Friday, May 22, 2015

The Six Month Awards!

     It is difficult to believe that six months ago we we sold out, packed up and lit out for the territory. In honor of this fact, we have compiled some awards to commemorate the highs and lows, winners and losers of our trip thus far. So we are pleased to present to you The Six Month Awards!

The catagories are: 

Best WTF Moments:
     The winner is:
          Booking a ferry from Koh Lanta to Krabi, Thailand and finding it required a boat change in the open sea from a large ferry to a small longtail boat (about a 5 foot drop) as the boats slammed together, while carrying our luggage, followed by climbing out and across multiple boats & ladders up to the dock in Ao Nang. Not for the faint of heart or weak of hip!

Runner up:
     Asking the staff if we could sit at one of the empty cocktail tables at Ku De Ta bar on top of the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, and being informed there is a "minimum spend " of $3,000 at the tables. What? No. Who WERE those people sitting there anyway? Yeesh. Nobody sensible.

Most Hilarious Moments:
     The winner is:
          Being so psyched to eat the "Classic Burger" we ordered in Siem Reap, Cambodia after months of no western food, only to discover that although it contained lettuce, tomato, some kind of ham/bacon, sauteed onion, and a roll, it did NOT actually contain a burger.

     Runner up:
          Cow Crossing Guard in New Zealand

     Actually there have been WAY too many pants wetting, can't breathe, hilarious moments to pick a winner, so it's a tie. Good times all around.

Most Sobering Moments: 
     The winner is:
          Visiting the Land Mine Museum in Cambodia

The runner up:
     Browsing the displays at the Osaka Castle showing the mass destruction of WWll bombings.

     In general seeing the effects of war, poverty and religious extremism of one kind or another has been pretty sobering and frighteningly enlightening the world over. Stop it. Please. Help each other. Be kind. No more killing, pollution and littering, OK? That'd be great. Thanks.

Personal Worst: 

Andy: Simultaneous diaherra and sneezing from massive allergies in Mexico. 'Nuff said.
LuAnn: A full-on tearful breakdown, while wading in the Andaman Sea in Southern Thailand, after realizing we booked 21 days in the 104 degree Leaf House Bungalow with no A/C, overlooking a trash pile. "I'd want to go home but I don't even have a home to go home to!" (Note: fixed after canceling and rebooking a far nicer place without too great a loss of face or funds).

Best Meals: 
     The winner is: Any meal that we were served in Japan. Seriously.

Worst Meals: 
     The one exception:
          The huge mound of tripe & cabbage cooked at our table with a drunk salaryman in Osaka, Japan. We think he was trying to pick one or both of us up. Flattering but pass.

Runner up: a bowl of plain melted cheese LuAnn inadvertently ordered with her bad Spanish in Guanajuato, Mexico while our son Austen looked on in dismay. Not happy, like this:

Most Expensive Destination:
     The winner is:
          Singapore. $83 for a small pizza and 2 beers. The aforementioned $3000 minimum at Marina Bay Sands. Two more beers at the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel? That will be $46, please. Hey, it's where the Singapore Sling was invented! We didn't have one. We were there barely 4 days, and spent $1075 while trying to be "frugal". Yikes.

Runner up: New Zealand. Two flat whites and two muffins? $26 please. Yow! Like Japan, though, so worth it.

Least Expensive Destination:
     The winner is:
          Cambodia. We stayed at the beautiful Rose Royal Boutique luxury resort, with a very attentive staff (almost to the point of lurking) for about $20 a night. We visited the amazing sites at Angkor Wat, and returned to the hotel in the heat of the day to swim in their clean sparkling pool. According to Trail Wallet, the budgeting app we use made by our friends Simon and Erin at Never Ending Voyage (check it out!), our four days there came in at $325. About $40 a day each.

Best Accommodations:
     The winner is:
          The SkyCity Grand, Auckland, NZ. We had a free 3 night free stay at this 5 star hotel, as a result of a Twitter contest Andy won from Expedia. The room was luxurious, the bed to die for, the restaurants first class, and the city was laid out in front of us to explore easily by foot. Wonderful. And free!

Runner up: The Studios villa in Ubud, Bali. The apartment was large, with a well equipped kitchen, but best of all, the grounds were a tropical paradise full of flowers and butterflies. There was even an amazing temple right in the complex, to say nothing of the infinity pool overlooking the rice fields. Seven nights for $325.

Worst Accommodations: 
     Since we painfully got out of the aforementioned pit-level bungalows, this would have to go to a really awful guesthouse we spent one night in Ayuttaya, Thailand. We sat on the mattress and it sank to the frame. It was so bad we've blocked out the name. It was one we booked while in the midst of the now infamous tuk-tuk scam in Bankok.

     We were going to try to include prettiest and ugliest places, or favorite/least favorite, but honestly it's just too hard. Some of the best places were marred by things that are hard to quantify, like too many rude tourists or too much trash or whatnot, while some of the roughest places were tempered by some of the nicest people or the most amazing sights. Besides, one man's meat is another man's poison. Get out there and see for yourself!

    Why do so many places in the world that are so plagued by mosquitos and other bugs have no screens? Not on the windows, not on the doors: why? It's crazy! Want to make a million dollars? Convince people in Southeast Asia and South America they need screens instead of malaria medicine and you'll be set.

     So far so good! We still love it. No regrets, really. Andy recently said to a friend "I often wonder about the wisdom of our decision, but not the virtue." We miss our friends and family but we hope to see them again sooner or later and when we do we hope it will be all the sweeter. Most of all we hope we've inspired someone out there to take the leap. Do that thing you always wanted to do. You can fail doing something you hate too, so you might as well try what you love.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

In The Swing Of Singapore

     The cold I was fighting finally hit on our last day in Ubud, Bali so there was nothing to report except sneezing and hate. The next day was a travel day and it was tough getting up at 5:30AM but we got through the 2 hour flight from Bali to Singapore without incident and the customs in Singapore was a breeze. A $20 cab ride got us to the brand new Park Alexandra Hotel in about 20 minutes.
     Turns out the hotel opened...that day. Wow! A month ago Expedia sold me a room in a hotel that wasn't even open yet! I heard the staff saying the "official" opening is in August. We are among the first 20 guinea pigs. Hilarious! The card keys were a major pain since you need them to work the elevators, and I estimate that each of the 6 cards we've been issued works approximately 25% of the time. Its just a brand spanking new hotel with some bugs to work out. There is a pretty infinity pool on the 7th floor though, overlooking some of Singapore's super modern buildings.

     We dropped our stuff and took my cold out sightseeing. We had a quick fried chicken lunch at the food stalls nearby, where they display their grade from the regular food inspections. What a change from other food vendors we've seen throughout Southeast Asia! Mostly B's. We ate at an A, wouldn't you? Seems Singapore is totally unforgiving of unclean conditions, which was comforting.  After lunch. we caught the free shuttle to Bayfront, walked down to the famous Gardens By The Bay just in time for this awesome light show! This is 30 seconds of the 20 minute piece, including theme from 2001, Star Wars, and I don't even know what all. I recognized most of the tunes but can't recall them here.

     We walked back to the iconic Marina Bay Sands and got the elevator up to the fabulous Ku De Ta bar on the theory that instead of paying $23 each for tickets to the observation deck we could get the same view plus 2 drinks! And that's exactly what they were. One Tiger beer and one house white wine: $50 (including tax and tip). Jesus. Here's the view from the outside:

     We were in the right hand tower, top floor. When we went to get a table (as opposed to the stand up bar tables) they guy said "See the woman at the door." who informed me the minimum "spend" to sit at those tables was....$3000. HAHAHAHAHA! Right. Who WERE those people sitting there anyway? About 15 people were hanging out there, say 5 groups of three. Why did they think that was worthwhile? Weird. Three Chinese businessmen, a bunch of 20-somethings... I just don't get it.
     Next up a fantastic dinner at Chinatown, then home for the night.

     I woke up feeling much better the next day, so we hit the Singapore Botanical Gardens. Stunning! They much deserve their reputation and I hear UNESCO is adding them to the World Heritage Sites soon. We walked about ten miles that day between one thing and another. Too many pix to pick:

     Afterwards we got the bus down the fashion mecca of Orchard Road to the Raffles Hotel, home of the Singapore Sling. Perhaps it's not politically correct of fashionable to be nostalgic for colonial times, but I am occasionally anyway. Not for the awful parts of course, but for the elegance, grace and style it once had, or at least projected.

     We walked back to the esplanade for dinner, then across the esplanade bridge at the mouth of the Singapore river to the Merlion statue, then cut through the Fullerton hotel and ran into something we saw a lot in Singapore. Following signs to the MRT subway station we ended up outside and...nothing. No indication where to go. It was like 3 blocks away. That type of thing happened to us a lot. You follow signs to the outside and then they just assume you know where to go. Strange.

     The next day after brunch at the hotel we decided to lay low since LuAnn wasn't feeling well so we hung by the pool and met a young woman from Hong Kong, a kindred spirit with whom we had a nice chat about the state of the world. Then we headed off to see the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest Dome at Gardens by the Bay. They were both great but could have been better lit, as we were there in the evening and some of the exhibits weren't easy to see.

     Our flight the next day was 8PM but we decided to spend the day at the Singapore airport. Yes, that's right, on purpose. That tells you how cool the Changi Airport is. The had everything; pool, free video games, movies, flower gardens galore. There was even a sports bar dedicated to Boston sports teams. Amazing, if somewhat out of place. They had things like license plates from Illinois and Pennsylvania as well and the manager was surprised when I told him those places were nowhere near Boston. The things you see.

     For more Swinging pix of Singapore click HERE and HERE!

     Some observations on Singapore: We loved that it was spotlessly clean, and efficient. We loved that there seemed to be no homeless people, beggars, thieves, scammers or slums that we saw and that the state takes care of its people with things like subsidized housing and medicine. No one seemed to have a single complaint, other than that it was expensive.

     We are a bit troubled that the state clearly has so much power. People obey the law because the punishments are HARSH and the police we saw very obviously had NO sense of humor at all. They looked like they would happily mess you up just for practice. Andy absolutely loved the hot humid weather, LuAnn less so.  

Next up: Special 6 months on the road edition and Istanbul Turkey!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ubud, Bali and blog makeover

     Friday May 8th we made our way back to Bali on Eka Jaya, one of the fast boat services from Gili Air. I had a nice chat with Omar, one of the boat guys, who said he hoped to study English some more and get his captain's license. I hope he succeeds as he's a very nice kid. Heartening!

     Then we got the shuttle that was supposed include taking us to our hotel but he stopped in the middle of Ubud and made us all get out to get taxis the rest of the way to our hotels. When there weren't any taxis he then squeezed everyone for another 50,000 Rupiah each to finish the job. I was pretty mad, but since it cost me about $3.50 US it wasn't worth a hassle. That kind of crap is my least favorite thing about traveling in The East though. No picture for him!

    We're staying at The Studios, which are fabulous compared to our previous accommodations in Indonesia so far. Ubud is generally cleaner and has been more enjoyable, despite the lack of beach. We walked around a bit, got massages and picked up some groceries for our new kitchen! Making our own yummy breakfast is a joy! The pool is wonderful and it overlooks some gorgeous rice paddies.

     Saturday we went to Antonia Blanco's house, the wonderful museum of the so-called "Dali of Bali". Mostly lots of great paintings of naked Balinese women in fantastical custom made frames. Besides the beautiful building and grounds they had many pretty parrots and other exotic birds, such as this lovely hornbill, both in cages and loose on the grounds. A moment later he took a huge dump but missed me, thankfully.

     In the afternoon we had some lunch at Murni's Warung, which was delish, then walked around some more, got yet another massage, had ribs at the Glove & Stove next door and finally crashed. Today for Mother's Day (!) we went to the Monkey Forest, which was really fun. Those little guys are so cute, if occasionally somewhat terrifying. They have some BIG TEETH. For real.

     I was pretty afraid I would accidentally step on someone's tail and lose a piece of my leg. They were everywhere underfoot, climbing on people, trying to get anything that looked like it might have food in it, and generally humping up a storm. The folks there are trying to preserve the environment there and are doing a good job. The jungle was just spectacular. There were were some awe inspiring trees, such as these:

     There were also some super funny moments like them cannonballing into their pond:

     They also had some cute Timorese deer (Lord knows why) that made a pretty funny noise:

     Afterwards we walked around that part of town and came back for a homemade pasta dinner that couldn't be beat and made a bunch of changes to the blog template for web & phone. Do you use your PC or phone? Did you notice? We hope you like it. We want more people to see & follow our Facebook & Instagram feeds since that seems to be where all the comments go.

     Speaking of comments, we really want to reach more people, share more adventures and interact with our friends, followers, and fellow travelers, so please drop us a line? While I'm asking pretty please, if you could share and/or like our Facebook page and generally point your pals to our blog, we will be ever so grateful. Thanks!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Greetings from Gili Air, Indonesia!

     Gili Air is the right place to do...nothing. There are no cars and no motor bikes, excepting the odd electric one. They do have ponies drawing carts and bicycles. The ponies sound like one imagines Santa's reindeer coming up behind you with their little sleigh bells jingling.

    Despite all the pony carts walking still seems to be the prevalent mode of transport here but this afternoon we rented some fat-tire bikes and rode around the circumference of the island in less than 45 minutes. Man those things are fun on soft sand! Whoohoo!

     There are copious amounts of bars, restaurants and resorts catering to a variety of tastes and budgets, most with wifi. I'm sitting in one such as I type this. I have observed two primary levels of service here. High-level hovering, bordering on obsequiousness and non-existent. Where we are staying I have to interrupt a card game, jam session or wake someone to get service.

     At another hostel I had to have a manager awakened from his nap, at 3:00 in the afternoon, because we just wanted a price on a room, and the kid filling in basically was just the bartender. I find this amusing more than irritating because, hey, it's island time baby. Soon come.

     There are quite a few diving centers with diving, snorkeling, paddle boarding and free diving classes and trips available. We went on a snorkeling trip and saw a great many fish, including my beloved flying fish, many huge sea turtles and coral in every shape, size and color.

     I should mention from the look of the pictures that the weather throughout Indonesia, since we arrived here at the tail end of the rainy season, has been pretty much the same everyday. Super clear, sunny and nice in the mornings, clouding up in the afternoons and lightly raining in the evenings. All in all pretty fine; not too hot, not too anything.

     Otherwise we've mostly been relaxing, bicycling or walking around, eating, reading, writing and painting or playing guitar, respectively. The big deal here was the Mayweather-Pacquiero fight. The Kentucky Derby didn't make a wave and we missed it, though admittedly it happened in the middle of the night for us. The news from the US barely reaches us, unless we are actively looking for it, and for that I'm grateful. It's nice not to have Faux News blaring from every TV. Instead we watch this:

     As we approach our six-months-on-the-road date we've been spending some time trying to figure out where to go next and what to do...after. Other than small bits of income from art and music we really haven't been trying to earn money or look for "real" jobs, as such. In general we've been too busy traveling and seeing all the things there are to see in the world.
     I started working on that a little bit while I'm here, updating my LinkedIn profile, especially the "where I'm looking" part, in cities like Charleston SC, New Orleans LA, Austin TX, and San Diego CA. Trying to explain in a resume that yes, I quit a great, safe, secure, high-end job in the Northeast, sold all my stuff and traveled internationally for a year is challenging. It doesn't fit neatly into a bullet point. Saying I'm a "travel blogger", while true, doesn't do much for my "career track" but I'm working on it at least. I'm open to suggestions so please drop a line if you have any! I'm open to doing almost any kind of work as long as I can do it remotely, or wherever I am, so let me know if you have anything? Thanks!

     One thing that came up is the ridiculous feeling that, if I decide to come back to the US and work for a while, I am somehow failing. Isn't that silly? I don't have to live up to anyone else's expectations. It's true that I don't really want to go back to "cubicle life" but I hope I'll be able to parlay my various skills into a gig that works for my future employer, my wife, and myself.

     Anyway, theres always the possibility that something else will present itself in the interim but at least I'm thinking about it in a way that's not all "No, please no!" LOL