Nine Months of Traveling Complete

We just wrapped up nine months of traveling - that’s enough time to have a baby! Too bad we are having too much fun gallivanting around the world!

In the last month we have traveled to nine cities in five countries: Interlaken and Bern in Switzerland; Prague in the Czech Republic; Rüdesheim and Frankfurt in Germany; Paris, France; and Mumbai, Udiapur, and Jodhpur in India. As a bonus, we also spent six hours in King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, which is probably as close as we will ever get to visiting Saudi Arabia unless they start issuing tourist visas or we decide to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

In lieu of our normal monthly post, here are some overall observations from our three months in Europe and our initial impressions of India.

Europe in Review

  • This is by far the most expensive place we’ve been to yet. The only country in South America that got close in price was Argentina.
  • Since it’s only a quick hop across the pond, this is where most of our friends and family came to visit.
  • It’s very easy to get around - by plane, train, bus, etc. - but it’s not necessarily cheap. Save some money by booking early, and watch out for hidden fees the cheap airlines might throw at you.
  • We generally found it very easy to communicate with locals regardless of language. Lots of people spoke English; even non-native English speakers would use it to communicate with each other. If English wasn’t an option, we found we were still able to get around by applying our basic understandings of Spanish, French, and German.
  • Many countries we visited do not use the Euro. In total, we used ten different currencies while in Europe.
  • Credit cards are widely accepted.
  • Hostels seemed very overpriced, especially for a couple. Airbnb is definitely the way to go in Europe.
  • Europe’s street food scene paled in comparison to South America’s. India and Southeast Asia better live up to the hype!
  • We hate to say it, but we got a little bored of the familiarities and ease of assimilation in Europe since it’s so similar to the US. We are excited to head out on an adventure to the culturally unknown again.

Initial Observations of India

Food

  • Apart from a few exceptions, we have no idea what we are ordering. We just point and hope for the best. It has all been good so far!
  • Many places do not serve alcohol, and several of our hostels did not allow any on premise.
  • Eating with only your right hand is harder than it looks. What do you do when you run out of naan?
  • Similar to South America, the water is not safe for drinking so it’s either bottled or filtered and UV treated.
  • Masala chai is everywhere, which is great because it is cheap and delicious.

Clothing

  • Traditional clothing is super colorful. It’s awesome!
  • It seems that only women wear traditional clothing. We’ve seen it on a few men, but most men dress in the “Western” style with pants and a button down shirt or t-shirt. Some women do as well, but from the few cities we’ve been in, traditional dress is the most common for women.
  • Despite the heat, shorts are found exclusively on children and sometimes on men; otherwise, you almost never see bare legs.

Cultural

  • It’s not uncommon for men to hold hands or drape their arms around one another while they are talking or spending time together.
  • As a result of bathroom hygiene, there are social rules regarding your left and right hands. For example, you should always greet someone with with your right hand as your left is seen as unclean and very rude.
  • We see a lot of cows, sheep, and goats in odd places - like the middle of the highway, city street corners, alley dumpsters, or sleeping behind a rickshaw.
  • Little kids love to yell “Hello!!” at us and get the biggest smiles when we say hi back.
  • Men (and apparently women) love their mustaches.
  • Handshakes from an Indian does not necessarily involve any amount of grip, just a limp hand.

Transportation

  • Drivers here are insane. Seriously. The worst we’ve seen this trip.
  • Indians are supposed to drive on the left side of the road. Then again, it seems like traffic laws are optional so anything goes!
  • We were surprised to find that Uber is very popular here, which is awesome because explaining where we want to go is half the battle. This also means we don’t have to haggle for cabs, and we still get a crazy cheap deal.
  • Getting from city to city can be complicated and very slow. In their defense, India has the largest and most complicated rail network in the world.
  • Addresses are sometimes in relation to a landmark rather than a specific point. Instead of a numbered building on a named street, it would say something like “Hotel White House, near Marway bus stand, Pushkar.”

Money

  • With very few exceptions, cash is the only accepted form of payment.
  • We are still getting a feel for how to get the best deals, but overall everything is much cheaper than Europe.
  • We have met so many people who are super nice and willing to show us around, but it’s difficult to filter out those people from the others who are just warming us up to ask for money or push us into buying something we don’t want.

Fast Facts

  • Favorite European City: Budapest, Hungary
  • Prettiest Scenery: The Swiss Alps
  • Stinkiest Cheese: Beer Cheese at U Medvídků in Prague
  • Longest Time Without Chipotle: 9 Months
  • Most Overpriced Guacamole: €2.75 at Chipotle in Frankfurt, Germany. Worth it!
  • Best Crepe: AuP’tit Grec in Paris, France

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Road Trip through Ireland

Vesper’s mom had planned a trip to southern Ireland with a few friends and asked if we wanted to tag along. By now we are professional travelers so we offered to help plan. We decided to get the lay of the land and headed to Ireland a week before they arrived to explore the north.

County Donegal

To start our trip we flew into Belfast, rented a car, and drove to Donegal on the opposite side of the island (and in a different country) to begin our loop. It was a slightly terrifying albeit humorous drive since this was the first time we’ve ever driven on the wrong side of the road. After a few hours of white knuckling and constant reminders of “LEFT SIDE!” we treated ourselves to a delicious dinner of Irish stew, homemade soda bread, and - of course - the first of many pints of Guinness at the Olde Castle Bar.

Our first Guinness in Ireland.

The next morning we visited Slieve League, the north’s version of the Cliffs of Moher. Although less famous than those in Moher, the cliffs along Slieve League mountain can reach up to three times higher… if you can see them in the mist. Our first attempt to view the cliffs was a hike to the top of the mountain where we were greeted with massive mud puddles, sideways rain, and fog so thick you could cut it with a knife. At least we got our exercise in for the day! Attempt two was far better. We drove to the formal lookout point and were able to enjoy cloud-free views of the cliffs. It was also our first experience with the pure evil known as midges, which are basically mosquitos but the size of gnats and worse.

Pilgrams Path on the way up Slieve League.

From Slieve League, we headed north along the Wild Atlantic Way which runs along the entire Atlantic coast of Ireland. This route offers spectacular scenic views for passengers and insanely narrow roads for the driver. Our next stop was Glenveagh National Park where we did some hiking and visited the castle and its gardens.

Northern Ireland

A (very) quick aside on The Troubles: You can read more it here, but suffice to say that a few centuries of English encouraged settlements in the north had come to a head over the last few decades in a heated and violent civil rights momvement. Needless to say, these events are not forgotten and are still a major point of contention.

We spent one night in Derry/Londonderry, a city marked by violence and conflict. There are numerous murals around the city remembering victims of the past, emphasizing human rights, and some still vying for Northern Ireland’s independence.

The famous Bogside wall of "Free Derry"
Bloody Sunday Memorial

We spent our final night in Derry enjoying live music at Peadar O’Donnells, our favorite pub we visited in Ireland. Continuing on an Irish drinking theme, the next day we toured the Old Bushmills Distillery where we sampled several types of whiskey and even bought some to share with our parents. We’re such good kids!

Our tasting sample in front of an old still.

Nearby to Bushmills is Giant’s Causeway, a beautiful natural formation of basalt columns similar to the ones we visited in Mexico. Our experience was made even better when we learned from our host that you can visit this area for free after 6 pm, which also means no tour buses! Being savvy AND avoiding crowds!

Continuing our loop we took the Causeway Coastal Route all the way back to Belfast. Along the way we stopped at several lookout points, some of which also happened to be filming locations for Game of Thrones.

Near Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge
Game of Thrones filming locations: Ballintoy Harbor (aka the Iron Islands) and the Caves of Cushendun.

Belfast was our final stop in Northern Ireland before meeting up with Vesper’s parents. We were able to see more murals from the Troubles, including a giant barricade knows as the Peace Wall where we got to watch some artists at work. We also visited the Ulster Museum, which turned out to be an awesome (free!) museum with mummies, the history of Northern Ireland, and everything in between.

Belfast City Hall and the Botanical Gardens

Galway

After meeting up with Vesper’s parents in Dublin, we headed west for a few days in Galway. We visited numerous castles and abbeys in the surrounding area - even one where Laura was able to find McMenamin referenced on a historical map of County Donegal! At night we explored the quaint town, listened to lots of live music, and continued our education in Guinness consumption.

Kylemore Abbey
Anghnanure and Doonagore Castles

Cliffs of Moher

En route to the Cliffs of Moher we hit up a megalithic tomb and a few more castles. After lunch, we headed to the cliffs. They are amazing! Even if they aren’t as tall as Slieve League, the Cliffs of Moher seem far more vertical. Pro tip: you can get in for free if you hike in… aka the car full of people who get senior discounts drops you off outside the parking lot so you can walk in for free!

Megalithic tomb and Dunguaire Castle
Laura's hair versus the wind!

Dingle Peninsula

Our last few days in Ireland we spent in the Dingle Peninsula. Driving around the area we saw numerous fairy rings, abandoned cottages from the Irish famine, more church ruins, and a million ridiculously picturesque views. Back in Dingle, we enjoyed more live music, some fresh scallops, and - you guessed it - more Guinness.

Quin Abbey
Touching thumbs through a hole in the ogham stone for good luck.
Some of the graves inside of Quin Abbey
Connor Pass

Dublin

Our last day in Ireland spent a few hours in Dublin, which turned out to be plenty of time. It was nice to see the capital city but we enjoyed the countryside more. We had one last delicious Irish stew and Guinness for dinner, said goodbye to Vesper’s parents, and then it was off to Scotland!

Around Trinity College
The proper way to drink a Guinness. Cheers!

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Poppin' Pierogis in Poland

Continuing north from Hungary, we headed to Poland to take it easy after a month of traveling with friends. Instead of trying to conquer the entire country, we focused on two cities: Kraków as the cultural center and Warsaw for the modern day Poland.

Kraków

Kraków is one of the oldest and largest cities in Poland, and we spent a week here relaxing and taking it all in. Despite the German invasion in 1939, Kraków remained largely unscathed by the war. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it happened to be hosting an arts festival during our visit. The main square was filled with stands selling artistic wares and delicious food. We obviously had to try all the different Polish cuisine we could find! In addition to the kielbasa, sauerkraut, and pierogis from the fair, we found our way to a few trendy food trucks in the Jewish Quarter.

Inside the Wawel Castle complex and the river behind it.
Old Town Kraków
Kraków has historically been a Christian and Jewish center.
Meat, spinach, potato, and cheese pierogis.
Food trucks in the Jewish Quarter.

Even better, Poland has one of the best craft beer scenes we’ve found this trip; the bars were packed with locals and had excellent beer severed at an affordable price. Pinta is the major brewery in town, but we also sampled some English-style ales on pump at TEA Time and another large assortment of Polish craft beer at Multi Qlti Tap Bar. In the end, our favorite was Weźże Krafta. In addition to having roughly 24 excellent Polish beers on tap, we found one of our favorite beers ever all the way from South Carolina, USA! It goes without saying that we had a great time.

Weźże Krafta: our favorite bar in Kraków!

Day trips

Kraków made an excellent home base for a few days trips. Only twenty minutes by train is the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Wieliczka is one of the world’s oldest salt mines and made a fortune for the Polish kings in a time when salt was worth more than its weight in silver. The old mine has many salt carvings, from small arrangements of dwarfs to entire ballrooms large enough for a wedding.

A salt sculpture depicting the origins of the mine, and one full of dwarfs.
Church services are held here every Sunday.
Yep, it's salt - confirmed!
A tunnel and boat canal deep down underground.

A few hours in the other direction are the concentration/death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. It would be impossible to describe our experience at Auschwitz other than to say powerful. The barracks at Auschwitz host many jarring displays and photographs, and the remains of the huge gas chambers and crematoriums at Birkenau are a haunting display of the atrocities that occurred.

The famous entry gate inscribed with the phrase "work will set you free."
A canister of Zyklon B used to produce deadly gas, and bios of hundreds of documented prisoners.
The "Death Wall" where the SS shot several thousand people after a quick "trials."
Crematorium at Auschwitz
Entrance to Birkenau
A rail car used to transport prisoners, and one of the blown up crematoriums.

Warsaw

Unlike Kraków, the first thing to notice about Warsaw is that it looks a bit new - because it is! 85%-90% of the city was razed in the planned destruction of Warsaw during World War II. After the failed Warsaw Uprising of 1944, Hitler was so upset that he ordered the capital completely destroyed. The Nazis ranked buildings by cultural heritage and systematically dynamited each in turn. “Burning detachments” carefully incinerated libraries and demolition experts paid special attention to historical monuments.

Since the war, major efforts to rebuild have taken place. The best example is the new “Old Town,” which was so faithfully rebuilt it earned a place on the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage Sites. It looks good, but it’s interesting to see the painted on facades contrasting with modern construction. Much of the rebuilding efforts outside of the old town area came with help from Communist Russia, which shows in the architecture of many drab housing blocks. Today these all mix with modern style buildings and skyscrapers to give the city a unique look.

Warsaw's new "Old Town"
Painting on the "old."
Rooftop gardens at the University of Warsaw's library.

We only spent three days in Warsaw, but we still managed to cram a lot in… including our first incident with the police. We wanted to check out a food cart along the river, but we arrived while they were still setting up. In no rush, we ordered a few beers and sat down along the river next to the carts. Within twenty minutes, two policemen were asking for our papers. A lot of pantomiming and broken English later, we learn that we weren’t allowed to be drinking at that specific spot and instead needed to be sitting literally five feet to the left. There were no signs indicating this or any word of caution given when we bought the beers, so we were pretty annoyed to say the least. The good news? The policeman said “wife no ticket,” and Vesper only got a $12 fine. Laura was clearly more charming and innocent looking.

Changing of the Guards
Beers at Jabeerwocky
One of the seasonal "river bars," and the ticket we received for drinking by the river.
You can't visit Poland and not get a punchki!

The other highlight of our time in Warsaw was meeting up with one of Laura’s extended cousins Małgosia. We walked around the city with her, learned more about Polish history and culture, and ended the day with a concert of Mozart’s Requiem at a Jewish festival going on that week.

Observations

Although we were in Poland less than two weeks, we noticed a few consistencies in our short time there:

  • The Polish dress to impress. All clothes seemed to be black or navy paired with white accents. You could almost pick out the tourists since we were the only ones wearing any other colors. Don’t get us wrong: the Poles looked good, but maybe a bit too conformist.
  • Men wore capris. Like, a lot of men. Manpris are a thing?
  • Lots of people drank beer through a straw. This was mostly women, but some men did it too. We couldn’t see any consistency between types of beer they were drinking it with, so this one is still a mystery to us.
  • Did you know that Pope John Paul II was from Poland? Don’t worry if you didn’t because there are literally five gazillion statues or plaques or pictures of him everywhere to remind you. It was pretty impressive.

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Beautiful Budapest

Budapest ended up being one of our favorite cities of the entire trip and unfortunately marked the last destination before Lehar had to return home. This wonderful city is split along the Danube River with Pest on one side and Buda on the other. The historic Chain Bridge and Liberty Bridge join the two sides in the south, while the green parks of Margaret Island lie in the middle to the north. We weren’t sure what to expect, particularly in regards to any lingering communist influences, and we were happily surprised with what we found. The city has a lively nightlife scene, trendy restaurants and cafes, and most importantly: craft beer!

The Chain Bridge and Liberty Bridge.
Looking out over the Danube river with Pest behind.

Pest

The Hungarian Parliament dominates the Pest side of the Danube. It is beautiful to walk around both by day and night. A short distance away is St. Stephen’s Basilica, named in honor of the first king of Hungary. Inside the basilica, you can see his mummified right hand which supposedly has miraculous properties and remains on display as a saintly artifact. Further inland is Heroes Square and the surrounding parks that include some of the city’s famous thermal baths. To the south is the Great Market Hall, the Dohány Street Synagogue, and the Hungarian National Museum. In the center of it all is a great scene of restaurants, food carts, and bars. One of our favorite areas to explore were the eclectic ruin pubs built into the shells of old abandoned warehouses damaged during World War II.

Parliament on the Danube, inside and out.
Heroes Square.
The interior of St. Stephen’s Basilica.
The Great Market Hall.
Szimpla Kert, one of the ruin pubs.

Buda

Opposite Pest, most of the sights are atop hills in Buda. To the south on Gellert Hill is the Citadella. In the north is Fisherman’s Bastion, a huge ornate terrace that surrounds Matthias Church. Between the two is Buda Castle which together with Fisherman’s Bastion and the surrounding area make up the Castle District. Buda Castle happened to be hosting a folk art fair during our visit. We ate traditional food, watched craftsmen make baskets, leather goods, and pottery while kids played with traditional games and toys. Our tickets also granted us entrance to the Budapest History Museum located inside the castle, which was overwhelmingly large and extensive.

The view from the Citadella.
Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church.
Matthias himself atop his steed.
Crafts, food, and games at the fair.

St. Stephen’s Day

Our last full day in Budapest happened to be Hungary’s largest national holiday known as St. Stephen’s Day - basically the equivalent of America’s Fourth of July - and was complete with city-wide festivals, parades, and fireworks. We were able to do a quick tour of Parliament (free on the holiday) and saw St. Stephen’s hand paraded around the streets. We found a food festival and concert outside Buda Castle with delicious sausages and craft beer, then walked to Heroes Square for another festival with traditional music, costumes, and dancing. To wrap up the holiday we grabbed a spot on the river bank to watch fireworks shot off from the river, bridges, Buda Castle, and Gellert Hill. It was probably one of the best fireworks shows we’ve ever seen!

Outside with the crowds at Parliament and St. Stephen’s Basilica.
The best part: this beer was free!
So much delicious food!
Crowds of people were everywhere on St. Stephen's Day!

We love Budapest!

Although we only spent one week here, we’re sure that several weeks would still not have been enough to take in all the sights. Budapest sits squarely on our list of places we need to visit again.

Budapest has so many beautiful architectural, historical, and political sights that your eyes will go crazy when you've seen them all!

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Croatia Part 2: Dubrovnik, Split, & Zadar

After Zagreb, we spent the rest of our time in Croatia along the Dalmatian Coast. We flew to Dubrovnik for a few days, spent a week in Split with Carl and Jim, and ended with a quick stop in Zadar.

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik is BEAUTIFUL. Its Old Town dates back to the sixteenth century and is very well preserved. For all you Game of Thrones fans out there: Old Town is where many King’s Landing scenes were filmed. While we enjoyed wandering the small and winding streets, it can get crowded when a cruise ship full of other tourists join in so we escaped by walking around the city’s elevated walls. Outside of the Old City we spent the rest of our time exploring the various beaches and enjoying the scenic vistas.

Split

After Dubrovnik, we bussed a few hours north to meet our friends Carl and Jim in Split. Although not as iconic as Dubrovnik, we liked Split more: it felt more relaxed, had more things to do, and was beautiful in its own right. Split’s Old Town was made of beautiful white stones and offered panoramic views of the Adriatic. We went hiking and swimming, ate delicious meals, and explored the nearby island of Šolta. We ended up hiking across the entire island where we stumbled upon a secluded beach cove that we shared with about five other people. It was glorious.

Zadar

Per the ongoing theme in Croatia, Zadar also had a pretty Old Town area - but we really came for the sea organ. The sea organ is an architectural installation designed by Nikola Bašić. As the name implies, it is an instrument that is played by the sea. Underneath the marble steps are inlet tubes and sounding chambers. When waves push in and draw out, sound emanates from beneath in a sort of eerie melody that is supposed to resemble the typical Croatian male quartet. It was a great place to do some swimming in the Adriatic and pack in with hundreds of other people to watch the sunset.

Our two weeks in Croatia were a blast! It was awesome to explore as much as we did and great to see so many friends. Živjeli!

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