Author Archives: Bowen Appétit

A week in Budapest, and the end of our international travel

Oh hello there. We do, in fact, still exist. We didn’t just decide to stay in Vienna forever and never come back, as can be verified by our travel timeline right there to the right. We’ve just been a little busy, and posting about Budapest and everything since then hasn’t really floated to the top of our to-do lists.

First, a note – today officially marks the one-year anniversary of this crazy travel adventure. As it always goes, it’s hard to believe it’s been one whole year already, though of course certain things already feel like they were ages ago. We’re definitely more and more excited each day to get back to having a home and a more “normal” daily life, but we both definitely agree that this year has been amazing and we’d do it again in a heartbeat.

And now on to Budapest – which now that’s a bit in the past, I’m having trouble remembering a lot of the details. You’ve likely noticed by now that Brett’s posts tend to be far more detailed and chronological than mine, which is mainly a function of my far inferior memory for details. I’ll do my best, but just a warning that this will be a pretty basic summary of what was a really great and full week.

We left Vienna on June 13 and took what was supposed to be a train to Budapest. Central Europe was at the tail end of what was some of the worst flooding they’d seen in hundreds of years, and the train we should have been taking from Vienna to Budapest could not get from Munich to Vienna because of flooding. The train agency scheduled a different train to take passengers to Budapest, but decided to communicate this situation by flashing a giant “CANCELLED” next to our train on the station board. This was less than amusing, especially since we then had to find the agency office and figure everything out while lugging around our giant suitcases and bags full of all the wine and other souvenirs we were dragging home from Austria. But we did get on a train, and even though flooding meant we had to transfer to a bus and then back to a different train in order to get to Budapest, we still made it into the city only about an hour behind schedule.

Budapest was fantastic. We’ve often described it to people afterward as having the beautiful buildings and history of Western Europe but with a much more laid-back attitude – similar to the feeling we had in Buenos Aires, way back at the beginning of our international travel. Also like Buenos Aires the city felt very young, artistic, and hip, and we were very surprised by how … well, how hip everything felt, to use a word that is already overused. In comparison, Vienna definitely felt more old-fashioned and a bit behind the times.

While our time in Vienna was mostly rainy and cold, our time in Budapest was HOT. And I don’t mean that because of the paprika, but because it was about 98F almost every day we were there. That put quite a damper on our ability to explore on foot as much as we would have liked, but aside from some frustratingly hot and sleepless nights we made it work.

We rented a fantastic apartment in Budapest in an area of the city that felt fairly quiet yet young, the sort of place that hip young families might live, slightly southeast of the center. There was a lovely park about two blocks from our place, which we walked through at least once or twice each day, and our building was on a street with a wide selection of restaurants.

Breakfast in the park by our apartment.

Breakfast in the park by our apartment.

Beautiful (but noisy) courtyard of our apartment building.

Beautiful (but noisy) courtyard of our apartment building.

An evening in the park.

An evening in the park.

Despite the heat we still walked around the city quite a bit, stopping at sights like the synagogue (the second largest in the world, at that), the Great Market Hall, Hero’s Square, the old palace, the Museum of Terror (which was excellent, despite a depressing subject) and the Parliament building.

Basic Budapest street scene.

Basic Budapest street scene.

View of the Parliament building from old town across the river.

View of the Parliament building from old town across the river.

 

Gorgeous synagogue

Gorgeous synagogue

Great Market Hall

Great Market Hall

Paprika for sale at the Great Market Hall

Paprika for sale at the Great Market Hall

Hero's Square

Hero’s Square

First underground subway station in Europe.

First underground subway station in Europe.

Liszt statue along Andrassy Ut.

Liszt statue along Andrassy Ut.

We also took two day trips, one north to the small town of Szentendre and one east to Eger. Eger is in Hungary’s wine district, and much of our visit consisted of tastings in the town’s wine caves – small rooms literally built into the rock, some more modernized and ready for tourists and some far more old-fashioned and basic.

The weekend market on the streets of Szentendre.

The weekend market on the streets of Szentendre.

Getting lunch in Szentendre.

Getting lunch in Szentendre.

A more modern wine cave in Eger.

A more modern wine cave in Eger.

Checking out the guest book at a more old-school wine cave.

Checking out the guest book at a more old-school wine cave.

Buying a bottle of wine from a wine cave (the walls are literally covered in cushy black mold!)

Buying a bottle of wine from a wine cave (the walls are literally covered in cushy black mold!).

The train to and from Eger.

The train to and from Eger.

The food and drink in Hungary is definitely worth noting. We absolutely loved most everything we ate and drank, though it was definitely heavy and we were happy to have a little more variety by the time we left. We loved the goulash and chicken paprikash, all the pastries and breads, and the beer and wine and fruit brandies.

Excellent sour cherry and plum beers.

Excellent sour cherry and plum beers.

Chicken paprikash.

Chicken paprikash.

Goulash.

Goulash.

Fried dough with cheese, sour cream, and veggies.

Fried dough with cheese, sour cream, and veggies.

At the end of our time in Budapest we flew back to the United States, with our heavy bags full of souvenirs in tow. This marked the end of our international travels, which we faced with mixed emotions.

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Vienna, part two

The remainder of our time in Vienna has been a bit slower, mainly due to the fact that the weather has been so terrible, though a couple of days ago the sun finally (FINALLY) returned and we’ve been able to spend more time outside (and divert from the steady rotation of 2-3 outfits we’ve been wearing for weeks … we packed mainly summer clothes, which have barely left the closet). We have only a couple of days left before we head to Budapest on Thursday, where we’ll be for a week before heading back to the United States. Our international travel for the year is almost done, which is really hard to believe.

There’s no way I’ll remember everything else we’ve done in order (Brett’s much better with that chronological stuff), but here are some highlights:

We’ve done quite a bit more hiking, bringing our total of the Stadtwangerwegs to five (hikes 1, 2, 3, 4a, and 5, and we’re planning to do 1a as an activity on our last day – and we didn’t intend to those first five numbers, by any means; they just ended up being the ones we chose). This system of trails is quite amazing and we’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting Vienna. You can get to each trailhead by public transit and the website lists places along each trail to stop for eating and drinking. Most go through vineyards and parks and have beautiful views of the city, though some have had some disappointingly urban sections that weren’t very exciting (we’d recommend they shorten the route and start in the natural areas instead). If you’re traveling there and want a hiking recommendation, leave a comment below and we’d be happy to help! I decided that if we ever live here I will put together a more detailed English-language guide to the trails, since there are definitely some interesting places to note along the way and sometimes the signage on-site is a little confusing.

We’ve also taken two trips outside of Vienna – one overnight trip to the Krems area along the Danube (which has since experienced some pretty heavy flooding – our timing was fortuitous) and a day trip to Bratislava, Slovakia. We did the same trip to Krems when we were here two years ago, although then we drove there from Vienna and afterward continued heading west across the country. This time we took the one-hour train ride out in the morning, stayed there overnight and took the train back. We spent the two days biking around on the bike paths along the river (which run along the river across the entire country), stopping at heurigens and other little shops in the villages along the way. We had a few favorite places from our last trip that we wanted to revisit, which we were able to do for the most part (notable because most of the heurigens and other places are only open for a few random weeks of the year; we were lucky to be there when a few of our favorite places were open). Buying wine was one of our main priorities of the trip, and we brought 9 bottles back with us, most of which were far cheaper for the level of quality than what we’d be able to get in Vienna. We also enjoyed a repeat visit to Wieser, an Austrian distillery, where we picked up a collection of high-quality fruit schnapps (totally different than American schnapps; get that idea of root beer and peach and whatever else out of your mind) to have a taste of summer in the middle of what is sure to be a shocking Midwestern winter.

Train to Krems

Train to Krems

Heuriger garden

Heuriger garden

Wine and Quargelaufstrichtsbrot at a heuriger

Wine and Quargelaufstrichtsbrot at a heuriger

We stayed at the same homestay in Stein (next to Krems) where we stayed last time, one of the many “Zimmer Frei”s (open room) places in the towns where people open up a few rooms of their house to visitors, which was wonderful. We rented bikes from the new city bike stands, which didn’t exist last time we were there, and despite some language-barrier difficulty in renting and returning the bikes (all of which happens over the phone), everything worked out pretty well. This was in the middle of a particularly bad rainy spell, but we picked our days perfectly – the only two non-rainy days in those few weeks.

Biking through the vineyards

Biking through the vineyards

Biking Brett

Biking Brett

Biking through Durnstein

Biking through Durnstein

Half a case of wine in basket in backpack!

Half a case of wine in basket in backpack!

If anyone wants more details about doing a biking trip to this area, definitely ask. We’d be happy to share details of where we stayed, where we drank, where we ate, etc. It’s one of our favorite travel experiences that we’ve ever, ever had, and we’re really hoping to do the longer cross-country cycling trip some day. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you can see the album of photos from the trip that I posted when we got back.

Last week we took a day trip to Bratislava, only a 45-minute train ride from Vienna. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit another new country and to see somewhere so different. It was amazing to be somewhere so close but with an entirely different language, culture, and history. We mainly wandered around the picturesque little town, hiking up the hill to the castle to get great views and eating a pretty traditional Slovakian lunch, which was about the heaviest meal we’d ever eaten. (Seriously – I ordered the gnocchi, which was covered in sheep cheese, lard, and bacon. Brett ordered the porkchop, which was heavily coated in potato batter and deep fried, topped with a mountain of shredded cheese, and accompanied by a salad that was more creamy dressing than lettuce. It took a lot of walking to work those pits out of our stomachs …) We also wandered over to the river, where great crowds of people were gathered to see the height of the water. Temporary walls guarded by police officers were put up along most of the way, holding back the water that I would guess was almost five feet above the level of the sidewalks/streets. It was pretty crazy to be walking along knowing that on the other side of the metal wall next to us was a rushing river at about shoulder height.

Bratislava doorway

Bratislava doorway

Statue downtown

Statue downtown

Historic downtown

Historic downtown

View over the flooded river

View over the flooded river

A view over the historic area

A view over the historic area

Brett's porkchop and salad

Brett’s porkchop and salad

Flooded boat dock

Flooded boat dock

There's a raging river behind that temporary wall ...

There’s a raging river behind that temporary wall …

Flooded park (view over the temporary wall)

Flooded park (view over the temporary wall)

Closed railway bridge over the river (not flood-related)

Closed railway bridge over the river (not flood-related)

The central, historic area of Bratislava is pretty cute, although touristy, but it was definitely worth a day trip. We didn’t really want to pay to get into any museums or do a tour or anything, though, and we were a little afraid of eating another heavy meal, so we ended up heading back before dinner.

Back in town, we’ve checked off a number of things on our Vienna To-Do List. We’ve visited the Kunsthistorisches Museum (classic/historical art), Museum für angewandte Kunst (applied arts), and the Secession Museum, a museum/contemporary art space founded by artists in the so-called “secession” movement of the early 20th Century. Each was awesome and totally different, and now I’m obsessed with, among other things, Klimt friezes and Viennese coffeehouse furniture.

We’ve also spent more time wandering around the center, partially because of our quests to eat more döner and to buy some nice ceramics, the first of which has been fulfilled many times and the second of which has utterly failed. But we did discover and return to Café Hawelka, a totally old-school and popular café downtown, and finally made it back to Figlmüller for their incredible schnitzel and potato salad with pumpkin seed oil.

Pre-lunch snack at Freyung Biobauernmarkt

Pre-lunch snack at Freyung Biobauernmarkt

Central Vienna

Central Vienna

Huge and amazing schnitzel

Huge and amazing schnitzel

We also finally made it to the Flohmarkt (flea market), which attaches itself to the end of the Naschmarkt on Saturdays. We thought we’d come away like bandits with ceramics and steins and maybe even some leiderhosen for Brett, but our shopping mojo is way off these days and we ended up spending our money on desserts, cherries, and vinegar mothers in the Naschmarkt instead. (Vinegar mothers! I can’t wait to make vinegar once we get to Madison. That’s me!)

Schuhe for sale at the Flohmarkt

Schuhe for sale at the Flohmarkt

Flohmarkt stalls

Flohmarkt stalls

And it was our wedding anniversary! This means we’ve officially spent half of our wedding anniversaries in Vienna. We spent the day kind of lazing around in the morning eating a delicious breakfast at home (leftover Turkish braised veggies and meat with poached eggs), then went on Stadtwanderweg 1 through the woods and vineyards above Nussdorf, where we enjoyed some delicious white wine and a Jausenbrettl (snack board) for lunch. We came home, cleaned up and dressed, and went into the center for a fancy cocktail at the Palmenhaus, which we fully enjoyed outside in the sunshine on the first sunny evening since we arrived in Vienna on May 9 (seriously). We went to dinner back in our neighborhood at the same restaurant where we went two years ago, which was lovely, and headed home to enjoy dessert and some fancy apricot schnapps from the distillery we visited on our biking trip. It was a lovely day!

Jausenbrettl

Jausenbrettl

Poppies and vineyards, Stadtwanderweg 1

Poppies and vineyards, Stadtwanderweg 1

Stadtwanderweg 1 view

Stadtwanderweg 1 view

We also did plenty at home in our apartment, mainly because of the rain. We made our way through Arrested Development from pilot to the end of the new season, and I’m this close to finishing the first three seasons of Friday Night Lights, which I bought for about 3 dollars on DVD while we were in Asia. (Wait, I’m probably not supposed to admit that.) Brett’s been working hard on his consulting projects and doing some math studying to prep for school in the fall, and I’ve been putting in long hours looking for jobs and reaching out to folks in Madison and working quite a bit on my website, which I painstakingly transferred to self-hosted back at the beginning of our time in Austria. Our time in Vienna has been perfect for doing those sorts of projects, and we both are so, so glad we decided to schedule this part of the year this way.

In our remaining few days here we’re hoping to do one last hike, like I mentioned earlier, which will take us by our favorite local heuriger and should give us some great farewell views of the city. We have a few last “to eat” tasks that will probably include quite a bit of dessert (I’m having my last apfelstrudel at Cafe Prückel as I write this), and some shopping to do (like coffee and a big bag of poppy seeds to bring back). Tonight we’re going to try to get into the famous Loos American Bar for a cocktail before dinner, and we’re hoping tomorrow is sunny enough for some park time and general wandering.

Tweeting Wien

Hallo aus Wien! We’re on day 3 of 35 and so far everything is wonderful. The rain today kind of ruined our plans to walk Anywhere and Everywhere, but we’re making do.

Here’s a picture of Brett enjoying our first Döner yesterday. We’ve been waiting only, oh, two years for it.

IMG_3711

 

Also, we realized that since we’re having a significantly different experience here than in the rest of our travels that we have a lot of sort of random little observations that we didn’t really know how to share with y’all. That’s when we came to the exciting/horrifying realization that that’s what Twitter is for.  I (Bowen) have had a Twitter account for a couple of years but use it fairly sparingly, mostly to keep up with other friends who use it and professionally to connect with other food folks and keep up with local organizations (previously those in LA, now the ones in Madison that I’m getting excited about). Not that I need any excuses to use Twitter, but there they are.

In any case – we’re going to try to start posting there (aka tweeting) some of our little day-to-day observations about life here in Vienna. You can see my Twitter profile at https://twitter.com/bowenappetit. If you’re on Twitter too you can respond, retweet, and some other functions I don’t really understand how to use. You can also subscribe to my Twitter feed using an RSS reader (just subscribe to the profile url), but I’m warning you that it will send you a feed for every single tweet. There are probably other ways to follow a Twitter feed, but I don’t know about them.

A month homeside

After we hit a bit of an emotional wall during our last week in Southeast Asia, the idea of a month back in the States definitely felt like a vacation from our travels. It didn’t matter that we’d be in 10 cities over three weeks, or that we somehow needed to get our taxes filed, or that, hey, we had about two weeks to decide where to move at the end of our year of travel, including where Brett would be going to grad school. No big deal! Not when there are clean toilets to be using (and flushing, oh the joy), and burritos to eat, and bourbon to drink, and reasonably familiar beds to be sleeping in, and friends to see, and English to speak.

We flew into LA to stay with Nick and Hayden and spent five days doing a lot of well-needed things, like getting haircuts and eating Mexican food and watching sports. We unpacked everything in our backpacks, appreciatively disposed of the things we’d no longer need (bye bye, four smelly and faded t-shirts, among many other things) and reunited with the items we’d left behind after South America (like my super comfortable and strange-looking Ecuador pants, which shrunk about 6″ in length after I washed them). We also spent a day in San Diego with two of our best friends who have since had a baby (it’s still crazy to think that we’ve been traveling longer than it takes for an entire pregnancy to happen). (Also, happy being born Baby Roxy! This is probably your first non-Facebook mention on the internet. You have a whole lifetime of the internet to look forward to, little baby. I can’t wait to meet you and start grooming you for watching college football.) (Go Ducks.)

Getty Center with Nick and Hayden in LA

Getty Center with Nick and Hayden in LA

Anyway. After LA we flew up to Eugene for about 18 hours, which included a massive to-do list of things like sleeping, unpacking, doing laundry, reuniting with our belongings, packing, filing our taxes (both as independent contractors – so complicated!), buying new phones, buying me a new computer, and setting up said phones and computer. Then we flew out for a whirlwind tour of our top three new home/grad school program contenders – Davis (UC Davis), Twin Cities (U of MN), and Madison (UW Madison). We had a great time in each place, hanging out with friends and touring what could be our new hometown, including potential apartment viewings for Davis and Madison (the university schedules there make housing markets a little intense, so we would have to find an apartment pretty quickly if we chose either of those cities). Brett had meetings on each of the three campuses, and to make a long story short you already know we made Madison our final choice. Each of the three places would have been great places to live and had great program options for Brett, but Madison was the best combination of both elements.

Davis Farmers Market

Davis Farmers Market

We chose Madison!

We chose Madison!

After excitedly making our decision about Madison and applying for our top choice apartment, we had a celebratory dinner with our friends in Madison. The next morning we flew to New York City, where we spent five days enjoying the start of spring – blossoming trees, blooming daffodils, and lots of walking around without a coat. We went to museums, cooked and ate many amazing meals, drank some delicious new cocktails, spent good time with friends and family, made somewhat of an effort to catch up on sleep, and mainly wandered around the city on foot.

One of many delicious dinners in NYC

One of many delicious dinners in NYC

Daffodils in Central Park

Daffodils in Central Park

Making homemade chorizo in NYC

Making homemade chorizo in NYC

Next we flew to New Orleans, our first time there together. We stayed with good friends and enjoyed many of the sights, sounds, and eats of New Orleans, including an incredible array of food, some amazing music, and again lots of wandering around the city. We spent an afternoon canoeing in the swampy bayou, went to a jazz concert, helped our friends welcome their newest family member (happy homecoming Puppy Wyatt!), and enjoyed a delightful lunch at Commander’s, which features a $0.25 lunch martini special (limit three per person). (The wandering around the Garden District after that lunch was possibly even more delightful than the lunch itself.) We also helped Gill and Jeff host a crawfish boil (if by “help” I mean mainly “accompany to seafood market”) and over the six days we were there met many of their lovely friends.

Street music in NOLA

Street music in NOLA

Beignets and café au lait in NOLA

Beignets and café au lait in NOLA

NOLA seafood market

NOLA seafood market

Crawfish boil!

Crawfish boil!

Then we flew back to Portland, spent a couple of nights there with friends and family, and headed down to Eugene for about six days. We drank Oregon beer and Oregon wine and ate lots of great spring Oregon food, and took full enjoyment of a wide range of our belongings that we really haven’t seen since November.

Field wandering with Ella and Evan (Jessie too - she's taking the photo)

Field wandering with Ella and Evan (Jessie too – she’s taking the photo)

Spring sloshing in Oregon

Spring sloshing in Oregon

Facetime teeth brushing with Hayden. (No real reason to put this in, just think it's funny.)

Facetime teeth brushing with Hayden. (This is by far the least embarrassing of the screenshots taken from this experience.)

We flew out of Portland again on May 2, and included a brief stop at our friends’ new homestead/farm/future artist workshop on the way. (No goats yet, but they’ve been promised.) April included many, many great places, and a lot of stuff that happened that I didn’t get around to mentioning. Just know that we had a great month full of wonderful people and wonderful cities and wonderful experiences.

And now we’re in Prague! Tomorrow we head for Cesky Krumlov, then to our five weeks in Vienna. I’ve never been so excited to unpack a suitcase …

Thailand, the end of Southeast Asia

Welcome back to the very delayed summary of our Southeast Asia trip! This post talks about our last week in Southeast Asia, which we spent in Thailand. Right before this week we finally hit a wall of exhaustion and the last nine months kind of caught up with us, so you’ll have to forgive the relative lack of photos and a somewhat more … pessimistic post. But this is what we remember most from this time, so bare with us …

First, let’s back up a bit. Back when we were in Hanoi (see this post for more details), we started making logistical plans for the next part of our trip, which was a week in Thailand before heading back to the United States. We had our plane tickets to Bangkok and then planned to hop on an overnight train up to Chiang Mai, where we’d stay for five days before heading south again. In Thailand the train tickets must be booked either in person or via email with a travel agent, which resulted in the following unfortunate series of events:

  • Four days before we want to travel, submit detailed ticket request form to travel agent
  • Receive email 24 hours later telling us the exact seats we want are gone, but there are others we could have – do we want them?
  • Send email saying “Yes, we want those”
  • Receive email another 24 hours later instructing us on how to pay for tickets
  • Pay for tickets using instructions
  • Receive email another 24 hours later (approximately 8 hours before flying to Bangkok) saying “Whoops, by the time you paid those tickets have been sold out too. No seats left, sorry.”

Now, up until this moment we had actually been feeling pretty fantastic. Whenever we’d tell people about how long we’d been traveling and what we’d been doing, their first question was inevitably about exhaustion, but we could honestly answer that we were feeling great! Fantastic! Doing fine! No problem!

Until this moment.

Our plans were to fly to Bangkok and go immediately to the train station and get up to Chiang Mai, but now we had no idea how we’d be getting there. Bus was the most obvious option, but we really weren’t sure we could handle another overnight bus ride. We were paralyzed by the idea of making a whole new series of decisions about what bus to take, whether to stop for the night on the way and where, which bus station to depart from and how to get there from the airport, etc. etc. etc. Traveling is an extended exercise in decision-making, every single day from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to bed, and it suddenly felt like the last nine months of decision-making had caught up with us.

So we had a mini freakout and spent about 20 minutes lying in the bed of our hotel room, throwing around ideas and getting more stressed out by the minute. I’m not entirely sure how we ended up coming up with the plan that we did, but I do know that it was definitely on Brett’s part that the next few days came together logistically. Thank you, amazing husband.

So. We flew from Hanoi to Bangkok and took a shuttle bus to Bangkok’s northern bus station, where we bought a ticket to a town about halfway to Chiangmai. We had a few hours to wait before the bus left, and managed to order ourselves a pretty delicious meal despite not a single letter of English in the food court. (Pointing is an incredibly effective mode of communication.) The supposedly 6-hour bus ride took only 1.5 hours longer than expected (practically early, based on Southeast Asia standards), the last two hours of which we spent on high alert making sure we got off at the correct station (and when the bus stops every 20 minutes, that’s a lot of high alert). This means we were treated to 7.5 hours of Thai music videos (every single one of which except one – one – featured Facebook) and 7.5 hours of Thai chips and cookies, the only thing available to eat on the journey.

Meal ordered entirely by pointing and nodding.

Meal ordered entirely by pointing and nodding.

After checking into our hotel our first order of business was buying a bus ticket to Chiang Mai for the next day, which turned out to be one of the more challenging communication-related situations we’ve been in all year. The bus station consisted of a few dozen windows at which you could buy tickets to various destinations, the signage for which were entirely in Thai. At one end of the station we found a sign that said Chiang Mai in latin script, so at first tried to identify the Thai characters in those words so that we could find a window that would sell tickets to go there. (“First letter looks like … an H with two swirly things. Second letter looks kind of like a present with a bow on top. Third letter is like an R with a spiral in the middle …”) This did not get us very far, but just before we were ready to stand in the middle of the station and yell “Chiang Mai! Tomorrow! We have money!” and see if anyone knew enough English to respond (oh, and I hate how all of this sounds … but honestly, walk into a bus station that has only a dozen or so words written in Latin script, and see if you can figure out how to buy a ticket …), a woman at one of the windows called us over in halting English. Through pointing and a small selection of English words we managed to buy a ticket for the next morning, and headed back to our hotel.

Supposedly this told us where and when to catch our bus.

Supposedly this told us where and when to catch our bus.

The next morning, we arrived at the bus station with enough time to get breakfast before our bus. Again there was no English anywhere, but we managed to get two bowls of pork noodle soup from a woman who at least knew the word “soup” and through gestures could communicate that the meat came from a pig. The woman who sold us the tickets the evening before had told us to show up an hour early, which we found a little confusing, but thank god we did and thank god she was working again the next morning, because when we arrived at the station she recognized us and motioned that we should get on a small minibus to go somewhere else. Lots of confusion ensued, but very long story short in turns out that our bus was leaving from the town’s other bus terminal, a 15-minute minibus ride away. Eventually we arrived at the other terminal, and a few minutes later we lined up to get on our bus. But they wouldn’t let us on. And no one spoke English. We’re honestly still not sure why they wouldn’t let us on that bus – a bus with the same number going to the same city – but all we know is that another bus showed up 10 minutes later and we tried again, and they did let us on that one.

Utterly exhausted, we arrived in Chiang Mai toward the end of the day and refueled/recuperated with steaming piles of fried noodles and a series of large bottles of beer.

Maybe the most-needed beer of the last nine months.

Maybe the most needed/appreciated beer of the last nine months.

The next morning, we headed out to the train station to buy our overnight tickets back south. I bet you see where this story is headed, but it doesn’t turn out at badly as you might think. The only tickets available left early in the morning and took all day, but we bought them anyway. Our five days in Chiang Mai were down to three, but we had tried our best.

And our three days in Chiang Mai were relaxed and lovely – Thai massages and temple visits and good food and lots of shopping at the night markets and a day-long cooking class. Our hotel wasn’t particularly notable, aside from the very strange pool, but overall the food was delicious and we had a great time buying gifts for family and friends and ourselves.

It took us about 5 minutes to confirm that the guy in the middle was not in fact a real human being. (it's a fiberglass statue of a deceased monk.)

It took us about 5 minutes to confirm that the guy in the middle was not in fact a real human being. (it’s a fiberglass statue of a deceased monk.)

Stupas holding relics for deceased royalty and monks.

Stupas holding relics for deceased royalty and monks.

Thai coke.

Thai coke.

Green papaya salad, ridiculously good.

Green papaya salad, ridiculously good (and spicy).

A totally normal shaped pool at our hotel.

A totally normally-shaped pool at our hotel.

Setup for our cooking class.

Setup for our cooking class.

We made and ate a ridiculous amount of food!

We made and ate a ridiculous amount of food!

I made this, no biggie.

I made this, no biggie.

Our time on the train back south wasn’t particularly notable either, but our next two days were pretty great. We were in Ayutthaya, a town about an hour north of Bangkok, where we met up with Chris, one of Brett’s good friends from childhood and high school. He teaches at an international school in a small town outside of Ayutthaya, and took a short trip in to hang out with us. We spent a day biking around temples and eating great food and having fantastic conversation, and it was wonderful to see someone we knew. Ayutthaya is a pretty interesting small little town full of beautiful temples and surrounded by a river on which we took a sunset boat trip, and the whole experience was wonderful.

A temple in Ayutthaya.

A temple in Ayutthaya.

Tourist transport between temples.

Tourist transport between temples.

Preparing for our sunset cruise.

Preparing for our sunset cruise.

We watched a whole team of people robe this giant buddha with blessed cloth.

We watched a whole team of people robe this giant buddha with blessed cloth.

Sunset on the river.

Sunset on the river.

Last temple stop with Chris.

Last temple stop with Chris.

Next was a short van trip back into Bangkok for our last night in Southeast Asia. We had splurged on a nicer hotel room and decided to not worry about heading out into the city much, just to relax and get ready for our return journey. We had trouble finding a good meal in the neighborhood of our hotel for our last night, but nonetheless had a pretty good last day (including the best massage I had on the whole trip).

Oh, but then there was our trip to the airport. Our final task before going to the airport was finding a gift for a particular friend. We headed into one of Bangkok’s crazy massive shopping malls, and found the perfect thing. The only trouble was that we had already budgeted out every last Thai baht we had – exactly enough for the cab to the train station and the train to the airport and the gift – but the gift we found was 10 Baht more than we had budgeted. First, note that 10 Baht equals approximately $0.33. This will be helpful in understanding the tragedy of this story. We tried everything to bargain it down, even offering to give the woman a US dollar instead of the last 10 Baht. (No.) (And to be clear, this would almost double the price she was asking for.) We offered to pay with a credit card. (No.) We offered to give her two US dollars. (No.) We found another Western-looking couple and asked them if we could buy 10 Baht from them for 1 US dollar. (They were French, didn’t want US dollars. No.) Time was running short on our timeline of getting to the airport, so we threw caution to the wind and bought the gift anyway.

As you will see, that 10 Baht wouldn’t have even mattered in the end.

Fast forward, we’re in a cab going to the train station. We had budgeted about 70 Baht for the cab ride, but now we’re down to 60 because of the gift purchase. But really it should only cost about 45, and so as long as traffic’s not too terrible we should be okay.

Traffic is terrible. And about 3 minutes in we’re pretty sure the cab driver is taking the most roundabout way to get to the station. Normally when we had this suspicion we’d make them pull over and let us out, but all our luggage is in the trunk and our timeline of getting to the airport is getting a teensy bit strained. So we persevere.

At some point, we’re pretty sure we’re way out of the way, and the meter keeps going up. We pass 45 Baht, then 50, then 55, then 60, then 70. We’ll need to find a way to get more cash to get on the train, but our number one priority is just getting to the train station. So we wait. And wait. Eventually we can see the station, so even though we’re stuck in traffic we just get out, pay the cab, and walk the rest of the way. That’s when we realize that the driver took us to the wrong station. Still on the same train line, so we’ll still be able to get to the airport, but no wonder it cost so much. Despite our protestations throughout the ride that we needed to go to a certain station, he took us to a farther one.

Ugh.

We made our way up to the train station with all of our luggage and realized that the tickets to the airport are actually cheaper than we thought, which meant that after everything we were only 12 Baht short. (This is $0.41, to be clear.) At least the 10 Baht for the gift wouldn’t have made a difference, which is some small consolation. The only option to get more cash is to use the ATM in the station, which gives out a minimum of 200 Baht with Thailand’s customary 150 Baht ATM fee. We paid a $5 ATM fee to take out about $7 to get an extra $0.41 to get to the airport, all because a cab driver decided to be a jerk on our last hour of our last day in Southeast Asia.

Thankfully, you can drink beer anywhere in the Bangkok airport. We again ran into the problem that we couldn’t check in for our flight until two hours before departure, so we sat in the arrivals area and drank Changs and tried not to hate the cab driver. Our trip back was pretty uneventful, including another layover at the Seoul Airport and a relatively easy arrival into LAX.

Brett watches over our belongings at the airport. With beer.

Brett watches over our belongings at the airport. With beer.

Thailand was pretty great, despite all of our travel frustrations. We had frustrations everywhere, really, but these seemed more notable because all the exhaustion had finally caught up with us. But we didn’t try to do or see as much as we had in Vietnam or other places, and that made our last week more relaxed and enjoyable. I don’t know that we immersed ourselves in the cultural aspects as much as we had in other places, but we still had a great time.

We’ve been in the United States for about three weeks now, and hopefully we’ll get a post up about that soon. In a few days we’re headed off to Europe for our final international travel, then back to the US for a month before we move. More to come!

It’s good to be back …

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Been waiting for this for two months. Worth the wait, but still …

 

Technology is amazing

We are at this moment on a mini-bus in Cambodia with free wifi. This picture doesn’t even remotely do justice to how many people and pieces of luggage they’ve jigsawed into this small space, but despite what is sure to be a cramped journey to Phnom Penh, at least there’s Internet. Oh, modern world.

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