Our First Adventure in Asia

Shortly after we returned from Peru, a friend found crazy cheap flights to China over Thanksgiving and suggested a group of us go. We had just spent most of our vacation days for that year in South America, so we were hesitant to join, but then we realized: $500 flights to CHINA! An international flight for that cheap couldn’t be passed up. So about two months after we had landed back in the US, we boarded a plane to Beijing with five other friends for our first trip to Asia.

The first flight was a quick shot up to Toronto - no problem. The flight from Toronto to Beijing, however, was over 13 long hours. We watched movies, played games, chatted with the flight attendants about the best haggling strategies and markets for fake designer bags, and made futile attempts at sleep.


We landed in Beijing around 7 pm, fumbled our way through customs and the subway to our hostel, and collapsed in our giant doom room staring at each other jet-lagged with bleary eyes. Before crashing for the night, we managed to drag ourselves to dinner at a place close by. Although we had been warned, our first experience with Chinese food was nothing to write home about: the food was bland and greasy, and we made jokes the whole time about whether or not the “chicken” we were eating was actually dog. After dinner we went back to the hostel and immediately passed out.

Although our first dinner experience was mediocre, the next morning the hostel owner introduced us to what would be the best food of the trip. She wrote down an order for us in Chinese and told us to walk down the block and hand that piece of paper to a street vendor. We had no idea what we were getting, but it turned out to be amazing. He handed us back a bundle of steamed buns and tea eggs. They were cheap and delicious. From then on, that was our go to choice for breakfast (or really anytime we saw vendors selling it).

We spent most of the time in Beijing exploring the touristy sights including Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Jingshan Park, and the Great Wall. The sheer size of all these monuments was incredible and would be difficult to explain, even with a photo. A fun thing we experienced was the uniqueness of being white in China. Lots of the Chinese tourists would sneak pictures of us. The bold ones would quickly shove in for a selfie with us in the background, while others asked to pose with us. We thought it was hilarious.

Seeing the sights around Beijing
White people are weird!

Although a lot of Chinese food left something to be desired, it was not all bad. Since we were in China over Thanksgiving, we made sure to find a nice place for the big meal. Instead of turkey we had Peking duck at a fancy restaurant. They made a show of bringing out the duck and carving it at our table. Even the bathroom was fancy, with warming toilet seats and fans to dry your bottom, in case you need that sort of thing. It was the best meal of the trip, plus a testament to how cheap our trip was: despite being a higher end restaurant, the whole meal cost less than $100 for seven people.


After Beijing, we took an overnight train to Xi’an to see the terracotta army. The display was HUGE. It was insane how large the building were that encased the army, and it hasn’t even been fully excavated! There were three major structures that were larger than football fields that surrounded the excavation sites, plus several other buildings that held additional special exhibits, including one that showed what the warriors would have looked like fully painted when they were originally created.

After finishing up with the army, we headed back to the city center to grab some food and explore more of Xi’an. When we finally arrived back at the train station, we were tired and ready for another relaxing overnight train to Shanghai. That would have been great, except we did not realize that Xi’an is so large, they have multiple major rail hubs, and we were at the wrong one… oops.

The ticket clerk assured us that there was no way we would make it, but we had tenacity. We were too many for a single cab, so we quickly rounded up two, threw money at the drivers, and set out for the train station across town. One of the cabs made it just in time, but the other cab was unfortunately 5 minutes too late. After an hour of broken English discussions with the ticket office, we realized that there were no open seats on any train for days and our best bet was to fly out in the morning. We swallowed our pride, bought the cheapest flights to Shanghai possible and rented a room in a hotel near the airport.

This hotel was probably the most interesting hotel experience we have ever had. While it had a beautiful lobby and hotel rooms, the niceness stopped there and the dirty/weird things began. Chain smoking must have been encouraged in every room. They provided paper slippers, some type of face mask in case of space shuttle launch, and a plaque in the bathroom reminding us to shower and “have a happy.”

We have no idea, but at least we are prepared for lift off


We splurged in Shanghai and stayed on the 30th floor at a Marriott right in the city center. The skyline there is already beautiful, and our view was killer. When we checked into our room, we all just stood by the floor to ceiling windows for 10 minutes looking out over the city.

We spent most of our time in Shanghai wandering around, impressed with the vastness of the city. We wandered into a textile market, explored winding streets, and strolled along the Bund. A highlight of the trip was also our first experience with escape rooms at Mr. X. This was insanely fun and has since sparked a love affair with puzzles rooms.

After Shanghai, we took the bullet train back to Beijing, where we acquired a few knockoff designer bags and souvenirs from the Pearl Market and got ready to head back home.

The journey home

Our journey home involved a 12 hour overnight layover in Toronto. We checked out some sites downtown, tried a few new local beers, stuffed our faces with poutine, and somehow ended up at the after party of an electronic music festival. The next morning was a little rough, but it was the best way we could have wrapped up our trip.

Despite our initial concerns about the language barrier, we were able to put together the trip on our own and (more or less) navigate the cities. The food and beer wasn’t all great, but China was a fantastic destination for our larger group to share experiences and do some amazing sightseeing. We learned a ton about the Chinese culture, tried a bunch of new things, and as the title of this post implies, it definitely won’t be our last trip in Asia!

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The Trip that Started it All

Our first trek to South America was Peru in September 2014. Both of us had been to Europe before, in college and together in 2012 and 2013, and while those trips had their highlights (Oktoberfest two years in a row!), we were ready for something different. We each put together a 30-Before-30 list, which included things like scuba diving (Laura did in Belize 2013), run a half marathon (Vesper did his first one in 2013), and brew a good beer (both the mango wheat and VIIIRIS were amazing). When we were considering what to do next, we kept going back to hiking the Inca Trail, a top item on both of our lists. Neither of us had done anything this physically challenging as a “vacation,” and we were ready to do something beyond the churches, squares, and museums that largely characterized our European trips. We started planning the spring of 2014. We knew a few people who had done the trail already, so with their information, we selected a tour company, accommodations, and booked our flights.


We arrived in Lima around midnight and took a taxi into Miraflores, a touristy section in Lima. There were pretty parks along the ocean, but we were itching for something more than our overpriced pisco sours. The historic city center was beautiful and had some interesting sites, particularly the catacombs of the Monastery of San Francisco where an estimated 25 thousand bodies are laid to rest.

Some of the food and drink around Lima


When we flew to Cusco, that’s when we knew we were hooked on South America. Sure the main square was pretty touristy, but the surrounding scenery, the amazing people, and oh-my-god the food made it awesome. We stayed in a quaint little hotel a few blocks away from the main square, where we took advantage of the free breakfast and awesome hosts who provided all types of recommendations (both great perks when traveling). Whenever we describe our time in Cusco, it seems to be romanticized since everything went (more or less) perfectly. Even when we may have gotten a bit ripped off for a horseback tour, afterwards we stumbled into a “free” back entrance of an archaeological site that probably would have cost us an overpriced ticket had we gone through the main entrance.

Guinea pig, horseback riding, and a festival in Cuzco

The Inca Trail

The Inca Trail was the ultimate highlight of the trip:

  • Our guide Rojo instilled in us a fascination with Inca and Quechua culture and history that still lasts today.
  • The porters had our utmost respect as they carried the group’s belongings, tents, food, etc. in sandals as we all struggled along in our hiking boots and day packs gasping for air at the high altitude.
  • The group of hikers with us were so diverse, kind, and supportive of each other. We are still in touch with a few today, and hope to keep those friendships for life.
  • The food prepared on the trail was incredible. Vesper ate by far the most, including anyone else’s leftovers (it was that good). On our last night, Vesper had to learn some Spanish so he could tell the chef, “Su comida es la mejor en Perú.”
  • The scenery was beyond compare. We kept saying to each other, “oh my god this is so beautiful,” and then we’d round another bend in the valley and our jaws would somehow manage to drop even farther. The Andes now have a special place in our hearts.
  • Waking up at 3 am to hike to Machu Picchu may not have been our cup of tea as we are decidedly not morning people, but the hike was the most peaceful one of the four day trek. It was a cloud-free morning, perfect to watch the sun rise as we climbed up the Monkey Ladder and got to the Sun Gate right as the light came through onto Machu Picchu. It was a magical experience that we can’t wait to find again. We were now completely hooked on getting out there, trying new and challenging feats, and immersing ourselves in any culture possible.
The Inca trail to Machu Picchu

The Food Festival

The final icing on the cake of our Peru trip was an 8 hour layover we had in Lima on our way back from Cusco to the US. We had checked our luggage at the airport and were in a cab back to the historic downtown to wander for our last few hours, when our driver mentioned a food festival. Um, yes please? We asked him to turn around and drop us off at Mistura, which happened to be the largest food festival in South America. Amazing! We couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend our last few hours in Peru, and we can’t wait to go back.

Cooking Alpaca and other food at Mistura

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We're Married!

Our wedding day was perfect for the two of us. We heard several comments of “Finally!” when we announced a date this fall, and several times at the reception itself. These outbursts were not necessarily due to the fact that we had been dating or engaged for a ridiculous amount of time, but more so that we had been engaged for 8 months and hadn’t put one ounce of effort into planning our wedding. This, however, was due largely to two things: Vesper hates planning, and while I consider myself the queen bee of planning, hated my job and the last thing I wanted to do on my weekends was do more “work.” So, really, we’re both to blame.

In July, I hit my 5 years at work, and we went on a glorious month-long sabbatical that my company provides a stipend for if you hit that milestone (more on that in another post). We hit up Belgium, Spain, Turkey, and Greece, and we often joked about how funny it would be if we just eloped while we there and didn’t have to do any of the wedding planning our parents and friends kept nagging us about. After a relaxing month, we came home and I put my notice in. We had spent the sabbatical planning our future: a national park road trip that fall, going to Hawaii to visit Vesper’s cousins, and then traveling the world for a year! And, oh yeah, we should probably plan that wedding sometime.

Our biggest problem with the wedding was venue: our family was pretty scattered across the US, so where should we have it? Do we do a destination wedding? How much of a pain would that be to plan from far away? Would we be able to invite all of the people we wanted there for our big day? After receiving several pathetic texts bemoaning various venue options, one of our closest friends (and soon-to-be-bridesmaid) finally snapped at me: “Just find a barn in Wisconsin!” There may have been an additional expletive or two in her scolding, but I did what she said and googled “wedding barn Wisconsin.” The first hit was a place 30 minutes north of Madison called The Barn at Harvest Moon Pond, which coincidentally had a cancellation for December 5 - aka my brother’s 25th birthday.

The events after that involved a quick call to my brother asking how he’d feel if we were to get married on his birthday (“haha ok, that’s cool”), and then telling Vesper that I’d found a potential venue and he needed to go see it ASAP since I was away on a work trip. Being the awesome person he is, Vesper went to the barn and took a million pictures for me, even scheduling another visit for the following week for me to come back after my trip. Then he was the literal worst (love him!) and didn’t tell me whether he liked it or not because he didn’t want to ruin my impression. Little did he know that I had already decided this was the venue (I did a LOT of googling weddings from there and thought it was great) and his going there was a test to see if he liked it!

Long story short: we went back, it was amazing, and we signed the contract right there. Another added bonus? The owners are also amazing, and the four of us were entirely on the same page about how to throw a low-key (but super fun) wedding. Since it was December, the barn had garland and a tree set up for the holidays, so we had minimal decorations needed - perfect! Instead of spending time pintristing and hot glue gunning (ugh), we spent our time personalizing the wedding by recruiting friends to brew beer for the bar and made scrapbooks of our previous travels to showcase what we love doing/are going to continue doing post-wedding. It took us less than 45 minutes to set up for the wedding Saturday morning, which was perfect… especially since the rehearsal dinner had gone quite late the night before!

With our best friends by our side - plus one marrying us! - we had a ceremony that was “so us” according to anyone we spoke to afterward. Apparently “so us” involves: lots of laughing and making faces when we couldn’t quite remember the vows we had memorized, people drinking homebrew during the ceremony (we didn’t realize the bar had already opened!), my MOH pulling tissues out her dress when I started crying, and Vesper not being able to get my ring on. All of that clocking in at under 6 minutes (someone timed us). It was perfect.

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