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They Draw & Travel

30 Apr

Here’s a cool website for some travel related artwork- it’s called They Draw & Travel. It features artwork from artists all over the world. The website makes it easy to narrow down to what you’d like- you can search by destination, art style, and vibe. Below are some that have caught my eye (click on the images for a larger version). Happy browsing!

TDAT- Buenos Aires

TDAT- New York

TDAT- Los Angeles

TDAT- Greece

TDAT- Tanzania

TDAT- Kyoto

And if you are food minded- here’s the original site called They Draw & Cook which TDAT was spun off from. Enjoy!

Hakone Open-Air Museum

24 Apr

Besides hot springs and water parks, the Hakone Open-Air Museum is a nice way to spend a couple of hours. The various pieces of art are unique, interactive, and fun. Composed of over a hundred sculptures by  modern and contemporary sculptors, exhibition halls including the Picasso Pavilion, and pieces that encourage play, it’s certainly not your run-of-the-mill museum!

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Don’t forget to check out the website for a printable coupon!hakone museum9

hakone museumOf course it wouldn’t be Hakone without a little dip in the perfectly toasty water!

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We read the sign AFTER- only kids under the age of 12 are allowed to climb inside. Oops!

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This was probably my favorite piece- here’s an article that highlights the artist behind this amazing work. 
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Japanese kids are such cutie-patooties! Speaking of which, check out this youtube channel of this Japanese kiddo- she tries various foods around the world that her mom makes.

We’re Back. For Reals.

25 Jul

Even though we technically flew back to the states last Wednesday, we were still “traveling” in the last week. Less than 2 days after we got to SFO, we jumped into our car and headed towards LA for a family/friends reunion. After enduring many transit connections over the course of our trip, the 6 hour drive down I-5 seemed like a breeze!  We spent a long and fun filled weekend in LA and now we’re back in the bay area, ready for more reunions galore. Here are some things we are embracing about being home:

Having personal space. It’s nice to not be surrounded by people wherever we go!

Getting free water with ice in restaurants.

Non-confusing weather. July in the northern hemisphere should be no rain jackets or umbrellas.  We’re talking to you, Europe!

Consistent internet.

Driving…from one end of the parking lot to another.  Hey, the Gilroy Outlet is very big.

Our laptops. It’s glorious to be blogging with a real keyboard!

And the most important thing:

Spending time with our families and friends in person.

We are so happy to be home!

LHR-SFO

17 Jul

Once we land in San Francisco tomorrow from London Heathrow, our time on this RTW trip will have finally come to an end. We’ve been in a relaxed mood ever since arriving in Europe, and our last few stops in Prague, Paris, Amsterdam, and London have certainly been just that. When we get home we will continue to blog on our experiences (it’ll be easier to type on a real computer for once instead of an iPad!). Reflecting back, we feel that it’s been a fantastic journey and we certainly have enough stories for a lifetime.

We’ll leave you with a few stats from our trip around the world:
17 countries
39 cities
26 flights
30,000+ miles
13 train rides (1 overnight)
3 boat rides (1 overnight)
2 rental cars
7 wonders of the natural and manmade world visited

More to come as we settle into life in the Bay Area…and sort through roughly 96 GB SD cards worth of memories!

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Germany Memories

10 Jul

We’ve been to quite a few wonders of the world, more World Heritage sites than we can count, and have seen many things which we had previously dreamed of (and some of which we know we’ll never see again *ahem* North Korea). But as our time on this RTW comes to a close, we look back on the highlights and realize that the highlights weren’t just what we saw or experienced around the world. Rather, the highlights included those that we interacted with.

Jeannie has extended family in many parts of the world (we previously blog about her Vietnam family here). It was Jerry’s first time visiting the cousins in Berlin, Heidelberg, and Sandhausen, and Jeannie’s first time seeing her younger cousins that hadn’t been born yet when she last visited in 2001. Yes, Germany and more specifically Berlin has a whole lot of historical relevance and much of its history has been written by America in the 20th century. We made our touristy rounds of those as well. However, we found that some of the memories that will stay with us forever are the ones where we simply played with the kids in the park, rode bikes together to the garden, and watched Deutschland in the Euro Cup. Although we don’t speak any German and the kids don’t speak much English, we somehow found a way to communicate and truly form a bond.

Here are some pictures for now. Stay tuned for a video in which the cousins take us to an “adventure park” and Jeannie ends up nearly in tears when she’s forced out of her comfort zone. It’s actually pretty funny now that it’s over, but Jeannie didn’t think it was so funny at the time!

We can only hope to reciprocate the love and hospitality someday when they find a time to visit the US. Hint hint Deutschland family!

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Spain Snippets: Barcelona

8 Jul

Our tour of Spain concluded with Barcelona.

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Instead of a hotel we opted to stay at Urban Suites apartments in Barcelona. That way we could cook. Above: delicious watermelon. Usually seedless watermelon aren’t the sweetest but these were!
Below: enough food for quite a few meals!

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Visited the overly touristy La Boqueria. We weren’t too impressed with it, but the overpriced fruit juices were pretty good.

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A preview of some of the food we ate. Feast for the eyes and the taste buds!

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Gaudi galore.

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We also made a side trip to the Dali museum.

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More on Barcelona as well as the rest of Europe when we come back in T minus 10 days! Hope you enjoyed these previews of Spain. We’ve got a few more hours in Paris and then we are off to Amsterdam and London.

Spain Snippets: San Sebastian

7 Jul

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I have to admit: I had never heard of San Sebastian before this trip started. Because of Jeannie’s insistence that we go to this small town in northern Spain close to the border of France, we found a jewel of a place that has it all: the best food in Spain/Europe/quite possibly the world, friendly pedestrian walk streets, easy bike paths throughout the city, and picturesque beaches. It truly is a wonderful city and we immediately knew we would return someday.

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San Sebastian is only a 6-hour bus ride from Madrid through the Spanish countryside. Notice I say “only”, as by this time we’ve been accustomed to long airplane flights, boat rides, train rides, you name it. The Spanish transport system (Alsa buses and RENFE trains) is comfortable and on time, unlike pretty much everything in Asia. The bus even had wifi!

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One notable thing about San Sebastian is its huge network of bike lanes and bike-friendly culture. We rented bikes for a day and rode around town. We went along the beach, through the high school and college area, and finally back through a long bikes-only tunnel that looked like something you’d see on the Matterhorn in Disneyland.

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The food in San Sebastian is fantastic to say the least. It’s also easy to figure out what to order. At all the tapas bars, the food is laid out on the counter and you simply pick up what you want to eat and pay per number of dishes you’ve had. The food ranges from simple bacon and mushrooms on a stick to smoked squid with a lime shooter and fancy biscuit. We tapas bar-hopped the first night and easily found our favorite to be Bar Zeruko. The range of culinary dishes here is truly amazing! Anthony Bourdain even said that besides Vietnam one of his favorite places to eat is in Sebastian. This is because they have the highest concentration of top ranked restaurants, so there’s no room for error.

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There’s more to share from San Sebastian, so stay tuned!

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Spain Snippets: Madrid

5 Jul

What a welcome surprise it was to land in Madrid as the next leg of our journey! After two months of being in less developed countries, it was nice to hop directly onto the subway and literally arrive at the doorstep of our hotel.

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Madrid is such a walkable city. We stayed right in the center and almost never had to use the subway. There’s restaurants, shopping, parks, historical palaces, and the world famous Prado museum all close by. We also spent quite a bit of time at Zara and Mango, because they’re both Spanish clothing brands and we could claim our VAT back as well.

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Everyone is out and about in Madrid. Madrid is one of the best places in the world if you like pedestrian walk streets. There’s shopping, cafes, and plenty of things to do in the center of town. The sun stays up late and the people eat out accordingly late as well.

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Old presidential palace and the view it overlooks.

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Apartments overlooking one of the older squares in Madrid. A long time ago, this square was used for bullfighting; the city rented out the balconies to spectators, hence the box numbers which are still there today.

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A few famous restaurant fronts a few blocks away from our hotel.

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Everyone’s heard of the famous Spanish tapas. What’s different in Spain is that you’re not expected to spend your whole dinner experience in one restaurant. It’s common to try out a dish or two, then pay and leave 20 minutes later to go to some other tapas place to try something else. More than likely that place will be steps away from the previous restaurant because everything in Madrid is so close together.

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Late night churros, anyone?

We’ll have more detailed posts and pics of our time in Europe when we return from our RTW adventure. We’ve only got a couple more weeks left!

Dead Sea, the Jordan Side

21 Jun

On our drive back to Madaba, we decided to take a detour to splash around in the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea separates Jordan from Israel and is a prime source of income for the salt and mineral mining industries. In addition, it’s a prime source of tourism on the Jordan side, with fancy Hiltons and Movenpick resorts starting to spring up. Because the Dead Sea has no natural outlet, the salt content keeps increasing. Currently the salinity is 8x that of seawater!

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We went to the only public beach on the Jordan side, and once again had to pay the special tourist pricing. Locals: 0.5JD. Us: 16JD each!

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The public beach had a swimming pool area as well. Many of the visitors pay a few bucks to coat themselves in the local mud–supposedly it’s rich in healthy minerals and good for the skin and body (as well as an effective sunblock).

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Floating in the Dead Sea is an amazing experience. The minute you sit down, you pop right up in the water! The feeling is akin to sitting in an inner tube, although you just happen to be in really buoyant water!

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You can do weird things in super buoyant water. Here, Jerry is literally suspended vertically in the deep water without treading. It takes no effort!

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It’s actually quite difficult to swim in the Dead Sea. So much of your body is out of the water that it’s difficult to propel yourself. You also have to take care not to get any water in your eyes. We also accidentally got some on our lips and boy, does it sting!

The Dead Sea is yet another highly recommended place in Jordan. Visiting Jordan has been one of the highlights of our trip so far. From the friendly people to the wonders of Petra to the uniqueness of the Dead Sea, Jordan has something for everyone!

Petra

18 Jun

“A rose red city, half as old as time.” Isn’t that just so romantic?? The description fits Petra perfectly.

Undoubtedly the pride and joy of Jordan is Petra. We spent 2 days hiking around Petra and it is our choice for most beautiful place in the world. Without a doubt, Petra is one of those places you absolutely must see before you die. The combination of the natural beauty along with human craftsmanship isn’t comparable, there is nothing else like it out there.

To read more about Petra, go here. But really, the entire place is indescribable and pictures don’t do it justice. We’ll just show you how we spent two days there:

Our hotel, Petra Moon, was an easy two minute walk down the hill from the entrance of Petra. We took advantage of our proximity and got our start at 6am each morning when the site opens.

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Day 1:
Whereas we spent half days at other world wonders (3 hours each at the Great Wall and Taj Mahal, 1 hour at Christ the Redeemer), we dedicated two days to Petra. A single day ticket for people daytripping from Israel costs 95JD, whereas a 2 day pass is 55JD. This is the way Jordan encourages tourism in their own country. By the way, similar to the Taj Mahal, nationals pay a fraction of the cost, 1JD.

Booths lining the path to the entrance: Indiana Jones snack shop!

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It’s about a brisk 30 minute walk to the Siq, you can see some carvings along the way.

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We started getting all googly eyed when we got to the Siq. Such a beautiful path! It takes maybe 10 minutes to get through the Siq if you don’t stop to take pictures. Bonus, the Siq is also wonderful because it’s shaded!

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I think our most favorite part of Petra was exiting the Siq and seeing the Treasury unfold in front of us. It was incredibly magical and we were awestruck. The best part about it was that we had the entire moment to ourselves, not a soul was around. We literally just stood there and gawked at the entire thing. It was just so gorgeous. And since it was overcast, the lighting was just perfect for photography.

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We spent a good hour at the Treasury. You can’t go inside unfortunately, but we sat on one of the benches and just hung out. It was also fun to people watch and look at their reactions when they see Petra for the first time.

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We took advantage of the overcast day and went on a 2 hour hike to the Monastery, Petra’s #2 attraction. If you’re up for it, this is a good hike to take because many other attractions are along the way.

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Can’t believe that arch is still intact!

Above: Coliseum Below: This is Petra’s version of Third Street Promenade/La Rambla/Champs Elysses

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Brown University currently has an excavation project going on. Did you know that experts say only 15-20% of Petra has been uncovered? Amazing! Generations to come will hopefully have more to look forward to.

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The Monastery is larger and less intricate than the Treasury. Definitely worth the hike!

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Throughout the park, you’ll be asked persistently and constantly to pay for camel and donkey rides. We must have been asked at least 2 dozen times on the first day. The locals won’t take no for an answer. Here’s the deal:

Even though your ticket gets you a “free” ride from the entrance to the Siq, you still have to pay “tip.” We opted to explore the entire park on foot. I read that the camels, donkeys, and horses are abused, beaten, and overworked. Jerry actually even saw a worker drop kick a camel in the head, which was so sad. At our age, it’s easy to turn down rides because we can handle the distance and heat. However, I can see that an older person or a young kid might benefit from paying for rides. Petra is so huge that you realistically can’t explore the entire thing in one day. We had the luxury of two days, which not everyone opts for.

Day 2:
Again we left at 6am and had the Siq/Treasury to ourselves. Day 2 was looking to be a very sunny day, so we immediately left for the hike that gives an overlook of the Treasury.

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Along the way, we explored some tombs.

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The natural colors are so gorgeous!

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This dog was annoying at first because it kept following us around and sniffing our food. It was also quite dirty and so we didn’t want to pet him for obvious reasons. However throughout the hike he grew on us and we even named him Buddy. He was sort of like our hiking guide, it was endearing! In some areas the trail was not marked as well, and so Buddy would “guide” us in the right direction.

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Left: We are back on the ground a few meters from the Treasury. I’m pointing to where we hiked up to! Right: Up on top is a nice tent like structure, perfect to relax and rest before going back down.

We opted out on seeing Petra by Night (Jeannie kept wanting to call it Paris by Night, those of you who are Vietnamese would get this joke), because we heard it was crowded and very touristy. The description sounds romantic, seeing Petra in all it’s glory by candlelight/moonlight. But after watching youtube vids and reading online reviews we gathered that we’d essentially be herded with other tourists in a large group and be forced to watch a “cultural” show with music/dancing, and whatnot. Not our idea of a good time! It’s also pretty pricey and not included in the 2 day ticket.

Other tips:
Bathrooms are really clean, well at 10am, I don’t know about 5pm, but up to date plumbing and western style. They are also a decent number of facilities throughout the park.

Food is very expensive inside the park, so at dinner each evening before, we ordered a few sandwiches to go and we also picked up fruit and drinks from local markets. Of course this only works if your hotel room has a fridge.

Petra is the name for the Archeological Park/site. When you book accommodations and eat out, you’re actually in Wadi Mousa, the town that serves as a gateway to Petra. We thought we’d clarify this because we were initially confused as well!

Definitely go for the two day ticket. The weather was perfect at 6am when we headed back to the hotel by 1-2pm or so, it was pretty uncomfortable. As we made our way back shortly after lunch, we saw folks that were barely heading out. That’s too ambitious for us! Also, the later you go, the more crowded it is, that’s when the hordes of tour buses caravan dozens of tourists at at time. There is just nothing comparable to having the Treasury to yourself, even for a few minutes!

The view from our hotel. Beautiful!

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Indiana Jungs!

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All in all, Petra was our favorite place on this trip so far. We’ve got a month to go before we fly back to SFO, so it’s safe to say we don’t think anything will top our Petra experience.

So what are you waiting for? Book your ticket now! While Jordan is a very safe country at the moment, who knows what the future will bring. The region is so volatile (latest news: Syria), and so it would be a shame if Petra ever went the way of the Bamiyan Buddhas. Although I highly doubt that would happen (would be the travesties of all travesties), one can’t really predict the future. Especially for a region like the Middle East.

We hope you enjoyed this post! Our next post: floating in the Dead Sea. We ❤ Jordan!

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