More updates!

I promise this will turn back into a travel blog at some point, but there’s been a lot going on since arriving back in Zürich last week. 🙂

Aside from standard moving back to Switzerland stuff (eating lots of amazing Swiss bread and cheese, registering with the state, setting up health insurance, getting to know the temporary neighborhood (we’re lucky enough to have a place to stay for a couple of months while we sort ourselves out), visiting friends and family, apartment hunting, apartment hunting, apartment hunting and more apartment hunting), I’ve been prepping for a new job (!!!) that starts TOMORROW!

It’s corporate but seems promising in that it involves topics that I’m actually really interested in and in some convoluted way, it actually kind of ties in with this blog and aspects of what I love most about traveling. I’m really excited for it!

I will be writing loads more and plugging the heck out of it in a post later next week, but for now, I’m mostly wondering how I will manage to walk around in heels all day tomorrow after two and a half years of wearing mostly sneakers, flip flops and comfy boots! 🙂

With all the change that’s been going on, I’ve also updated the “about” section of this blog. Take a gander here.

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A quick “where’s she been?” post

In case anyone is still checking this blog, I hope the past months have been really good to you. 🙂

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I decided to take a hiatus from blogging back in February. Life has conveniently filled in my spare time while I’ve been staying with my family in Connecticut, so that it’s hard to believe that around three whole months later it’s “already” just about time for me to return to Switzerland. I’ve been away for over two and half years and I can’t even begin to think about what it might feel like to return cause I’ve been pretty darn busy here in the States – too busy to think too much about how the future might feel. I may not have been moving around the way I used to, but staying put has been feeling tremendously productive and there’s been a lot of movement in non-physical ways. 🙂

 

Since I’ve been here, I’ve….

 

supported my parents through the remodelling and redecorating the ground floor of their house,
have dealt with a cancer scare/health situation (I’m fine now!!! 🙂 ),
have put a lot of energy into taking care of myself with yoga, diet, Ayurveda and spiritual work, have been getting back into my practice (with a delicious amount of time in the yoga studio, a couple of amazing weekend workshops (thanks to Dew Yoga and Elements Yoga!) and I’ve even taught my first yoga class in years which was a lot of fun),
have been spending lots of time with my super duper nephew who at two and a half is more awesome than ever,
have done some freelance writing and design work for my dad,
got to see Sheryl WuDunn of Half the Sky fame speak which was tremendously inspiring, have been applying and interviewing for jobs (keep those fingers crossed! 🙂 ),
have been processing the last two plus years of traveling through regular flashbacks which has been kinda trippy and fun,
have been spending a LOT of time with friends and family (love, love, love, love to the point of my heart overflowing), some virtually through the wonder of the internet,
and most recently have been helping out while my dad spent five days in the hospital with a seriously acute infection (freaking yikes!),
have been soooo enjoying the arrival of spring and all the beautiful flowers here in my home town.

 

That’s off the top of my head. Have probably done some other stuff as well that I can’t remember at the moment. 🙂

 

I feel full to the brim with love and I wonder how things will gel once I start building up a life in Switzerland again. I have some pretty ambitious dreams. I hope that I am brave enough to even dare to attempt them. I hope that  I can hold onto the sense of gratitude that humbles me to the point where I feel compelled to try to really live with intention.

 

One small dream – more of a goal really – is to keep capturing my memories from the trip in this blog. So hopefully there will be space to get back to and keep up with my writing once I get settled back in Zürich.

 

Let’s see how it goes…. 🙂

 

Quick current events post

Roman and I arrived in Chicago last night. Our weekend in Pittsburgh was perfect – full of comfort, good food, exploration and discovery, and best of all, reconnecting with an dear high school friend of mine who I hadn’t spent time with in years.

I truly feel so blessed and lucky to have this amazing chance to visit loved ones all over the US. I love living abroad; I love all the travel. (At this point, it’s coming up on eight years since I left home. How and when did that happen??)

But nothing can replace good friends and family. The fact is that I do suffer being so far away from those people that matter so much to me. I can handle it no problem and even enjoy myself, but THIS aspect of this portion of the trip – time with long lost friends – makes my heart happy and my soul sing!

For anyone concerned, we had a soggy first bit of the ride west, but we mostly managed to stay ahead of Sandy, and so far Chicago is windy but fine, as my family back in Connecticut are also fine. Another thing to be grateful about. 🙂

Roman and I are making today an admin and catch up sort of day. We have post-Chicago to organize and Evanston, a northern suburb where we’re staying, to explore. We’ll get started on Chicago proper tomorrow. And I’ve got blog-catch-up to get to!

So, without further ado, I’ll be picking up with our last stop in Asia – the Philippines. I actually wrote this next post while we were still in South America, but haven’t had a chance to post until now…

Looking for America

Where’s she been?

Time has passed – nearly a month since my last post. As always happens, I get easily, wonderfully distracted when I’m in my hometown. There’s never enough time with friends and family and, knowing that, I greedily try to fit in as much as I can every visit, which means that most other things fall to the wayside. Like the blog. So what was meant to be loads of posts catching up on the last 10 months of travel has ended up as simply silence and now Roman and I are on the go again!

So this is an unofficial announcement to say that I will keep endeavoring (begin again to endeavor?) to catch up on past travel even as we are plunging into our final chapter of the big trip: the US road trip. Expect the usual mish-mash of what ever I feel like writing about. 😉

Hope for the United States

 

Prior to this final chapter of our big trip, we’ve spent months and months and months exploring countries and continents I’ve never been to before. Asia, Australia, South America. Cultures and places I had assumptions, dreams, ideas about, but places I really didn’t know. Places that amazed, confounded, surprised and enchanted me.

Not a single country we visited ever matched the picture I had for it in my head. Places I was nervous about, that seemed so foreign and intimidating from the place I was sitting before arriving – my assumptions on the outside – never ever lived up to any of my projected fears or disappointments. I loved the transformation a location would undergo – from unknown fantasy to something real and much more complex and amazing than I could have ever expected.

Traveling mostly in developing countries has changed my perception and projection about my home country, the US, as well. (For example after traveling in South America, I’m allergic to calling it “America”, since of course that could refer to South, Middle or North, and none of those places are the country of the United States.)

Seeing the States more and more from a global perspective, I have to say, I have developed a huge chip on my shoulder about the place. Returning here after all this travel, I feel like I’ve fallen out of love with my own country.

US history was always one of my favorite topics in school. I have a romantic view of our genesis story, the founding fathers amaze me to this day and I can get teary-eyed-patriotic thinking about the declaration of independence and the bill of rights.

But, after being welcomed with open arms in so many places, I hate how unwelcoming, bordering on hostile, we are to foreign visitors (at least at JFK airport! It is the pits!). I despair over our arrogant stance on the world stage. Watching the debates on TV as the presidential election cycle reaches its apex makes me heartsick.

I was really apprehensive when we traveled to China. Based on its rep on the world street, I thought I wouldn’t like it very much and I braced myself for disappointment. It ended up being one of my favorite countries.

I’m a slow learner sometimes but I have been through this enough with the travel now to dare to hope that this road trip might heal my broken heart. A country’s current politics and foreign policies is NOT its people. It’s not its landscapes, its cities, or its history. It’s not its essence or its soul.

I arrived in China nervous because of everything I’d read about the country in the news; I left having fell completely for its incredible nature, it’s unique people and its rich culture. If China can transform completely for me in two months, I think I stand a chance of rediscovering plenty to love about the US again too. Here’s hoping anyway! 😉

Victory lap!

There’s more to this leg of the trip too. Roman and I will be driving a big loop through this country, from the east to the west coast and back again. There’s plenty of “big stuff” we want to see – famous cities and some of the typical tourist sites.

But for me I’ll also be reconnecting with some of my dearest friends in the US, some of whom I’ve not seen for years and years.

So after all we’ve seen and done out there in the world, this last bit of travel is really feeling like the icing on the cake for me. Such a big treat. Driving at our own pace, in a culture I’ve grown up with but in a country I’ve been longing to explore for ages, and on top of that, I’ll get to spend time with people I adore. Am feeling tremendously grateful at the moment.

Picking up where I left off in Asia…

It feels like a million posts since my last “back track” post, when I finished up on our time in China. I’m well overdue to get back to the back fill, so I’ll pick up where I left off.

After the cooler weather and myriad of activities in China we were ready to slow down some place tropical. But before heading on an island getaway, we had a social call to make. 🙂

Taiwan pit stop

We boarded our plane in Shanghai for the relatively short flight to Taipei. For once we weren’t heading to a new destination as tourists. The inspiration for adding Taiwan to our itinerary was purely my desire to visit a school friend of mine who’s been living there for nearly as long as I’d been in Switzerland.

I hadn’t seen Dylan in YEARS and it was wonderful and exciting to meet up with him again after such a long time, not to mention to meet his wife and his cute little daughter! It was also nice to take some time off from being tourists – being hosted by a friend and resident and giving the camera a break (I hardly took any pictures! No, seriously!!). We didn’t even buy the guidebook for this country – another first on our big trip.

Given the nature of our quick visit to Taipei, I don’t feel qualified to pass along travel advice on Taiwan. But from the few days we had to get a taste of the island country’s capital city, I can say I’d be happy to go back and see more!

The city felt much more vibrant/less sterile to me than Beijing and Shanghai. It was crowded, chaotic, colorful and alive – somehow more what I would have expected from a big Asian metropolis than what my experiences in the Chinese mega-cities offered up – but there were also wonderful pockets of peace to be found at temples and parks.

Web connections

Researching a bit about the place online did introduce me to own of my favorite blogs – My Neon Sign Lullaby.

Eileen is an American who is a Taiwan enthusiast. Her husband is from there and in fact they just moved there from the States recently. Her blog is whimsical and wonderful and a nice way to get a glimpse of life in Taiwan through an expat’s eyes.

She was also kind enough to point me in the direction of the few sights we did visit. On her recommendation, we got to enjoy the dizzying heights of Taipei 101 (at 1,667 ft/508 meters it was the world’s tallest building until it got replaced by Dubai’s insane Burj Khalifa in 2010. Was still impressive going to the top of 101 none the less!!), happen upon a soulful and soothing ceremony going on at the Longshan temple (a quick sound clip here: temple chanting ), and soaked in the peace and lovely vibes at the impressive Chiang Kai-shek Memorial.

 

What’s more, she creates original artwork also inspired by life in Taiwan (bubble tea is a recurrent theme :-)) and life in general that I personally think are just gorgeous. I’ve already ordered a bunch of cards – they’re waiting patiently for me at my sister’s in the States. Looking forward to seeing them in person soon!!! 😀 You can see lots more of her creations at her online shop here on Zazzle.com.

Catching my breath post-Machu Picchu

And here we are in Nazca. We arrived last night after a long, hot bus ride from Arequipa. Machu Picchu, impressive as it is/was, is already fading into an amazing memory. The days have been busy and intense and wonderful with all sorts of stuff and this poor travel journal of mine remains neglected. We have a bit of down time in Nazca so I will make some attempt to get back into the swing of writing/posting.

First the random stuff.

Beginnings

While I was busy elsewhere, the two-year anniversary of my departure date came and went!

Insane but true; it’s over two years now since I said goodbye to Roman (for about three weeks, until he would meet me in Delhi) and the apartment that had become my home with him (most likely forever), and boarded a plane for India, kicking off this amazing adventure we’ve been on!

Last year this time, we were camped out in a lovely little studio apartment in Hong Kong and I managed to put together some video montages in celebration. I’m not nearly that organized or productive this time round, so for now I’ll just repost the videos at the bottom of this entry for anyone who might have missed them the first time, and I’ll say that I do intend to pay proper audio-visual tribute to the countries we’ve visited since then at some point. 🙂

Endings

Equally insane, we have just a bit over two weeks left in South America. We’ll be visiting Lima briefly, then hopping over to Galapagos (!!!!!) for the grand-South-American-trip-finale!!!

Which is exciting but which also means that the final chapter of our big trip is staring us in the face. Which is wonderful and weird. Post South America, we’ll be doing a road trip in the US. Route and timing yet to be figured out.

I imagine we’ll stretch our time in the US out a good amount – there are friends for me to visit and family to hang out with at home (I’ll be there in time for my Grandma & nephew’s birthday parties at the end of the month!) and lord knows there’s tons of amazing places in the States that we’d like to visit. We’ll see how long our time there ends up being.

The end of the road trip in the US will be the end of the BIG TRIP though, which means time to figure out just how exactly to rebuild a stable life in one single location. It’s going to be another adventure no doubt. I’m excited and curious to see how we manage – what the transition from nomadic life will be like, what sort of a home we manage to find/create, what I and/or Roman will do for work… Will leave the musings for now – still plenty to enjoy in South America and loads that I’m excited about for the States. 🙂

Random

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It’s also coming up on six months since we left the States to start part two of the big trip, which means that I’ve gone just about a half a year without a hair cut. I haven’t done anything spectacular with my hair during the trip – just always kept it long enough to tie back. But this must be the longest my hair’s been in ages. I think I like it. 🙂 I won’t post a picture but Roman’s last hair cut was nearly as long ago as my last hair cut and there are days when he’s starting to look like one of the Beatles circa 1964. 😉 I think I like it too! 😉

Machu Picchu

There’s so much to write about Machu Picchu. I’ll save it for another post, another day. Suffice to say: it impressed.

We spent a half day wandering around soaking it in, another day hiking Montaña Machu Picchu (Stairs. So many stairs! Every single step worth it though – the hike will be one of the highlights of the trip for me, no doubt!) and exploring the ruins some more. Here are a few panoramic shots I took of the views from the trail and summit of Montaña Machu Picchu as well as from the ruins. WordPress won’t allow me to embed the images, so you’ll have to click through the links to go to Photosynth’s site to view.

The view about half way up the mountain
You can see Machu Picchu down below in the distance in the right half of the picture

The view from just-about-the-summit
You can see the last bit of steep steps off to the left. Felt on top of the world to be there! Just amazing! 😀

A view from within the ruins

Last year’s videos:

Intro

India

Myanmar (Burma)

Thailand

Laos

Cambodia

Vietnam

Holy cow what an amazing year that was!! 😀

Shanghai slacker

I’m so close to finishing my posts about China, I can practically taste it. Before I can finish up, there’s one final destination to share about: Shanghai.

It’s over nine months since my first post about China. Over seven since we were actually in Shanghai. More than half a year ago that we had this time in the country that unexpectedly delighted, amazed and enchanted me. And I’ve already written 60 posts about the place. (60!! God, I’m verbose!)

Our time there was jam packed with so many awesome things, and by the time we reached Shanghai – one last destination before our visa expired and we had to leave the country (we only had two full days in the city and we literally left China on the last day of our visa) – I think I’d run out of steam. And I fear I’m about to do the same here in this blog. There’s things I still want to capture here about China… The thing is when I try to write about Shanghai, I feel like there’s nothing to say.

Not because of Shanghai. But because I was so flat out tired and a bit sick when we were there. And because I’m sure those two days were not long enough to even begin to get a feel for this world-renowned city.

We managed to take in some of the major sights – the Bund, the French Concession, the Shanghai Museum – plus other bits and pieces. But how much I actually was able to absorb… Well, what ever I did absorb, it doesn’t feel like enough to justify a proper blog post.

So, I am so sorry Shanghai for pooping out on you once more. I am sure you are totally awesome and fascinating and I know you are unlike any place else we visited in China, but I will just have to wait to find out more about you when I have a bit more energy!

I CAN say that I loved the Shanghai Museum – especially for its beautiful clothing displays (maybe you’ll remember how they soothed my sensibilities after my fashion compass was set askew) – and here are a few photos just to give you a wee peek of the place.

Xi’an: Food in the streets and one very special Mosque

Our time in Buenos Aires is rapidly drawing to a close. We’ve been busy with lovely things and practical things. Today is more of the same – yoga and lunch with some new friends from here then more shopping for supplies, research and packing are on the roster.

In terms of posts on this blog I’m getting close to the end of our time in China too, so I’ll press on with the catch up! 🙂 By the way, if you ever are confused by all my bouncing around time and space on this blog and want to check where we were when, Roman’s Everlater page is accurate and up-to-date plus the map is pretty nifty if you ask me. 🙂

So, back to China….

More than just the warriors

We left Pingyao for Xi’an. The lovely staff at the Yide Hotel made arrangements for us, booking the bus ticket, getting us to the bus stop along the highway (the cabbie even waited for us to make sure we got onto the right bus), and even writing out the address of our next destination in Chinese characters for our future cab driver’s reference. Note – if you’re traveling in China it’s not a bad idea to keep a look out for nice people who will do this sort of thing for you; most cab drivers we encountered don’t speak or read a lick of English. The bus ride was easy enough and we arrived at the bus station that evening.

Xi’an is the access point to the iconic Terracotta Warriors, and that of course is why we were there. But before we would come face to face with that silent army, we had a bit of time to poke around the city itself.

Xi’an was quite a change to quaint and quiet Pingyao. It too is a walled city with plenty of centuries old history. But that’s where the similarities end.

The city wall, all lit up at night

Xi’an is a bustling metropolis, and though the walls are old, majestic and mighty, they are surrounded by rivers of traffic, fast food joints, flashing LCD screens and plenty of other signs of modernity. The city within the walls – or what we saw of it – is mostly very modern, with plenty of shopping malls and things like McDonalds and Starbucks right next to the most touristy bit around the central Bell and Drum towers.

The drum tower

The Muslim quarter

The part that we found the most interesting was the quieter Muslim quarter. Unlike the Muslims in Xinjiang, the community in Xi’an is ethnically Chinese, which was interesting to see. From Lonely Planet: “The narrow lanes are full of butcher shops, sesame-oil factories, smaller mosques hidden behind enormous wooden doors, men in white skullcaps and women with their heads covered in coloured scarves. It’s a great place to wander…”

Lonely Planet’s got it exactly right; it was a fascinating place to poke around – although you might need to harden your stomach a bit. We happened to be there around a religious festival, and the butchers were hard at work that day preparing sheep for feasts. Kinda gross.

Lots of cooking in the street in the Muslim quarter. It’s not the best picture but I love this out door stove. The flame was shooting out of the exhaust pipe like crazy! 🙂

Hot stuff!

Poor sheep!

Anyone for feet?

Far more serene was the Great Mosque. An amazing building and one of the largest mosques in China and probably founded in the 8th century, it is an awesome blend of Islamic and traditional Chinese architecture. A minaret that looks like a pagoda, Chinese-style tiled roofs and elegant Arabic calligraphy – it was beautiful and an incredible place to visit.

Where we’ve been, where we’re going

Hello blog! Long time, no see!

Roman and I have been busy, busy, busy, filling the last of our time in Australia to the brim, visiting lovely people there and in New Zealand as we had a wee taste test of that gorgeous country, and now we’ve arrived in Argentina (!!). We’ve been here since Saturday evening, and Buenos Aires will be home for the next little bit, our first stop in a short but exciting list of countries we’ll be visiting in South America.

At some point I’ll get back to China, but struggling with those recent entries about Yunnan, written about places we were well over half a year ago, made me realize how the details and atmosphere of an experience start to slip away when I don’t write closer to the actual event. So I’ll start writing about Oz, New Zealand and Argentina as soon as I can, and will fill in about China and the Philippines when the inspiration hits. In the mean time, hello from a cloudy, wet fall day down here in Buenos Aires!

Travel is ruining me

Being on the road again after the three-month break in the States with my family has got me thinking.

If you don’t count the visit with my family as being home (which it is and it isn’t, since home for me for nearly six years prior to that had been Switzerland, and living with your parents temporarily isn’t the same as having your own home, even if you DO feel wonderfully at home with them and in your childhood house as I luckily do.), I’ve been homeless and traveling for a year and 8 ½ months; Roman’s been away from Switzerland three weeks shy of that. Kinda crazy.

It’s feeling totally normal and wonderful and great to be traveling again. Australia, I have to say, is a fantastic country to get back in the saddle with after the comforts of my parents’ house. No language barriers like in Asia and thus far the people are tremendously friendly and it’s been drop dead gorgeous. But I digress.

I’ve been catching some of the thoughts that float from time to time through my mind since we’ve been on the move again and I’m wondering if travel – this sort of travel anyhow – isn’t making me into a slightly worse person. You always hear that travel broadens your perspective of the world but I am wondering about the areas where things might be getting more narrow.

This first came to my attention in Sydney, where we met up with some friends of ours.

The couple we met worked at the same company I did in Switzerland. They quit around the same time Roman and I did to do an extended trip around the world, just like us. We traveled to different places, but some themes were the same. One was how it’s often difficult to talk about the trip with “the folks back home”. We loved being able to “talk shop” with fellow travelers, we oohed and ahhed as we compared itineraries and travel experiences in a way that we would never inflict on most people.

Another friend was an awesome guy we had met and hung out with in India over a few days in Varanasi and one super dinner in Delhi. We met for drinks and dinner and although we caught up about life in general, we also spent a lot of time collectively missing and loving India. Between the good memories, wonderful conversation and delicious wine, I felt like I was floating on clouds by the end of the evening, basking in the goodness of what was and what had been.

These get-togethers were fantastic, but they made me ponder about shared experiences and if my/our chances of sharing about some of the places we’ve been and things we have done have grown narrower as we’ve spread ourselves more widely across this big planet.

And then I realized that maybe even having thoughts like this make me into a wanker. Like, who has these kind of problems/musings??

Let me demonstrate. Here are some of the ways that this kind of travel is ruining me.

  • We’ve been in Australia for 3 ½ weeks. We just booked our flights out of the country, which means that we are currently half way through our time in Australia. Considering that we spent over three MONTHS in India, which is about half the size of Australia, 6 weeks in a country this size now seems like only a short visit. While most people in America only get 2 weeks off per year. I may be a jerk.
  • We’ve been to some absolutely amazing places. We are becoming increasingly hard to impress. (Although on the flip side there is a lot of stuff we love and are interested in so we aren’t at all jaded about any of the stuff we’ve done.) For example, while on the Ocean Road here in Australia we went for a tree top walk through a gorgeous rain forest in Otway. The woods were lovely, the trees stunning. The dinosaur exhibit was hilarious. We enjoyed it totally but there was not much “wow factor” compared to the views of the ocean we’d been treated to earlier and indeed we were a bit disappointed by the lack of fauna, since that morning we’d literally woken up under trees inhabited by super-cute-adorable-cuddly-looking koalas. Which was just as awesome as it sounds. I may be a snob.
  • If you’ve been following this blog at all you may have noticed that I. Love. Food. Well, let me be more specific. I love good food; I really love REALLY GOOD FOOD. We’ve had all sorts of REALLY GOOD FOOD all over the place. Which is awesome. And awful. Cause now I’ll find myself craving home cooked Indian food from my friends’ house in Delhi. Or that bangin’ ginger salad that the totally rad skinny little chef made on the cargo boat on the Irrawaddy River. Or mango sticky rice from my favorite place in Thailand. Or a Beerlao. Or that incredible fish dish from Cambodia. Or the best espresso I have ever had in Siem Reap of all places. Or fried up lotus root that we had at our Chinese school in Yangshuo. You get the point. And the point is, when the heck am I going to get to eat those delicious things again?? The point is also that when you get to eat such awesome stuff, your tolerance for sub-par food goes down. There is no “may” about this one, I AM a food snob.

So, is travel opening my eyes, heart and stomach to big, wonderful, exciting world? Yes! Is it turning me into a snob and possibly a jerk and/or wanker? Yes to the first and quite possibly to the second. Am I ok with this? If being ok with it means we get to keep traveling, I think I am. 😉