November 2015 - August 2016
  • Day245

    (200) Days of Summer

    July 31, 2016 in Canada ⋅ ⛅ 68 °F

    Hi guys! This is going to be our final post, and since Nick already wrote something for Facebook that I think captures the essence of what we'd want to say, we're cross-posting it here. It's been a real pleasure interacting with all of you during our travels, and we hope you've found this blog informative, entertaining, and maybe even a little inspiring :)

    After 200 days, 24 countries, 38 flights, 17 long-haul buses, 11 long-haul trains, 9 ferries, one white-knuckle 117-mph cab ride through rural Sweden, 19 hostels, 12 hotels, 9 Airbnbs, 1 barely-hanging-on campervan, over 10,000 pictures, and several lifetimes' worth of new experiences, new cultures, new foods, stunning natural and man-made scenery, and some of the most amazing, fun, intelligent, and kind people we've ever met, Rachel and I are going home. I'm ready, and I'm excited to see all of my most loved family and friends, but I don't know that I'll ever really be able to go home after this. Nothing will ever be the same. And I think I kinda like it that way.

    To everyone whose presence helped make our honeymoon the best thing we'll ever get to do, thank you, thank you so, so much, a thousand times over. I'll always remember each and every one of you :) Know that all of you are always welcome at our home in America. Cheers and here's hoping we'll see you all again soon!
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  • Day244

    Day 199

    July 30, 2016 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☀️ 68 °F

    We come back to the USA tomorrow. TOMORROW. So how did we spend the last day of our trip?

    We had a lovely day in London walking around and seeing the tourist sites with Nick's college friends Mike and Ari, as well as Ari's little brother Diego who was also in town. We saw Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Green Park, St. James Park, the Tate Modern, Tower Bridge, Burrough Market, The Globe Theatre, the Thames, and St. Paul's Cathedral. It was such a fun day! We didn't go into any of the paid activities because prices are steep in London, but we loved just walking around with our friends and going for an adventure. It was so amazing to spend time, even just a day, with people with whom we are close and to be able to make plans to see them again soon in Buffalo. Thank you Mike, Ari, and Diego for showing us a lovely time and sending us off in style!

    We are currently headed back to our hostel to pack and prepare for tomorrow's journey. We each have a range of emotions about the end of this trip, though it's safe to say that Nick has probably come to terms with this more than Rachel has. (Transitions are hard!) We're obviously both excited to see family and friends back home ("excited" doesn't actually do the feeling justice), but there is a melancholy feeling about this phase ending. Travel has become our life, but it was only ever temporary. And maybe that's why we loved it so much and were able to really take advantage of the opportunities for growth while on this journey. We're sad to say goodbye to this life, but we're also joyous to start the next chapter together. This has been a life-changing experience, and it has reaffirmed our commitment to each other. We look forward to sharing more stories from our travels and to making new memories with you.
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  • Day244

    Hostel Life

    July 30, 2016 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☁️ 59 °F

    Have we told you guys about hostel life?

    When traveling on a budget and moving frequently, hostels tend to be the primary type of accomodation that one utilizes. AirBnB is a nice option, but with service and cleaning fees it often is out of our range unless we are staying somewhere for a week (to spread out the financial burden of these fees) or staying with a third person (Hi Amanda when in Japan and David when in Spain!). Here in London, the AirBnBs outside the city center but not too far out are the same price as what we paid for three nights in this hostel (that's two dorm beds, not just per person). So, in London at least, there was really no debate: dorm beds in a hostel were what we would be getting. For £15 per person per night, it's a steal in London. That being said, it is roughly the equivalent of what we paid per night for a private room AirBnB in Sao Paolo and three times what we paid in Nepal for either a dorm bed or a private hostel room. Just to put London costs in perspective.

    Anyway, we've experienced a wide range of hostels, in both private rooms and dorm rooms. Some where we've had en suite bathrooms and toiletries provided. Some where there is only one working toilet among four floors of rooms, and no actual shower heads (just a spigot). Sometimes, everyone at the hostel is eager to make friends and it's extremely easy to talk to anyone (we wouldn't trade all of our new friends for anything - even sleep!). Other times, it's as silent as a mouse in the common room save for the typing of a computer or a movie playing in a corner. You never know quite what you're getting yourself into until you arrive. Even then, once you lay your head down to sleep, there can be a host of other surprises. Pieces of foam that try to pass for mattresses. Lack of air conditioning near the Equator. Strangers snoring. What can only be described as musty smells. Drunken yelling or garbage trucks or [insert other noisy thing here] right outside the window. One ladder to share between four bunk beds (Hiiiiiiii Mendoza).

    On the flipside, these can be great surprises, too. Mattresses that you read online are bad enough to warrant renting a second mattress, only to discover they are the best of the whole trip (Singapore, you do mattresses right). Extremely respectful bunkmates who are up and out in the morning without even stirring their neighbors. White noise of some sort that is subtle but creates a nice sleep setting. Personal reading lamps and outlets at each bed so you can charge your electronics overnight and maximize your adventure time during the day. Light blocking curtains. And these are all just pertaining to sleep, not even mentioning the highs and lows in bathrooms, food, friends, and staff.

    In London, our lovely sleeping surprises have been not so positive. A door that slams every. single. time. it is closed. "Mattresses" covered in noisy plastic that make a racket every time anyone turns over (at least they're probably easy to clean?). Sunrise through the window that faces our pillows. Noisy bunkmates who start talking at 6:30 AM. Today, a chorus of bangs that went on for what felt like 30 minutes (but was probably just 5) at 5:30, as someone ... I dont know what? Banged through the halls repeatedly in protest of anyone getting to rest? It was honestly like waking up to the banging you hear in a movie right before, "Police, open up!" But here, it's apparently just normal. The M.O. of this hostel seems to be people are really loud from 5:30-6:30 everyday, and then it gets quiet again, so hopefully you can fall back asleep. Why different hostels have different patterns could be a Ph.D. research topic where we examine average plane departure times, local culture, physical standards of the hostel, breakfast times (if it's included), quality and range of wifi, and the typical traveler to each part of the world.

    But on today, our last full day abroad, none of that matters. We'll be running on multiple days of inadequate sleep, and who knows how long and challenging tomorrow's transit will be when flying across an ocean and trying to re-enter the USA after more than 6 months gone. But today is the last day of this crazy, wonderful adventure, and we're going to make the most of it.

    That all being said, all the banging and yelling this morning is definitely going to make the transition home an easier one to swallow.
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  • Day243

    England!

    July 29, 2016 in the United Kingdom ⋅ 🌧 61 °F

    Of course with the end of the trip nigh, our minds have been elsewhere and not on updating the blog. We still wanted to let you know (briefly) all the cool stuff we've been able to do because it is all worth sharing. We spent the first few days in Liverpool and basically had a Beatles-themed weekend. We went to the Beatles Museum and to see live music at the resurrected Cavern Club, in the style and area of the club where The Beatles got their start. (The original Cavern Club closed, but a new one with the same feel reopened some time ago and still has live music every day from noon until late.) We didn't plan it, but the last band of the night did Beatles covers only (and pretended to be them) so we got to pretend we were seeing the real thing. Kind of (but not really). Anyway, the Beatles Museum was quite awesome and we highly recommend it to any visitors to Liverpool. In fact, it's worth a day trip from London to check out if Liverpool isn't on your itinerary. We also checked out the stadium for the Liverpool Football Club, a historic and well-loved club by members of the community.

    Our next stop was Sheffield where our friend Alex lives, but on the way we stopped in Manchester for an Etihad Stadium Tour. Nick's favorite football (soccer) team is Manchester City, so it was a top priority to check out their home stadium! After, we joined Alex for a fun couple days in her hometown where we explored the countryside and had a fun barbeque on her balcony. Even though we just met her on safari in Tanzania, it was amazing to see her again. We shared a truck for most of the drives in Tanzania so we got awfully close.

    Finally, we made it to London! We've done a lot of walking and explored both the National Gallery and the British Museum. Most of the museums are free so it was very nice to be able to explore the museums, even when we only had an hour or two to spare. London is also very well known for it's theater, and we couldn't pass up the opportunity for discounted tickets. On our first night we went to see Funny Girl and then found out about a daily lottery for The Book of Mormon. They have a daily drawing for the front row and sometimes other orchestra seats where the lucky winners can get tickets for only £20 each. Nick's name was drawn in the second round so we got fifth row center seats to the Friday matinee show. It was pretty awesome! We hadn't seen either show previously so it was cool to do something new and experience London on a budget. We are definitely enjoying England thus far, but there is so much more we want to see but don't have capacity for. Next time!
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  • Day236

    Delightful Stockholm

    July 22, 2016 in Sweden ⋅ ⛅ 73 °F

    Wow, what a wonderful city Stockholm is! We have both really enjoyed experiencing what this place has to offer, even if only for a couple days. First, to wrap up Norway...

    When we last wrote we were preparing to head to Flam via ferry. We got to see the area of the Sognefjord upon which Arrendelle from Disney's Frozen was based. You can definitely see the resemblence between this area of the fjord and the artistry in the movie, though there wasn't much snow at the time. Notably, the animators really did something right with the imagining of the trolls in the movie by combining the look of the traditional troll character in Norway with the distinct colors of the moss and rockface in the fjord. Rachel was waiting for the boulders to break out in song at times. Anyway, we spent a nice afternoon in Flam. However, we discovered that there are limited options for affordable activities there. We were interested in kayaking but it turns out that without a Norwegian kayak license, you are required to hire a guide, which made the cost prohibitive. We searched the (very small) town for other boat rentals and eventually found the one canoe that is for rent in town; none of the motor boats in the marina were rentable, apparently (though we would've loved to explore the fjord in one of those). The canoe was on the smaller side, so the group consensus was for Cindy and Nick to have some mother-son time and go out on the canoe together while Scott and Rachel stayed on dry land. Nick had a great time exploring the fjord with his mom and getting back to nature. They returned just in time to see the giant cruise ship leaving the small harbor; it was possibly bigger than the town itself.

    The following day we rode on the scenic Flam Railway and then continued back to Oslo. The Flam Railway was really fun and beautiful; we highly recommend it! It connects you to the Oslo-Bergen lines so is easily accessible if you are seeing the country by either train or ferry. We met a pair of Norwegians who were taking the train up and then doing the three day hike back down to Flam. Many visitors also bike down the trail which is a one day trip. This sounded like something that would be fun to do if we can make it back to Flam one day! After arriving back in Oslo, we went to Vigeland Sculpture Park, the largest park in the world where all of the sculptures are created by the same artist. We brought a picnic and joined the Norwegians under the trees (it sprinkled on and off) to enjoy the evening. It was very beautiful and a must-see for anyone going to Oslo.

    The past two days we have been back in Stockholm, Sweden. It has been very cool to actually get to see the city (we were only here for about 8 hours overnight at the beginning of this week). We checked out the Vasa Museum on the day we got back and learned the very interesting story of a formerly lost ship that was eventually found and extracted from the sea floor in the 1960s. It was quite intriguing to learn about the errors made in building this ship and the historical context. As amateur students of art, culture, and archaeology, there were many displays that interested us. The museum included a free guided tour as well as free audio guides if you bring your wifi-enabled device and headphones. Very cool.

    Yesterday was definitely a highlight of the trip. We got to sleep in (which is always nice!) and then went on an adventure with Cindy and Scott on their last day in town. The four of us rented bicycles and rode around the Djurgarden area of Stockholm. There is a ton of green space as well as many trails and marinas to explore. It was a very bike-friendly as well as pedestrian-friendly park with so much to see, including forests, fields, old houses, canals, geese, ducks, cows, and horses. We got ice cream at one of the marinas and talked to some of the Swedes about their dogs (everyone seems to have a small pet dog they bring everywhere!). We really enjoyed the afternoon. For the evening, we found a small pub with decent happy hour prices right on the water in Gamla Stan, in/near the old town area of Stockholm. We snagged some seats on the front patio and watched the sunset over the canal with dinner and drinks. It was really a lovely evening, and we were lucky to have a lot of quality time and conversation with Cindy and Scott. Thanks for a great trip in Scandanavia, you two!
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  • Day232

    At the 61st parallel

    July 18, 2016 in Norway ⋅ ⛅ 54 °F

    Since we last wrote, we traveled from Sweden to Norway by train and have since been taking trains, buses, and ferries throughout this amazing country. We are so lucky to be joined by Nick's mom Cindy and stepdad Scott for this portion of the trip; they have really set up a fantastic tour for us all. So far we have been to Oslo, Stavanger, Bergen, and now Balestrand. Today we leave for Flam where we will spend a day before heading back to Oslo and then Stockholm. It's been a whirlwind trip in southern Norway, and there have already been many highlights including a ferry tour out of Stavanger with the opportunity to hike up to Pulpit Rock and exploring the beautiful Sognefjord by ferry.

    We can't talk about summer near the Arctic Circle without also talking about the famous midnight sun phenomenon. We can attest that there is very little nighttime here. There seem to be a few hours between 12:30 and 2 AM during which the sky does become completely dark, but the many hours of twilight before and after are extremely interesting, especially after being near the equator for so long where the sun sets pretty regularly around 7 PM. We had already noticed this in the Netherlands where dawn and dusk seemed to last for hours, but night there was more significant. Last night, between the cloud cover, reflected human lights (not extensive - these are small towns), and twilight from the sun and moon (which are out simultaneously for several hours), it was easily still light enough out at midnight to walk around without a flashlight. The drawback is no Northern Lights to check out. However, it is a really unique thing to see. As Nick described it, that moment of dusk where at home we would say "Okay, it'll be totally dark in 10 minutes; time to leave this park/head home/etc." lasts for hours and hours here. It's exciting to have so much extra natural light, but it actually has been disruptive to our ability to sleep on a regular schedule. We have learned just how much the daily cycle of the sun at home helps to regulate us. When we wake up and see light coming in through the window, we're conditioned to think it might be time to start waking up; here, it's only 2 or 3 AM. What a wild place.

    We cannot thank Cindy and Scott enough for meeting us here and taking us on this lovely tour. It has been awesome, and we expect the next few days to continue in the same manner! Shout out to Scott for taking some of the pictures for this post.
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  • Day226

    Another canal city.

    July 12, 2016 in the Netherlands ⋅ ⛅ 66 °F

    Today is our last day in the Netherlands before heading to Sweden and Norway for a trip with Nick's mom Cindy and stepdad Scott. We couldn't be more excited to be seeing family again! We also now have less than three weeks left on this trip, and it's hard to believe.

    We've had a fun few days here in Amsterdam and even got to see one of the friends we made in Tanzania (Hi Amber!). It was nice to have a local take us out and give advice on what to do. More notably, Amber is one of the closest friends we made on this trip so it was really amazing that we were able to visit her so soon. We have done so much this week, including both the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum which were both very cool and very dutch. Amsterdam is great because it's a highly walkable city with several large parks as well as ample public transportation, so it's easy to just explore and see where your feet take you. We were able to spend a couple hours reading in a different park each day in addition to all of our sightseeing. Rick Steves also has a few walking tours of the city and we especially enjoyed the one on architecture. There are several houses that are slanted or leaning, which makes one a little worried they could fall into the canals as they are 5-6 stories tall. Also interesting was how many of the houses have bell ringing posts, maybe a remnant of the more sea faring days of this low country. Amber also recommended drinks on top of the Ramada (a stunning 360 degree view, open top bar) and exploring the Amsterdam Bos (a forest, quite large and in the city).

    An interesting note: Amsterdam is at a fairly high latitude so the sun is not really down that much here, i.e. night is really short. It's cool because we both love long sunny days, but it's also been kind of hard to keep a schedule when we don't have specific time restraints, because why worry about the time when on vacation in a city that is extremely safe and well lit (natural mostly and some artificial light). To give you an idea, it is fairly light out until 11:30, and even at midnight you can still see the last evidence of sunlight. By 4 AM, dusk is already underway and the morning birds are chirping. We are so looking forward to seeing how much less night there will be as we continue north!

    P.S. Try the waffles with the whipped cream if you come here in any snack shop...trust us.
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  • Day220

    Roma

    July 6, 2016 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 75 °F

    Wow, what a week in Rome! It has been crazy busy with full days walking in the 95+ degree (34+ for our Celsius friends) heat. On our very first full day we managed to hit the Colosseum, the ancient roman Forum, and Palatine Hill. In fact, while lounging on Palatine Hill, watching the giant rabbits munch on some grass, we started to hear Pink Floyd over a loudspeaker. A quick Google search showed us that David Gilmour of Pink Floyd was playing that night at the Circus Maximus, and there were still cheap tickets available. We both immediately knew we had to go! Between purchasing the tickets online at 6:20 and the show starting at 9, we booked it to the north part of the city to pick up the tickets before 7, rushed back to our Guesthouse to drop off our backpack and make dinner, and headed back into the city in time for the first song. It was crazy, but we made it! Okay, we weren't in our seats in time but we were at the Circus when the music started. David rocked out on his guitar, and it was a truly amazing show! We both had been wanting to find a notable concert to attend on a whim on this trip, and we finally did! It was really a nearly perfect day of history, exploration, music, and lasagna. Oh, and I guess appreciating that we are on a round-the-world honeymoon. It was one of those days that makes you say "wow" at your life.

    Anyway, nothing could really top the perfect day, but Rome has so much to offer we've been trying. Everything was free on Sunday so we hit up the Castle Sant Angelo and the National Gallery of Ancient Art (very cool, but glad we went for free). Monday we saw the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Novona, and the Borghese Villa Gardens. Tuesday, after our trip to St Peters described in another post, we went to the pyramid of Caius Cestius and then stayed in that neighborhood for a happy hour/apertivo buffet (a popular Italian pre-dinner tradition).

    We could spend several more days, maybe weeks, exploring Rome if we had an unlimited budget and if it weren't so hot. But alas, we leave early tomorrow morning for Amsterdam. Adieu Catholicism, and hello to a country with VERY different cultural norms. We've been seeing Dutch art sprinkled throughout the museums for the last two weeks, and, just based on that, we can tell it's going to be a very different world.
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  • Day220

    Citta del Vaticano

    July 6, 2016 in Vatican City ⋅ 🌙 75 °F

    While we've been in Rome, we've been staying just a few minutes' walk from Vatican City. This means we cross international borders almost everyday on our way to sight-seeing. The past two days we finally spent some time in this vastly foreign country (spoiler alert: it's not that different from Rome, and there are no border control or permanent barriers around much of the city). Yesterday we spent at least three hours in St. Peter's Basilica, an extremely ornate and beautiful place of worship and piece of art. We had downloaded an audio guide from Rick Steves on the internet ahead of time so, with headphones, it was like we had our own private tour. Rick's audio tour gave extensive background on St. Peter's Square and the Basilica, including pointing out historical, architectural, and artistic points of interest throughout. We only wish we had found his free guides earlier in our trip because he has many for all over Europe - we've already downloaded a few for the next couple countries. Anyway, some of the highlights were as follows: Bernini's stunning architecture based on Michaelangelo's original design, Pope John XXIII's very well-preserved remains (his was a popular area for pilgrims paying homage), Michaelangelo's Pieta - his first commissioned work for the church, the original crucifixion and burial sites of St. Peter, and the way the natural lighting comes through the windows and skylights to create a heavenly space. You don't have to be a practicing Catholic to appreciate the history and the artistic significance of this place.

    Today we spent six hours exploring the Vatican Museum. The extent of the collection and the history housed there is astonishing. If you ever go, we definitely recommend getting advance tickets for an earlier entry; the lines are long, there are several days worth of things to see, and there are fairly reasonable cafeteria options within the museum when you need a lunch or coffee break. We didn't get to at least two of the galleries we wanted to see, which is a shame, but we still saw so much! The other thing is that the crowds were out of control; most rooms with significant pieces were filled wall to wall with people and tour groups. We elected to share the usage of a rented audio guide (Rick Steves doesn't do one for the whole museum) instead of going with a guided tour, and we were both happy with the freedom that allowed. We both really like museums though, so no hate to the tour guides that just hit the highlights! However, for the positives (and it was mostly positive, trust us!).... We saw the Sistine Chapel!!! It was amazing! Rick Steves has a 30 minute tour of the room that was excellent. (I promise this is not a Rick Steves advertisement, just want to give credit to him and help other travelers find this free resource.) The creation of the Sistine Chapel is extremely interesting. Michaelangelo changed his plan halfway through, so the figures at one end of the ceiling are of a different size than at the other end. To create a fresco involves a painstaking process of quick action painting before the freshly spread plaster dries. Imagine this 40 meters up with your head craned up (he didn't lay flat on the scaffolding as is often portrayed but stood the whole time), working on small portions each day. For years. It's an amazing feat in itself. Not to mention how beautiful the artwork is - Michaelangelo was seriously skilled! You have likely seen pictures of one part of the fresco (where God reaches out to Adam to give him life); just think about how quickly he had to do that, how perfectly it had to be painted, and the pressure of having to start the entire section over if there were any mistakes. It is really amazing to think about and to see in person. There were also several rooms of original frescoes by Raphael which were equally beautiful and astounding. We've now seen a lot of pieces by three of the four ninja turtles (Michaelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo....We're still looking for more of your work, Donatello!). We also can't let this post pass without mentioning Raphael's Transfiguration, Raphael's School of Athens, the statue Laocoon and his Sons, the contemporary wing which includes work by Dali and Matisse, and that nearly every room was decorated floor to ceiling (inclusive) with frescoes and mosaics. We could go on, really, it was that amazing.

    As the conscientious and justice-focused people we are, the one-sided portrayal of the church wore thin on at least one of us after two days of religious art and artifacts. There is a lot of goodness created by the church throughout history, but, as one would expect, the darker sides of the history were completely ignored from what we could see. This is not unusual for any entity to portray themselves in the best light, we just wanted to acknowledge this cognitive dissonance. It can be hard at times to hold the Christian ideal of service to others at the expense of one's own possessions, while also seeing the extravagant statues and homages to many of the popes, primarily funded by their own fortunes. Again, no one blog post can cover all the factors at play here, but we do want to recognize the multifaceted impact the church has had, and continues to have, for many persecuted groups. (Not to gloss over the fact that the early members of the church were persecuted for their faith in the past, as well.)
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  • Day213

    A city like no other

    June 29, 2016 in Italy ⋅ 🌙 73 °F

    Let us start this post by simply stating that Venice is incredible. We had an amazing time here and can only wish that we had more than a day to spend in the city (not that we really have the budget for that). The physical landscape (canals, taxi boats etc.) is well known, but until you actually see it, it's hard to fathom a city built entirely on water. Even Amsterdam, another city with a network of canals, has streets with cars, parallel parking and bike paths. Venice is simply boats and narrow alleys, piazzas, and canals small and large.

    Just wandering around the city felt like going back in time, with small shops that dated back hundreds of years. Venice historically was a wealthy, intellectually advanced society built on trade with both the east and west, and the architecture and artistic choices of the city reflect this. It was clear that despite the oligarchic rule of the city, the populace was well-supported and public services were valued. Touring the former residencies and state palaces in the Museo Correr and Palazzo Ducale was a clear reminder of this, as the immense frescoes covering the walls and gold-gilted ceilings made it clear they valued public service.

    We spent a whirlwind day in the city, also touring the mammoth Saint Mark's cathedral, dining at a classic street café, ate gelato beside a small canal and took more pictures than we have in weeks. We would have loved to have more time, but at least we know we'll definitely be back :)
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