Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More reasons we've moved to East Coast

It's not on account of the humidity (which has been tolerable, but still fairly bad) or the bugs (including the lovely greenheads) but on account of our families that we moved back to the East Coast. We touched on this briefly in posts about the birth of my nephew Jonah and our engagement, but we're really getting into the swing of things now with family. I think our family might be beginning to realize that we're not leaving, but I mean that in a good way.

We spent this past weekend in Vermont, ostensibly to house sit for my Aunt and Uncle, but there wasn't really anything or us to do while house sitting. We arrived to the perfect house sitting instructions: eat whatever we want from the garden, so Jaimee made lovely cream of broccoli soup and fresh salad:

We went to the Guilford 4th of July parade on Saturday, which they held a week early so as to not conflict with the parades and activities of neighboring towns. I took some pictures, which you can view on Facebook. (You should be able to view them even without a facebook account, but if you're reading this blog you really should be my facebook friend anyway.)

When my Aunt and Uncle returned from their trip to Cape Cod, we went to a neighborhood potluck which doubled as a surprise 70th Birthday Party for my Uncle Neil. Happy Birthday Neil! It's hard to believe you're 70. My Aunt Betsy got him a special cake with a tractor on it (the lady at the bakery was surprised to know that the special birthday boy was turning 70):

We had a lovely time in Vermont. My cousin and I put together my bike (thanks Bevan!) that I'd shipped from Seattle and we went for a nice ride on country back roads. And then with my other cousin we went on a driving tour of beautiful houses and gardens where he does landscaping and care taking. All in all, it was a very relaxing, enjoyable time, and it's weekends like this that are the reason we moved back.

From Vermont we cruised to Cape Cod for a day and a night to visit with Jaimee's mother and aunt (visiting from Idaho) and brother Nate who lives in Hyannis. We went to an awesome drive-on beach then hung out at the outdoor fire pit at Nate's house.

Tomorrow we move into our Sommerville sublet apartment. We'll be there for a month, so if anyone is in Boston, let us know and you can swing by for a visit. Although, not this weekend, as we'll be up in Catskill visiting my Aunt for July 4th.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What we might have done differently

Faithful reader Lane commented on our Places we loved post:
I hope you'll also post on what you would do differently if you had it to do again. Given the same time and budget you had, is there anywhere you wish you'd spent less time in order to spend more time somewhere else or go somewhere you didn't have time to go? Anything you'd do smarter? If you had an extra month or an extra 10K, what would you have added?
This is a great question, and a more positive spin than a post titled "Places we hated." I'll try and answer that question with a summary of where we went:

USA - We spent the first two months road tripping through the United States, staying in the following states: Washington (2 nights), Idaho (5), Oregon (4), California (16), Arizona (5), New Mexico (6), Texas (8), Louisiana (2), Alabama (1), North Carolina (4), Virginia (1), Maryland (1), New York (3), Vermont (3) and Massachusetts (9).

Even though road trips in the US are one of our favorite activities, in retrospect we probably could have condensed this into a shorter trip in order to spend more time internationally, especially since several of the places would have been accessible as shorter trips once back home. However, it's hard to think what we would have cut, as we enjoyed each place we stayed.

Australia - 28 days. This was a decent amount of time to spend in Australia, and renting a van for 21 of those days was a great, albeit expensive idea. The only thing we would have done differently is to only travel in one direction. We started in Brisbane, traveled north to the Whitsunday Islands then back south to Brisbane again before driving to Melbourne. Instead it would have been better to pick two starting points and travel between them, moving in one direction only so as to avoid backtracking.

New Zealand - 65 days. This was our longest stay outside of the US, and it was a great choice. WWOOFing worked great, having only one bad stay out of the five farms we worked at. We wouldn't really change anything about our NZ visit, as we feel like we saw a lot of the country and WWOOFing was a great way to save money.

Southeast Asia - We toured around Southeast Asia for roughly two months, staying in Singapore (3), Malaysia (14), Thailand (14), Laos (12) and Vietnam (14). Since SE Asia was very cheap, we could have easily spent more time here. Given more time, I'd spend an additional two weeks in Thailand and probably add Cambodia to the trip. I also wish we'd gone to Indonesia. Everything we've heard about Indonesia has been great, and we wish we'd made it there. Also, we covered the Northern half of Vietnam twice, and if we'd planned better we should have only moved in one direction, instead of entering in the middle, traveling north and then returning south again like we did.

India - 33 days. Trying to decide what we would have done differently in India is tough, as we had a great time and wouldn't really want to change what we did. We traveled from late March to late April which is during their hot season so the only thing I might have changed is to go earlier in the season. Planning differently, I would have spent more time in India to see more of the country and gone either in the Fall or Winter instead of the Spring. We loved Southern India though, especially Kerala and Goa and would happily revisit those areas again.

Egypt - 13 days. As we keep telling people, and is evident from our blog posts on Egypt, we didn't love it there. Doing it over again, I would not bother going to Luxor or Aswan. I'm glad I saw the Nile, but Luxor was not that great and Aswan was even worse. Sinai wasn't too bad and done differently, traveling overland through Jordan and Syria to Turkey from Sinai would be my preferred route, taking the time we spent in Luxor and spending it in Jordan and Syria instead.

Turkey - 12 days. Turkey is another place we would have loved to squeeze in more time. As noted, traveling overland from Egypt so as to visit Eastern Turkey and Cappadocia would have been preferred. As for what we saw in Turkey, I'm happy with our tour of the western coast, although we could have easily spent more time in Istanbul.

Greece - 13 days. We liked Greece, especially Crete, but in retrospect I think I would have traded a week in Greece for a week in Italy. The problem with Greece is getting around. If we could have gone straight from Turkey to Crete to Italy, that would have been ideal, but traveling by ferry you have to island-hop, which is fun to a certain extent, but also time consuming and expensive. We also didn't love Athens, and as far as larger cities go it wasn't our favorite.

Italy and Switzerland - two days each. This was the biggest shame of our trip, in that we didn't do justice to either country by only visiting Venice and Zurich. Time was more of a constraint than money; if we'd planned it out a little better by buying a rail pass and arranging couchsurfing in advance, I'm pretty sure both these countries can be done on the semi-cheap. We hit it right with the strong dollar versus the Euro, but we didn't have enough time to really dig into either country.

Iceland - four days. As noted in our Iceland posts, I'm very happy with our time in Iceland. We could have easily spent more time there, and driving the Ring Road would have been awesome if we had more time, but I don't have any regrets as to our visit there. In fact, to some extent, I'm glad we left something for another time as I can't wait to revisit.

What would we have changed about our route overall? I think adding Central and South America would have been really awesome, although it's a large enough region to stand alone as an awesome trip in its own right. Also, visiting more of Africa would have been nice, but again, a tour of Africa would also be a wonderful stand alone trip.

Knowing that our trip overall would be as cheap as it was, I would have left Seattle a few months earlier and pushed everything forward by a couple months so as to spend more time in Southeast Asia, India and Europe. We also planned on visiting Australia first so as to meet up with Jaimee's sister Michelle who was studying abroad in Brisbane, but without that constraint, I might even contemplate going around the world in the opposite direction, i.e., Europe first, then Turkey, Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, and finally Australia and New Zealand. Then we could have done WWOOFing in Ireland, Spain, France or Italy during late Spring/Summer and been in India by Fall/early Winter and then Southeast Asia in Winter and Spring. This would have put us in Australia and New Zealand during their Spring/Winter which might not be great, so maybe we would exchange Australia and New Zealand for a few countries in South America.

So many possibilities, I could write all day about potential trip itineraries and ideas. But again, I can't emphasize enough how much we loved what we did do and have very few regrets. It turned out great, although I'm sure I'll spend the rest of my life playing "what-ifs" with our trip.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

An island vacation, an announcement and a wedding

Let's start with the announcement part first, as this is what I'm most excited about: Jaimee and I are now engaged! Yes, after spending 298 days on our trip, essentially together 24 hours a day, we have now decided to spend the rest of our lives together as well. Probably not constantly together like we have been the past year, but together nonetheless.

I proposed (and she said yes, by the way) while riding on the ferry from Vineyard Haven, Martha's Vineyard to Woods Hole, Cape Cod. It might seem anti-climactic to have traveled all the way around the world and come back to Massachusetts to propose, but that's how it worked out. We both love ferries - one of our first official dates was a ferry trip to Whidbey Island in Washington - so it seemed appropriate, even if it wasn't what you would call exotic. Here we are right after proposal:
We were coming off a wonderful three days on Martha's Vineyard visiting with my Aunt and Uncle, Betsy and Neil. They rented a house on Chappaquiddick, a small island off the eastern side of Martha's Vineyard. Neither Jaimee nor I had been to Chappaquiddick (also called Chappy) before (although she'd been to Martha's Vineyard several times) so it was a great continuation of our trip, visiting places we'd never seen.

Chappy is, unfortunately, most famous for the "Chappaquiddick incident" involving Ted Kennedy in 1969 when he drove off a bridge and crashed his car in a river, killing the passenger riding with him. For some reason I pictured a huge tall bridge, but in fact the bridge was a tiny little overpass. My uncle Neil and I rode our bikes out to see Dyke bridge:
Back in 1969 it apparently did not have any guard rails, but still, pretty interesting that such a little bridge could cause such a big accident. History lesson included, we had a wonderful time on Martha's Vineyard. We toured around the main island on our bikes as well, and actually had pretty decent weather for mid-June.

Next on our agenda was a wedding. We went up to Gloucester, Massachusetts for Jaimee's cousin's wedding. It was interesting to go to a wedding so soon after getting engaged as I looked at the wedding in a slightly different light, somewhat with an eye of what I might want to do or not do. This wedding was a blast (providing many more "dos" than "don'ts"), although it was possibly a bit fancier than I think Jaimee and I would plan. It was a lot of fun to meet many of Jaimee's relatives on her mom's side of the family, and with gorgeous sunny days we had fun exploring Gloucester and Rockport during the day before the actual ceremony and reception. The wedding was at the beautiful Ocean View Inn (where we also stayed for the nights before and after the wedding), situated, as you might guess, right on the water, which enabled us to go out and snap some family photos right along the water:
The end of our week-long getaway was a stop back in Shrewsbury to have lunch with Jaimee's grandparents and then later dinner with Jaimee's father and step-mother in celebration of father's day. This was a great cap to the week, celebrating Father's Day with my new family-to-be. I'd actually never celebrated Father's Day before (a semi-long story which I don't need to get into on this blog) but I enjoyed starting what I hope to be a long tradition of many more to come. I'm happy to be marrying into Jaimee's wonderful family and I'm sure the two of us will continue to have more adventures in the years ahead.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Best Welcome Home Ever

Way back in April (April 15th to be exact, because we'd just filed our tax return extensions), sitting in an Internet cafe in Hampi, India we wrote that we bought our tickets home to the United States. (Interestingly, we bought those Iceland stop-over tickets one day before the volcano Eyjafjallajokull started spewing ash all over Europe.) One of the reasons we wanted to come back when we did was because my sister and her wife were expecting a baby boy. It was my first nephew, and the first grand-child on my family's side. Although we knew Keturah was pregnant before we left, we were essentially gone for her entire pregnancy. We skyped with her and Suzanne when we could, but we knew that we wanted to return in time to welcome my nephew into the world in person.

The timing of our return could not have been better. We visited with Keturah and Suzanne on Friday, our first full day back, and got to see Keturah in her full pregnant state. Here we are in the baby room of their condo (notice us too in clothes that you might not have seen in a while):
From Homecoming
Then, Keturah gave gave birth to 9 lb. 1 oz. Jonah Gray Martin yesterday afternoon. We drove into Boston and were there in time to hold little Jonah a mere three hours after birth. I can't imagine how emotional it must have felt to Keturah and Suzanne, but it was definitely a special moment for me.
From Homecoming
I can already tell Jonah is a kid after my own heart because he had enough sense to be born on a day with free parking! Despite there being both a Red Sox game and a Celtics game (welcome to Boston!), we found free parking outside the hospital and visited for a while with Suzanne, Keturah, Suzanne's mother and little Jonah. Both Keturah and the baby are doing well, and should be going home tomorrow.

Other than the baby, our re-entry to the US has been pretty uneventful. We'd left our car here during our travels so today we dealt with car issues, which were fairly minor (the car actually started right up and was running fine, it just needed a fluid flush or two). But it was enough of a pain to make me wish for our carefree (and carfree) travel days. Note to potential around-the-world travelers: one of the best ways to save money would be to get rid of your car. Between the insurance we had to reinstate and the repairs we could have lived in India for two and a half weeks. Living in the US is not cheap, that's for sure.

But, we'll be using the car during our next few weeks as we travel around. Tomorrow we head to Martha's Vineyard for a couple nights to visit with my Aunt and Uncle who are vacationing down there. Jaimee and I pumped up the tires on a couple borrowed bikes and are excited to peddle around on the island.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Places we loved

One of the most common questions we receive when talking about our trip is "What was your favorite country?" That's a really tough question because each country was so different that it's hard to generalize and say one was best. However, there were definitely places we'd love to revisit. Here are the countries we'd revisit and why:


We loved India. The food was outstanding, the people interesting and friendly and sights and activities were varied enough that there was always something fun to do. Even though we were there for five weeks, we only saw a fraction of the country, essentially the southern third. India would probably rank at the top of the places I'd easily revisit again. I'd probably concentrate on the North, combining it with a visit to Nepal (which we sadly didn't make on this trip).


We spent 15 days in Thailand but that wasn't nearly enough time. Thailand is a wonderful place to visit - the people are so nice, the food is amazing and the variety of geography makes it place with something for everyone. We spent most of our time in the mountainous north and I think on a future visit, I'd like to concentrate on the beaches and islands and the interior in the east, visiting Cambodia along the way as well.


Australia is another very large country with huge diversity of geography. Although it's not as exotic as say Thailand or India (and certainly not as cheap), it was a very fun country with wonderful people. Again, even with a month on the road there, we only saw a fraction of the country. On a future visit, I'd love to see the west coast, visit Adelaide and Sydney and do some trekking in Tasmania.

New Zealand

Being the country we spent the most time in (two months), I feel like we saw most of the country. It helps of course that it's a fairly tiny country with only four million people. We loved the South Island and on a revisit would probably concentrate further there. We missed the iconic Milford Sound, and were not set up to do any backcountry hiking which would be a definite on a future visit. I'd love to do some kayaking too, maybe a multi-day mixed hiking/kayaking trip would be awesome. Or, given more time, I would love to hike Te Ararao.


Turkey was a great surprise. We fell in love with the country and would highly recommend it as a place to visit. We concentrated on the western side of Turkey but on a future visit I'd love to see the center and east. We loved the food, the people and the all the amazing things to do and see.

Europe (including Iceland)

We spent about two weeks in Greece, two days in Italy, two days in Switzerland and four days in Iceland. Obviously that was not nearly enough time, and we would love to revisit Europe. I'd love to do some hiking in Switzerland, spend more time in Italy, and visit new places we didn't make it to this time (i.e., Spain, Portugal, Austria, Germany, various places in Eastern Europe, etc.) We also really loved Iceland and could revisit there. It would be fun to drive the entire Ring Road. We also enjoyed Greece, but would probably revisit Turkey before we went back to Greece.

In a future post, I'll talk a little about the places we didn't love so much, and I will end this post by saying that we're excited to be back in the USA because we love touring around our own country as well. There are still places in the US that we haven't been (Hello, Alaska) that also rank high on the list of places we'd love to visit.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Back in the USA

We're back! It seems natural to write home after that phrase but I capped it at "We're back" because it doesn't feel like home yet. Mostly of course this is because we left Seattle and have now arrived in Boston. One of the purposes of our trip was to incorporate our around-the-world adventures into our move from Seattle to Boston. But given that we don't know exactly where we're going to live and don't have jobs yet, it certainly doesn't feel like home. Even though the customs agent at Logan International Airport said, "Welcome Home" to us, I still feel like a visitor.
From Iceland
While waiting for Jaimee's family to come pick us up at the airport, I even joked with Jaimee that maybe we should have tried to get to Shrewsbury (where Jaimee's dad and step-mother live) by public transport. We could have added Boston to the list of cities we visited around the world. But, I'm glad her family picked us up. We went straight to a Mexican restaurant for burritos and margaritas, two food items that we continually craved while on our trip. It was a wonderful welcome back into the US.

I have a feeling it will be quite an adjustment period before I think of this area as home. Yes, I was born in Maine, grew up in Vermont, and therefore have a strong emotional connection to New England, but I lived in Seattle for the last 14 years and Boston is very different from Maine and Vermont (and Seattle), to say the least. But this will be good. It's a way of extending our trip in a way, and although it won't be as exotic as our previous locations, I plan on continuing this blog, using it to talk about some of the places we visit while we transition to a more "normal" life. For example, we already have plans for trips to visit Martha's Vineyard next week, Catskill (where we visited last fall) over July 4th weekend and Nantucket at the end of July. Additionally, we are subletting our friend's apartment in Somerville (a neighborhood of Boston) for the month of July, so we'll get a chance to see if Boston living is for us. In general, my plan is to live in the moment, enjoy the memories of our trip and not jump right back into a typical hectic American's life right away.

A few notes about Iceland to finish off where we left it the last time: We found the hot river area of Hveragerdi at it was amazing. It was about an hour hike through incredible terrain to an area where a glacial river runs into steaming water creating a perfect temperature for sitting and soaking. Even though the weather turned cold and rainy we soaked in the river and even enjoyed a natural waterfall massage.
From Iceland
Also, the Blue Lagoon is amazing! We spent the morning there between dropping off our rental car and catching our flight to Boston. It's an eerie area where the hot springs mix with minerals and silica creating a blue-milky colored water that felt so nice to relax in. It was a perfect ending to a perfect ending destination.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Iceland: a beautiful cherry on the top of our trip

Iceland is amazing! I can't imagine a better place for the last stop of our trip. Although we only have four days here, and are just barely scratching the surface of what Iceland has to offer, the scratch that we've done has been pretty nice.

Our visit started out on a slightly stressful note though. We took a 10:30 PM flight from Frankfurt, which was scheduled to arrive around midnight local time (it's about a 3 1/2 hour flight and Iceland is two hours behind Western Europe), but the flight was delayed by about an hour and we didn't arrive until after 1 AM, and after taking the bus into Reykjavik it was almost 2 AM. We had scheduled to stay with a Polish couple through couchsurfing and we had their address and phone number, but it turns out we were dialing the wrong country code. We were using the SIM in our phone that we got in Greece so we didn't know that we had the wrong code, only that the phone number didn't work. After walking around for a while (even at 2 in the morning it wasn't even close to dark) we eventually found the apartment, but after ringing the bell and knocking on the door, nobody would answer! We didn't know what to do, but in the end decided to just "camp" in their yard. We unfurled our beach mat and sleeping bags and slept for a few hours in the back yard.  Around 8 AM we tried ringing the doorbell again and this time they answered. They're not sure why they didn't hear us the night before, but they welcomed us in the morning before heading off to work.

We spent the day exploring Reykjavik, which is a very cosmopolitan town, full of little cafes, restaurants, book stores and other little shops. We were lucky to have a beautiful blue sky day, with temperatures in the high 50s, low 60s. Here's the famous concrete church, called Hallgrimskirkja. We didn't get to climb it because it was busy with funerals, but it's quite a sight and because it's on a hill, it can be seen from all over town:
From Iceland
We also visited one of the many outdoor geothermal public pools. For a 360 kroner ($1.75 US) fee we soaked in a gigantic outdoor hot tub. These pools are everywhere and are centers of social life. Instead of going to a coffee shop (although they do that too) groups congregate and hang out soaking in hot water. It was quite fun.

Iceland has a reputation for being extremely expensive, but Iceland was hit especially hard by the recent financial crisis and their currency took a huge hit (thanks Financial Crisis!), so in dollar terms prices are half or less what they were two or three years ago. So, while Iceland is still not cheap (restaurants in particular are still quite costly), it is not at all prohibitively expensive. For example, we ended up renting a car for two days to do some touring and it cost 19,000 kroner (about $90 $145 US) for two days. This includes taxes and insurance! Update: I realized later I must have miscalculated the exchange, and it's actually $145 for the two days, which is on the high side, but still better than we could find on-line when doing research.

We also scored a free tent for out little excursion by just asking. We went into an outdoor store and inquired about renting a tent to do some camping and although they didn't rent tents they told us to check the hostel across the street. We went in there and asked and they said we could just have a tent! Some German tourists had bought it and didn't want to bring it home so left it at the hostel. We were surprised, but they just let us have it. It's not the best tent in the world, but it was more than sufficient. (See a picture of it in action.)

For our road-trip we toured around what's called the Golden Circle area, a loop of about 200 miles or so that visits some waterfalls, National Parks, hot springs and geysers. Here's a short video of a geyser called Strokkur. It erupts every five minutes or so. You can watch the water recede into it and then bubble up and explode. There were gangs of kids (heard screaming in the background) who would stand downwind from the geyser and get soaked by the water.
From Iceland
We tried to get some pictures of Eyjafjallajokull (no, I didn't fall on my keyboard, that's really how you spell it), the volcano that caused all the flight cancellations last month, but it was covered in clouds so we couldn't see any steam. We also saw plenty of huge waterfalls, including Gullfoss, which had a beautiful rainbow across it:
From Iceland
We've had a blast (no pun intended) touring around in our rental car. The scenery is just amazing. Iceland is very beautiful, and there is a lot to explore. It's a great time of year to visit Iceland since the sun doesn't set until almost 11 PM and then rises again at 3 AM which means it's never completely dark.

We now have about 24 hours left in Iceland (and on our trip). Tonight we hope to camp in a hot spring area and take a dip in some open-air geothermal swimming pools near Hveragerdi. Then tomorrow before our flight to Boston we're stopping at the Blue Lagoon, a famous spa/outdoor hot pool to do some last minute relaxation before getting back to the US.

We can't wait to see friends and family again, but it's sad that our trip is almost over. It's been 297 days since we left Seattle last August 15th. Iceland has been a great last stop, and I'd highly recommend it as a place to visit, especially now while the dollar is strong against the kroner. (And note to our Seattle friends, Iceland Air flies direct to Reykjavik from Seattle.)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Switzerland and Germany, briefly

Because of the way we arranged the last couple weeks of our trip, after two nights in Venice we took the train to Zurich, Switzerland for two nights. Two days each in Italy and Switzerland is obviously an absurdly short amount of time. The train ride from Venice to Zurich made this all too clear. It was a gorgeous ride through tiny mountain towns and beautiful countryside. Every bend of the train had me wanting to get off and explore the surrounding villages and mountains. But, our schedule didn't allow us time to do that. I was sad about this, but similar to the cliche that it's better to have loved and lost, I suppose it's better to have two days as opposed to none.
From Zurich
We met up in Zurich with our friend Aaron from Seattle. He's lived in Zurich for about a year now, and definitely has mixed feelings about Zurich and Switzerland in general. It's a very orderly place, but almost too orderly, almost to the point of creepy orderliness (he's not allowed to do laundry on Sunday for example, and he's heard of apartment buildings where you're not allowed to take showers after 10PM because of the noise of the running water). Everything is very regimented; there are rules and regulations for everything and he finds the people to be very stiff and hard to get to know. However, the city itself is beautiful, sitting at the top of Lake Zurich, nestled between mountains and lots and lots of greenery. The city also has wonderful old architecture, including several churches, and the largest clock face in Europe.

We took a day trip with Aaron and his friend Eva to the German town of Constance, about an hour away by train. Contance is popular with vacationing Germans (redundant, I know, as pretty much all Germans are vacationing) and like Zurich, is set on a large lake amidst mountains. Constance is popular with Swiss visitors too as a place to do shopping as availability, selection and costs are better than in Switzerland. While in Constance we climbed to the top of a cathedral for amazing views of the town and surrounding countryside.
From Zurich
Having only spent less than 48 hours in Switzerland (with about eight of those in Germany) we know that we definitely want to come back. We saw loads of people riding bikes, and we would love to come back to do some biking and hiking. We didn't get up into the mountains this trip but it would be really fun to do some hiking and camping on a multi-day backpacking trip through either the Swiss or Italian Alps some other time.

Now we're off to Iceland, the last stop of our trip. Our flight leaves from Frankfurt, Germany so we booked a train from Zurich to Frankfurt where we take a plane to Reykjavik. It was difficult to find a couchsurfing host in Reykjavik, but at the last minute a Polish couple who lives there said they could host us. We have four days in Iceland, and we're not sure what we're going to do there. This Polish couple said they would host us for our first two nights, and after that maybe we'll rent a car (although the prices were ridiculously expensive, so we may nix that plan). Possibly we'll do an organized tour. We found a pretty awesome website that lists so many incredible activities to do in Iceland. I feel like a kid in a candy store looking at the possibilities. We'll post details on what we end up doing after we decide.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Our Ante Pentultimate Destination: Venice

It seems fitting that after beginning our trip in expensive Australia, we're ending it in expensive Europe. We've come full circle budget-wise in our travels. Turkey and Greece were not too bad on our budget, especially since we couchsurfed six times between the two countries. In Venice, we tried to find a couchsurfing host, but with no luck. The pickings were slim (only seven available hosts, and we only contacted one that we thought looked promising); later we found out that there were more hosts in the larger neighboring city Padua. Oh well, next time...

The 31 hour ferry ride from Greece was surprisingly pleasant. We didn't have a cabin, but we staked out an area in one of the lounges where we could unfurl our beach mat and alternately sleep and sit up. We read and played plenty of games. The only complaint about the ride is the high price of coffee: between 2.20 and 3 Euros ($2.70 and $3.70) depending on which part of the ship we bought it from.

We got into Venice in the early afternoon, and I was immediately reminded by how beautiful a city Venice is. This is my second trip to Venice, and I think it's one of the world's prettiest cities. Of course, it's pretty in one particular way: old buildings, old bridges and canals, so if you're looking for variety, Venice isn't the place. We walked around the evening we got there and got some amazing sunset pictures:
From Venice
We found a place to stay by making our way from the ferry jetty to the train station and standing around looking lost. A man approached us asking if we needed a place to stay. Jaimee and I had determined earlier that our budget for a room was around 50 Euros ($62 at $1.23 to the Euro), and it was as if I'd learned nothing from all our visits to countries where bargaining is the norm, because when the man asked us what we were hoping to spend, I blurted out "50 Euros". Would it have hurt to start lower? Anyway, not surprisingly, he had a room for 50 Euros and he sent us with a map to his hotel where we were greeted by his wife.  After a quick confirmation call to her husband on which she screamed at him, mostly in Italian but with the phase "Speedy Gonazalez" thrown in, we were shown to our room. It was a large bright room with a shared bathroom down the hall, but the neighborhood was great and since at this point it had started to rain, we took the room so we wouldn't have to wander around Venice in the rain with our backpacks.

Without our packs, wandering the streets of Venice was all we did. Well, alternating between stopping at cafes for wine or coffee and buying slices of pizza on the street. And gelato, at least twice a day (so many flavors to sample - I definitely recommend the pear!) It's cliche, but getting lost in Venice is part of the plan. There were several times when we'd walk around, somehow ending up repeatedly in the same wrong spot, but we didn't care. Every street in Venice is beautiful, and down each little alley is another small cafe with outside seating. After months of pinching pennies we somewhat spent with abandon (well, for us anyway), but it was totally worth it. Despite the hoards of tourists, including lots of young backpackers and many school groups, the city has plenty of very romantic and quaint spots.
From Venice
We didn't do any of the "touristy" things, apart from the aforementioned walking, as every sight was packed with tourists; there were long lines to get into the Musei di Piazza San Marco, Gallerie dell' Accademia, and the Peggy Guggenheim museum. Plus each museum was between 10 and 12 Euros ($13 and $15) each! That's a pizza dinner for two with beer and then two scoops of gelato! We also didn't take the vapporetti (water buses) because a one-way ticket costs 6.50 Euro ($8) each. That's the price of two glasses of wine. Plus, Venice is pretty compact and perfect for walking. We estimated that we walked an hour for the distance that we would have taken a vapporetto. Wouldn't you walk an hour for two free glasses of wine?

It might seem crazy to pass up such beautiful sights for what is in the long run, small amounts of money. But, museums will always be there, right? And, we needed to save our money for train tickets to our penultimate stop of Zurich, Switzerland. We almost fell over when we were told the price was 179 Euros ($220) for the two of us. Train travel in Europe is not cheap. We left the train station and investigated alternatives. We tried looking up buses (not convenient and not any cheaper) and flying (cheaper, but not to Zurich), so in the end we bought the train tickets. It's a six hour trip, covering a distance of about 550 km (330 miles). In Zurich, we'll stay with our Seattle friend Aaron who works for YouTube (Google) in Zurich. We won't have very long in Switzerland though as we fly out on Sunday to Iceland! We're really cramming a lot into our last week!
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