Travel Turkey


Having too much fun (again!) to think much about blogging – but here is Istanbul, Turkey in a nutshell.


We were (and are!) beyond thankful to Ezgi and Mike (Kev’s childhood friend), who offered us their flat while we were in Turkey. Originally, we had planned to stop in and see them, as they live in Istanbul, but as luck would have it, they were both back in Grand Rapids (of all places!) for the holidays. Unbelievably, they offered their apartment to us during our stay – which turned out to be insane. The flat was absolutely BEAUTIFUL, Kevin continues to say probably the nicest apartment he has ever been in. Short of sleeping in all types of ridiculous accommodations after the last 6+ months, our time there offered us a reprieve we didn’t even know we needed so desperately. It was glorious – and we are (again!) beyond thankful. We met Ezgi’s wonderful sister Elif at their family’s cafe and she and her friend Pinar were unbelievably sweet, and short of driving us to the flat and showing us the ropes, they took amazing care of us. To have such warmth (especially over the holidays!) not to mention a clean, spacious BEAUTIFUL place to chill and relax was truly such a gift.


The first day in Istanbul, we checked out the Basilica Cistern, which was this cavernous,  beautifully illuminated, cavernous cistern that was built in 532.  Apparently, there are hundreds of cisterns hidden under the streets of Istanbul, but only 2 are open to the public. The Basilica Cistern is the largest cistern in Istanbul and was constructed using 336 columns, and stored up to 100,000 tons of water which was delivered to the Byzantine emperors in the Great Palace. Up to 7,000 slaves were rumored to have built it.

We had to pay a “decent” amount (I think $10 each?!) to get in (the most of any attraction after the Taj Mahal (which of course we got in for free), but it was honestly pretty crazy. At the back, there were carved Medusa heads which no one knows for certain why they landed here, which was quite interesting in and of itself. Worth the money? We’re not 100% sure, but it was beyond beautiful, without question.

Right across from the B.C. were a couple more famous attractions…the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya.

The craziest thing about Istanbul for us was the fact that mosques seemed to just pop out of NO WHERE. BEAUTIFUL, HUGE, ornate vessels of grandeur – just BOOM. There they are. The pictures below are of Aya Sofya….


IMG_1410IMG_2999And even craizer, JUST across the street from THAT was the Blue Mosque (aka: Sultan Ahmed Mosque). Although I wish I could say otherwise, I did not get a great photo of the Blue Mosque (at least from the outside) – even though, in my opinion, it was MUCH cooler than Aya Sofya. But there were fountains, and people selling tea and loads of Muslims coming to pray (and tourists coming to gawk). It had quite the atmosphere.

IMG_2982Not surprisingly, they were very strict about the dress code, and offered free garments to ensure those entering the mosque were adequately covered. After removing our shoes, I was given a lovely light blue head scarf (giant piece of cotton cloth) which you can see in the goofy picture below.IMG_2992That said, it was honestly magnificent.IMG_2989No pictures can do it justice – it was just SO, so big. There were 20,000+ handmade iznik tiles covering the walls (appropriately giving the name “Blue Mosque”), over 200 stained glass windows…and yeah. The level of detail was just astounding.IMG_2988

IMG_2991And, as I said, right across the street from Aya Sofya. Pretty crazy, right?IMG_2996(In other news :)) Not surprising, we were pretty excited about the food. Kevin was stoked to try some baklava, but we both found it (surprisingly) tasted like a barn…which doesn’t sound like a great description – it was still quite delicious, but had a very distinct and pungent flavor that neither of us were used to.IMG_1380One night, we cruised around Taxism, which is known as the “Times Square of Turkey”. That description was pretty funny to both of us, although it did have a great energy and a LOT of people shopping and enjoying winter festivities…Down a little alley though, we came across a church that was totally decked out of the holidays. It was my first European church! and I was pretty happy with it 🙂IMG_1390IMG_1391(In other news (again)) The Turks loved their tea (cay). I don’t think I could even come close to counting how many glasses we drank while there…I loved that they came in cute, tiny little glass cups (perfect for hand warming) with miniature spoons and a single sugar cube. Even though I refuse to put sugar in my tea (thanks Mom!), it still added a perfect tone to the tea drinking 🙂IMG_3023One night we met up with Elif, Ezgi’s sister, and her friends in Beyoğlu and had an awesome night.IMG_3029IMG_3032Thankfully, we had a few perfectly spring-like days before the weather turned, and one day we headed to Ortakoy, which was this beautiful sea-side haven. We spent a decent amount of time just enjoying the water and watching endless jellyfish float by. IMG_3053IMG_3061Kevin also got pooped on seconds after this shot.IMG_3047IMG_3072

IMG_3014IMG_3038Turns out, the skyline at sunset was pretty insane.

The other amazing thing about Istanbul was the “Call to Prayer”. Five times a day (based on the position of the sun, etc) all mosques would “call”/sing to the people of Istanbul from loud speakers, welcoming them to their mosque to pray. Given the sheer number of mosques (3,113!!!!) and the fact that Istanbul is conveniently situated on so many waterways, during these times of day – magic happened. These eerie echos would literally masque whatever noise the hustle and bustle of the city might present and your ears would be filled with the rumble of the endless trilling cacophony of the Call to Prayer.IMG_3007

More food: IMG_2955IMG_1373

Turkish coffee (while literally as thick as mud), always came with a tiny glass of water and Turkish Delight. It really made me want to read The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe again…IMG_1413Breakfast of kut borek. Mike gave us a recommendation to go check out this little place near their flat which was owned by the sweetest old man, his wife and son. Even though they spoke no English whatsoever, we had the most wonderful time “talking” with them on a few mornings. One of the highlights of our time in Turkey, for sure.IMG_1454And, just a few days into Istanbul, it was time to get Nick from the Airport!IMG_3085


Turkey, part 2: Cappadocia coming soon.

Japan Travel Uncategorized

Kyoto (last day) + Etajima + Hiroshima

On our last day in Kyoto, we visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Fushimi is particularly famous for the 10,000 torii gates (honoring Inari, Shinto god of rice) which lead you to (and up!) holy Mount Inari. 10,000 gates! How crazy is that? You can walk for 2-3 hours straight up the mountain-side through these seemingly never-ending gates, to give you an idea of just how crazy of an experience it was. It was pretty intense. While I was especially excited to see the vibrant orange color, I didn’t expect to see such beautiful shades of orange. It was truly quite a magical experience.IMG_1087Prayer plaques adorning fox faces (foxes are thought to have been Inari’s messengers). IMG_1095IMG_1082IMG_1102

We tried raw horse meat and fatty mane sushi…IMG_1113And the infamous (sometimes lethally poisonous!) fugu (pufferfish) sushi – all three of which were surprisingly tasty, if not strange.IMG_1114Late that night, we took a night bus (10:40 pm) from Kyoto to Hiroshima, where we quickly boarded a cable car (at 6 am) to the Hiroshima port, and then from there a ferry to Etajima island and from THERE a bus across the island, where we then TREKKED up this ridiculous hill with our packs to get to our home for the next 4 days. Turns out, the travel was worth it.

Etajima turned out to be the perfect mix of a Marquette, Michigan + Portland, Oregon. It felt industrial, and close-knit, cozy and cold. The people were warm and remarkably curious about us (we saw absolutely no foreigners anywhere). We loved it. One night, Kev and I made our way an onsen (another public bath house) on the other side of the island. I wasn’t there for more than 2 minutes, when I was bombarded by about 12 old Japanese ladies trying to speak with me (again, while stark naked) SOLELY in Japanese. Lots of cave-lady sign language and laughter allowed us to communicate (albeit in a comically basic way :)), but it was experiences like this that made our time so wonderful.

IMG_1134We stayed in a 100+ year old traditional Japanese-style house which was built by the owner’s great-grandfather. Interestingly, he actually saw the “mushroom cloud” from the nuclear bomb across the sea in Hiroshima from this home. It was a balmy 39 degrees while we were on the island, and in an attempt to stay warm, we went through copious hand warmers (of which we had 2-3 stuck to various parts of our bodies or tucked in our socks at any given point throughout the day), drank enough coffee to shake for a 24-hour stretch and (if we weren’t walking around) sat literally inches in front of our kerosene+fan room heater swapping sides every few minutes to prevent one side of ourselves from catching fire while the other side froze like an ice cube. You wouldn’t believe it by my description, but it was glorious.

No shoes allowed in the house (worth noting, Kev was in good company with our host’s love of crocs :))IMG_1142Our backyard.IMG_1144Also worth noting that we truly had the best host ever. Yohei taught us about how to make delicious somen noodles, made us fancy bancha-bark tea, (after learning about our love for ramen) cooked us ramen eggs and homemade toast and overall was just full of great conversation and warmth. While we didn’t think our stay could have gotten much better in Etajima, Yohei was truly the icing on the cake.IMG_1153


Another beautiful feature of the island, was that it was full of mandarin and orange groves.IMG_1160There were these old-school rickity orange-moving carts scattered up and down the hills, which only added to the nostalgic feel.IMG_2707IMG_2705We collected awesome shells on the beach.IMG_1170IMG_1182

IMG_2767Walked through scallop farms.IMG_2754


IMG_2740IMG_2746IMG_2695Geocached through beautiful patches of cabbage and various veges in practically every yard.IMG_2785We tried lots of new snacks.IMG_1192Last night with Yohei.IMG_1213On our way to catch a bus to get to the ferry on our way back to Hiroshima, we happened across these two ladies cooking up Okonomiyaki, these strange cabbage + pancake + noodles + BBQ sauce things and decided to give them a shot. They were delicious and again, the women were unbelievably warm.IMG_1221IMG_1225On our ferry back to the mainland with stormy skies.IMG_1234IMG_1250Back in Hiroshima, we went to the museum. It was something Kev and I both felt really strongly that we wanted to experience, and truly (not that we expected much different), it was just unbelievably depressing. The entire museum was filled with stories of specific people (many of those showcased, children) who were victims of the nuclear bomb. There were melted skin fragments housed in jars, nails and hair and burnt clothing galore. Photographs of charred skin and gaping wounds rinsed with “black rain”. First-hand video accounts of victims remembering what that day was like for them, and all that they lost.  Almost 140,000 people died that day. 140,000…IMG_2810This is the concrete slab that so many of us have seen pictures of in our history books of a person’s shadow “burned” on to the stone.IMG_2812A traumatizing diorama of children with melted skin.IMG_2796Hiroshima’s Peace Dome still standing from the bombings.IMG_2787I still have yet to process what it truly meant to me to be an American walking around the streets of Hiroshima and encountering so many people (on both Etajima and in Hiroshima) that must have been directly affected by the bomb. While everyone we met asked us if we were Americans, we were treated with nothing but kindness. Time and time again I am reminded that there are always two sides to every story – what we learn in history about our reasons for the bomb dropping and learning a bit about the story that Japanese tell their children about why we dropped the bomb in the museum, being a perfect example of this. I’ll never know what is the lesser of two evils, or what makes a time”right” to go to war – and am thankful that I am not in a position where I will ever need to decide, and that I have lived my entire life with my family and those that I love safe from the threat of it. Regardless of the story told though, it is abundantly clear to me what an appalling thing war is, and regardless of how it begins that it is most frequently the innocent that lose the most.



Japan Travel

Kyoto + Arashiyama + Nara + Kinkaku-ji + Philosopher’s Path

Kyoto. Although still relatively large and modern, it’s OLD WORLD Japan – meaning the buildings, the customs, the food – everything is reminiscent of the past. it’s easy to imagine that you’ve been transported back in time, and frankly, fun to do so! From the BEAUTIFUL temples, cobblestone paths, out-of-this-world bamboo forests, wildlife (deer!) hanging out in shrines, geisha cruising the streets, beautiful waterways, short doorways and unbelievably friendly people…it’s a gem, there’s no question about that.

PROOF: (Kevin is stuck on short door way)IMG_0999Geisha out and about…IMG_1005We showed up to Kyoto without a place to stay for the night when we first arrived because (while we didn’t know when we decided to travel here) November/December are considered the busy season in Japan due to the fall colors, and everything we could find online was booked. While we managed to book the rest of the week, we decided to test our luck and just show up and hope for the best – fully expecting the sleep on a park bench or in a karaoke cafe for the night. As luck would have it, we met this awesome dude Yu, who just minutes after meeting him, invited us to his apartment for the night to spend the night, free of charge. It’s worth noting that the day before, we had been exploring a new area and stopped to take a breather and minutes after sitting down, a group of 4 women picnicking nearby brought us tea and sweets…the day before THAT, on a rainy day, our coffee was bought for us by a couple of wonderful Japanese women nearby. Needless to say, it’s been this kind of generosity and overall kindness that has really made Japan a special place for us to visit. The more places we visit, the more amazing sights we see, it’s never been more clear that it is the PEOPLE and the connections that we make that really make a place memorable or a place special. That could not be more true of Japan.

Today we walked the “Philosopher’s Path” which is named after the 20th century philosopher, Nishida Kitaro, who used this walkway as a meditative practice. The walk itself can be completed in about 30 minutes (although it took us hours) as there are multiple temples, etc along the way that are worth seeing…

Just to start this blog out right, I have to say – what a hunk, am I right!?IMG_2563

Posing on the Philosopher’s TrailIMG_2621

Not a shrine, but a pretty worthwhile stop for cute points- cats nestled up together in a cart trail-side to avoid the wind (of which there was ample today!)IMG_2623

We also encountered many artists painting and sketching along the way. Given the picturesque nature of the walk, it’s not overly surprising they chose such a beautiful spot. Apparently in the spring, cherry blossoms adorn the pathway – and while the fall colors have been nothing short of amazing, I bet that it would give our walk today a run for its money.IMG_2617

Kami stones along the wayIMG_2609After walking for not much time at all, we hit Ginkakukji temple.

To be honest, I was hesitant to go check out this “zen garden” and temple, because truly, 1.5 months in Japan, we have seen our fair share of temples/shrines/gardens and I wasn’t feeling the need to pay for another…BUT (thankfully!) Kevin insisted (which I never will live down), and it was TOTALLY WORTH IT. The temple grounds were actually constructed in 1460 (SO CRAZY!) by a man facing his retirement – and the sheer amount of planning and thoughtful design that went into constructing this (now) temple was truly amazing. The pictures don’t do it justice (but, do they ever really?!)



My favorite pic of the day 🙂 We call this the “booty toosh” Tyra (Banks) would be proud.IMG_2586IMG_2600IMG_2582IMG_2575IMG_2579IMG_2572IMG_2574IMG_2567IMG_2569

Yesterday we checked out the “Golden Temple” aka Kinkaku-ji. We walked for about 2 hours (literally) to get there, but dammit if it wasn’t worth it too! The fall colors were out of this world, and it was yet another instance of “man, I’m happy we saw that.” I’ll tell you this, the Japanese have a way with integrating the landscape into their artistic design and have a serious knack for maximising tranquility among the magnificent. Nature perfectly placed, golden water reflections…Kinkaku-ji is a perfect example of this.

IMG_2320IMG_2351Told you.IMG_2349


TWO days ago, we took a train to meet up with a friend we met in Tokyo to visit a city called Nara. We originally heard about Nara from Anthea, who visited Japan a few years back. After informing us of a ridiculous deer infestation of the city, and hearing her stories, we decided to check it out. IT WAS CRAZY! Aggressive, and Pavlov-ed responsive to deer cookies, these little buggers were NUTS! (Full disclosure: While I like to think of myself as fairly tough, I was actually pretty freaked out with their aggressiveness….and while I DID feed them towards the end, I would not say I came ANYWHERE close to feeling comfortable – DEFINITELY not enough to feed them from my mouth like Kevin did :)) Given the fact that it’s hunting season back home, I couldn’t help but laugh knowing we were literally surrounded by HUNDREDS of deer eating OUT OF OUR HANDS when the rest of our families were freezing their butts off for hours waiting for just ONE to approach. Come to Japan guys! Just sayin’!

Seconds after walking to the “Can I purchase deer cookies?” counter, Kev was greeted by a new, hungry friend.IMG_2382He took to his new job right away.IMG_2414

Kevin the Deer Whisperer.IMG_2413Deer selfie!

IMG_1034Kev and our friend Ira without enough hands for crackers.IMG_2428

Not surprisingly, there was ANOTHER! temple that we checked out, so we walked to Tōdai-ji (see those ominous clouds?!)….IMG_1037It was raining pretty hard on and off, so Kevin dressed for the occasion.IMG_2465IMG_2475IMG_2458

We weren’t the only ones interested in it though…IMG_2440



And the day BEFORE THAT we checked out the BAMBOO FOREST aka Arashiyama. If you’ve ever seen Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, you have an idea of this place – only with one difference. Loads of tourists. Even still, it was INCREDIBLE. BREATHTAKING. OTHER-WORLDLY. Bamboo for DAYZ.


IMG_2532IMG_2503GEISHA/MAIKO SPOTTING! Apparently bamboo forests aren’t only for tourists!IMG_2508All the beauty worked up Kev’s appetite for something sweet (which happens by the minute, I’ll tell you), and we happened across a super cute little homemade custard stand. Good luck? Yes. Happy camper? YES.IMG_2546

And again, our walk there was pretty ugly….IMG_2545

Sick of gorgeous fall colors yet?IMG_2539

We’re not.IMG_2541IMG_2548

And the day ended, just as most seem to…with RAMEN + beer.IMG_2551IMG_0985

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000 times – Life is pretty darn good, and we are feeling pretty damn lucky.


Kurashiki + Thanksgiving in 30 seconds

Looking quite regal.IMG_0963IMG_0964

The Venice of Japan.IMG_0965

This doesn’t even look real, does it?IMG_0966

Kev with our snacks and tea courtesy of the ladies at the next table 🙂IMG_2280IMG_2279IMG_2273IMG_2244

Kev got a hand-carved hanko stamp made. It was pretty cool.IMG_2250IMG_2212

IMG_0930Scary pic – but us Thanksgiving night at our local onsen.IMG_0958IMG_0961

Thanksgiving Dinner part one: Soba, tempura and sushiIMG_0933IMG_0948


Naoshima (aka “Art Island”)

Naoshima did not disappoint. We heard about “Art Island” from a friend in Tokyo, and man am I happy we did. Today, Kev and I wandered around the island relishing in the fall colors, soaking wet from the sweet-smelling rain and breathing in the beauty of the contemporary exhibits scattered around the island. Coming just yesterday from a month in the exhilarating, albeit frenetically paced Tokyo, Naoshima was truly a breath of fresh air and rejuvenated me in a way that I didn’t even know I needed. Maybe it was the fresh sea air, maybe it was the cleansing rain or maybe it was the beautiful exhibits, but whatever the case, it was everything we could have hoped for.


Stormy clouds on ferry to NaoshimaNaoshima Beauty

Horrifying spider (which are literally EVERYWHERE in the woods in Japan)Scary Scary Terrifying SpiderOn the beach in NaoshimaGreying Islands in RainPuppet offering at Naoshima Hachiman Shrine

Don't smoke in GraveyardView from Ferry to NaoshimaPano View from Ferry to NaoshimaSwan peeking over wall

Beer at gravesite.Beers on GravesiteWhere we're at, yo.Naoshima Hachiman ShrineGo'o Shrine Art House ProjectGo'o Shrine Art House ProjectLook out over MiyanouraGo'o Shrine Ocean ViewBurnt home wallsLady Liberty in Haisha Shinro Ohtake Art House ProjectBike in alley

Pumpkin sculpture by Kusama Yoyoi, which has become the symbol of the island. Art House Pumpkin

Japan Travel

Japan (Tokyo) Week 1

So, wow. We’re in Tokyo. How lucky can we be?

On our way to Toyko

We knew as soon as we got our airplane food, we knew we were going to be in love. I mean, look at this cute little bento!Airplane Bento

Kevin holding his first Japanese yenIMG_1438

Too bad for him, bills are NOT common here, so he needed to get himself the world’s cutest change purse to keep himself organized 🙂IMG_1572On a budget, we’ve been frequenting the grocery store regularly…these were SAMPLES…I mean, right?! TOKYO.MDG_1668

We did the whole Halloween thing! Turns out, Halloween hasn’t really been celebrated except during the last 10 years or so…This is our (soon to be!) new Japanese teacher 🙂

P.S. Lamest costume ever award goes to BOTH of us – 2 hours before the party I purchased saran wrap and balloons to be (as seen below) the world’s most awkward Jelly Belly, and Kevin literally put on my pants and called that his costume. Yup. My husband fits in my pants. No I’m not happy about it.

P.P.S. Turns out Kevin isn’t in any of the photos before my camera died – but I can assure you, he was there, drinking and eating as much of the “all you can eat/drink party” part as humanely possible and having a merry time talking with his Japanese brethren…


Kevin has found his new life’s passion: Pokemon! Gotta catch ’em all (or so he tells me :))IMG_1624

We’ve done a LOT of walking. The metro/subway lines are pretty darn expensive (about $3-7 one way), so between the two of us, that adds up. So walking it is! IMG_1616

But, while walking – we often happen across places like this:IMG_1613

Or see super futuristic water taxi things, like this!IMG_1618

Or cute mini bonsais of every shape and size, like this!IMG_1619

Ridiculously cute ads  like these are everywhere.IMG_1625

We visited the Sensoji Temple, which was pretty awesome…IMG_1595IMG_1597

And got our fortune!IMG_1601

WHICH WAS BAD! Hilariously bad. Try to read it, if you can. Turns out (to sum it up) Our wishes will not come true, our marriage is not good, and we should NOT be traveling…WELP!  Sorry fortune gods!IMG_1603

We’ve learned to love maccha tea (or at least I have – Kev’s been a die hard maccha fan forever or so he tells me)IMG_1580

We managed to get tickets to the Studio Ghibly museum (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and loads of other Miyazaki films) using an all Japanese prompted touch screen to print tickets. After 15+ minutes, here is Kevin: VICTORIOUS.IMG_1575

We tried some traditional Japanese sweets (ice cold noodles to be dipped in sugary sweet sauce), If texture issues present yourself while eating, this is probably not for you.Traditional Japanese Dessert

And went to our first Japanese tea house!First time in Japanese Tea Garden

And met new friends (picture shown: on the way to the Ninja Temple – Ninjadera Temple)Walking to Ninja Temple

Thousands of Japanese paper cranes for eternal good luck inside temple cavePaper Cranes at Money Washing Shrine

We visited some traditional Japanese Gardens (Kiyosumi Gardens)Kiyosumi GardenKiyosumi GardenCrane at Kiyosumi GardenKiyosumi Garden

We’ve tried lots of new food and drink and brushed up on our Japanese (aka: learned a few mini phrases to make us not seem like total jerks :))Japanese Tourist Alert!

Went to a (few now!) conveyor belt sushi place!Conveyor Belt Sushi DateGenki Sushi

Walked around the crazy Shibuya streetsShibuya Nightlife

Used a bidet (too much info?) and learned that they even come equip with music as you pee! What will they think of next?!Fancy Airport Bathroom Buttons

At night, many neighborhood restaurants are illuminated like this…On a cool night, the warm glow and ramen scents swirling the air, it feels just like a movie. I feel pretty confident life doesn’t get much better. IMG_1700

We’ve started to really have a taste of fall (and oh, how we’ve missed it!)IMG_1697

Shinjuku Gyoen (another Japanese garden)IMG_1691

We picniked here for a few hours and Kev read while I did some Sashiko (Japanese embroidery) that I learned from a meet up group I attended earlier in the week – it was a pretty awesome day.IMG_1692

There have been awesome (and very, very funny) street performers all over the place – below you’ll see a group of about 15 Rock n’ Rollers in their fancy leather jackets (complete with slicked back hair and combs in their back pockets) who frequent the park and dance literally ALL DAY to old school Rock and Roll. Pretty entertaining to say the least.MVI_1460

Trinket heaven.

IMG_1545I got flair.IMG_1548

And there are VERY weird shops all over the place – like this “make your own doll” shop (see those eyes?!) where grown men in business suits and cute lovey couples alike shop “Build a Bear” style, but for dolls…IMG_1553

Kevin plays videogames in AkihabaraIMG_1561

More weirdness on the streetsIMG_1540

We even went to the Cup Noodles museum (which turned out to be awesome!) and even got to make our own Cup Noodles! (Kyle, get ready! Christmas is coming!) IMG_1663IMG_1636IMG_1640IMG_1650IMG_1653IMG_1660

Last week, I met up with these fine folks to go run around the Palace. After our run, we went to an onsen/sento (public bath house, complete with saunas, hot tubs and the works) and then went out to dinner. A perfect night.IMG_1665

Kevin imagines he’s making a Suntory commercial for Lost in TranslationIMG_1686

And yesterday, we went mushroom hunting (although we only found poisonous mushrooms). It was beyond great to get out of the city, but we couldn’t help but wish we were back in Portland with Alicia and Justin having our (what has come to be) annual fall mushroom hunting experience. IMG_1703IMG_1721IMG_1722

On our hike we saw rice being dried, which I had never seen in the “wild” before, and thought was pretty cool 🙂IMG_1726IMG_1704IMG_1728


I’m sure there are things I’ve missed, but that’s a pretty solid take on the last week. One down, 3 more to go, Tokyo – we’re ready for you!

Korea Travel

South Korea (in one post)

South Korea (surprisingly) rocked our worlds.

What started out as a 2 week trip to visit our pal, Phill, turned in to a serious desire to stay a month! Or 2! Or 3! I’m not sure if it was the clean, COOL air minutes after landing, or the orderliness of the subway, or the fact that I could run (or actually go anywhere and feel totally safe) or the fact that we were with our friend, or had a mini pig in our hostel, or what – but either way, Korea turned out to be everything we could have hoped or more. Without question we will be going back to explore the rest of the country sooner rather than later.

The pics below will be totally out of order, but will at least show you a small glimpse of what life was like…

1) We went to a Jjimjilbang (Korea spa)… 7 glorious floors stocked full of varying degreed water tubs, sweating rooms/sauna, open-air ginseng baths, a seawater bath, a salt room, an ice room, a huge outdoor swimming pool…all for $11. It was my first experience having to “drop trou” and get totally naked with a bunch of strangers, but truthfully, I found it pretty liberating and overall pretty damn natural (For the record, there was a man side and a lady side – apparently after talking to my dad, this wasn’t totally clear :)) We stayed for quite a few hours – and it was glorious. Before you enter the baths, you need to scrub until you’re raw, and I opted for a “full body scrub” which literally left me laying in a pile of brown/grey balls of skin after a 20 minute scrub down. It was unbelievably disgusting, but damn if I didn’t feel smooth as a baby’s butt when I was finished. Again, glorious.
There were also common areas (where clothing WAS mandatory) No photos allowed inside the gendered baths (again, naked people) but here as you can see, is pretty great. There were also other cool common areas like the Ice room, the charcoal room the jade room and a bunch of others that you could sit and hangout with your family or whomever else in…you can trust me when I say, worth every penny.IMG_1383
2) Kevin went to the LOL (League of Legends) Championship tourney which was hosted in the World Cup stadium and left him surrounded by hot chicks and nerdy nerds. I can’t speak much of it besides to say it honestly did look awesome (even though we’re supposed to be a DOTA-only family – blasphemous to even suggest otherwise! :))IMG_1312
The winning team (I love this picture).IMG_1322
3) We ate some pretty bomb street food. One of our favorites “egg bread” (Gyeran Bread)  was right outside our hostel and was perfect for late night snacks…IMG_1280
Not street food – but a strange one just the same: Pig Trodders (feet) and Blood Sausage (and of course, Soju :))IMG_14364) We hiked Mount Bukhan (a bit of it anyway). We were even given these fancy-dancy badges for our hike! (Due to security reasons, we had to check in with our passports and could not take photos towards North Korea (which was on our left side the whole way up). About 6,000 steps later, we made it.IMG_1259IMG_1265IMG_1262
IMG_1256IMG_12755) We saw some super cool graffiti
6) There were exercise machines everywhere to help you walk off your dinnerIMG_1243
7) We discovered Makgeolli (fermented rice wine); how to mix soju and beer AND that we could do all of the above right outside of 7-11 (or any other convenience store). For travelers on a budget, this was a pretty rad way of people watching and partaking in a delicious beverage!IMG_1246
8) Highlight or not (depending on who you ask) there was MEAT. and LOTS of it. Seen below: Mountainous (Sandeomi) Bulgogi (when it arrived both of those giant stacks of meat were on top of each other – and it was ONLY for us) – not to mention the 12 banchans that went along with it…..IMG_1248
IMG_13919) Scary picture of all of us – but! We went to the Norjangjin Fish MarketIMG_1223IMG_1215
10) And visited a few themed cafes (Dog Cafe, Banana Cafe, Hello Kitty Cafe)IMG_1230IMG_123311) Grilled lots of fun things with friends (Phill and Jinnie were honestly the best tour guides ever)


12) Tried Bingsu – shaved milk dessertIMG_1205IMG_1207

14) The streets were alive….with the sounds of viiideeoogammmessssIMG_1164
15) Besides the impressive subway, Seoul was a ridiculously walkable city. Cheonggyecheon was a 7 mile long paved trail that followed the river out to the river. It was full of artists and friends and lovers.  IMG_1177
16) Top highlight: Phill was there, being all cool and shit.IMG_1143IMG_1152IMG_1194
17) We went to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) and had a chance to stand in North Korea for a few minutes. I didn’t realize what a big deal it really was until we where there – surrounded by guards who are literally “on alert” 24 hours a day guarding the border. You can see the guards looking across to N. Korea and a guard on the N. Korea side looking back with binoculars at the S. Korean side. Pretty crazy. After checking out the Korean War museum, we had an opportunity to see where high-level military discussions happened on both the N. Korea and S. Korea side. IMG_1396
We had about 1 minute to take a photo towards the N. Korea side before our cameras had to be put away- here’s us with our badges.IMG_1398Table where mmilitarytalks are held.IMG_1402

IMG_139518) I could run along the beautifully paved Han RiverHan River
19) Did I mention we had a PIG?!IMG_1123
20) One day, Kevin and I got up and walked probably 15-18 km around the city (we had no idea where we were going short of we needed to get over a main bridge to check out a bridge river light show – which never happened) but we DID get to see this – pretty magical (although the pics don’t do it justice!)IMG_1432

21) Eating our way through the Tongin Market (with these cool little tokens!)

IMG_5233 IMG_5243


22) * Going to the AMAZING Gyeongbokgung  Royal Palace and walking around the grounds (and awesome museum) and having our first glimpse of the fall colors

Ro Ro in Korea 034

Other highlights not pictured (because I forgot my camera on multiple occassions 🙁 ):

* Having a dinner fit for a King (and Queen!) with Phill’s Dad

* Checking out the Flea Markets with Jinnie and Phill

* Dancing in Gangnam

* Eating squid in a PC Bang while Kevin played DOTA with his keyboard accidentally set in Korean

* Visitng the Ewha Women’s University

* Listening to K-pop in the grocery stores

* The girls kickin’ butt in pool in the wee hours of the night at the Blue Monkey

* And the list goes on….

Needless to say (again!) Korea, see you SOON.

India Travel

End of India in Posts (2+ Months Late)

At this point, sadly, I cannot remember what was posted or not, or what photos were shown, but the photos below are from our last few days in Delhi (well, Agra and area surrounding Delhi, anywyay :))
IMG_1021Visiting the Temple where Buddha gave his first speech on the 8-fold PathIMG_1035

Kevin standing under Buddha’s Bodhi Tree (implanted from Bodh Gaya)IMG_1030IMG_1047

Tired as a goat.IMG_1091

We made it to the Taj Mahal!IMG_1088

Bucket List – Check! Turns out, it was pretty cool – and for me anyway, lived up to my expectations…even if it was 6,000 degrees and took us 6+ hours to get home.IMG_1095

Representin’ St. Bede!IMG_1085

When we got home from the Taj, I have never felt so sick in my entire life. After throwing up on my hair, I had quite a (quite uncharacteristically, I hope!) dramatic moment and chopped off a hunk of my hair with Kev’s kid scissors he used to make Japanese Kanji flashcards. IMG_1103Here I am (feeling much better, 3 days later) with much shorter hair (and a see-through shirt , as it turns out!)IMG_1107

Not sure what else there is to report from our last few days in Delhi. That said, minutes before leaving for the airport, I watched a woman get hit by a car turning her thigh into glue on the pavement. While many watched her scream, no one came to help her. After quite a bit of effort, I was finally able to secure a Tuk Tuk driver to take the woman to the airport (after the first 4 refused to put her in their vehicles.) I felt pretty shaken by the entire experience, but it was a reminder once again of the difficult lives that many Indians face on a daily basis. I know it is not from an unkind spirit that so many stopped to watched or refused to help this woman – I know that to be completely opposite from my experience during the last 1.5 months…I do think, however, that individual lives are truly so difficult on a day to day basis, it must be extremely hard to imagine taking on someone else’s pain or difficulty, when so many are struggling just to get by themselves. It was something that I had felt on numerous occasions while in India, but was never made more clear until our last night there.

At this point, it’s hard to remember just how we were feeling when we left, but I do remember the genuine sense of relief I felt when we finally entered the airport. India had, without question, rocked me to my core, and made me feel stronger and weaker as a person that I can ever remember feeling (especially in such a short period of time!). From the highs to the lows, the beauty and the filth, I could not be happier that we chose to travel here – I know I am better for it – and will be looking forward to the day when we have an opportunity to dig a little deeper into the scratch we left there.


India Uncategorized



Varanasi, also known as Benares, is somewhat of a dream. We were told to brace ourselves as we entered one of the most colorful and intense experiences in India – and we were told right. Varanasi is unapologetically chaotic and crazy at every turn, but among the endless cow and dog feces, strings and strings of vendors selling prayer beads and incense holders, holy men walking with their Shiva staffs and long beards, poor children begging for extra rupees or trying to adorn you with sandalwood for “free”, I think we can safely say this is truly the Indian experience we had been waiting for.

Varanasi is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities, and is one where pilgrims swarm to the Holy Ganges to wash away their sin or cremate their loved ones. It’s an especially sought-after place to die, as dying here is thought to allow for the liberation from the cycle of birth and death according to Hindu culture.

Yesterday, Kev and I watched body after body being brought through the windy streets ((called galis) which are far too narrow for traffic, but just wide enough for hundreds of cows, scooters, and every other imaginable thing) on bamboo stretchers hour after hour on their way to Manikarnika, the city’s largest burning ghat. At the ghat, we watched for hours as more than 7 bodies were dunked into the Ganges for their final cleansing, and then lit on fire surrounded by their loved ones while listening to the relentless DONG of Shiva’s temple next door. It was magical, and surreal and overall, quite an amazing experience. Watching such an intimate experience – right out in the open – has had somewhat of a strange effect on me. It is overwhelmingly powerful to witness such a thing, and was something I feel especially honored to have seen.

Yesterday morning, we got up at 4 am for a sunrise river ride on the Ganges. There we watched again as hundreds of people bathed themselves in the sludge that is the Ganges, swiping away the tangible grime on the water’s top layer to get to the green-brown water underneath. Others meditated, or chanted spiritual songs along the banks. Cremation continues 24 hours a day, on average burning 200 individuals per day. We learned that unless you are a pregnant woman, child, holy man or a pet, you are cremated, otherwise, you are brought to the center of the river, tied to a rock, and sunk. A few photos down, you will see a water buffalo having seen the same fate.

I’m not sure i have the words to describe what an insane, again – chaotic – experience Varanasi is, but damn, if it’s not something worth seeing.

There are endless other things to remember, but I’ll bullet a few for our memory later on:

  • Eating THE BEST LASSiS in the entire world at Blue Lassi (again, as you sit and watch a stream of bodies being carried down for cremation), which are made from this tiny hole-in-the-wall shop created and poured with love into single-use terracotta bowls made daily by the hill people. After consuming the unbelievable goodness, you smash your bowl to the ground – which, while wasteful, is quite an enjoyable experience. Kev has been frequenting BL 2-3 times a day, but for 40 cents, who can blame him?
  • Watching the River Worship ceremony with thousands
  • The chaos of the streets (photos to be uploaded to Flickr and sound recordings)


India Uncategorized

A Week+ in Photos…


No photos of the chaos that was Mumbai (thankfully Delhi is still a few more weeks away :)) But here is some of the beauty located not too far away….

Tamarind and palm trees and monkeys galore: Elephanta Island off the Mumbai Coast.

Kev reading up on the symbolism behind the cave carvings.IMG_0448


This was pretty funny though.IMG_0415

Kev, Oli and Eden (new friends) in temple.IMG_0422

On the way back to Mumbai, you will see the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel (oddly (or maybe not so odd? This is India after all…), located only 21 hours away from the Taj….)IMG_0457

First legit Indian Meal: Paneer Masala, Rice and hella naan and chapati.IMG_0462

For a grand total of: 218 rupees ($3.58)IMG_0465

Sunset at Chowpatty.IMG_0470

After Mumbai, we took the train down to Goa. It was pretty awesome.



A Sleeper 1st AC car (probably the only time in our life that happens) which pretty much meant for 13 hours, I got to sleep (ya’ll know how I like to sleep in mobiles!) wake, drink chai. Rinse and Repeat. Again, pretty awesome.IMG_0496

Like you would expect? Some of this for sure, but also a lot of beauty.IMG_0484

And then. We got to Goa.

Full disclosure: No one swims on the beach. Especially not women. So fully clothed, in the scorching hot sun (thankfully this day, under an umbrella) this is what we did. Therefore, we did not swim in the Arabian Sea.IMG_0560I also found a new favorite drink: Salty lime soda.  So that was pretty nifty.IMG_0549

Besides drinking beer and lime soda – we looked for rocks…ans shells…and crabs….IMG_0555

Goa has a huge Portuguese influence – behold the Virgin Mother all blinged out -Indian style.IMG_0518Mini Thali Dinner.


Due to the heat, we really didn’t have a huge desire to eat – BUT! We found this AMAZING street food cart that had THIS! Dahi Aloo Puri, I believe. If ONLY you could taste the Ratatouille happenin’ with each bite…Yowza!IMG_0564

This morning, we packed up shop, and were on the move again to HAMPI! IMG_0568


Today, no AC. cramped seating, Indian families and kids sharing apples and snacks with us, and broken conversations in English trying to alert us of breathtaking views ahead. Vendors and noise and vendors and noise, BUT! Cruising up and down the isles for 8 hours straight I’ve come to learn probably my favorite Indian phrase thus far: Garam Chai! Garam Chai! (hot tea! hot tea!) It was the perfect way to go.IMG_0581

And so you have it. Today, we landed (once again) in Hampi – Which I truly believe might be our own personal bit of heaven. Quiet, dirt roads, smiles and questions galore and awesome ancient ruins (from the 3rd century BC – WHHHHAT?!?)  to be explored tomorrow (did I mention the quiet?) Currently listening to the monsoonin’ rain smacking on tin panels outside  and embracing the rickety fan’s love, snuggled up under the mosquito net as I write to you. Life is good.  We’re doin’ this thing.