Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Complete Photos: Germany

And last but not least: Germany. Or, rather, Munich. We just had one day in Munich, but that was still enough time to take a tour and drink some beer! Then, we were headed home...

RTW: Germany

The Complete Photos: Hungary

...or, perhaps I should have titled this "The Complete Photos: Budapest," since that's all we saw of Hungary. Still, Budapest was the last little breather we had before we headed home. I remember being frustrated a lot because we couldn't find a place to stay, were running out of money, it was raining and we thought we had bedbugs... yet I still think fondly of Budapest.

RTW: Hungary

The Complete Photos: Romania

We were in Romania for only two nights, but we impressed with what we saw: Transylvania, "Dracula's Castle," Brasov. I'd definitely like to go back and explore all of Eastern Europe more someday.

Here's the 50 or so photos we took while we were there:

RTW: Romania

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Complete Photos: Bulgaria

Happy Birthday to me! It's crazy to think back to celebrating Sarah's Birthday on the other side of the planet, in Vietnam. And now, we are back to life as usual in Seattle. But, even if my Birthday can't be in an exotic locale, at least Sarah is helping me celebrate it in style: Last weekend she arranged for me to have a massage, and tonight she is taking me out for a nice dinner. Thank you, honey! I love you!

Anyhow, back to Eastern Europe. We took exactly 100 photos in Bulgaria. Of the Eastern European countries we visited, we probably saw the most of Bulgaria... but still, that only amounts to two cities. Still, I really enjoyed our quick visit and would be happy to have the opportunity to explore it more some day.

RTW: Bulgaria

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Complete Photos: Turkey

Sorry. It's been a couple of days since I last posted here. I've been fairly busy with Holiday stuff and job hunting. But, I also have some good news attached to that: I've found a job! I will begin my new job at The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation next Monday. Luckily, I'm nearing the end of our travel photos, so hopefully I'll finish things up here before leaping into my next adventure... going back to work after a nine month vacation.

Anyhow, somehow we managed to take over 400 photos during the two weeks we were in Turkey. I know that a couple of things, like Istanbul's Hagia Sofia, really brought out both Sarah and mine's inner-shutterbug. So, while it's a lot of photos, I'm actually not to surprised.

RTW: Turkey

From here on out, the photo collections will probably get a lot smaller. Our final two weeks of our trip are divided over 4 countries... so sadly, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Germany will have fairly small collections. Stay tuned though!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Complete Photos: Egypt

When people ask me about Egypt, occasionally, my response goes something like this: "You have to remember that Egypt has probably had tourism longer than any other country in the world. As a result, they've figured out how to work over tourists better than any other country."

That said, for each hassle we experienced in Egypt, we also got to experience one truly amazing thing after another: The pyramids, the Nile, Abu Simbal, Luxor, and on and on. See for yourself...

RTW: Egypt

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Complete Photos: Kenya

Our stay in Kenya was only a little over a week, but between our stay with the Masai family, and our afternoon whirlwind tour of Masai Mara National Park, we still managed to take quite a few amazing photos! Enjoy!

RTW: Kenya

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Complete Photos: South Africa

Animal lovers, this set is for you! The majority of our photos from South Africa are from our Kruger Park Safari. But, even when we weren't take pictures there, we were riding ostriches, visiting other reserves, looking at Dassies and Penguins at the Cape, or going to the Cape Town Aquarium.

RTW: South Africa

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Complete Photos: India

We were in India for longer than any other country, so I presumed that we'd have more photos of it than any other country. But, it turned out that Vietnam is still the record holder for the most pictures. Still, I think we did a good job of recording our adventures in India: From the passes of the Himalayas to the The fortress at Bundi, its all there.

Oh, and the Taj Mahal.

RTW: India

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Complete Photos: Cambodia

Our Cambodia side-trip in Southeast Asia was less than a week long. Most of the stuff we saw was either stuff relating to the Killing Fields (which we didn't really take photos of) and Angkor Wat (which we took a lot of photos of).

So, get ready for a lot of pictures of ruins and jungle!

RTW: Cambodia

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Complete Photos: Vietnam

Vietnam's photos turned out to be a beast to upload. We were there for about three weeks, and ended up taking a massive 682 photos! As you might imagine, Vietnam was one of our favorite locations. We were actually planning on spending only two weeks in Vietnam, and a week in Laos. But, instead, we decided we'd give Vietnam the time it deserved and skipped Laos. (Don't worry, Laos, we'll be back!)

RTW: Vietnam

Also, as regular readers know, we went to Cambodia for a week, after about a week in Vietnam. Then came back to Vietnam for our final two weeks. I've decided to put all the Vietnam photos together in the above album, and Cambodia will be my next entry!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Complete Photos: Tasmania

After nearly a month in New Zealand, we were off to Tasmania for 10 days. With our little rented car, tons of natural beauty and more wine, Tasmania seemed like a natural sequel to New Zealand. And, it gave us a few more days of comparatively normal life before plunging into Southeast Asia.

RTW: Tasmania

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Complete Photos: New Zealand

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! (Well, everyone in the US at least. To those of you outside the US, Happy Non-Thanksgiving!)

Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I've often maintained that I'm a little numb to the wonders of nature. Being surrounded by majestic pine forests, dramatic mountain ranges and the stunning Puget Sound my whole life has set the standards pretty high, so it generally takes something really exotic or something really, really over-the-top spectacular to impress me.

New Zealand has both! And lots of it! Pancake rocks. Stunning glaciers. Desolate mountain passes. Winding roads. And some of the bluest water I've ever seen.

Oh, and wine too!

Anyhow, enjoy the 300+ images we took during our 3+ weeks in New Zealand.

RTW: New Zealand

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Complete Photos: Tahiti

We were barely in Tahiti for two days, so we ended up with only 41 photos of our visit there. I think we'd both like to go back someday when we had a lot of money to burn and more time to relax.

RTW: Tahiti

Oh, and get ready, because the next entry is New Zealand... and there are a lot of photos.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Complete Photos: Easter Island

We were only in Easter Island for about three days, but managed to take over 100 photos there. So, as you might guess, we really like it. It was definitely one of the highlights of our trip, and provided us with some wonderful photo opportunities.

RTW: Easter Island

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Complete Photos: Chile

Although we were in Chile for a longer period of time than we were in Bolivia, we ended up with about half as many photos. This is probably because we spent most of our time there in fairly large cities. Anyhow, here's what we did take, including La Serena, Valparisso and Santiago.

RTW: Chile

Even though Easter Island is techincially part of Chile, I'm going to post it as a second album.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Complete Photos: Bolivia

Since we were only in Bolivia for about a week, there are a lot less pictures than the Peru batch. But, with Isla Del Sol, the salt flats and the altiplano, they might be more stunning on a photo by photo basis. I'll let you decide though:

RTW: Bolivia

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Complete Photos: Peru

I've begun the long process of uploading all the photos we took on our trip to Flickr. If you have a lot of time on your hands, and if you'd like to check out every photo we took in Peru, they are now online here:

RTW: Peru

This is probably just the first entry in a series, so check back and I'll keep adding new posts as I get new albums up. Also, keep in mind that this is -literally- every photo we took in Peru. So, not only are there lots of them, but a lot of them are a little random or blurry.

"Hmmmm..... another out of focus photo of a flat desert. Interesting."


Monday, November 12, 2007

Reverse Home Sickness

Well, two months have passed since we got back from our big trip. It's amazing to think that we've already been home as long as we have. When I compare what we've done since we got back, to what we probably would have done if we were still traveling. It's easy to see how time works different when you are at home and when you are away.

"So, what have you been up to since we got back?" You ask. Good question. Let's review, shall we?

After the initial fanfare of our return, Sarah and I spent about two weeks living with my parents while we hunted for a new place to live. Eventually we found a small studio on the north portion of Seattle's downtown (in Belltown for those of you who are familar with Seattle). And, after much box moving (see my last entry), we finally got settled in.

About the same time we started moving back in, Sarah was able to start back up at her old job at Organizational Research Services. Fall is always the busiest part of the year at ORS, so no sooner had she gone back to work than she's found herself back on a plane again. First to Austin, then to Chicago (for your Grandmothers 75th Birthday), and then to Baltimore. So, I'm sure if you asked her, in some ways she probably feels a little bit like she's still travelling. Well, minus the Buddhist temples and stomach bugs.

As for me, I was supposed to be rehired at my old job at RealNetworks, but the company is currently in the middle of a hiring freeze. As a result, I'm sort of in limbo. In addition, the longer I'm on hold, the more I am convinced that its time for me to move on and find a new job elsewhere. To that end, I've been spending the last couple weeks doing things like setting up an online portfolio and reapplying to the old contracting agency I used to work with. Which pretty much brings us to here...

To be honest, as happy as I am to be back amongst friends and family, I've been suffering from a bit of Reverse Home Sickness. As much as I like having a space that is mine and Sarah's again, and being able to be unpacked and settled; there is part of my that finds itself daydreaming about traveling again at the slightest provocation.

I'd read about other travellers going through similar experiences when they returned home, but honestly thought that I would be immune to it. I mean, let's face it, by the time Sarah and I returned home, I was definitely ready to be home. In addition, being back in Seattle, we've been keeping ourselves busy seeing a number of movies, visiting galleries, going to wine tasting and even making wine with my dad and a family friend, Gary.

So, it came at a bit of a surprise when, after watching Darjeeling Limited, I started finding myself experiencing pangs of, well, home sickness. And, combined with my current jobless state, Sarah's had to deal with me falling into several moping funks. During one of her trips out of town, I found myself watching a documentary about the Dalai Lama... primarily because I knew it was filmed in McLeod Ganj and northwestern India. Other times, I've found myself staying up late to listen to Rick Steve's on NPR, or turning up a special on Vietnam.

It's odd that India has been so central in my Reverse Home Sickness. As all of you who have been following this blog know, India was a bit of an uphill battle for both Sarah and I. So, its a bit surprising to even me that I find myself wanting to go back. But, as a friend and fellow traveller pointed out: "...I remember reading in Lonely Planet words to the effect that 'Most travellers leave India for the first time eager to have escaped, and then find themselves drawn inevitably back.'" And, apparently, that's me too.

I won't really speak for Sarah, but I do think that she's been spared a bit of the Reverse Home Sickness thing if only because work has kept her distracted and busy. That said, I did recieve a call from her late one night from Baltimore: "I can't fall to sleep, and just keep thinking about that bus trip we took in India. The one from Dharmasala to Pushkar. Remember that?"

So, even though we are now back at home, and occasionally find ourselves on opposite sides of the country from each other. It seems a part of us is still out there traveling together.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Strange and Abbreviated

Well, life is finally returning to normal. That is, if you consider this normal:

For roughly the last week, Sarah and I have been moving into our new, tiny studio apartment. Unfortunately, Sarah's also gone back to work, which means that I've been taking care of the majority of the moving and unpacking during the day while she's working. And, you know what we've discovered?

I'm really bad at unpacking things.

Most evenings, Sarah has returned home to find me sort of walking in circles with a glazed over look on my face, muttering strange mantras, like "boxes boxes boxes boxes" to myself.

Luckily, we've got the computer up and running now (complete with brand-spankin' new flatscreen monitor and wireless keyboard and mouse), so when the organizing gets to be too much for me, I can retreat into the interweb.

And, thanks to our friend Shahaf, I am able to pass the time reading about my favorite thing: Sarah and I travelling.

Shahaf has managed to power through and read every single one of our entries here, and has produced a Cliff's Notes version of our trip. Just the fact that he read the whole thing is impressive since, as he notes:

This blog is long. It’s 136 detailed entries. If you were to, say, copy and paste it into Microsoft Word, you’d find that it has 138,985 words and spans 305 pages; and that doesn’t even include the pictures.

But, the fact that he created, a sort of "greatest hits" of our blog is something that both Sarah and I are greatful of... and amused by. So, if you don't want to read all of Strange and Benevolent; now you can at least read the Cliff's Notes and pretend like you did. Enjoy!

Shahaf's Cliff's Note Version of Strange and Benevolent.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Travel by Numbers

or, Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

You know what is really annoying? When you meet a traveller, and all he can do is brag about how many countries he visited on his last trip*, or how long his last trip was** or how many continents he's been to.***

So, instead of bragging about those usual things, I thought I'd share the number and variety of vehicles we travelled on over the last seven months. While we were travelling, I kept a running list. And here it is!

Number of Times Sarah and I Rode of Different Vehicles
In descending order. (Not counting taxis)

Day Bus: 23
Public & Local Bus: 22
Tuk Tuk/Auto-Rickshaw: 20
Commercial plane: 19
Tram/Subway/Light Rail: 15
Tour Bus: 13
Night Bus: 11
Train: 10
Ferry: 9
Airport Shuttle: 8
Gondola & Funicular: 7
Motor Boat: 5
Moped: 5
Row Boat: 5
Motatu: 4
Cyclo: 4
Hitchhiking: 3
Safari Jeep: 2
Falucca: 2
Tour Boat: 2
Kayak: 2
Rikki: 2
Small plane: 1
Aqua Taxi: 1
Camel: 1
Elephant: 1
Ostrich: 1 (Tyler only)

# of Days Driving the Spaceship: 20
# of Days Driving a Rental Car: 20
# of Days Riding on the back of a motorcycle in Vietnam: 5
# of Days on a Turkish Yacht: 4
# of Days Riding in a 4x4 truck listening to Chicha Disco Boliviano: 3
# of Days Riding in a 4x4 truck driven by teenage boys across the Himalayas: 2

As you can see, it was a long crazy haul. Honestly, I thought we would have ridden on more trains, but -sadly- their day seems to have passed in most parts of the world. Most forms of transportation were a treat... but I'll be happy if I never have to ride another bus again.

* 17 countries.
** 210 days.
*** 6 continents... I'm lookin' at you Antarctica!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Time to Come Home

A couple signs that you're ready to come home from travelling:

You'd rather skip a meal than find yet another restaurant to eat in except for your husbands (valid) complaints about wasting away.

You land in Munich and want more than almost anything to spend your last day in bed watching bad movies in English.

You fly through Madrid and are relieved rather than sad that you don't have a chance to check it out before moving on.

So in almost every way I was ready for home. But I was still really sad to see it all come to an end. When we left to start this adventure, I expected to have some mixed emotions upon departing, a little sadness or anxiety to go along with the excitement. But as soon as we got to the airport, I was only excited. Coming home has been a different story, with relief coupled with more ambivalence and sadness than I anticipated.

Because we spent the last two weeks working our way through Eastern to ever more Western Europe, I haven't experienced the strong feelings of culture shock that I would have expected after India or Southeast Asia or Africa. Rather, I've felt more in limbo land than anything, coming home to see off my brother-in-law and his wife for their move to LA and living with my in-laws while we wait to find a place to live.

A dear friend of mine travelled around South America for five months. When I met her, she didn't say much about it. Then once she mentioned she had slides from the trip. It was maybe a year later that we got the show. Now that we've done this trip, I better understand how it's something that in many ways is hard to share effectively. And we're still processing a lot of it and how we've changed because of it. My best answer when asked "So how was it?" is "Really great." True, but not very revealing, I suppose. I can rattle a few favorite countries (always in the plural and then with the caveat that we loved them all), and I know that many of the best experiences everywhere were times we really got to interact with people who lived there and opened up their lives to us, like staying with the Maasai family and taking the motorcycle tour in Vietnam. But I still have a lot of moments when even I'm in awe of all our experiences when something comes up, like when I could't see a doctor in Pushkar because someone had been gored by a bull in the market that morning. Or seeing a lion eating a zebra only 8 feet away.

As you can probably tell from this scattershot entry, my thoughts are a bit scattered on the matter. But it's good to be back, and we'll continue to share more about being home.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Beer Hall Push

As you might be guessing, Sarah and I have made it back to the States safe and sound. Since then, we've been busy getting caught up with friends and family, and generally just getting used to "normal life" again (in my case, "normal" loosely means "being a 31 year old, unemployeed, married male, living at his parents house").

But, since my internal clock is still way off from local time, everyone else is asleep right now, while I am wide awake. So, I thought I'd take this opportunity to get the blog caught up on our last day or so of travel.

After our last entry, Sarah and I grabbed our bags and hopped onto a night train to Munich. Because we were getting tight on funds, we opted to just do standard seats, as opposed to a sleeper cabin. But, the ride still went surprisingly smoothly, since the train carriage was less than half full and we were able to spread out a bit and at least pretend to sleep.

Still, when we arrived in Munich about 11 hours later, we were beat tired. Luckily, Sarah had reserved us a room at a nearby hostel. Unfortunately, we couldn't check in until 2pm. So, to pass the time, we dropped off our bags in their luggage storage, had some breakfast and signed up for the free walking tour they held each day at 11pm.

Our walking tour guide, Ozzie, ended up being one of the best tour guides we'd encountered over the last seven months. As he described himself, he was "the lone choclate chip in this sea of cream." While most of his family was black, his grandfather had been German ("Imagine being an interracial couple in 1920's German. That had to be a good time."), and so while he had grown up in Canada, he now resided in Munich.

But, the true thing that set him apart from other tour guides we'd had was that, as he led us through town, he not only pointed out historical and culturally important sights, but actually managed to weave everything together into a narrative that covered the last 100 years or so of German history. And, specifically, used the Beer Hall Putsch to tie the history of the city together and explain Munich's roll in the Nazi party's rise to power.

These two towers were some of the very few things to survive the war. The Frauenkirche is the largest church in Munich.

The entire tour was fascinating and affecting for several reasons. After the war, very little of Munich remained standing. So, when they rebuilt the city, they deliberately tried to recreate how it looked before hand. But, in doing so, they not only effectively white-washed over the effects of the war, but also removed much of the signs of the cities roll in the creation of the Nazi Party. There are monuments to the war scattered throughout the city, but most of small and hidden under the visitors feet.

The Opera House. When the original opera house was burning down, the firefighters tried to get beer from the neighboring beer hall to use to put out the fire. The people in the beerhall refused. So, the new opera house was built using money raised from taxing beer.

With the tour over, Sarah and I made our way to the city park to check out one of the few things not ocvered in the tour: The surfing wave. At the edge of the park is a section of river where the current forms a perpetual wave that surfs visit from miles around to try. Needless to say that it was surreal to watch a surfer ride the wave, surrounded by the park and all of Munich.

A surfer rides the wave.

Next, we climbed the 300+ steps of a church tower to get a wonderful panorama of the city around us.

The final city of our trip... Munich!

Us in Munich!

After that, we turned our attention to what is possibly Munich's most important feature: Beer. Bravaria (the region in which Munich sits) is one of the world's leading beer producers, and the average Bavarian drinks 1.5 liters of beer a day. So, if Sarah and I had any chance of keeping up with the locals, it was time to hit the beer halls.

A normal sized beer in Munich: 0.5 liters.

First we checked out a smaller beer garden, that our guide had recommended. It had no particular significance, but he maintained it was his favorite, so it seemed like a good place to start. After a couple of glasses each, and some large pretzels, we happily made our way back to our room to check in.

A small beer at our hostel: 0.2 liters.

After checking into our room, and grabbing another small beer at our hostel, Sarah, myself and an Australian traveller who shared our hostel dorm room head out to get dinner and hit another beer hall: The Hofbraeuhaus - which, at three stories tall, is the largest beerhall in Munich.

Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the beer hall was already packed with drunken Germans, so the only table we could find was in the far corner of the beer hall. But soon things were made better when we had our liter sized mugs of beer and large meat-based meals in front of us.

A large beer at the Hofbraeuhaus: 1 liter!

Pork knuckle! A standard meal at the Hofbreauhaus.


Sadly, while the beer and food proved to be great, and the ambiance was perfect, the company started to grow a little tiring. While Sarah and I were hoping to celebrate our last night on the trip, our Aussie companion seemed more interested in talking about the legal policies of Switzerland. So, it wasn't long before we decided to call it a night. Which was probably for the best, since we had to catch our flight at 8am... which meant we were getting up 4:30.

So, climbing into bed at about 11pm, Sarah and I hopped to get at least a decent nights rest. Unfortuantely, life had different plans, since around midnight, two more girls rather loudly checked into our hostel dorm. But, instead of going to sleep themselves, they went back out to hit the town. So, at 3am, they were back in the room, stumbling around and talking loudly. As I lay there, two thoughts kept going through my mind:

1) Why can't they just turn off the lights and go to sleep!
2) They are going to hate life when Sarha and I get up in an hour and a half and start packing our bags to go.

Clearly, seven months on the road has made me a more compassionate person.

Anyhow, about two hours later, we were on the tram to the airport. And, two hours after that, we were boarding our first of three flights homeward. And, twenty two hours later, we were back at SeaTac airport, hugging my parents and gathering our overwiehgt backpacks from baggage claim. Safe. Sound. And state-side.

Us, back at my parents, later that evening. Tired, but happy to be home!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bug bites and baths

The previous day, as we walked around Margaret Island, I noticed that Sarah had a couple of red bug-bite like welts on her forehead. I asked about them, and she pointed out that she had a few more on her arms. Later that evening, we looked at them some more, and decided that she was probably having an allergic reaction to something. Maybe the detergent that had been used to clean her clothes last time had caused the reaction.

Then, surprisingly, the next morning she had a few more bites. To make matters worse, I had a couple on my back, and a dusting of them on my arm. If they were an allergic reaction it would be odd for both of us to have it. So, of course I start to pretend I'm a Doctor. My diagnosis: Bed bugs.

Bed bugs are one of the Boogey-Men (or, rather, Boogey-Bugs) of the budget traveller's world. Supposedly common in dirt-bag hotels, they are the type of thing that is easy to catch and difficult to get rid of. Our theory was that we'd got them from the hostel we'd spent the first night, and carried them with us to the new one.

Dutifully, the girls who worked at our new hostel stripped our bed of linen. And then washed all of our laundry for us. In the meantime, Sarah and I made the rounds to the pharmacy to pick up anti-itch cream, and then hit the internet cafe to do "research" on beg bugs (see link above for the extent of our research). Then, returning to our room, we went through our bags from top to bottoms looking for "bug signs."

In the end, it probably wasn't bed bugs. Fleas from Darko? Maybe. Rogue mosquitoes? Possibly. Anyhow, two days later, we've had no additional bites; and the ones we did have are now all but faded away.

Still, between that and acquiring train tickets, that day was pretty much written off. We did manage to have a nice dinner in a tiny restaurant lined street, but beyond that the day was sadly a loss.

This brings up a quick annecdote about Budapest:

As we left the Internet cafe that day, we pulled out a little pocket map to try to get our bearing really quick. As we did, an old lady spotted us and came across the street. "Hungarian? German?" She asked, wondering if we knew either language.

"Klein Deutsch. Sehr klein." I responded, trying to recall my High School German.

She seemed to be lost, and wanted to look at our map. We showed it to her, and in broken German, I started pointing out streets to her. She, in turn, pointed at streets and named them off, nearly repeating what I had said.

Then, she asked about our hostel. I presumed that maybe she was looking for a place to stay, so I said what our hostel was, but explained it was very cheap and for backpackers.

She then repeated the directions on how to get to our hostel. And, also in broken German, began taking about what a big and confusing city Budapest is. I agreed. Trying to be helpful, Sarah ducked back into the internet cafe and grabbed another copy of the free pocket street map we had. She handed it to the woman, who seemed confused and tried to give it to us.

Eventually, she shrugged, took the map. Wishing us a good day, she turned and made her way back down the street. Only then did I realize: She wasn't asking us for directions... she thought we were lost, and was trying to give us directions.

And, that is Budapest in nutshell.

Anyhow, the following morning, we didn't have any additional bug bites, so we decided to "turn this town around." So, packing our day pack with towels and bathing suits, we made our way to one of Budapests many famous public baths.

As Sarah observed: "Its a good thing that the Ottoman's invaded Hungary, and not- say- the British. Or else there wouldn't be all these wonderful baths." The city of Budapest sits on top of hundreds of natural thermal springs. And, many of them have been turned into giant public bathhouses, with purportedly medicinal and theraputic value.

So, we made our way up the famous Andrassy Street to where the Szechenyi Baths are located in Varosliget Park. On the way, we were able to stop and check out several notable sights in the area, such as Heroes Square and the Statue of Anonymous.

Some of the incredible, but run-down buildings that line Andrassy street.

Some of the statues that are part of the giant Heroes Square Monument.

The statue of Anonymous. It was actually hard to get a photo of him because other people kept climbing onto his lap to get their picture taken.

The baths themselves are located in a massive Neo-Baroque complex. They are built on top of the deepest and hottest hot springs, and are probably the most famous baths in Budapest.

Paying our entry fee, we made our way into the locker room, where we were given a small closet to change into our bathing suits. After that, we were set free to explore the wide range of pools and saunas the baths offered. Each pool was at a different tempurature, including several large outdoor pools which also included fountains, swuirling jets and other features.

Not unlike our visits to Banya 5 in Seattle, Sarah and I quickly settled into a routine: Sit in a steam room and sweat, plunge breifly into a cold water pool, relax for a while in a hot pool, and repeat. Leaving the baths about to hours later, we felt like neithe rof us had a mucle left in our bodies.

Outside, we bought large cheese pretzels and some water, which we enjoyed on a park bench. The day was summer and bright with a brisk, yet playful, breeze; and we were both feeling much better than we had the previous day.

Stopping to drop off our wet suits at our apartment, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at a pub, and then made our way to the National Museum. They were having an exhibit on the Mongol invasion of Hungary, and we thought it would be a good way to get our heads around some of the countries history.

After learning about the Mongol invasions (which involved a lot of lines like "their swords would not thirst for blood that night"), we made a quick tour of another section featuring artifacts from the last hundred years of Hungarian history. Unfortunately, we only had a short time left before the Museum closed, so we rushed through it, viewed the Coronation Mantle and made our exit.

Since that would be the end of our last full day in Budapest, we decided to end the day on a good note, and enjoy a fancy meal. Oddly, on the day we'd arrive, the man working at our hostel had recommended the restaurant to us. But, when we'd peaked through the windows that first day, we realized that he must have missed our request that restaurant be "cheap." But, on our final night in Budapest, we figured we could treat ourselves.

Sadly, while the ambiance was nice, the food wasn't the best we'd had. Still, it made for an enjoyable evening, and after dinner we stopped by a pub for a beer and glass of Unicum (the national liqour).

This morning, we got up, packed and checked out of our hostel. Our train will depart at 8:30pm, so we had the day to do some last sightseeing. Catching the metro up to Castle Hill, we went inside St. Mattias Cathedral. The outsides are currently being renovated, so they're not much to look at, but the interior is filled with deep red and green Art Nouveau painting.

The outside of the church was covered in scaffolding, but the inside was still impressive.

After that, we wandered down the quaint and quiet Lord's Street, before ducking into the Labyrinth. In addition to providing the wonderful thermal baths, the underwater springs have carved a network of tunnels beneath Budapest. These tunnels have been used at various times for everything from bunkers to cellars. Sarah and I paid our admission and wandered around the networks of tunnels which make up the Labyrinth.

Many of the tunnels have been turned into various artistic interpretive pieces. And, whicl some (like the Test Your Courage Tunnel) are effective, others (featuring reproductions of cave painting from other parts of Europe, for example) are just distracting.

After reemerging into the daylight, we made our way down off Castle Hill, and across the Danube. We stopped breifly at Budapest's largest synagogue (the second largest in the world), and took a look at the Holocaust Memorial. During WWII, 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust. The memorial is a large metal weeping willow tree. Each of its leaves is engraved with the name of someone who lost their life in the Holocaust. As we made our way back to the street, Sarah and I agreed it was surprisingly moving and affecting.

The Holocaust Memorial outside the synagogue.

After that, we made our way to the Internet cafe... which brings us to here and now. This will probably be our last entry on Strange and Benevolent before we return to the States. Tonight, we board a train to Munich, where we will spend one day before flying home. It's been a long and amazing ride (not to mention and strange and benevolent one), and we can hardly beleive that it is already almost over.

But, that said, this definitely isn't our last entry here. Hopefully, after we get back, we'll bring everyone up to speed on how our last day went, as well as our trip home. In addition, we both want to do some post-trip entries covering everything from how it feels to be home again, what we have (or haven't) learned and even talking about our packing choices and how we'd do things different if we did them again.

Thanks everyone for your support over the last seven months, and we look forward to seeing and talking to many of you when we get home! Seattle, here we come!

Margaret Island, Markets and More

After putting our hostel hunt to bed and spending a good evening tasting Hungarian wines, Tyler and I dropped off our bags and prepared for a day of Budapest sightseeing. We decided to tackle a few of the must-dos on our sightseeing list: Margaret Island, the Central Market Hall, and try out one of the baths in town. So we dropped off our bags at our new hostel and hopped on a street tram to get to the island.

Now, this is a little of an aside, but one thing that sometimes frustrates me when travelling is experiencing good mass transit options...because we don't have it at home. In Budapest, you've got three metro lines running out from the city center, tram lines that run in circles around the city, buses, trains, and fast trains for people getting out to suburbs. I can't help but think that if it can be done here, there's no good reason for Seattle to keep dragging it's feet. And Seattle just can't be a great city with traffic congestion and lacking multiple options for moving people around.

But after ranting about that mid-ride, Tyler and I stepped off the tram and made our way onto the island. Margaret Island lies in the center of the Danube, a bit north of the central part of the city, and was long a secluded bastion for monks, nuns and churches. It is named after Saint Margit, a daughter of King Bela IV who vowed to give his daughter to the Lord if he could hold off the Mongol invaders. He did hold them off, built a convent for his daughter who then took to the life and became a saint. Today, it is a green and tranquil place near the city, filled with gardens, some ruins, and pools. It also feels a bit like a Budapest version of Greenlake, as it's edges are a nice track, filled with runners and speed walkers getting a workout near the city.

Margaret Island in bloom

Budapest's Space Needle...or Water Tower

Mid-island, we came across the Water Tower, about the same vintage as the World's Fair in Seattle and bearing a bit of a resemblance to Seattle's main monument. Then we continued north to a very nice Japanese garden, complete with ponds with koi, turtles, and lovely statues.

Tyler in the Japanese Garden

Statue in the Japanese Garden

Getting hungry, we decided to leave the island and head to the mainland to get some food. After passing by a fountain that was now making coordinated movements with classical music, we climbed back on the tram (which conveninently seem to run about every two minutes) and went to Budapest's Central Market Hall. I was already intrigued having read about it in Eddybles, and I was anxious to stumble upon some inexpensive and delicious market food. So we found a huge warehouse into which at least two Pike Place Markets could live and wound our way around, my enjoyment tempered by the rumbling in my stomach. Finally, Tyler looked up and saw the food stalls were above us and calling my name with sausages, beer, and langos, a Hungarian fried bread traditionally served with sour cream and grated cheese (yes, very healthy). After chowing down, we went back to better appreciate the available goods. While we've been to many markets around the world, I'd have to say that this is the one to go to for meat. There were a plethora of stalls devoted solely to meat--sausages, goose, pork, beef, you name it. After a dessert of some warm strudel, we left the warm stalls of the market for the cold and windy streets.

Budapest's Central Market Hall

By now, it was cold, threatening rain and our feet were a bit weary, so we decided to go check into our new place for the night. And what a relief it was. While it cost more than we really wanted (or needed) to spend, we were happy to find we had our own little Hungarian flat for a few days. One nice thing about hostels in Budapest is that they mostly seem to be set within regular apartment or business buildings, with huge stone facades and central courtyards. Seeing a full size bathroom with a tub of our very own and a kitchen and a large living/bed room, we were pleased to spend a few days in relative luxury before heading home. So we decided to hold off on the baths one more day to have more time to appreciate them, enjoyed our little living space and then had a nice dinner at a cute little cafe just 15 minutes walk away.

Although we'd had a rocky start in Budapest, this was a pretty pleasant little day.

House of Hungarian Wine

We've been out of wine country for a little while. While there were wines in Turkey, we didn't explore them in the ways that we had in other parts of the world. So we came ready to experience the wines of Hungary, but with little prior knowledge to go on.

But the Hungarians were ready to help us out. For about $40, Tyler and I visited the House of Hungarian Wines, an establishment with the mission to represent wines from all 22 wine regions in the country and create greater awareness of Hungary's long wine history. For the entry fee, you get a map of how to progress through the cellar, a small souvenir wine glass, a packet of crackers, and a chance to try any of the open wines available.

One of the aisles in the House of Wine

Each region had a poster with a brief description of the region and varietals grown there and a sampling of wine, sometimes just one but up to four or five bottles. Needless to say, we tried a lot of wine, and my notes get less helpful as our tastings went on (though I did start with good intent, tasting only a small amount and moving on). We had a range of whites, reds, a few roses, and some dessert wines, though unfortunatley no sparkling was out for tasting. Mostly I tried to have tastes of varietals I'd never heard of before--and there were plenty of those. Here are a few highlights and observations:

We had a few tastes of a white varietal called Furmint. At first I thought I was being influenced by the name, but a few other tastes made me keep my first opinion--furmint tasted a bit minty/menthol. With an initial earthy nose and minerally taste, it was unusual but good. I'm not sure what I'd pair it with, but I'd be curious to try more.

Probably my new favorite Hungarian varietal, Kekfrankos is a red grape maybe a little like some pinot noirs, a lighter red with cherry flavors, velvetty, a little earthy or minerally, generally easy to drink. Another varietal I'll keep an eye out for was Kadarka. We only had one, but it was good enough that I put one of my little asterisks by it to remember I liked it, with some scrambled notes about earthy nose, a little spice, well-balanced and velvety.

The Hungarian wineries also made some really delicious Cabernet Francs, a grape that can be a little much on its own in the states and is usually used in red blends. But we tried two slightly expensive ones (that might be part of it) that had the usual mineral/stone flavor but in a drinkable way.

Enjoying Hungarian wines

Hungary is especially famed for wines from the Tokaji region, and we sampled a few of those as well. Early on, we had a Tokaji Harslevelu 2004 that was almost like a sparkling, with some light effervescence tasting a little like strawberry but with some buttery notes as well. Towards the end, when we were in the final groupings, we had a 2004 Furmint Tokaj. Not minty like the other Furmints we had tried, it did have some mineral tastes, a little herbiness/straw flavors, but not too thick or sweet. We followed that with a dry Tokaji, which was more like a dry sherry. It had a sweet and smoky nose but a very savory taste. Finally, we got to try a 2000 Aszu, the most famous of the Tokajis. Aszus are a sweet dessert wine made from wines that have rotted with a noble rot (botrytis) before being harvested. It had a good honey type flavor, not too thick or cloying, having some good acidity from making it be too much.

Overall, we had a few good finds and a good time finding them. Hopefully we'll be able to find some Hungarian wines when we return home as we just can't squeeze one more thing into our bags at this point!