A clock hangs on the wall of our room here in Saigon. At first glance, it’s a helpful but unremarkable piece, a rather drab thing clearly picked more for its utility and cheap price than for any inherent style. A second glance reveals that there is something decidedly off about the clock. Not only is […]
Fresh from the holidays, we’re kicking off 2014 with a truly fantastic installment of Chewing the Fat. This week, the lovely Jessica from Ways of Wanderers steps up to the plate and devours everything that we set in front of her (how’s that for mixing metaphors!). Jessica is no newbie when it comes to traveling (or […]
Normally we call these posts “Everything You Wanted to Know About…”, understanding that, even with weeks (and sometimes, months) in a country, these titles are perhaps a shade hyperbolic. Probably a more accurate title would be “A Small But Important Fraction of What There is to Know About…”, but even if that latter title has […]
It’s 9 a.m. on our first full day in Brunei on the streets of its capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan (or BSB, more colloquially), and it’s oddly quiet. Despite the early hour, the sun blazes overhead and the heat is already borderline oppressive. Hardly anyone is out, but a few market stalls cling to the […]
As perpetual travelers who are constantly pulling up stakes and heading from one city to the next, we’re always looking for things we can toss to lighten our load, not ways we can add to it, so this somewhat trivial shopping outing is really anything but. We don’t buy things unless they’re absolutely necessary, are easily portable, and will get a lot of use. Whatever preconceived notions you might have of long-term travel, know this: for us, a yoga mat and two “normal” (read: not quick drying) towels count as a luxury. Oh how these months of travel have changed us.
As I suspect it was for most of you reading this, in one way or another, 2013 was a big year. For us it marked a full 12 months of the calendar that we spent devoting ourselves exclusively to travel. To that end, it took us to 7 new countries… though, as you’ll see, in some cases, one visit just wasn’t enough and we found ourselves returning to a few favorites several times over.
I haven’t learned to apparate just yet, so for today, I’m offering up the next best thing: an interview with Emily Monaco, a born-and-raised New Yorker who has been living in Paris since 2007. (Talk about living the good life, eh?) For the last six years, she has made a living from her joint love of food and history, offering walking — and tasting — tours of the city and contributing freelance to a number of travel and foodie publications, and even earned her masters degree in 19th century literature from the Sorbonne in 2013! Today, she extends her love of cooking and France to television journalism in Paris and blogs about her culinary adventures over at Tomato Kumato.
If you’ve never been to Nashville, you might think I’m trying to pull a fast one on you when I tell you that in the center of Centennial Park (Nashville’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park or London’s Hyde Park) sits a full-scale replica of the Parthenon. Constructed in 1897 as part of celebrations marking the 100-year anniversary of Tennessee’s official entry into the United States (one of Nashville’s monikers is “Athens of the South”), it was built to exactly mimic the original. From the decorative friezes depicting scenes from ancient battles and myths, to the glittering and gaudy 42-foot tall Athena Parthenos statue that stands inside the building’s sacred cella, every last detail of Nashville’s Parthenon has been lovingly restored. Accordingly, when you stand in its shadow and gaze up the smooth length of its columns, you see it not as you would the Parthenon in Greece today, but as the original once appeared over 2000 years ago. Just a five-minute walk from my doorstep, I spent a lot of time marveling at its majesty, and sometimes wondered whether I would ever really need to make the trip across the ocean to see the original.
Borneo. Although few people can locate it—the world’s third largest island and home to three different countries—on a map, the name alone conjures visions of a vast, unexplored jungle where wild animals and indigenous tribes mingle beneath the dense canopy of the forest. Borneo is a haven for sundry wild animals: for now, it’s one of the last refuges of the “man of the jungle” (orangutan), the only home of the Borneo pygmy elephant, and holds a dwindling population of the Sumatran rhinoceros. But Borneo, like the rest of Asia, is rapidly changing thanks to its human denizens. It is also fighting a losing battle with deforestation; the world’s oldest rainforest is quickly giving way to vast tracts of oil palm plantations and slash-and-burn farmland. Much of the flora and fauna of Borneo is on the brink of an abyss, being driven ever closer to extinction by the encroachment of civilization. We knew that so much of the island was changing so quickly that, if we didn’t see it now, it might be gone by the time we had the opportunity to come back.
Walking down the wooden jetty into Semporna’s harbor, I couldn’t help thinking what a difference 180º can make. Behind us lay Semporna, a shantytown so grim and gritty, it can only be likened to an angry red inflammation on the otherwise flawless cheek that is the northern Borneo coastline. But with our faces turned to the Celebes Sea—stretched out on the horizon and that perfect shimmering shade of blue that is too rarely found in nature—it was hard to reconcile what we had just walked through with the beckoning paradise before us. Living in Semporna may not have many perks, but I’d wager that with its views, you’d be willing to put up with quite a lot.
This week’s Chewing the Fat is one I’m so excited to share with you. If you’ve spent any amount of time reading travel blogs, then undoubtedly you will have come across the chronicles of Gillian and her partner Jason over at One Giant Step. Based in Canada, they caught the travel bug and took off on an epic RTW trip in 2009/2010, right around the time Tony & I started hatching our own plan to take a leap of our own. We avidly followed as their travels took them around the world and back to their home and native land, only to watch as they relieved themselves of the few possessions they had and headed out again, this time to live in the world as serial expats. First Thailand…next up…Mexico!
One of my favorite parts of travel is how a place (and the people in that place) can surprise you, especially if you can find a way to get beneath the surface. Kota Kinabalu by all accounts, isn’t a very exciting city, but when Steph & I plunged into the fragrant, smokey labyrinth of the Filipino market we walked into another part of a very different town. Wandering the sun-dappled aisles of the local market the next day was a similar experience, one that felt very removed from the few tourist zones of the city. These markets weren’t especially large or flashy, but they were filled with local people simply living their lives before us and it was a beautiful thing to behold. We felt a very real sense of honor as we joked with the locals and exchanged smiles with the vendors, honor that we had so been so easily accepted into this weekly ritual with welcoming smiles and good-natured curiosity. I think we’ve said it before, and it remains true: the people are the places. And if you ever want to see the heart of an Asian city, find its local market and jump in with both feet. The sights, the sounds, the smells and the smiles… they’ll combine to give you an experience you won’t soon forget.
Whenever we have talked about CouchSurfing on the site, people have remarked in the comments about how lucky we are that our experiences across the board have been unequivocally excellent. Although I will allow that there is inherently some element of uncertainty and risk when you agree to meet strangers from the internet in real life, I don’t think that our positive experiences are the result of chance. Heck, I don’t even think it’s because the world is predominantly made up of good people and that CouchSurfing has attracted an unusually high proportion of said individuals.
I promise that one day I will write a post about our time in Malaysia that is not focused on food. Today, however, is not that day.
I loved the city of Melaka and want to tell you all about it, but the truth is that I keep coming back to the food. It was so good, that I just can’t seem to talk about anything else. We had always heard that competing UNESCO rival George Town up in Penang province was the country’s food capital, so you can imagine our delight when Melaka unexpectedly provided us with the perfect setting for an impeccable and authentic Malaysian food bender. No disrespect to George Town (we ate really well there, too!), but in Melaka, we came for the historic buildings and stayed for the food… if that’s not a glowing recommendation, I don’t know what is!
When Tony & I initially set out on this trip, we thought we’d be gone for the standard 1 year, maybe 18 months if we were lucky. But we’ve now been traveling long enough that when people we meet along the way ask us how long we’ve been on the road we actually have to stop and really think about it. I was astounded when I did just this last week and realized that we’ve now been traveling for over 15 months! Best of all, we’re still going strong and have no plans to stop any time soon.