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Plitvice Lake: aka how-do-you-pronounce-that Lake

You don't! You avoid saying it to any Croatian because you know you will only embarass yourself. 

I'm kidding, kind of. According to a few websites (internet =fact, obviously), it's PLEET-veeh-kah. Maybe I'll be a normal human and actually ask someone.

 (**update, I asked a Croatian man on a ferry ride from Hvar Island who I befriended with the offer of french fries, and he said it's PLEET-veetz-ka)

 

ANYWAY! I know, I just skipped riiiiiiiiiiight over Italy on to Croatia, after that teaser of a gelato post. Will I skip it forever? No! Will I maybe skip it until I get home to a keyboard because typing on a phone is super annoying, I feel overwhelmed to catch up, even though the pressure is all self induced and imaginary, and no one will care by the time we are home anyway?? MAYBE! Or, maybe I'll catch up in the next few days when I should really be looking for a job! Who knows!

Until these posts are real though, here's all you can look forward to from Italy:

 

1) Roman Holiday, Kind Of

2) That's One Delicious Capri Sun

3) Nathan is our Favorite Cousin, and other Amalfi Coast Stories

4) Rome Pt. Due: Let's Not Eff it Up This Time

5) Under the Umbrian Sun: Having more fun than Diane Lane in a sub-par movie

6) Forget Florence: A Tale of One Woman's Quest to Remember Anything From Her Study Abroad Program, While Her Husband Laughs At Her

7) CinqueTerrOR: 5 Hills, 5 Fights

8) Stalking George Clooney: Lake Como Edition

9) "Ahhh, Venice," and other references to Indiana Jones.

 

And then we said arrivederci to Italy for a bit,  took a Ferry from Venice to Croatia, where border security was one dude standing on the pier with a stamp. Best customs line ever.

"How do you feel, Adam, about arriving in our final country?" 

"How do you feel, Adam, about arriving in our final country?" 

A much better view of Rovinj. And maybe Adam, too.

A much better view of Rovinj. And maybe Adam, too.

CROATIA!

Rovin beach, Pula Arena, Salsa dancing in Rovinj 

Rovin beach, Pula Arena, Salsa dancing in Rovinj 

I'm not even starting with our first 2 towns, Rovinj and Pula. Just trust us they were cool. Yet oh-so-hot and sweaty. Romanesque. Beaches, boobs (lots of free spirited Croatians, free of bathing suit tops), Roman Arenas, fresh fish, clear water, salsa dancing festivals that confused us before we knew it was a festival (before we knew I seriously wondered. "wow, how did Croatia get such a latin influence?"), and an equally confusing amount of candy shops. No really. A TON of candy shops. Croatians love them some candy, I guess? Specifically, pirate themed candy shops:

So. Much. Candy

So. Much. Candy

But then we rented a car yesterday -- FREEDOM! -- and drove away from the heat of the coast to Plitvice Lakes, which is basically on the border of Bosnia. It did not take long for the countryside to change. The Istrian coastal towns we were just in look a lot like Italy. And no wonder why, they've been taken by Italy about 17 times throughout history. But inland, it starts to remind me of...Austria? Beautiful, mountainous, quaint little villages and alpine-esque architecture, with the occasional bombed out looking building (remnants of the 90s war?) thrown in to remind you this area was not always so tranquil or quiet. 

We stayed at a cool little family inn, and had the most delicious mountain trout, 2 nights in a row. They caught/kept them in a stream behind the lodge; you knew your meal was fresh! It rocked. 

Countryside! Family Inn (called a "sobe")! Creek with Dinner! 

Countryside! Family Inn (called a "sobe")! Creek with Dinner! 

We came to this area for the famed, beautiful, UNESCO protected site of Plitvice Lakes National Park. It's basically a series of lakes that connect through limestone waterfalls (created, I believe, from buildups of calcium carbonate in the water), and it's gorgeous. The park has a phenomenal system of trails and boardwalks that take you around, through, over the lakes and falls. I've never seen anything like it.

Awesome, as in, the actual meaning of the word (for once).

Awesome, as in, the actual meaning of the word (for once).

Half the time we were just walking right OVER waterfalls. I didnt have to chase a damn one (haaaa! 90s TLC references are so great, right? Eh? hello?)

Nothing to chase. It's RIGHT THERE! 

Nothing to chase. It's RIGHT THERE! 

This park is, not surprisingly, very popular. Tour buses unload day trippers by the hoard mid morning, so we actually managed to drag our asses out of bed early and got to the park before the masses of tour buses got there. Our morning walk was pretty tranquil and awe-inspring, even in spite of ugly overcast skies.

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Then the great nothing rolled in after lunch and unloaded about 7 feet of rain and hail on us.

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But the day wasn't ruined, we look pretty stylish in rain gear, and we went to see the other side of the park.

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The afternoon, even with crazy storms, was super crowded, but pretty spectacular nonetheless. Here are .0008% of the photos we took:

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People were waiting in LINE just to get this shot. I think Kate and Leo here took about 17 shots, and we stuck around to see if the line rioted (they didnt, but you could see in their eyes that they wanted to)

People were waiting in LINE just to get this shot. I think Kate and Leo here took about 17 shots, and we stuck around to see if the line rioted (they didnt, but you could see in their eyes that they wanted to)

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ITALY!!!! (Kind of)

"Im going to post so much more often when we get to Italy" 

haaaaahahahaha. Ugh. Sorry.

 

I think the laziness has caught up with me. I started a bunch of blog posts in my head but they didn't quite make it to the phone. I have a real post started (yeah, I dont count this as real), but it is super boring and long and blah blah blah BLAH!

 

So until I (as you can tell, I'm flying solo at this point in the world of blogging) can get my shit together, I'll just leave these photos of gelato right here.... 

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And just because, this one:

Nothing is sacred. Not even Florence's Duomo. Side note: I briefly held up a line to get this shot, and I have zero regrets. 

Nothing is sacred. Not even Florence's Duomo. Side note: I briefly held up a line to get this shot, and I have zero regrets. 

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The End (of Japan)

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Ok, so that whole "I'm going to be better about blogging in Italy," thing was a blatant bold faced lie, apparently, considering we've been in Italy a week and a half now and I'm still on Japan in blog world, which feels like a lifetime ago.

 

So, whoops. But whatever, no one is surprised.

 

Here is the rest of Japan, kinda abbreviated (kind of not), because I gotta move this train along - I have too many pizza and gelato photos to get to (Jk. Its more like a million panoramics of Italian countryside that may or may not include annoyed faces from Adam because I'm taking yet another photo)!!

 

JAPAN!!

 

By the way, I've had some espresso. Can you tell??

 

Hiroshima & Miyajima

After Osaka we headed further south to Hiroshima. We went to the Peace Memorial Museum immediately after checking into our nearby AirB&B and learned allllllll kinds of things, like how our AirB&B is almost exactly under the hypocenter of where the bomb went off. Innnnteresting. Nothing's radioactive anymore, but still, that was fascinating and a bit surreal to see the map.

 

Hey! Thanks for marking our Airbnb on the museum map! 

Hey! Thanks for marking our Airbnb on the museum map! 

The museum in general was interesting (as I'm sure Obama agreed, as he was there a week later, clearly following us on our trip. Creeper). They took a very neutral stance on how and why the bomb was dropped, mainly just showing the timeline, the effect the bomb had on the city and its people, and pushing for peace and disarmament. One completely non-fun fact: at that time most middle and high school aged kids were pulled out of school and put on demolition duty, tearing down buildings to create firewalls to protect specific parts of the city from the Allies air raids. So...a TON of kids, something like 8,000, were immediately killed.  Sigh. The first part of the museum was mostly shredded school uniforms from kids that died. 

 

Side-note: we've now been to quite a few exhibits and museums focusing on war and seriously, it's fascinating to see how other countries relay and present events. No shock here, but most interesting was Vietnam -especially the Hanoi Hilton. Their revisionist history of housing American POWs made it seem like a non-stop party of games and hilarity. Look how much fun everyone is having! Basketball and volleyball all the time! Look at how kind we were to pull John McCain out of the water (not shown, immediate bayonetting right after the photo)! I mean really, after seeing their exhibit im really not sure what John Mccain was going on about. Seemed like vacation, eh!?

 

 BEING A POW IS SO MUCH FUN IN HANOI! 

 BEING A POW IS SO MUCH FUN IN HANOI! 

Hey, it was war, we were bombing them, I get it, but their version of things in the museum was....fascinating.

 

ANYWAY! Japan!!

 

Hiroshima's OTHER claim to fame is something way more pleasant, a delicious snack called okonomiyaki. Its even fun to say! Go ahead, try it out! OH-ko-no-mo-yahh-kee. You don't even know what it is and you want one, don't you!?

This street food is different depending on where you get it, but in Hiroshima, it's basically a bunch of soba or udon noodles pan fried into one cake/like form, with a bunch of delicious stuff on top, like a mix of egg, vegetables, pork, and sauces. Sounds kinda weird, but trust me. Good stuff. And the place we went had hot griddles on the table. They didn't cook the okonomiyaki on our table, the griddles were there just to keep them warm. Amazing. Now that is service.

Yum. 

Yum. 

We also day tripped to Miyojima, an island close by. This island is known for a couple things, mostly deer, mountain views, grilled oysters, and a huge shrine in the water that is approachable at low tide, and appears to be floating at high tide.

 

And yes, I said deer. I don't know how this came to be, but in a totally bizarro world, the deer here are as docile and approachable as puppies. Except they are large deer.

 

Just. Like. Puppies

Just. Like. Puppies

At one point I went to put a bag that had food trash in my backpack and I looked up to see that I had a small herd surrounding me. It was weird, cool, and terrifying at the same time.

Oh, my deer, you are seriously invading my personal space

Oh, my deer, you are seriously invading my personal space

We also hiked up a mountain via cable car, hiked down via now-destroyed knees, and ate oysters and cookies. All in all, would recommend.

"Hiking" 

"Hiking" 

Yoshino!

View of Yoshino from our so-so hike. That smoke in the distance is on-purpose temple related. I think.

View of Yoshino from our so-so hike. That smoke in the distance is on-purpose temple related. I think.

From Hiroshima we sought to escape the city for mountains and hoped to go to isolated and beautiful Koyosan, but couldnt find a place to stay that wasnt $500, so we went to a nearby mountain area called Yoshino. This mountain has a crap ton of cherry blossoms in the spring and is probably madness to see in April. It's all green now though, without a blossom in sight (as we knew, going in), so we had a pretty quiet experience. Except there was a random race going on the mountain that weekend, which at first really confused me because it just looked like the temples had made a deal to be sponsored by The North Face. Which was really confusing for all my preconceived notions of Buddhism. But nope, there was a race starting here.

This temple is brought to you by The North Face! -- Racers checking out the temple, the start of their race the next day

This temple is brought to you by The North Face! -- Racers checking out the temple, the start of their race the next day

We also stayed at our first traditional Japanese inn, which are called ryokans. Ours was something like TWO HUNDRED years old (no big deal). The room was spacious, you sleep on futons and fluffy comforters, and awesome little pillows stuffed with buckwheat hull. I want one for home. Everything in your neck back and head is supported. I loved that little pillow.

Getting traditional  

Getting traditional  

However, also standard in a ryokan are shared bathrooms, showers, and onsens (communal, but gender separated hot spring baths). Allllllll of which, Mr. Adam Kanner, was super excited about. Or he hated it. It was one of the two, I forget. All of which is hilarious (strictly in theory, anyway, not really funny in reality), because this place was his idea.

Anyway, I loved it, the bathrooms were clean and beautiful (and you know my feeling on Japanese toilets and these were no exceptions) and the shared showers were really clean and beautiful. And they give you yukata to wear around and to the showers that are super comfortable, so, win. What's a yukata? Well, it's this:

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2029_dress.html

Also - it's important to note when I say shared showers, I mean SHARED. Like, there is zero privacy. The idea is that the onsen -- the bath (big awesome hot tub), has super-good-for-you minerals and you 1) need to be naked to have no barrier to get the goodness (or dirty the water with your bathing suit), 2) you need to completely shower and clean yourself before getting in the onsen to also not dirty the water, so, 3) you're naked in all scenarios, so why would there be privacy for showers.

I had experienced a pretty big (also naked) traditional bath house in Korea before, so I had already bypassed the weirdness barrier and felt fine about doing this again. But guess what?? No need to be brave, the two times I went into the onsen/showered, NO ONE ELSE was there. And I just had this big, beautiful hot hot hot tub to myself to enjoy the night stars (was outdoors, but with a high privacy wall). And it was pretty great. I think Adam waited to shower until the next city, ha.

Onsen! This photo is stolen from their website because I'm not about to be that super creepy girl that brings a camera into a potentially nude-body-filled area. Even I have limits.

Onsen! This photo is stolen from their website because I'm not about to be that super creepy girl that brings a camera into a potentially nude-body-filled area. Even I have limits.

We also had a traditional japanese dinner that consisted of approximately 78 courses of somewhat unidentifiable food, but was beautiful and mostly delicious. Because of a language barrier we had no idea what we were doing, but it was definitely an experience.

So much food, so little knowledge of what any of it was. 

So much food, so little knowledge of what any of it was. 

We also went on a hike here. It was ok. Best part of the hike was getting a group call from Jennifer, Jon and Emily in Nashville (yay!).

 

Magome / Tsumago

These are two old-school mountain post towns located along an old road that lead from Kyoto to Tokyo. Post towns were where rich peeps stocked up on food, horses, samurai, entourages (ok, I dont know about the last two, but maybe).

 

These two preserved towns are a mere 7km away from each other and it's a total thing to walk the walk in between. So we did the thing! It rocked: easy hike, beautiful quaint old Japanese mountain towns, cool mountain scenery. It was the kind of mountain town I think we were hoping Yoshino was, but wasn't. Yoshino was still cool, just different.

I wanted Adam to buy those pants and clearly, so did he -- ancient Japanese duct tape on trees on the post road (no idea why) -- Magome -- Adam can't believe i make him pose in this many photos --Tsumago

I wanted Adam to buy those pants and clearly, so did he -- ancient Japanese duct tape on trees on the post road (no idea why) -- Magome -- Adam can't believe i make him pose in this many photos --Tsumago

We also stayed at an inn in Magome, but it was a bit more casual than the last one, and run by a Filipino woman who spoke english. We had a traditional dinner there as well but this time we had some guidance. Score! Also we ate raw horse, and it was delicious.

 

At this little lodge we met an older Aussie man who was hiking everywhere and was awesome but made us (me) feel lazy and want to hike more of Japan, and the next day we met two guys who had been traveling for 1)8 months and 2) 2 years (!!). They met while touring North Korea. Hilarious. We had a good train ride with them and got a sweet Rome restaurant tip from one of them. They were both nearing the end of their traveling time and they were TIRED. And wow, I do not blame them. 

 

Went back to Tokyo to fly out, and on our last night, we went to a bar we had visited on one of our first nights. The group behind us was taking a ton of photos, so we obviously photo-bombed them. Turns out that was an ok move because then we all became friends and chatted up the guy in the middle, who turned out to be from New Zealand, and told me he had the same shirt. New Zealand!!

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If you own the same shirt, you are buddies for life. Its a rule.  

If you own the same shirt, you are buddies for life. Its a rule.  

Then we flew out!!! See ya, Japan, buongiorno, Roma!

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Osaka!

Samurai + Adam + ice cream. Obviously 

Samurai + Adam + ice cream. Obviously 

OSAKA!

We got in town just in time to see some baseball: the (Osaka) Hanshin Tigers playing the Chunichi Dragons.

This was pretty much the only thing we (read: Adam) planned before we got here ("here," as in JAPAN, the country), and it was hilarious just attempting to get tickets from the Japanese-only website. Adam found a site dedicated just to navigating the ticket website for us non-Japanese speaking folks. We were mighty proud of succeeding at getting tickets, though we had zero idea where our seats were. When we got to the stadium, we saw our seats were in the visitor section (in Japan, they don't mix the fans, you have the home team seats and then a separate smaller section for visitors). The horror! We are obviously hardcore Hanshin fans!! We went rogue instead and grabbed some empty Hanshin seats.

Nailing the perfect Tiger Claw takes time and dedication // standard baseball food: noodles and spiced cucumbers 

Nailing the perfect Tiger Claw takes time and dedication // standard baseball food: noodles and spiced cucumbers 

Wanted to see baseball here because Adam had read about how crazy the Tigers fans get, andthey did not disappoint. Both teams' fans were way louder and more excited than probably any US baseball game (combined?) that I've seen. There are long specific cheers, giant flags... I mean, there was an organized HORN SECTION. Obviously, bringing your trumpet is a true sign of dedication. It really made the US baseball experience seem like a quiet day spa compared to them. And in the 7th inning everyone brings balloons they blow up and then all release at once. Very cool.

Panoramic// horn section // gtting ready for balloon release //Tigers and Ninjas, obviously 

Panoramic// horn section // gtting ready for balloon release //Tigers and Ninjas, obviously 

Also, you can buy beer from your seat from girls carrying kegs around. There was something unsettling and sexist about having cute women deliver beer from their backs (no guys in this job!), but there's no denying I was loving the convenience of freshly draught beer brought to my seat.

Beer heros

Beer heros

These chicas must have amazing glutes. Or perhaps just bad backs. And guess what? Even in expensive Japan, beer prices at a baseball game are cheaper than the US ($6 ish).

Sigh. Get it together, US.

 

I wish Adam had bought this jacket, it is amazing

I wish Adam had bought this jacket, it is amazing

Osaka is also known for their street food, they have a massive area called Dontonburi. One thing Osaka is known for is takoyaki (fried dough balls with octopus.)

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We actually didn't get any in town (ironically) but we got some at the game and a couple other places throughout Japan. And it was delicious every time. How they make them is ridiculously impressive as well. They somehow make perfectly ball-shaped snacks out of batter, a griddle, and chopsticks. I didn't capture these videos but check them out to see the mastery:

 https://instagram.com/p/BBWVSPPjxqx/

 https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qfxMOgD0GJk

 

Just walking around the madness of Dotonbori  (big area of street vendors) was worth the trip to Osaka. And, this is where we met our Rolling Stones hippy bar owner friend mentioned in a previous post. Rock on!

 

Next up.....Hiroshima, Miyojima, Yoshino!

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Kickin' it in Kyoto

I don't know why they put hats on their statues but I like it. 

I don't know why they put hats on their statues but I like it. 

I know. I'm sorry. "Kickin'" with no "g." But I clearly like alliteration and it felt weird somehow to have the "g" and that's the best I got right now. Imagine my face with the "deal with it" meme right now.

Onward...

Kyoto! Kyoto was the coolest. Maybe my favorite city. It's the old capital of Japan. Fun fact from our food tour guide, Kanemoto: Tokyo literally means "east of Kyoto." I bet Kyoto-ans hold that shit over Tokyo-ites heads all the time. But maybe not. Maybe they are more mature than that.

But yeah, Kyoto was awesome. It's still a huge city, but its a bit more connected to nature. It's surrounded by mountains that are easily accessible, and there are a billion temples. Perhaps literally, that is how templed this city feels (yes, I verbed it). So. Many. Temples. And it was awesome. We checked out:

 

Fushimi Inari-Taisha: There is a huge temple at the base but the cool part is taking a walk up the mountain through an endless arcade of torii (huge red shrine gates). Each torii had been bought/sponsored by companies. The Fushimi Inari temple is dedicated to the gods of rice and sake (sweet!), and as the role of agriculture diminished in Japan, these deities were brought in to ensure prosperity in the business. So basically, these companies who in turn "sponsor" a torii are trying to buy themselves some sweet, sweet business karma. Fox statues are everywhere, too, as they are seen as the messenger to Inari. We went before sunset, it was pretty rad.

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Higashiyama Area: beautiful spots, we got our zen on (kind of).

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A bunch of temples here are connected by old school preserved roads with cute shops. You feel like you're in Busch Gardens except it's the real thing. I feel blasphemous even writing that but it shows the influence Busch Gardens clearly had on my younger self. Here, people come out in full kimono mode, and it's not for the tourists. Kimonos are still totally in (though, I get the feeling it is special occasion wear. I have clearly done no research on this), and its awesome to see. The women are all decked out with gorgeous hair and makeup, and then there's these two sweaty schlubs from DC huffing up the hill next to them, mayyyyybe taking photos like a total creeper (well, just one of us anyway, big guess who).

The creepy photographer stalks her prey

The creepy photographer stalks her prey

Sanjusangen-do Temple: We went to this temple which boasts 1001 golden wooden statues (overachievers) of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. She has something like 33 additional statues, all different, there to protect her clone army. I don't know what from, but I guess everyone's got enemies. It was an amazing site to see, all 1034 life size statues perfectly lined up in this enormous wooden hall. No photos allowed, but I googled this one just for you:

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I also saw an old Japanese man shush the crap out of a bunch of giggling Japanese schoolgirls, which amused me immensely.

 

I dont have a photo of the love stone thing, so here's an awesome dragon instead

I dont have a photo of the love stone thing, so here's an awesome dragon instead

Kiyomizu-dera:  This temple was clearly a hotspot, it was suuuuuper crowded, but still worth it. It has something called a  Love Stone, where people try to walk from one stone to the other with their eyes closed (probably 30-40 ft apart?). If you make it, you will absolutely rock it in the love-life department. If not, there's always tindr (Buddha said so). You are also allowed "assistance," if you like, but if you use it, it means you will also need "assistance" in your love life. Hiiiiiiilarious.

Here's some kids getting mentored by Adam

Here's some kids getting mentored by Adam

We did not do the love thing, regardless of my jokes about this being a great "starter marriage," I am kinda hoping it sticks (ie, we have it, lets not tempt fate, eh??? ) That, and we were absolutely engulfed by school kids. So no love rock journey for us. But we did stand in line (Kanners voluntarily in line! Can you believe it?) to drink from a sacred waterfall (called "otowa-no-taki"). The waterfall was split into three sections...one stream was for luck in love, one for luck in school, one for longevity. There were no signs in English to tell you which was which,  so even though we were going for the longevity magic water stream, we could only roll the dice and hope for the best. I probably drank the school one. Damnit. Maybe I should think about grad school....

Not shown: Adam Kanner waiting in a line

Not shown: Adam Kanner waiting in a line

Kyoto is also where we had the most fun dining experience: conveyor belt sushi. It. Was. AWESOME!!! Every glutton's dream. Every plate was 150 yen (less than $1.50) and usually consisted of 2 pieces unless it was a real choice fish; then it was 1 piece. And they had other stuff, like horsemeat sushi (eh) and miso soup, etc. But we were focused. And we conquered SEVENTEEN plates.

Gluttony

Gluttony

I loved every second of it. Oh, what's that? A fish youve never heard of? Yes, please. And I'lltake tuna, and salmon, and roasted duck (?! yes.) and. And. And. Just the best. There was a lot of awesome weird and obscure choices, none of which i can now remember. Yay, giving up on daily journaling!

BUT THE BEST part of Kyoto was the monkeys.

Adorable yet soul-stealing

Adorable yet soul-stealing

ou can take a train to the outskirts of town to an area called Arashiyama and hike 10 min up a mountain and see a crap ton of adorable, yet terrifying, Japanese Macaque monkeys. These are the same kind of monkeys that are famous for chilling in hot springs in the snow, with bare red butts. The monkeys are completely wild, and just gather at this spot. Proooooobably because humans often give them snacks. But! The whole thing is really impressively run. The rangers have signs everywhere telling you what to do and what not to do ("do not look them in the eye" is a particularly frightening one...). And the only feeding going on is with the HUMANS inside a cage, giving the MONKEY park sanctioned natural snacks, like bits of fruit. 

The monkeys check out the caged humans from a safe distance  

The monkeys check out the caged humans from a safe distance  

I found out early on that the "no eye contact" rule was no joke. I accidentally looked one in the eye and immediately thought it was going to murder me...Or at the very least, steal my soul. And maybe it did. Another time, one passed by me and by total (terrible) reflex (and to Adam's horror), I called to it like I was trying to get a puppy to come see me. Adam and I both thought my day had come, but I just turned around and walked away like I wasn't a total moron and I think the monkey forgave me (because I am still here). Lots of baby monkeys, too, which were adorable because they never looked at me like they could steal my soul. They were just adorable, the end.

 

Arashiyama is also an area with a huge bamboo grove. It was very peaceful and zen and I think I speak for us both that we found the meaning in life there. Just kidding, it was crowded as shit, but, still pretty beautiful and worth it, even with the rest of Japan (or maybe more correctly, China) was there.

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The end. 

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Matsumoto Mania (kinda)

 

Look at this! Trying something new...shorter bite sized posts! Lets see how it goes, starting with Matsumoto, where we went after  Tokyo.

 

MATSUMOTO!

Just west-ish of Tokyo, in (ish) the Alps, or at least a prime spot for starting your trek into the wild (we did no such treks, next time!). Soba noodles are the thing here, and all the rage. The place we went to did not disappoint (yes, Dad, this blog apparently IS all about food, and I think you like it. You're welcome). We kinda ordered wrong (yet so right, was delicious and amazing cold soba dishes), but the traditional dish (that we watched others eat, and later ordered) is pretty simple. You get an order of noodles (or 2 or 3), which appear on these stackable bamboo trays. Then you grate up a desired amount of fresh wasabi (! First time seeing wasabi root), and add that and some other stuff to a sauce bowl. Then dip said noodles into bowl and slurp loudly. Genius.

Soba so-good: noodles, slurping, real wasabi root

Soba so-good: noodles, slurping, real wasabi root

In Matsumoto, we also saw the oldest wooden castle in Japan (aptly named, Matsumoto-jo) and that was pretty cool. I cannot imagine being a warrior all geared up in one of these places. Those steps were no joke. Especially with no shoes on. Did they have socks?? So slippery. How did they not constantly fall? I digress.

 

Also, this castle was a mere 500 or so years old. No big deal.

 

Samurai, castles, dumb faces, and agressive koi!

Samurai, castles, dumb faces, and agressive koi!

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Lost in Translation

This photo is as random as this post

This photo is as random as this post

Fair warning, this post may be long and/or fairly random. What's new, right? I know!! I keep telling myself to catch up so I can do shorter, more frequent posts, but then I don't. I feel like Italy is my time to change. There will just be too many gelato reports to risk getting behind. So yeah, time to change. That is, if I can catch up on these 16 hours of travel we got going on today** (Tokyo --Moscow--Rome....Sayonara, Japan, you were pretty cool, and hopefully I get through explaining the coolness by the time we land...)

**Didnt happen, now in Rome. I blame Russia and their stinginess with WIFI. Always blame the Russians. 

Geesh, even my disclaimer was long.

HERE. WE. GO!

I'll try to go through the location highlights in the next blog, but for now, I've cooked up a little list on the surprising/weird and SometimesOnlyInterestingToMe things we've learned so far about Japan:

 

CONVENIENCE STORES - I KNOW! It's pretty much the only other thing I already talked about besides toilets but guess what, here it is again. Serously, this country does convenience stores right. They take that word literally. Why are American convenience stores so shitty? And is 7-Eleven secretly really a Japanese company (which would admittedly be surprising given it's English name) and we got the dumbed-down version? They have fresh ready -made food delivered multiple times a day, and before we got here someone we met in Vietnam went out of his way to recommend Family Mart (7Eleven's assumed nemesis) fried chicken.

Let that sit in. In a country with delicious things like fresh sushi, someone who lived here and loved Japanese food recommended convenience store fried chicken.

Yes, that is a sandwich of noodles.  And yes, I do wish I had bought it.

Yes, that is a sandwich of noodles.  And yes, I do wish I had bought it.

 

HELLO KITTY - I assumed this sassy cat would be everywhere and she really delivered...sometimes in the most random places, from holding up road barriers (??!) to temple offerings. Buddha loves him some Hello Kitty.

Her work is never done

Her work is never done

 

CLEAN YO HANDS! - wet naps or wet wasclothes are given to you everywhere before a meal, no matter the place or how casual. It's awesome. We are so sanitary.

 

BOOTY SHORTS - 

These guys understand the art of SELLING IT

These guys understand the art of SELLING IT

I meant to look this up when I had wifi but every touristy place we went there were guys who could give you a ride in a little cart (ricksham?) that they would pull on foot  (agh, worst job!) and they all were wearing, what I can only assume are officially called, "Traditional Japanese Booty Shorts."  I choose to believe there's a reason rooted in the days of yore (like, 7-800 years ago "yore") but even if not, I appreciated the view. I assume Adam did, too, obviously. The Japanese are a good looking bunch, no one can deny.

 

EAT YO VEGGIES! - Or, we would, if we could. It felt really hard to eat vegetables here, which I've been surprised by. I see the gardens, the fields...this is still an agricultural country, damnit! We sought out a vegetarian place last night just for the purpose of vegetables and still only had a portion of vegetables that the USDA food pyramid would find completely  insufficient. I think our daily diet is about 87% noodles, rice or bread, 3% veg, 10% sake.

 

What is this witchcraft?! 

What is this witchcraft?! 

MAGIC MIRRORS - with all the gadgets , technology and innovation from this country, this may SEEM like a silly thing to be impressed by, but MAN, Japan has nailed the fogged up bathroom mirror problem. I'm no scientist, but I think they fixed the issue by magic. Yeah, pretty sure thats it. Or heating that portion of the mirror continually. Whatever it is, it's awesome.

 

CUISINE - Here is a list of food I would not have associated with Japan previously, but now will because they are everywhere, and seemingly all the rage:

1. pork cutlet  (tonkatsu)

2. fried chicken (karaage)

3. egg salad sandwich (um, egg salad sandwich)

4. soft serve ice cream (yeah, same?)

5. pancakes (i dunno)

Two of these items on the list are consumed daily by us.  Sometimes more. If you guessed ice cream and egg salad (random, I get it), you would be correct. Also, they love cutting crust off sandwiches. I'm not particularly against crust but I view this as a positive action.

For once, not from 7Eleven and instead in a real restaurant (egg salad AND pancakes, a two-fer!)

For once, not from 7Eleven and instead in a real restaurant (egg salad AND pancakes, a two-fer!)

In fact, I just ate a pork cutlet / egg salad/ something-that-resembled-mashed potatoes sandwich combo from a convenience store (obviously).

Yes, mashed potato sandwich, I said.

 

THAT'S AMORE - my unofficial survey of restaurants in Japan determined that there are as many Italian restaurants as Japanese restaurants. They freakin' love them some Italian. And if we weren't going directly to the source next, I would have (forced Adam) to go to some Italian spots, too. Unbelievable as it is to say it, we got kinda sick of Japanese food by the end (see: EAT YO VEGGIES)

 

Stick to your side of the sidewalk  

Stick to your side of the sidewalk  

STAY WITHIN THE LINES - this is a country of order. From the trains to the sidewalks to basically everywhere you go on foot there are signs and lines and directions about where to walk and stand and bike and people (generally) stick to it! What?! I'd love to see that kinda order in the USA. It's amazing (yes, DC metro, I'm looking at you. Mostly, DC tourists I'm looking at you!) But! With all this admiration for order there is one thing they do that irks me - they put bike lanes on the sidewalk. What? Get out of here, bikers! There's like, a million people on the sidewalk, go brave the road already!

But....coming from Vietnam, where the sidewalks were for strictly for moped parking and the streets were for pedestrians+cars+mopeds+driving-laws-as-light-suggestions-or-theory, I'll take the dumb bikes.

 

TRASH - is amazingly non-existent here. This is a ridiculously clean country and that's also awesome coming from Vietnam (man, that's a whole 'nother post). But if you happen to be holding trash, and need to get rid of it, good luck. It was always easier to find recycling than trash, and while a bit annoying, was wow, inspiring. Because it means, generally, people here take it with them.

 

SNEEZING- maybe this isn't a culture-wide thing, because if I'm honest, I'm making this comment off of literally one example - but - I'm not sure "covering your mouth while you sneeze" is a thing here. I saw a guy sneeze 4 times on his wife's back in a train station -loudly, and emphatically- and she was all like, meh, no big deal.

What. The. Hell.

 

SOLUTION TO CROWDED TRAIN STATION WALKWAYS - is walking up the escalators. Because absolutely no one in this country walks the escalator.  But you can be DAMN sure they all stand politely to one side to let (I assume, just us) pass. Looking at you, again, DC tourists. Looking at you.

 

 SMOKING - Kinda surprised by this one but there is smoking allowed inside almost everywhere, or, smoking rooms are provided.

 

OTHER SIDE DRIVING - hey! They drive on the other side here, too! Boring note? Kind of. But hey, that means you also WALK on the other side (of their marked and divided sidewalks). You gotta know that shit so you don't wildly embarrass yourself just by walking wrong. Yeah, still kinda boring. Oh well. Also, since more countries we've visited DO drive on he other side than not (NZ, Australia, Japan), I now find myself questioning which side is normal in the US. My brain is scrambled.

 

PORTIONS- are freaking huge. How are Japanese people so small?

Not pictured: at least 7 other dishes served at this meal

Not pictured: at least 7 other dishes served at this meal

We had two "traditional" Japanese meals and they were the craziest of all. You sit down to a start of maybe 8 dishes, some small, some large, but probably enough, as is. Then more things keep coming out, and after each one you think, well that HAS to it, right? And then nope, more food. Dont get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I'm just confused.

 

There ya go. JAPAN!! Now go buy your own child-sized ninja suit!

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Arigato, Arigato!

("thank you, thank you"... Or... if you're me, you use it for everything -- appropriate or not -- because it's pretty much the only thing you can remember. It took me two weeks to remember "thank you" in Vietnamese -- "cảm ơn," in case you're interested.)

Classic pose from some real class acts

Classic pose from some real class acts

That's basically the extent of my Japanese, although we did learn a new phrase the other night:

"Okawari!" (I'll have another!)

We were, not surprisingly, in a bar when we learned that one. It was this cool little basement bar in Osaka, all decked out in Rolling Stones gear, run by this awesome Japanese hippy, who only served Heineken beer. This guy!

I have no idea what this place was called or where we were. 

I have no idea what this place was called or where we were. 

So lets back up....we have been in Japan now for over a week and we are moving fast, as opposed to our slow and steady style of Vietnam. We've hit up Tokyo, Matsumoto, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, and are now on a train (the last of 4 trains today) to get to a mountain town called Yoshino. Moving fast because 1) We can, now that we've (mostly) stopped sweating since leaving Vietnam,  and 2) To take advantage of our time, and the rather pricey Japan Rail Pass. The rail pass is like an all-you-can-eat buffet: you pay the same price for your pass  (in our case, we bought a 14 day pass) no matter how many times you go up for another plate (train tix). For the two of us that's about $60 a day, whether we travel that day or not.  Aaaaand, it doesn't cover all lines or subways. There are so many different rail lines. Yikes! All aboard, ya'll.

So far Japan has, in a word, rocked. This country is efficient, clean, polite, beautiful, fascinating, bizarre, convenient. And despite its reputation, Japan can be cheap. Not always in transport, but you can definitely eat and sleep cheaply if you try. 7-ELEVENS here are AWESOME. Cheap, with huge varieties of fresh ready-made meals. We've gotten breakfast and snacks there or at other convenience stores just about every day. Why aren't they like this in the US!?

Whatever, American 7 Eleven. What. Ever.

Whatever, American 7 Eleven. What. Ever.

We have about an hour on this train before we get to our mountain-top ryokan (a traditional japanese inn), where we will hike, do nothing, and see if we are brave enough to get naked with strangers in the traditional onsen (hot springs/ communal bathing). Just the kind of thing Adam Kanner is known to love.

So lets see how far I can get on Japan thus far...

 

TOKYO! 

To get to Tokyo, we left Hanoi for Singapore and had to take a red-eye from there. And let me tell you, the Singapore airport is incredible... koi ponds, butterfly gardens, and a free movie theater that played Everest and then got us really depressed?? It rocked, even with the Everest depression.

We were....AMAZED! 

We were....AMAZED! 

I really felt the need to describe that airport, it's putting Dulles to shame ("Really? Better than Dulles? I'm surprised!" -- said no one, ever.) And by the way, once again you didn't have to take off your shoes, in Vietnam or Singapore, because they are normal countries (well, kind of) that recognizes one guy shouldn't ruin it for everybody. YOU HEAR THAT, TSA?? They did, however, find my nail scissors and take them and I was an ass about them taking them ("well, we can allllll rest easily now!"), and Adam did pretend I wasn't his wife.

Sorry, where was I? Right, so we get to Tokyo,  and Tokyo was awesome, huge, and our immediate how-the-hell-does-this-massive-train-system-work boot camp. I had read a bunch of things before we arrived that touted the simplicity and ease in using the trains, but it took direct help from 2-4 people (they have people at the ready to help, so that's incredible), specific directions from our AirBnB owner, and 3 apps to get us to our station the first day. And we still messed up and almost missed meeting our check-in guy. We've (mostly) got it down now, but we still use 2 or 3 apps to figure out our route and rates. 

So we (somehow) made it to our tiny AirB&B apt in the Hatsudai neighborhood, napped, and took on Tokyo over the next 3 days.

We saw the famous Shibuya crossing, which is madness, as expected. However, it seemed like 1 part true madness, 2 parts madness just from tourists stopping on the middle to take a selfie. Which I totally made Adam do with me.

Don't judge me. You'd do it, too. Hopefully with a more eloquent expression, though.  I have some videos, too, but like I know how to upload that shit.

Don't judge me. You'd do it, too. Hopefully with a more eloquent expression, though.  I have some videos, too, but like I know how to upload that shit.

Yellow is totally his color, whoever he is. 

Yellow is totally his color, whoever he is. 

We nerded out at the Tower Records  (or Adam did anyway, I was trying to stay awake), took photos of a guy we assumed is a famous Japanese rocker (obviously, he had an AMAZING outfit that fit all of my stereotypical Japanese rocker assumptions), found a couple cheap and delicious 300 yen bar (everything, including cocktails, $3), and went to a couple temples. Meiji temple was nice and peaceful, we accidentally came across it while walking through Yoyogi Park, an island of calm in the chaos that is Tokyo. Asakusa and Sensoji temples had crazy hordes of tourist, the opposite of peaceful. It was here in Asakusa that I had my first grean tea (matcha) ice cream, which has turned into a daily thing. Hey, I'm in training for Italian gelato. This is serious. 

We had our first bowl of ramen on the first day and it was SO GOOD. A lot of spots here, you pay and order first through what looks like a vending machine (ha! Except if you don't know Japanese you're going off nothing but the price. Except for beer. That was labeled "beer"), and it spits out ticket for you to hand to a human, who then brings you deliciousness. Oh so good. Salty though...you can definitely eat too much ramen.

Wish I had taken a photo of the ordering machine (the chicas are crowding around it in the top right corner), but even I have my limits.  

Wish I had taken a photo of the ordering machine (the chicas are crowding around it in the top right corner), but even I have my limits.  

Also encountered my first squat toilet...contrary to my last post, about luxurious Japanese toilets. Some public ones are like this. Honestly, I cannot believe I didn't encounter these in Vietnam, but to be fair, I purposefully avoided all public bathrooms in Vietnam, if I could help it. 

Dont worry, it's a clean shot. 

Dont worry, it's a clean shot. 

And yes, this blog IS just as much about worldwide toilets, as what we ate, what kind of vermin fur is in my new hat, and what tourist sites we saw. Just in case you were wondering. Toilets and possums. That's this site. 

Kanemoto is so happy I forced him to be in this photo, ha

Kanemoto is so happy I forced him to be in this photo, ha

We also signed up for a Tokyo food tour. Our guy was great, Kanemoto, and took us to a bunch of spots in the Ginza neighborhood, and was just a great resource for a lot of our random Japan questions.

This food tour was way less crazy than our Hanoi street food tour, but we DID try raw chicken. And it was delicious, and no one died. Kanemoto told us the restaurant owned a chicken farm, so they could be sure of the health of the chickens they serve. Only in Japan would I trust this system enough to eat raw chicken with the idea of not dying. 

Raw chicken deliciousness (and more), showing us secret back-alley spots, all kinds of yakitori (skewers), dumplings, hospitality

Raw chicken deliciousness (and more), showing us secret back-alley spots, all kinds of yakitori (skewers), dumplings, hospitality

He also showed us a store that apparently was the only spot around selling fruit, so they could charge something like $250 for a melon. That's insane. I just cannot imagine needing a melon that badly. Cantelope, maybe. Honeydew? NEVER.

"These are for crazy rich people" 

"These are for crazy rich people" 

Kanemoto also gave us great tips that we attempted to tackle the next day, including watching sumo wrestlers practice for free.  Which we failed at, as we showed up too late, and nope, neither one of us was in a bad mood about it. Nope. 

Also, he gave us some sweet tips about getting sushi at the famous Tsukiji fish market. This was achieved, though it was super expensive. But delicious. Oh. So. Delicious.

I want to also note that some people get up at 4am to see the tuna auction at Tsukiji. We did not even pretend to entertain that notion. We just ate tuna instead. I'm fairly certain we won.

Pretttttttttttty prettttttty good

Pretttttttttttty prettttttty good

We also went up in the SkyTree tower, which gives you a crazy view of Tokyo. I'm pretty sure its 879 floors high. Pretty sure. They say on a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji, but there was too much haze for us. The view was still awesome, but this was the first time we doubted Japanese order. Soooo many people, felt like we spent half our time in line.  And you know how Adam feels about lines.

But they WERE orderly lines. So there's that.

And then we went to Matsumoto and beyond. 

The end, for now. 

We're standing on a glassbottom floor 6,589 floors above the street in the Skytree Tower. Even if this photo gives no indication of that, trust us. 

We're standing on a glassbottom floor 6,589 floors above the street in the Skytree Tower. Even if this photo gives no indication of that, trust us. 

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Japan Cares

I was recently informed by my Dad that "people want a blog update."  And while I'm sure all 6 of you are curious what we've been up to, it's been hard to keep up. Mostly because we have less planned here in Japan and it's taking more time out of the day to figure shit out.

 

Also, I'm getting lazier. My journal can attest to that; it's last entry is something about seals in New Zealand. Whoops! And what did we do for two weeks in Vietnam? Who knows! Hopefully we'll get back to that, but for now I'm skipping ahead a bit.

 

This entry is about something that is undeniable in Japanese culture: toilets.

 

I have never been to a country that cared so deeply about ones comfort while on the toilet. It's phenomenal.

 

From the moment we got here and used the airport bathrooms, to almost every toilet experience since (public bathrooms, restaurants, hotels), almost every toilet has been equipped with one or all of these components:

 

  •  Seat warmer
  •  White noise/ nature sounds to cover up whatever you're doing in there
  •  Bidet
  •  A control panel that does an array of other (I'm sure) cool things, but I have no idea what because my Japanese is limited strictly to "arigato"

 

And everything is CLEAN. In the US you get used to pee covered toilets with gaps in the door so large you're not sure why there's a door at all, with no damns given.

 

Thank you, Japan, for caring.

What IS all of that? Who cares! It's awesome! 

What IS all of that? Who cares! It's awesome! 

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And he said, "Ohhhh! You come from the land down under?"

Where women glow (obviously) and men plunder (but then later, "chunder," which is not really brag-worthy, so there's that).

Men at WORK? More like Men at PLAY! Amiright?  i know. 

Men at WORK? More like Men at PLAY! Amiright?  i know. 

Adam is rolling his eyes and denying any type of relationship with me based on the title of this entry, but I stand by Men at Work and their craft.

Anyway, this entry, if you cannot tell already from my awesome 80's music reference, is about our short and sweet time in Sydney, Australia. Too short, probably - or - definitely too short, as the horrified Australian man sitting next to me on the plane there insisted ("you spent a MONTH in New Zealand and you only give US a week?!").

Sorry, Australia Man, next time.

And of course, this was like, eh, 2 weeks ago. I'm now* writing this on the balcony of our Sapa hotel in the northwest mountains of Vietnam, overlooking some sweet terraced rice paddies, interrupted by a deluge of haphazard hotels and a bit of trash thrown in for good measure. Beauty with a bit of chaos. Sitting here uncomfortably, I might add, with a sore butt from yesterdays hike because I fell (apparently directly on my tailbone, whoops), because I am super graceful and elegant. You're welcome for that completely unnecessary information.

* as is the theme of this blog, I WAS writing this in Sapa...then Cat Ba Island, and now I am finishing this on our last day in Vietnam, in the Hanoi Airport. Where, thank you very much, my ass STILL hurts. 

So where was I? Australia! Sorry Sydney, we only had three full days in this beautiful city but it was pretty great. Sure, the sights are pretty cool, but what really made these three days were the people.

First and foremost, a cousin I never knew I had agreed to meet up with us AND let us stay at her house AND picked us up from the airport AND gave us topped off subway cards AND had us to family dinners AND took us on cool beach walks AND AND AND. She even folded our laundry and I don't even do that for Adam.

Brooke and Geoff!  Awesome people:) Just sorry I didnt get a shot of the whole family!

Brooke and Geoff!  Awesome people:) Just sorry I didnt get a shot of the whole family!

Brooke and Geoff and their three daughters Caitlin, Rebecca, and Claire, totally welcomed us into their home and it was pretty cool (sorry, Claire, again, for taking your bedroom. But it was great).

Brooke is my first step-cousin, once removed. Right? Figure that one out. Or, i'll just tell you. Her grandmother married my great grandfather; second marriages for both.  She is first (step) cousins with my dad. So we're not technically blood related, but hey, we dont need blood to really be family. Over the three days we were there we had such a fun time just chatting about how she met up with her husband Geoff, their adventures together traveling, their life in Australia, and anything else. Was great getting to know Brooke, Geoff and the family, and their generosity to two practically strangers is what makes this trip so cool.

And if you're in Sydney and need your house  (and life) organized and/or cleaned out, Brooke is your woman - she recently started her own business called ReFind Spaces (love me some word play). Shameless plug!

Also! We met up with Bernie, brother of our good friend Jo, who is Australian and we know from DC. We had never met Bernie before and no one could remember how or why we missed his DC visits, but word on the street was that Bernie was the man. And that's probably true.

First of all, Bernie met up with us wearing a Feel the Bern hat ("us Bernies have to stick together"), and second, he had a whole pub crawl mapped out for us. He knew us without even knowing us. We later met up with his girlfriend Indra, and the four of us had a great time going to a bunch of spots in Surry Hills. Could not tell you where or which bars we went to, but my memory says they were awesome. 

We made sure to pick the artsiest guy on the street to take the photo. It was like a mini photo shoot, and he fid not disappoint.

We made sure to pick the artsiest guy on the street to take the photo. It was like a mini photo shoot, and he fid not disappoint.

Was a really fun night, and I may have started a rumor about Jo and Keith moving back to Australia soon, based on literally, nothing. Because, hey, "we might only have 3 full days here now, but when Keith and Jo move here we'll be back to visit!" You're welcome, Jo! (Also, please dont leave us, stay in DC, we'll all go visit Australia together instead).

Hmmm. I'm realizing now my rumor was a bit self destructive and not to my own advantage at all.

Anyway!

Sights wise, we did a lot of wandering...

The important thing about taking good photos is too look as cool as possible.

The important thing about taking good photos is too look as cool as possible.

Just as amazing in person as you'd hope it would be.

Just as amazing in person as you'd hope it would be.

We saw the Opera House, of course (pretty fantastic to see something so iconic in person), walked around The Rocks, checked out the botanical gardens, and saw a ton of these birds...

Up to no good, I'm SURE! Or, just looking for bugs to eat. Same thing.

Up to no good, I'm SURE! Or, just looking for bugs to eat. Same thing.

..weird looking birds for which I dont have any sort of "scientific" or "factual" information, but according to my data, all of these guys played a huge role in Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal.

We also walked across the harbour bridge, which gives you some great views of the (duh) harbor and the Opera House.

We're professionals at walking on things, bridges included

We're professionals at walking on things, bridges included

There is also a tour that takes you out on the very top of the bridge, and it looked awesome initially - but we didnt do it because it was an insane amount of money for a walk. Something like $250 for a 3 hour tour, and they don't let you take your camera (probably because 1- dummies dropping cameras by accident constantly - and 2-because they spend the 3 hours taking photos of you for you to purchase at the end...said all the sad TripAdvisor reviews, anyway).  And if I'm being honest, I didn't feel like putting on the onesie suit they make you wear.

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However! Let's be real, if the price had been lower, I can guarantee those hesitations would have flown out the window and there would have a million shots of us in those dumb suits, posted all over this page. So no epic bridge walk, but we did climb one of the pylon towers for a whole $13, and just watch people in the funny suits. And take photos of them, knowing they had no cameras to take photos back of us. Suckas.

Inspiring words for the climb, appropriate facial reactions from Adam, artsy bridge shadows (suuuuper artsy, guys), totally normal selfies.

Inspiring words for the climb, appropriate facial reactions from Adam, artsy bridge shadows (suuuuper artsy, guys), totally normal selfies.

Enjoying our $13 view of all the onsied folks

Enjoying our $13 view of all the onsied folks

We also took the ferry to Manly beach, which is a couple bays/coves away from the main harbour and a pretty gorgeous spot.

Manly Beach, aka the beautiful spot where Adam watched a Caps game

Manly Beach, aka the beautiful spot where Adam watched a Caps game

We did a lot of nothing there, and then took a lucky and well-timed ferry back at sunset (because while I'd love to say we planned it that way, we all know that would be a lie), just in time for some pretty postcard-worthy views of the harbour.

Ooooh, ahhhhhh! 

Ooooh, ahhhhhh! 

We missed out on the Sydney Zoo, and I'm sure a ton of other stuff, but hey, we'll catch it all next time, when we visit (with) Keith and Jo.  ha. 

Then we flew to Vietnam where we haven't stopped sweating for two weeks. The end.

ON TO JAPAN TODAY, which means in about 4 weeks we'll have more info on Vietnam.  

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Notes from Vietnam

On the way to Mai Chau last week, we were 2 of 4 passengers in a minibus shuttle, the other couple sitting in the row in front of us. We had not really spoken yet.

This is a note I wrote to Adam on the ride because I was silently laughing to myself like an idiot and he was looking at me like I was a maniac (not unfounded). I just came across the phone note and laughed again, at my dumb self, and because this is exactly the kind of travel account I know you all were hoping for, here it is:

 

I coughed, my gum went to the back of my throat, and then accidentally the gum flew out of my mouth on the next cough, flew right past these people, lodged perfectly in the crack between the door and the step - out of site - and no one saw any of it. I cannot get over it.

Scene of the crime, the buffalo is my only witness.

Scene of the crime, the buffalo is my only witness.

The end. 

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Other Ways to Follow Our Trip

As the few who check this site know, our updates are few and far between. But there are a couple of alternatives: 

1. Sus has regularly posted on Facebook - having little success linking her profile, but if you use FB, then I imagine you can find her profile. 

B. Atom has regularly posted on Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/atom444/

(Sus note: I have instagram, too, ya weirdo:  https://www.instagram.com/simpson_ehh/)

Awesome.

 

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Random Acts of Travel

The Hilton of Hanoi in the french quarter, ya know? We did visit the Hanoi Hilton  aka the prison, and stayed in neither. 

The Hilton of Hanoi in the french quarter, ya know? We did visit the Hanoi Hilton  aka the prison, and stayed in neither. 

Hello from the outdoor cafe of the Vietnamese Women's Museum. How are you? I am attempting to cool off while waiting for Sus to finish. I walked thru the museum rather quickly, though it is a nice enough museum, it's too hot. Basically, it is too hot everywhere for the likes of someone like me. I'll have to come back in the winter. Mean while, I figured I'd write a blog post about our ride back from Mai Chau to Hanoi we took yesterday.

 

Mai Chau Ecolodge pool, before a storm.  

Mai Chau Ecolodge pool, before a storm.  

After getting in some good r&r at the Mai Chau Ecolodge, it was time to head back to the beepbeep's of Hanoi. Mai Chau was meant to recharge our batteries while also seeing some of the scenery expected of Vietnam, and that is mostly what happened. Save for both of us getting a little sick. And actually, Mai Chau was a fine place for sickness, as we could lounge, or stare at the green of rice patties while storms rolled by. Pretty great actually. And as much as we enjoyed our stay, we were both ready to move on and see some more of the north. The original plan was to head to Ha Long Bay, a very popular place to both Vietnamese tourists, and everyone else, but as we went to book a place to stay / activities, we hit a road block: Vietnamese Holiday. Most everything was booked. As the wise Homer would say: D'oh.

 

Actually, this turned out to not be a big deal at all, and in a way fortunate. Had we booked way ahead we would have wound up in Ha Long Bay at one of its most busy weekends, and it's a place that is already pushed to its limits. So we flopped our plans, and are gonna head to Sapa, a place for hiking, and awesomely enough: Cooler weather. Sweet. But to get to Sapa the easiest way is to come back to Hanoi and take an overnight train. This also gives us another day to explore Hanoi. Which we are doing/did.  And did I mention how hot it is? Actually, after the museum, and exploring the French Quarter, we went to the movies. See ya heat, hello AC. Kind of. Also, we have seen two movies now, and we think talking is 100% accepted here. Sus tried to talk, I shushed her. That's not the Kanner way. We sit in aggravated silence. JK, for whatever reason the talking here does not bother me; maybe it's because I can't understand what they are saying. Or maybe 'cause we saw Jungle Book, and Captain America, and I am not too worried about dialogue.

 

Sus snapped this photo from the van back to Hanoi

Sus snapped this photo from the van back to Hanoi

Anyways, this post was supposed to be about the random good luck we had on the ride back from Mai Chau to Hanoi. The Ecolodge has a private van that runs people from Mai Chau to Hanoi for a fair price ($25 USD I think), and it's a 3 hour plus ride. Driving here might have to be a post in itself, but Sus was close to car sickness on the trip back. However, she was able to focus on listening to the two other passengers in the car give us all kinds of tips on Japan, our next destination. Sam, an American living in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), and his wife Quentin (not sure of actual spelling) who is from Hong Kong, have both spent some time in Japan. Sam lived there for two years, and he was a wealth of knowledge. This is kind of my favorite thing, and this dude was keen on telling us as much as he could remember. Some we knew thanks to our own research, and our good friends Keith and Jo who were kind enough to write us a detailed email about their recent trip to Japan, but there was ah-plenty we did not. And this is the Random Acts of Travel. It kind of reassures us that planning every move is not for us. Gotta leave some open to random advice. Randomly Sam had lived in DC for years (guy gets around), even owns a house in Cheverly, MD. He gave us food and drink spots in Tokyo, Ryokan (basically a Japan b&b to understate it) advice for Kyoto (and other areas), and good overall tips for getting around the country. It was awesome, and really helped the chaotic drive dodging trucks, motos, and cattle fly by. Seriously, it was awesome. I joked that I would buy him a couple of Bia Hoi's, the Hanoi street beer that costs 9000 dong, or $.40. "Big spender" he called me. Yup.

 

Well, that's all for now, time to get dinner. I started this post in Hanoi, but finishing it in Sapa. Today we went for a long-ish hike, and I am hungry. Adios amigos!

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(The) Beasts of (writing up) the Southern Wild

We are now sitting in the Sydney airport*, waiting to board our flight to Guangzhou, China and then on to Hanoi, Vietnam, so it seemed the perfect time to finally catch up on the rest of our time on the Southern Island of New Zealand. Obviously.

*or, we were at the time of writing this. Then it takes, apparently, 6 more full days for me to choose and upload photos. We are in Vietnam now. anyway....

Cleaaaaaaarly a bit behind on relaying some of our trip highlights, and it has built up a bit, so this is my attempt at an abbreviated catch-up, hopefully short and sweet.

JK -- there's no way it will be short. Should I have broken this up into shorter posts? Maybe. But I didn't. You're welcome, and sorry. Let's get to it....

NEW ZEALAND (FROM VIETNAM!): 

Marborough:

Hanging egg Basket with a View: Marborough Man

Hanging egg Basket with a View: Marborough Man

Wine country, and motherland of NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Adam said"meh," and I said "its gonna rock", and guess what, it did. Kick ass weather, and we went to more spots than we originally planned because it was so much fun. We stole grapes with permission off the vine (is that really stealing?), relaxed in hanging egg chairs, and maybe broke a few glasses (or just I did, that is). And no, not because I'm a lush, but because I'm a graceful idiot. Also went to a lone brewery out there in the sea of vineyards, lounged in beanbag chairs, and it rocked.

Yes, to answer your question, we do often sit at different tables.

Yes, to answer your question, we do often sit at different tables.

Abel Tasman: We blew our budget on a guided kayaking trip of this famed national park, known for its beautiful waters andgolden beaches. And it was totally worth it - even though it was cold, rainy, and the morning consisted of me trying not to throw up from the swells. We had double kayaks and a small group - it just our guide Matt and a Kiwi, Annie.

Highlights of the day included: the boat taxi to the starting point, which started with passenger boats loaded with kayaks being dragged alllllll the way into the water by tractor, then abandoning the tractor (someone else somehow retrieved the tractors from the bay, I don't understand those logistics), not throwing up after all (win!), seeing tons of seals and birds, "surfing" into a quiet estuary through decidedly unquiet surf, seeing our guide's kayak flip over in front of us in said surf (shit!), somehow avoiding them, and then after they were fine, having something like a boat-flip to talk about the rest of the day. The tour was a total highlight of NZ; we learned a lot about the birds, the maori history, environmental history, and we had a great time with guide Matt and Annie. But no pictures, because I'm sure the camera would have suffered the same fate as my fitbit (hey, who knew salt water wouldn't go well with a device that wasn't even waterproofed in the first place? WHO KNEW?).

 

Wharariki Beach

Because, why not. 

Because, why not. 

This is one of th top 10 most beautiful places we've been, maybe ever, easily. Even the 20 min walk from the carpark (home of a couple peacocks, by the way) was gorgeous. 

Land of Hobbits, south island

Land of Hobbits, south island

We got the tip from Matt and Annie to go here to see the baby seal pups playing in tidal pools at low tide. They were pretty damn adorable, and the tip was spot on.

Hello, human

Hello, human

Totally normal pose at a totally awesome location

Totally normal pose at a totally awesome location

We also tried out a local food called Whitebait, little tiny white fish cooked in a egg pattie. It's a thing here. I'm not sure I need that thing again. 

Mmmmm...little tiny fish in egg. Mmmmm. Sounds good, right?

Mmmmm...little tiny fish in egg. Mmmmm. Sounds good, right?

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers

Looking down on Franz Josef from Alex Knob

Looking down on Franz Josef from Alex Knob

These two glaciers are huge draws for tourists - besides being cool because, hey, glacier, they are also unique because after they move down from the Southern Alps, they end in rainforest. Both are apparently really fast moving in comparison to other glaciers around the world, and have rapidly advanced and declined over the years.

For example, at Fox, 100 years ago tourist would step off onto the glacier from - what is now - an enormous cliff wall we looked up at, something like 200+ft high.  In the 80's the glacier was smaller than it is now, but then it advanced again.  2009 was the end of the last big advance and was, I believe, hundreds of meters longer than it is today. 

Check out this timelapse for the latest rapid decline from just one year, it's kind of fascinating...in 2009, I think the glacier would have covered a huge part of the frame, where the people are standing in the bottom corner was under glacier, etc:

 http://www.grindtv.com/random/fox-glacier-timelapse-shows-stunning-retreat/#311CzytSJ40k3s8B.97

 

To see the glaciers, the big thing here is to book a heli-hike tour (helicopter to glacier then hike around like Chris O'Donnell in Vertical Limits....just like that), or go on a scenic helicopter tour with a glacier landing. One of us wanted to do the helicopter thing, the other did not. But the pro-heli person is also super cheap, so we "compromised" with a 6 hour hike up to Alex Knob to see the Franz Josef glacier up high....which really, only one of us really wanted to do. But once up there, both of us were glad we did it. We took a guided (short) hike the next day at Fox glacier to know what the hell we were looking at, and got to go behind barriers and step over fences like badasses (or cheap tourist who opted out of helicopter tours, whatever). It was awesome. But unfortunately, people are not allowed to go ON the glaciers from the bottom anymore (guide or not); it's too dangerous, as the glaciers are too unstable. 

Our guide was a good sport to be in our dumb selfies/ the top of the cliff is where folks used to step out onto and on top of the glacier / and high fives with the sign guide telling me to stop and go no further. We shall pass (safetly with a guide)! 

Our guide was a good sport to be in our dumb selfies/ the top of the cliff is where folks used to step out onto and on top of the glacier / and high fives with the sign guide telling me to stop and go no further. We shall pass (safetly with a guide)! 

Queenstown!

This is the place you go to bungee jump (apparently is the birthplace of commercial bungee), skydive, zorb ( roll down a huge hill in a giant clear ball), jetboat up a river, or a million other crazy things. We did ALL of that (or none, you decide), and then we tried out their famous burger spot, the FergBurger (this one, not surprisingly, is true).

We did also, rather adventurously, go up in a cable car and watch others go by in what appeared to be the slowest luge on Earth, ever. Cool view, great little city. Also, fun fact, the lake is apparently one of the cleanest in the world, something like 98% pure. 

View from top of cable car / uncharacteristically stayed at a b&b but actually enjoyed it, and the grapes from the owner's garden/ slowest luge ever ("wheee!") / actual view of Queenstown and that oh-so-clean lake of theirs

View from top of cable car / uncharacteristically stayed at a b&b but actually enjoyed it, and the grapes from the owner's garden/ slowest luge ever ("wheee!") / actual view of Queenstown and that oh-so-clean lake of theirs

  

Dunedin 

We had been looking forward to Dunedin but I think the sheer size of it was a bit jarring after we were in the middle of nowhere for (what felt like) a while - Milford Sound was definitely isolated, minus random hollywood sets, and Te Anau was tiny.

Dunedin has a (big surprise!) Scottish and English influence from its colonizers, and it was a pretty cool town. Good coffee, good food, interesting Settlers museum with free exercise bikes.

Whenever we can get a workout in... 

Whenever we can get a workout in... 

But best thing about this area was the Otango Peninsula, which juts out into the sea east of Dunedin. We decided to check it out and were not disappointed. We went to 2 spots where you can easily hike out to on the coast, called Lovers Leap and the Chasm. Both spots are really close together, but you hike through sheep fields to get to them. At this point, we had been in this heavily sheeped country for 3 weeks, but this was our first chance at seeing these guys up close and personal, and I was pumped. Except wow, the sheep did not feel the same about us. 

Walk out to the lookout points

Walk out to the lookout points

Avoid the lamb mines!! 

Avoid the lamb mines!! 

These sheep were clearly not paying attention to let me be this close

These sheep were clearly not paying attention to let me be this close

 

SIDE NOTE: oh my god its so hot. On the plane now, and there are no air vents on. Kanners aren't meant for this. Its actually a really nice plane, but what. is. happening?? 

 

The path is literally in the middle of grazing ground, and in fact, the whole area is actually closed in the spring to hikers for "lambing". So in some ways, you'd think the sheep wouldn't give two shits about you being around. But no, they were skittish as hell. They could see you coming a mile away and got the eff outta there.

Seriously. So sweaty. Why!??

Anyway, this peninsula was a definite eye-catching highlight. After we scared a ton of sheep by our mere presence, and took in the breathtaking views, we drove to the tip of the pensinsula and saw a bunch of albatross coming in at dusk (wow, they are huge), and a bunch of giant seals (or sea lions, I cannot tell the difference), who were just lazing around.

 

Oamaru

We stopped here for penguins but the whole town was an experience. We booked a hotel to get a break from the campervan, and unknowingly booked at a spot that was in the middle of an abandoned hospital complex, overlooking the town on a hill. Not at all like the start of a horror movie. Not. At. All.

That's my "hope we dont die" face (motel has the red roof just beyond this)

That's my "hope we dont die" face (motel has the red roof just beyond this)

The motel was named, obviously, Garden of Eden. I pride myself on chalking weird shit like this up to an adventure, but after driving up through what I perceived to be the setting for our mysterious murders, I said "no way, lets eat the cost of this." But Adam convinced me we at least look inside. Annnd, it was fine. I think we may have been the ONLY people staying in the entire place, but it really was a nice room. Someone in town later told us the hotel company had bought the entire hospital complex to make it all into hotels, but had only done this one part yet (and it used to be the maternity ward). 

 

Seriously, If Vietnam is as hot as the inside of this plane is right now, I might not survive.

 

Anyway, the town was cool, and had a lot of its original Victorian era buildings around. This was different from most other towns we had seen because a lot of places in NZ apparently tore their charming, beautiful buildings down at some point in the name of progress (supposedly), leaving less than charming curb appeal in most places. Perhaps stemming from the survival of their Victorian structures, Oamaru has embraced steampunk and even had a museum of sorts; it was pretty cool. They had something called The Portal, which alone made the entrance fee worth it. 

Punk + steam

Punk + steam

 We ate the crap out of some amazing cheese at Whitestone Cheesery, samples some brews, ziplined like ultimate adventureres at their (meant-for-children) playground, and saw blue penguins.

Adam hates me for this, probably

Adam hates me for this, probably

The penguin thing was really interesting, and I think Adam's got a writeup on it - we were really excited to see these little guys.  

 How are the flight attendents not even breaking a sweat?? Are they mutants?

 

Kaikoura

This was one of our rare, mostly-driving days. We stopped at a place called Riverstone for an amazing breakfast, strolled through their gardens and eyed the castle the owners were building (sure, why not) and then drooooooove. Maybe for 5 hours.

Real Castle + play castle...in which Adam pops up and yells at me, "I think you've gone far enough!!" 

Real Castle + play castle...in which Adam pops up and yells at me, "I think you've gone far enough!!" 

That's how compact and interesting this country is -- I think 5 hours was our longest driving day. Kaikoura is known for whale watching, and we booked the earliest tour at 645am the next morning, which rocked. They have all kinds of whales that go through the area because of a huge  (sea) canyon that sits close to shore and is essentially a giant feeding ground. Locals even see the rare blue whale (our guide said she's seen 3 just this month) but I think the regular in town is the sperm whale, and we were lucky enough to see 3! Then we saw a bunch of dusky dolphins on our way back in; just a huge pod or several big pods - like a 100 dolphins - showing off, doing flips, breaching. It was a cool sight to see.

Kaikoura is a cool town outside of the whales, too. We went on a cliff walk, saw more seals, and munched on some mega sized crawfish the size of lobsters.

Show-offs

Show-offs

Oh, this is just a crayfish, you say?? 

Oh, this is just a crayfish, you say?? 

Cliffwalk top, with my standard photo of Adam's back

Cliffwalk top, with my standard photo of Adam's back

Cliffwalk bottom!

Cliffwalk bottom!

We stayed at a very cool farm that we wrote about earlier with hilariously loud cows and deer, then thought we'd head into Christchurch. But, we couldn't bring ourselves to spend the day on the road or be in a city, so we said, screw it, and hung out again in Kaikoura. Great decision. We got a little motel by the sea, and just relaxed.

 

Christchurch!

Christchurch was our last stop in NZ, so we were a bit sad going in. Then...You go into town knowing a series of quakes had caused serious damage, but I didn't really get how much damage until we were there. The bigger quake was 5 years ago, but it feels like it was much more recent. Or not? I don't know how fast a city can rebuild, but there is a lot of frustration from the residents. And I can see why - It felt like every other city block was an empty lot being re-built, or a fenced-off site that was still unsafe but not yet fixed or bulldozed. Everywhere. 5 years later. Even our campsite, 30 min outside of town in South New Brighton had temporary kitchens and bathrooms from the Salvation Army because their regular facilities were still earthquake damaged. You can tell the "its been 5 years" bit is a huge point of contention as well -- artwork, posters and the like all serve to let frustrated citizens vent. Theres a long way to go to rebuild Christchurch, but it was still an interesting city.

Christchurch to me summed up: empty lot on left, public art/ community on back wall, RE:Start mall (pop up/temp food and shopping) on right, new building construction in background

Christchurch to me summed up: empty lot on left, public art/ community on back wall, RE:Start mall (pop up/temp food and shopping) on right, new building construction in background

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Christchurch Cathedral in center of town, still damaged.  Big fight between city/church/citizens over whether to tear down or renovate

Christchurch Cathedral in center of town, still damaged.  Big fight between city/church/citizens over whether to tear down or renovate

And that was New Zealand. The end.

if we cant stay, im gonna just walk right off this pier (New South Brighton, last night) 

if we cant stay, im gonna just walk right off this pier (New South Brighton, last night) 

 

 

 

PS (because this isnt already way too long for anyone's attention span) -- Did you know POSSUM FUR was a thing? I didn't either, until I bought a wool hat at a market in Queenstown. I thought, sweet, something merino wool, how fitting! And it's cold (oh man I miss that sensation)....Then, "oh wait, what does this tag say? Oh, just that it's Wool + Silk (ooh!) + Possum fur. Possum fur...Huh."

So, fun fact, NZ originally had no mammals except for a bat that is now extinct. All mammals in New Zealand now are invasive. LIKE THE POSSUM.  And incidentally, NZers are not so fond of possums, except for maybe, you know, their fur. 

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Coincidentally there was a possum skin on our Milford Sound Nature cruise. I had just gotten the possum hat, so I was clearly amused. Adam was super excited about this photo request. 

Coincidentally there was a possum skin on our Milford Sound Nature cruise. I had just gotten the possum hat, so I was clearly amused. Adam was super excited about this photo request. 

The end for real. One day, in Croatia we'll write about Sydney and Vietnam. 

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Happening Right Now: Airport whap whaaa

 

Let me start by saying we are excited for our next leg of the journey, but man, part of us wants to cancel everything and spend the rest of our time here. New Zealand has been GOOD to us. I should be hired by the tourism board, because im about to unleash a lovefest on this blog.

First of all, this has been the easiest trip ever to (not) plan. We did so little ahead of time, barely any planning during, and we had an amazing time. Part of that, yes, is due to giving ourselves 4 weeks, which is a large amount of time for most. But seriously, this country made it so damn easy. And I love this country, and here's why it was probably the easiest travelling of our lives:

1) iSites...incredibly helpful official tourist information sites that were EVERYWHERE, and could not only offer (actually) helpful advice, but then book things for you, free (i think mostly) of charge. You just felt like New Zealand WANTED you to have the best time while you wrre here, and iSites were just part of how they ensured that. And some places were hilariously into the sites, like the one byHobbiton looked like a hobbit hole on the outside.  Well played, iSite, well played.

2) Campervanning was the best (for us). Cannot believe this is mot a bigger thing in the states yet, a place where roadtripping is king. Offered us so much freedom to have our own wheels and accommodation, but even better is how awesomly set up this country is for camping. And because we had this little minivan version, we used less fuel than the big guys (though diesel was cheaper here, whap whaaa) and we didnt need powered sites (our fridge ran off its own battery fueled by the running car. Or something). Campsites were (again) EVERYWHERE, and that leads me to number 3... 

3) Campermate: someone awesome made an app that shows you all available/known campsites, EVERYWHERE, for all types of vehicles/tents. And it was available offline. With user comments and reviews. And because there are so many sites, we often decided that day where to stay, then just rolled in and showed up. We were travelling at the end of peak/ into shoulder season, so we were never turned away. It really enabled us in the whole "not really planning anything" strategy. Thanks, campermate!

4) kiwis are really nice. I know its a generalization, I'm sure there are some real jackasses out there, but we didnt encounter any. Or they're all really good at faking it. Either way, I'll take it. Case in point, today, after returning the campervan, we opted to walk to the airport after being told there was a footpath that took 20 min, so we set off. 2 min later a car pulled over asking if we were going to the airport and if we wanted a ride. Roger was his name, and he rocks. And we took him up on the offer.

5) There is so much to do and see in a relatively small country that we had hardly any long days of driving. And when we did stop to see something, there was often a few more things to see in the area that we found out about organically, or from clear signage. We never had to hunt for things to do or see, really. This whole country is something to see. 

6) They dont make you take off your shoes in the airport. 

 

Obviously #6 is the best one. And....maybe a million other things made this the most incredible 4 weeks.  

 

But guess what?? Were on our way to Sydney, Australia, and that rocks!! And even cooler, a cousin I've never met is picking us up at the airport! People. Are. Awesome. And thats why I love these big adventures we've had - this amazing part of human nature seems to hold true again and again.  Hopefully that holds for all the legs of this trip, ha!

 

To anyone who cares, we another big update to highlight a bunch of stuff we skipped, coming hopefully soon (it's started). Mostly to remind myself, they include: 

 

Marborough wine and beer land (mmm) 

Kayaking in Abel Tasman

wharariki beach and seal pups

Not helihiking the glaciers and totally not regretting it at all or fighting about it in any way, nope

Queenstown

Kaikoura

Christchurch

 

You know, nothing much. 

 

 

 

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Waikene Lodge

Morning view. Monesha, if youre reading this, picture us in these chairs, doing nothing, because we did some real nothingness here. Though to be truthful, i didnt sit in this chair. 

Morning view. Monesha, if youre reading this, picture us in these chairs, doing nothing, because we did some real nothingness here. Though to be truthful, i didnt sit in this chair. 

I know we skipped a lot of things on the south island (that we will hopefully get to) but i wanted to take some time to describe the symphony of sounds we woke up to this morning.

First of all, this spot is AWESOME. I know i overuse that word but it is truly awe inspiring. We're just outside of Kaikoura on the east coast of the south island, at a place called Waikene Lodge.  We saw this little out of the way spot on campermate, and decided it was probably the last peaceful, remote spot we'd have, since we're heading to Christchurch next and then on to Australia.

(campermate, by the way, is an incredibly helpful app that shows you all possible camping spots offline -which is vital since wifi is like gold out here-and shows people's comments and reviews).

It's a working farm, huge, i think the owner said 4000 acres. Cattle, sheep, turkey, deer. Deer has been an interesting thing to see here - raising it, that is. Funny, considering how at home we dont seem to take advantage of venison as much. Here you see the herds and high fences everywhere.   In fact, i bet, with all my unscientific data gathering (that is, looking as we drive by and guessing) that deer are the third largest   livestock raised here.

Deer, aka my next venison meal. Sorry, Bambi. Jk. Maybe. 

Deer, aka my next venison meal. Sorry, Bambi. Jk. Maybe. 

Anyway, the sounds. First, the songbirds. They are everywhere in the country but today they were especially prevalent. They sound like a drunk flutist who can only remember 5 notes, and never in the same order or in harmony with each other, and yet its still charming. Anyway, the cattle. I had no idea how many weird sounds cattle can make. "Moo" is such an understatement. Picture whatever noise would come out of a cartoon cow with bugged out eyes who was just taken by surprise. I heard a lot of that. One sounded like an airhorn. How? Why? And the deer did not sound that different. The stags were loud like the cows, and then every now and then you here what sounded like a bored, "meh."

sorry if this is super boring but it was pretty amusing to me. The cows were SO animated, it was such a funny way to wake up.

But mostly, this spot was just so gorgeous, and contrary perhaps to all that i wrote above, quite peaceful. yesterday when we arrived, we were the only ones there for a while until a couple from the UK showed up, but kept mostly to themselves. 

The owners had a few hikes on their land as well, so I took a walk to the lookout by myself, which takes you directly through cattle yards. Was a bit scared at first when i encountered the first crowd of cows, but I shouldn't have been. They all stop what they're doing, stare at you, and then scatter like you're a lepor (both socially, and medically). Kind of funny how fast they'd run at the sight of me (also, kinda offended. Whatever, cow).

The moment before I scarred them for life with my presence

The moment before I scarred them for life with my presence

The Lookout delivers

The Lookout delivers

View, complete with skeptical, skittish cattle in the foreground hilltop

View, complete with skeptical, skittish cattle in the foreground hilltop

Adam chats, I eat

Adam chats, I eat

Gonna miss New Zealand. This country has really delivered. 

On our way to Christchurch today, then we fly out Monday for Sydney! 

 

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Happening Right Now...C-A-P-S, CAPS CAPS CAPS!

Dork. I mean, a dedicated dork, but still the same: 

 

Dedicated CAPS fan in his natural strong-wifi habitat

Dedicated CAPS fan in his natural strong-wifi habitat

We are in Kaikoura, by the way. Just got off a whale watching boat, JUST in time to stream the Caps first play-off game. 

(we saw three sperm whales and a load of dusky dolphins, if you were curious, but obviously the important part of the day is above....haaaa)

Dusky dolphins, showing off

Dusky dolphins, showing off

Only 3 more days in New Zealand!! Crazy!! More updates on what the hell we've been doing the last 3 weeks, hopefully, coming soon. 

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Milford "Michael Fassbender Looked Adam In The Eye and Gave Us a Flat Tire" Sound

Hey! Did you know Ridley Scott is filming his next movie in New Zealand? Neither did we until we ran into Michael Fassbender at breakfast yesterday and became best friends with him (Ok, sure, one of those statements is somewhat of a stretch and the other a bold face lie).

But truthfully - yesterday was a funny day, and not just because of our new, sure-to-be-lifelong friendship with Mike (as we call him.)

In a nutshell: we woke up in the most gorgeous camping spot excited for the legendary Milford Sound, saw an A-lister in the middle of nowhere, got a flat tire (tyre, mind you),  saw the Sound in all its glory, and are now "stranded" in a town called Te Anau until Monday to get said tire patched (is also where the film crew is headquartered, apparently, and today was their day off and we keep spotting crew members all over town because theyre the ones obviously not backpacking. And they look like crew to me, ha).

So let's back it up.

There is only one lodge and campervan site in Milford Sound, the aptly named Milford Sound Lodge. It sounds bigger than it is, but it is less lodge like, in person. Still, it looked quite nice, and their food / coffee was spot on. We were actually hoping to score a room there and kick campervan life to the curb for a night, so we tried to book from Queenstown - but no luck, all booked up. Kind of beat ourselves up a bit on not planning ahead on that one. But in the end, it worked out so well as we stayed at the closest DOC site about an hour away for 12$nz, and it was beyond beautiful: 

We'll take a table with a view, please

We'll take a table with a view, please

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One of the pictures we hoped to get with the real camera was a starry night. Sus tried, but it was cloudy, and getting late. Like 930p late. However, hours after we had fallen asleep I got up to use the bathroom; it had to be around 11p, the stars were out in full effect, and it was perfect. Easily in the top ten pisses of my life, but I could not get Sus out of the warmth of the bed to take pictures. She is the skilled photographer, so you can just google "New Zealand starry sky" and you will see what I saw. Seriously, if it wasn't so late, like 1145p, I would have stayed out there for dozens of minutes. 

Woke up to this awesomeness... Already pumped for the day to see the Sound

Woke up to this awesomeness... Already pumped for the day to see the Sound

We decided to skip our own lame breakfast options and check out what the Milford Sound Lodge's cafe had on hand, as it was also the only spot listed in the book to have food. It's a phenomenal drive in to the Sound as well, huge valleys and gorges formed by long-gone glaciers (as is the Sound). Also a drive thru a mountain in a tunnel called Homer. 

Perfect overlook for contemplating life and brushing teeth

Perfect overlook for contemplating life and brushing teeth

As we near the lodge, we see traffic cones and warning signs on the road: Warning: Film Crew." Huh. Thats funny. I'm immediately thinking, whatever film is going on, I bet the crew is staying at the lodge (and I therefore no longer feel bad about not booking ahead, I'm sure it was fully booked for months, ha). We get to the lodge, use their bathrooms (obviously, they are much more pleasant than portapots), and i come out to the cafe area to hear Adam whisper, "Magneto is here."

 Actually, I did not whisper Magneto, I said Michael Fassbender, but Sus could not hear me as I was being extra quiet / mumbly since we were surrounded by crew. I got out of the bathroom first and peered into the area that said "Private." Not because I thought there would be a famous actor, but it was in my general line of sight. The two people in the room, and mind you this is not a doored off area, just an open wall, looked at me, and I them. I immediately recognize Fassbender and then walk away. 

...which...really just confused me because i started looking for Patrick Stewart. But yeah, right next to the cafe ordering counter, in a little closed off to the public space, was The Very Handsome Michael Fassbender, having a leisurely breakfast with some chica, acting like it was totally normal to be there in the remote Milford Sound Lodge. Which, to him, I'm sure it was. But not to us. We waited for our food and tried to be normal as we guessed what the hell was going on, and holy crap its gotta be a pretty big movie thats happening here, and WHO ELSE is in this movie?? Crew were coming in for breakfast, talking sbout scene changes, blah blah blah, and holy crap that's Michael Fassbender.

After some time of casually stalking Mike, he left (im sure we'll just meet up later, right, Mike?), then we went to leave to catch our Nature Cruise tour we booked for the morning to see the Sound (what we thought would be the highlight of the day, ha, movie nerds). Still excited about our sighting we drive out and then...."i think we have a flat tire...ahh crap, we have a flat tire." 

whap whaaaa. So we drive back into the lodge, and start to change the tire. I thought we looked like we knew what we were doing, but it was about 20 seconds before a guy came over to lend a hand. Enter Colin, New Zealand man of the day, as he definitely sped up the process and gave advice we wouldnt have known (flat was front drivers side, he heavily suggested we put the doughnut on the back though, and swap the good rear tire to the front steering tire for more stability...because we had to make it about 120 km to the next real town, through mountains and so forth). Turns out Colin used to work at the lodge doing maintenance and was back to help out on the movie, driving a boat. So awesome and helpful, as we probably would have missed our tour without his help, and more importantly, who knows how the car would have handled the somewhat rough terrain back, with a doughnut on a front steering wheel. 

Awwwwwwww sheeeet

Awwwwwwww sheeeet

Colin, being a generally awesome person. Also, not seen, the hundreds of sandflies swarming us, that of course did not even bother Colin. Just the coolest.

Colin, being a generally awesome person. Also, not seen, the hundreds of sandflies swarming us, that of course did not even bother Colin. Just the coolest.

We made Colin do all of the work.  

Thanks, Colin! You rock! Now tell me about the movie! Just kidding, i know you signed an NDA!

Thanks, Colin! You rock! Now tell me about the movie! Just kidding, i know you signed an NDA!

As we drive into the Sound to the boat terminal (just in time, by the way)it becomes clear where they are filming today...there's a spaceship in the Sound, boats spreading fog, blue screens, tons of people and maybe 8 or so huge grip trucks. And as we pull out of the Sound for the tour, the captain mentions it's the new Alien:Covenent movie, and the nature guide starts the tour with, "and on your left is just a movie set," haaaa.

 

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Then we saw the Sound and it was gorgeous, epic, and (hey!) "otherworldly." Sheer, enormous, cliffs created from glaciers, waterfalls everywhere (that the ship went riiiiiiight up to). I can absolutely understand why an Alien movie is being filmed here, this place is like no where else I've seen, and these photos do it no justice...

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