Wednesday, November 30, 2011



It’s been a while since I’ve been to a city I instantly fell in love with like Seoul. It reminded me a lot of Tokyo, just smaller and therefore more accessible by foot. Oh, and with tons of street food and vendors, which if you know me, made it all the better.

Our friend from Atlanta had an earlier flight from Shanghai, but we were able to meet up with him in time to walk around and grab some dinner Friday night. We, of course, had Korean BBQ and it was absolutely delish. I have GOT to find a Korean BBQ joint in Atlanta.

Saturday morning we set off for the DMZ, or the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. This 4 kilometer or 2 and half mile wide area was created in 1953 as part of the cease-fire agreement between the North and South Korea governments. Our guide quickly reminded us that these two are still at war. She pointed out the wooded areas behind barbed wire fences, telling us how 700,000 land mines are still laying in wait. She told us how parents cry with worry when finding out their sons are assigned to duty at the DMZ. She explained how the large billboards above the bridges aren’t actually advertisements, but decoy boxes filled with dynamite to be detonated if the North ever decides to invade. It was pretty unnerving.

Although this area is one of great seriousness, South Korea is attempting to change the overall feel. It has made it a tourist destination and you get the feeling that it is being built as a museum to the time of separation and division even though unification has yet to happen…


We were first taken to a memorial park, in the warm months it is actually an amusement park as well, that contains the Peace Bell…


and the Freedom Bridge, where thousands of people were allowed to cross after the cease-fire. It is covered in ribbons of prayers…


We then went to tour one of the four tunnels created in an obvious plot to invade South Korea after the cease-fire. They didn’t allow photos, but it was amazing to see where North Korea had actually painted some of the rocks black in an attempt to justify their story of “looking for coal”.


It was a long way down to the tunnel, 300 meters at a very steep incline, and then a cramped (you know it’s short if I’m having to bend over) walk into the actual tunnel. They don’t regulate how many people can go down there and I may or may not have had a minor freak-out moment about being crammed into this hole deep within the earth with too many pushy tourists (Chinese people push- like physically push you to get ahead in lines, so I mean that quite literally) and made us leave before reaching the first blockade which is as far as tourists can go. 400 meters was enough for me to get the drift.

After the tunnel, we were taken to the observatory where we could actually see into North Korea. Again, no photos. Actually I forgot and took 2, but a soldier kindly asked that I delete them and I kindly obliged.

You can look through the binoculars and see the North Korean soldiers in their lookout and even the propaganda town they built to make South Koreans think life on the other side was glamorous. The houses are just shells and no one has ever lived there, although they said they sometimes had actors there to make it more believable.

We then visited the northern most train station in South Korea, which had been built when North Korea had agreed to trade, but in the last minute changed their mind. It was just a train station, but we did get our pic with some soldiers…


I had expected so much more negativity (totally justifiable negativity) but in truth there is little North Korea bashing on the Southern side of the DMZ. The optimism that South Koreans embrace regarding the certainty of these two countries becoming one again is truly palpable here. For the world’s sake, I hope they’re right.

We arrived back in Seoul too late to go inside any of the palaces, so we spent the rest of the day walking around the city, dipping into shops and sampling the street food. Can I tell you how much I love a city that embraces street food?

We ended the night at a truly local joint where we had to point at pictures on the wall menuto be able to order. Jules made friends with the table next to us and they let us taste the local brew. I think it was some sort of rice wine. We shared some toasts and some laughs and eventually made our way back to our hotel.

Our friend from Atlanta had an early flight back and after saying our groggy goodbyes, Jules and I went back to bed to try to catch some more zzz’s.

We finally got it in gear and made it to the Gyeongbok Palace…




It was a sprawling complex and even though it was pretty cold out, it was a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon. After wandering around for a few hours it was time to bid Seoul goodbye and make our way to the airport.

Getting another weekend with JDT was great and we seriously miss him already. I really, really loved Seoul and the little taste I got definitely left me wanting more.

This weekend we’re finally off to see this wall everyone keeps talking about. Can’t wait!

Pics from the weekend…

the daily(ish)

It’s the season for hairy crabs in China and you see them touted on menus everywhere.  You can even buy them at little stores in the airport, all folded up and tied up with rubber bands.  Apparently some airlines won’t let you take them onboard though…


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

the daily(ish)

We had our best Thanksgiving meal since leaving the States last week.  The turkey was smoked and delicious, although the sides weren’t up to par and few and far between.  As much as I can’t believe this is all coming to an end, I’m ready for my holidays back home…


Hope everyone had a great holiday! 

Monday, November 28, 2011

the daily(ish)

Although the Liu Sanjie show was truly incredible, their theater snack options left much to be desired…


Normally, I’d be more than happy with some good ol’ microwave popcorn, especially when I’m starving to death, but it was this weird flavor and burnt to a crisp.  You’d think we’d produce a better popcorn in ‘Merica.


First, let me apologize for being a weekend behind on my posts. Our friend from Atlanta came to Shanghai for a week and things were busy, busy, busy. We were meeting him out every night for dinner and drinks and I was spending my days running around like a maniac trying to get all our Christmas shopping done so I could send it home with him. He took about 55 kilos of our stuff home with him in two huge suitcases and I seriously couldn’t be more grateful! I love you, JAT!!!

This was a HUGE part of us being able to travel during home leave, but I’ll talk about that later.

Today is all about our time in Guilin two weekends ago…

Friday went as most of our Fridays do…pack—> check out of hotel—> taxi to airport—> check-in for flight—> dinner in airport—> flight—>taxi to hotel—> check-in at hotel—> bed. Yeah, Fridays aren’t the most fun day of the week, but the effort usually pays off. It certainly did this weekend.

Saturday morning we met up with our tour guide, Jeff, who was by far the best guide we’ve had in China. His English was pretty good and he made himself giggle like every five minutes with his corny little jokes. I like people who crack themselves up.

We had a long drive out to the Longji rice terraces from Guilin and a very long hike ahead of us once we got out of the van. It took us an hour of hiking up through the tiny villages to get to the best view of the terraces, but we really enjoyed getting a glimpse into what life is like in rural China and the views along the way were just as impressive…







Winter is the least picturesque time to visit the terraces, but we were still in awe of their beauty.

The area is also home to a number of minorities that all live together, but follow their own traditions. Yao people believe a woman’s beauty is in their hair and use to only show it to their husbands…


They cut it and save the old hair to help them create this style…


They use different knots in the front to indicate if they are single, married, or married with children.

The Zhuang women wear printed towels or fabric around their hair…


I mean, how lovely is this woman? She was weaving sandals and I have no doubt that each time I look at the pair we bought from her, I will recall this sweet smiling face.

After taking a million photos, we headed back down into the village for a much needed meal. Lunch was really delicious and we got to eat outside and enjoy the views and relatively fresh air. I promise to catch up with the food blog and tell you all about it soon!

After lunch we made our way to the bottom of the village and made a quick stop at a pearl place before arriving at the hotel. We had about 20 minutes to freshen up before getting back in the van so we could drive out to Guilin’s sister city, Langshuo. It was another hour and half drive to see the Impression Liu Sanjie show, but again, the effort was totally worth it.

The show was created by the guy who did the Beijing Olympics’ opening act and is absolutely in-flippin-credible. The “theater” is an outdoor space using the actual mountains and river as the backdrop and stage. I can’t imagine there is anything like it in the world. Hundreds of people, boats, torches, singers, cows, lit-up costumes- my photos can’t begin to do it justice…






It was literally jaw-dropping.

We arrived really late after the show and long ride back to Guilin. We had just enough energy to eat some dinner and then fell into bed before our early wake-up call for our Li River cruise.

This, this is why you come to Guilin…







We had perfect weather, gorgeous scenery and a great group of people to spend the day with, especially because our dear friend from Atlanta had finally made it to China! You can’t really ask for more.

It was a packed weekend with absolutely no down time, but so worth the exhaustion. Aside from the pandas (because really, nothing will ever be better than all those baby pandas!), this has been our favorite weekend in China.

Coming soon…Seoul!

Pics from the weekend…

Friday, November 25, 2011

the daily(ish)

We don’t normally get cash advances anymore and for good reason.  It isn’t safe to have so much money and I feel like a drug dealer every Friday when I’m paying the hotel bill…


Flashback Friday

Our weekend in Jordan reigns as one of our most loved weekends of the past 3 years.  We were living in Tunisia that summer, in the time just before the world was watching this small Northern African country.  We took an extra day and met up with some of the team from Egypt for one very hot, but also very, very cool weekend. 
With everything going on in this region of the world now, I’m even more grateful we got to go when we did…
Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Jules had to take a vacation day for us to make the trip work. We left on Thursday and arrived very late that evening after a layover in Istanbul. We met up with the guys from the Egypt team after breakfast the next morning and set off for Petra.

Jordan’s crown jewel and most visited site, Petra is on every “must-see before you die” list. It was built over 2000 years ago by the Nabataeans, an ancient Arab tribe, who controlled the region’s trade routes. It is massive, it is astonishing, it is laden with jaw-dropping beauty and mystique.

You begin your journey with a decent walk to the As-Siq, the main entrance to Petra. The As-Siq is a narrow and deep gorge with walls soaring over 250 feet tall and is about three-quarters of a mile long. The formations, the patterns, the colors- it is truly other-worldly in its beauty.…

As you reach the end of the As-Siq you get your first glimpse of Petra’s most famous monument, the Treasury…

It was originally a tomb built in the 1st century for an important Nabataean king and later was used as a temple. It is beauty carved out of beauty…

After the Treasury you continue on through the street of facades, to the theater and colonnaded street. Everywhere you turn you are blown away by the awesomeness that is the remains of this once thriving city…

We had all agreed if time permitted that we would try to make our way to the Monastery. I knew from reviews and Frenchie that the climb up was intense. Taking my ankle, the Wife’s newly painful heel, our empty stomachs and dehydrated bodies into consideration we hired donkeys to take us to the top. It halved our journey time to only 20 minutes and had I not been busy steering my donkey from the edge of a cliff and from taking out other tourists I would have taken photos. Apologies to the one lady I didn’t see who got the full-throttle donkey head-butt.

We still had a bit of a hike up to get to the top after the donkey’s dropped us off. After feeling like I couldn’t take another steep step, I knew we had made the right decision to take the donkeys. We also made the right decision to go up to the Monastery…

Exhausted we bucked up for the last hike up to get an even better view…

The close to 4 mile walk back was tough. I’m so glad we got to see the Treasury in a different light and without so many tourists…

But, really it was a tough walk back and the 3 hour van ride back to Amman wasn’t too much fun either. HOWEVER- it was so worth it. It was all so worth it and I would have driven twice as far and walked twice the distance to see this incredible place.

Saturday we visited the city of Madaba, which is known for its mosaics. Unfortunately, we had no idea where any of them were located so we only saw the one of the holy land located in a little Greek Orthodox Church. We then went to Mt. Nebo. Of epic biblical importance, this is where Moses first saw the promise land as well as where he died. The site is maintained by an order of Franciscan monks and also contains some large and impressive mosaics, a small museum and a church. During winter days when there’s no haze you can see all the way to Jerusalem. With it being summer there wasn’t much of a view and the church was closed for repair, so our trip up was fairly short-lived.
We then made our way down to the Dead Sea. When I say down, I mean down- the Dead Sea is the lowest point in the world. It is also 4 times saltier than our oceans, hence the “dead” part. Nothing but a few microorganisms can actually survive in it.

The real fascination with the Dead Sea, or at least our interest in going, is that you cannot sink. The hypersalinic water is so viscous you just bob like a balloon on top. Really. It was so bizarre to be able to stay afloat with no effort whatsoever.

Look Mom, no hands!! Or feet!!

You had to make a bit of an effort to even get your legs down from the surface, but once down there you could literally stand in the water. It’s a wild experience and even more so when we got into the pool and sank like stones.
The guys had to leave for Egypt that evening, so after an early dinner we said our goodbyes. It’s always so strange saying goodbye, not knowing if you’ll see each other again until January.

We were up way before the sun on Sunday to catch our two flights back to Tunisia. Only 2 weeks left before we are Europe bound! This weekend we’re keeping our feet on the ground and driving south to a beach resort town here in Tunisia. I’ve got to get some sun on these legs- they haven’t seen the light of day since we left Costa Rica.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

the daily(ish)

Random drunk guy at dinner the other night who came over to toast with us…very drunk guy at dinner

He was pretty excited to practice his English with us, but was quickly dragged away by a concerned friend.  Thanks, concerned friend.  Thanks.