Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thailand. The land of smiles

During this entire time, I have really been wanting to go to Thailand. Why you may ask? Well ask anyone who has been here. It's a beautiful place with wonderful people. Sure you get some scamming schmucks once and a while, but that usually in Bangkok. It's a major metropolitan, of course there are gonna be some, but what major city doesn't have them?

We started our journey there, in Bangkok. After arriving to the airport and catching a taxi from departures (no taxi fee!), we headed to Phaya Thaisky train station. Our driver was kind enough to drop us off right on front of the road we needed, not just the station. We would have been completely lost if he hadn't. So we walked down the road and looking like two lost backpackers (again) some woman laughed when she saw us and told us "go that way, turn left, you will see it." Obviously we weren't the first lost looking backpackers to be seen in these parts.

We found our hostel relatively quickly after and were greeted warmly by a very enthusiastic Thai girl named Geng. She helps run the place. She showed us the place (it's 3 floors. A bottom common room, toilets/showers rooms, and a fridge; middle is the sleeping room (10beds total), third has her room and the volunteers rooms plus a small outdoor patio).

We put our bags down and realized we were starving. A girl named Shannon was there and said she would show us food street and we could find food there. And boy did we find food! Stalls with fried corn balls, vegetarian galore, curries, BBQ meats, green papaya salad and more! Tom and I realized we hit the jackpot, big time.

We found a place that had food spread out, so we could see what she had, for 30 baht (about 1 USD) we had a full portion of rice and green curry. The food was so good that Tom and I came back later at the end of the night to get more food! And if you become a regular or if someone remembers you, expect to be treated well, our plates this tine around was 25 baht.

**Fast forward**

Just a side note, everything in Thailand is reliant on faith. I know people who don't believe in faith, but when you hand someone a ticket, you hope that they will bring you to the right place. You need faith when the taxi looks full and people are standing off the end that you won't die during your ride. Just now, a taxi was "full" so this couple did not want to get on. There would be no more taxis for the next hour but they said they would wait. With some shifting around, they both ending up joining the taxi and they were sitting. Sure the taxi was sinking in the back, almost dragging on the ground but these taxi drivers know why their doing and how many people it can hold. My ride was 2 seconds to the end of the pier since my minibus was there, but, still, you have to have a little faith.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

China part 3- Hong Kong and Macau

I was pretty excited to go to Hong Kong, we decided to do a little splurging and stay at a hotel on the beach. It was a big room, a grand view of the water and a comfy bed and out own shower! Oh and did I mention there was also a large swimming pool?

The arrival to the airport was a breeze and when we made it through, a gentleman in a suit greeted us in perfect English and asked which hotel we were staying at. Unsure of how to respond, ( we were used to scams by now in China) the man whipped out an iPad and started looking at all the hotels. We told him ours the gold coast, and he told us that although there is no direct route the easiest is to get to the bus station and pick up our shuttle there. He gave us some maps and sent us to the main express train queue. We bought our tickets using a credit card and realized we needed to exchange money. We asked the guy again and he told us that there was a exchange center through the doors. Ge also told us in case we miss our shuttle which bus to take.

When we went to exchange our money, the woman told us that she didn't take commisson and that she could exchange Czech money! I was so excited! I had a lot left over, so I quickly pulled it out. We then asked about Mongolian dollars and she was confused that theydidnt take RMBs, but they did not. She was also confused that Beijing couldn't exchange them either. We told her we were too.

But we got to our hotel via train and bus, and well it was super nice.

There was a shuttle to the main city from our hotel that left every hour, it was about 35 hkd or about 5usd one way. And it was usually a nice shuttle bus too. Once we had an older one, but compared to the bus we had to get from the train station to the hotel, it was still nicer.

Hong Kong city is a busy place filled with lots of people, hawkers, and fancy shopping areas, like Dolce & Gabbana, Coach, Prada etc on every rd. I bought some clothes at H&M, a cheaper fashion store.

We went to the river one night when they were doing an organized light show on the building to music. It was really remarkable and impressed many people. During our time there, we also took the tram up to Victoria peak, visited the Walk of Stars and relaxed.

We had dinner with one of Tom's old business worker and his friend and did we feast! We had a hot pot with spicy and clear broth and so much freaking food! It was so delicious and we were super full! Afterwards, we found a small store/shop where we had dessert- gelatinous turtle shell. You add a bit of honey on top and it was sweet, earthy, pungent, and a bit bitter. My stomach was overwhelmed but we survived.

Hong Kong was expensive though and we burned holes in our pickets without even knowing it. Dinner would usually end up 100 usd for both of us- including one night when we had 4 beers, fries, onion rings, wings, and a Caesar salad. And with guesthouses being expensive and in noisy locations, we opted for another hotel, closer in the city, to stay at. It was wonderful though, called the Mini Hotel, it was a tall building but with only 3 rooms to a floor. The rooms were large considering where we were. But you could tell we were in a nice area as the Bently car shop was across the street from us.

We also visited the botanical/zoological garden which had monkeys and birds, alligators and herbs all around the park. We also saw the big Buddha which was another tram ride to a different part of the area. It was really cool as you could see on the side of the mountains were grave sites.

There was also a giant freaking spider that was eating a butterfly. When we came back 45 minutes later it was eaten. Gahhhhhhhh! Gross.

We took the ferry to Macau, an hour by speedboat. We waited for our shuttle for about 45 minutes- as we had just missed the previous one- and got to our next hotel. It wasn't the cleanest, but it got the job done. We walked around, ate egg tarts, drank cheap portugese wine, saw a broken down cathedral, watched live international music, got drunk with phillipininos, walked around some more and of course gambled. I lost all my money, but Tom was winning, then losing, then he won again! Needless to say he bought dinner that night.

But that's all I'm gonna write about for these two places. We spent a LOT of money, but enjoyed ourselves. I really liked Hong Kong and wouldn't mind trying to get an expat job there. :)

Next up Thailand, the land of smiles!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

China pt 2: Shanghai and cheap eats and jewelry

We took one of the bullet trains from Beijing to Shanghai, in business class as the economy seats were all full from everyone going home from National Day week holiday. But we got a free lunch pack, which included some tasty and interesting things. One was some peanuts, a rice crispy treat but not, and dried spicy fish which were actually pretty good! They had a speedometer which told us our exact speed which was 306km/hr or 307. Either way, we were zooming past everything!

Getting off the train in Shanghai was much easier that in Beijing and people there knew English! It might make me sound like a stupid, ignorant American, but getting help in a language you know is much easier than trying to mime it out to someone who doesn't.

We again got off the subway fine, but we managed to get lost, yet again. Even asking for directions multiple times. We ended up going to a hotel to see if they knew, and the guy at reception told us the info we had wasn't Chinese.... And it was off Tom's tablet from their website. He was kind to us and wrote the adress an name down in Chinese and told us a cab would get us there easily. We walked outside, flagged a cab and showed the driver. Shaking his head, we were lost again as he drove away. Finally, we asked a well dressed Chinese couple and the boyfriend, who knew English, was determined to help us find the spot. After walking another 20 minutes with them, we made it!! We thanked them graciously and he gave his card to Tom.

Rock & Wood hostel is a very new hostel, with outdoor seating, a koi pond, a bar/restaurant and many beds. Our first night we ate there, met a kid named Simon from Cape Town, S. Africa and Raphael from Germany. Tom met some musicians from Costa Rica and I met some young men from China as well.

Tom and Simon went out for some street food that night, and I went to bed early. The street food where they went ended up being our go to food stop, and they gave us some good discounts in the end. It was an open barbecue, and you could choose what you wanted. So they had sticks of raw meats, vegetables, tofu, bread, seafood including squid and whole fishes. It was sooo good! And next to it was a noodle cart where I got lo mein for 5 RMB which is about a buck.

We ate very well, very cheaply there, I don't have photos from it but I'll steal some from Tom.

In Shanghai, we didn't do too much, but we also found the Pearl Market, where they have EVERYTHING YOU NEED CHEAP! Tom and I bought some jewelry, me for my mom, my sister, and myself (2 pair of earrings, one jade, one grey pearls), and Tom bought a really unique pearl pendant for his mom. The woman was SaSa I believe and she was very nice, straight forward, and very pregnant. I will definitely go back to her and if any of you go to Shanghai, buy jewelry from her too, she's the best.

We also walked around their version of Time square and went to the Bund which is a walk along the water. It was really beautiful and they would synchronize the lights on the building with other buildings. Also the wall on the side were covered in flowers. This very English influenced city also had many old European styled building as well, and with the contrast of the modern and the old style Chinese buildings, it was quite unique.

The only day we got up early to explore was when we went to see the World Expo from 2010. And unlike the Olympic area in Beijing from 2008, this place was a ghost town. Seriously creepy. Everything was gated or fenced up, grass and weeds were over running plots of old parking lots and even construction crews were snoozing. It was the only place in Shanghai where you could cross the street without having to look either way. We walked around, found the Polish building and left. We also triend to get into an art museum that was the only thing that looked alive but it was closed that day to the public.

On the other side of the river is the Chinese building which they are making into "the Tate of China" but that won't be til 2014.

I think that my favorite parts of China was actually the ROCs- Hong Kong and Macau.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

China Pt 1-Being a real life celebrity in Beijing

Getting off the train was a breeze. Finding a bank to get some RMBs to get onto the metro was almost impossible. We spent a solid hour walking around teh busy station area (which included a bank that was under construction so the ATMs had no money and a few other cash machines out of money) until we found one in the main ticket area that had 2 working ATMs, out of 4. Also it didn't help that very few people know English.

Navigating the metro was easy, due to Beijing 2008 Olympics, but we ended up spending another 40 minutes trying to find our hostel! We finally asked three girls if they could help us and luckily they didn't try to scam us, but they did giggle a lot and had funny work uniforms on. They got us to the hostel (as the directions on the hostel websites are wrong) and we thanked them.

When we got to the hostel, they told us there was a mix up in our booking (even though I emailed them a few days before to confirm and we made reservations WAYYYY in advance), so we couldn't stay there, but they had spaces available for us at a neighbor guest house. So after walking another 15 minutes, we got to the next place (9 Dragon House). There was one other kid in the room when we walked in. His name was Rob and he was touring Asia as well. He was 2 weeks in, and started in Hong Kong and worked his way North and then he was going West and back South. Tom and I decided to go to Ti amen Square that evening to see what the festivites were for National Day.

Holy Shit. It was fracking busy. I would say that there was a bazillion people there and it would only be a half lie, as all the international tourists were ther PLUS the national tourist. Think of Washington D.C on the Fourth of July, or Paris on July 14th or Lewes on Guy Fawkes day. CRAZYYYYYYYYYY!

What was crazier though was that people were looking at us and "secretly" taking photos of us. When we started to look around, we realized that we were some of the few non Chinese people there. Intrigued, we continued "walking," took photos with chairman mao, and then some older woman asked Tom and I if I could have my photo taken with her daughter. Of course I said yes an she and Tom snapped some pictures. Now, unless you're a celebrity, you might not know what it's like, but its weird. Its weird being in a place where you are a complete minority and then people want their picture with you. For some, it might have been their first time seeing a tall, white man with a big beard or an Indian girl. We had our photos taking a few (like 15) more times in total during our time in Beijing.

The same thing happened the next day with our friend Rob when we all went to the summer palace, but we also had some girls from S Korea take photos of us as well. Rob hadn't believed us when we had told him that morning but he laughed and was a bit unnerved as well. I kept telling him that he should pretend he's a famous photographer! As I was pretending I was an actress.

That night we went to the Olympic center and unlike some of the old ones, this one was still booming and looking good. We got some more pictures taken with tourists but we couldn't go inside because of a Chinese opera going on. It wa definitely a high light.

The Great Wall is just an Alright wall, as again, it was super busy! Along with every tourist spot we went too.

The food there was great! Some things a little over priced, but otherwise, rob, Tom and I had some pretty good meals! And we had some cut Peking duck which was salty, fatty, and crispy.

Beijing was more uneventful for me, this isn't to say not to go, but just don't go during the busy times and maybe know some Chinese as well.

Train number 4. Again.

Sorry for the delay on posts. I had a few done on my iPod, but the internet isn't working on it. So I will be re-writing them for your convenience :)

Going back on the train again was a breeze. Tom and I had our ramen noodle soups, some hot chocolate, and knew how to pack our things in our small packs and the rest in the large ones. This time around, we were staying with two guys; one from Germany and one from Croatia, but they both worked in Germany. Having them be the 2nd and 3rd engineers from Germany made it clear to Tom (and myself) that the USA rips off people vacation wise. Germans get around 42 days of vacation a year, the approximate amount if you work 5 days a week, every other week. They were really nice to talk to, (the German slept for most of the trip), but the Croatian had gone through the Yugoslavian war, but it also meant that he spoke Yugoslavian, English, German and Spanish! As he was married to a woman from Spain. Pretty much he made me feel stupid for only knowing French (and not very well at that).

The trip was uneventful. The Mongolian boarder patrol were very nice again, and the Chinese were an in-between of the Russian and Mongolian, not mean but not kind- just strict. The only eventful thing that occured was that I thre up at the Chinese boarder due to my soup - which had too much msg for my body's liking. They closed the toilets at the time, but I was able to grab a bag and make it to the in-between part of the train. The Chinese conductors were very nice and gave me a cup to drink some hot water for my belly. At the boarder, they also gave us free meal tickets for the train the next day, breakfast and lunch.

I was sleep during the free breakfast the next morning, but the boys took advantage of my meal ticket and received an extra egg and something else. tom brought back the bread and jam for me. Lunch was only two hours later, so I didn't mind missing it. By lunch time, I was hungry again.

Lunch consisted of sauteed cabbage with ham, pork meatballs withs auce, and rice. For a free lunch it was pretty decent. We first sat with a guy from Israel, whom we chatted with for a bit, but he was almost done when we sat down and with the full car, he left a bit after he was done. Next two Germans sat with us, and when they recieved their food they were asking in German to themselves if they can get forks and how do they use the chopsticks. Tom being the multi-lingual man he is answered in English that it wasn't too hard and showed them. We chatted with them a bit (they did the full trip from Moscow), but we went back to our car to pack up so we didn't forget anything.

It was when we got to China when things got interesting.

Train tips continued:

Tip 7.
Stomach medicine.
You eat a lot of new and different things while traveling, especially on the road. Thankfully, I brought some Imodium with me, but some Tums would have been nice as well, and they provide calcium which you don't get a lot of during traveling, especially in Russia, when you're getting off and eating the ladies foods, you don't know what in it and you don't want to get stuck at a stop and you need to go number 2.

Tip 8.
Know some polite words in the native language. I had written a few words down while in Russia for China and it was only three I could remember. I will write them here phonetically as i cannot recall how to spell them and also you will know how to say them too. Shea shea-thank you. Knee how- Hello. Gambay- bottom's up (finish your drink). knowing thank you was helpful, especially when the conductors helped me when I was sick.

Tip 9.
Be open to meeting new people.
The train is a great way to socialize and network. I didn't network as well as I could have, but I think from all the itching I had, I was self conscious. It's weird to talk to someone who is always scratching or has bumps all over them. I know I would be cautious: pthey could have fleas, bed bugs, or spreadable poison oak or ivy. It's like when people cough a lot, you want to be friendly to them, but you don't want their germs. I was still friendly though, even when I didn't feel like it. Tom was a life saver, and was socializing with everyone. I could par-take in some of the conversation and then leave if I wanted and I didn't feel bad.

So the train trip is over. When we arrived in Beijing, it was Oct 1st, National Day, which is up next.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fast Forward a month....

I am soooooooo sorry that I have been so shitty at updating this blog. I am trying my hardest to get posts up, and making more of an effort since learning that some of my international friends are reading as well (I love you Mom, but I feel like you are required to read this :D)

But I wanted to give everyone a quick update of what's going on now, at the present, not from Oct 1st.

Tom and I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand yesterday and we are staying Siam Journey Guesthouse. It has ten beds, a small sitting area, some computes and internet. Last night everyone from the house plus some other travelers came over and we hung out, played card games, and drank some beers. Tom and I found some delicious Thai food with the help of a girl named Shannon, who is now currently going to the Islands (Phuket etc). She studies at St. Lawrence but is studying abroad in Chiang Mai. We had a long conversation with her and Elizabeth last night about Vermont. We also met another kid from South Africa, James, who was in the same class (literally, both in Architecture with 60 students in their class) as another kid we had just met in Shanghai. It truly is a small world.

But I must go, Tom and I are going to Chinatown as there is a Vegetarian Festival. I think it will be nice since we have been eating so much meat and heavy things lately.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mongolia. Day 3. The last day.

Oh I forgot to mention!

That night, as we were getting ready for bed, the owner came into our yurt and apologized for his behavior. He spoke in very good English how he had told the group not to take off their coats or put them on around the horses as it scares them. He then showed us a scar on his arm from when a horse kicked him and he broke his arm. He got angry because her coat scared my horse and he didn't want (or need) me to get injured, especially this far out. He then asked where we were from and told us how he worked and traveled around Asia and Europe. Then he left. I thought it was really nice that he did that. And in the morning we discovered he apologized to the group too and they got a 1.5 liter bottle of Fanta.

Breakfast in the morning was 2 bags of white bread, apple cinammon jam (very tasty and made me miss VT) and TEA! I woke up third, Tom and Korea were already eating. I'm not sure if it was because they were feeling nice or the liked us, but breakfast was a nice change from what we heard.

After we ate, the wife drove us (in their fancy Toyota land cruiser) to turtle rock, and it does kinda look like a turtle. There were all sorts of tourists and people offering horse rides. There was also a camel hanging out! Korea and I petted it and took photos with it and all three of us took photos with the turtle rock. When we got back, our ride back was there, so Tom, myself and the couples headed back to UB guesthouses. When we got back, Tom and I dropped our stuff, repacked and went out in search of food. We walked over an hour and found a Korean restaurant. They spoke no English (and us no Mongolian) so we randomly picked some stuff, and enjoyed one of the best meals on the trip (this was also before China).

We didn't do much afterwards, just headed back and went to bed early as our train left at 6 the next morning. The guesthouse provided transportation to the train station and with a packed car (Five people, packs and backpacks) we got to the station to begin the last trip on the trans-sierian rail.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mongolia. Day 2. In a yurt.

**please note: if you don't know what a yurt is, please look it up. I could explain it to you but it would be better if you had a picture. And I know you can since you're using interwebs. Thanks!!***

After being rudely awaken, we got packed and headed down. Since they had storage at the guest house, we were able to leave our big, bulky packs and just take our small bags. "Pack warmly" we were warned. I however, being a VTer, did not think it could get THAT cold, and also, I didn't pack too many warm clothes - I was planning for SE Asia and a summer in Australia! But still, I packed all the warm clothes I had. Backpacks filled, we headed off into the Mongolian national park called Gorkhi-Terelj national park. It is known for it's turtle rock, a giant boulder that was naturally formed.

The trek out was long and bumpy, our driver knowing the way and which road it was better to take at times- the destroyed "paved" road or the dirt road. He didn't have a fancy car, a Nissan sedan of some kind I believe, but we made it there alive. We snoozed for most of the trip, but stopped at a store to pick up some food. "do we really need it?" we asked the driver. "maybe," he replied. "You don't get a lot of food, maybe some beers and snacks." vouching out of the beers, we picked up some chocolate, snacks, and some juices and then headed back on the trail. It was interesting to see the road towards the park in comparison to the city. Road stands that showed hunting eagles and vultures, some with huge wingspans! I'm talking like 8+ feet from tip to tip! Also, instead of houses, there were yurt; some behind fences of metal, some in open fields, usually one to four in an area. It was dirty too, not like Russia dirty, but piles of trash, clumped in areas, some large, some small. It made us put in perspective what the driver was talkig about with rich and poor Mongolia.

When we arrived to the main entrance of te park, there was a small village of brightly colored houses. It was beautiful and strange all at once as we had been passing the the yurt communities. We drove for another 35-45 minutes (total time about 2.5-3 hours) on dirt roads and through some cows, including some that didn't want to move even after honking, but we arrived alive and well. There were 3 people leavin when we arrived and we had a few minutes to chat with them. We asked about what to do, if it got cold and how was the food. They informe us that unless we liked to hike, there wasn't much to do, besides the horseback riding but that was only for 2 hours. Then they asked if we had sleeping bags from the guesthouse? Confused, they told us that since it got really cold at night, we would need more than the one blanket supplied (we took four more from the other unoccupied beds that night). They too told us the food was not a lot and it was good we brought some (just some yogurts and chips). The kid who came with us had a HUGE box of food and drinks, which really worried us.

So after they left, Tom and myself explored and the other kid (he was from Korea and the owner called him Korea so that will be his name from now on) explored as well. Tom went to the top of a few, including one which had a cave and in the entrance of the cave was a goat carcass, mostly eaten and some large paw prints. Needless to say he didn't stay at that peak very long. I, on the other-hand, decided to wander arpud lower, taking some artistic (i think) pictures of flowers and the hills/mountains. We did that for about 3 ish hours. Then it was lunch. Expecting the worst (I was thinking cheese sandwiches on white bread with MAYBE a piece of lettuce-that was our lunches in India), we were pleasantly surprised to find out lunch was French fries, rice cucumber slices and a fatty ox stew, which was really pretty good, especially after walking around all morning. Another car came and four more people joined us, or rather we joined them as they had been there for the last few days. We talked during lunch about ourselves and where we had been. 3 of them were from France and one was from Poland. Upon knowledge, Tom started speaking Polish and they chatted about stuff. I chatted with the other three a little and learned that one of the guys and the Polish girl were headed to India to work, as he had an French teaching position there. I told him a bit about what I experienced in Kolkatta, about how the people were nice but there is a lot of poverty. I told him that "Slumdog Millionaire" was a good representation. He was surprised, but happy to know beforehand than rather be completely overwhelmed.

We had been told earlier that day that we would horseback ride at 5, so when the two couples said that they were going at 3, I was a little jealous. So at 3 they went down to the horse area and started getting ready for their ride, when the owner told us that we could go too. We went down and he asked us where Korea was. We didnt know, so we did a quick search for him. His wife just pointed us back down, as we didn't know where he was. So we went without him. He was staying a few days anyways so he could go tomorrow. We headed down and I was unsure if I wanted my rain coat on or not, and as I was starting to unzip it, the owner's son told me coat on. "He knows better than I do, as he's always riding here," I thought as I mounted my horse.

Now, Mongolian horses aren't full sized horses, but are a bit bigger than a pony. So when getting on, the guys all looked oversized on them, their legs hanging down low. I got the owners horse, as he wasn't coming, jut his son. His was bigger than the rest, so I felt tall in comparison to everyone (who were also taller than me). We headed off around the park, going nowhere in particular. This was Tom's first time on a horse and his was a frisky one, always wanting to go fast. Mine was pretty mellow, trotting when I asked it too than walking. When we got about halfway, there was big field. Then most of the horses wanted to go fast. Yelling "Chou Chou" helps the horses go. The son had a young 2 year old who wanted to gallop and gallop he did! We were all envious and then Tom whized by me! He was galloping too! I remembered from when I horseback rode that I never galloped, in 2 years because I kept switching trainers or the rings were not big enough. And here's Tom galloping first time! Mind you, they don't tell you how to ride, how to hold the reins, how to hold yourself, or how to place your feet. They literally let you get on and go.

Soon I was galloping too, but my horse was in control, not me, but I got him to slow down as he seemed he wanted to go one way and not the other. Halfway, 4 people switched horses, their slow horses for fast ones, so Tom had a slower ride back. My horse wanted to get back, so I let him canter (not super fast, but not slow) as that was the most comfortable ride for me. I had a big grin on my face when we got back, but as we were dismounting a girl was taking her coat off when I was getting off, and my horse started moving back, as I had a foot in. Thinking I got off wrong, I quickly hopped off and backed away. The owner grabbed his horse from me and started yelling at the girl. "I tell you keep coat on you keep on. I tell you off you keep off. I told you no take off!" he kept yelling and the girl (being french) started talking back in French. He told her "sorry my English no good, but you no listen!" and he threw the saddle on the ground (and by saddle I mean a piece of wood, a pillow, an some straps). Tom and I knew better than to stay and so we walked away, as the son was yelling to his dad in Mongolian.

After the ride, Tom and the couples took a steep hike up, while I decided to meander around the location. I ended up hiking pretty far up- there was some snow on the ground in shaded areas! My hike was laxidasical though, as I would hike to a point, look around, sit and think, then walk to another point. It's nice to have some Alone time, especially when you've been traveling with someone or staying around people for a while.

About a half hour later, dinner was served, similar to before, but with bread and potatoes instead of rice and fries and a different type of stew. It was again, really good after a long horse ride and hike. I was late due to wandering, but the sun was setting over the hills. Tom told me he ran down the mountain so we could watch the sunset together, but when he got down, I wasn't there. But we still got too anyways.

We asked the couples about breakfast and they told us it was just hot water (no tea) and bread and jam. Tom and I unfortunately forgot our tea, but we had bought juice at the store. It started getting dark and with no campfire, we all headed to our yurts (it was about 7-730). Korea, Tom and I stayed in one and the other four in another. Tom and I prepared our bed with blankets (we shared a twin in sake of staying warm) as Korea tended to the small wood stove. When we went outside to brush our teeth, it was an amazing view of the valley as the moon was full. When we walked up to the small hill behind our yurt, you could see the other communities of yurts by the glow of their chimney; just small dots across the landscape.

Then we went to bed, and by golly, it was fracking cold.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mongolia. Day 1

We arrived in Mongolia at 6 in the morning, way before anyone or anything was open. We hitched a ride with Judith and Markus as they had a driver waiting for them. The driver spoke Mongolian, English and German! He also drove a nice car (A Lexus). After the two second trip to drop them off, he brought us in town to a cafe that opened at 7. Tom and him chatted for the brief trip, him telling us about how Mongolia is the richest and poorest country. Rich in resources because when the US dollar is low, they can buy nice clothes, cars, and appliances since they can make lots of money. Poor because so many families are not well educated and that there is still some anger in the people from their past. We didn't really experience the anger directly, thankfully, but we did see a brief outburst. Also, we were told by multiple people that we shouldn't go out late at night because it was dangerous.

This became our first couch surfing experience as well! We stayed with Alex and Matt; Alex having grown up in MA so she knew Vt, and Matt was from England. When we met them 2 hours later (the cafe had Internet, something we had been without for a week) so we got to emailing and facebooking. Tom and I chatted with a business man from Indiana who was visiting a firm about public policy on freedom of press. His meeting had been rescheduled with a Mongolian diplomat so he was drinking coffee and waiting. He recognized my American accent and started chatting. It was a nice way to spend the time while we were waiting.

Once they got there, Alex asked if we minded dogs. Obviously, we don't, so saying so she informed us that they were dog sitting their friends puppy, Mongol. She was sooooo cute! I wish I had taken a picture but when I thought to, my iPod was dead and she was about to leave with her owner. But she was a fat beast- her owner feeding her bread and sausages- that looked like a fluffy German Shepard / buramese mountain dog with floppy ears.

The first bit of the day was relaxing, Tom and I got to sort our stuff and shower while Alex and Matt were out and we watched the puppy. Then when they came back, Tom and I walked into the main part of town and to the square. It was open and had large bronze statues of old kings (Huns). We later went to the natural history museum, which was really sad and the the best part was the giant t-Rex fossil statue they had and the Dino eggs. Was it worth the 6 bucks? Kinda. Would I go back? Only to help them upgrade and better translate their English.

We also went to a large indoor food market with Alex later in the day. It smelled like rotten yogurt (which we got to try those delicases later) and explored. After stopping at the state department store (like a mark &spencers or a super target with food, clothes, electronics etc) and picking up some food for dinner, Tom and I wanted to find a place where we could have a traditional yurt tour, preferably with horseback riding. Alex told us that the UB Guesthouse was next door and we could probably set one up with tem. Low an behold we did!! A 1/day/night tour, staying in a yurt, 3 meals AND with 2 hours of horseback riding for $50 bucks each! we signed up right away.

We went back and helped Alex with dinner and played with the puppy. Matt came back from work for a quick dinner before having to go back again. We hung out after dinner, playing with the dog and using the Internet and when Matt got back home, we had some desserts and went to bed. Tom and I had our ride at 9 the next morning an wanted to be prepared.

And by 9 I mean we had someone knock at the door at 7am to tell us the car was at 8 but if we wanted to have breakfast downstairs, it was ok....

Train number 326- Irkutsk, Russia to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

We slept well that night, and when we awoke we had two new travel companions, Judith and Markus from Germany. They had been doing the same trip and with a month as well for their entire holiday, they were planning on staying in Mongolia, doing a tour of the Gobi desert. It wa fun talking with them, and he was a engineer too so he and Tom talked a lot. There were more people on this carriage, including people who were doing a bike trip from Nice, Fr to Beijing. One of the guys however had a dog bite his leg in Russia, which no one was very helpful about, but he had to get stitches an his leg wrapped. The main exciting part of this trip was the 5 hour stop at the russian border and then another 3 at the Mongolian.*** The woman at the Russian boarder is exactly what one would think of: tall, learn, beautiful, but looked like she could kill you in a second. When she was asking about our passports, Judith had to take her glasses off, Markus had to look her on the eyes, and when she said "I'm taking your passports" Markus yelled back " when do we get them back?" definitely a sort of dominatrix thing was going on with her and it made us laugh and be scared all at once.

But 5 hours at one stop, a small, run-downed town in the middle of nowhere. We had to use up some rubles, so we went to the store and bought vodka, and the market and bought candies, cookies, and sweets. My stomach hurts thinking about it-we ate so much! And then it started raining. With the toilets being out of order since we were stopped, we had to run outside in the rain to the dirty toilets. Well more like a hole, toilets on this side of the world are really a hole with a ceramic foot plate around it for your feet. Women have great thighs over here (including Mong, and China).

After playing some games, wandering around and napping, we got moving again. Then we had our 3 hour stop in Mongolia, exchanged our rubles for Mongolian dollars with women, and headed off. The boarder patrol was much nicer than the Russian ones, smiling, saying please and thank you, and being courteous. Their security was very thorough, even taking off part of the ceiling! When that was done, we fell asleep (it was around 10) as we had a 6 am stop for Ulaanbaatar.

***note*** if you decide to do this trip or something of the likes, take the train to Ulan Ude in Russia, and take the bus to Ulaanbaatar from there and pick up the train for Beijing. Ulan Ude has a starving man who has been alive for a long time and he doesn't eat anything. Also the bus takes an hour or two at the boarder, not 8 hours total.

Tip 4.
Barter exchange rates with people at the boarder, and recount your money.
Tom and I decided to change our Russian rubles at the boarder, even though most places says that you will be ripped off. Kind of the case here. Tom exchanged some of his money and got a wicked amazing price, while I lost a hundred rubles in the switch due to wind an confusion. But overall it was a 32-33 Mongolian dollar to the ruble, about the same as the banks, an if my transaction had been right, it would have been 34 and his about 35-36 per. So ask around, and if you go too high, they'll lower it but if you don't ask, you might get ripped off ( she originally offered 30 per, I said 40, we agreed 34).

Tip 5. Hand sanitizer.
See tip 1. It dries quickly, and keeps your hands clean. Or just use some Russian grade vodka, but why waste that on your hands?

Tip 6. Bring a good book or kindle with books.
It doesn't have to be a kindle, but reading material is nice to have, as it means you don't have to always be socializing in your small carriage. I finished my book, and Tom gave one of his away. Trading books is a great way to find something new without having to pay for one.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Irkutsk and Lake Baikal

We arrived in Irkutsk at 4am and shared a cab with another girl to our hostel. Well, after a two hour drive into the middle of nowhere, we arrived, but what I thought was a 24 hour hostel was not. We rang the bell for about a half hour, so we trekked down the hill to the water. Lake Baikal is the largest fresh water lake in the world, larger than the great lakes and Lake Champlain. Well when we first saw it, I was amazed on how large it was, hell, I even thought it had a horizon! I later discovered that there were clouds in front of the mountains on the other side... But it was definitely reminiscent of Vermont. After two more times hiking up and down the hill with our packs (I barely had 11kilos so I can hardly complain) we finally entered the hostel around 1030-11. The woman at the door apologized since the bell was broken, even though she was up when we arrived. We took an immediate nap, showered, and organized ourselves for the day. We planned a banyan bath session later in the evening and headed to town.

Sunny and bright, it was a booming little town on a Saturday afternoon. Market stalls with fish, smoked fish, and fish eggs were all yelling out when we walked past. Souvenir stands had jewelry, magnets, and stuffed animal baby seals, as lake Baikal is known for their seals. When we went to the Information stall, I asked about the seals, to which they replied that the seals were more north on an island in the middle of the lake. Disappointed, we headed towards the end of the street. We saw some more, large mountains, some with snow on them! After exploring all we could, we bought some food (including a bottle of vodka and doughnuts filled with caramel) and headed back up for our banyan experience.

Hot and steamy are the two words to describe it. We got to have the birch branches as well, for massage, even though it required you to hit the other person with them. Let me just say don't go in with someone you're angry with or who is angry at you because it could go downhill fast. There was a chess table inside and we actually over stayed our time since we were trying to finish our game (we both had our kings and 1 bishop on the same colored square). After feeling rejuvenated, we got changed, ate some dinner, and headed to the other common room for drinking and chatting with the other guests. Australians, françois, a German, and a spainard were those who accompanied us. We talked about where we were all going and coming from, which places were better than others, which places you had to see. It was fun and exciting but with half the group leaving early in the morning, they mostly retired to bed, except on of the Australians who decided to go on a beer run with Tom and I. After barely finding beer, we headed back talked some more and went to bed. The next morning I was covered in bites. Maybe an allergic reaction? I said to Tom. Watch it be bedbugs. So looking at the bed (again) I discovered this time a plethora of insects in an out of my bed. Freaking out I ran out of the room, took our bags and told the woman running the place. Tom showed her the bed (which grossed us both out) and we got relocated to a private room. Needless to say, Tom saw, firsthand, how I am allergic to these nasty little bugs. They replaced the mattress the next dayand our friend slept in that room the next night, but told her the next day as to not causeca rukus. This Eco hostel has a name to live up too, and I know that no one will want to have bed bugs there. If you have never seen bed bug bites take a look at these pictures. Mind you, these were taken after the swelling, about 3-4 days after being bitten.

So anyways, the next day was a sad, dreary day. It looked like rain for most of the time, but Tom and I hiked along to the port of listvaynka, up the hill, and then up a ski lift to the top of the mountain to the view point. Let me tell you it wa worth the 100 rubles up. Even though it was cloudy, it was beautiful. We found a shorter path down and made it back into town in a much shorter time. I bought some lake Baikal playing cards that had seals, plants and scenes from the area as the pack Tom bought started at card 6 (I now beileve I have lost these cards).

The next day was uneventful, we bought ourselves a smoke fish, and made food for the trip. But it was the day we left that made things more interesting.

We bought our bus tickets in advance, which everyone thought was odd, but we had a luxury bus instead of riding in the small public mini buses. Paying 70 rubles total, we thought we had a steal of a deal compared to 100 if we tool the mini. But we got dropped off at the bus station, not the rail. So trying to explain train (I definitely said choo choo), having a drunk tell us it was a 10 minute walk (would have been over an hour) and asking 3 women, we finally got on the tram and made our way over. When we got on the train, our companion only spoke Russian so we introduced ourselves, chatted a bit with other riders and fell asleep.

Train number 4- Moscow to Irkutsk

The first night was exciting! A new train, a new experience! We had 2nd class tickets for the entire trip so we had a small room with 4 beds, and a small table and a window. There is also a storage container below the bottom bed to put our packs in and storage above the door in the roof kinda (see pictures). There was only 3 of us during this round, which was quite nice. Our roommate, Steph, is. Londoner who was on month holiday. She knew her first destination, but didn't know when she would leave Russia, only she had a return ticket fr Beijing. She worked for the NGO Save the Children, and had been to India many times. I told her about being adopted and going to India as she works for those types of children. We had a great three days with her; we shared food, vodka, beers, and toilet paper.

Well it's all fun and games until you realized all you have seen for three days is vast nothingness, some small broken down villages, and trees. With a few days getting off the train at the platforms, but only inhaling coal air, you start to get cabin fever. Or realizing it's easier to sleep whenever, with no true concept of time or day.

Would I do it again? Probably, but I would do things differently, including what I packed. Here are my first three tips on traveling on the trans-mongolian/Siberian/ whatever train.

1. Bring a roll of toilet paper (or two):
These toilets are absobloodylutely DISGUSTING. They don't care you spent an extra few dollars for second class, so don't expect too much, including toilet paper or soap to be in there. Our second train was newer and nicer, but when they ran out of tp, they didn't replace it. I had some for this leg of the journey thankfully. But anyways, buy it, take it from your hotel before or steal it from 1st class, because when you have to number 2 on the number 4, well, don't say I didn't warn ya.

2. Bring some hot chocolate:
You get all the hot boiling water you want. Drinking coffee and tea is nice, but on those cold nights on the train, a mug of hot chocolate is what makes the night. Hell, make it a grown up one and add some vodka if you want, but bring it. Who cares if you think you're too old for it because you're not, nor ever will be. When Steph (40) made a steaming mug of hot chocolate, needless to say, Tom and I were eyeing it with jealousy.

3. Bring a mug, thermos, or for the coffee lovers, a French press coffee mug:
Again all the hot water you want. Mugs act as cups or bowls, an the hot ones have covers so you can store stuff. I am still regretting not taking the one Mom offered me before going into the airport. And for you coffee addicts, bring a French press one. Sure it might cost more, but when you are looking for a good cup of Joe, don't expect it from Siberia. Nescafe and instant coffee is what they have here. So bring some ground coffee and your mugs and be the envy of your carriage mates. Tom has an insulate hydro flask bottle which keeps hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold for 24+ hours. It's been a lifesaver.

Moseying around Moscow

We arrived in Russia and made our way to the train; after trying to exchange money (no they do not take Czech kronas) and having a manly looking woman in a fur coat asking if we wanted a taxi ride. Luckily, with Tom's Polish background, he can understand Russian, but understanding their cyrillic language is another. Knowing some letters or language of Russia is essential if you want to visit. The subway signa are ALL in Cyrillic so don't expect any English favors, at least in Moscow. After getting off the subway and walking for 40 minutes, we found the hostel- a 10 minute walk in reality. We made our way in, got settled and explored the red square. It was actually very pretty at night. Everything was lit up, with red stars everywhere. Moscow isn't the nicest city in Russia, even people we traveled with said that St. Petersburg is much nicer and a bit more friendlier. But with a one night stay there, we managed. For dinner, we looked at a 1000 places it seemed, all with sushi, which o oddly did not want. I wanted warm, comfort food. We found a cafeteria which was half off dice they were closing for the night which was nice. Good, kinda, but it filled the void in our stomachs.

We didn't go out, as we were unsure as to where to go and didn't want to end up in a bad group, so we headed back to the hostel and fell asleep. The next day we headed back to red square to see the it in daylight to kill time before our 10pm trip. After buying groceries and me freaking out about my debit card, we did our last minute interneting before our 3 day trip on the train.

When we go to the train station, no one was helpful, we couldn't read anything and their were 5 of us lost and confused. Tom went to see if he could get help, which he finally did after asking someone in line. The Italian guys who found us also found out a well right as Tom came back. I had my thoughts on the situation (which ended up true) but was ignored but whatever, right now I'm headed to Beijing so things worked out.

So we got on our train and with a total of 5 people in our carriage ( us, the 2 Italians and a Londoner) we headed out to Irkutsk!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Meeting family from the old country(ies)

Day two in Praha

After walking up at noon, it was cold, rainy and windy. "how it was when we met in England." we decided. Today was the day I was meeting up with Milos Neuman, my father's grandfather's brother's grandson or cousin Hahah Milos lives in Prague with his wife and they have a daughter and a son, who are both older than me.

I met him in the central square where he was looking for me in a group of students. I walked up behind him and said his name, he laugh an showed me the picture I had sent him so he could identify me. I laughed as well and we started to walk. We went through the city again, bu this time I got to learn about the history of the city which was really amazing! We went to the top of the town hall, the building with the astronomical clock, and we got to see a 360 view of the city. When I get to a computer one of these days I'll upload all the pictures. We then went across the bridge again and we waited at a pub that used to be horse stalls, for his wife. We each had a large pilsner and warmed up. He brought with him an old fily album, so i got to see pictures of my dads family. It was really amazing and special. After, we started walking to the castle but it was rainin again so we waited at another bar where hee sometimes plays music. This time I had coffee to wake up fr the cold, dreary day. When the rain slowed, we headed up the hill. Most of the castle was closed and it started raining again so we rushed down the other side to a restaurant where his son was waiting. I had beef goulash and another beer. After, we went to the bar where he sometime plays music because he thought some music was playing, but it was just a practice so we had one more beer an headed back home as it was late and he had to work the next day. Ales, his son, walked me back to Corey and Thea's where we had a slow night and fell asleep early.

The next day Tom and his nephew came to Prague and I met up with them. We left the day after to Bavaria to see his family.

After a 4 hour train ride, we arrived and got a taxi to his cousins house. Welcomed with open arms and delish food, we filled ourselves, and then went out to the city of regensburg. We had some drinks, and went home after the horrible service at one club.

The next day we went hiking on Grosse Osser, a large but not to large peak in the Bavarian region. We were six total; Tom, his nephew (Greg), his cousin(M) and wife and his cousins sister ( so cousin as well) Veronica, and myself. Mind you I am not using names as I cannot write them properly and don't want to be rude an eff their names up. So while we started the hike, Tom and M's wife saw some mushrooms on the side of the trail. After discovering that these were good, we had ourselves a mushroom picking time during the climb up and down. M found one that was huge, I'm gonna say like 1-2lbs. Veronica and I are around the same age as me and we hit it off. She doesn't speak Polish either, so we would practice some German and English. We reached the top and had some food and drinks; the beer garden is one of the highest in Germany.

The next day we went to Spatiel ( I think) beer garden and had some delicious schnitzel! Nom nom! I have pictures (well Tom does), an I'll hopefully get them up before we reach Australia (again I'm writing on my iPod). But I know everyone is more excited about learning an hearing about Russia and Mongolia. So let's go!

End of Greece, Praha pt 1

The name of that seaweed like item in the salad was wild rock fennel by the way.

The last few days Of Greece were calm and perfect, a nice vacation from traveling. On Chios we went to the beach early and found a remote spot which was dirty but beautiful; surrounded by cliffs and caves. We also visited a small Greek village which is known for their architectural designs of small roads and bridges between buildings; they also have their walls decorated with black and white designs. It was very beautiful.

The return back to Athens was much different from the trip there, however still by ferry. I was on the deck, so no TVs, no luxury seats, and no heat. But it was wonderful! Which se of you might think is hard to believe, during a cold wet night, but I got to hang put with a dog! Her name was peanut and her owner had a seat inside. Unable to bring her in, he was tying her up to a table and asked me to look after her. He was around my age, and I guess I looked harmless and trustworthy. I was concerned he was goin to leave her with me, but he pulled out food and water for her in nice dishes so I knew he loved her. I snoozed on and off, cuddled with the dog a little, and read. He ce back halfway through the trip, asking if I needed anything, which I didn't. Some people might find it weird that I looked after his dog for free, but I got to hang out with a cute dog for 8 hours! It made my trip!

When I arrived back to Athens, I found his sisters apartment with ease. After sleeping for a while, I went out and explored the tourist section, found some ouzo and gypsy pants and went back. His sister Vinia and I went out that night, having some good and not so good cocktails, and gyros and wine. It was a fun girls night for both of us and she and I are very much alike. It was also nice to see her dog ginger again.

Leaving early the next morning, I made it to the airport on time and successfully. Once arriving in Prague, I got to the metro station to meet up with my friend Thea, whom I wad staying with and had met in England. Unable to find her for about an hour, I was about to go find a taxi when Corey showed up! Corey and Thea are dating and are working as English teachers in Prague.

Corey and I bought food for lunch and after we ate, we went for a walk around town. It was a very warm day, so seeing everything was very nice! We walked along the King Charles bridge, by the john Lennon wall and the locks of love section of town. After feeling a bit tired, we headed back and met up with Thea at the apartment. She and I went to the store to buy food for dinner and we made some salads with chicken, avocado, blue cheese, and a balsamic dressing. It was nice to have some real food. We went out late to a dark, dank bar which was really cool, as there were tunnels and bars deep inside, an old bomb shelter I think. After I almost fell asleep in my beer, we headed home and passed out.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It's all Greek to me! Pt 2

Living on the water, on the port, is a blessing and a curse. For one, I got to wake up to a beautiful view and was close to everything! Bad thing was that it was loud! All the time! Moto bikes have loud exhausts, meaning you could hear th miles away plus under you window. Also there were clubs right below, and with people not starting to go out til 1am, the party lasted all night. I was usually exhausted from the day's adventures that I usually had no problem sleeping but no one cares about that. What you probably want to know is what I did during those adventures.

Day 1 on Chios (he-ose)
We arrived on the island at 4 am so we promptly found my room for the next few days, Giannis went home and I fell asleep. We began our day around 1130 by walking around the city. The city called Chios as well, which is a large port city on the eastern side of the island. We saw the large, beautiful church, the center square/park, the mainly pedestrian only shopping street and his father's office. His dad is an optometrist and must be one of the few on the island as he helped me get the room. I literally met him for 5 minutes and that was it. After walkig around, grabbing some lunch which included a Greek salad ( tomatoes, onions, olives, feta, cukes) and mosaka, which is similar to a meat lasagna but with eggplant and fluffy béchamel cream on top. it was much heavier than I expected, or needed in the hot Grecian weather. After eating, we went back to our separate places to get ready for the beach. He said his friend Peter (which is his English name, I forgot what it was in Greek) would be joining us. He also said he was slow with times. We decided to leave at 4 for the black pebble beach, the nicest beach on Chios, even though there is no sand. Excited, I got changed quickly, and was surprisingly ready ny 4:05. I waited in my room until 420 and then headed down, thinking he had his car waiting outside. Another 30 minutes later they finally showed up. I wish they knew what Patty 4 time was as I would have known then to be ready an hour later. But we made it out to the beach and it was gorgeous. We only had about 30-45 minutes of swim time as the beach was shaded by the large rocks surrounding the area. But it was fine. I asked about sharks and couldn't get a straight answer but when Giannis said no one has been attacked, that's all I needed.

After swimming we went back to town, around 830 where we split up again to get ready for dinner, they said pick up around 10. I was barely ready this time when they knocked at 1030, but we headed out to Lansgard ( I will have to double check that name, but it's more north). By the time we got there, the restaurant we wanted to go to wa closed, but the other good one was opened so we sat, ordered ouzo, and feasted. Grilled octopus, fried squid, Greek salad (with capers and arugula this time! Yumm!), grilled cheese, bread, fries, potato choquettes( like breaded mashed potatoes) and tzaziki sauce. If there is more I can't tell you now as my journal is currently stowed away. We feasted and they gave us orange cream little ice cream sticks which were perfect to finish the meal. We went out briefly, with me seeing and yelling at a cockroach, but we went to bed early (3ish).

Day 2

Day two started the same way as day one, sleeping in late, and walking aroun the city to find me some pants. Unfortunately since the summer season wa ending, a lot of their cute summer pants were put away until next year. I knew I could find some in Athens, but we went on an adventure anyways, going to a nearby tourist trap to look for some. To no avail, we left empty handed so we heeded to his house for lunch. His mom made fried meatballs, a mosaka like dish ( which honestly tasted and look almost liked meat lasanga) and a Greek salad again. Hers had home pickled capers and wild sea fennel I think it is called, which reminded me of well seaweed, but crunchy. Either way it was delicious.

Afterwards we drove out to cave olympi which is the deepest point on Chios. The cave was originally used to dump dead animals, but when they discovered them on the beach below, they discovered the cave. It is still a growing cave, meanin that the lower regions are getting deeper and stalactites and mites are growin as well. Then we went to the beach late again and as we were trying to leave, a dog started following us, even when we switched directions, move ahead quickly, and whatever. I of course wanted to play with the dog, but giannis said that then I would want to take it home. Which I did. By the end, there were three dogs and we lefts without them :(

I'll post day 3 and Prague soon, but I thought you would enjoy at least one post!

Monday, September 10, 2012

It's all Greek to me! pt 1

Sorry for the delay on the post. My iPod could not host this site, so I was unable to post. Luckily, my friends have a computer that I am able to use. So let's start from the beginning.

I arrived to Athens on the 5th, 9 hours after driving up to Montreal with my mom. It was a direct flight which was nice on a big plane. Exhausted and tired, I found Giannis (John) pretty easily after the flight at the airport. After catching a train to his sister's apartment, where we met her cute puppy Ginger, a maltese. After dropping my stuff off, we ended up walking around the city. We went to Ermou, Kolonaki and Monastiraki. Monastiraki is the tourist trap location, with flea markets, bargain prices and silly souvenirs. We were going to go to the Parthenon/Akropolis, but it had closed at 3 and it was 2:45, not nearly enough time for us to reach the top and enjoy our time there. So we went to the Akropolis Museum, where the original parts of the Parthenon are, but since I was so tired, I ended up almost falling asleep.  We decided it was best to head back and I could take a nap and be ready for the evening. After getting some food, we headed up towards the university section of Athens, to see what the night life was like. If we had arrived an hour earlier, we would have heard the Red Hot Chili Peppers play, but we arrived when everyone was leaving the show. Being as it was, the streets were filled with people, as were the bars. unable to decide on which loud, smokey bar to go to, we decided to buy some beers and drink them at home. Well unfortunately, the trains all stopped at 15 past midnight. We were trying to leave at 12:20. So we decided to walk part way and then get a taxi home, to decrease the price. After walking around for 30-40 minutes, beers gone or mostly gone, (it's legal to drink in public), we finally got a taxi home and promptly went asleep.

The next day, we woke up late as I was still jet lagged, and got ready to go to the Akropolis. And yes, I know I am spelling it with a K as that is how the Greek spell it. We ended up taking the back root up, and after the long-ish hike (I wore my comfy shoes, Giannis did not) we finally arrived. And well, the views are amazing, but the structures themselves are ok. They are trying to put it back together, using marble and original pieces still on site. Mind you, most of the buildings have been scattered (mainly the British Museum). Giannis told me it has only been within the last 2 centuries that the Parthenon has been destroyed, and it was actually blown up. It was where the Greeks kept their ammunition and gun powder and one night a Turkish man came and blew it up! So if you ever go or if you ever see a piece and it has a round fragment missing, it was actually from cannon balls. After hiking down and taking a bus into the city, we met up with Giannis' friend Nikos. We sat down at a cafe and had some drinks. I had a Freddo, which is an iced cappachino, which was quite nice. Dad keeps telling me that the Greeks don't have good coffee, but obviously that has changed in the last 40 years.

We headed back early, as we were catching a ferry to Chios at 9 in the evening. Now when I think of ferries, I think of small, dirty ships that carry cars and people; they are relatively small, and not more than 2 stories. Well, I almost shat myself when I saw this one. It was a cruise ship sized ship, 3 levels for cars with the bottom floor being for cargo trucks, 2 floors of airplane seats, and the top floor was the deck. Now we had airplane seats, which are nice, leather seats in 2 rows of 3. There were a few TVs, but the shows were in Greek and Turkish, so I couldn't understand them, but Giannis had his computer so we watched a movie. From there, it was trying to sleep that was the problem. I am usually pretty good at falling asleep on planes, but with not tray table, I couldn't fold over like I normally do, so falling asleep was a challenge. Needless to say, I didn't sleep very well.

We arrived at the Chios (pronounced He-ose) at 4 in the morning. Giannis got a snack, while I just wanted to sleep, we found my room (which was right on the port), Giannis went home and I fell asleep.   7 hours later I woke and we started on my second part of Greece, which I will describe more later, along with pictures. Giannis parents got the room for me, as their house was "messy" and the room I was to stay in was"unfit" for a guest. Which was untrue, but they were kind enough to get me a room with the view of the port, a full sized bed, and a restroom. So it was perfect. But I must go. We're going  out, Vinia (Giannis' sister).

Alright must love! Joya

Friday, August 31, 2012

Packing it all up

With my large, LL Bean white Mountain pack, it's really tempting to fill it up with some fun things. Like my pretty Steve Madden boots, cute dresses, and a lot of jewelry. Unfortunately, if I did that, I would probably break my back and the whole trip would be ruined. Luckily, going to Goggle and typing in, "what to pack on a world backpacking trip" find a lot of good sites. The first one was okay; it contained long lists of things for a basic trip and the "other stuff you might need." But when you tell me to pack 3 shirts and 4 pairs of underwear; that's not very helpful. Should I bring t-shirts, long sleeved shirts, running shirts, dress shirts, tight shirts, loose shirts, or tank tops? Seriously, I have all these shirts and trying to pick three seems silly to me. And 4 pairs of underwear? In less than a week all my panties will be dirty, and I'm gone for how long?

Needless to say, I left that site and moved on to another one.

The next one I checked out looked promising, it had categories of useful tips, some I knew, some I didn't. until I found the packing list... Which ended up being a check list, which didn't help me, since I would check everything off.

The third site I found was absolutely amazing.Travel Not only did it give me a comprehensive list to pack, but it also gave reasons as to why I would or would not need it. It was easy to navigate, there was no ads, and it had fun sketches. Needless to say, I know now that I will in fact need a dressier shirt, a long sleeved shirt, and a a week's worth of panties are fine since well, I can roll them up really small. So seriously, I need to pack. At least now I know what I am packing :) and check out their site!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Less than a week!!!

I'm leaving in less than a week. People keep asking me how I am feeling, as I will be gone for around 16 months (plus or minus depending on how things go). I tell them I'm feeling a little bit of everything.

Anxious: Honestly, who wouldn't be? I'm leaving all my family and most of my friends for a good chunk of time. Traveling to strange places, won't know the native languages, worried about diseases (which the health clinics make sure you are aware of!), money issues, credit card issues, getting lost, getting things stolen, me getting stolen (Damn the movie Taken!). You know, things outside of the sweet, small state of VT.

Excited: I get to get outside of the sweet, small state of VT! I get to explore new cultures, meet new people, travel to exotic places, eat some amazing food and discover somethings that rarely people ever do (Trans-Mongolian rail!) And I get to see some old friends, which I am really excited for as we are all travelers!

Scared: I really hope this isn't another flop like Hawaii was. I know that I need to live on my own, out of Vermont and out of my comfort zone. Living in Australia for 9-12 months seems kind of scary, especially since I can't rely on my family to help me out in a sticky situation. For example, dealing with paperwork-whether it's taxes, apartment stuff, bills, etc, my parents have helped me figure out how to do it, or showed me what to do. I know it sound silly, but I'm kind of scared I might mess something up and get deported. :(

Proud: Not to many people can say that have traveled the world. Hopefully in 16 months, I can say that. I will have help from my friends along the way, and from Tom, but I a lot of it will be coming from me, and I am proud that I am doing it again, even after everything that happened in Hawaii. 

Sad: I'm gonna miss everyone and VT. But not too sad, since I will have Skype, email, this blog and Facebook! Technology today is so wonderful. :)

Loved and inspired: Everyone have talked to about this trip has given me some good advice or good luck. It's amazing what stories people can tell you about traveling if you just ask them. I have friends who I haven't talked to or seen in years and they are willing to help me out, or even new friends I have just met telling me where to go and what to see. It's truly wonderful and I thank everyone!

Rushed: I have less than a week and I need to pack, sort out my phone, figure out my bank accounts, sell the car, organize my room, say goodbye to all of my friends and I feel like there is always more stuff! Ahh!

And on that note, I must leave you to start completing the things in the Rushed category! 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Let's try this again... round 2!

Hello again everyone!

After a year hiatus, recovery from Hawaii and working my gluts off, I am back on a new adventure, this time accompanied by my wonderful boyfriend, Tom. We are both set off for Europe at the end Aug/beginning of Sept. Well, he's Aug and I'm Sept.

I'm leaving Sept 4th from Montreal and going on a direct flight to Athens to see my friend Giannis, whom I met while studying abroad in England. Then I will either be going to Vienna or Prague, depending on if my friends in Austria are able to house me. But I know that my friends in Prague will be able too which is very exciting at Corey and Thea have been there for many months and know the area pretty well by now.

From there I will be meeting Tom in Warsaw, where we will spend a few days before heading off to Moscow to take the Trans-Mongolian Railway to Beijing. We will be making two stops (one in Irkutsk, Russia and one in Mongolia) then staying in Beijing for a bit, then going to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau, and then who knows (we're thinking Thailand)! I'm hoping on arriving to Australia in November or December. From there I might go to New Zealand for a few days to see some friends. But that is the new plan! I don't know how much internet service I will have to update this, but I will try my best!

Until the trip!

xxx Joya!