Friday, October 28, 2011

flashback friday

Today we’re going way back to our first round in 2009 when we were in India. I’ve always said we were thrown into the deep end of the culture shock pool with our first location being India and it was a trip that has forever changed us both.   

It’s really funny to me when reading back on our time there, we were such novice travelers, so full of both trepidation and excitement for the unknown.

Not that we’ve lost the excitement, but we’ve definitely lost all the trepidation about travel.  Just the other day we were dying laughing about how we had wanted to go to Thailand one year for vacation.  This was about 2 years before we had decided we wanted to do this International gig.   We bought a travel book on Thailand and within 20 minutes of reading we deemed it too dangerous and took the book back to Barnes and Noble.  Hahaha!  I’m totally serious though.  We were too scared to go to Thailand as two women traveling alone. 

It is crazy for me to imagine the things we would have deemed too dangerous to tackle…all the amazing experiences our silly fears would have kept us from experiencing. It makes me even more grateful that we got on that plane to India almost 3 years ago. 

We would have certainly never done this trip to Varanasi and what a colossal  loss that would have been for us…

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Varanasi


This past weekend we visited India’s holiest city, Varanasi. It is the home of Lord Shiva and one of the world’s oldest living cities. It is here that Hindu pilgrims come to bath in the Ganges, perform religious ceremonies and even come here to die in hopes of receiving “moksha”, the Hindu liberation from birth and rebirth.


The more we told locals we were going to Varanasi the more warnings we received about our trip…everything from “wear bug repellant each time you step outside” to “don’t eat anywhere outside your hotel” to “don’t talk to anyone who is dressed in religious garb because they are tricking you into giving them money”…needless to say the more I heard the less excited I became about going.


After a very bumpy flight we arrived in Varanasi to find there were no guides available to escort us the next day. We went ahead and booked our driver for a full day of sights and I tried hard to ignore the feeling of uneasiness in my stomach.


Our driver picked us up before 6am and we headed down to the Ganges River to take the sunrise boat ride. As we walked from the van to the river I have to say I was happy for the lack of light…it wasn’t a far walk but it was straight through a little market whose “stores” were nothing more than wooden shacks with dirt floors. Cows, goats, dogs and who knows what else were all milling around and the smell was not the most pleasant. When we reached the Ghats (steps that lead to the Ganges River) we were swarmed by children selling flower lights. These small candles surrounded by flowers are used as an offering to the Ganges River, which in a city full of temples is considered the most sacred place.

 


It wasn’t until we had gotten into our little wooden boat and out onto the Ganges that I finally felt a little more at ease. The river was quiet and calm and immediately we began to see people bathing and performing rituals in its waters…truly sights to behold…

We also saw the Ghats where bodies are cremated in the same way and with the same flame that has been burning for hundreds of years.


After the boat ride we headed back to the hotel for breakfast and then headed out again around 9am to Sarnath. It was in this city that Buddha sat under a Bhodi tree and became enlightened and where he gave his first speech to his disciples. There was a very nice temple and we even got to see the tree, albeit a tree made from a graft of the original tree because I guess it died. Nonetheless, it was pretty cool to see the birthplace of a religion.


We then headed back to the hotel for some much needed siestas before our next boat ride to witness the evening rituals. Little did I know that I would need that nap for survival…without it I don’t think I my motor skills would have been up to the challenge of getting to the Ghats.

In the evening they do not allow motor vehicles into old Varanasi…I’m assuming to keep the noise from disturbing the ceremonies. I wish I had some pictures to show you the insanity that we waded through in the 10 minutes it took to get to our destination…but I refused even to take a picture for someone else. I needed to keep one eye on the ground to avoid feces and urine (hopefully just of the cow and dog variety-probably wishful thinking again) and the other eye darting from one direction to the next to avoid being run over by a rickshaw, bicycle, motorcycle or cow. It was a nightmare.


When we finally made it back to the Ghats we found it still filled with the children still selling their flower lights as well as hoards of people making their way down to the Ganges. Again, the uneasiness only subsided when we were back on the boat.


This ease was short-lived as our boatman decided we should take another trip down to the crematory. This time he promised many more bodies as if this would make us want to see it even more. I guess for most of the tourists he meets it is a plus, but my heart was heavy as I watched these shrouded bodies dipped into the water by their relatives before being put on the pyre. I won’t say that from a distance it wasn’t fascinating to think how sacred and unchanged this ritual is, but I had no interest in intruding on these families at such a private time and when the boatman pulled us up almost to the bank I pleaded that we go back to the other Ghats.


Bearing witness to the evening aarti (prayer ritual) was really astonishing. We have some pretty great video but until we get a replacement cable for the one I left behind in Atlanta (one that I had deemed unimportant) you’ll just have to look at the photos.


There was no way I was walking back through that lunacy so when our boatman suggested a motorized rickshaw I hopped on in. It was a crazy ride, but at least I was sure my feet would stay feces/urine free and both my eyes were free to really take it all in.


It is so difficult to explain what it was like to be there and see all that we saw. Unchanged by time, it was like we were watching the living and breathing past.


Through all the crap (both figuratively and literally) we all felt we were really privileged to have observed something this unique and truly special to India.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

the daily(ish)

We had such an amazing time with our friends, J & D, that came to London…

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We’re beyond happy they were able to come visit and were thoroughly impressed with their packed European schedule- 4 countries in 2 weeks, not bad ladies, not bad at all.

Having them with us made us that much more certain that we’re ready to be home with people we love and who love us.

Seriously miss you guys already! Can’t wait for our next vacay together! XOXO

Oh, and JAC- Do you like pina coladas?

Lag being the operative word

Oh, jet lag…we meet again.

I felt fairly productive yesterday and was able to stay up until midnight thanks to finding a movie on in English.  Against all odds I didn’t take a nap yesterday either, so I actually slept through the night and thought I had this thing whipped.

Not. So. Much.

Although I was lucky enough to get a totally normal amount of sleep (the poor Wife hasn’t had more than 4 hours at a stretch since we left Finland) my body feels like it is in shutdown mode today.

I’ve had a righteous headache since I woke up and the energy level of a sloth. Actually sloths can move pretty fast when they want to and I’m thinking  if imminent danger were to arise today, I’d probably be a goner. 

They say when you’re caught in an undertow you shouldn’t fight it, but instead let it take you to the bottom where you can then swim free of it and return to the surface.

Sincerely hoping today is the bottom.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Finland

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Our goal was to see the Northern Lights.  They can be a bit finicky, so the Wife took a couple of days vacation so we’d have a few nights to try to catch them. Friday we headed up to Northern Finland with crossed fingers and toes. 

We arrived in Rovaniemi in time to go in search of them that evening.  Our guide picked us up at our hotel and we began the drive out to the Artic Circle.  They say the Artic Circle is the border of hastiness where regular time gives way to the magic of elves and reindeer.  Now, we didn’t see any elves and the reindeer weren’t until later in the weekend, but the magic I’m going to attest to.  As we drove across that imaginary parallel line at 66° 33′ 44″ we felt it.  The air felt different, the sky was such a strange color and seriously, the stars seemed to stretch and bend back and forth. It was incredibly eerie and we both kept our eyes glued to the skies as we drove down the dark road. You know, just in case any UFO’s thought about beaming us up.

We arrived at a cabin and got suited up for a dark uphill hike through the frigid night air.  We had only a small flashlight and some ski poles to help us keep our balance up the rocky path.  It was quite a hike and I was almost grateful the other person on our tour was so out of shape the he needed to take multiple breaks.  Not only did it give us a chance to catch our own breath, but it allowed us to stare at the impossible to comprehend sky.  I’ve been to a lot of remote places and seen a lot of impressive skies, but this one, these stars…it was absolutely unbelievable. 

Once we reached the little teepee at the top of the hill, we had an awesome view of the Northern skies.  It was a bit cloudy, but the lights were there, green and glowing, dancing through the night.  One of our guides told us all about the particles coming from the sun hitting the magnetic atmosphere, blah, blah, blah.  I didn’t care, I just wanted to watch them.

After about a million tries it became obvious that no photos were possible that night and I was glad.  It’s nice to just be able to enjoy something instead of trying to capture it from every single angle. 

We ducked into the teepee to warm up by the fire, roast some Finnish sausages and have some hot chocolate.  We went back outside to watch the lights and make wishes on the dozens of shooting stars falling around us. Who wouldn’t believe in magic under these skies?

We eventually made our way back down the hill and headed towards our hotel.  Just before we reached the first road with streetlights we got to see the lights again, waving goodbye as we turned the corner and the artificial light blinded us from their ethereal beauty.  

It was a beautiful, and as hokey as it sounds, truly magical night.

We didn’t get back from our tour until 1am so we slept in on Saturday, skipping breakfast and getting a awesomely late start to the day.  We hadn’t had one of those in a while and we savored the fact that we had nothing to do and nowhere to be. 

Rovaniemi is not only a great place to spot the Northern lights, but also the official home of Santa Claus.  And no, I don’t have a clue as to how they got this status, but they aren’t messing around about it and  as soon as you arrive you see all these  signs all over saying “Official airport of Santa Claus”.

We decided to go to Santa’s village since we booked a tour for Sunday.  It was fairly disappointing, but we did get a jump start on Christmas gifts for two very hard to buy for men in our family. 

Sunday morning we went about an hour outside of Rovaniemi to a reindeer farm owned by an indigenous Sami family.   The sweet wife greeted us as we pulled up and we started off our visit with a little reindeer roping lesson.

I missed. Of course…

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But so did Julie…

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and so did our guide, but on the second try I got him! 

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And of course, so did Julie…

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After wrangling our fake reindeer, we went in to feed some real ones…

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This one was the prettiest and very attached to Julie, she said it was just the food, but even when I was the only one with anything to give him he followed her around.  The owner didn’t speak any English, but our laughter at Jules’ reindeer boyfriend needed no translation.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon inside a traditional Sami house, learning about the Sami culture and feasting on delicious crepes that our host cooked for us over the fire. We were the only people on the tour so we just asked questions and she answered through our guide.  It was such an enjoyable day. Although, by the time we got back home I felt at least 3 of my toes were in danger of falling off from frostbite.

We were in bed fairly early that night to begin our insane trip to China on Monday morning. 

We’re off to Inner Mongolia this weekend to hang out with some Mongolians.  I was pretty worried about the weather, but it is going to be considerably warmer than Northern Finland, so I’m hoping my toes don’t have anything to worry about.

Pictures from the weekend…

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

what day is it?

I seriously had to ask myself that question this morning and it took looking at my phone to actually get the answer. Wednesday?  Seriously?

We had an awesome weekend in Finland (more on that to come), but knew it meant a bit of craziness to make it work as an “in-between” trip from London to Shanghai.  That “bit of craziness” was more like a bit of a nightmare.   One which included an hour flight from Rovaniemi to Helsinki with a 3 hour layover, a 3 hour flight to London where we had to pick up our stored luggage that we had dropped off on Friday afternoon before departing and another 3 hour layover, then an hour flight to Paris and yet another 3 hour layover before boarding our 11 hour flight to Shanghai.  We were up at 6am Finland time and didn’t board our last flight until 11pm Paris time which was 10pm London time and we arrived at 5pm in Shanghai where it was as dark as midnight before we reached our hotel.  So, I of course awoke at 3am this morning ready to start my day…just not sure which day it was exactly.

Needless to say, we’re going to have a little jet lag plaguing us for the next few days.  I usually do worse coming to Asia, although this time it is only a 5 hour difference we’re battling, so maybe it won’t be too bad. 

Right now I feel all out of sorts, like my circadian rhythm is trying to keep time with a toddler jazz band.   Of course, the poor Wife developed a cold somewhere between Finland and Paris and has to go to work, so I really shouldn’t complain.

Through all the tiredness, I did feel incredibly anxious and excited as we were descending into Shanghai.  That’s a feeling I haven’t had in a really long time and I’ve missed it.  There is something so thrilling about landing in a foreign land knowing everything will be, well, so foreign.  To explore, observe and learn about cultures so different from your own is by far my favorite part of traveling and I’m ready to see, touch and taste everything China has to offer me.  Okay, maybe not taste everything, because I know they have some insanely bizarre eats here. 

So far our hotel is a freaking dream compared to the one in London.  Our room is so comfortable and other than the hard-as-a-rock bed we couldn’t be happier. It isn’t like anybody is sleeping around here anyway.

Monday, October 24, 2011

the daily(ish)

Okay, last one from the British Museum- behold the tiniest mummy I’ve ever seen…

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Poor little fishy.  I wonder if it is actually embalmed. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

the daily(ish)

Why is it that my shoes are all practically falling apart (except my new boots that J&D so awesomely brought me from the States- thanks again, guys!!) and these sandals from the 3rd century B.C. are still pretty much intact????

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Seriously, how can that be? 

In other shoe mysteries, I found my beloved Toms!  Of course they were in the one pocket of a bag that I didn’t check 14 times in my frantic search. I know you were all very concerned, but you can stop worrying as the the crisis has been averted. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

the daily(ish)

Our tube stop in London…

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Even if our hotel was right on up down there with that craphole in Tunisia, living across the street from Green Park has been extremely nice.  We had central London at our fingertips and hey, isn’t every day that one of your closest neighbors is the Queen of England. 

Thanks for everything, London.  You’ve been an extremely cool place to dwell these past couple of months, but the time has come to bid you cheerio. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

flashback friday

We had to say goodbye to Frenchie again this this week.  We were really happy he made it back to London before we left Europe, but it still stunk saying goodbye again without knowing exactly when we’ll see each other next. 

As an adult I find it really difficult to make friends.  I don’t mean I find it hard  to be friendly with people or that I don’t thoroughly enjoy meeting new people and socializing.  I’m talking about good friends, as in people you really, seriously care about.  I just find it’s much harder as a grown-up to really connect with people in a truly meaningful way. Back home I have very few friends that I haven’t known for 10+ years and I bet if you think about it your nearest and dearest have also been the ones who’ve been around the longest.

That said, we’ve made some incredible friends on this journey, people who we have no doubt will be in our lives forever and Frenchie is definitely one of them.  No matter how far away we live from one another the experiences that we’ve shared have allowed us to forge fast, but also everlasting, friendships.  That’s something I totally wasn’t expecting when we set off for this wild ride, but it is something I’m insanely grateful for.

Today’s post is actually a recap post of our last round with Frenchie before he rolled out of the department.  It was just us three last summer and even aside from the fact that without him we wouldn’t have even been able to order dinner, we really couldn’t have picked a better person to spend those 2 months in Tunisia with…

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

time to reflect...


The differences between our first and second stints in Africa are as vastly different as the continent itself. From the bush to the desert southern and northern Africa are like night and day.


Tunisia has been a country of surprises for me. Maybe if I hadn’t tried so hard to decide what it was all about before I actually got here it wouldn’t have been. I like to be prepared and sometimes that leads me to prejudge more than anything else.


I won’t lie and say I wasn’t a little concerned about coming to an Arab country bordered by Libya and Algeria. Our only other experience with Northern Africa was Egypt and although many of the people we met were absolutely wonderful and warm and welcoming (I’ve run out of w’s) there were also people that made me feel incredibly uncomfortable and a little too welcome if you get my drift. It was and still is the most difficult country I’ve ever visited. But, Tunisia has been easy. It's been comfortable and with the help of our translator and pal, Frenchie, it has turned out to be a lot of fun.


Tunisia has been round of pleasant surprises like our favorite town, Pheobe Buffay (aka Sidi Bou Said)…



the amazing ruins at Dougga…



and the vastness of the Sahara…



Our location in northern Africa allowed us some pretty amazing weekend travel outside of Tunisia, like our trip home with Frenchie…



our trip to Luxor…



Istanbul…



and the jaw-dropping Petra…



It’s been a round full of laughs…





Ali Baba’s hat…





and jumping in each other’s photos…




We’ve really had a great time this round, but like all good things it must come to an end.


We’re moving in just a couple of days. I’m ready, the Wife is ready. We’ll think we’re not ready when saying goodbye to Frenchie, but it’s time to go...and that's what we do best these days- go.

the daily(ish)

Wandering around the British Museum we spotted this clock from Germany in a time piece exhibit…

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when the hour strikes the woman milks the cow and according to the sign liquid would actually came out. 

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I was a bit less impressed when we got to the modern times of the exhibit and the Casio digital clock was displayed.

I guess advances in technology don’t always mean things get better.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

the daily(ish)

Walking around Geneva and I kept seeing little signs like these with what looks like a cartoon Native American Indian on it…

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It took me a minute to figure out what the heck this little Indian was doing, but apparently the little brave was pointing directions to various bus/train stations and streets.  Is there a stereotype that American Indians possess great senses of directions?  Swiss Indians?  I still don’t get it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

the daily(ish)

Going through the photos on my phone the other day and I see this guy…

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What in the? Who in the? I believe was my response. You meet some real characters at Oktoberfest and sometimes those characters will jump out at you at a later date from your phone.  And yes, that is his rat tail he has pulled across his upper lip. 

Oktoberfest- the holiday that just keeps on giving.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fjords

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Our trip to Norway started off with a pleasant surprise, finding out our friend from Ireland was actually on our flight out of London.  This would be just the beginning of an awesome weekend with awesome friends.

Although we were arriving via London, Frankfurt and Oslo we all landed within 30 or so minutes of each other and headed off to our respective apartment/hotels before meeting up for dinner Friday night. 

We had booked the Norway in a Nutshell tour which is really just a package of train and boat tickets that show off the best the country has to offer.

We spent the first couple of hours on the train from Bergen and it provided us some truly gorgeous scenery filled with rivers, waterfalls, fjords, mountains, and cute little Norwegian houses…

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as we made our way to the snowy town of Mydral to take the Flamsbana train…

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We rode through even more amazing scenery on this train for around an hour on our way to Flam…

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with a short stop off at the Kjosfossen waterfall…

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We had time to grab lunch in Flam before boarding the boat that would take us through the Songnefjorden.

Even with all the lovely landscapes we had seen on the trains, we were all blown away by the immense beauty of this fjord…

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It was FREEZING on the boat, but worth every minute of it!  Definitely one of those times when you cannot help but be in complete awe of our spectacular planet.  There were more than a few discussions of just how we could make a living in we if we moved to one of the little towns at the base of the fjord.  I mean can you imagine this being your front yard?

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After two hours we took our frozen bones onto a bus for a ride into Voss.  We had an hour or so before our last train back to Bergen so we headed to a cozy cafĂ© for some drinks. 

Our plans for a frozen pizza and card night at our little apartment were foiled by the insane fact that you can’t buy beer after 6pm on Saturday nights so we headed to a restaurant to have one last dinner together.

Sunday we met up and walked down to the wharf houses…

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You almost feel like you’re walking in a fun house they are so slanted and warped. 

We enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a traditional place down by the water before bidding our goodbyes to the New Cohort and our Irish lass.  Wow, I really hate goodbyes, especially when it is to people you hold so dear. It was such a great group this weekend and I can’t tell you how much we appreciate time spent with good friends…

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Our friends from Atlanta are with us in London for a few more days and we plan to soak up as much “friend time” as possible before heading off to China. 

We’ve got a quick stop in Finland before getting there though.  Cross your fingers for us- we’re going to be in search of the Northern Lights!

 

 

Album from this weekend…



Photo credits to jac and her mrs. for some of the photos from the train and fjords! Thanks guys!!