Frankfurt Fifteen

That early life phenomenon that so many American college students experience during their freshman year fueled by freedom, 2 am schmuffins from Sheetz, and a meal plan that just won’t quit is, I’m sad to say, not necessarily an isolated experience. The same rite of passage is common amongst those of us who fancy ourselves adults and live in Frankfurt (or any glorious European city) for two years. Much like the wide-eyed freshmen, we didn’t really have a choice if our pants would button after a year. First, Germany lures you in with the scent of delicious meats and candies at their festivals and markets promising everything from whimsy to enchantment. Who could resist? Then, after a short time, it becomes clear that wine is far cheaper than water and beer isn’t measured by the bottle, but by the stein – an ancient unit of measurement ensuring immediate pride in hoisting an arm for a solid “Prost!” If cheap beer and delicious meats don’t lure you into their caloric web, the travel will. A three hour train ride (in the cafe car, of course) to food and drink destinations like Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Munich, Berlin… Every 3 day weekend was spent on a train or a plane to some fantastic European city where we’d eat too much and sleep too little. Tex and I hit Europe HARD during our two year post in Frankfurt. We stopped even planning vacations – we just bought train/plane tickets, booked a hotel, and showed up in a new city. Sort of like college students on a semester abroad – only, you know, with a pension, Roth IRA, and steady pay check. As it turns out we visited 25 places out of about 100 weekends in Germany. The List: **Brussels – mussels and beer **Strasbourg – fois gras and wine Aachen – flammkuchen Colonge – kolsch Budapest – goulash and stuffed cabbage Barcelona – tapas and wine Berlin – ginormous schnitzels Pula – truffles Warsaw – pierogies Reykjavik – minke whale Antwerp – mussels…again Tunis – lamb and couscous, decent wine Prague – fried cheese Innsbruck – garlic soup Basel – smoked beer *Dakar – shrimp and french fries Nuremberg – sausages Bamberg – strangely good Irish Pub Paris – need I say more? Amsterdam – bitterballen Heidelberg – beer and Marriott executive lounge abuse Ghent – I really like mussels *Edinburgh – haggis – an acquired taste for some, a delightful treat for those of us who like offal Bordeaux – wine tourism Malta – fish and wine So, there you have it – 2 solid years of food, drink, and travel. With such a rigorous schedule, Tex and I had little time to do anything else – like work out or write blog posts. However, now that we’re posted in Tunis, and I’m jobless due to this epic hiring freeze, I have all the time in the world to update the blogosphere on our wanderings and experiences…and hopefully tales of looser fitting pants.   Frankfurt Christmas Market Strasbourg, France Pula, Croatia Brussels, Belgium Mussels Warsaw, Poland Antwerp, Belgium Budapest, Hungary Budapest, Hungary Barcelona, Span Countless sausages 5 year wedding anniversary in Tunis Oktoberfest Prague, Czech Republic Frankfurt Christmas Market Paris, France Bordeaux, France Reykjavik, Iceland Antwerp, Belgium * These were trips I took without Tex – Dakar for training and Edinburgh for a gals weekend. ** We hit these destinations...

Bali to Beijing – Notes and Photos

Tex and I have a limited amount of time left in Asia.  In fact, when we found out that we were headed to Frankfurt, we created a priority list of places to visit while still in Taiwan:. Japan, Cambodia, Indonesia, and China.  Our fun recent trips are outlined below in photos and notes.   Bali – Ubud (Rice Paddy Time)  The lush, tropical walk to our room.       Bali, like so many other places we’ve visited, is covered in temples with unique details.       Ubud, in the center of the island, is disappointingly littered with dirty little monkeys.  We spent a few nights here. I avoiding monkeys, Tex engaging them.        I highly recommend a villa with a private pool – always.   Bali-Seminyak (Beach Front Time)   Our first south-of-the-equator sunset.           When in Seminyak, I highly recommend  staying at a  resort  with a swim up pool bar as the popular ‘white sand beach’ is covered with ‘really gross trash’ from one end to the other.       Balinese temple petting.         Things I didn’t take photos of in Bali: All of our delicious food. The trashy, gross beach. Insanely huge bees. Intimidating flowers.     China – Macau We spent three nights in Macau with our friends meandering through small alleys, stuffing our faces with wonderful portuguese food, and people watching.     Tex and I at the Ruins of St. Paul’s – it’s a big deal.                     Galaxy Casino in Macau. We did very little gambling.  Table minimums were astronomical.  Slot machines were incredibly confusing, especially in a foreign currency.                 Old Taipa Village was jumbled with tiny, pretty alleyways and colorful  buildings.       Crowded streets of Taipa near the tourist areas.               Ruins of St. Paul’s way up close.             Beautiful streets – a touch of Europe in China.         China – Mutianyu About an hour and a half north of the Beijing airport there is a small village called Mutianyu.  You can spend a day hiking the “wild wall” and/or the reconstructed part.  Tex and I hiked up to the “wild wall” and  had the whole thing to ourselves for a while.             After hiking The Wall for a few hours you have three options to get back down: 1. hike back down 2. a metal, tetnus-infested luge track operated by unqualified, disinterested workers 3. an OLD gondola. We chose the gondola.  I hate gondolas.   We had remarkably beautiful weather while visiting Mutianyu.  Sunny, chilly, and clear. Very rare.           Our “open concept” hotel room bathroom – very, very “open concept.”                 China – Beijing After two nights in Mutianyu, we went back down to Beijing to visit the sights.  Beijing is unbelievably huge. With a population of about 20 million people, it all seemed a bit overwhelming.  The population of Taipei is a little under 3 million, much more manageable.  We visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden Palace.       Tex at the Forbidden Palace.           Tex is very serious at Tiananmen Square.                           Guardian Lions – very cool.                     View of the Palace from Jingshan park.          Fun architectural features.                                                      Brave people, like Tex, are able to elbow through the huge crowds of tourists to see, well, chairs mostly.  Emperors did a lot of sitting.                   Cafe’s can be cute in Beijing too.               Big, weird Beijing building.                 Things I didn’t take photos of in China: All of the people staring at me. The fork they gave me to eat my yogurt at breakfast. The atrocious public restrooms....

Kingdom of Wonder

Cambodia: Kingdom of Wonder I wondered a lot of things on our recent trip to Siem Reap.  Most notably, I wondered how people survive on the food.  Also, I wondered if it could possibly get any hotter. It could. During the day we walked around at various temples sweating and taking in the sight of meandering elephants.  Our nightlife consisted of wandering through markets and restaurants on Pub Street. The entire town is set up as a tourist trap which sounds disappointing. Instead, it made everything super easy. Need a driver? Tour guide? Beer? Massage? Book it all through the hotel for cheap.  The downside of convenience was the fact that I couldn’t understand a word our tour guide said. “If you’ll look over here…blah, blah, elephant…blah, blah empire.”  Tex seemed to speak his language. He did follow us around and take a lot of photos though.  That was handy. In one of those ‘it’s-so-bad-it’s-good’ situations, we attended an ‘authentic’ Cambodian dance show.  It came with a buffet dinner of hot, wet Chinese food.  Of the HUNDREDS of Mainland Chinese tourists attending the dinner and show – there were 5 non-mainlanders – including Tex and me.  So, it was not geared towards us. Our tour guide was also obviously getting kickbacks from the local restaurants and businesses; including a scarf salesmen who tried to charge us $80 for a scarf we paid $4 for on Pub Street. I wonder who is buying the $80 version…   Angkor Wat Tex Big head…thing. Nightlife Temple Hidden statue Angkor Wat     The Pros: Amazing sights – temples, twisty trees, wealthy backpackers. Cheap massages, transportation, food and drink. Fast, easy, affordable tour guides and drivers. U.S. dollars used throughout Siem Reap. Decent tacos and fun nightlife. Elephants. The Cons: Hot as Hades. Mostly gross local cuisine. Tourist traps around every corner. Hot. Did I mention it was...

Boracay

Tex and I spent a few nights in Boracay, Philippines over Chinese New Year*.  This was my first trip to a developing nation (besides New Jersey).  We had a fabulous time, but it was so much different than our previous island trips to Aruba and Curacao. My American guilt reared it’s head on an hourly basis as I said “no” to dozens of vendors that have less than a quarter of what I have.  “No, I can’t spend $5 USD on your wood carvings because I have to slather myself in sunscreen and beach myself on that chair.  Also, you’re interrupting my massage time. Thanks, though.” Best of Boracay 1. Sunsets 2. Beautiful beaches 3. It’s very affordable. Beer was around $2 and a professional swedish massage was about $50. 4. Corn nuts.  I’m not kidding.  They were the best I’ve ever had. 5. There seem to be a ton of activities to fill your day.  You can go on cruises, snorkel, scuba, etc.  We didn’t do anything.  We just laid around. Worst of Boracay 1. Gut-wrenching poverty. 2. Getting there.  Affordable flights from Taipei to Kalibo all seem to have a super long layover in Manila followed by a one hour flight, 2 hour bus ride, 20 minute boat trip, and 20 minute taxi ride. 3. Animals.  Chickens are everywhere.  We woke up to roosters every morning.  Also, like so many islands, there seems to be a serious stray dog problem. 4. Tricycles.  The island has very few vehicles on it so all taxis are tricycles.  They are cheap but inconsistentand require bargaining. Puka Beach – I didn’t find a single puka shell. View from inside the tricycle. Happy Hour. Dinner. Tapas. ? Beach. Perpetually confused. Sunset time. Sunset. Sunset.   *Chinese New Year – I still don’t have a firm grasp on this.  I know that the entire city appears to be covered in red because it’s “lucky.”  In fact, any time I ask anyone why something is the way that it is around here it’s because it’s “lucky.”  I know it’s the year of the horse and that you’re supposed to give red envelopes full of cash to your loved ones, as well as your front desk people apparently.  I also know that we get an awesome amount of time off.  We had Thursday through Tuesday off from work to...

Wulai Thanksgiving

Our recent Thanksgiving vacation to Wulai rewarded us with hot springs, gondola rides, and angry ostriches. We booked a room at the Full Moon Spa in Wulai – a popular but clearly run down area of Taiwan.  Thankfully, the room had it’s own hot spring tub since the public baths were separated by gender, completely nude, and seemingly used exclusively by people over the age of 1,000. The food was…weird.  I’m not a huge fan of Taiwan food. Tex on the other hand can eat practically anything and enjoy it.   I ate a couple of boar sausages and a lot of mysterious meats.  I was less than impressed. It made me miss dry turkey. We had the option of either a Western breakfast or a Chinese breakfast. I stuck with the Western breakfast which was served with a salad, and while I don’t generally eat salad for breakfast I was eternally grateful for something that wasn’t boar meat.  After I picked the raisins off and poured on my thousand island dressing I just pretended it was brunch. I can adapt. Boar meat sausage. Tex enjoys his meat on a stick. Those first three characters on the left mean “mountain pig meat.” Chinese vs. Western Breakfast Food. Tex loves his Chinese food. “Where is that lady with my beer?” POPCORN! All that questionable food really got us revved up for a hike.  In order to get to a trail head we first had to ride this tiny, rickety train through a stunning mountain area.  Then we had to ride a gondola.  I’m less of a fan of heights than I am of boar sausage so I was a bit concerned.  Tex assured me that this particular gondola is the OLDEST in Taiwan.  Thanks, dear.  There’s nothing like hearing you’re going to be taking a 60 year old gondola over a rocky gorge.  It wasn’t too bad and it appeared to be a well cared for machine. Grand Central. Tiny train. Gondola ride. The ride was well worth it because what greeted us at the top of this mountain was more than we could have hoped for: an old, run-down, defunct amusement park with a zoo, multiple abandoned rides, and gorgeous scenery. We assume that the summer months might draw a crowd but the place had about a dozen people in it when we visited. I think my favorite part was the zoo.  Most of their animals were made of cement and very non-threatening. They had two ostriches and a half-dozen black chickens. The ostriches did not like Tex. I might have a certain video of him fleeing from a caged ostrich. Wulai – November 2013 They “arcade” left much to be desired.   We enjoyed the obstacle ropes course if the mold on the ropes wasn’t too bad.  I got stuck on something called the “pirate swing” and had to be rescued.  I don’t do ‘damsel’ very well. Despite the weirdness of the park we were able to find a trail head. However, we had to cut our hike short when we saw that the trail was completely washed away. Wulai falls. Did I mention there were a lot of stairs? After our jaunt we sat down at this restaurant to have a lunch of turkey jerky, nuts, and leftover popcorn.  Thank goodness my sister sent me survival food.  I don’t generally trust restaurants that have zero guests next to a zoo with practically zero animals. We returned to our hotel to soak away the park and compare photos of our incredibly weird but super fun day.  ...

Bangkok Report

  A few weeks ago Tex and I made the quick decision to hop on a cheap flight to Bangkok with our buddies. Traveling locally to post while abroad is one of the many perks of being in the Foreign Service. It was handy not having  that whole 13 hour jeg lag problem. Atmosphere: Bangkok is bustling to say the least.  Like so many Asian cities there are seemingly too many people, too many cars, and too many buildings for the area on which it is built. It is entirely too hot, even for November.  It is entirely too loud and dirty – for an American country-bred girl. We stayed in a great hotel in the expat area with a rooftop bar, a great restaurant, and wonderful service.  Though, just outside the door dozens of taxi and tuk-tuk drivers insisted on giving us a ride.  Street vendors were also nearby offering their cheap wares including rather large displays of sex toys. I wonder about the person who would buy a cheap sex toy off a dirty street in Bangkok. In general, there was a bit of a seedy feel to the entire city.  That probably has to do with my pre-misconceptions of the city — and the sex toys. Despite the seediness, the pushy drivers and the heat we all had a fantastic time. Transportation: All modes of transportation are cheap but it’s easy to get hosed.  We were constantly telling taxi drivers to use their meter before we got in the car and ensuring that they were not going to try to give us an unsolicited tour of Bangkok The subway systems are clean and easy to use.  We used the boat taxis to navigate popular sites on the river which is a much more relaxing way to travel.  Regular taxis are very cheap but subject to the infamous Bangkok traffic so it’s fruitless to use them at times.  Scooter taxis are popular though they appear to be death traps. There are also thousands of tuk-tuks around the city.  We took the one offered by the hotel once.  It was a very rough ride. Sights: I’ve never been great at describing art.  If it’s pleasing to the eye – I like it.  Thai Buddhist art is easy on the eyes. Bangkok – October 2013 Food: Anyone that knows me understands that I despise Thai food.  This is the culprit:  Cilantro is gross. In short, cilantro and lemongrass taste like dial soap to me.  Also, I’m not a huge fan of coconut milk.  A small amount added to a dish is great but the buttloads they put in Thai food is incredibly offensive. Not to mention peanut sauce – uh, why would I want to put peanut butter on my chicken?  In light of my taste buds we were a little concerned with our trip. While there were a ton of cuisines to enjoy in the city I couldn’t take the enjoyment of eating local cuisine away from my travel companions.  Luckily, early on, I found one thing, ONE THING I could eat.  Tom Yum Kung soup.  It’s full of cilantro, lemongrass, coconut milk, and something so spicy that it kills all of those flavors.  I could only eat the broth and the prawns but it was delicious. I ate it 5 times. What you’re supposed to buy: A suit.  A tailored suit.  We saw at least 60 tailors while we were there.  Luckily our buddy knew the place to go.  Raja’s.  The staff greets you with a beer and some swatches.  Tex had a suit and a tux made in a little under 4 days.  They fit great.  I’m regretting not getting a few shirts made myself. The best thing: What they lacked in regional cuisine (in my humble opinion) they made up for in popcorn. Our lobby had a popcorn machine which they moved to the hotel bar when happy hour started.  I saw a popcorn machine at the hotel next door and the bar we went to on our last night had popcorn.  I got to eat popcorn every single day.   It is always best to leave a vacation wishing you could have done more than relieved to be going home. We have so much more to see in Thailand. Bangkok was great but we both look forward to seeing what else Thailand has to offer maybe along the...