FamBamTravels: A summer summary

The idea for this summer’s travels began last fall.  I’m not exactly sure what the tipping point was… or why exactly we decided to go.  Except that we couldn’t find a good reason not to.  When I called Troy saying I had the idea to take a sibling trip he said, “I’m in.”  I said, “But you don’t even know when or where!”  He said he didn’t care.

I don’t know if Briana or Karston really cared either but since Karston has been twice, it was easy to persuade them that they needed to share the experience together.

And Vanessa, she was busy busy busy with finishing nursing school.  But she agreed that graduation called for an adventure.  And Italy has always been on her list, so I bribed her with it.

And that’s how I got my younger siblings to travel with me for 3 weeks this summer.  The boys couldn’t take that long off work, so the last week was a ‘sister trip.’  Three weeks is kind of a long time to be away from ‘real life’ but we loved it.


We spent the remainder of the calendar days between the idea and the trip doing research and trying to drag the rest of our family members onto the idea.  There was interest, but not plausibility.  So it ended up being us five.  So Karston made the hashtag #5goeuro.








In summary: 1. We started in Czech Republic (Prague)

2. then to Austria (Vienna, Hallstatt, and Salzburg)


3. a stop in Germany for the Neuschwanstein Castle on the way to

4. Switzerland (Zurich, Lauterbrunnen, and other small towns)


5. next, Italy- where the boys left us and the ‘sister trip’ began (Venice, Cinque Terres, Rome, and Florence)


6. and finally Spain (Granada and Barcelona).


My take-aways from this trip:

1. You don’t have to plan everything.  But you really should book your tickets to major things, like limited access castles.

2. Europe has too many tourists.  There is still space for unexpected adventures.  Just, be kind to yourself and don’t go in the summer with everyone else.


3. Europe is not kidding with those stairs.  It definitely pays to work out before you go!


4. If you run out of hairspray, braid your hair.


Not this, that.



4. Eat the food. Cake in Vienna. Gelato in Italy. Hot dogs when you’re too poor.  Foods are memories too.


5. Look up. Look around. Soak in the details that make the place. Like rooftops and doors.


6. Do travel to a bunch of countries in one trip.  But do the walking tours. Or the bike tours. Or the adventures. The history you learn will all start to weave together for each place and give you a fuller picture of what Europe was like back when it all began.

7. And do travel with your family.  They usually share your kind of comedy, know when to give you space, and chip in to make the details go smoothly.


Quebec: a Travel Post

Cough Cough.

Yes. The earth has rotated around the sun many times since I last blasted my ponderings onto the world wide web.  It’s just that sometimes, when people go through change, it’s best to be silent. And for awhile there, I thought perhaps I’d be silent forever.  But in the last while that little seed of creativity has been brooding.  So.  I think I shall return to writing again after all.

Now.. skipping right to the meat of this post, what I want to write about is my trip last month to Quebec.  Because I think more people should think about, and go, to Quebec.  So, consider this a little bug in your ear. 🙂

Quebec: The Europe you can drive to.

Language: French and English.  Don’t be afraid to speak English, btw.  They really aren’t as snobby about it as everyone likes to make it seem.  But also, don’t be afraid to speak French, if you can!  Aren’t languages so beautiful, how they connect us across cultures and worlds?

History: In short, Quebec lost the war with England, making it part of Canada, but England decided to let them stay ‘French’ so they wouldn’t revolt like the Americans during the Revolutionary War.  Esther says it better with more words and facts, if you want to read that here

Planning: My friends and I decided to go over our Spring break, because that’s when we were all available to go.  However, spring in Quebec, I think, is pretty hit or miss.  We hit it. And it was phenomenal.  But there were still mounds of snow on the ground.  Not enough snow for the toboggan run in Quebec City to be open though.  So, if you want winter, go in winter.  And if you want summer, go then. If you want an adventure, go anytime!

What we did: We started with plans to drive from PA to Quebec City (~ 10 hrs), and realized that about 7 hours into our trip we would be passing Montreal.  So, we added an overnight pit stop.  In general we tooled around town, as the expression goes, looking for the best views and foods.

What not to miss:

Montreal Locations and Food:

Crew Collective & Cafe.  Used to be a bank.  Now it’s a coffee shop.

The Notre-Dame Basilica. 


Maison Christain Faure. Has one of the top pastry chef’s in the world. We could tell! YUM!


La Banquise. Known for it’s varieties of poutine (Canada’s heart attack meal of gravy and cheese curds over fries).

Quebec City Locations and Food:

Chocolat Favoris. Hand dipped chocolate cones.  Need I say more??


The Morin Center.  An English library that used to be a prison!  Cool, but smaller than we expected.


Feu Sacre. We chose from the limited preset lunch menu options and were surprised to discover our most relaxed, enjoyable, affordable meal of the trip. (Two hours of slow, fine dining for about $13!)

Château Frontenac. Built for customers of the Canadian Railroad and most photographed hotel in the world.  Our walking tour guide told us we had to take at least 35 photos to do our part.  We happily obliged.


Montmorency Falls and Il’ d’Orleans. Higher falls than Niagara’s and narrower too; island with beautiful views.  Both about a 20 minute drive out of the city.


Things to keep in mind:

Foods. Be sure to try all the French foods (including French onion soup, macaroons, and eggs Benedict).  My happiest discovery on this trip was a whole new group of foods to love!


Many parts of Montreal and Quebec City (especially in their respective Old Towns) offer free wifi.  This is especially helpful in downloading maps if you are driving without a Canadian GPS.

Google translate is a great app.  You can download a language ahead of time and then use your phone camera, holding it over the foreign language, and it will translate it on your screen without you having to type it.  So helpful in reading parking signs and menus!

Parking.  Probably my least favorite part of the trip. Words of wisdom: read the signs (and avoid parking tickets!).  Also, feeding the meter is a pain.  What helps, 1. downloading the app so you can pay remotely, 2. remembering your space number so you can pay at any meter (and not have to return to the one by your car), 3. having an accurate guess of how long you will be in an area.  Adding $$ every few hours, on the hour, is annoying (have I mentioned that yet?).

Money.  We mostly paid for everything on credit cards.  But one of us did exchange cash at a bank, so, whenever cash was needed, she paid.  We used the app “Cost Split” to enter all of who paid what.  The app splits all the bills and calculates it so everyone only has to pay one person at the end.  Easy peasy.

Airbnb. Just consider it!


Oh, and, obviously, go with friends. It’s always the best way to travel!


A Chile Fall

Last week I went to Chile for Spring break.  It was a sister/cousin girl trip to visit my cousin Carissa while she still lives there.  Not to mention it helped me knock off 2 times from my 30 x 30 list (cross the equator and travel with my sisters).  All in all, the week was a smashing success.  I wasn’t so sure when we started this dream how it would turn out.  And I felt a lot of the responsibility being the oldest, the only fluent Spanish speaker, and the planner of the trip.  But where I fail, Christ abounds.  And somehow all the details worked together to remind me again, what an incredible gift it is to travel.

Now, chances are, you know every little about Chile.  You may know it’s in South America.  Win!  But what I don’t think you know is that if there is anything you want to experience while traveling- you can experience it in Chile.  Don’t worry- you will soon see what I mean.

Great Things about Chile:

  1. Alex and Carissa.  They live there.  They hosted us.  And Alex let Carissa traipse around the country with us for a few days, while being 5 months pregnant.  They are fantastic, brave, loving people.  And I’m so lucky to call them family. 
  2. The spectrum of views.  Chile actually has a law against restraining people from enjoying its natural beauty.  Which means we got to hike through someone’s hill side to chase a sunset and stop along the side of the road to capture a river.  And no one stopped us, even when we had to climb barbed wire fences! 
    Now, this law is not without its merit.  Chile is a beautiful country.  Chile is 2,653 miles long.  That’s roughly 800 miles longer than the US is wide.  With the ocean to the West and the Andes Mountains to the East, the length of the country faces a variety of climate shifts as it crosses each longitudinal marker.  In planning the trip it was my goal to see the spectrum of Chile’s infamous geography.  So, we started in the South and moved our way North.  Here’s a summary in panoramas.
    {Coyhaique, Chile, in the Patagonia region}

    {Hilltop view in the capital, Santiago}

    {Hillside view in Valparaiso, a coastal city made up of 45 hills}

    {The colorful Valparaiso streets} 
    {Another Valparaiso view.  We loved our day trip here!}
    {Salt flats in the desert of San Pedro de Atacama, the driest desert in the world.}
  3. The culture.  It’s an interesting combination of ‘cold-climate’ culture and Spanish culture.  It includes kissing your friends on the cheek and squeezing by strangers on the train.  The Spanish is a delicious flavor of sloppy pronunciation and unique vocabulary that was just close enough to Honduran Spanish to keep me mostly in the loop.  And the country, as far as I can tell, is safe to travel.  As a leader of a group of girls, I was concerned about safety.  I was intentional about not being out after dark unless I felt safe in the neighborhood, which turned out to be almost everywhere we went.  Which was a good thing because the sun set at 7 there.
  4. The varietous weather.  As Chile is on the other side of the world (hemisphere wise) it is currently fall in Chile.  However, the farther North you go, the warmer it gets.  Makes it awfully tricky to pack when you anticipate snow capped mountains and desert flats in the same one week span.  To give a picture:
    {Guess the weather today: but ask a local.}

    {What about here?}
  5. The food.  To be fair, it’s not ALL the best in the world.  But they do literally have the best ice cream (it’s rated in the top 25 in the world).  And, I really enjoyed that shrimp empanada I had!  {See, even Carissa approved!}
  6. The dogs.  In Chile, stray dogs abound.  But unlike anywhere I’ve been in the world thus far, stray dogs are cared for.  Fed.  Petted.  Enjoyed.  And they followed you everywhere. 

So, that’s what I loved about Chile.  Now it’s time for some trip highlights.

  1. {Drinking tea in the Andes after a steep hike to chase the sunset on our first night.}
  2. {Our last night of blitz, golf, and parting conversation.}
  3. {Gasping at views as we drove.}
  4. {The sunrise through our floor to ceiling apartment wall of windows to wake us.}
  5. {Crossing the equator. Here we are  when the flight map showed we were there.}
  6. {Traveling with these all-stars.  They didn’t get mad when I accidentally booked a tour for the wrong day and daily told me how much they liked my planning.  Travel isn’t just what you see, it’s who you see it with.  And these gems, they made that 13 hour flight worth it!}

Things I would do differently next time:

  1. Stay longer.  Short trips mean you miss things, like experiences or sleep, or both.  I think we crammed a lot of things into our week in Chile, so I have no regrets about what we missed out on, as I don’t think we would have had time for anything else.  But what we didn’t get much of was sleep.  You can tell sometimes in these pictures by the looks on our faces and our post taxi nap hair.

What I would do next time:

  1. All of it.  Again and again. I mean, what’s not to love?

“Travel. As much as you can. As far as you can. As long as you can.  Life’s not meant to be lived in one place.”

“The purpose of this glorious life is not simply to endure it, but to sour, stumble and flourish as you learn to fall in love with existence.  We were born to live my dear, not be merely exist.” – Becca Lee

The Great Winter Escape

In the fashion of every good single young woman, I travel when I get weeks off from work.  If you don’t, you really aren’t doing it right. My opinion, of course.

This year for midwinter break I took a straight up vacation.  None of that typical adventure/culture stuff I pick.  (Don’t worry, that will come for me during my Spring break.)

Midwinter break could NOT have arrived at a better time, when it was freezing in New York and NOT in my final destination, which was Florida.

My flight was at 9 am from Newark, which meant I had to leave my house at 5:45 am.  Pathetic. Wish I wasn’t too stingy to call a cab sometimes.

That said.  I caught all the trains at just the right time to still have time to pick up bagels at Penn Station, although I did not have time to get them with cream cheese. Oh. And did I mention, it was 5* that morning.  Sigh. So. Many layers to wear.

Newark was surprisingly full I thought.  Also, of note, the convayor belt for the luggage wasn’t working.  I left my bag in this pile and took this picture to document it’s last sighting.  It’s the blue one in front.

This was the security line before the security line.  They were so busy I was put on the prechecked security line and didn’t even have to take off my shoes.  Handy.  But a wee bit inconsistent.

Following this I did some airport hustling as my plane was boarding by the time I got through the lines… and then waited an hour and a half to take off because our plane was awaiting luggage that couldn’t be found due to the luggage mess inside.  You guessed it, we departed without it and mine was of the lucky 1/3 to arrive the following day via a personal delivery guy.  Hooray for staying with friends!  The only thing I ended up buying was contact solution.

When I landed I was greeted with happy hugs and Florida orange juice and spent the evening at the state fair.  Some of our group thought it was odd to have a fair day in February.  It made perfect sense to me though, I had obviously tele-ported to summer.

Me and Malachi.  My favorite one year old!

The first 3 days of my vacation I practiced being a stay at home mom with my friends from high school.  He works from home and she cares for her 14 month old while expecting baby number 2 (which has since been born- eeee! 🙂 ).  So.  Our days fell into a pleasant routine of a late breakfast and playing in the living room between naps, during which mommy and I petted the dog and sat out on the covered porch.  P.S.  Gideon is my favorite dog.  But this is what happens when I try to take selfies with him.  You’d think he’d be more cooperative, I only spent hours petting him.

A dog and his ball.

An evening walk with the fam bam. My how we have changed since 8th grade! 🙂

This pleasantness lasted until Wednesday, at which point my parents and their friends arrived from Indiana and picked me up on their way from the airport my grandpa’s house in Sarasota.  We spent Thursday at the beach before picking up my sisters at the airport that night.  Obvious win.

Friday we went to Orlando to hang out in Disney Springs and see Cirque du Soleil.  Which was so fun to watch with my sisters!

Dad and Dan, with toys from their ‘era.’

Our Orlando group, sisters, parents, and aunt and uncle (aka family friends).

Saturday we went shopping, ate food, and played put-put.  I thought for sure I was winning for a while there.. not so.

Sunday – Briana’s boyfriend was picked up from the airport to join in on the fun. Here’s my dad and my grandpa playing shuffle board before we walked the beach.  Florida does not disappoint.

They are so funny… errr… goofy.

That time at the beach when my feet looked 100 years old.

We were very serious about documenting the sunset… errr.. ourselves.

These kids.  Acting like our whole walk was about getting cute pictures of them from every angle. Obviously, we fell for it.

Monday morning was perfect.  Beach side breakfast and one last beachy walk before heading home.  It was hard for me to leave knowing my family would still be in Florida for the week, enjoying the sunshine.  To make it worse, I left knowing this one would be getting engaged on the beach that week without me there to watch.  Sometimes being a grown up and going to work means you miss out on the best moments. Sigh.

And then I came home.  Uneventfully, with all my luggage, a kiss of sunshine on my skin, and pleasant sense of accomplishment of having filled my midwinter break to its max.


Falling For You

Your twenties are such a great time in life to fall in love.  And October is such a great time to fall in love with Fall and small(er) cities.

Now, traditionally I do not like fall (mostly because it screams “WINTER IS COMING” to me for 3 months and makes me sad) and I love New York.  Which, in the past, has meant that I like (but don’t love) smaller cities and well, I don’t like fall really.

But this fall- they won me over- and it just couldn’t be helped.

I started the month with an anticipated trip to Philadelphia.  Now, I’ve been to Philly before. No big deal.

But Shannon just moved there.  And she’s been coaching me with my running this year. (Yes, this year I started running. At the Y. And she’s been telling me how.  Because apparently running isn’t entirely intuitive.)  That said, she and I have been wanting to run a 5k together.  Ideally, a color run since it’s on my 30×30 list.  All of these events and plans collided to a night Color Run (5k) in Philly at the start of October.

My trip to Philly was a little eventful.  Mostly because I booked a sketchy Chinatown bus ticket and they (apparently) don’t reserve seats for their passengers.  Which means that even if you are on time for your bus, you may not get a seat.  And then you may get cattle corralled into getting a post-it note stamped (to serve as a seat reservation ticket) and eventually get soaked in rain between the station door and the bus door and arrive at your destination 2 hours later than planned.  Thankfully I have flexible friends.  And there are still great Ramen places open after 9.


The rest of my trip was full of brunches, walking, a museum, and, well, running!


{The Happiest 5 K on Earth} The color run’s claim to fame.  If you don’t know what a color run is.. google it. 



Philly has all the best brunches.  sigh.

I returned from this adventure feeling quite accomplished (yay! I ran my first race- even if it is untimed) and quite crushing on Philly.  It doesn’t help that Shannon just moved there from Brooklyn and knew all the things to rave about to make me jealous.  (She has a washer and dryer!  She can walk AND drive places.  Philly is a more manageable size- with good places to eat that aren’t so far from your house.  And not so many places to choose from that you just want to give up even trying to decide.)  Plus.  It has trees. And it was just the start of fall.  And well. sigh. It felt like a break from the city.  While still being in the city. And so, I liked it.

But I came home.  Helped a tourist find their way.  And ran into someone I used to work with while walking down a random street.  And I was reminded this skyline is still my home for now.

Home: (n) the place or region where something is native or most common.

My mid-October weeks were spent at home.  Watching fall around me and realizing that October has my favorite color of blue sky and the leaves are just to die for.

And I ended my October with a trip to Boston with Malinda.  For the sake of adventure (and every time we ever sang that VeggieTales song as kids, “And I’ve never been to Boston in the Fall!”)

{We arrived!}

It’s only 4 hours by bus from Chinatown to Chinatown.  Especially when you book with good bus companies that don’t involve pushing and post-its and do involve leather seats.


{We happened upon this lovely book shop.}




{The Boston Common} I’m sorry I’m not sorry about how many fall pictures you are about to see. I went to Boston mostly to see the leaves.  So I mostly have pictures of leaves.  You’re welcome or whatever.








{Mike’s Pastry} Because everyone loves cannolis. And Mike does them best!  Even if our airbnb’s host’s dog ate my left overs without asking.

{Bunker Hill Monument}

Because Malinda is energetic she hiked the 294 steps to the top of the monument.  Because Camille calculated a cost-to-benefit ratio and decided it wasn’t worth it- she didn’t.  Go Malinda!


{The magic hour + ferry ride = harbor love}






After a day walking the Freedom Trail we went to check in at our airbnb.  After discovering our host had guests, we went to check out more of the city.  Nothing like strangers to inspire you to get out of the house.  We decided to visit the Prudential Tower and get a nice view of the city.



{My face when I’m not sure why my camera is taking so long….}




In our visit to the Prudential Tower we watched a little movie about Boston in which we discovered that MIT apparently has a pretty cool building.  We visited it the next morning.





{Then. On to Harvard.}



{The original ivies.}  (Just kidding.)

{We had brunch in the middle of our campus trotting. Because… food!}

See what I mean??? Fall.  I’m obsessed.  And cities small enough to walk and find places to eat.  Oh, just so much to love. That and puns.  I love puns. And Fall is just full of them! win. win. win.

But now. Now it’s November.  My birthday month (horray!) and parent teacher conferences (eh. They’re just okay.).  And just a few more weeks to savor it all before the dreaded winter is upon us!

That said.  Happy fall y’all.

Anne of Green Gables was one of my favorite book series growing up, and I'd have to agree with Anne about Octobers.:

A Trip 20 Years in the Making

I packed my bags on Friday night and began my journey Saturday morning.  It was spring break and I was to spend it, as spring breaks should be spent, in a warm place with one of my very best besties.  Jennifer and I have been friends for 20 years.  Since first grade and Ms. Pounds’s class.  Through the monkey bar years, the camp years, the giggles and basketball games and learning to drive years.  Well.  Through everything.  But.  We have never traveled together.  Unless you count spring break in high school.  But we don’t, because our parents planned and drove and really, we just rode along.  So.  This was the year.  Because I am finally in a place where I can afford it (and I finally have enough airmiles to get there for cheap).  And I knew I had to go.  I mean, I lived in Honduras 7 years ago.  If my Spanish identity is from anywhere- it’s Honduras.  And Jennifer has been living there for 4 years.  It was time.

So my little carry-on, and my little crossbody purse, and my not so little green trekking backpack, and I took the subway to the train to the airport shuttle to the flight with only 1 layover to Tegucigalpa, Honduras for Spring Break.

{Waiting for the Subway}


{Where Clouds Grow}


{Baleada in the Airport for Lunch}

There is something very refreshing about returning to one’s second culture home.  Although weakly tied as Honduras was only my home for a short while- things like beans and eggs inside tortillas, and greetings in the dialect that I speak, are kind of like hugs from strangers.  Better than flower wreaths to greet me.


{Boarding Plane Number 2}



{Saturday Night Adventures to Fancy Hotels for Dinner}


{Easter Sunday}

Where I got to meet all of Jennifer’s people. And we wore matching sandals because we can.


{The Bus Ride}

Now.  Since this was a vacation- in the middle of a visit- we decided we HAD to go to the beach.  Hence- the 6 hour bus ride each way. DSC_4013

{A Random Picture Out the Front Bus Window}


{We are at the BEACH and We are Happy}

And not yet sun burnt.


{Infinity Pool}

Pools by beaches are nice.  Especially because you can hear the waves but not feel gritty from the sand.DSC_4029IMG_20150406_180032884

{Honduran Life}

The ride home was another 6 hours on the bus.  We had the windows open and the view was quite enjoyable.  But, after 6 hours everyone gets a little giggly. IMG_20150408_152413656 IMG_20150408_152534230 IMG_20150408_152548741 IMG_20150408_142421277IMG_20150408_174630912

{Airport Farewell}

And then I had to leave.  Long talks, sunburns, and miles later I had to return to the rainy north. IMG_20150409_104715812

I miss those Honduran beans and my Jennifer already.

Asia According to My Driod

I am home.  Alllll the way home in Brooklyn.  I was gone for 6 whole weeks!  Which, I’ve decided, is a long time.  Especially since, upon returning home, I observed that my apartment smelled like.. a memory.  Sigh.  So.  It is good to be back, although my life is about to be very different (because I have to get a job and can’t just bum around being a poor student anymore).

But, in the meantime I’ve been spending hours (literally, hours) editing pictures from my trip.  And well.  There are just tooo many to post.  So.  Here are the pictures I took on my phone.  The quantity is much shorter and more fragmented.  But, perchance, you will feel like you were there.  (Don’t worry, I’m only posting the best and most gripping ones.)


The Flight

We are ready to fly.

We are ready to fly.

Considering it was the longest flight of my life, I thought it was pretty nice.

Considering it was the longest flight of my life, I thought it was pretty nice.

They even gave us a little travel kit and sweet to eat before flying.

They even gave us a little travel kit and sweet to eat before flying.

In Istanbul they trust us to board plane-side

In Istanbul they trusted us to board plane-side.


Need to make a call?

Need to make a call?

Riding in the public songthaew.

Riding in the public songthaew.

Some cute graffiti along the way.

Some cute graffiti along the way.

Apparently - grenades are not permitted on the songthaew.

Apparently – grenades are not permitted on the songthaew.

Nor is farting.

Neither is farting.

A songthaew.

A songthaew. (Said, “songtell.”)


Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Inside the post office.

Inside the post office.


There is nothing like the traffic in Vietnam.  Especially on the back of a motorbike.

There is nothing like the traffic in Vietnam. Especially from the back of a motorbike.

We went to the opera.

We went to the opera.

The opera house.

The opera house.

The Philippines

(Looks like I only have 1 picture from there on my phone?)

Layovers in Manila at 6 am are a great time to catch up on the internet.

Layovers in Manila at 6 am are a great time to catch up on the internet.


One afternoon we visited the Royal Palace.  It’s druther large.  But has separate buildings rather than separate rooms (i.e. a building for the throne room, a building for the temple, etc.)






Part of a very long tapestry that told a story I didn't take the time to read.

Part of a very long tapestry that told a story I didn’t take the time to read.



Ko Samet, Southern Thailand

At the ocean! (And only a little sunburnt already.)

At the ocean! (And only a little sunburned already.)

The sun still rises, even if there are clouds in the way.

The sun still rises, even if there are clouds in the way.

The sign on our cabin door.

The sign on our cabin door.

Bangkok airport is pretty cool!

Bangkok airport is pretty cool!

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Sawadee ka! (That's Thai for hello!)

Sawadee ka! (That’s Thai for hello!)

The umbrella street that I found and no one seemed to know what I was talking about.

The umbrella street that I found and no one seemed to know what I was talking about.

9 stray dogs at the 7/11.  What is this world coming to?

9 stray dogs at the 7/11. What is this world coming to?

Our last night... we spent shopping at the night bazaar (of course).

Our last night… we spent shopping at the night bazaar (of course).


During our 21 hour lay over.

Some ruins in Istanbul.

Some ruins in Istanbul.

The Bosphorus Strait!

The Bosphorus Strait!

My Closing Thoughts on the Trip:

1.  My favorite country was Vietnam.  We got to have a lot of ‘true’ cultural experiences there (like chaperoning kids for a pool day and taking public transportation alone), which eventually won me over.  But, I also really liked the 21 hours I spent in Turkey.  Istanbul is VERY different than Southeast Asia (as part of it is in Europe) and the change of cultures was fun.

2.   Before we started the trip I told Erleen and Betty that our motto for the trip was: “Yes!”  Betty said, “Our motto is, ‘yes… but,” which ended up being mostly true (but, we only said no to things that would have cost a lot of money (like zip lining) or were totally disgusting (like eating a dog)).

3.  And, all in all, I felt like this trip, with all it’s winding bus rides, 17 flights, and moments of frustration and cluelessness, added up to be the most incredible blessing.  I feel so blessed to have been able to take this trip, and I know, it’s one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ trips that I’ll be savoring forever.

4. So, I give the glory to God.  For making this trip possible.  For making the world so diverse and crazy and connected.  I love it.

it's better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times



Catch Update

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, traveling is such a blessing.  To be allowed to waltz into a person’s life.  To surmise your surroundings with a glance.  To take it all in.  To smell the flowers, fruit, spices, and sweat of another place.  To hear each language, rolling of the tongue, as that casual stringing together of consonants and vowels, inflected by straining vocal folds, tells the story of the speaker.  Where they are from.  Why they are here.  Reflected in the clothes they wear, the food they eat, the tongue they speak, and the way their eyes move to read the faces of others.
In Vietnam, staring is incredibly socially exceptable.  Children speak, “hello,” and giggle with pleasure when the same echoes back, pleased to have made the connection between their culture and mine.  In the Philippines they speak English so well.  But count in Spanish.  But speak a language all their own, yet carved out by the legacy of colonists and conquerers long before them.
And so, blessed I have been.  Since my previous post I have traipsed across a fair amount of miles.  From Vietnam we flew to General Santos (GenSan), in The Philippines.  I don’t know why The Philippines needs a definite article, as there isn’t an ‘a Philippines.’  Worse yet, why don’t we just say, Philippines?  Why must a country’s name sound so plural when it, as an entity, is singluar?  (Although the argument that The Philippines is made up of MANY islands could be made, I suppose.)  Needless to say, we went to the southernmost large island of The Philippines to visit a long ago friend of Betty’s (that Erleen knew too).  The woman and her family (husband and 2 older children) have been living there for the past 2 years as missionaries.  We were their first guests.  They had all grown up in Paraguay some time ago and we spent a hefty amount of our time there reminiscing and participating in what we could call “fellowship,” as is beneficial for families who are isolated on islands so many miles from ‘home’ for such a long time. Aside from chatting, we also.. went shopping, visited the tuna capitol of The Philippines (GenSan’s own tuna port), rode in a trike (GenSan’s version of a tuktuk), and hiked back in a remote mountain to visit our hosts’ mountain home and give balloons to happy children.  We were in The Philippines for a week.
From there we returned to Vietnam for a night, crashing in a friend’s living room at 1 am (after I proudly found our own taxi ride from the airport and navigated him to the apartment steps using a nearby hotel business card and pointing).  We left at 6 to catch our bus to the boarder and on to Phnom Phen (Cambodia).  It was a pleasant ride and little did we know, our favorite boarder crossing.  In Phnom Phen we found new friends.  Krista, Jon and Gloria are all the first (and newest) members of the DNI missions team that is starting (within the past 6 weeks) in Cambodia.  Right now they are doing language study.  Which allowed Krista the time to lead us around town.  First to the night market, for dinner: sitting on rice mats in the center of a block of food carts.  Then to sleep in her apartment.  Then (the next day) to the Killing Fields, S21 (a torture camp), and the Grand Palace (which was a very different place altogether). All in all, by the end of my second day in Cambodia I had decided I liked this developing nation. One thing that was cool, was that they used BOTH American USD and Cambodian Riel as currency. Often in the same purchase! And despite their tragic past, they were moving forward.
So, we left he next day for Siem Reap, the location of Angkor Wat and (perceptually) the gathering point for all tourists. And so, the swindling began. Food cost more, tuktuk cost more. And we somehow ended up with a frustrating Thailand-Cambodia boarder crossing situation. (more on that later). But. While in Siem Reap we: saw the floating villages, Angkor Wat, and a lot of market places. I guess I’m glad to be able to say that I’ve been there… but Siem Reap is not my favorite place in Asia I think. It’s much too superficial. However, it was our only time we were somewhere entirely on our own, so we didn’t have any personal connections to the place. Plus, we suffered from a lack of information.

For example. We visited Angkor Wat. We were told that this is a massive place that would take a week to view everything. So, I gathered that we would have to skip a few things in order to see the highlights. So, when our tuktuk driver dropped us off at the first temple we 1. didn’t realize it was the main temple, therefore failing to get THE iconic picture we were hoping for (with the water reflection). However, when we asked our tuktuk driver he acted like he didn’t know what water we were talking about anyways. 2. We also didn’t realize that the man offering to be our tour guide would have been our tour guide for the entire temple viewing. And since we didn’t know we were at the main temple, we turned him down, assuming we would get a guide when we go to the ‘most important one.’ Add that to a very warm day. And we magically viewed ‘most’ of Angkor Wat in 3 hours time. So much for a week. Plus. Comically I suppose. Erleen bought a history information book about the temples (in her logic, b/c we didn’t have a guide) for $13. Betty bought the same book outside the temple 15 minutes later for $5.

And finally, the story of our blessed boarder crossing. BASICALLY, we paid for direct bus tickets to Bangkok for $25 each. Once we got to the boarder we got stuck in a long line at the Cambodian side AND on the Thailand side. Our consolation, all the people budging us would still have to wait for us for their bus to leave. So we boarded the songtewl (Thailand’s version of public transportation I suppose), and were dropped at a restaurant. We were told that we had 30 minutes for lunch before heading in minivans to Bangkok. We asked the people at the table next to us for the name of our bus company. “Why?” Mostly because we weren’t too impressed with them so far. But we didn’t say it like that, instead we just told them about what ticket we thought we had booked. “Oh,” she said, “We tried to book a direct bus ticket too, but they were sold out. So, we went to another place and got $10 tickets for a bus to the boarder and then a minivan to Bangkok.” (The same exact route we were on we discovered.) To add insult to injury, the 30 minute lunch break turned into a 3 hour wait in the sun, standing up each time when a minivan arrived, only to be bypassed because we were at the end of the line. Turns out those budging, pushing people in the immigration lines knew what they were doing. They reached Bangkok 3 hours before we did, likely with $15 more than us as well.

But. We did eventually arrive in Bangkok. On the 3rd attempt I found a taxi that agreed to take us to our hotel on the other side of town. The hotel was so nice and the shower so relaxing that we decided that, at the end of the day, it wasn’t worth being mad about our ridiculous day. So we went to bed, slept soundly, and awoke the next morning to make our way to Ko Samet (Samed Island) for 3 days at a resort. A staff lady at the hotel caught our taxi for us, which arrived at the bus station just in time for us to walk on the bus, which arrived at the pier just in time for us to walk on the ferry.. and we finally made our way to the little beach cottage in which we now reside.

And for my first day ever on a resort? I slept in. Free breakfast. Sunburnt before lunch after sitting in beach chairs on the shore with our feet in the waves. Lunch. Finished a book. Games. Dinner. Walk the beach. Games.  And frequently repeated, “this is the life,” sentiments (especially before I got sunburnt).

And that’s how I know I’m blessed. It’s hard to believe that in the next week I will be back in the U.S. of A. It’s not that this trip has gone sooo fast. Or that I don’t want it to be over. But that experiencing it has been a blessing. Of that, I’m reminded every day.

Life in ‘Nam

We have arrived at our last of 6 days in Vietnam. We have spent our time appropriately, with activities varying from volunteering to chaperone a pool day with 35 kids to touristing our way through markets, tunnels, and opera houses. I have eaten my fair share of Com Tam (broken rice and pork). And we bought just enough bottled water to make us look suspicious. And now, we head to the Philippines.

But. Before we go. There are a few things you should know about this wonderful world in Southeast Asia.

1. Motorbikes are THE (most popular) mode of transportation. From our hotel window Betty counted 60 motorbikes and 2 cars in the span of a minute our first morning we arrived. In our (almost) week here we have yet to grow tired of watching traffic. From our window. From the bus. The taxi. The back of a bike. Oh the things we have seen! Pet fish hanging precariously in knotted plastic bags. Boquets of balloons the size of the bike. Long pieces of metal. Recycling. An LP tank. Families of 4. To make it even more comical, everyone here is scared of the sun. Especially the women. Elbow long satin gloves. Face masks that flow from forehead to chest. Socks in flip-flops. And, for your motorbike traveling convinience, a floor length piece of fabric that can be attached in the back with velcro to make a protective skirt. All of this in 90+ degree weather of course. Now, if you can picture it, the rows upon rows of comically combined citizens… driving down the street, you must add to this personal visual, the reality that there are very few traffic laws here. The most common method of travel is to drive on the right side of the road. However, left side and sidewalk driving is appropriate if deemed necessary for any reason. In addition. The traffic lights apparently apply largely to cars and buses and, if possible, motorbikes ignore them. The joke here is.. in Ho Chi Minh City: Green light means.. go. Yellow light means.. go. Red light means.. still go. Needless to say, driving here is not for the weak of heart and requires attentiveness at all times. But, oh the comedy, for its viewers.

2. The Vietnamese learn English from many different sources. My favorite is when a Vietnamese speaker has an Australean accent. However, as a whole, Vietnamese influenced English (specifically in south vietnam) replaces ‘sh’ with ‘s,’ and has shorter vowels. I have observed that I am spending a lot of mental energy trying to understand English these days. By the end of the day yesterday even the voice in my head spoke Vietnamese English.

3. The bathrooms here are funny too. Mostly because the shower is part of the bathroom, making quite the wet mess after we have all had our evening showers and creating a need for rugs outside of everyone’s bathroom door to allow us all to dry our feet.

4. And. One last story, just so you know we really are having fun on our Asia adventure.
So… last night we went to a fancy opera house here in the city to hear a medley of Broadway hits (“I dreamed a dream” from Les Mis was incredible I might add). While sitting there and swinging my chair back and forth I said to Erleen, “I think this is the fanciest chair I’ve ever sat in!” This must have been a foreshadowing event as less then 7 minutes later I heard a loud sound, blinked, and discovered that I was sitting just a bit lower than before. Oops. I sure HATE to break chairs in fancy opera houses! But, oh how we had to laugh!

A Panuelo World

As it turns out, writing a post is rather difficult to do from my ipad in Thailand.  Photos are especially difficult to upload.  But that doesn’t mean I have nothing to say.  So.  I guess I will have to paint pictures with words instead.

We arrived 4 days ago.  “We” includes: my roommate Erleen and her cousin Betty.  Erleen’s brother Andrew lives here in Thailand, as does Erleen and Betty’s cousin Arlen and his family.  We are visiting them before moving on to other countries to visit other people.

So.  We arrived 4 days ago. A day and a half spent in motion, chasing the sun backwards, but we finally arrived.

Our flight was quite pleasant.  I recommend, if you HAVE to sit in an airplane for 20 hours, to fly Turkish Air.  Pillows, blankets, food, drinks, a travel kit (complete with toothbrush, lip gloss, and more!) and a hot towl to start the flight.  I was druther impressed.

Jet leg has been a non-issue.  Mostly, we just went to bed mad early and slept as long as we could the first night and it basically evened out.  I am very thankful about that! (Although I have heard that it’s worse going home.)

So far we have… visited Andrew’s coffee shop that he manages.  And yes, I even drank coffee!  We visited an elephant camp (and I might have taken a ride…).  We took a Thai cooking class.  I have totally mastered PadThai, in case you were wondering.  Well. Mostly anyways. Almost.

We’ve played card games (like the good Mennonites that we are).  We rode songtewls and went shopping at far too many markets already.  We went bowling.  I won twice, although I have yet to reach a score of 100 (yes. in my entire life).  It was decided that we were all pathetically well matched.  And, another friend who lives here was daring enough to ‘teach’ me how to drive a motorbike.  I’m definitely in the beginner class but I was able to drive in a circle in the parking lot.  So, I guess I’m ready to graduate to a quiet street or something soon.

We’ve had numerous variants of ‘typical Thai food.’  And I’ve mastered the use of “hello” and “thank you.”

And, otherwise, I’ve been hit by the insanity of this all.  The incredible blessing it is to be able to travel.  Sometimes I want to be worried because I don’t have a job lined up yet.  And sometimes I want to think that it’s not so crazy to be here.  I mean.  So much of it seems so familiar to me.  Between my life in New York and the months I’ve spent in Central America, life here doesn’t seem so weird.  But then I called my mom and I was struck with the reality that so much of the world is living ‘normal’ life right now.  And I could be doing the same.  But, instead, I get to dip my toes across the seas, taking my shoes off at the door, clapping my hands together in a nod of respect and thanks to strangers, and pretending, just for a moment, that the whole world is connected.  It reminds me of a phrase in Spanish, “el mundo es un panuelo.” (the world is a handkerchief).  Which is the English equivalent of “it’s a small world” but paints this hilarious picture that we, the entire mass of the world, can somehow fit into a little, interwoven piece of cloth and be stuffed into someone’s front pocket.  I guess, the craziest thing of all is that it’s true, the world truly is a panuelo.  And I’m so glad we all can fit in the pocket of God, even on the other side of the world.