Top 5.2: Edinburgh, Scotland

Views old town

Back in June, I visited my best friend in England and we popped up to Edinburgh, Scotland for a 4 day girls-getaway.  We lucked out with perfect, sunny weather our entire stay, which only added to making this city seem that much more charming!  I failed at narrowing the list down to exactly 5, therefore you get a whopping 6 of my favorites about Edinburgh!

 #1 Beautiful Buildings!

Edinburgh is now one of my favorite European cities.  All the stone!  This city is so pleasant that we would find ourselves sitting in Princes Park just staring up at the castle and the old town area.

edinburghBuddies

#2 Camera Obscura

Oh to be a kid again.  CO boasts their 360deg view/camera from their rooftop and while the view was cool, the best part for me was the floors of fun below.  From optical illusions to electricity demonstrations to computer programs illustrating how I’d look as a primate, baby or old lady (mama mia), we had a blast!

Big Me Dinner

#3 My 1st Tea Time

Ah, my first and definitely not my last.  Jam, clotted cream, scones…oh and the tea…what’s not to love?  It was perfect for girl-time.  And so so delicious.

#4 Harry Potter Photo Hunt

Hand prints

J. K. Rowling lived and wrote in Edinburgh.  All throughout the city there were HP related things to find like the author’s handprints, graveyard headstones with names she borrowed for HP character names, a café she wrote in, a school that is supposedly the inspiration for Hogwarts, etc.  This little adventure took us all over the city; great way to sightsee in general!

#5.1 & #5.2 Hike & Shake

A tie.  Hike up to Arthur’s Seat for the view and exercise; suck down a shake for obvious reasons.  Or not so obvious.  This place was DQ on steroids.  A buffet of potential toppings so large we were paralyzed by the options for awhile.  Fat kid tip, get the thick version.

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When a Mom Goes to Thailand. Sisters in Thailand: Part II

In Monday’s post, my little sister guest blogged about her trip around northern and southern Thailand.  For today’s post, my older sister, Kris, writes about being stuck with me on a Thai island for nearly two weeks back in March.  She is the mother of two girls under 4 and busts out a full time engineering job – this would be the longest she’d ever been away from her family and it surely took a different kind of bravery to step on the plane and leave everything behind!  

Dawn was generous enough to fly me out for a leg of her adventures in Southeast Asia (airline points are the best). We settled on Koh Tao, a small island on the eastern side of Thailand, in the China Sea.  We picked the island because it’s known for its diving. Dawn is certified and I am not. So I figured, she would have plenty to do, while I got the beach time that I needed. I spent a good ten days, and roughly 10 hrs per day, not moving much from a lounge chair, staring at this view:

the view

It was really beautiful. And hot. And the food was amazing. I don’t have much to report on other than that. We didn’t do much, per my request, because I wanted plenty of beach time and to just relax. No diving for me (SCUBA or sky) or any of that other crazy stuff Dawn’s been up to. Just quiet old lady beach time.

So, Dawn gave me no guidelines on this blog post (WEEEE!). So this is what I came up with: Dawn is really great about blogging about her RTW tips/tricks, so I thought I would provide 10 lessons learned for those of you who might consider going on a cross-globe trip for a shorter amount of time and who are not RTW pros, or even amateurs for that matter.

1)     The flights are long. No way around it. I tried to drug myself on the first flight, and woke up really excited to find out how long I had slept. 4 hours. Of the 15 hr flight. 10 hrs to go. NOPE. Just bring lots of things to distract yourself.

2)     Pack a pen. I didn’t have a pen. And for some reason, didn’t think I needed to fill out a customs form, so I had to ask strangers while in the customs line. Not that big of a deal, just added extra stress to the “I don’t know where I am, where to go, what to do” situation. (PS: Shout out to the sweet Indian man who lent me his very fancy pen.)

3)     Don’t pack makeup, hair products, or anything that would remotely attempt to help you look cute or smell nice. You’re not going to. Ever. And you will attract bugs. Bugs love stuff that smells good.

4)     Don’t pack a lot of clothing options.  See #3 above. You’re going to stink and sweat. A lot. And might as well wear the same stinky sweated out shirts and shorts over and over again.

5)     Plan on nearly passing out at least once a day.  Markets, short hikes, kayaking…best to find a beach chair and not move.

6)     Trust your gut. If you feel like you’re walking into a murder, don’t. We executed this rule at least once daily.

7)     Expect the unexpected. (Good advice, right? I just came up with that.) I expected to get stomach sick and packed an array of drugs to help with those kinds of issues. I did not expect to break out in a full body heat rash on the first day of my trip. And for it to stick with me. The entire trip.

8)     And when #7 strikes, go with the flow.  You might not do any of the things you planned on doing (i.e. Thai boxing, yoga, running, sweating).

*[left] Magic Thai Fairy Dust. Saved my life. [right] View from kayaking. Nearly took my life.

9)     While on a beach, if a man carrying a bamboo stick walks by with buckets of deliciousness on either end, buy whatever he is selling.  Pineapple, mango, corn on the cob: good. Can’t go wrong here.

10)  For parents considering a big trip away from the kiddos, do it. I really almost didn’t go because I thought I couldn’t leave my girls for 12 days. I did it. They still remember me. I’ll let you know in ~15 years if there were any lasting resentments.

A few notes on Dawn:

Her adventures sound pretty cush. No job, just traveling, going to amazing places? Sign me up! Truth is, I was amazed at how much planning she puts into it. A lot. While I was parked on the beach chair all damn day, she was inside on her laptop for hours each morning planning her next several steps. The logistics are amazing. It really has become her job and she puts an amazing amount of thought, heart, and research into what she’s doing.

And, I’m nowhere near as brave as Dawn is. Not even a measurable fraction. I had a mild panic attack by myself in the airport (see #2 above). She’s marching all over the globe by herself, getting into hairier situations than my little pen incident. Proud of you, sissy!

I’ll repeat myself from the last sister blog, I have the best sisters and am so very grateful that they left their commitments behind to create some legendary family memories with me!  I hope you enjoyed their guest blogs…it may have pushed them out of their comfort zone even more than their Thai travels and I love them for indulging me!

sisters

And because I think it’s the cutest (even if it’s dark and grainy), check out the video we made for my nieces, who love the movie Rapunzel, after we released a paper lantern for them on the beach. 

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Sisters in Thailand: Part I

PhiPhi

Update: I’m back in the USA!  While my RTW trip is technically over, there is plenty to catch you up on here and plenty more adventures to come.  Stay tuned.

Back in March and April of this year, I met each of my sisters in Thailand for spectacular sister-bonding trips.  For Part I, I invited my little sister, Courtney, to guest blog about her adventure (both good and bad)!  It was her first trip abroad, outside Mexico/Canada, and she arrived with eyes wide-open and ready to experience everything.  Talk about stepping out of her comfort zone!  She’s a travel rock star! 

When Dawn first approached me about having me join her for part of her trip, I was in shock. It meant the world to me that she wanted me to share in this amazing journey she was on. Of course my reply was ‘heck yeah!’.  My love of elephants inspired Dawn to suggest we meet in Thailand and so with the support of my husband, family and friends I made the 20+-hour journey and we spent two weeks exploring all that Thailand has to offer.

Looking back, those two weeks were surreal. I still don’t think the experiences have sunk in yet. Thailand is beautiful, full of culture and heritage. From the temples and buildings to the country side and mountains to the beaches and sea, Thailand is full of stunning colors and such peaceful scenery.  Granted, I’ll admit, it did take a bit to get adjust to the culture shock too (i.e. lack of personal space, people being seemingly rude)!

Although it is too difficult to try to sum up our entire trip in one blog post, I did want to highlight a few of the most memorable moments:

1.)  Elephant Nature Park: We spent two amazing days at this wonderful sanctuary for elephants (and dogs). They are doing truly incredible things there, giving elephants the proper care, rehabilitation and respect they deserve. It was an amazing experience to hear the terrible and disgusting events these elephants have been thru, yet to see how trusting and loving they still are. Getting to walk around the park to interact with and observe the elephants is something I’ll never forget. These creatures are mammoth in size, yet so gentle and loving. My three favorite things from ENP were: the babies there were 4 weeks old and 3 months old- so freaking cute!; Dawn getting slapped upside the head by an Elephant ear; getting to wake up listening to the elephants calling for each other. I can talk for days about this place, but stay tuned for a dedicated post from Dawn on ENP.

elephants

2.)  I still can’t believe this next thing happened, but my sister actually publicly shamed a tuk-tuk driver after he tried to scam us and block other drivers from giving us a ride, which had left us stranded at the base of a giant mountain. Thanks to some quick thinking we were able to outsmart him and continue on our way. But I still cannot get the image of Dawn flailing her arms about while yelling “Shame on you! You’re a bad man! Karma will get you!!” Perhaps you had to be there to appreciate what happened, but I’m proud my sis stood up for us and called him out!

3.)  The island of Phuket ended up being the sight of two rather terrifying experiences. The first occurred when were out on a day excursion. Via long boat, we traveled around the Andaman Sea exploring the different beautiful islands. While we stopped for lunch on a floating village, a strong storm moved in. After trying to wait it out, our tour guide decided we should go. The 20+ people piled into the long boat and pushed off from the village. With the rain pummeling down, waves crashing over the sides of the boats and not enough life jackets for everyone, Dawn and I huddled under her sarong and hoped for the best. Thankfully we made it out of the storm and even kept exploring. Lesson learned: make sure there are enough life jackets for everyone!

South

The second incident occurred when we decided to rent a scooter for the day to tour the island ourselves. Keep in mind, Dawn had never driven one before (outside parking lots) and I had never ridden on one…yet this seemed like a great idea to us. The thing I should note about Phuket is that it is comprised of extremely high hills and extremely crazy drivers.  Lesson learned, bad idea all around.  There may have been a minor incident involving a pile of garbage saving our lives from a store-front wall.  There also may have been a severe leg sunburn, leaving a permanent line above my knees.

4.)  The night markets all across Thailand are amazing!  I was completely unprepared for the scale of them. The markets have everything you can think of: delicious food, music, clothes and souvenirs.  (I may have even bought a few scrunchies!) I was extremely proud of myself because I easily could have spent five times as much as I did and also extremely impressed with Dawn’s haggling skills! She always came to my rescue.  Wandering these markets was a great place to try different cuisine as well.  From pad thai to mango or durian sticky rice, it was all new to me and so very tasty!  Not to mention, it also provided me the opportunity to finally learn how to use chopsticks!!!

sistersAll in all, I am so grateful that I was able to go on this trip and experience such wonderful memories with my sister. I would be remiss if I didn’t brag about my sis a little more too. Being on this trip with her made me overwhelmingly proud of her. To see her in her element, exploring, doing what she loves and taking chances was inspiring. I am so proud of her; I cannot say it enough. She’s pushing herself, following her heart and going after what she loves. Whether she can see it or not, she has accomplished and experienced things that will fill up more than a lifetime of memories. And all the while finding her own happiness and her own path.

p.s. I lucked out with the two most supportive, understanding and loving sisters! (hugs) Keep an eye out for Part II from my older sister, Kris, real soon!

 

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Wildlife Wednesday: Ferocious Jordanian Kitty

Kitty

It doesn’t get more wild than this kitty.  Meet Shakira.  This 5-week old kitten guarded the Bedouin cave my friend and I couchsurfed cavesurfed tentsurfed in outside Petra, Jordan. Don’t let those big eyes fool you, she was ferocious!

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Annapurna Circuit Tidbits

P5162965

Occasionally I’m asked how in the world I packed in enough food for three weeks on the Annapurna Circuit and I have to burst their bubble that I’m not so hard core and that I actually ate three meals a day at tea houses along the route.  The most effort I put in food-wise was to open a Snickers bar in one hand while holding trekking poles in the other.  Also, since it was the start of monsoon season, I didn’t even pack a sleeping bag, just a sleep sac.  If I was cold, the empty tea houses had plenty of blankets to share.  Not quite glamping, but not backcountry remote either.  Here are a few tidbits from the Annapurna Circuit that might make the picture slightly clearer for those curious or maybe interested in this trek one day.

What I bought in Kathmandu: Permits ($20 TIMS, $20 ACAP); trekking poles, long johns, sun hat, fleece hat, gloves, fleece-lined booties (luxury), 2 pairs socks, medicine, water bottle, hand sanitizer, Snickers, toilet paper.  Minus the permits, all that other stuff was under $30. Besides perhaps shoes (I have giant feet), it’s possible to roll up into Kathmandu or Pohkara and purchase everything you’d need for this hike from a backpack to underwear…especially if you dig knock-offs.  Sidenote, it was necessary to carry hundreds of dollars on me as ATM stops could be over a week apart (I didn’t even bother).  1 USD is nearly 100 Nepalese Rupee – I imagine this will be the only time in my life where I could justify rolling cash like this!

Rest Days: Four days ended up being rest days throughout the three week trek: Manang to acclimatize (eat lots of bakery good and watch a movie – $3 -includes tea and popcorn!); Kagbeni (hike to Tibetan town of Tiri); Tatopani (hot springs, relax before the 6k’ day to come); Ghorepani (rain day! no interest in hiking in the downpour; no luck for a Poon Hill view).  As you can see, it’s possible to bust out longer days or never rest to shorten the duration.  It’s also possible to do side hikes – I recommend a day hike to Ice Lake out of Braga!

Food: Generally standard set AC menus with anything from pasta to oatmeal to dal baht (local dish with rice, vegetable curry and lentils).  This trek is known as the apple-pie trek by many and it’s easy to see why.  The bigger villages had bakeries loaded with cakes, pies and the all important cinnamon rolls.  I did not go hungry.  Ever.

Tea Houses: Ranged from free to $2 a night (low season).  Solar showers meant cold showers, generally. Gas heated showers were the jackpot.  Squat toilets were common; western toilets found more along the western side of the circuit.  Bring toilet paper (though you can buy it along the way too).  As you can see from these pictures, the views from the tea houses were just terrible.

Weather: We were late in the season.  High season is around November and December.  To get an idea, the health clinic in Manang offers daily free high altitude talks closed until the fall the day before we showed up.  For 3 weeks out there, the only days with rain were at the end as monsoon season arrived and we were out of the rain shadow north of the range.  It seemed like the perfect time to hike this route – it’s possible we were just very lucky too!

Dust cloud!A note about the road.  Part of what I love about hiking is putting in the effort to reach a place I couldn’t get to otherwise.  The road has taken that away – it seems common now to take a jeep up the eastern valley and down the western valley, making the hike around a week instead of three.  Which is great if you don’t have much time to spend on the circuit.  There are stretches where alternative trails haven’t been rebuilt yet and getting caught in a cloud of dust by a bus or jeep gets old quick.  The road has improved the quality of life for the folks living in this area, but it’s also affecting their tourism livelihood as more people are passing up on those initial/end stops or the new trails fall on the other side of the river, creating new stops and bypassing old ones.  I’m curious to see how the development continues as more people are gravitating towards other treks in Nepal without roads.  Maybe at some point you won’t have to be on the road at all!

Those are the tidbits I came up with to help paint the picture.  Did I leave something out?  Ask away!

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The Annapurna Circuit – A Nepal Adventure

Ice Lake Detour

Coming off a lazy few months in SE Asia, I moaned and griped about the beast on my back that would accompany me for weeks up and down mountains, along trails and roads, through forests and near deserts.  The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal is not a remote wilderness hike.  Especially not since the road was put in a few years back.  Tea houses (guesthouses) line the route and serve up tasty food.  My pack didn’t need provisions or even a sleeping bag.  Perhaps all the weight was from the Snickers bars I packed in as snacks (treats! rewards!).    Josh and I met back up for this hike and decided to go without a guide or porter.  Many people utilize these services – you’re supporting the local community after all– but with our research and map in hand, we opted to go alone and never regretted it.

We started hiking from Buhlebuhle on day one after a long bus ride from Kathmandu.  One hour of relatively flat terrain and my head was even more full of doubts.  It would surely take over a month with how I felt that day.  But the body is amazingly adaptable and usually I’m mentally tougher than previously conceived.  Miles and days rolled by – ups and down, rivers and waterfalls.  By the time we’d hooked a left up the north side of the Annapurna range, I was sold on however long this journey would take.

The views were breathtaking.

One particular day in Upper Pisang we awoke to snow covered mountains extending into a never-ending horizon.  We hiked up over a thousand feet of steep switchbacks to the beautiful town of Gyaru, where a wrinkly old lady offered us tea and a perfectly situated bench to enjoy the view.  I dropped my bag and trekking poles, plopped myself down, looked up and burst into tears.  It’s a rare occasion that I’m reduced to tears while traveling.  It was just one of those perfect moments that is now locked into my memory vault.  The little old lady, the wooden bench, the 25k ft mountains in front of me at 12k ft, the smell of pine needles burning amongst a crop of trees, the bells ringing on the necks of yaks pulling a plow through fields as villagers prepared to plant barley.

This was the Nepal of my dreams.

Special bench

On day ten we made it over the Thorung Pass, nearly 18,000ft.  Higher than any summit I’ve ever reached, getting up and over this pass was a pat-myself-on-the-back moment as it challenged me to push my boundaries.  Most people seem to end their trek shortly thereafter from Jomson or Tatopani via plane or jeep, but not us.  We explored Tibetan towns; the area’s apple capital; towns that once thrived from Tibetan salt trade.

Thorung Pass

I met a guy from the US who declared it was inevitable to get sick in some fashion the longer you were in Nepal and I proved his theory correct.  Hiking up to high camp before the pass, a stomach bug hit that eventually required antibiotics.  Shortly after going through the pass, my immune system had enough and slammed me with a terrible cold.  For 3 days I hiked 6-8 hour days with a fever and head cold before throwing in the towel in Tatopani and laying in bed for 16 hours, eating soup and refusing to hike.  After the day of rest we hit the homestretch, up another 6,000ft in one day and then back down to fresh baked cinnamon rolls, a massage, and happy hour beer & pizza deals waiting for us in Pohkara!

 

It’s now over a month later and I look back on this 3 week trek as one of the happiest times on this RTW trip.  Life was so very simple.  I had a goal of walking each day from point A to point B.  That was it.  The mornings were filled with reflecting and thinking about life post-travel, the sounds of nature and my boots striking the trail…and sometimes even a Snickers bar.  Or there were times when the views were enough to clear my head of thoughts all together and I’d simply take in the scenery.  In the early evening I read and then slept soundly each night, exhausted from the earlier activity.  Beyond the simplicity of it all, though, there is something about Nepal that is hard not to get wrapped up in. The people, the culture, the history. With that combination and the epic mountains, it seems inevitable that I would fall in love with Nepal!

*Stay tuned for a few additional Annapurna posts including more pictures and logistics.*

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Wildlife Wednesday: Family Dynamic – Nepal

Family Dynamic

Nepalese Macaque Monkey mama and baby at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu. These fatties are barely wildlife as they wait around for visitors to throw them something tasty.  I’m drawn to this picture because I imagine all the possible thoughts the mother and little one might have running through their heads.  “Some privacy please! I’m eating!” “When will he/she be done?!”  “I’m so sleepy…”

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