our trip to Buenos Aires and our adventures in Patagonia are complete opposites of one another, I am going to write two separate posts.
Argentina and Uruguay
Buenos Aires and Colonia del Sacramento (Uruguay)
Things We Liked
Seeing family, steak, empanadas, pools, free walking tours, wine
Things We Disliked
Expensive, potentially unsafe cities, hot weather (really, really hot), and malbec
We had heard that Buenos Aires might not be the safest of cities and we found out the hard way one night when we almost got robbed under a bridge (that was out of the view from the road) just a block away from our apartment. In our 7 months of traveling, I have never felt so unsafe or uncomfortable. Lesson learned…we took Uber and taxis at night going forward.
1. Emalie in Buenos Aires
We spent just over a week in Buenos Aires with Emalie eating empanadas, learning about tango, getting some sun, taking day trips to Uruguay, sampling all the helados (ice cream) and wandering the city. We were so, so sad when it was time for her to go back to the US at the end of the week! We had a wonderful time exploring a new place although we all agree that Buenos Aires might not be our favorite city in the world. Spending 9 days there was maybe a few days too long for us, but we never ran out of things to do, see and eat! We are starting to feel really tired of moving around every few days so it was really awesome to unpack our bags and stay put for a while. Also, Emalie visiting was a breathe of fresh air…we much needed her impromptu mini-concerts in the living room to take away some of our stress (although it did not help us book anything any faster) 🙂
Special thanks to Emalie for putting up with Scott and I try to frantically plan Patagonia a few days before the trip (like I said…it was a tad bit stressful for us).
More on that in the next post!
3. Day Trip to Uruguay
We talked about doing 2 or 3 full days in Uruguay to check out Montevideo and Colonia del Sacramento. In the end we decided to be lazy and just take a day trip to Colonia, a cute town that is a UNESCO site and that is quite literally the opposite in every way to Buenos Aires. It is about 1.25 hours away by fast ferry service. We enjoyed some quiet wandering around the cobblestone streets and almost melted due to the heat. There is not a ton to see in Colonia del Sacramento so once we had seen all the site we checked out the beach close to town along the banks of the Rio de la Plata. Even with no ocean in site we enjoyed our afternoon at the beach before catching the last ferry back to Buenos Aires.
In an attempt not to just tell you the awesome stories and show you beautiful pictures I must admit to a blunder we had the first attempt to make it to Uruguay. Scott had not been feeling well for about 24 hours and decided the morning before our 8:15 am boat that he would not be going with Emalie and I. We obviously didn’t like this as life is more fun with Scott in it so we tried calling the boat company a few times – I am pretty sure the answering machine told me in Spanish that the office would not open until 8 in the morning, but there was no way for certain. We had to leave the house way earlier than that to make it to the boat on time. We wasted a lot of time trying to get in touch with them that we were running later than we wanted to be. Finally we decided we had to go and we would try to get them to change the tickets and if they wouldn’t then we would be going to Uruguay without Scott.
We hopped in an Uber and told the driver we wanted to go to the port. Well, he took us there and upon arrival we learned that we were actually 10 minutes driving from where we should be. Finally, we arrived at the ferry company’s port at 8:20 am. 5 minutes after the ferry took off…
We talked to the office and they told us we needed to get a doctor’s not for Scott if we wanted to change the tickets. Emalie and I are pretty okay at expressing ourselves in Spanish usually, but both of us were unable to communicate effectively. It was embarrassing how badly we were communicating. It just wasn’t working for us. When they asked what was wrong with Scott and why we wouldn’t go to the doctor we explained we were afraid to go because our Spanish was so bad (not totally true, but I had limited vocabulary to explain our situation). We must have butchered the language so bad that they felt sorry for us. Tickets were changed for two days later and we were all able to go to Colonia together!
Beating the Heat at Parque Norte
There is no beach in Buenos Aires much to all of our surprise.The city sits along the Rio de la Plata and there are no beaches within a few hours of the city. A heat wave had rolled through town right before we arrived we knew we needed to find a pool. Enter, Parque Norte. This place reminded us of a Vegas pool or a water park and it is a popular local hangout. It is located under the airspace of the domestic airport located in the city. Every few minutes a commercial jet would fly pretty low over the park as it was approaching the runway – it was nice to relax and watch the planes fly by. We rented some lawn chairs, an umbrella and drank some cold refreshments while enjoying some sun. We went back again we enjoyed it so much the first time around!
The Best and the Worst Steak
Argentina is known for beef, especially steak. We have some mixed reviews. We went to a restaurant nearby our house with good reviews. The service was awful (even bad in South American standards), it took us over an hour to get a bottle of wine we ordered, and the steaks were up there with the worst steaks I have ever consumed. It was confusing to say the least.
We decided that this could not be our only steak experience so we headed to one of the most well known places in Buneos Aires, Las Caberas. They have a happy hour deal every night that is 40% off your entire bill. All you have to do is shown up just before 7 and be out of the place by around 8 so they can continue their regular dinner service. It was fantastic! When we passed back through Buenos Aires after our Patagonia trip we hit up the happy hour here one more time.
Queso, Queso, Queso
Everything in Argentina has queso on it. Argentine style pizza 10% crust and 90% cheese, we ordered a steak, which came with more cheese than steak, and there was rarely anything we ate that did not come with a healthy amount of queso. I love cheese just as much as the next person (or maybe more), but perhaps they have taken the level of mediocre cheese on everything just a bit too far.
The Stats (including Patagonia)
Total Number of Nights: 18
Currency: $1 USD = 15.4 Argentine Pesos
Number of Miles Traveled: 10,000 miles (including our flight from London and to Patagonia)
Number of Miles Walked: 144 miles (average of 8 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 310,504 steps (average of about 17,250 per day)
Transportation Used: Taxi, Uber, bus, boat, and plane
Type of Accommodations: Hostel/hotel (3) and apartment (2)
Number of Beds: 5
This post is a continuation of my first post about our time in Europe! I can’t believe we almost skipped Europe on this trip. Maybe it was because it was the middle of winter, but it was not nearly as expensive as we thought it would be (which was the only reason we had decided to skip it anyway)! There is so much to see and do in Europe and we could have traveled there for a year and not seen everything on our list. We settled on a few cities we have always wanted to go to that had some cheap flights.
We met up with my parents in Barcelona and had a great time! I wish we could have seen some other parts of Spain, but we were hoping to make this trip an actual vacation for my parents instead of our usually rushing from place to place (as we did with them in Japan). After Barcelona we went to London. The flights to South America were relatively cheap from London and the British Pound conversion rate was in our favor so it seemed like as good of a time as any to go!
We blinked and our time in Barcelona was already over. My parents met us in Barcelona for a week and it was the absolute best! They took a break from snow and cold in Cleveland to hang out with us in Europe. It is a shame we didn’t get to explore more of Spain, but it was fantastic to have an entire week to see Barcelona – there is so much to do, see, and eat in this city and we did not have to rush around trying to see too much. We ate our way all around the city and ate an unspeakable amount of pinxtos (smaller snacks similar to tapas).
Nights Spent: 7
Things We Liked
Family, Spanish (finally!), pinxtos and tapas, good wine, beautiful architecture, nicer weather, sunshine, football, and sangria
We also liked having an awesome patio at our Airbnb.
Things We Disliked
Not being able to utilize our awesome patio fully since it is winter, being on the lookout for the notoriously crafty Barcelona pickpockets, and still being sick (although we have both improved significantly).
The Bueschers Take Barcelona
I have been able to spend more time with my parents this year during our travels than on any other year in recent history. It has been so fun to see the world together…some of my favorite memories are traveling with my family. This year we have been able to travel with them to Niagara Falls (to both the US and Canadian side), Japan and now also Spain – how cool is that?!
FC Barcelona vs. Atlético Madrid
Football, or soccer as Americans call it, is a big deal in Europe and Spain is no exception. We were able to go to a semi-final game in Barcelona at Camp Nou to cheer on the home team, FC Barcelona, against Atlético Madrid. It was a really cool experience and everyone was mostly behaved (except for the fan that went rogue and ran onto the field. It probably helps that they don’t serve alcohol at the games. The crowd would go through a range of emotions: quiet, anger, happiness, back to anger….it was a blast even though we usually had no idea the full extent of what was happening! The game ended in a tie (I still don’t understand how that works), but at least we didn’t lose.
Super Bowl & NYE 2017 (Again)
For as long as I can remember my parents and I have always gone through our highs and lows for the year on New Years Eve/Christmas. Some family friends got me started on writing out the highlights and lowlights when I was really young and I have loved doing it ever since! Spending Christmas abroad this year meant that we were not able to complete our yearly tradition…so New Years Eve happened once again in February! I always love reminiscing on the past year over a glass of champagne and this year was no different. We made it to midnight where we toasted to the new year (that was already 10% complete) before we turned out attention to the Super Bowl!
The super bowl started at 12:30 am in Barcelona. We watched the game until the end of the 3rd quarter…the Patriots were down and there was no way that they were going to win. It was around 3:30 am at this point and it just seemed smart to head to sleep and give up on the game. There was a 99% chance that the Falcons would win and it was really late already. The next day we woke up to the news about the Patriots and their epic comeback in the 4th quarter/overtime. My dad didn’t even believe me in the morning when I told him what happened. We may never forgive ourselves for going to sleep and missing out on the excitement.
Eating Everything in Barcelona
We are our way through Barcelona – tapas and pinxtos (smaller than tapas) were my favorite and I wish this style of eating were bigger in the US. Places that serve tapas in the US usually are expensive, pretentious, and I need to order so many tapas to have enough food. We really enjoyed being able to go into a place to grab a few pinxtos (priced at anywhere from 1-2 Euros/piece) and have a glass of wine or sangria. Our apartment was located 2 blocks from Blai Street, a street filled with reasonably priced pinxto places and the best tapas place in town, Quimet & Quimet. If you ever make it to Barcelona, do me a favor and eat at all of these places! The food scene in Barcelona is next level.
One of our most memorable dining experiences was our last day when we went to try a traditional Catalonian food that happened to be in season, Calçots. We initially learned about these onions on an Anthony Bourdain episode and did not think we would be able to try them ourselves until we arrived in Barcelona and saw them on a menu. The wait staff at the restaurant we went to did not speak English well (just about as good as my Spanish). They presented us with bibs, rubber gloves, and told us to put them on as our first dish of the calcots showed up on our table. The waiter then announces to the entire restaurant that we do not know Spanish and asks if anyone can help him explain how to eat them. He took one of our onions and demonstrated the proper technique – you are supposed to hold the top stalk, break off the bottom and pull the onion out. Once you do this you dip the onion with a healthy coat of sauce and strip the onion of the meat with your mouth. The meal was an absolute mess and we left the restaurant with grins from ear to ear. We had so much fun!
There are wine regions all over Spain and it didn’t feel quite right to visit without learning more about Spanish wines. We signed up for private wine tasting with Blended and Bottled where we learned about Cava (equivalent to the champagne of Spain) and other wines of the region. We paired them with some Spanish meats and cheeses and had a fabulous evening! None of us knew that we liked Spanish wines so much and I will certainly pick up some wine from Rioja in my future.
It was always the idea that half of our trip would be in Asia and the other half in Spanish speaking countries. We are now 6 months into our trip and have not set foot into a place we can use Spanish until now – it has been slightly frustrating, but how can you complain when we have had the opportunity to see so many incredible places? With the exception of our 5 days in London to finish off our Euro-trip all of the remaining countries we will visit on this trip speak Spanish as a primary language. I am so excited about that! I have forgotten most of my speaking skills and need some serious practice, but I am ready for the challenge…even Scott is remembering his Spanish from high school and it has been really fun.
La Sagrada Familia
After visiting a few cities in Europe we have seen a fair share of impressive churches. La Sagrada Familia, designed by Antoni Gaudi, is unlike the others. The outside is stunning even with the ongoing construction site since the church is not yet complete. Seeing the outside of this church would be a notable activity when in Barcelona, but the inside…the inside is unlike anything I have ever seen. It is incredible and so different from any other place I have ever seen. My engineer brain can hardly understand how so many curved lines in the architecture of this church make any sense structurally, but damn it is beautiful.
We love London. This could be partly due to the fact that we felt comfortable here – we could speak the language, eat comfort food, and shop at familiar stores. It could also be that London is just a really, really cool city. It is like NYC, but with much more charm. Everywhere you look there is beautiful architecture, a museum (usually with free admission), or a historical site. I am not sure if you can ever run out of things to do in London. It was really cold and rainy most of the time we were here, but it did not stop us. London is an incredibly beautiful, picturesque city and has so much character despite being so large. The iconic red double-decker buses, black taxicabs, and red phone booths litter the city and the style in the entire city is so unique.
In addition to seeing the London sites we also got some things done in London. Both Scott and I saw the doctor (which was free – I still don’t understand why), got haircuts, and restocked our bags with some much-needed supplies. We ate really well, drank good beer, and I was able to get my earl grey tea fix.
Nights Spent: 5
Things We Liked
English, T.K. Maxx (yes, just like T.J. Maxx), beautiful architecture, museums with free admission, the tube/the Underground, Chipotle, craft beer, full English breakfasts, fish & chips, and being comfortable.
Things We Disliked
Expensive (although the exchange rate is fantastic right now – thanks Brexit!), the weather could have been less cold, and mushy peas – what is the fascination with those? We really disliked very little.
Whole Foods, Chipotle, and T.K. Maxx (just like T.J. Maxx, but way better selection) to name a few of our favorites. I freaked out in the middle of the street upon learning there was a Chipotle nearby and I had zero chill at the Whole Foods salad bar. You could not wipe the smile off my face as I ate my salad, which is really embarrassing. These things are really basic, but to us they were incredible and familiar (and they might have made us miss home a bit). We were able to go to the drugstore and restock our cosmetics and toiletries that were running low with the same brands we love back home. We could absolutely live in London if someone told us we had to move there. It was a highlight to go to some places we have been missing!
New York City has Broadway, but London has West End. Anyone who has been to NYC probably knows about TKTS, the place you can stand in line to get cheap tickets to Broadway plays the day of. London has this too! We decided to see a show for Valentine’s Day because…why not? We were able to find reasonable tickets to Kinky Boots, a show that we had heard rave reviews about from family and friends. We knew nothing about it, but decided to give it a shot. It was amazing! We had a great time. Our seats were way better than expected and the show was full of energy and hilarious. It was a memorable V-Day across the pond. Also, we had ramen before the show and found a shop that sold our beloved pastries from Portugal, pastel de natas, for desert (we may or may not have snuck them in). I swear those things are like crack.
All of the Sites, All of the Sights
Big Ben, Hyde Park, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey…the list is endless. There are so many iconic and historic places in London to see. As I mentioned above, most of the museums offer free admission so we were able to go to the Natural Science Museum and the National Gallery (which has some pretty famous artists’ works). We wish we had time there as there is so much to see in the city.
Changing of the Guards
We went to go see the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace. Most of the year they have this everyday, but during the winter it only takes place every other day. That could be why so many people were there, but in reality it is probably always packed with tourists. We could hardly see anything despite arriving almost an hour early. The ceremony is a bit spread out so we were able to see the new guards march in and the band, but other than that we were in the dark. I hear the ceremony is really great, but unfortunately we didn’t get to see much. We did get to see a bit of the fanfare though! There were police on horses, the band that marched in uniform and of course the Queen’s Guard. We don’t regret going to see the excitement, but maybe wish we would have gotten there another half hour early and would have known exactly the best spots to stand. We will know for net time we make it to London!
Total Number of Nights: 12
Languages: Spanish and English
Currency: $1 USD = 0.95 Euro = 1.24 British Pound
Number of Flights: 2
Number of Miles Traveled: 4,275 (including our flight from Lisbon)
Number of Miles Walked: 88.4 miles (average of 6.8 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 190,260 steps (average of about 14,635 per day)
Transportation Used: Taxi, metro, train, and plane
Type of Accommodations: Airbnb (1) and hotel (1)
Number of Beds: 2
There are endless ways to do a trip to Europe and quite honestly the options were overwhelming. There are so many spectacular places just a quick (and cheap) plane or train ride away – how do you choose where to go?? My parents planned a trip to meet us in Barcelona. Done. We had two weeks to make it from Dubai to Barcelona. Next time we make it to Europe I would love to get a Europass and ride the rails around, but that took far too much planning and instead we are city hopping our way through Europe via low-cost airlines!
So our route turned out to look like this: Prague, Czech Republic–>Amsterdam, The Netherlands–>Lisbon, Portugal–> Barcelona, Spain–>London, England
I split our time in Europe into two blogs posts so it wasn’t outrageously long. I really, really wish we had more time in Europe!
Prague, Czech Republic
This city is a fairytale and I have never been somewhere so spectacular. Winter was in full effect when we arrived with snow covered ground and extremely cold temperatures. We went directly from 90 degrees in the desert to 20 degrees and did not have much in our bags for cold weather (although we do have light down jackets from New Zealand) – it was a bit of a shock to our systems. Our first order of business was to buy new, warm shoes and some socks that could keep our toes from freezing. Although we were freezing the entire time, we think that going in the winter added to the charm of the city, as there was hardly anybody there. I can imagine Prague being overrun in the summer with tourists (it is amazing, I totally get why it would be). We absolutely loved our time in Prague and can’t believe we almost left Europe out of our trip.
Nights Spent: 3
Things We Liked
Czech beer, goulash, snow, reasonably priced everything, cobblestones
Things We Disliked
It. Was. Cold.
No trip to Prague is complete without a visit to Prague Castle. I would agree with this, but we also almost froze in the process. The entire visit took about 2 hours from start to finish and not a single part of it was in a heated environment. At St. Vitus Cathedral no hats were allowed either so we were even colder walking through the Cathedral with bare heads (full disclosure: they let me keep my hat on so only Scott had to suffer in the cold with a bare head).
Old Jewish Town
We were staying in the old Jewish quarter, Josefov, which is one of the most preserved Jewish quarters in Europe. We were able to walk around this area, see a really old Jewish cemetery, and visit several old synagogues, which are now used as museums. This was one of our favorite things we did in Prague!
The Jewish quarter in Prague was not destroyed during World War II like most other Jewish quarters in Europe. Hitler left most of the synagogues and Jewish items in Prague untouched so that after the war there could be a museum to an extinct race. That gives me chill bumps – what a dick!
Prague in Pictures
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
I have never had a strong interest in going to Amsterdam…all I have ever heard about is legal weed, the red light district, and other crazy stories involving debauchery. Amsterdam is awesome and I was so wrong. It is one of my favorite cities in the entire world and I could easily live here for a little while. The city is full of cobblestones, bicycles, beautiful architecture, old buildings, canals, and so much history.
Nights Spent: 4
Things we Liked
Food scene (although we did not eat too much Dutch food), legal weed, architecture, bicycle culture, museums, cheese!, stroopwaffles, craft beer, bitterballen (among other fried goodies) and walking around the canals.
We also ran into some of Scott’s friends from Boulder and it was amazing to catch up over a beer or two! I love it when things like that work out.
Things We Disliked
We both got sick in Dubai and were still fighting it off during our time in Prague and in Amsterdam – it was awesome to be able to go to a doctor that spoke English and could send us off with some things to help our sniffling and coughing, but it is never fun to be sick.
We did not try a ton of Dutch food (it just wasn’t that available to us), but our stomachs loved Amsterdam just as much as we did. A favorite spot for us was Foodhallen, an indoor food market with almost infinite options — you could get anything from dim sum to a charcuterie platter. One of our favorites was a sampler of 5 different flavors of bitterballen, a meat-based Dutch snack served molten hot.
Unfortunately, we went to multiple restaurants that happened to be closed for the next few weeks and up to a month. I know it is middle of winter and Europeans love to go on holiday, but it was super inconvenient to make it to a restaurant we had researched only to have it be closed. Fortunately, since so many places were closed upon arrival we discovered some really good Dutch fried food instead that was always open. These places litter the city — they are little shops that have little doors with fried goods behind each door. All you have to do is drop a few coins in the slot next to your food of choice and the door pops open revealing a hot, fried Dutch specialty of some sort. Who would hate that?
Legal weed makes us feel like we are back in Denver again, except for the fact you buy it at certain coffee shops and are encouraged to order a coffee and smoke it right there at the shop. I cannot confirm or deny if I participated, but when in Amsterdam…
Anne Frank House
In elementary school I did a project on the Diary of Anne Frank and I have been enthralled by her and her family’s story ever since. At the time I was just a young girl when I learned her story – but that is why it was so powerful. She was a young girl too, just like me. The only difference was that we were born in different times and that she was Jewish. I never could understand why that mattered. I still don’t.
We visited the house where they hid from the Nazis for two years. You were able to see the pictures on the wall in the bedroom, the bookcase that would close and hide the secret annex away, and the famed red and white-checkered diary that got the world talking. It was humbling to be there and on National Holocaust Remembrance Day no less.
It was especially haunting to learn more about the fact that the Franks were denied a request to be refugees in the USA where they would have been safe, but instead they hid for two years here behind this bookcase before they were found and sent to their deaths. It is all so very relevant to what is happening right now.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Anne Frank
Portugal was never high on either of our list of places we wanted to go and to be honest we knew very little about it (besides the fact that the weather was way better there than in most of Europe). We thought it would be a nice place to recharge our batteries and try to get healthy since we are both still fighting sicknesses. Unfortunately we are not the best at staying put and instead explored the city as much as we could. Lisbon is very walk able and easy to get around on public transportation – although there are so many hills to navigate! The seafood is abundant, the wine is cheap, and pastry shops are on every corner. It was not a bad place to spend a few days and do our best to learn enough Portuguese to get by (our language skills turns into an ugly mix of English, Spanish and Portuguese).
Nights Spent: 5
Things We Liked
Coffee, cheap and abundant wine, cable cars, seafood, Lisbon Aquarium, castles, and Pasteis de natas
Things We Disliked
Street art is cool, but graffiti and tags are not. Lisbon is full of graffiti and we did not find it to be very appealing.
We had a less than positive experience with Airbnb here — their customer support is the worst and we could not get them to help us in a timely manner and get us moved to a more suitable place.
Palacia de Pena
This place looks like it was created by Walt Disney to put in a theme park – except this one is the real deal. This palace was originally built in the 1800s and it was really cool to check it out.
Pasteis de Nata
We are so addicted to these little egg custards – it was a very unhealthy obsession. A few days of the trip we were on a two or three nata a day habit. They were like crack. These things are just so flaky, sweet, and creamy. We especially liked them when they were fresh out of the oven and sprinkled with some powder sugar and cinnamon on top. I am drooling just thinking about them! We went looking for the best one in town and we decided that our favorite was at a place called Mantegeria.
Lisbon in Pictures
Our time in Lisbon was supposed to be very relaxing. There was not as much to see here as other European cities we had been to and we needed a break. We don’t know concept of rest and instead set out to see as much as we could.
Total Number of Nights: 12
Languages: Czech, Dutch, and Portuguese
Currency: $1 USD = 25.14 Czech Crown = 0.95 Euro
Number of Flights: 3
Number of Miles Traveled: 4,275 (including our flight from Dubai)
Number of Miles Walked: 87.3 miles (average of 7.3 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 187,900 steps (average of about 16,656 per day)
Transportation Used: Uber, bus, metro, tram and plane
Type of Accommodations: Airbnb (3) and Hotel (1)
Number of Beds: 4
We drove away from our home in Denver almost 7 months ago. In these past 7 months we have visited 23 countries (and counting) in a few different parts of the world. There have been times of pure excitement and exhilaration, but also times of fear and doubt. We have learned a lot about the world and other cultures, but we have also learned the value of home. We miss our favorite brewery up the road and running into Target when we need shampoo. Here are a few of the things we miss most:
Phloyd & Leo
Oh, I miss these furry kids of ours so much. They aren’t so good at picking up the phone to let us know how things are. Jen (my sister-in-law) and Karoon (my future brother-in-law) are taking such good care of them and the Snapchats remind us of that all the time. We are so thankful for them loving our animals like their own, but damn…we miss them so much our hearts hurt! The dog and the cat also decided to become best friends since we have been gone which gives us all of the feels.
Friends & Family
This one is a give in, but it had to be acknowledged. We are used to living across the country from our families, but being across the world from them and in completely different time zones has been really hard. We missed Thanksgiving and Christmas — we never spend these holidays without our families and I am not sure if we will ever choose to be away for the holidays ever again. We have also missed birthdays, celebrations, baby showers and weddings. Facetime, text, and calls are great ways to keep in touch but it is not the same as being there for the important moments.
There is nothing like crawling into your bed and resting your head on your pillow. Everything is just the way you like it and it is one of my happy places. We have slept in beds of all shapes and sizes — some are great, some are terrible. All I know is I cannot wait to sleep in my own bed once again! Especially my pillow and the presence of a top sheet (it is the perfect layer but it has not caught on other parts in the world). To date we have slept in 63 beds.
I am not a huge coffee drinker, but I do love to make a cup of coffee from my Keurig, add some french vanilla International Delight, and go on with my morning! I don’t always drink the whole cup but there is something about having my coffee in the morning that makes me ready to face the day.
Scott on the other hand is addicted to coffee. Black, dark roasted, drip coffee if he had his way. There is coffee all over the world, but it is rarely just the way he likes it. Depending on where we are in the world there is espresso, Vietnamese coffee (always sweet), poorly made coffee, and Nescafe powdered coffee. We are always on the hunt for coffee that Scott enjoys, but sometimes I feel like we spent a portion of everyday trying to get the man some caffeine in his system! We have had some fantastic coffee, but we have also had absolutely horrrible coffee too.
Not Living Out of a Suitcase
We are tired of packing and unpacking. My bag slightly explodes when we get somewhere and there is no way around it. We miss having clothing options that are different than the usual 3 things we always wear everyday. We have purchased some new clothes along the way, but since we are living out of a carry-on size bag there are only so many options you can carry.
I have photo evidence of the whole we wear the same outfits all the time thing. The two photos were taken almost 4 months apart on different continents. We are wearing the EXACT same clothes. I will not be able to get rid of all of these items promptly upon our arrival back home.
There have been occasions we are in apartments with kitchens, hostels with shared cooking spaces, and living in a van with a mini-kitchen attached. We have done a bit of cooking, but for the most part it has been limited. If we were to buy all the things needed to cook a meal (oil, salt, spices, ingredients) we would go broke. Sometimes these kitchens lack really obvious and necessary items for cooking a meal such as a knife or a pan. It is way cheaper in most places to just eat out and you also get to eat the local cuisine, which is one of the main reasons we love to travel.
In Asia we stayed in some apartments that were equipped to cook a meal. On a few occasions we would go to get groceries and there would be meat that has been sitting out in the open (not on ice) for hours. This was a bit scary and I could not talk myself into buying and cooking this for dinner. Most likely I eat the exact same meat at a restaurant, but ignorance can be bliss. New Zealand and Australia we were able to cook a bit and visit the grocery store. They were much like the stores we are used to back home and they made us miss grocery shopping and cooking most of our meals.
I love eating salad more than most people. It is refreshing, crisp, and I rarely ever get tired of eating salad (there are so many different forms how could I ever get bored?). Asia is not a good place to eat salad. A good rule of thumb is to eat only foods that have been cooked as the heat kills any germs or bacteria. The water used to wash lettuce is generally not water I should be consuming and in most places salad has not been on the approved list of safe things to eat. I have had some unwashed vegetables and been fine, but a giant bowl of salad seems like I am just tempting fate. Fortunately this situation has improved since we have spent time in Europe and Argentina, but people just don’t understand salad as a meal. It just isn’t a thing. A serious desire to eat salad was never something I anticipated, but I cannot wait to eat all the salad I could ever dream of when we get back.
Cell Phone Service
Every country we go to we have to buy a new SIM card in order to be able to use our phones while we are out (we really like being able to look up places and use Google Maps). It is not always cheap and it is always a battle for us to use as little data as possible. We can sometimes get in-country call time or texting, but this is not always the case. When locals need to contact us for any reason we generally have a hard time. Usually calls, texts, and other communications to home are saved for when we have Wi-fi and even then we are at the mercy of an unknown wi-fi connection. Sometimes we have great internet and sometimes we can barely book our next place. There have been several instances where we need to use our cell phone numbers to receive a bank access code or password to a wi-fi…we never get these codes. In cases where we have to call a support desk in another country (or the US) we have to use Skype to call, but we need a good wi-fi connection to do this. We carry one of my old cell phones with an in country SIM card. We travel with three phones and none of them work at all times. These are all first world problems, but we miss having our phones fully functional at all times and being able to pick up the phone to make a call when we need to.
I don’t even like to drive so I never expected this to make my list. Driving a car provides you with a freedom to go anywhere you want, whenever you want — you aren’t restricted to anyone else’s plans, a bus schedule, or a specific route. We have had the opportunity to drive in South Korea, Australia and New Zealand on this trip and we have loved the freedom it gave us!
Payday is the best day. Just as the balance in your bank account starts to feel really sad and empty by the end of the month a sum of money is deposited into your bank account. It is magical! I won’t get into the sad feeling that paying bills causes shortly after payday, but we miss payday! It has been a great half a year of fun-employment, but our savings account does not think it is the greatest thing to have ever happened.
Side note: It will also be great to not have to convert how much something actually is all the time. I look forward to the day when $20 is actually $20 and not 455,000 Vietnamese Dong, 314 Argentine Pesos, or 73 Qatar Riyels.
We live in one of the premier craft beer cities in America. We miss the perfectly hopped IPAs, floral pale ales, or a session-able saison. Every country has their beer of choice, but for us Tsingtao, Saigon, Angkor, Sapporo, Chang, Singha (I could keep going…) just don’t satisfy us the way a craft beer does! We have had some craft beers on this trip in Thailand, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Vietnam but they are usually way more money than we can comfortably spend and it is a rare treat.
This is a big one. We have ZERO routine. Sometimes we start to make some semblance of a routine and then we continue on our way to another country, city, or apartment. As soon as we figure a place out it is time to move onto the next. It can be exhausting not to have a routine. I expect no sympathy, but it has been one of the hardest parts of this trip.
Routine was one of the things that drove my desire to go on a trip like this. The daily monotony of waking up, going to work, coming home, cooking dinner, and going to sleep felt as if it was the same story on repeat everyday. Being away from this routine has made me want that routine and monotony all the more. Don’t get me wrong — as soon as I am gainfully employed again and have a routine I am sure I will long for the freedom I have now. The grass is always greener. The thing that will be different is my perspective. This year has been such an adventure, but so is every year. Next year might not be filled with seeing the Wonders of the World, eating exotic foods, and getting our passport stamped — but I can guarantee that it will be filled with exciting adventures too (even if some of those adventures involve getting a day job).
We miss home. When we get home we will miss traveling — maybe when we return home we will have to write another post about the things we miss about traveling 🙂
We decided to head to the Middle East for a few days before heading out of Asia. It has been bittersweet leaving Asia, but I am more than ready to move on to other parts of the world. The Middle East was never on our list of possible locations, but after hearing such good things about Dubai we decided to see what we could do. We were able to get a flight that gave us an overnight/all day layover in Doha, Qatar and then three days in Dubai, UAE. This worked well for us since there are so many flights to Europe from Dubai (and we are going on a Euro-trip — which has already happened now, but at the time of writing this was an accurate statement)! As always, all of the really good pictures featured in this post were taken by Scott and the rest I must claim as my own.
Our trip through the Middle East was brief, just skimming the surface. We would have loved to make it to Oman, other parts of the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and Kuwait. Honestly, we were not entirely sure what to expect and how we would feel about this region so this time we settled for a brief introduction. I really regret that we did not spend more time exploring this region of the world. There is so much negative press about the Middle East. And yes, there are parts of the Middle East are dangerous and full of political unrest, but there are also parts that aren’t. It has been enriching to experience cultures far from what we know and we are so glad we made it to the Gulf.
The most interesting part for me was to observe a cultures so deeply rooted in Islam — this could be seen everywhere from the Islamic call to prayers blaring on the loud speakers throughout the day, shop days/hours open, and the completely different style of dress than what we are used to seeing. Islam is one of the most misunderstood religions in the world, especially for people living in the Western world. I believe that an understanding and appreciation of other cultures, beliefs, and customs only makes the world a better and stronger place. On a completely unrelated and less serious note, it was so damn hot outside! We were there in the most mild part of the year and I was melting in the desert sun (it did not help that I made sure to wear clothes that covered my knees, elbows, and shoulders most of the time). I cannot imagine how hot this region is in the summertime, nor do I want to experience the extreme heat for myself — this former Texan just cannot handle it.
As we are booking flights there was a 24 hour layover in Doha….uh, so where is that? After a bit of research we decided to go for it – it is safe, there are some cool things to see and it was a bonus location we did not have to buy a ticket to see. Doha is a really cool city full of beautiful buildings, museums, markets (souks), and really good food. Doha will be hosting the World Cup in 2022 so I am sure we will be hearing more and more about Qatar in the next few years.
We arrived at 10 am trying to see the souk before the long lunch break that occurs daily. The souk was supposed to reopen at 4, but we had to be heading to the airport around then so the morning was our one shot. We get there and everything was shut down. Apparently Friday is the worst day to explore Muslim countries as a lot of people go to pray in the morning/afternoon. All of the restaurants were open so we decided to sit on the patio, people watch, eat (so much hummus!), and do as the locals do and smoke some shisha (hookah – it is tobacco, not drugs). A few shops opened up by the time we were leaving so we were able to pick up a magnet, our one souvenir that we buy from every place we go. Although the souk was less lively than usual we still really enjoyed our time here.
The Museum of Islamic Art
We showed up at the Museum of Islamic Art not having any clue what to expect. I had seen it on every list of things to do in Doha so we figured why not. The museum building was designed by I.M. Pei and it is incredibly beautiful (inside and out) – if the entire museum would have just been this building I would have been happy just standing there looking at it. Lucky for us though there was a lot of art, tiles, bowls, rugs, and so many different items to be seen. It was one of the nicest and well-put together museums I have ever been too – also, admission was free! There was even an exhibit about Mohammad Ali and we thought it was pretty cool to see all the memorabilia.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Eighty percent (80%)of the people who live in Dubai are not from the UAE. There is nowhere else in the world with that kind of statistic. There are people from all over the world, but many people in Dubai we met were from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. It was interesting to learn more about this city that was seemingly born overnight. There is so much wealth in this city and it is visible…every few seconds another Bentley, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, or McLaren drives by. It is a city that is excessive, unnecessary, and really beautiful.
Dubai is a vertical city – we would go for walks trying to find street food and there seemed to be none around. It is hard to explain, but everything we know about cities with their life on the streets seemed to be non-existent in Dubai. There was one day we were exploring the souks and were in desperate need for food. We popped into a local hotel to ask where the nearby food was and they responded that there was none around. I asked where the workers of the souk ate and he mentioned something about a cafeteria, but there was maybe one restaurant in a half-mile area. Most cities have street food vendors on just about every street corner, but Dubai seemed to have none of this. We didn’t starve and there are a ton of places to eat (Shake Shack was one of our favorites), but we struggled to locate the local, quick, and cheap food scene we usually thrive on as budget travelers.
The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, is located in Dubai and we could not get over it. The building stands at 2,772 feet and was constructed in just 5 years. We went up to the 125th floor to check out the view of Dubai from above – you are super high up from the observation deck and the building goes up many more floors from there. You can even pay more and head up to the 148th floor if you really want the full experience.
The building is located next to the largest mall in the world (by land area) and the entire area is excessive and so very…Dubai. We spent a few hours wandering around the Dubai Mall looking at waterfalls, aquariums, shopping, and then exploring the surrounding areas. Much like the Bellagio in Las Vegas there is a fountain show that occurs every half hour in front of the Burj Khalifa and afterwards the building is lit up with different colors and patterns.
My belated birthday present (after many other failed attempts at excursions) was in the form of a desert safari. It was quite touristy, but we embraced being super tourists and had a fantastic time! We took a Landcruiser fit with a roll cage into the desert and rode over all the sand dunes – it was exhilarating and terrifying all at once. We asked after the fact if anyone ever crashes and he said usually it happens once per week. It really should not be surprising considering how fast we went over some of those sand dunes, but I was happy to not know about this risk until afterwards. We did a lot of things: dinner in the desert, rode a camel, learned about falcons, smoked shisha, and ran up as many sand dunes I could manage. We had a fabulous evening in the desert and we made some friends along the way!
The last morning in Dubai we went to check out all of the souks! The gold market and spice markets are some of the most recommended things to do in Dubai. We found these markets to be full of pushy, almost aggressive, vendors and could hardly get out of there fast enough. The spice market smelled amazing and was beautiful, but the vendors pulling on your arm and physically preventing you from walking was far too much for us.
Our favorite of the souks was the fish market (if you have read this blog at all you will know this is no surprise). The fish market is not at all geared towards selling things to tourists, although they sure did try to get us to buy everything. In addition to selling fish/seafood here they also have a meat section, produce section, and a row of vendors selling dried dates. The people working the market were incredibly friendly to us, were receptive to us taking pictures and asking questions, and were insistent on us holding their seafood and taking photos with them. It was one of our favorite spots in Dubai!
Total Number of Nights: 4
Currency: $1 USD = 3.64 Qatar Riyels = 3.67 United Arab Emirates Dirham
Number of Miles Traveled: 4,000 (including our flight from Vietnam)
Number of Miles Walked: 28 miles (average of 7 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 60,335 steps (average of about 15,100 per day)
Transportation Used: Taxi, Uber, hotel van, and plane
Type of Accommodations: Hotel (2)
Number of Beds: 2
After India we had planned to be moving on from Asia, but instead we headed back to SE Asia, specifically Vietnam, to meet up with our friends Andreas and Ellen. It was awesome to be able to see them and experience Vietnam with them! We ate at tiny tables, fell in love with Vietnamese coffee, admired the lanterns in Hoi An, drank too many beers, and ate an unthinkable amount of pho.
Before this trip I had read really mixed things about Vietnam. People either love it or hate it. Some people mentioned that they felt as everyone looked at them like an open wallet (which might be true, but I feel like that is the case everywhere in SE Asia) while others felt like as Americans they were treated poorly (especially in the north). We had an amazing time catching up with friends, learning more about the Vietnam war, and exploring this incredible country! We did not make it to the north and will have to return back to that part of the country on a future trip.
Hoi An and Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon)
Things We Liked
Food (pho! Shellfish!), tiny tables/chairs at restaurants (although uncomfortable), friends, history there, learning about the war, easy to get around, street food, Vietnamese coffee, inexpensive everything, and craft beer.
Vietnam felt so calm and clean (at least compared to India), but it still had enough chaos — we love large Asian city chaos, especially Scott.
Things We Disliked
Motorbikes, playing frogger to cross the street, hot weather, motorbikes on the sidewalks, and bad internet connections.
There is nothing like eating a steaming hot bowl of pho in a tiny chair located on the sidewalk in 90+ degree heat.
1. Catching Up with Friends
We met up with our friends Andreas and Ellen in Vietnam…it is amazing to see friends across the world and get to experience new places together! We get a bit homesick at times and it has been incredible to see people we care about all over the globe. Vietnam could have been a complete dump and we still would have loved it since they were there (really though – Vietnam is awesome). We biked to the beach, ate pho, visited museums, drank beer, wandered aimlessly, and swapped India stories (they had just come from there as well). It was wonderful.
2. Learning about the War (Independence Palace and War Remnants Museum)
Learning about the Vietnam War (which in Vietnam is referred to as the American War, Resistance War Against America, or the US War of Aggression) was really fascinating to us as Americans. It is our history too and to learn about it from the other side of things was a bit hard to hear at times (and maybe a tad bit one-sided), but very educational. We visited the War Remnants Museum and Independence Palace, the place where the war officially ended in Saigon. Side note: it is really interesting to see that most of the planes and tanks they have are US military equipment. It makes sense, but I suppose I never really put much thought into it.
Saigon has the most motorbikes I have ever seen. Everyone rides them – even Uber has a motorbike option. We got used to crossing the streets dodging motorbikes and playing a game of Frogger to cross every intersection. What I did not get used to is the motorbikes driving on the sidewalk. We have seen this a few other countries, but nowhere else has it annoyed me more. Perhaps I would have felt differently if I was on a motorbike, but I was not sorry to say goodbye to the scooters when it was time to go.
The Case of the Missing Shoes
The place we were staying in Saigon was a guesthouse with 5 rooms. They asked us to remove our shoes when you enter the lobby and leave your shoes in the shoe rack next to the front door. It was a bit odd to have to go shoeless in the elevator, but we followed the request with no complaints.
One morning we were headed out we got to the shoe rack to find that Scott’s shoes were not there. We figured they must be on another rack somewhere so we asked the girl working there and were met with a look of panic. The shoes were missing. We left them with a picture of what they looked like and went on with our day. When we returned in the afternoon all of the staff had been watching security videos of the front area and could not figure out when they went missing. They apologized a million times, offered to reimburse us the cost of the shoes, and were so nice about the whole incident. We tried to be understanding as possible as we know nobody wants to steal a pair of shoes – we are sure the guy who checked out that morning took them by mistake, but they were gone for good.
Handmade in Hoi An
Hoi An is famous for their lanterns and their custom tailors. Walking around the city you find shop after shop offering custom suits, dresses, shirts…whatever you can dream of they can make it and return a completed product in 1-3 days. Obviously, we couldn’t leave without getting Scott a suit and Andreas joined in on the fun by ordering a sport coat. The whole process took 3 days. The first day you are able to choose the color, fabrics, and cut of the suit that you want. They took some measurements and within a day they had a preliminary suit. We returned two more times to make sure that their clothes were going to fit just perfect!
The Cu Chi Tunnels are a must see when passing through Saigon (so we hear). They are a day trip away from the city, but it is not overly expensive or hard to make the journey to see the series of tunnels that were used during the Vietnam War. We were in Saigon for 8 nights and did not manage to make it there. We have no excuses why we did not go, but we are bummed that we missed out.
Total Number of Nights: 12
Currency: $1 USD = 22,500 Vietnamese Dong
Number of Miles Traveled: 3,250 miles (including our flight from India)
Number of Miles Walked: 72 miles (average of 6 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 154,932 steps (average of about 12,900 per day)
Transportation Used: Taxi and plane
Type of Accommodations: Hotel (1), Airbnb aparment (2)
Number of Beds: 3
It is impossible for me to convey all of my thoughts on our time in India in this post. It is the first place where I feel that pictures don’t capture the true essence of this country or our experience here. In our 17 days through India we were only able to get to know such a small part of this country – even if we had more time I am not sure if I could ever fully grasp the vastness of this place.
There are 1.3 billion people that live in India – in a space 1/3 of the size of the US. The terrains vary from mountainous in the Himalayas to deserts and plains. There is no common language spoken throughout the country, but instead there are over 22 official languages. In addition to these official languages, there are 1,652 recognized languages spoken in India (only 150 of these languages have a sizable speaking population). India is a spiritual place with many religions being practiced across the country such as Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, and Jainism. The food, culture, and languages vary as well. India is comprised of 29 states and it is overwhelming to try to understand all the differences.
Our time in India can be looked at as two separate parts: our time in Delhi and our time in Kerala. We spent 6 days in Delhi before heading south to Kerala to meet up with Scott’s sister, Jennifer, and her fiancé, Karoon. We had been looking forward to seeing them in India our entire trip and it was amazing to be able to travel with them and Karoon’s family (which is now our family too – marriage has a pretty cool way of joining families). Our experience in India would have been completely different if we had not met up with the Mackencherys and we are so grateful they welcomed us into the family as one of their own.
India tested our patience. It could be exhilarating and terrifying all at once. India can be raw, intense, overwhelming and chaotic – it is also beautiful, full of kindness, eye-opening, and oh so colorful. I cannot un-see some of the things I saw, but I’m not sure I would ever want to. My perspective of the world has been changed forever and India holds a special place in my heart. We both really loved our time in India. It was possibly one of the hardest places we have traveled so far, but the positives far outweighed the negatives. We really loved our time in this incredible country.
Delhi, Agra, Cochin, Ballussery, Ottapalam, Calicut, Vayittiri, Alleppey
Things We Liked
Traveling with family, food, not having to plan accommodations or logistics for a while, head wobbling, Kerala and the South, houseboats, New Years Eve, being with locals/people who knew the language (!), hospitality, and the Delhi Holiday Inn (it was like no other Holiday Inn I have ever seen).
The food was one of the best cuisines we have experienced. I never got tired of Indian food and I can’t wait to find all the good places back in Denver when we get home!
Things We Disliked
Trash, dirtiness, trash fires, pollution, serious fog, Delhi, con-artists all over Delhi, constantly being on our toes, hard beds, worrying about getting sick, moving around a lot, Christmas away from home, getting sick (a virus not Delhi belly – miraculously we avoided stomach problems in India), and less than ideal showers.
Many of the things that we disliked about India are specific to our time in Delhi – we just really had a hard time liking that place.
As mentioned above we traveled with Jennifer (my sister-in-law), Karoon (my soon to be brother-in-law), and Karoon’s family (the Mackencherys). Traveling with them around India was by far one of the most genuine and authentic experiences we have had to date. Their family opened up their homes, fed us, and shared their lives with us. We were blown away with the generosity we were shown and we are so appreciative! Special thanks to Shermi and Suresh for being so amazing to us.
2. Taj Mahal
Our main objective in traveling to Delhi was to make our way to the famed Taj Mahal. We aborted our plans to take the train and opted for a private driver to take us to Agra and back. Unfortunately the dense Delhi fog that happens this time of year made an appearance the day we drove to Agra and it was terrifying. You could not see more than 5 feet in any direction. I wrote about our experience in detail at the Taj Mahal in another post found here.
The Mackencherys rented a houseboat in Allepey and we cruised through the Kerala backwaters. It was one of the first days we spent in Kerala and it was a great introduction into such a beautiful place and a stark contrast to our chaotic city experience in Delhi. We had so much fun this day enjoying the scenery, playing games, eating/drinking well, and watching the boats cruise past. This day was very long with nearly 8 hours (9 hours? Who knows!) spent in a mini-bus with little air conditioning, but the boat was so fun I have forgotten all about that! It was a highlight of our time in India.
Delhi was our first stop in India. At this point, we have been a lot of places – many with high levels of poverty – and maybe we underestimated the culture shock we would experience. Obviously we are on a budget and our trip to India was no exception (although maybe it should have been the exception). We were dropped off at our hotel in the middle of the city centre and in the midst of chaos at 1 am. If we had not been so tired we might have put up a fight about this place…dirty/stained sheets on the bed and excessive noise waking us up every 30 minutes (it sounded like a construction site existed one floor above our room).
Walking was near impossible in the city and I felt infinitely safer in an auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuk) than on my own two feet. It felt as everyone was trying to scam us and we have never felt so on edge. It was uncomfortable, unpleasant and I will never return to Delhi again. It did not help that I had a virus and was sick our entire time in Delhi. After several days in the budget hotel we checked into the Holiday Inn as a Christmas present to ourselves. We spent two days at the hotel recovering from sickness, getting past culture shock, and celebrating Christmas away from home.
I am incredibly grateful this was not my entire experience in India. India is so much more than our experience in Delhi (and I wish we could redo Delhi because it is probably unfair to view Delhi the way we do). India is such a big and diverse country I can hardly wrap my head around it. We headed south and our experience could not have been any more different. I do not regret our time in Delhi as it was one of the most eye-opening and humbling experiences from our trip, but I am certainly glad I do not have to go back either!
There have been a lot of countries that we have complained about the amount of trash everywhere. India took this to an entirely new level. Trash littered every street/open space you saw and every few steps there was another trash fire.
In the US we are able to put our trash on the street and then it disappears to places most of us don’t like to think too hard about. Burning trash in India is a common practice. This causes a wide range of problems including the introduction of dangerous particulates and toxins in the air and causes many health issues. It was hard to see trash and trash fires everywhere you went.
Partying with the Indians
There was a small party at Karoon’s grandparents house (a housewarming of sorts – renovations on the house had recently been completed) and we were invited! Jen and I were outfitted in Salwar Khameez and the guys in lungis. Apparently Scott looked as if he had been born to wear a lungi as he was complimented on his appearance so many times — unfortunately as he was learning to tie his longer version of the lungi into the short version Scott’s Iphone fell out of his shirt pocket and shattered upon hitting the ground. The driveway was covered with huge, beautiful colored tents and they were really stunning. A traditional lunch was served on banana leaves, people sat down in shifts to eat, and of course the proper way was to eat with our hands (we were well practiced at this point). The party was over as quickly as it started and it was wonderful to be included in the fun.
We rang in the New Year in India and it was one of my favorite NYE nights I have ever had. Usually I feel like NYE is so overrated because there is so much pressure to find the best event, dress up and have the greatest night. It ends up costing a ton of money and isn’t my favorite. This year was so low key and it tuned our perfect. It started with the guys heading to the “liquor store” — the state of Kerala is dry so alcohol is not easy to come by. I wasn’t there so I can’t talk about the liquor store too much, but I am sure Scott could write an entire blog post about what that was like. They had to wait in a line to get up to a fenced off area where they keep the hooch. Upon arrival home everyone changed and showered before they felt clean again. I hear it was very memorable.
We sat on the porch for hours drinking, talking, and trying to find a countdown to use. We finally ate some dinner just after 12:30 am and then went to bed. It was the most low key night and it was perfect in my mind. Cheers to a great 2016 and we are looking forward to what next year brings as well!
A professional photographer was brought in to do family photos. We were in them and we were welcomed into open arms into the photo session — we even have a nice prom style photo to keep forever! The pictures are our favorites and hopefully one day I get the digital copies (I have a few pictures of a pictures that are not terrible). After we were in the family photo we were sure they would take one without the random, not so random white kids (at least Scott and I), but we are in them and I love them. Thanks for welcoming us into the family — we are forever thankful.
Total Number of Nights: 17
Languages: Malayalam, Hindi, and English
Currency: $1 USD = 67.8 Indian Rupee (INR)
Number of Miles Traveled: 8,200 (including our flight Melbourne and Malaysia)
Number of Miles Walked: 83.8 miles (average of 6 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 180,246 steps (average of about 12,875 per day)
Transportation Used: Car, houseboat, tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw), taxi, Uber, van
Type of Accommodations: Hotel (5), house (2 places—4 beds), plane — overnight flight (1)
Number of Beds: 10 (!) – the most beds in one country to date
We arrived in Delhi with one goal in mind – to make it to the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is the famous ivory-white masoleum completed in 1653. Before arriving in India we did some research, consulted a lot of travel blogs, and crafted a plan for seeing the Taj Mahal. We would take the train to Agra in the morning (location of the Taj), see the Taj Mahal, stay the night in Agra, and take the train back to Delhi the next morning. Other travelers have had a good experience with trains in India and they are relatively safe when compared to driving the same route since the roads are not great in India (this news story a month before we arrived did not totally make us comfortable (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-38041755), but we were ready for the adventure nonetheless! Side note: All of the good photos in this blog were taken by Scott and all the rest were taken by my phone 🙂
To Train or Not to Train and the Great Delhi Fog
The Indian train system is really confusing and tickets tend to sell out in advance…naturally even with this knowledge we did not plan ahead. The online ticketing system is the most frustrating thing we have ever used (props to Scott for trying so hard) and we ended up needing to make a visit to the Delhi Train Station either way. We ended up with round-trip tickets to Agra 3rd class for the next day. We would have liked to go 1st or 2nd class, but we are no divas! We started to do some thinking and more research…maybe we aren’t as adventurous as some of these travel bloggers. We aren’t total divas, but we also value our space, safety, and relative comfort. Maybe we made a mistake. As we started to backtrack, I also started to feel sicker by the minute. It was really terrible timing to come down with a virus. Our train tickets ended up going unused and we hired a driver to take us to Agra to see the sites and then drive us back to Delhi. I had read that this time of year there could be VERY dense fog and it can delay trains, planes, and cars. Of course I assumed that it would not be a problem for us.
Our driver picked us up at 6 am sharp. He told us the drive should take 2.5-4 hours depending on the fog. This was the first red flag, but I continued to think that the journey would be like any other. Around 30 minutes into our trip we experienced the dense, thick Delhi fog that occurs this time of year. It was terrifying. You could not see anything. All the cars put on their flashers to drive through, but you could only see about 5 feet in any direction. The fog was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I was ready to ask the driver to pull over and wait it out the next few hours, but he insisted that he did this all the time and reassured us that he knew was he was doing (our driver was awesome!). After 4 hours of intense anxiety (maybe I was the only one panicking, but that is besides the point) we had arrived in Agra and were at the Taj Mahal!
As we walked up to the Taj Mahal, it looked like a backdrop to a movie and it hardly looked real. Even with the hoards of people when we arrived it was really incredible. Entering the Taj Mahal was overwhelming so we were very thankful we had a guide to help us get tickets and navigate the security lines. There is a line for Indians and a line for foreigners — the foreigners line was much shorter than the line for Indians, but the tickets cost about 25 times more. This causes a bit of frustration among backpackers in India, but it is what it is. We did get to skip the line to get into the Taj Mahal that all of the Indians had to wait in, were given free shoe covers, and a free water bottle. The Indian tourists did not have any of these luxuries. It did make us feel a bit bad skipping the lines, but we did pay an outrageous amount in comparison to the Indian tourists.
Our guide told us that it was unusually crowded the day we went and there was people everywhere. If this trip has taught me anything it would be some serious patience. Also, our guide turned out to be a very enthusiastic Iphone photographer who would not let us leave without taking all of the perfect shots. At times he even told others to move out of the way so he could get the shot…it was a bit embarrassing, but I glad that we don’t have only a selfie (they just aren’t as good as a real photo).
We put on our shoe coverings to be able to actually walk into the Taj Mahal since no shoes are allowed. It was unexpected that for a building that looks so big from the outside that it is surprisingly small inside — it is basically just two tombs inside. That is all. Although it was not big it was awesome to walk inside and be able to look at all the details such as carvings and all of the white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones.
In addition to the Taj Mahal, we also made it to the Agra Fort (which admittedly I had never heard of until we went). It is an amazing red sandstone fort built in 1573 and it is beautiful in an entirely different way. I am glad we made the stop here, but I was equally glad to be getting back on the road for Delhi. We arrived back at our hotel around 9 pm – it was a really long day.
The Taj Mahal was stunning. I am so grateful we had the opportunity to see it in person. I am also grateful we did not have to brave the Indian train system, especially while I was sick. Will I ever go back? Probably not. Some things should just be left at once in a lifetime and for me this is one of those things.