Vacation from our Vacation

For anyone considering a trip like this, I wouldn’t recommend 14 countries in 7 months.  That’s bad planning on our part.  I know it sounds ridiculous since we are taking a year away from work (and even more ridiculous after Skyping with cousin Katie who had just worked a 4-day nursing shift), but we are exhausted.  I had read that this might happen and the best way to beat it is just to sit down somewhere for a week or more. So, where better to do this than an island off of Thailand’s east coast?

We spent two weeks on Koh Phangan recovering from a cold, swimming, sitting in the sun, exploring the island by motorbike,  and not unpacking and repacking our bags.

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hotel #1 on Koh Phangan: Beck’s

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Sunset from Beck’s

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Beach bar at Beck’s. Our bartender, Lek, won a big bartending competition while we were there!

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Amsterdam Bar

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Sunset view from Amsterdam Bar

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The three best friends that anyone could have

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Bottle Beach

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Beach pup at Bottle Beach

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Hotel #2: Milky Bay.

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Coconut at Milky Bay

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The most amazing meal: BBQ fish and prawns

A couple weeks later we are well rested and ready for more traveling! Bring on those 12 hour overnight bus rides!

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Touring Taiwan, a.k.a. Why Can’t I Stop Eating?

Our timing in Taiwan was perfect, as we overlapped with my sister-in-law, Patty’s, parents! They so generously fetched us from the airport, hosted us for two nights, and took us on a whirlwind tour of Taipei including Taipei 101, a Gondola Ride, Memorial Hall Square, and a night market, before shuttling us to our train to get to Tainan for the wedding. They were so helpful translating for us and ordering meals; delicious food magically appeared before our eyes.

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Memorial Hall Square

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Cale, Julian, Kathy

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View from Taipei 101

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Ahhh yeah the birthplace of Din Tai Fung!

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Gondola Ride

Our arrival in Tainan was a huge highlight of our trip, mostly due to our amazing airbnb host, Shirley. She met us at the train station and walked us to the apartment (which is so helpful – we spend lots of time trying to figure out where our hotel is due to faulty GPS on my phone, and no physical maps to reference). She then took us out to an amazing lunch and again hosted dinner and drinks on the rooftop that night! She helped us throughout our trip, making sightseeing recommendations and helping us buy a bus ticket to our next destination. It’s hard to explain how amazing these kind acts make us feel. In a place where we cannot read a single street sign and have to walk down the street to understand that a shop is not actually a lunch spot, it’s actually a car mechanic. And it’s rare that someone speaks English. People like Shirley have really made this trip for us.

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Shirley with dumplings!

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Park across the street from our awesome airbnb

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you can’t hide… This is an old Japanese fort in Tainan, now over-run by Banyan trees.

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So many scooters in Taiwan!

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A little temple in Tainan

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Confucious Temple in Tainan

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Street dumplings. These were $1

We stopped next in Taichung to meet up with a new friend, Alex, who we had randomly met at the hostel in Istanbul (he entered the common room and said “I heard someone is going to Taiwan! Let me give you suggestions!”). We met Alex and his sister at the Taichung night market and they took us to their favorite food stands. So tasty.

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Selfies at the night market

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More food please!

 

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Tasty Clams

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Night Market

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I had to try some of these. Pretty tasty!

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Sun Moon Lake- a day trip from Taichung. We rented bikes to ride around the lake.

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Sun Moon Lake

Our last stop was in Hualien, on the East side of Taiwan. We rented a scooter to check out Taroko Gorge and spent another day exploring Hualien by bike.

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A temple at Taroko Gorge

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I’m a poser. Cale drove and I just hung on.

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We escaped the crowds by hiking up to a temple. It was nice and peaceful up here. The sign said to ring the bell to calm the spirits.

What was a last minute decision to see a country that wasn’t necessarily in our plan turned into one of our favorites. The people in Taiwan were so friendly and helpful.  To give an example, I keep telling this story: we were lost in Taichung looking for our hostel. I was looking at my phone on the sidewalk, and Cale and I had our backpacks on. A guy in a scooter pulled up to say “do you need help? I speak English, I can help you.”  I handed him my phone so he could see on the map where we were trying to go…. without a care in the world. Seriously it wasn’t until later that I thought ‘wow, most other places I would have never even considered handing my phone to someone.’ He didn’t drive off with it or anything! He pointed us in the right direction, then scooted off into the sunset.  He had pulled over solely to help us- he hadn’t needed to stop for any other reason.

We have been in Thailand now since December 3rd! Off to meet an old friend from college that we haven’t seen in 2004… that happens to live in Bangkok. It’s such a small world!

True Love in Taiwan

Our journey takes us from Istanbul to Taiwan, for another wedding! Our friends Jason and Shiang Ping were having a reception in Tainan and we were invited… so how could we pass up the opportunity?

We were happy and honored to have been invited.  We also secretly liked having to buy a new outfit fit for a wedding!  When I asked Jason about dress code, he basically said “you should be fine, just no jeans.” Little did he know that the nicest outfit Cale had was quick dry pants from REI with dirty Nike sneakers… and the nicest outfit I had was a long skirt and collared shirt; Cale makes fun of me each time I wear it; he calls me his Hutterite wife.  So, our nicest clothes weren’t acceptable.  But we were, shall I say, over-eager to have an excuse to buy new clothes.

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Awww yeah, I got a new outfit!

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Him too!

The ceremony was so fun and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty sure it’s the closest I’ll ever get to an Oscar-like experience. There was a red carpet and everything!

Given, we couldn’t understand a word of what was happening but some nice folks at our table helped translate a couple things, and really the most important thing (aside from true love) was the food, which is a universal language.

There were 12 courses at this meal! We probably shouldn’t have eaten lunch but who am I kidding, we had room to try everything. Yes, I really took a photo of each dish, and yes, I’m really going to post them all here. It’s my blog, I do what I want.

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I missed the first appetizer. This is #2, a rice dumpling dish.

 

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Dishes 3 and 4: lobster and shark fin soup

 

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#5: Scallops and Clams, just clap your hands!

 

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#6: Grouper and Tofu

 

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#7 Abalone with mushrooms and pig’s sinew

 

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#8 Rice with meat and lotus seed

 

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#9 Chicken Soup!

 

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#10: Dim Sum Pastries

 

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#11: Cream with Honeydew

 

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#12: Fresh Fruit Platter

Shiang Ping had three different dress changes throughout the evening and I’m pretty sure her and Jason’s faces were frozen into smiles by the end of the event, from greeting almost 500 guests!

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Jason and Shiang Ping on the red carpet

 

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How cute are these kiddos?

 

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Stars of the show

We went home with big smiles and full bellies.

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Running a Marathon- Istanbul Style

We purposely aligned our Turkey trip with the Istanbul Marathon- neither Cale nor I are in marathon shape but we signed up for the 15k and 10k options, respectively.  We luckily met another runner at our hostel, Natalia, who we teamed up with to get to the race convention the day before, make it to the starting line on time, etc.  Nati is an ultra-marathon runner so way out of our league, and she ran the full. It was so fun to hang out together for our few days in Istanbul!

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Obligatory photos of Istanbul. This is Aya Sofia.

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Inside Aya Sofia: note the symbols on either side translate to Mohammed and Allah, and then the figures in the middle are Jesus and Mary. All living together in perfect harmony!

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Blue Mosque, as seen from the window of Aya Sofia.

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Blue Mosque

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Blue Mosque

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Underground Cisterns

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Fishing poles in Istanbul

The race convention was a zoo and none of the signage was in English, so I’m still not sure how we successfully signed up, paid, and retrieved our race packets. Luckily Nati had thought ahead and knew from the website where we needed to be the following morning to catch a bus to the starting line.

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Photo courtesy of Nati Castaneda. This is us pushing our way to the front to catch one of the busses. Oh yeah, Nati, I stole two of your photos and posted them here without asking. I hope that’s ok 😉

Note to future Istanbul Marathon runners: don’t do it! Or rather, don’t do it if you care about your time and sanity!  Do run it if you prefer to run marathons and take selfies at the same time. Imagine thousands of people (see below) signing up for the race, pushing to the front, and hearing the starting gun go off… and then starting to walk, pausing every so often to take a photo of themselves.  Seriously, I almost tripped over so many people who decided to stop and take a selfie in the middle of the crowded course.

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Again, photo courtesy of Nati! This is the starting line, the bridge over the Bosphorus is up ahead.

Ok ok, I’ll admit, if I had my phone with me I probably would have done it too! The Istanbul marathon is the only race to span two continents! What a photo opp!  It starts on the Asian side of Istanbul and ends on the European side.  And you get to run the bridge over the Bosphorus, which is quite a site.

Next on our list: a red-eye via Dubai to… Taiwan!

We Found the Sun! Olympos, Turkey.

After experiencing freezing cold weather in Goreme, we needed to find the sun again.  One night bus later, we arrived in Antalya.  We spent a couple days recovering from said night bus, then moved on to Olympos.

Olympos is a backpackers paradise, located on the southern coast of Turkey. We were drawn to it because we were searching for warmer weather, we wanted to hike a portion of the Lycian Way, and because the guidebook said something about treehouse lodging which sounded fun!  Really all that means is Olympos has several hostels advertising rooms built on wooden platforms with ladders leading up to get in, open windows, and no bathroom.  Nights were a bit too chilly to book a treehouse so we ended up staying at a place called Saban’s which also had heated cabins.  The great thing about this place is that they include breakfast and dinner with the price of the room.  The food is amazing, and there is so much of it that you don’t need lunch. So it’s pretty much all-inclusive.

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Beach at Olympos

 

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Cale tolerating yet another photo. At Olympos.

 

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Sunset at Olympos

 

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Oh yeah, plus there are ruins there from the 2nd century A.D.

 

 

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Treehouse and orange trees at Saban’s

 

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Our little cabin

Six months into our trip, we surprisingly haven’t met that many people that are traveling long-term (there has just been one Seattleite in Morocco!).  And to think, before we left, to convince Cale that this was a good idea, I said “don’t worry, everyone does this, we’ll meet lots of people!” Right.  But in Turkey, we met a ton of other travelers that had been on the road for a while.  In Olympos, we met some new buddies, Saba and Kelsey, who had been traveling for a few months and had been to some of the same spots as us (camino in Spain, parts of Morocco, etc.). We joined them for a day-hike on the Lycian Way, which is a gorgeous trek from Fethiye to Antalya that spans about 500 km . We only hiked about 16km total and spent much of our day swimming.  The trail was beautiful, overlooking the ocean.  Cale and I would love to come back someday and hike the whole thing!

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Kelsey, Saba, and Cale on the Lycian Way.

 

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Lycian Way

 

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Lycian Way

 

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Cale and Kelsey are on that beach somewhere

 

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The beach where we spent much of the day lounging and swimming

Two nights in Olympos (though we could have easily moved there… for good…) and we were back out to Antalya before our flight back to Istanbul.  We have sworn off night busses.  For now, anyway.

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Gotta love mustaches.

 

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Hidirlik Tower in Antalya. The boat below was playing that song from Titanic.

 

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Beach in Antalya. We planned on going to a famous museum but instead crossed the street and spent the day here.

 

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We found the sun! Gotta get our fill before moving back to Seattle!

 

Magical Cappadocia

One of the highlights in Turkey was visiting the town of Goreme, in Cappadocia.  The area has a really interesting landscape with ‘fairy chimneys’ that were formed from a volcano erupting ages ago, then eroding away over the years.  For a long time people carved homes out of the ash formations and the region is scattered with old abandoned homes and churches. There is a rich religious history here, and many early Christian communities gathered in Cappadocia as early as the 4th century.  Some of the carved out homes are still occupied today but many have eroded away.   It’s so different from the states in that in most of the surrounding valleys you can explore the old homes and churches wherever you find them.  No need to sign any waivers before scrambling up a cliff to explore!

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Landscape around Goreme, with Mt. Erciyes in the distance

 

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Room with a view, at Zelve Open Air Museum. People lived in these cliffs until the 1950’s.

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View from inside a church at Zelve

 

 

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Cavusin

 

 

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Sunset behind Uchisar, from Goreme

 

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Hiking in one of the valleys near Goreme

 

One of most magical things about Goreme is that every morning at sunrise, hundreds of hot air balloons launch, carrying tourists over the interesting landscape to get an aerial view.  We didn’t splurge for a hot air balloon ride but we did wake up every morning to watch them float past us.  One morning we climbed to the top of the hill in town to watch them but every other morning we could just wake up and walk out of our hotel room to watch them pass.  It’s so silent that early in the morning so all you can really hear is the gas from when they fire up the balloons as they float past.  They are flown by actual trained pilots, though they can only really control whether they move up or down. The rest is up to the breeze.

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Sunrise in Goreme

 

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Our hotel (we stayed in one of the fairy chimneys) with balloons passing overhead

 

 

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We spent a few days in Goreme, hiking in the valleys, renting bikes, and going on a horseback ride tour (great suggestion, Lacey!).  We then moved on to warmer weather, towards the coast in Southern Turkey.

Life On The Road

As we approach 6 months of travel (in just a couple days now!) we realize we’ve become rather accustomed to life on the road.  Here’s a little snippet of our new normal:

We sleep in awkward places:

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Sleeping on buses can be so much fun!

We find creative ways to exercise:

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Who needs extra exercise when walking 17km per day? Apparently Cale Will.

 

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Just exercising at an outdoor gym with new friends, ya know, the usual. This particular machine was extremely ineffective 🙂

 

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This gem of a photo captures laundry day and exercise all in one.

The rest of the world doesn’t believe in the size ‘large’ for coffee:

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Cale: “I asked them for the biggest size that they have.”

Coca Cola is Everywhere:

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On the way to our camel trek in the Sahara Desert

 

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Coke in Turkey

We sleep in new beds every few nights:

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Neon hostel in Split

Sometimes we get homesick:

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I never thought I’d be so happy to see a Starbucks! Complete with a Seattle photo in the background.

Bloggy blog blog:

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Blogging with pastries in Budapest

None of our clothes match anymore:

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is that what you’re wearing? Yes. Yes it is. All my other clothes are dirty. And even if they weren’t they still wouldn’t match.

We learn to decipher signs:

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What they really mean is: Camino Pilgrims Not Welcome!

We learn not to expect to eat what we actually ordered:

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I’ll take the dish with no mushrooms, please! Oh… well… ok I’ll take the dish with about of pound of mushrooms instead… I guess.

We take matters into our own hands:

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Sometimes I need the freshly washed underwear faster than they will dry on their own.

We live out of backpacks:

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Everything I own. This is actually much more organized than it looks.

That’s it in a nutshell, folks! The nitty-gritty of everyday life for a career-break traveler. Now excuse me while I use the hair dryer to dry some more underwear.

 

Budapest, how we love thee!

Pretty much everything about our time in Hungary was amazing. We had a great two weeks in Budapest walking around the city, learning about the history, and taking it all in. (imagine a country occupied by pretty much all the empires, followed by Naziism and then Communism.  They had a really terrible stretch of history here and yet Budapest has recovered surprisingly well).

Here are a few of our favorite things:

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Night views of the river and castle district

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Parliament from the river

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Our hike up to Liberty Statue

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Picturesque Church in Buda

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hot hot hot peppers!

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Selfie with the crew! After visiting the awesome E-Exit Escape Room (which I highly recommend!)

CAT CAFÉS

During Andras’ reseach to find things for us to do in Budapest, he picked up a couple of coupons for cat cafes.

‘Cat Cafés?” we asked?

“Yeah. Cafés with cats. It’s a thing.”

(P.S. Andras, I’m sure you didn’t say that, but that’s my artistic rendition of the conversation.)

Obviously we had to learn more. So we went to one of the two cat cafés in town. There were three cats there, including one Maine Coon which I had never seen before. The barista made coffee without cat hair in it, somehow. And our lattes had the cutest foam art I’ve ever seen.

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cat with cat latte

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This photo just cracks me up

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The barista gave us a handful of cat treats so that they would like us.

SPAS

Budapest is famous for thermal baths, with good reason.  There are natural hot springs flowing under the city; they say 70 million liters flow through every day.  Baths became popular during the Ottoman Empire and remain popular today.

Cale and I went to two of the spas: Szechenyi and Gellert. These aren’t your normal spas- they are giant spas, with multiple pools, steam rooms, saunas, and massage therapists. Szechenyi was our favorite (it was the biggest and it’s the oldest). Their outdoor pools were warm and beautiful, and they even had a whirpool which I think was meant for kids but we didn’t care :).

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Overlooking the outdoor pools at Szechenyi

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Livin’ the life.

 

KURTOSKALACS (Chimney Cakes)

OH MY GOODNESS WHY DON’T THEY SELL THESE EVERYWHERE?!

People smile when they order a kurtoskalac and it comes out hot. Really, they turn around after paying and there’s a giant grin on their face. Doughy hot goodness on the inside, plus a crunchy outer crust with cinnamon sugar and vanilla, equals pure bliss. We had them in Prague but they are way better in Budapest, trust me.

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Holding up my pastry, victorious!!! And my hot mulled wine. It was freezing out.

CAFE FREI

Being from Seattle, I feel like we are coffee connoisseurs. Well, maybe not, but we can at least taste the difference between good and bad. They have a coffee shop in Budapest called Café Frei which is my new favorite coffee shop. Andras introduced us to a tobacco-infused coffee that they sell here.  It makes you immediately close your eyes and sigh deeply. Try it if you’re ever in Budapest.

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Cale, eagerly anticipating the first sip

I’m really sad to leave Budapest. It was affordable, with a plethora of things to do. We didn’t even explore the rest of Hungary and could have spent lots more time here! But alas, Americans can only be in Schengen areas for 90 days out of 180. And we are on day 89. SO, at risk of getting deported, we are outta here…. off to Istanbul!!!

 

 

 

 

Hungarian Hospitality

After we dropped Sherry off at the airport bus at 6am, we decided our next destination would be Greece.  By 10am we had changed our minds and bought a train ticket to Hungary with a two day layover in Zagreb (it turned out to be a great decision for many reasons, one of which is that Athens got hit with flash floods the days we would have been there).

Zagreb hadn’t been high on our list since online reviews we had read were all mediocre. But we really loved it and could have easily stayed for at least a week. The entire city is one big coffee shop. They have outdoor cafes with umbrellas and heaters so it doesn’t matter the season- the whole city just comes out and sits in cafes. The main center is described as Zagreb’s living room.

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Our only photo of the cafes in Zagreb 🙂

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Zagreb Farmer’s Market

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Church in Zagreb

It’s also fall season and so the vendors were selling roasted chestnuts. I hadn’t had one since living in Vienna and was excstatic to see them. It was the first time Cale had tasted them.

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Showing off my street vendor food

From Zagreb we made our way to Budapest on perhaps the worst 7 hour train ride ever.  7 unannounced transfers between buses, trams and trains and 12 hours later we made it to Budapest!

Our Camino buddy Katalin invitied us to stay a night with her family in the town of Szodliget, a half hour by train from Budapest.  After our trip from Croatia we were immediately welcomed with open arms.  Kati’s family is amazing and we talked about our Caminos (her dad walked the French route), life in Hungary, and traveling.  Kati and her brother David showed us this special manmade lake near their village where locals sometimes go to fish.

 

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We were invited for a feast of traditional Hungarian fish soup (made over an open fire) and stayed the night.

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Gabor and David perfecting the fish soup

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Remember that time Roland spilled olive juice all over Katalin’s camino credential? It still smells.

The next day Kati and Zita took us to the nearby town of Vac where Katalin went to school.  There’s an amazing chocolate café there that has about 50 different types of hot chocolate.  It was heavenly.

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Cale’s chocolate chili with a shot of espresso, and my chocolate orange hot chocolate. Delicious. Also, I think I got a cavity.

Kati and Zita took us on a tour of the town and on a nature walk next to the Danube.  We lucked out with the weather and got to experience a real autumn day.

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Katalin, Zita, Cale

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Lunch day 2. David, Katalin, Zita, Bensa, and Cale. And yummy Transylvanian Cabbage.

As we were enjoying Szodliget, Katalin’s uncle Andras offered the use of his apartment in Budapest while he went on a five day vacation to Portugal. He gave us a ton of tips and suggestions for things to do in the city and we also got to spend some time with him after he returned from vacation. We learned so much about Hungarian history from him, and had a ton of things to do in the city.  Lucky us! Thank you, Andras!

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With Andras (and in our finest attire) at a schmancy restaurant, Gundel, in Budapest.

More to come on our Budapest adventure soon!

Split and Side-Trips

Split was our home base for the two weeks that Sherry came to visit. We spent a lot of time at the beach, enjoying the sun, watching the locals play Picigin (a game where you stand in the ocean and very dramatically splash around to prevent a ball from touching the ground), and just wandering through town. Oh, and Sherry was sick a couple days so we also watched our fair share of youtube videos (gotta stay connected somehow!).

The Split main area next to the harbor is called Diocletian’s Palace. The palace is from the year 300 A.D, built as a retirement home for Roman emperor, Diocletian.  It mostly consists of buildings within an outer wall, so it’s more like a fortress than a typical palace. The stone walkways of the palace area are made of limestone and marble, taken from Brac Island (they claim the white house is made of stone from Brac Island as well).  The palace area reminded us of tiny streets in Venice, only shinier.  The palace is extremely well-preserved, despite being conquered by most empires in history.

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Downtown Diocletian

 

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Temple of the Aesculapius, with its open roof

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Smokin’ Stogies in Split

The only touristy thing we really did was to see the basement halls under the palace- a series of walkways with the same layout as the city above. Rumor had it that Dioclesian had such a fear of being murdered that he slept in a different room each night, and sometimes used the basement rooms. But they also said it was a passageway for sewage, so who knows what’s true and what’s not 🙂

We took two side trips to nearby islands, the first to Supetar, on Brac Island, which Lonely Planet doesn’t recommend but we actually really liked. We randomly wandered into a winery down a residential street from the ferry dock. It was down someone’s private driveway, and looked completely deserted, so I was contemplating whether we should really walk in and knock on the front door. Before I knew it, Sherry was halfway down the driveway.

I’m so glad she moved forward, because it was one of our favorite parts of the trip! This old woman answered the door and spoke exactly ZERO English so there was a wild pantomime in which we had a whole conversation about where we were staying, how it was going to rain, how the mosquitos were coming out because of the rain, whether we wanted red or white wine, and that she and her husband make the wine themselves. We all had a glass of wine (her husband had to suck a tube to siphon the wine) and then ordered a 2 liter container which came in a giant Fanta container. Just our style!

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Sherry and me with winery guy

Supetar was just a day trip; we had a great meal and went for a swim, then to a rooftop bar for sunset before returning home to Split.

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There is so much happening in this photo! Swimming in Supetar. Sherry is tiny and Cale is a giant. Plus a two liter Fanta bottle full of wine.

Our second side trip was a four day venture to Hvar Town on Hvar Island. What a beautiful town. We were in Croatia in the off-season, and I imagine during the summer there are many more yachters spending time in this town, but when we were there it was pretty mellow. We stayed at a beautiful airbnb overlooking the town with a great view of the sunset each night. More time spent lounging on the beach and going for runs, and eating great food (we found exactly one reasonably priced restaurant in Hvar Town).

 

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Hvar Town

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Supermodels

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Our favorite swimming spot in Hvar Town

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Jump in!

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Happy hour on the airbnb balcony

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View from the balcony!

Overall Croatia was gorgeous. And it was so fun to spend it with Sherry.

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Our last night together in Split