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RTW Trip Summary

Length: 348 days

Continents: Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa (if you count Egypt)

Number of countries: 25 (28 with Vatican City, Monaco, and San Marino)

Favorite country: Italy

Favorite mode of transport: a scooter in Vietnam and Indonesia

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Favorite food:

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Italy

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Thailand

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India

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France

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Indonesia

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Japan (dishes above from my cooking class)

Best drinks: coffee in Italy and Vietnam, cardamom/masala chai in India, beer in Czech, wine in Australia

Best hike: 12 days on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

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Thorong La Pass at 17,769 feet

Worst hike: Mt. Ngauruhoe in New Zealand, aka Mt. Doom from the Lord of the Rings movies

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Really steep, and we stupidly started going up the scree (1 step forward, 2 steps back) instead of along the ridge. Plus we lost each other at the end.

Favorite animal encounters:

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Australia – You won’t find animals like kangaroos, duck-billed platypuses, and echidnas anywhere else in the world. Scott’s favorite Australian animal is the wombat on the left (or else his koala neighbor); mine is the Tasmanian devil on the right.

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Riding camels in India

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Hanging out with penguins in New Zealand

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Caring for elephants in Thailand

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Monkeys galore in Nepal, India, and Indonesia

Most impressive structures:

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Taj Mahal

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Temples in Bagan

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The Parthenon in Athens

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Pyramids of Giza

Favorite museum: Te Papa Tongarewa in New Zealand

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I think the British Museum could have beaten Te Papa if we had had longer to spend there, and the Louvre was a close runner-up.

Prettiest cities:

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Kyoto

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Venice

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Ghent

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Paris

Number of times robbed: 0

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…unless you count the cookie monster in India

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We enjoyed visiting the Ubud Monkey Forest, a sacred Balinese site where hundreds of crab-eating macaques live.  Now, Ubud is a rather touristy town in Bali (where, by the way, Elizabeth Gilbert spent the Indonesia part of her trip in Eat, Pray, Love), so a lot of tourists visit this forest and the Balinese temple inside.  The macaques have become accustomed to tourists carrying food, whether bringing it in unwittingly or buying bananas from vendors to feed to them, so the monkeys looking for food can get pretty aggressive with people.  We also saw people shoving cameras in monkeys’ faces taking flash pictures and encouraging monkeys to climb onto their heads by holding bananas up in the air (other people got scared and just threw their bananas onto the ground).  One woman tried to pose her two year-old daughter by a monkey, who burst out crying when the monkey made a swipe towards her.  Despite all of that, it was still cool to see them up close and watch how they interacted with each other. There were tons of mothers with their babies:

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And I loved the mustachioed look on both the males and females:

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A lot of them hung around the temple grounds, clambering up on intricate sculptures and steps that visitors weren’t allowed to go on.

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This little guy explained something to another monkey while he casually sat on the sign that clearly stated, “please do not step up on these area.”

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So yes, the monkey forest is overflowing with tourists and tourist-trained monkeys, but they were still amazing to watch in this beautiful setting.

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I’ve fallen behind on updates because we were busy sightseeing and spending time with family in Korea, but I’ll try to catch up now that we’re in Indonesia.  To start, I’ll tell you about visiting the Bau House Dog Café in Seoul with my cousin and his family a couple of days ago.

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The café had 20+ dogs – permanent and temporary boarders – plus the doggie visitors who came with their owners.  It felt a little gimmicky at times, and I suspect some of them may have been overfed dog treats, but it was still fun to hang out and drink shakes with a bunch of dogs.  And the cleanliness factor wasn’t too bad – they had a ton of workers around with cleaning supplies to get rid of any accidents at a moment’s notice.

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They also had a list of the dog’s names and ages – this big hairy guy was 14 years old!

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On the car ride over, my 9 year-old cousin’s daughter proclaimed that dogs were her favorite animal.  Of course, as soon as she saw all the dogs in the café, she kind of freaked out, and it took a lot of coaxing to get her to come inside.  Then she would set her eyes on a particularly cute dog and say that she wanted to pet it, but as soon as it came near her, she would back away and jump up on a chair.  Eventually she got used to the first section of the café, where mostly the little dogs hung out, and even pet a few of them.

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It took a half hour to convince her to enter the second area of the café where most of the big dogs were, and then only if her dad would carry her in.  You can see in the picture that when they came in they were immediately attacked by a ferocious beast.  I think (hope?) that she eventually had fun.

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Of course, if you know Scott at all, you know that he had a blast.  I often caught him petting multiple dogs at the same time.

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Don’t they look like good buddies?

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It was neat to see dogs of all shapes and sizes interact with each other, too.  This little white dog with the pink tail was a social butterfly who roamed around constantly, greeting everyone – dog or human – with enthusiasm.

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So if you like dogs and don’t mind forking over the money for the required overpriced drink, it’s a fun place to hang out and certainly not something you see every day (unless you happen to live by a dog café).

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Up Close with Elephants

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There are a lot of elephant camps around Chiang Mai where you can ride elephants or watch them perform tricks like playing a xylophone or painting with their trunks (making some surprisingly good paintings, judging by the examples and YouTube videos we found online), but the process of domesticating elephants and training them to do these kinds of tricks can be brutal, so we preferred to visit the Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for over 30 previously abused and neglected working elephants.  No elephant rides or tricks here, but we were able to help feed and bathe them and watch them wander around freely inside the sanctuary.  Some of these elephants had terrible stories of being blinded or crippled by their previous owners, so it was heartwarming to see them being treated much better here.

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It was fun to feed them bananas, pineapples, squash, and watermelon and see how versatile and strong their trunks were.  Some of them clearly preferred some fruits to others and would drop all the pineapple pieces onto the ground, but go crazy for the bananas.

 

 

 

 

In the afternoon, Scott helped bathe them to keep them cool.

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We also had opportunities to touch the elephants, and I was surprised by how their skin had these long, bristly black hairs that made their skin feel rougher than I expected.

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In addition to elephants, the park also rescued hundreds of dogs when Bangkok flooded last year, so there were lots of friendly dogs roaming about the park as well.  The Elephant Nature Park does great work protecting elephants and other animals (one worker had just brought in an abused pig while we were there), and is a nonprofit organization that has won all sorts of awards and recognition from the media (there was even a picture of Hillary Clinton visiting!).  But at the end of the day, we had some mixed feelings about visiting.  First of all, it was rather crowded – there were about 60 people visiting for the day all wanting personal interaction with the elephants, plus a lot of other people there visiting for longer and volunteering.  Some of the people in our group were a bit pushy about stuff like feeding the elephants.  Secondly, it was rather pricy by U.S. standards and crazy expensive by Thai standards at a little over $80 per person (it included the hour and a half bus ride to get there and lunch, but still) and we felt a little like clogs in a well-oiled tourist machine with its beautiful facilities and giant office on a street corner at the heart of downtown Chiang Mai and the heart-wrenching documentaries we were shown.  They even make the “volunteers” who help out for a week pay almost $400 for the privilege of doing so.  I also wonder about the wisdom of having a couple of baby elephants born in their sanctuary in the last couple of years (Shouldn’t they be sterilising the elephants when there already isn’t enough protected forest area in Thailand for the current elephant population? But perhaps baby elephants = more tourists = more money to protect them?).  Ultimately, though, we were glad to support a good cause (the elephant population in Thailand is rapidly declining), and it was still really cool to get so close to elephants.  Enjoy the video below!

 

Scott gets kissed by an elephant

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Postman’s Cottage on Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island (a small island off the southern coast of Australia) was where we discovered the coolest place we have ever stayed in: Postman’s Cottage.  The postman used to stay there every 2 weeks when he came to the western side of the island to deliver mail.  It then became part of Flinders Chase National Park and is now rented out to visitors.  It may not look like much from the outside (ok, I guess the inside doesn’t look that exciting either), but there

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were all sorts of details that made it cozy and romantic and wonderful.  Built in the early 1900s, it had lots of fun old-fashioned things like a wood stove for heating and candles and funky old power switches, but also all the modern amenities you could want with a regular stove, lightbulbs, comfortable bed, oven, fridge, giant bathroom next door, etc.  I suppose we could have used the lights more, but instead we played Boggle by candlelight while drinking glasses of wine, soaking in the warmth of the fire, and listening to the Cape Barren geese go crazy outside our door.  It was also really neat to stay right in the heart of a national park with kangaroos and wallabies and other wildlife at our doorstep. 

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                                Nina with a wallaby

Too bad it was only on our last morning that we discovered that one of the neighboring trees had a koala sleeping in it!  Amazingly the cottage was only $60 a night (crazy cheap by Australian standards), but I have a feeling that it’s going to go way up next year because they had just put in a shower before we came.  But how many places can you stay in with a koala neighbor?

 

The rest of the island was also just teeming with incredible wildlife. While exploring a grove of eucalyptus trees packed with dozens of koalas, I heard loud grunting that sounded just like a pig, but when I turned towards it, there was a large male koala on the ground running around and acting grumpy. He went up to bother a wallaby, who quickly scooted away, and then started climbing up another tree with two koalas. The female koala had been happily eating eucalyptus leaves at the top before this, but stopped and made not-so-happy sounds at him. He ignored this and continued up the tree, but then the other koala in the tree (I assume a male and her mate?) woke up and started yelling at him, so the intruder quickly slid down the tree, hopped back onto the ground, ran to another tree, and then started braying loudly again. This finally attracted Scott’s attention (he had been off watching a sleeping koala while all of the above was happening), and since he had the camera, the video below just captures the end of the action, which is when the grumpy koala climbed up another empty tree before taking a nap (koalas sleep a bajillion hours a day to conserve energy since the eucalyptus leaves they eat don’t have much nutritional value).

Afterwards, we saw an itchy echidna poking around looking for ants and termites to eat.

Echidnas are one of only two monotremes (mammals who lay eggs) alive today. Ten days after laying an egg into her pouch, the egg hatches and out comes a puggle (not to be confused with a cross between a pug and a beagle) who gets milk from his mother’s pores (since she doesn’t have nipples) while he develops in her pouch. Crazy! The other monotreme still alive today also happens to live on Kangaroo Island, but alas, the duck-billed platypus is very shy and we didn’t see one there despite multiple trips to the waterholes they’re known to frequent. At least we got to see a couple of them later at the Warrawong Sanctuary in Adelaide.

Oh, and Kangaroo Island had some other neat features, too.  Enormously powerful waves created giant expanses of white foam and pounded the rocky shoreline (there were so many shipwrecks they installed 3 different lighthouses on the island), carving features like the Remarkable Rocks.

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The seals didn’t seem to care about the waves much (other than fighting with each other to get prime waterfront property to sleep on).

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Anyway, we had a great time driving around in our Toyota Land Cruiser (free upgrade because it was the last car they had left), going on some short, pretty hikes, looking at funky rocks, seeing the amazing wildlife, and tasting the honey (apparently it’s the only place left in the world with pure Ligurian bees)…I don’t know that it tasted any different from regular honey, though.

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Favorite Moments in Kerala

So far I’ve talked about our time in northern India, but on our second visit we headed south to Kerala, a lush region that hugs the southwestern coast of India.  The temperature rose, the pace slowed, and fresh coconuts held sway over dairy.  Here are some of our favorite memories:

 

Riding a Boat in Alleppey

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Our first day in Kerala was spent in Alleppey, famous for its luxurious overnight houseboat tours on the backwaters.  We opted instead for the 3-hour version on a small boat that lazily wound through narrow canals along small villages and bright green rice paddies, still very lovely.  I took a little nap on that reclining chair.

 

Drinking Tea in Munnar

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It was a long and bumpy bus ride to get to Munnar, but it was totally worth it.  We thought it the most beautiful place we saw in Kerala, set in the hills and surrounded by miles of verdant tea and spice plantations.  Even the most unassuming roadside shacks there served delicious fresh-brewed tea.  Every day we walked by giant fields of tea and cardamom and downed multiple cups of the stuff: masala tea, ginger tea, cardamom tea (Scott’s favorite), chocolate tea, lime tea. 

 

Watching Fireworks in Ernakulam

 

We caught the tail end of Ernakulathappan Utsavam, a 9-day festival in Ernakulam whose full significance I never really caught, but I still enjoyed following the parade of colorfully decorated elephants and watching the fireworks and elaborate musical performances.

 

Discovering Puthuvype Beach

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We had originally planned on going to Cherai Beach as a day trip from Fort Cochin, but when it turned out to be farther away than we liked, we ended up wandering over to Puthuvype Beach after a four-cent (no, that was not a typo)ferry ride to Vypin Island.  We didn’t see a single other tourist while we were on the island, and we almost had the gorgeous beach to ourselves with just a handful of people scattered across the rest of the beach.  We lingered until sunset.

 

Eating Delicious South Indian Food

We ate lots of fresh seafood and delicious South Indian food, but my favorite was the masala dosa, a thin rice and lentil-based crepe stuffed with spiced potatoes and served with sambar (a vegetable stew) and coconut chutney.

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Scott enjoyed eating thali, which is a set meal that comes with lots of different kinds of items (curries, rice, bread like chapati or roti, yogurt, pickles, salad, and a sweet) that vary based on region and often comes with free refills.

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Overall, we had a very relaxing, pleasant time in Kerala.  However, the real highlight of our trip to India would be our next leg visiting our Indian relatives in Ahmedabad.

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A Cookie Monster in the Blue City

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view of Jodhpur from Mehrangarh Fort

Bear with me as I skip around a bit.  Let’s leave Paris and return to the first time we were in India.  I’ve now talked about the Pink City and the Golden City, so it only seems natural to talk about our time in Jodhpur, the Blue City (in the picture above, you can see many of the buildings in the old town painted brightly blue).  A lot of people love visiting this city, but I have to admit we didn’t have the best time there.  It didn’t help that by the time we reached Jodhpur we were both recovering from travel-related gastrointestinal issues and exhausted from traveling to different cities at a breakneck pace.  The hostel we booked for the first night was cramped and noisy, despite being highly rated on several hotel review sites.  However, things seemed to improve when we moved to a new, cleaner guesthouse in the more modern part of town.

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The owner’s two dogs, the perky black dachshund named Chili and the elderly (14 or 15 years, I think?) blind and deaf Whiskey, welcomed us in.  Ok fine, Whiskey mostly hobbled around ignoring us and looking for a comfortable spot to lie down.  Our room was well-decorated and even large enough that there was a separate seating area.  There were also some nice common areas that were perfect for relaxing and reading in, and the hostel was in a quiet location with little traffic.  We didn’t do much sightseeing other than wandering around the narrow streets of the old town and checking out Mehrangarh Fort (definitely worth seeing, by the way).

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Then one night, I woke up to an odd rustling sound coming from the other side of the room.  Scott was asleep and I couldn’t really see how he would be making the noise, but I decided not to worry about it and fell back asleep.

Of course the next morning we discovered what had been making the noise.  Scott had put a brand new, unopened package of coconut biscuits in the mesh side pocket of his backpack.

Unfortunately, the mesh side pocket had been chewed through…

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and the plastic wrapper of the biscuits had been chewed through…

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with delicate, rounded bites taken out of the edges of several biscuits. 

We looked around and saw a small hole in the wall near where the backpack had been – the home of the creature who had done this?  We guessed that a small mouse wouldn’t have been able to chew through mesh and plastic like that, so maybe a rat?  Do rats like coconut?  Maybe not since he didn’t eat much of the biscuits.

I suppose a normal reaction would have been to move rooms or hostels, but we had had a really hard time finding a hostel that we liked in Jodhpur, so we felt like this was the best we could do.  Besides, after all the rats we’d seen in train stations and mice in the upper-class sections of trains, we figured they were all over the place anyway.  We stayed another night in the same room, but this time, we stuffed some pamphlets in the hole in the wall and hung our snacks off the ground.  When we woke up the next morning, the food was untouched, but the pamphlets had been scattered all over the ground.

We were relieved to be heading to a different city, Jaisalmer, but a few days later we still returned to the same guesthouse (different room at least) for a couple of nights since it broke up the journey between Jaisalmer and Ahmedabad.

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