Posts Tagged ‘Friends’

2012 has been a fun-filled year for Kelly and me, even more so because of all the visitors we’ve had to Austin in recent months.  I absolutely love when we are able to re-connect with people from our trip – it just reinforces that the short, yet intense bond you shared at one point doesn’t change over time or despite the distance between you.

Kelly and I met Marianne in Argentina towards the beginning of our travels and were able to meet up with her again in Australia.  After graduating from medical school in Norway, she had some vacation time and decided to come to Texas.   We had a blast taking her around the town, drinking, dancing, and stuffing her face with Tex Mex.   Her timing couldn’t have been better since she was here for Kelly’s 30th birthday ‘Party Like It’s 1982 – Electric Boogaloo’ shindig.



Us and Marianne!

Us and Marianne!

We were also proud to talk Marianne into doing her first ever keg stand and she reminded us that she is still the caipiroska making queen – just as she was several years ago at the Blue Parrott in Sydney.

Luke the Aussie visited us not long before Marianne.  He stopped in Austin for a couple of weeks on his way down to travel extensively in Mexico and Central America.  I had visited Luke 8 months before in Melbourne, so I was thrilled to get to spend more time with him.  Besides the usual Austin haunts, we were also able to check out a couple of Austin staples that I had not yet experienced for myself – Hamilton Pool (absolutely stunning) and Chicken Shit Bingo.  In case you were wondering, it’s exactly what it sounds like.  You pick a number and if the chicken shits on your number, you win the prize.  That’s right, ya’ll.

Luke and me at Hamilton Pool

Luke and me at Hamilton Pool

Since I had Luke for a couple of weeks, we took a 4-day detour to New Orleans for Jazz Fest with my usual crew and our lovely local hosts Carol and Lionel.  We visited our favorite bars, restaurants, got pretty inebriated everyday and danced our asses off at the festival.  New Orleans is always a good time and I loved getting to experience it with Luke.  I was sad to see him go.

Pigging out at Jazzfest

Pigging out at Jazzfest

Kelly, Seth and I met Ed from London in Turkey on the bus from Istanbul to Cappadocia and hung out for a day or two while we were there.  Ed works for BP and just happened to be in Houston for a week for work and decided to make a weekend trip up to Austin.  Kelly took him out on the town one night and I spent his last afternoon with him driving him around the city, checked out Mount Bonnell, and had a drink on the lake at the Oasis.  Turns out Ed is still up to all kinds of travel adventures.   Check it out here: www.dromomaniacs.com

Having a drink at the Oasis

Having a drink at the Oasis

Kelly and I also hosted some new travelling friends – Stella from Australia and Courtlen from Canada.  Stella is a friend of Kelly’s roommate and had spent some time working in Canada.  She came to spend Austin in Halloween and we almost lost her to a band of gypsies and guy on a donkey.

Golden Girls, Ellen and Portia, and Boy George (aka Stella)

Golden Girls, Ellen and Portia, and Boy George (aka Stella)

Courtlen is a friend of Luke the Aussie’s – they met while working at a hostel together in Nicaragua – and I put him up for the weekend during Fun Fun Fun Fest.  Courtlen is probably the most hardcore traveler I’ve ever met.  He’s hitchhiked across Mexico and Central America (hell, he even hitchhiked to Austin in a farmer’s PLANE) and spent 6 months living in a favela in Rio de Janeiro.

kickin it at FFF

kickin it at FFF

And lastly, Thiago, a Brazilian work colleague of mine that I met while travelling for work, decided to base himself out of Austin for a month.  I’m making sure he is getting his fair share of chips and queso and trying to see that he packs on the same ten pounds I did while I was in his country.  Payback’s a bitch buddy.

Thiago and the ladies at Tacky Xmas Sweater Party.

Thiago and the ladies at Tacky Xmas Sweater Party.

Happy New Year everyone – hope to see your face in Austin soon!

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Not long after I returned from our trip and M and I split up, I was on the hunt for a new roommate, which believe it or not, is really difficult to find in your 30’s.  Everyone is pretty much married or living with a significant other already and although I’d have liked to live alone, it didn’t make financial sense.  So Kelly introduced me to her friend Jill who was in a similar situation as me; we checked out a few places together and settled on a duplex only a few blocks from my previous house.

I had always been apprehensive about moving in with someone I didn’t know that well, as I’d had some negative experiences in the past.  My favorite was a guy named Brian who was unemployed, never cleaned, and sat around our apartment smoking weed, watching porn, and playing the ukulele all day.  Thankfully, Jill and I hit it off immediately and I truly enjoyed getting to know her via our late night chats over boxes of wine (don’t hate, they make some really tasty boxed wine these days).  It only took a few weeks before we were besties – I couldn’t believe I had finally found someone that loved Blind Melon as passionately as I did.

Of course, ‘the trip’ came up multiple times during our discussions.  I think Jill had always had a desire to travel, so she asked me a lot of questions about how we did it, how much it cost, what hostels were like, etc.  Finally one evening she informed me that she too, was thinking of quitting her job to do some extended travelling and perhaps even find a job abroad.  I spent the next several months convincing her that this was the greatest idea in the history of ideas – and after a year of amazing fun roommate times, Jill quit her job, sold her car, put her stuff in storage, and bought a one-way ticket to Costa Rica.

As bummed as I was to be losing a fantastic roommate, I couldn’t have been happier for her and PROUD that she was doing it alone.  Jill’s been gone a little over 4 months now – she’s been to Costa Rica and Panama, from where she sailed down to Columbia, and has just wrapped up a month of living with a host family and taking Spanish classes in Cartagena.  She’s living the dream and has plans to work her way across South America, eventually settling in Argentina to find a job.

Jill also has a blog about her travels.  Part of me is selfishly writing this post in the hopes that those of you that read this blog will follow the link and read hers – in turn encouraging her TO WRITE IN IT MORE OFTEN.  Yes Jill – I need to hear more of your stories in order to live vicariously through you.  DON’T DISAPPOINT YOUR NEW READERS!!!  I know I’m being slightly hypocritical, since I obviously suck at keeping up with my own, but I’m officially trying now.

You can check out her blog here:



Love and Miss You Jilly!

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I love being a tourist in my own city.  Especially with people that have never been to Austin.  Extra especially when they have never even been to Texas, or America for that matter.

Kelly and I totally slacked on the blog the last few months of our trip and never wrote about our time in Europe.  One of our favorite weeks in Spain was spent in San Sebastian, where we met and shared a hostel dorm room with Aussies Tessa and Phil.  After late nights of drinking, world cup watching, and sand angel making, we became friends.

Not only was I lucky enough to meet up with Tessa again while I was in Melbourne this past September, but Phil and one of his college buddies, Tom, were doing a U.S. road trip in December and decided to spend five days with Kelly and me in Austin over New Year’s.

Our Austin adventures consisted of the following:

-City Bike Tour (with Kelly as guide), Chris Robinson sighting included

-Two-Steppin’ at the Broken Spoke

-Lunch at Salt Lick

-Zilker Park Chillin’

-House Party where gumbo was consumed and Tom accidently hit on an Englishman

-80’s night at Highball

-Beers and Pool at Horseshoe Lounge, jokes courtesy of Dixie the Awesome Bartender

-Visit to Mount Bonnell

-Proper dose of Tex-Mex at Maudie’s, Sazon, and Polvo’s

-Western wear shoppin’ at Cavender’s

-Gary Clark Jr. at Antones for NYE

-Long walk home from Antone’s due to the bus not showing up and no taxis stopping to pick up our drunk asses

-Cabbage, black-eyed peas, champagne, and movie recovery New Year’s Day.  The boys even made us a delicious Aussie dessert: sticky date pudding!

-Greenbelt Hiking

-Sunset Drinks at the Oasis

-Rainey Street beverages followed by a late night game of Flip Cup

-Several hangovers

It was a fantastic time – our own mini ‘Staycation’.  I’m fully aware of Austin’s awesomeness, but thoroughly enjoyed being reminded of it by showing the city to Tom and Phil and seeing it through their eyes.  Kelly, my roomie Jill, and I pretty much laughed our asses off for 5 days straight – a kick-ass way to start the new year!

The gang at Mount Bonnell


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Jealous Again

In the year or so I’ve been home, several people have asked me if I was able to ‘get traveling out of my system’ after spending such a long time on the road. You would think this would be the case after sleeping in hostels, wearing the same clothes, and living out of a back pack every day for almost a year. On the contrary, my trip had the opposite effect on me and has only intensified my desire to travel to foreign lands.

This past week, my coworker Max left Austin to go backpack around South America for 6+ months. When he told me he was leaving to do this, I was overcome with jealousy.  Although my job gives me the opportunity to travel internationally, there’s nothing like the sense of absolute freedom and adventure that long-term travel gives you.  I’ve realized that traveling for extended periods of time will never be off the table for me…it’s not really a matter of IF as much as WHEN I’ll set out on the next journey.

Until that day comes, I’ll have to live vicariously through Max and others like him.  You can follow Max’s adventures here: http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/levity03/

Good luck buddy!  I hate, errr, I mean LOVE you.

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One bittersweet aspect of travel is making awesome new friends and then having to part ways with them days or weeks later, knowing you’ll probably never see them again.   Most backpackers accept this as part of the long-term travel lifestyle, but I say its bullshit.  Sure, the norm is that you won’t ever see the majority of these people for the rest of your life…but some you might; you just have to make it happen!

Kelly and I met some amazing people during our travels who we still keep in touch with – Doug, Marianne, the Jeffs, Meghan, Tessa, Phil, and Luke being some of our faves and we all promised to visit each other in our respective countries.   So several months ago when Luke and I tossed around the idea of me coming to visit him in Australia, instead of thinking ‘yeah right, that’s crazy’, I thought why the hell not?!  I had received a large tax refund that I wasn’t expecting and instead of buying a computer and a new cell phone or some other ‘practical’ item, maybe I should take a kick-ass vacation.   Maybe after my break-up with M, I needed to do something a little irrational.   So I said fuck it and bought a plane ticket to Melbourne.  I’m tired of just talking about things I’d like to do and want to actually DO them.

Luke and his other 5 roommates were kind enough to let me crash with them for the duration of my stay, which gave me the opportunity to be immersed in Aussie ‘culture’.  Basically, they are all crazy (in a fun, obnoxious way).  My first couple of days in OZ I spent recovering from jet-lag.  I slept in, took a train into downtown, checked out Federation Square, the ACMI museum, walked along the river AND got to reconnect with Tessa, whom Kelly and I met in Spain.  We met in Fed Square and had a hard time recognizing one another since we had on make-up, had done our hair, and had on normal clothes…we were only used to what we looked like as grubby backpackers!   It was so great to reconnect with her.  She gave me a walking tour of downtown Melbourne, took me to the Queen Victoria market to buy souvenirs, and showed me the ‘footy’ stadium where all of the AFL (Australian Football League…much different than American football) games take place.  Victoria peeps are nuts about their teams!!

Along the river

Tessa and me!

Me in front of the footy stadium

That weekend, I went to the Park Life music festival downtown with Luke and crew.  We all dressed as cyclists, which seems somewhat ridiculous, but ended up being an awesome idea…very easy to find one another in our neon jackets.   Saw some bands, drank too much, and acted like fools…overall, a super fun day!

On Monday, Luke and I departed for Alice Springs to begin our tour of Ayres Rock (Uluru), the iconic sandstone rock formation in the middle of the Northern Territory.   I was very excited about this, since Kelly and I were only able to see the east coast when we were in OZ the previous year and I was pretty bummed I didn’t get to see Uluru.  To be honest, Alice Springs is in the middle of NOWHERE and is sort of a hole.  We strolled around town, met a 69 year old Dutch woman traveling the world by train in 80 days (so inspiring!), took a nap, ate dinner, and had an early night.   I think we were both still recovering from the debauchery of the weekend.

After a 5 hour drive the next morning, we made it to our campsite near Ayres Rock.  The plan was to hike the ‘Valley of the Winds’ trail, but due to the high heat, the trail was closed.  Instead we did a couple of short hikes around the Olgas (another group of rock formations) and headed over to Uluru for sunset.  As all of my faithful readers know, weather never seems to cooperate with my travel/site seeing plans.  It was very cloudy that evening so the dramatic color changes of the rock that I had hoped to witness didn’t happen.   Still very pretty though.

Walking through the Olgas

Luke and me in front of Uluru at sunset

The next morning was one of my favorite days of the trip.  We woke up early as hell in the morning to make it to Uluru and walk around the base of the rock during sunrise.  Luke and I were able to separate ourselves from the rest of the tour group, which was nice.  The weather was perfect, the sunrise beautiful and the rock itself was incredible.  It’s fricken massive and the colors are amazing…almost like it’s GLOWING.  Honestly, it’s mind-boggling that this giant rock is sitting in the middle of completely flat terrain for hundreds of miles.   Luke and I discussed climbing the rock, but decided against it, as it’s sacred to the Anangu, the Aboriginal people in the area.  They prefer you don’t trample all over their special mountain.  OK, fine.  The climbing trail ended up being closed due to the wind anyway, but honestly I wouldn’t have wanted to climb it either way…the ‘trail’ is basically a chain that you cling to up a steep ass mountain…it looked terrifying.  People die doing this every year…no thanks.


On our walk. Shadows are fun!


That afternoon our tour group was supposed to drive another 4 hours to hike King’s Canyon the next day (supposed to be amazing).  Go figure, some arsonists had set a bunch of bush fires, which resulted in the road to the canyon being closed for the next 4 days.  We were slightly bummed, but again, you can’t get too upset about things you can’t control.  Our guide took us to watch the sunset with a view of the Olgas…Luke and I splurged and got tipsy on a bottle of wine and had no trouble keeping each other entertained for the rest of the evening.  We slept outside under thousands of stars, which were absolutely beautiful…totally worth freezing our asses off the entire night.

Waiting for sunset at the Olgas

We made our way back to Alice Springs the next day, saw some local park areas, and then met up with several people in our tour group for dinner.  Afterwards, we had many drinks at the bar next door, danced a little and basically made fun of all the crazy ass locals that were there…a lovely end to our time in the not-so-lovely town of Alice Springs.

My last full day in Melbourne was spent at Luke’s house with his roommates and friends watching the AFL Championship (basically, the Aussie version of the Super Bowl).  Luckily, the team they were pulling for won.   Lots more drinking ensued (I was able to introduce them to my favorite drinking game – FLIP CUP) and then we hit up the town for more shenanigans.   Felt pretty rough the next day, so we laid around, watched movies, and I packed up all my crap to be ready for my 3.30 a.m. taxi pick-up to take me to the airport.

It was a pretty quick trip, but I’m so happy I went.  Not only did I get to see some cool shit, but got to reconnect with old travel buddies and make more new friends.  I have to admit I was a little nervous to go and spend 10 days with someone that I had only hung out with for a couple of weeks over a year and a half ago.  I mean, what if he totally sucked in ‘real life’?  Obviously that wasn’t the case and Luke and I got along just as well as we did the day Kelly and  I met him in Turkey.  I hope we get to see each other again… I know we will, it’s just a matter of making it happen.

Marianne, Doug, Meghan, the Jeff’s…you’re next!!

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With another overnight bus ride under our belts, we arrived in Fethiye, a town located in the south of Turkey along the Mediterranean coast.  We would stay here a full day and night before catching our boat for a 4 night Blue Cruise along the coast over to Olympos. V-Go’s, our hostel in Fethiye, was super nice; they had a great swimming pool, wonderful staff, fantastic view of the bay, and hosted BBQ’s just about every night. 

View from the deck of our hostel

The first day we arrived we  checked out the neighboring resort town of Oludeniz.  We heard the beaches there were absolutey stunning (despite being full of European tourists) so we hopped on the local mini-bus and took a 20 minute ride to catch some rays.  We spent the day lounging at a bean-bag beach bar, sipping beers and admiring the gorgeous water and surrounding cliffs.  It’s also a hot spot for paragliding and “luckily” the landing strip was right behind us.  Fortunatley, most landings were pretty good and no one ate it.

Beach at Oludeniz

That evening for dinner, we visited the fish market in the center of Fethiye where you choose and pay for your fish, shrimp, etc. and then bring it over to one of the surrounding restaruants that will cook it up for you as desired and provide salad and bread for only $5!   Talk about fresh!  We all agreed that it had to be one of the best seafood meals we’d all had in our lives.  I think Seth still dreams about that fish market!  After dinner, Kim headed back to the hotel and Seth and I had some beers at the pier and caught up on what each of us had been up to over the last 7 or 8 months.  We ended the evening having beers at V-Go with the staff and headed to bed.

Seth and his delicious salmon

The next morning we were up and at em’ quite early to catch our bus to the bay where we would be shuttled out to the boat for our gullet cruise along the Mediterranean coast.  We picked up a handful of people that would be joining us on the cruise and spent the short ride getting aquainted.  Once on the boat, we and met the other passengers and our captian, Ahmet, and headed out.  Even though the ocean and landscape were incredibly beautiful, I had a little trouble that first day.  I’m not sure if it was the quality of the Turkish motionsickness medicine or what, but I was seasick for the first 4 or 5 hours on the boat.  Luckily, I found my sea legs later that afternoon and could relax and enjoy myself. 

Our gullet

For the next few days,  all we did was lounge around, work on our tan, eat, drink, swim in the coldest water EVER and check out the scenery.  I also learned how to play backgammon!  We had perfect weather the whole time.  Our first stop was the small town of Kas (pronounced “cash”) for a short walk around and some souvenier shopping.  In the days that followed, we cruised by the former town of Dolikisthe, also known as the ‘Sunken City’, as it was ruined by an earthquake in the 2nd century.  We were able to see one of the Greek Islands from the boat one day as well! 


Part of the Sunken City

Kim jumping in!


Chillin' on the deck

The food that Ahmet and his mate prepared for us was delicious.  Normally they have a cook that is on board but they were a little short staffed.  I even helped out with dinner one night!  Another evening, we docked the boat and the guys BBQed for everyone on a small island. 

Seth, Kim and I spent every night sleeping on deck under the stars.  It was awesome. We had such a great time and couldn’t have asked for a better cruise.  Great people, food, sights, Efes beer….it’s all you need!  Our last night, we hung out in the bay near a town called Demre.  Our whole group would be shuttled to the dock the next afternoon to catch a mini-bus to Olympos.  We all planned to stay Seth’s last night there in ‘tree houses’ next to more beach and old ruins.  Can’t wait!

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After a great time in Istanbul, Kim, Seth and I took a 12 hour bus ride to Cappadocia, a region of central Anatolia characterized by rose colored mountains, caves, underground cities, and giant rock ‘fairy chimneys’, which were formed by the erosion of volcanic peaks. To be honest, no one can deny what the fairy chimneys actually look like.  I know we are probably too old to be cracking jokes of this sort, but we couldn’t help ourselves.  Seth didn’t help the situation either.  Childish joking aside, this was definitely one of the most unique and beautiful places we have seen on the trip so far.  We spent the next 3 days in the town of Goreme checking out the surrounding areas.      

Seth, me, and fairy chimneys!

We arrived super early in the morning and took a short walk to our hostel, Star Cave.  It was so nice! Definitley more like a hotel than a hostel.  And we got to sleep in a freakin’ cave!  Ramazan, the owner and a true caveman (really…he was born in a cave!), made us feel right at home.  After enjoying the best breakfast spread of the trip, we took a nice long nap to catch up on sleep. 
That evening Ramazan took us up to an amazing view point of Goreme. We took some photos and then headed back to the hostel to meet up with some friends we met in Istanbul and on the bus for dinner.  Ramazan recommended a very authentic and affordable place that included a traditional Turkish band that played right next to our table.  The chef even came out and passed out belly dancing belts and finger symbols and danced with us all night! Of course I took full advantage and got out there and shook my stuff.  Afterwards, we headed back to Star Cave for some cold beers and a sheesha pipe (remember, it’s just flavored tabacco). 

Us at the Goreme viewpoint

Me belly dancing!

The next couple days we were good little tourists and hopped on a bus to see some sights.  We saw tons of rock carved churches and caves that housed many of the first Christians that had to escape from the persecution of the Roman Empire in the second century B.C.  They also built many underground cities to hide from their enemies for up to 3 months at a time!  There are so many in Turkey, no one actually knows how many there are.  We took a tour of Derinkuyu, the largest underground city that has been discovered.  It had 8 floors and 85 meters deep that includes chapels, kitches, bathrooms, wine presses and cellars, stables and even schools.  This city could hold up to 50,000 people! It was so interesting to see how intelligently they constructed each floor for certain purposes and why.  We also went to the Goreme Open Air Museum.  We toured many of the monasteries and churches there as well.  On our way, we stopped at Pigeon Valley for some wonderful views.

Inside one of the cave churches




The next stop was a tour and demonstration at a ceremic plate and pottery factory.  They showed us how many of the items are still made by the original method of foot pedelling.  Then they chose a person from the audience to do a demonstration as well.  Of course, guess who they picked?  Before I made a cute little bowl, they had me make one of the phallic shaped rocks.  I’m sure you can imagine the motions I had to go through to make this.  Needless to say, Kim, Seth, I and the rest of the crowd were crying with laughter!  It was embarrassing and hilarious all at the same time.  Our final activity on the tour was a 2-3 hour hike through a valley surrounded by caves and a beautiful river.
Ramazan also talked us into going to Turkish Night.  It was about $15 for all you can eat and drink along with a show of all the typical Turkish dances.  We all really wanted to see authentic twirling Dervishes and belly dancing…however, I’m pretty sure it was the “all you can drink” that convinc.ed us.  We had such a good time!  Ramazan got Seth a little tipsy by constantly toasting him with Roki shots (the local Turkish liquor).  Little did he know, Ramazan was pouring water into his own glass since he was our driver and all!  And since we seemed to have such luck, Seth also got chosen out of the crowd to join the lovely bellydancer on the dance floor.  Once again, we were crying laughing as Seth created his own dance moves to show up the bellydancer.
Another common activity in Cappadocia is hot air ballooning.  We would have loved to do this, however, it was about $100 a person and we just couldn’t afford it.  We’ll have to do that next time.  Our last day in Cappadocia, we rented mountain bikes and rode over to Rose Valley to explore.  All was going well until 45 minutes into the ride, Kim got a flat tire.  We ended up having to walk the bikes back to a closer village to get the flat replaced.  We had a nice lunch and decided that we would go ahead and head back.  We would be catching an overnight bus down south to the coast for our Blue Cruise! 

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A Few Days in Istanbul

Kim and I absolutely loved Nepal.  However, we were both looking forward to heading into the westernized world once again. After a full 24 hours of travel and a bump up to first class on one of our flights (yeah!), we landed in Istanbul, Turkey.  We checked in to our hostel in Sultanahmet, the heart of historic Istanbul.  We had a few days to kill before Seth, one of my oldest friends, would join us for 2 weeks of fun!  We knew he would want to see a lot of the tourist attractions as well, so we spent our first couple of days running errands (shipping things home, haircuts, etc.), relaxing on our hostel´s rooftop terrace admiring the coast, and enjoying ice cold Efes, Turkey´s best beer.

We also made a lot of new Australian and Kiwi friends since they were all in town for Anzac Day.  This is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand on April 25th every year to honor members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli in Turkey during WWI.  I think we were the only people at the hostel that were not from OZ or New Zealand!  When all them left for Gallipoli, we made friends with some locals that we spent an evening with drinking red wine, dancing and smoking sheesha (flavored tabacco) in their restaruant after hours.  What a great night!

 When Seth arrived a few days later, we only had a couple days to see the sites in Istanbul before we moved on.  We went ahead and booked all of our activities for his entire time in Turkey so we could relax and not have to do too much planning. First stop was The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque).  It was built by Sultan Ahmet in 17th century and was supposed to be bigger, better and more beautiful than Hagai Sofia (Ayasofya), the ´greatest church in Christendom´, across the plaza built in 537 A.D. This is actually a working mosque so it is closed to visitors for 30 minutes, 5 times a day for Muslim prayer.  It get´s its name from the blue tiles that are inside, mostly on the upper level.  Even though the exterior was in my opinion, much prettier than Ayasofya, the interior of Ayasofya was breathtaking and more beautiful.  Both buildings are must sees, just be ready for the crowds.  Afterwards, we headed over to the harbor for a fresh fish sandwich and mussels and a long walk along the coast. That night, we hung out with all the Aussies and Kiwis that had returned from Gallipoli.  The strip of bars and clubs behind our hostel were filled with people enjoying themselves after such an emotional experience.   
The Blue Mosque


Dome inside the mosque


Seth and Me


The Aya Sofia

Inside the Aya Sofia



For Seth´s final day in Istanbul, we headed to the Grand Bazaar for some shopping.  What an amazing place!! They have everything Turkish you could ever imagine.  From tea and backgammon sets, to belly dancing costumes, jewelry, clothes, pashminas, sheesha pipes, to sultan hats.  We had so much fun wandering around for hours in the maze of shops with men shouting funny lines to get you to stop and look.  You could literally spend days in there and not see everything.  We also visited the underground Basilica Cistern.  It was built in the 6th century and later enlarged to provide water filtration for the surrounding buildings in Sultanahmet. 


The Cistern

That night, Seth and I went with some friends from the hostel to Taksim, a area where locals and tourists go out for a good time.  There are tons of bars, clubs, live music, and dancing for any taste.  Unfortunately it was Monday, so the scene was pretty low-key.  Even though we were told it was best to go on weekends, we had to check it out.  We still made a great night out of it!! If any of you know Seth….he IS the party where ever we go.

Istanbul is an incredible city. So alive and friendly! Luckily, Kim and I would be back in about a month but now on to Cappadocia!!


Our new Turkish friends

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Rafting and Relaxing

With 12 days of trekking under our belts, Kelly and I were looking forward to returning to Pokhara for some good ol’ r&r.  Situated below the Annapurna mountain range on the tranquil waters of Lake Phewa Tal, Pokhara is a chilled out town with cute restaurants, bars, and shops.  We spent four days wandering the streets, eating amazing pizza, Indian food, and steak (we were sooooo sick of eating dahl baht everyday), napping, reading, and doing not much else.  

Also, we were fortunate enough to meet up with Doug again!  He had just finished the Everest Base Camp trek and made the trip to Pokhara to relax and do some paragliding.  One afternoon the three of us took a crazy taxi ride up to the World Peace Pagoda to get an overall view of Pokhara and snap some photos.  Unfortunately, the skies had begun to get a little hazy, so the view wasn’t as nice as we had hoped.

At the World Peace Pagoda

After several days of being lazy, Kelly and I signed up for a two-day white-water rafting trip down the x river.  We did an easy section of the river, which consisted of mostly Class II and a couple of Class III rapids…our first day we basically floated along the river taking in the spectacular views around us.  Camp was set up on a small beach with another group of paddlers taking a kayak course and our guides prepared a fantastic dinner for us before having a couple of beers and calling it a night.

The second day of rafting was a bit more exciting.  We got to hit up a few Class III rapids and assisted in the ‘rescue efforts’ of the kayakers that were tumped over during the more difficult runs.  At first Kelly and I were kicking ourselves for not doing a kayaking course instead, but after watching the kayakers eat it on those rapids, we were glad we stuck to the rafting.

At the take-out point, the plan was for the majority of the group to catch a public bus back to Kathmandu.  The guides hailed a bus, but the only room available was on the roof with the luggage.  In Nepal, it is totally acceptable to ride on the roof of buses, cars, trains, whatever.  Everyone in our group was ok with this, but I was not having it.  I insisted that Kelly and I would wait for another bus.  Eager to be rid of us and head back to Pokhara, the guides convinced a couple of ladies at the front of the bus to stand up so Kelly and I would have a seat. 

That’s the other thing about Nepal buses…they pack in as many people (and animals) as possible so people are sitting on top of eachother, standing in the aisles, etc.  Kelly and I sat at the front of the bus, facing the opposite direction which meant we had about 30 Nepali people staring at us for the entire seven hour journey…pretty entertaining for us and them.  It was not a comfortable ride and we even thought it would have been nicer to ride on the roof (and actually probably safer…at least we could jump off if the bus started to take a tumble over a cliff).  Unfortunately, our friends up top assured us that it wasn’t much better up there either.

Happy to be alive, yet exhausted when we finally got back to Kathmandu, we checked into our guesthouse and had an early night.

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Located in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is known as the cultural city of the country and amongst other activities, is a popular destination to undertake a trek to hill-tribe villages.   After all of the island hopping, Kelly and I settled down for a whole week here and really fell in love with the place. Despite the noise, traffic and smoggy air (due to all of the ‘slash and burning’ that goes on to cultivate the mountain slopes), the city has an extremely laid back atmosphere. The ‘Old City’ is surrounded by a moat and a brick wall (crumbling in some areas) that once served as a defense against attackers and is full of narrow cobblestone alleyways lined with cafes and restaurants.

The wall around the city center

Our first day in town, Kelly and I immediately signed up for a Thai cooking course.   There are dozens to choose from, but we settled on Thai Farm Cooking School, a class taught outside of the city on an organic farm.   They picked us up from our guesthouse early the following morning and stopped off at a local outdoor market where we were given the rundown of the key ingredients for Thai cooking and allowed some time to wander amongst the endless food stalls.

Upon arrival, we were given a tour of the farm, including an explanation of the produce that is grown there, before being shown to our cooking stations. In no time we were pounding mortars and pestles to make our own chili paste from scratch…it’s actually quite a workout! Every person chose five dishes to make…Kelly and I decided on green and red chicken curry, tom yam and tom ka soups, pad thai, chicken with basil, chicken with cashew nuts, and sticky rice with mango.



It was a great day and the food was fantastic…we went home with our bellies full (yes, you eat the food that you make) and doggy-bags in tow, along with a recipe book of all the yummy dishes we had made.   Kelly and I are super excited to cook authentic Thai food for our friends and family when we get back home!

Look what we made!

The next afternoon and evening was dedicated to the Sunday Walking Street Market, a market that blows all the other markets we‘ve seen away. Rachadamnoen Road, one of the main streets in the Old City, is closed off to traffic and the entire street is lined with row after row of vendor booths that sell clothing, jewelry, home décor, paintings, and other local crafts.   Singers, dancers, and other musicians perform in the middle of the road and tucked inside the temple yards are food stalls packed with diners feasting on pork dumplings, fried noodles and rice, meat skewers, and fresh fruit smoothies.   Kelly and I had another fine, cheap street food meal as we tried to navigate the shops that sprawled in every direction, but finally had to give up around 9 p.m.   After four hours, we probably only saw half the market…it is that huge.

Stalls at the Sunday market

The following day, Jeff K. from Canada arrived and the three of us took a taxi up to the Doi Suthep, one of the local Buddhist temples.   The temple was pretty, but unfortunately, was under construction…the big stupa was covered with tarps and scaffolding!

Wat Doi Suthep

 That evening, we all ticked another Thailand ‘must-see’ off of our list and attended a Muy Thai Boxing Fight.   Picturing a boxing match from the States, we thought we would be sitting in a crowded arena with hundreds of other fans, but were surprised when we arrived at a courtyard full of bars and were escorted to a small ring surrounded by benches and tables…much more up close and personal than we expected!

Muy Thai!

There were five rounds of boxing, the first couple between young Thai boys and teenagers, followed by a match between two Thai women boxers (awesome!), and then two international fighters against a local Thai.  These fighters don’t mess around and the sport looks absolutely exhausting.   After our fill of punches and kicks, syrupy-sweet cocktails and shirtless dancing lady-boys, we called it a night.

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