This is such a hard thing for us to do. To list the best or worst experiences, countries, cities, etc. is like trying to list a year’s worth of your favorite foods. The complexity and variety of a year's places or experiences can’t be boiled down to a list so easily. So, we’ve done our best to provide a few lists that reflect some of the highlights and lowlights of the trip. The items in the lists are in no particular order.
The links below link to corresponding dispatches or keywords on the site.
Favorite Countries Overall
Japan New Zealand Thailand Italy Holland Sri Lanka ( Norway ) Lofoten Islands ( Russia Siberia) Hong Kong Portugal
- Riverboarding in
Queenstown, New Zealand
- Elephant Training in
- Driving the Lofoten Islands in the Arctic Circle, Norway
- Trans-Siberian Railway
- Ger Camping in
- Franz Josef Glacier Hike
- Tokyo's Tsukiji Seafood Market
- Riding the Bullet Trains in
- Sumo Wrestling Tournament, Tokyo, Japan
, Mt Kanchenjunga Sunrise at Tiger Hill, India 6 Days Down China's Yangtze River
- Worlds End,
Horton Plains, Sri Lanka
- Overnight Doubtful Sound Cruise, New Zealand
- Swimming with Wild Dolphins in Kaikoura, New Zealand
- Dog Sledding in
Banff, Alberta, Canada Rome, Italy by motorcycles with Robin and Giovanni Eating Baby Ducks in Cambodia with Mongkol
- Surprising Lee's Parents on Their 50th Anniversary
- One Whole Day for a Plane Ticket in Singapore
- Losing Our Phone in
- Ruining Our Camera at the Great Barrier Reef
Attempted Scam by Taxi Guy in Hanoi, Vietnam
- The Road to
- Sachi the Stinger Magnet
- Lee's Shoulder Dislocating in New Zealand
- No Hotel in
- Dealing with Street Hawkers in India
- Minibus Ride from Vang Vieng to Vientiane, Laos
- 9 hour bus ride Sihanoukville to Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Da Lat, Vietnam
- Hot Boxing in
- The Quickest Sickness in
- Rental Vehicle Broken into in
Tokyo, Japan Barcelona, Spain Wellington, New Zealand , The Amsterdam Netherlands Hong Kong Mumbai, India Lisbon, Portugal Osaka, Japan Venice, Italy Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Hanoi and Saigon,
Vietnam Copenhagen, Denmark
- Luang Prabang,
- Prague, Czech Republic
We've heard interesting responses when I tell people that I'm excited about my first visit to Los Angeles. Among them: "Eh, its not that great", "don't bother", and simply "why?"
While LA has problems, I think residents and former residents just like to pick on the city in a self depricating sort of fashion. I am excited to have the LA experience, freeways and all. Even Sachi thinks that is a little weird.
I'm not interested in LA because of the celebrities, movie studios, the Sunset Strip or the Mann's Chinese Theater. I want to see those things, but what draws me to LA is the fame (or infamy) of the city itself. On a worldwide scale, Los Angeles is very well known and to many foreigners we met, one of the most coveted destinations in the US. We were both surprised to hear this as Americans would likely suggest alternatives to LA for a visit. Like me, they are interested in LA because it's famous more than beautiful, interesting or atmospheric. It is famously American.
I've run into this feeling many times on the trip - I want to see a city, a building, a sculpture not because I value it, or can even appreciate it, but because it is so famous. An example is Michaelangelo's "David", which is an amazing work of art, but one whose world wide fame supercedes its workmanship in my eyes. If you strip away all the fame, the experience of seeing the David is less exciting. In this way, fame is not a factor of quality, but quantity. I want to experience it because I've heard about it so many times.
And so it is for LA and me. The fame of the place itself, its problems, its beauty, its freeways, materialism and culture - it's interesting to me not because of its quality, but how much a part of the American experience it represents. Good or bad, LA is an experience I want to have.
“The graffiti people should be hanged” – that is what I heard from a business owner in
And so it is for a lot of
I have enough of a counter-culture lean to like some forms of graffiti. It is an art form and there are incredibly talented people who do their work with aerosol cans and public walls. Unfortunately, these are the exceptions. 99% of the graffiti we’ve seen is not an attempt at art, but what appears to be late-night scribbles by disaffected individuals that wish to state publicly their discontent with politics, football, the environment, their personal lives, etc. This is the sad and ugly graffiti that plagues
There is of course, a beautiful side as we saw in
Jef Aerosol, in
A few others struck me too.
…eliminate dirt, litter, graffiti, animals' excrement and excessive noise from domestic and vehicular music systems in European cities, along with other concerns over urban life.
The sad reality from our perspective is that graffiti appears to be taking over the walls of
Sometimes though, graffiti has a way of stating something that just wouldn't be as appropriate any other way...
Grilled fish and local cheese – that’s what we heard we should experience from people like Nancy White and local Bev Traynor before visiting
Most of the atmosphere of
Alas, we did take a lot of photos and these are some of our favorites…
This is a panorama taken while looking down a long set of stairs Lisbon Castle:
Albert Einstein is HUGE is Portugal...
These kids lost their ball on this balcony, so they pushed the little guy up to get it and let him dangle until he dropped. He was not happy with them.
One of our last photos from Lisbon as we waited for the Aerobus to whisk us away to the Airport at Restauradores.
Sometimes things just come together in the most timely ways. Yesterday we stopped by an Internet cafe in Lisbon to check in on the mid-term US elections (Yay!) and found an email from our friend in France, JF Groff. JF had contacted his friend Andre in Lisbon (whom he met at a tech conference) and alerted him of our arrival. In turn, Andre contacted us with an offer to get together in his hometown. I got Andre's phone number and within a few hours we went from being alone and wandering to experiencing Lisbon with Andre and his girlfriend Batixa in their 4 door Smart car.
From their favorite pizzeria to gourmet desserts and a bit of nighttime sightseeing, Lisbon became a different place for us - and all we did was check email.
Andre and Beatrice, thanks so much for taking the time to hang out with us for a night - we had a blast and count you as great friends. I'll remember too that Portuguese dogs say "Ão! Ão!"
I never thought about it during the first day there, but
We were wandering and visibly excited (I’m sure) to be experiencing one of the most atmospheric cities on the trip.
These cities are not practical for cars and thankfully, there were few. It’s rare to see a car parked within the walls and only regulated commercial cars run about consistently. This makes the cities very pedestrian-friendly and protective of their 12th century buildings.
After a day of wandering, Sachi mentioned that if you looked at the city’s appearance from a modern perspective,
I soon realized that
Plaster crumbles and paint fades. Stone pavement covers nearly the whole surface as life finds a foothold among windowsills.
Rusted horse ties, broken street lights and powerful doors adorn a city preserved.
The city leaves us both comparing the ways in which historical cities and sites are managed.
Compare this to many of
Sorry to rush into this, but Venice is fairly self-explanatory...not off the beaten track by any means, but one of my favorite places. This was my third visit and Sachi's first, so I tried to play guide as best I could. here are the photos...
Yup, that's UPS - and DHL has boats too...
Most people agree that Venice, Italy is sinking, but it's only about a few millimeters a year. The real problem is that the water is rising more and more each year. We were surprised to arrive and find that a great deal of the city was inaccessible due to floodwaters.
This short video is not our smoothest effort, but does show you what was happening...
This article has more info.
I described Amsterdam to my Mom as "A bastion of hedonism". Sure, it has beautiful canals, nice people, amazing sights, about a billion bicycles and a ton of charm, but what is truly impressive about Amsterdam and what differentiates it on a worldwide scale is the liberal policies of the Dutch government concerning drugs and prostitution.
For instance, we stayed in a guesthouse in the Red Light District and within two blocks of our guesthouse, anyone with the money can legally buy "soft drugs" like marijuana, mushrooms and hashish in small quantities and sexual services from a host of licensed prostitutes who display their wares in large windows under red lights. I suppose you could also see some music and complete the hedonists triumverate of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.
The view from our place:
Coming from George W.'s America, this all seems quite surreal. Surely these things must be causing all sorts of social ills. As it turns out, the Dutch policy is quite calculated and appears to be surprisingly healthy for the country compared to other EU countries.
Most policymakers in the Netherlands believe that if a problem has proved to be unsolvable, it is better to try controlling it instead of continuing to enforce laws with mixed results.This means that the sale of sex and drugs are regulated and taxed, ensuring as much safety as possible and that the government can benefit from the revenue. Further, it means that the government can exert control when it is needed. But, what about drug abuse? Doesn't the availability increase the instances of abuse?
Apparently not. Through studies completed across the EU since 2000, The Netherlands ranks 7th in the use of marijuana - after Cyprus Spain, the UK, France, Germany and Italy. The prevalance is similar for other types of drugs.
For the visitor to Amsterdam, these elements of the city can be surprising and intimidating - we talked to some people who would not step foot into the Red Light District. However, I think it is more surprising that the city doesn't have the overall feel of a "bad neighborhood" with a high frequency of drugs, sex shops and prostitutes. There is a ragged and depressing element to the Red Light District, but I don't think it is much different than any other city - it is just that tourists are exposed and invited to participate in activities that would otherwise be managed in dark alleys and controlled by criminals instead of government agencies.
The Dutch policy seems based on the idea that people are going to do what they are going to do, regardless of the government or the potential for punishment. And if this is true, their only tools are regulation, taxation and tolerance. It makes sense to me and the Dutch folks we talked to about it.