Tag Archives: travel

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.

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!

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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Christmas in Peru

We’re lucky that our trip to South America coincided with Christmas and New Years, two major cultural holidays in this part of the world. We spent Christmas in Cusco, Peru, and New Years in Arequípa, Peru, with Puno and Lake Titicaca in between. The week between these two holidays is a major cultural time in Peru, and we’ve been able to see and experience some of the most amazing things both of us have ever seen. We’ve started writing a bigger post about Peru, but we thought we’d give a little window into what it was like to be in Cusco over Christmas Eve and Christmas.

As with much of Latin America, Peru emphasizes Christmas Eve in its celebration of the holiday. Cusco is a major tourist area, so not much actually shut down on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but we did get to experience three major things: Cusco’s Christmas Eve craft fair, the opening of many churches for services, and a cultural parade on Christmas Day. We also tried to bring in some of our own Christmas traditions and treat ourselves a bit over these two days, so it’s not exactly a window into what our daily life is like (e.g. we’re not eating breakfasts like that every day), but it’s still a good look into what we’re up to on a daily basis.

Christmas Eve

We started Christmas Eve with breakfast in the courtyard of our fantastic hotel in Cusco. We picked up some croissant-like breads at a bakery the night before, along with the most significant culinary accomplishment we’ve yet achieved – peanut butter in Peru. PEANUT BUTTER. We happily indulged in a breakfast of croissants with peanut butter, bananas, and raisins.

Eve_Breakfast

After breakfast we headed to the main plaza for the city’s large annual Christmas Eve craft fair, which consisted in part of the same sort of touristy items (e.g. alpaca sweaters and hats) that we saw everywhere but also of actual artisan craft items (jewelry, clothing, etc.) and mainly of items for people’s home nativity scenes. There were plastic and wood animals of all types and sizes, probably a few dozen booths selling bedazzled clothing and bedding for everyone’s baby Jesuses, and more moss and wooden mangers than we could possibly count. We came to understand that it’s typical for every home and every business to have a nativity scene – from small and basic to large and incredibly ornate – including the common characters but also a huge array of barnyard animals, fresh plants (e.g. moss) lining the scene, and a new outfit and bed for the baby Jesus each year. Over the next two days we saw countless families bringing their swathed and bedded baby to church to be blessed before bringing it home to put in the manger.

Plaza_market

Cusco

Plaza

Plaza_Santa

We could tell at the craft fair and even more as we wandered through town over the next two days that a huge number of people from the countryside had come into the city for the holiday. We learned later that our suspicions about this were true – huge numbers of poor people living in the country come into the city on Christmas Eve to receive free meals and other handouts from local churches and businesses. We saw many people – particularly women – dressed in traditional clothing and taking care of anywhere from one to five children as they waited in line for meals or huddled near the plaza selling small toys or asking for change. It was certainly a humbling experience to see so many people in this situation, and definitely difficult for the both of us.

The craft fair was about as crowded as a space could possibly be, so we ducked out up the steps of the main cathedral before heading out to find somewhere for lunch.

After wandering around for a while, we ended up for lunch at one of the same places we’d already eaten. We knew the daily special for ten soles was good, so we figured we might as well do it again. A traditional Peruvian pollo a la brasa sandwich – shredded barbequed chicken marinated in a mix of things including soy sauce, topped with shoestring fried potatoes – with a big glass of chica morada (purple corn juice with pineapple and lime – so delicious!). After lunch we ventured into Cusco’s central market, wandering for an hour or so in the aisles packed with every sort of food and home item you could possibly imagine. We settled in for a fresh pineapple and mango juice at one of the many juice stands, then headed back to our hotel for a nap.

Eats

Mercado

In the evening we went to a Couchsurfing potluck party we’d been invited to, bringing with us a somewhat amended version of one of our favorite salads. On the way, we noticed that San Francisco Church was open for Christmas Eve services and ducked our heads in quickly to admire the altars and nativity, and snapped a quick picture of the official Cusco nativity scene in the Plaza.  At the party, we hung out with Couchsurfers from around the world before heading back early to get some sleep.

Cathedral

CS_party

Cusco_nativity

Christmas Day

Christmas morning, we opened our stockings – alpaca stockings I had purchased in Pisac, of course. The day before we had picked up little treats as we wandered around town, which meant we knew exactly what was in our own stockings but nonetheless it still added a little bit of comfortable tradition to our Christmas far away from home.

Presents

Bretts_stocking

After our stockings, we exchanged gifts – for me, a dress I had loved from a craft fair in Santiago; for Brett, a bottle of fancy Cuban rum (well, Cuban company but made in the Dominican Republic). Again we knew what the gifts were, but that didn’t made them any less special.

We then headed across town to get breakfast at Jack’s Cafe, an expat sort of place we’d heard about from other travelers practically from the moment we touched down in Buenos Aires. We hadn’t eaten there yet, but a few days before we had noticed huevos rancheros on the menu, so there was no turning Brett away.

On the way we passed through the Plaza, completely transformed from the day before – not a scrap of evidence of the packed-in craft fair or the countryside visitors from the day before. We’re not sure where everyone and everything went since it was still packed at about 10 p.m. the night before, but whoever cleaned up behind them did a pretty thorough job. Passing by the main cathedral we noticed groups of folks dressed in elaborate traditional and celebratory costumes, chatting and talking on cell phones and waiting to get inside – likely for some sort of elaborate Christmas Mass.

Costumes

Breakfast was an amazing little bit of home – huevos rancheros with tortillas (tortillas!) and beans (BEANS!) and a bacon and egg sandwich on toast, plus a fresh orange-pineapple-banana juice, mint tea for me, and a café con leche for Brett. The place was packed with other gringos (as it usually is), all looking for a bit of home on Christmas morning.

Bowen_breakfast

Huevos

Egg_sandwich

After breakfast we hiked up to Saqsaywáman, an Incan complex on the edge of the city. The entrance fee to the ruins was a bit high (around $30 USD for each of us), but we got in a good uphill hike and amazing views of the city. We took a short walk over to the massive Cristo Blanco statue overlooking the city, then headed back down the hill.

City_view

Uphill

Heading back through the Plaza we again encountered the costumed folks from the church, parading around the Plaza and south through the city. We’re guessing each group represented a community from within or nearby the city, and each had their own costumes, music, dances, and other rituals (some more straight-forward than others). It was the first of what was to become many experiences we’d have with parades, and it was absolutely fascinating to see.

Parade3

Parade2

Parade1

Parade4

After that we headed back to our hotel for lunch and a bit of relaxing, before meeting up with some other folks from the hotel to take a tour of the hotel’s community project – a series of centers for Cusco’s at-risk youth living in poverty.   Long story (which you can read on the hotel website) short, the owners of the hotel also run eight centers across the city, where children can eat a good meal, shower and brush their teeth, receive homework help, read books, watch movies, play sports, etc. It was a great project to see, and fantastic to know that the money we were spending on the hotel was going toward the project (all profits of their two hotels go toward the centers).

Ninos_Cafe

Ninos

Ninos_project

After our tour we rushed off to an early dinner at Chicha, a sort of Peruvian fusion restaurant run by Peru’s most famous celebrity chef. (We didn’t know about the fusion part nor the celebrity chef part when we made the reservation, on recommendation of our hotel, but we decided to go with it anyway and were very pleasantly surprised!)  We shared an incredible fried cuy (guinea pig) with vegetable-packed fried quinoa (think fried rice but with quinoa) and a delicious stew made with cheese, fava beans, and other veggies, plus two pisco sours (wine in Peru is SO EXPENSIVE!).

Cuy

Chicha

Dinner was early in time for us to get home and participate by video in Brett’s family’s annual gift exchange. The internet connection at the hotel was spotty at best, but we were able to catch about 80% of what was said and it was lovely to see everyone back in Portland.  (Also, please note that we felt the need to take a picture of the screen when there was a Ninkasi on the screen. We really, really, really, miss good beer.)

Video_chat

Ninkasi

After dinner we tried more phone calls, but the internet thwarted our attempts and we decided to call it a night, since the next morning we were headed out early to Puno.

Overall, it was a great Christmas – really meaningful to spend it in a completely different culture, even though it was difficult to be so disconnected from everyone at home.

Tonight’s our last night in Peru – stay tuned for more posts soon!

The Rest of Argentina, plus Chile

After our week in Buenos Aires we arrived at Retiro, the Buenoes Aires bus terminal with precisely zero cash as the cab fare, which we were told would be $AR 30-40 cost $AR52.78 and I only had $52.75.  The whole process of catching a bus in Argentina was a bit stressful at first.  When you buy your ticket, they tell you a range of platforms where the bus will show up and then you have to be ready to get to the right platform when the bus shows up.  It’s not so bad once you get the hang of it, but our first time out it caused us a bit of worry as our bus didn’t show up on the board until five minutes before our departure, which of course left me wondering if my Spanish had totally failed me and we were destined to miss the bus we had paid for and would have to buy another ticket…  But it was fine.

Let me take this opportunity to offer a few personal observations of Arentinians. First, soccer (fútbol) may be the national pastime, but standing in line must be a close second.  They stand in orderly lines for everything.  Second, the main modus operandi for just about everything seems to be, if it came from a cow, we’ll use more of it.  Lots of beef, plenty of leather, and pizzas with more cheese than crust.

Our first bus, a semi-cama level, though not as nice as we had heard many were, was still quite comfortable.  But as we rode out across La Pampa for a few hours, it was definitely warmer than we would have liked.  When we arrived in Rosario, it was still very hot, although the evening was beginning to cool a bit.  We walked the 3 km to our hostel and showed up drenched in sweat to check into our private room that only had a window to the interior of the hostel, and not to the outside.  After a dinner of pasta cooked in the hostel kitchen, which left us once again drenched in sweat, we went to take a walk out in the evening air and finally cooled down when we got caught in a downpour of rain.

The next day we wandered the town all day.  We came to Rosario because our guidebook described it as having a vibe similar to Buenos Aires, a city full of culture.  But it seems that maybe they just meant that it has a happening bar scene, which was too late and too expensive for our tastes.  But I think we would have enjoyed visiting Che Guevarra’s hometown if it hadn’t been so bloody hot.  The day we spent there got up to 97 degrees, and even the breezes as we walked along the Rio Paraná didn’t stop us from nearly melting when we arrived at the fine art museum to find it mysteriously closed.

Downtown Rosario

Downtown Rosario

The monument to the flag

The monument to the flag

The tower at the monument to the flag

The tower at the monument to the flag

El Río Paraná

El Río Paraná

The next morning we took a much cooler walk back the bus terminal and caught our bus to Córdoba.  This ride was a bit nicer and much cooler, to the point where I had to put on my sweatshirt.  Córdoba was billed by our guide book as Argentina’s other second city, beside Rosario, and the home to many universities; a place with an unbeatable vibe.  As is our normal plan, we spent our first day there wandering around.  We walked out to the main park and had lunch there, and then wandered back through town checking out Paseo Buen Pastor and the main mall (which was blessedly air conditioned).  Then we walked out through the Mercado Norte and along the banks of the river.  It happened to be a national holiday that day, celebrating the Immaculate Conception, so many things were closed and the streets were pretty quiet.

A fountain in downtown Córdoba

A fountain in downtown Córdoba

Fountains behind El Paseo Buen Pastor

Fountains behind El Paseo Buen Pastor

We had another full day in Córdoba as we were taking an overnight bus, so we spent a pleasant and low key day around town as our hostel wouldn’t allow us to stay inside unless we wanted to pay half of the cost of a night there.  We spent much of the morning sitting in the square, then a few hours at a cafe before heading back to the mall to wander some more.

The Córdoba Cathedral

The Córdoba Cathedral

A political rally in Córdoba.  Peronism seems alive and well.

A political rally in Córdoba. Peronism seems alive and well.

Our overnight bus began with a surprise dinner service (the company was running a promotion we that they hadn’t told us about) and then The Expendables 2.  Wow, what a start. We spent a fitful night sleeping on the bus wishing the air-conditioning were more powerful.

Living it up, cama-ejecutivo-style

Living it up, cama-ejecutivo-style

We arrived in Mendoza the next morning and checked into an absolutely fantastic hostel, Lao Hostel.  The moment we walked in it felt completely different from our first two.  People were friendly and welcoming and wanted to chat with us in English!  Even though we couldn’t check in yet, they invited us to have coffee and breakfast.  Our first two places had been largely filled with Argentinians and Europeans who didn’t speak much English, but this was much more like the hostels I had stayed in before, friendly Americans and Europeans who were there to meet other travelers and not just find a cheap bed.  We spent our first day wandering around the town and out to the main park, taking a dip in the pool, napping, and then going to an Asado, an Argentinian barbecue, that the hostel was hosting with about 15 other guests from the hostel.  The food was really good and it was a lot of fun to get to hang out and talk with the other travelers.

Wine-colored fountains in Plaza Independencia

Wine-colored fountains in Plaza Independencia

Fire for the asado

Fire for the asado

Lots of meat on the afore mentioned fire

Lots of meat on the afore mentioned fire

The next day we took a bus down to Lujan, much farther into Lujan than we wanted as the jerk driving the bus neglected to tell us when we got to our stop even after I asked him a second time, and rented bikes to ride around and do some wine tasting.  You can read more about that in Bowen’s post.  But let me just take a moment to say that Argentina produces some really fantastic wine, and it’s quite reasonably priced, although most stays in country.  The woman who led our tour at the second winery had only tasted two non-Argentinian wines ever because they try so hard to keep local wines in and foreign ones out.  And after tasting some, I understand why.

That's a little door for such big wines

That’s a little door for such big wines

The next morning we set out for our trip over the Andes.  We had reserved seats at the front of the bust to get the panoramic windows, but unfortunately, our bus seemed to be the only one we saw that had an advertisement on the front obscuring the view.  We still had a beautiful ride over the Andes, passing just south of Cerro Aconcagua, the highest peak in the western hemisphere, and then down the Caracol (snail).

Cerro Aconcagua (I think)

Cerro Aconcagua (I think)

We went down that.  In real life, not just on the Internet.

We went down that. In real life, not just on the Internet.

We arrived in Valparaíso in the afternoon and walked over to the apartment where we were renting a room.  It was a basic, no frills place, but with a really friendly hostess.  We walked over to the center of town, through street markets and Christmas markets.  This was the first place where it seemed like Christmas was coming.  We took an ascensor, one of the funiculars that run from the lower part of town to the hills, and wandered the lovely and more touristy neighborhood before stopping into a bar for our first Pisco Sours.

A view from the hills of Valpo

A view from the hills of Valpo

The next day we took the metro to the neighboring town of Viña del Mar for a lovely day relaxing on the beach.

The beach in Viña del Mar

The beach in Viña del Mar

Our final day in Valpo, as it’s known, we wandered around the town more, doing a bit of walking tour and stopping into a really fantastic free museum in the Palacio Baburizza.  The house itself was incredible, but it also had wonderful, primarily Chilean Art, and gorgeous views of the ocean and the brightly colored homes that cover the hillsides.  That evening, after a seafood dinner complete with Tango singers, we happened upon a Christmas parade composed entirely of 6 bright Coca-Cola floats driving the main streets of town surrounded by crowds and blaring music.

Palacio Baburizza

Palacio Baburizza

A street in Valparaíso

A street in Valparaíso

The next day we caught a bus to Santiago, the capital of Chile.  When we arrived we took the metro into the Bella Vista neighborhood and walked to our hostel.  We spent the afternoon and evening wandering around our neighborhood and the downtown.  We really enjoyed Santiago.  It felt very fun and relaxed, but with a bit of a cosmopolitan city feel.  Our second day we visited the main produce market, a giant area filled with all sorts of fruit and vegetable vendors.  Chile has some of the best looking and tasting produce I’ve ever experience (for more on food in Chile, see Bowen’s post).  If you are eating something fresh right now, chances are pretty good that it came from Chile.  Blessed with warm, dry weather, but lots of water coming out of the Andes, the Chilean stuff put the sad stuff we saw in markets in Argentina to shame.  After the produce market we headed to the fish market where we ate paila marina, a traditional Chilean seafood soup, and salmón a la mantequilla.  That evening, after a dinner culled from the produce market, we went to a wine tasting at a sister hostel and met some of other travelers who were really neat.

La Vega produce market

La Vega produce market

Paila Marina

Paila Marina

We had all of the next day in town before heading to the airport to spend the night.  We spent the first part of the day wandering around the fancier neighborhood of Providencia, then headed to La Piojera.  This popular spot among locals serves the strangest drink I’ve ever had, the terremoto or earthquake.  It is made of a special unfiltered wine called pipeño, pineapple sherbet, and Fernet Branca.  I’ll just say it grew on me.  After that we headed down to the Plaza de Armas for a great free walking tour of the city.  The guide was great and took us to a ton of sites and told us all about them over the course of about 4 hours.  Definitely worth doing.

Terremotos

Terremotos

Monument to Salvador Allende

Monument to Salvador Allende

After that, we headed to the airport only to find that, no we could not check our bags in because our airline counter was closed, despite the fact that we had called to check.  We spent about 45 minutes wandering around trying to figure something out, including going to the airline offices, which were closed but for one clerical worker.  Resigned to our fate, we spent the night out in the public lobby.  I slept for a couple of hours while Bowen read.  Waking up around 3:30 in the morning to the janitorial staff having a dance party in the area where we were sleeping was one of the strangest experiences of my life.  Around five a.m. we headed back to the gate area, checked our bags and headed through security, on our way to Peru.