Archive for November, 2009

27th November
written by Hope

Ask any traveler about their experiences abroad and you’ll invariably get responses citing the opening of eyes, hearts, or minds. Travel IS the process of opening—exposing yourself to the influence of The Other, seeing great beauty through the eyes of another, and allowing yourself to be altered irreversibly by it.

an attempt to capture the vastness of the interior space in the haghia sophia (aya sofya), istanbul
Talk about great beauty! The humbling interior of the Aya Sophia (Haghia Sophia).

Less frequently do you hear about the process of closing. I imagine it happens to most travelers at one time or another…take any open-minded person and subject them to constant touting and the less frequent but ever-threatening possibility of getting scammed or robbed, and most would end up with at least a bit of a shell—at best a wary eye, at worst a complete shut-down towards all interactions.

the grand bazaar, istanbul
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. As a tourist, going to a market always opens you up to the possibility of an unpleasant interaction as all parties try to adhere to the old adage: buy low, sell high.   

I’ll admit it: Jeremy and I grew a shell. After six months in Asia, we expected that any local who approached us on the street was trying to sell us something. We were most skeptical of those who didn’t lead with a sales pitch, but instead opened by asking where we were from or how long we had been in the country. We recognized the tactic for what it usually was—a lead to make us feel comfortable before the hard sell.

A week in Istanbul broke through that shell and smashed it into a million little pieces. Sure, there were people of the “Hello my friend, come into my carpet shop” variety, but the vast majority of our interactions with the locals here were surprisingly, I dunno, personal. If someone tried to sell us something and we politely declined, they still wanted to know where we were from, how long we would be in Turkey, and whether or not we were having a good time. It seemed like the Turkish people wanted to know all about us—even after we rejected their sales advance!

it's my turn to be the movie star, istanbul
After months of Asians asking to take photos with Jeremy, in Istanbul, *I* was the celebrity. I guess they don’t see many 6 foot Chinese girls around here…

a mini-sultan and his proud dad, istanbul
We were walking on the same sidewalk as these two when Dad proudly asked if we would like to take a picture of his mini-Sultan. Adorable!

Even in the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul’s most famous tourist market, it seemed like the selling was secondary to the bantering. To be fair, we met another traveler (who has been to Istanbul 8 times) who swears that the salesmen used to hassle you a lot more at the Grand Bazaar (he thinks that they government has instructed the sellers to back off). And, even though it’s off topic, it’s worth mentioning that we weren’t too impressed with the goods on display there (J and I walked through about 3 aisles before turning to each other and saying, “How much of this stuff do you think was made in China?”). But despite stall after stall of identical souvenirs for sale, our wanderings through this 500-year-old market were fascinating. Again, it was because of the people. One Turkish vendor in the spice market even engaged me in competent (though heavily accented) conversational Mandarin.

spice bazaar, istanbul
Spices in the (surprise!) spice bazaar.

Turkey is a stunning country. The landscape is incredible and the architecture can knock you off your feet. But despite all of this physical beauty, it’s the people—so full of love and graciousness that they could pierce through a 12FOOT3 shell—that will really get to you.  

the washing ritual, istanbul
Turkish men washing before entering the mosque.

26th November
written by Hope

Last year, we were in New Zealand looking forward to the year ahead. This year, we’re in Buenos Aires (with Martina!), immensely thankful for the year we were given.

We are thankful for this experience, we are thankful for our friends and family that supported us throughout this trip, we are thankful for the technology that enabled us to keep in touch with those we love, and we are thankful for your emails and the comments you have written on this blog that make us feel like home really isn’t so far away. We are thankful for this world and the people that make it such an amazing place to inhabit (that’s you!).

Happy Thanksgiving!

our thanksgiving dinner in BA
We’re also thankful for Argentinian beef! Our Thanksgiving dinner, 2009.

21st November
written by Hope

After 3 years of art school and 2 years working at a boutique graphic design studio, there is one rule that emerges: a rule so highly regarded in the industry that ignoring it would be like asking Thomas Keller to pair his fine steak with Two Buck Chuck. That rule is:


Any accomplished designer will tell you that the white space on a page is as important—sometimes even more so—than the text or graphical elements. It lets the eye rest, or gives it direction. It can create balance between the other elements on the page. In the best designs, it can create meaning.

Istanbul laughs in the face of white space. It thumbs its nose at white space. Indeed, Istanbul ran that white space right outta town.

The results are insanely beautiful.

interior, blue mosque, istanbul
The ceiling of Sultanahmet (The Blue Mosque).

We spent most of our days with our necks craned up and our jaws open in awe. When I was in Oaxaca a few years ago, I was obsessed with all the beautiful patterned tiles. But THIS…this takes it to another level entirely.

topkapi palace, istanbul
Topkapı Palace.

Every surface that can be covered with a pattern, is.

mother-of-pearl inlaid door at the blue mosque, istanbul
Mother-of-pearl inlaid door at the Blue Mosque.

stone floors, topkapi palace, istanbul
Stone floors at Topkapi Palace.

painted ceiling detail, haghia sophia (aya sofya), istanbul
Painted ceiling in the upper gallery, Haghia Sophia (Aya Sofya).

haghia sophia (aya sofya), istanbul
Byzantine arches and pillars at the Haghia Sophia (Aya Sofya).

topkapi palace, istanbul
Stained-glass window, Topkapi Palace.

And what is in between those patterns layered on patterns? Is it enough to execute patterns in stone, tile, glass, wood, and paint? Of course not! Let’s throw some mosaics in there while we’re at it.

virgin mother and child mosaic in the half dome, haghia sophia (aya sofya), istanbul
Virgin mother and child mosaic in the half-dome, Haghia Sophia (Aya Sofya).

deësis mosaic, haghia sophia (aya sofya), istanbul
The Deësis mosaic in the Haghia Sophia (Aya Sofya).

Screw white space.

18th November
written by Hope


Q. Turkey is:

A. amazing
B. magical
C. some synonym for “amazing” or “magical”
D. all of the above

If you answered “D”, then you agree with 99.99% of the people we encountered before and during our trip. To put it mildly, Turkey was hyped. And despite our attempts to stifle our excitement (there’s nothing worse than having expectations so wild that they can only lead to disappointment), we caught the fever. And it wasn’t for more cowbell.

So we were off our rockers about our month-long stay in Turkey, and first impressions of Istanbul did not disappoint. The brilliantly patterned head scarves! The elaborate mosques! The intricate mosaics! The fragrant spices! Mind you, we experienced all of this within 10 minutes of getting into the city, BEFORE we actually saw anything. If there’s such a thing as love at first sight, then we fell knee-deep into it.

colorful headscarves and overcoats, istanbul
A typical Istanbul uniform (for the ladies, of course): colorful headscarf atop beige overcoat.

sultan ahmed (the blue mosque), istanbul
Sultanahmet (The Blue Mosque).

Of course, we had to stop for a moment to give ourselves a pat on the back for adding the UK and Ireland to the itinerary. Not only did those countries seem exotic after China, but our appreciation of Turkey’s Ottoman heritage was heightened after 3 weeks in those English-speaking countries. Go us!

We ended our first evening in Istanbul on a rooftop restaurant with a kebab meal (the first of so, so many), a cold pint of Efes (ditto), the Haghia Sophia on one side, and a view of the sunset over the Bosphorus on the other. [Insert reference to "C. some synonym for 'amazing' or 'magical'" here.]

our first kebab in istanbul!
Jeremy enjoying our first kebab on a rooftop restaurant in Sultanahmet.

And then…this is the point in the post where that music would play. You know, that music. The music that goes: DUN DUN DUN!

Before we arrived in Istanbul, we booked 4 nights in Best Island Hostel. Don’t ask me why we booked ahead—when arriving in a new city, we typically do the “backpacker dance” of dragging our bags from one hostel to the other until we find one that we can work with. I think we were worried about it being the busy season before Ramazan and perhaps we were still in the pre-booking mode from the UK and Ireland. Anyway, we settled into our room at Best Island for a good night’s sleep…if by “good,” you mean “tossing, turning, and fitfully trying to tune out the bathroom noises that echoed in our bedroom ALL NIGHT LONG despite the fact that we were wearing earplugs.” Yeah, if by “good” you mean THAT. People, we’ve slept on Vietnamese buses with dirty backpackers’ feet in our faces and mosquito-filled rooms in the middle of the Southeast Asian jungle. There was no worse night’s sleep than the one we had in Best Island.

It’s hard to even find words to describe how cranky we were the next day. The city that was the historic seat of power for the Ottoman Empire? Whatever. 1000+ year old mosque? Pshaw. The crystal-blue waters of the strait that separates Europe and Asia? Yeah, show me something I haven’t seen. Not even the beautiful weather could cheer us up.

view of beyoglu from topkapi palace, istanbul
We were so sleep deprived that THIS seemed unimpressive to us.

We quickly realized that if we “slept” another night in Best Island Hostel, we would end up hating Istanbul. So we spent our first day in this beautiful city going from hostel to hostel looking at rooms until we found Hotel Umay. At a hefty €45 per night, plus US$30 for Best Island—we ended up having to double pay for 2 nights because we couldn’t get a hold of the owner for a refund request)—we were blowing the budget two days after we landed in Turkey. But our new room was blissfully quiet, the boys who worked at the hotel promised to give us a discount if I taught them some American pickup lines (example: “Your father must have been an astronaut because he put the stars in your eyes.” Seriously.), and this was our view:

the view from our window (hotel umay), istanbul
View of the Bosphorus from our room at Hotel Umay.

It was worth every penny.

How we got to Istanbul: We used one of our around-the-world (RTW) flights to get from London to Istanbul.

Where we slept in Istanbul: See the above story for a full explanation, but here’s our advice if you want to enjoy Istanbul: NEVER EVER stay in Best Island Hostel.

On the other hand, we loved Hotel Umay. Friendly service, a beautiful view on a quiet street, and a decent Turkish breakfast. Thank you, Hotel Umay, for saving us from the horrors of Best Island!

18th November
written by Hope

Once again, we’ve updated our map! Gone is the dumb timeline thingy—Jeremy has replaced it with a much more user-friendly list, including information on our dates and length of stay, as well as links to our blog posts and photos (on Flickr) from each destination. If you don’t see blog and photo links for a certain location, it’s because we haven’t posted them yet…yes, we’re very behind but we’re committed to telling you all our travel stories so just hold your horses, Bronco!

Check out the map and let us know what you think!

14th November
written by Hope

14th November
written by Hope

We were totally charmed by Ireland, but for very different reasons than we expected. We thought we would be taken by the Irish landscape—Jeremy loves himself some rolling hills dotted with sheep—but it turns out we were even more taken by the feel of the place. We loved the strong musical culture. We loved the extreme differences between the severe weather and the warm pubs. We loved the people. And most of all, we loved those delicious, frosty pints. All of it conspires to create the most comfortable, cozy atmosphere that keeps you crossing your fingers for lousy weather so you can spend your days in the warm embrace of Ireland’s fantastic pub culture (luckily, the weather delivers, most of the time). :)

not a bad place to graze
Not a bad place to graze.

Days spent here: 7 (August 2-9, 2009)

Highlights: We had a good time in all three places that we visited in Ireland, but the most charming moments to us involved a warm pub, jamming musicians, and a delicious pint of Guinness.

musicians jamming in the pub, dublin
D. All of the above.

Places we would like to visit next time: County Cork

Average daily expenditures (for two people): US$205/day

Prices: No doubt about it, Ireland is expensive. Pub meals are spendier than simple meals in Japan. JAPAN! Accommodation prices are pretty much on par with the rest of Europe (expect to pay between €45-60 for a double ensuite at the budget end of the spectrum), but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. And, of course, a pint of Guinness will put you back about €5—that’s US$7.50 for a pint!

Guidebooks we used: None

Weather: It was cold and rainy in Galway, but pretty pleasant in Dublin. Of course, severe weather makes the pubs seem that much more cozy (after all, you probably wouldn’t want to hang out in a dark pub all day if it was sunny and glorious out), so rain really isn’t that much of a bummer!

rock and sea, the burren
The Burren: a cold, rainy, rocky landscape.

Food: Meat and potatoes baby! It’s all about the carvery lunches: you get your choice of meat (usually a roast of beef, lamb, or ham), potatoes, and veggies, all smothered in gravy. It’s like Thanksgiving everyday!

the bull & castle, dublin
This guy has had one too many carvery lunches.

Accommodation: As you would expect, Ireland’s accommodation is on par with the rest of Europe in terms of comfort and cleanliness. Just watch out for the late night partiers in Dublin. Outside of Dublin, homestays and B&B’s are good value—but this type of accommodation is easier to find if you have a car.

Transit: We were very happy with the bus system across the country (having tried both GoBus and CityLink on the Dublin to Galway circuit)—just be sure to book ahead for the cheapest rate. Our one experience with Dublin’s public transport train (DART) was excellent. Once you get out of Dublin, however, you’ll probably want to rent a car to explore some of the Irish countryside. Too bad rental cars are so unreasonably expensive in Ireland!

Internet: We had wi-fi at Dunaras Village in Galway and at the Christchurch Apartments in Dublin (but not at the Jackson Court Hotel), so we had no problems staying connected.  

Culture: The Irish are laid back, funny, and easy to talk to. You know what? I think the photo below says it all:

for fox sake! galway
Say it again, sister.

In short: You really don’t need to try to “see” too much—all the best parts of Ireland are right there in the pub.

11th November
written by Hope

I finally started drifting off about 1:30AM, after another night gathered around delicious Guinness pints with our friends Chi-Chi, Conall, and Mariam. A bunch of random musicians had gathered in the pub to spontaneously play some tunes for the benefit of the pub’s patrons, and their music still played in the back of my mind as I thought of all the things we had seen in this enjoyable yet cozy city:

Beautiful Christ Church Cathedral (one short block away from the apartment where we stayed)…

christchurch cathedral at night, dublin

Christ Church Cathedral at night. Creepy!

…the fun but information-light Guinness Brewery tour…

THE st. james gate, guinness brewery

The actual St. James Brewery Gate!

barrels at the guinness brewery

Barrels at the Guinness Brewery. (This was the most interesting part of the Guinness tour—we spent an inordinate amount of time watching historic videos of barrel-makers using primitive tools to cut strips of wood into perfectly sealed, air-tight barrels. Amazing!)

a tender moment over a pint, guinness brewery

A tender moment, reflected off the mirrored tables of the Guinness brewery’s Sky Bar—your reward for making it through the brewery tour. :)

…a walk around the grounds of Trinity College, where Conall’s brother Brian so generously acted as our tour guide and we got to see The Book of Kells

our 90210 moment on the trinity college grounds

Our 90210 moment at Trinity College. From left to right: Brian, his daughter, Jeremy, Mariam, Conall, and Chi-Chi.

…and our interesting visit of Kilmainham Gaol (that’s how they spell “jail” in Ireland, England, Australia, and New Zealand!), where we learned a ton about Irish history…

kilmainham gaol

art installation, kilmainham gaol

A local artist’s installation in one of the prisons’ cells. This piece features a giant tumbleweed that fills up the entire cell—emphasizing the stifling nature of captivity, as tumbleweeds are meant to exist in wide-open spaces.

Dublin is a place that is hard to capture in photos. It’s a place that is more felt (by roaming the streets and soaking up the ambience) than toured, more heard (in the music coming out of the pubs) than seen.

spooky night scene, dublin

Wandering Dublin’s streets at night, looking for a warm pub and some good music.

On that note…just as we entered into deep sleep—


Wha? GOOD LORD WHAT IS THAT NOISE?!? That can’t be—is that a FIRE ALARM? At 2:30AM? Jesus, someone turn that off!

Turns out some drunkards in our building pulled the fire alarm. OK, where were we? Oh yes, Dublin is also a place best experienced with friends. There are groups of people wandering the streets all night…in fact, the whole city feels like your friend sometimes—the Irish are the world’s best banterers and everyone seems to have a line or two to start a conversation.

out for drinks with conall, mariam, and chi-chi

Commemorating our final pint in Dublin with Conall, Mariam, and Chi-Chi.

Speaking of which—


At 4AM, we get another wakeup call, this time from the raucous party going on upstairs. I am wiling to bet that they are the same drunken idiots who pulled the fire alarm. Where are my earplugs?


OMG, what time is it? 9AM? Why are the bells of Christ Church going off so early? And when is it going to stop? (The answer: whenever you get your hungover butt into that church).

Sigh, just another Saturday night in Dublin… :)

How we got from Galway to Dublin: We took the GoBus from the western end of the country to Ireland’s eastern capital…for only €10 (approx. US$12.50)! The bus was comfortable, but the real reason why it was so cool—the bus had wi-fi! So fancy! You need to book your trip ahead of time on the internet in order to get this fare…and if you book early enough, you may even make the trip for €5.

Where we slept in Dublin: Since there were 5 of us, we decided to split a 2BR apartment in Christchurch Hall (booked via, well-located a block away from Christchurch Cathedral. The apartment was clean, well-stocked, and had more room per person than your average Dublin hotel room. At €38 per person, it was a bit spendier than most hostels in Dublin, but it works out well for groups. Just watch out for the bells on Sunday AM and the drunk partiers before that!

Before our friends arrived in Dublin, J and I spent one night in the Jackson Court Hotel. We chose this place for its cheap price (only €50 for a double ensuite, with Irish breakfast included), and we probably should have been curious why the price was so low. Turns out this hotel is also the site of Copper Face Jacks Night Club. The hilarious Wikitravel entry describes it in the following way: “…Known in the fine Dublin phrase as a Meat Market this night out is crammed with people desperate to score and getting more and more willing as they consume more booze.” Read the full entry here (under the “Clubs” subhead). The hotel actually gives you earplugs when you check in. Luckily, our room was located on the top floor, so we weren’t too disturbed by the revelry, but light sleepers beware.

2nd November
written by Hope

We arrived in Dublin a day before we were to meet our friends Conall, Mariam, and Chi-Chi, so J and I decided to get out of town and head up to the Howth peninsula (about 9 miles north of Dublin) for its famous cliff walk. It seems we got a cosmic payback after all those severe weather days in Galway, because the sun was out and the sky was the most glorious shade of blue during our day in Howth.

view from howth harbor
Howth harbor. Can you believe that sky?!?

In addition to our luck with the weather, it seems our timing was perfect to see this little town on Ireland’s east coast—the peninsula was exploding with wildflowers in shades of sunny yellow and deep magenta.

island off the coast of howth with wildflowers in the foreground
Wildflowers, and an island off the coast of Howth.

It took us about 4 hours to walk the entire loop, and we pretty much hiked the entire thing straight since there wasn’t an obvious place to rest on the trail. Needless to say, we were pretty tired by the end of it, but the walk was definitely worth it—what a stunningly beautiful landscape!

yin and yang, howth
Yin and yang, Howth.

ireland's eye, howth
Ireland’s Eye, an island off the coast of Howth. You can take a boat from Howth to the island and explore its ruins.

Towards the southern end of the Howth cliff walk, you can see sailors and other wind-sport enthusiasts out for the day in Dublin bay.

boats in dublin bay, as seen from howth
Just in time—clouds rolling into Dublin Bay at the end of our hike.

We were very glad we got out to this corner of Ireland, as Howth let us see a different side of this country than Athlone, Galway, and Dublin. And it always feels good when you earn your pint, doesn’t it?

How we got from Dublin to Howth: We took Dublin’s efficient and affordable DART train up to Howth. We love it when a city’s public transport works well!

1st November
written by Hope

As a visually-oriented person, most memories of the places we’ve traveled come back to me in snapshots: that incredible field of wildflowers near Milford Sound in New Zealand, beautiful children trying to sell us trinkets at the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia, the infinite abyss of ocean off Shirahama in Japan. Despite my visual leanings, my memories of Galway are of the aural variety: looking back through our snapshots of this charming town on the west coast of Ireland, I can hear the music playing to each of our photos.

Ireland has a very strong musical culture, and Galway is often referred to as the epicenter of that culture. Everywhere you go in Galway, there is music. You can hear it in one of the many beautiful pubs, where there are live musicians playing every night…

gorgeous pub, galway

…or walking down the block, where street musicians entertain the masses for a Euro or two:

the spirit of music, galway

There’s also the not-so-obvious music playing in the background of our Galway photos. The cry of seagulls as the cold, black ocean crashes into the magnificent Cliffs of Moher:

cliffs of insanity (moher)
The Cliffs of Moher (aka The Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride—yes, really!). To get an idea of the scale of these cliffs, look at the top left corner of the photo—there are people standing on that crag!

the deep black sea, cliffs of insanity (moher)
Seagulls flying over the cold, black sea.

The sound of happy cows grazing in the Burren:

moo, mutha!
Moo, mutha-effer!

The echo of our footsteps through the gorgeous Gothic Church in Connemara:

interior of the gothic church, connemara

And of course, quite possibly the happiest music in all of Galway—a delicious pint of Guinness being poured in harmony with the slurping of oysters:

two great tastes, galway
The nectar of the gods.

How we got from Athlone to Galway: Hitched a ride with Conall and his girlfriend Mariam!

Where we slept in Galway: We stayed at Dunaras Village, which is basically student housing converted into short-term stay apartments in the summer. The place was very comfortable and spacious, and at €45 per night for an apartment with full living room and kitchen, it was quite affordable by European standards. The only problem was, since it was located outside of the town center, we had to take the bus into Galway, which was at times difficult to negotiate since the bus doesn’t run that frequently. In short: Dunaras Village would have been absolutely perfect if we had a car.