Around the World in 30 Days – The Highlights

Finally back in Seattle, caught up and rested.  Oh, and clean shaven as well.  That was the first, and possibly the only time that I will go without shaving for an entire month. 

First things first.  If you want to read about the whole trip, start at the bottom of this page and go in reverse.  If you want to see the photos, go here and see the first eight albums (starting with Hong Kong).

Given the sheer diversity and length of the trip along with the fact that we posted something to this site almost every day of the trip, I though it best to summarize a bit, talk about some highlights, and give a bit of perspective now that it is over.  Before I do that, I want to say thanks to everyone who followed along.  Initially, I didn’t really tell anyone we were doing this because I didn’t really know how much we would do or whether it would be any good or not.  After a few days of positive comments and the fact that we actually enjoyed doing it, I started to let people know and the response was amazing (at least to me).  The site got almost a thousand hits during the trip and people seem to be passing it around to others now so it hasn’t really died out.  Again, thanks!

Now, before I talk about the highlights I wanted to briefly talk about the last day.  Not too much to cover, frankly.  We had a great breakfast at the hotel, did some last minute shopping around Reykjavik and then headed out to the airport quite early to return the rental car and make sure we had decent seats (Iceland Air leaves a bit to be desired in the “confirm your reservation in advance” and “online check in” departments – we had confirmed the seats way in advance but none of this showed up when we tried to check in).  Once in and confirmed, we had lunch, made a last video interview, and waited.  All of this seemed pretty boring until we got on the plane.  Keep in mind that we really went really early to get decent seats.  Once in these nice seats, and as the rest of the passengers boarded, we quickly realized that almost everyone had the same “we confirmed it in advance, why do we have horrible seats” issue.  Specifically, a family of six (kids of about .5, 2, 4, and 6 years old) who had confirmed in advance were all sitting in random places.  Their solution, try to move everyone around on the plane after the fact to see if they can get everyone together.  Ty had to move 3 times before they got even close.  Might want to work on that one, Iceland Air.  The rest was fine and we made it back to Seattle (and Ty on to Spokane) just fine.  Seeing Sonya after a month was amazing!

Ok, on to the highlights.  For those that don’t feel like reading the posts (although I recommend it), here’s a quick summary:

  • Ty Brown (one of my closest friends since age 5) and I spent 30 days visiting Hong Kong, Beijing, Tibet, the Friendship Highway from Tibet to Nepal, Kathmandu, Delhi, India, and Iceland.  The majority of the trip was in Tibet and Nepal.
  • Overall top 5 things we did: 1) Visited the school in Nepal some friends and I donated through Room to Read many year ago.  The entire community came out to give thanks.  2) Seeing Mt. Everest in the clear for several hours, and again the next morning.  Stunning.  3)  Seeing all of my friends in Asia and making new ones.  Particular highlights were hanging out with Jason, Kathy and Howard in Beijing and Joanna, Mark and Kathryn in Hong Kong.  4)  Recording video of an impromptu singing/dancing performance from the people who ran our tent at Everest Base Camp (even better was watching them as they saw the video of themselves afterward).  5) Seeing the Great Wall on a very clear day and watching Ty see it for the first time.  Two major rain storms had cleared much of the pollution.
  • Best food:  Here are my favorites, by country:  Dim Sum with Carine and Grace (Hong Kong), Donkey Tacos with Jason (Beijing), Hot Pot with Howard & Kathy (Beijing), Noodle Shop in Lhasa, Tibet (where we met English students and eventually went to their school as show-and-tell subjects), Several Yak-meat dishes in Tibet, Pizza in Kathmandu (yes, pizza), Murgh Walla in Delhi at Zaffron, and finally getting good seafood again in Iceland after 20 days without it.
  • Scariest moments:  Almost all of these involved driving, especially along the friendship highway.  Many times we drove along cliffs with no guard rail, often on dirt roads.  Some parts had huge boulders in the road that had fallen recently (hundreds of them).  Any driving in Kathmandu qualifies as scary (way less road than cars and trucks).  The driving highlight still had to be when our driver in Tibet suddenly veered off the nice paved road with no warning into a crazy downhill off-road adventure which was described later as a short cut.
  • Accommodations:  Best hotel: Hotel Courtyard in Kathmandu; Worst Hotel: Zhang Mu Hotel in Zhang Mu, Tibet; Most interesting: tent at Everest Base Camp.
  • Misc:  Ty finished six books during the trip and I finished five.
  • Best Photos:  See below for my opinion of the best.

 

 

 

Well, that should wrap it up for this trip.  Ty and I had a great time and hope to do something similar again in the future if our situations permit it.  With any luck, this won’t be a once in a lifetime adventure.   I should be able to add some video in the coming weeks once I figure out how to convert it from HD to something more usable here.

Next trip is South America with Sonya and our friends Dominic and Gillian.  Looking forward to it!

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Drive, Walk, Eat, Walk, Eat, Walk, Beer, Walk, Beer – Reykjavik, Iceland

We left the Snaefellsnes Peninsula this morning and headed South to Reykjavik.  It was a beautiful two-hour drive that included an amazing tunnel under one of the fjords.  This was our last full day in Iceland.

Getting to and around the capital is simple.  There are only ~200,000 people here and there is a well-defined center (which is where our hotel is).  Once the car was parked, we were on foot for the rest of the day, which was excellent (if you have read any of the others posts you will know we’ve reached our car quota for the year).

Here’s a quick rundown of our self-guided walking tour of Raykjavik:

  • Walking the main shopping street, Laugavegur (our hotel is on this street)
  • Walking by the harbor looking for lunch
  • Lunch at the famous Pylsubarinn (by accident), which serves Iceland’s famous hot dogs (it’s basically a stand).  Even a picture of Bill Clinton having one during his visit.  Touristy, but what the heck.
  • Walking to the “pond,” a large park near the center of town
  • Walking to the famous church, which of course was covered with scaffolding (I have yet to see a famous church in Europe without it)
  • Walking through the shopping district some more
  • Dinner at Vagamot, a great restaurant next to our hotel.  We both ordered seafood-centric dishes and soon realized we would be consuming a good percentage of the world’s seafood in one meal.  Did anyone notice a drop in the level of the ocean?  If so, it was our dinner being fished out.
  • Walking some more, or I should say waddling, to try to work off some of that dinner.  We promised ourselves some beer but there was no way it would fit quite yet.
  • Stopped at the Kaffibarinn for our first beer.  Strange place, but liked it.
  • Walked some more (we promised ourselves a 2nd beer but still no place to put it)
  • Finally walked enough to stop into a great cafe/bar with no name on it to fit in our final two small beers
  • Back to the hotel to collapse.

It was a great day, but it’s becoming clear that we are slowing down after a month on the road.  Relaxing is winning over most sights at this point, which is good.  Everyone should travel this way in my opinion.  Ty is in the middle of his 6th book in four weeks, I am in the middle of my 5th.

The next post should be from Seattle if all goes well.  Looking forward to being back!

Stykkish-Fest 2009! Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

We spent day two of the Iceland leg of the tour on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula on the West coast of the country.  This basically a ring road around the coastline of the peninsula surrounding a large glacier.  The weather looked to be horrible over breakfast but 30 minutes into the drive it became nice and stayed that way for the duration except for a few short showers while we were driving.  The only thing we didn’t get to see was the glacier unfortunately.

We started by driving west from Grundarfjordur, past Olafsvik to the most Western point, where we took a dirt road out to a couple of lighthouses and an old Viking’s grave.  Next was a drive South down the West coast where we hiked into a small volcanic crater (very cool, but very windy).  After that we actually drove into another volcanic crater.  Mind you, these are small volcanoes but driving into one is still quite interesting. 

The next stop was another hike, this time along a very famous stretch of black beach called Dritvik that is reportedly the roughest coastline in Iceland and the sight of many shipwrecks.  In fact, one of the first things we saw was the wreckage of a fishing vessel from the 1940s that was strewn all over the beach.  It looked more like a plane crash given how small the pieces were – not a good day for those folks.  Also on the beach in you can find four "lifting stones."  These were the actual stones used to test men who wanted to work on a fishing boat back in the day.  Before the men where hired they had to prove their strength by lifting stones, each of which weighs more than the previous and is named accordingly: Amlodi – 23 kg (Useless), Halfdraettingur – 49 kg (Weakling), Halfsterkur – 140 kg (Half strong) and Fullsterker – 150 kg (Fully strong). I gave it a shot and am proud to report that I am not useless, but merely a weakling.  Later we saw a larger guy trying the 3rd one and not only did he fail, but I think he will be at the chiropractor’s office tomorrow.

We hiked above the beach at Dritvik for quite some time and it was stunning.  Seeing the old fishing village (at least some remains) was very cool and the black beach was especially dramatic.  We tried to find an old Labyrinth that was created by these fishermen out of boredom (they had to live here for 3-4 months at a time), but eventually gave up to hunt for lunch instead, which proved equally difficult.  Hard to find restaurants when there are barely any people in the country.  Eventually we settled for burgers at a gas station, which only cost us our first born children.  Did I mention how expensive this place is?  Ty mentions in his blog that he needed to go to the bank before dinner to get a loan.  Agreed.  Didn’t this country go bankrupt within the last year?  I guess we are paying to get it back on track, and quickly at this rate.

After lunch and buying gas (btw – you should never complain about gas prices in the US as we paid something like $6-7/gallon here) we headed straight North to Stykkisholmur which is not only the ferry terminal for passage to the North Fjords, but also the sight of a festival this weekend…  Danish Days!  Huh?  We went to see how Icelanders have fun on the weekends and I for one was not disappointed at all.  We arrive in this much larger, but still tiny town on the North coast of the peninsula to find the festival in full swing.  About 400 people all gathered in a park watching a band play Guns & Roses and other covers – we could hear them from the parking lot but when we finally got a look at them we were surprised to see that they were about 13-15 years old (and we think the drummer might have been about 12).   Excellent start.  After walking around the town  a bit we returned to find 4-5 older guys in crazy wigs holding either and auction or sale of very random items like a cheap used entertainment center and a washing machine.  Very confusing, but very funny as well.  Would have helped to understand Icelandic (or was it Danish?). 

Following this event, we returned to our hotel in Grundarfjordur where the owner of the hotel (who had recommended this festival that morning to us) proceeded to tell us there was a roaming gang of guys who had randomly been beating people up (quite severely) for no apparent reason, including the night before where the festival was being held.  Funny that she didn’t mention it before we left.  Ugh.  :)  Oh well, back at the hotel safe and sound.

Rounding out the day, I went for a long walk toward some big waterfalls but failed to find a path to them (added photos to the albums section) and then we went to dinner at “Kaffi 59,” a small restaurant here in this tiny town (one of three if you count our hotel).  Now back to get some rest – tomorrow is our last full day of the trip!  We’ll be heading into Reykjavik for our last night, then it’s off to Seattle on Monday….

Onward & Upward… Way Upward. (Iceland)

 

  In what will certainly prove to be the most culturally shocking part of our trip, we left Delhi and flew through London to Iceland.  Here are some basics:

  • Space… China (our first stop) has 1.3 BILLION people; Nepal (our 2nd) has 23 MILLION people (in a small space); India (3rd) has 1.1 BILLION people.  Iceland?  300 THOUSAND – total, in the whole country.  It is the size of England in size but only has 0.5% of their population.  Following India, it feels like we are in outer space.
  • Air…  Iceland has some of the cleanest air on the planet.  They even get a large portion of their energy from geothermal sources.  My lungs have not been sure how to react.
  • Temperature…  Delhi was around 95 degrees F and humid.  Iceland is about 40-something and dry.
  • Water…  finally, no hunting for clean water or worrying about getting Giardia from brushing your teeth.  Iceland has some of the world’s best water, straight from the tap!  Coca-Cola even sells a version of it in the states.
  • Food…  my body might reject it after our last 3 weeks, but in the last 24 hours we have had crazy exotic foods like, uh, vegetables, fish, fruit, milk, etc.  If only I could get some blueberries I would be set.

Before I get fully into Iceland, I will share a quick note on getting here.  We left Delhi in the afternoon for a nice 9 hour flight to London, where we immediately gorged ourselves on these new foods (fish & chips, vegetables, and even a smoothie).  We then hopped a late flight to Reykjavik and arrived at around 11pm.  Luckily we had chosen a small complex of cabins right next to the airport.  We were “exhausted” (said with dramatic effect just as Sonya would do it).

We woke to a very windy and cold Iceland, which was great!  Good to be out of the heat.  After breakfast we caught the first airport shuttle, rented a car, and hit the road into the interior of the country.  First order of business was to check off the Golden Circle, a series of interesting sights about 1.5 hours from the capital, Reykjavik.  This included lunch in Sellfoss, then to the waterfalls at Gullfoss, followed by a series of geysers at a place aptly called Geysir.  Last on the Golden Circle was the rift zone, where the N. American and European continents collide in a way that you can actually see them (not under the ocean). 

All of it was beautiful and then came the hard part.  We needed to get up to the Snaefells Peninsula on the very west coast in a few hours.  Sounds easy, but once started we realized that about 50% of the road getting there was unpaved.  Our trusty Toyota Corolla handled it in style, as it’s bigger cousin the Land Cruiser had done in Tibet.  Eventually we were back on paved roads and headed to the peninsula, where it became even more beautiful around every corner.  Mountainous, but very green like Ireland.  We arrived at the small fishing village of Grundarfjordur and the Framnes Hotel around 5:30pm.

The evening was spent with Ty going for a run, I going for a long walk, and then a very expensive dinner at the hotel.  After 24 hours here, I realize we may be spending 50% of our month’s food expense in the last four days.  Before dozing off, I had a great chat with Sonya on Skype – can’t wait to get home, even though it is amazing here.  Expecting rain tomorrow and we have no plan (or place to stay).  Should be interesting – stay tuned…

Oh, and I posted more pics in the photos section.  Enjoy!

Last Night in Delhi

Our last day and night in Delhi turned out to be fairly active after all.  I was hoping for another day of doing nothing, but we ended up out for lunch, shopping at bit (by force), and walking the streets of Panchsheel Park this evening.  At least I snuck a two hour nap in this afternoon.

Lunch was another excellent Indian place, and the reason we shopped by force is that we arrived over an hour before the restaurant even opened.  We killed time mostly in a book store because most of the shops were closed as well.  Does nothing open before noon around here?  The streets are certainly busy enough 24 hours to signal something is happening.  Maybe people just drive around and honk at each other until around 12, then go to work.  After lunch we tried the Lotus Temple one more time and it was closed again (at least we took a picture this time).  Three strikes for Shiv.  Bad week I guess.

Speaking of busy streets, we finally decided we’d had enough of being chauffeured everywhere we went and ordering in dinner.  Susan’s place is great, but we’ve been getting lazy so we ventured out into the untamed streets, much to the horror of the security guard at the house.  It was fun and enlightening.  It began with a nice, but hot, walk through the streets of the neighborhood which is quite a wealthy and safe place for Delhi.  Eventually we reached the end, passed through the gates, and were instantly right in the middle of it all.  Chaos.  Tuk tuks, motorcycles, cars, bicycles, pedestrians, wild dogs, you name it. 

You know you really can’t say you’ve been to a city (in my opinion) until you’ve a) walked around in it, b) smelled it, and c) been to a local grocery store.  We did all of these and more.  To try and capture the scene, Ty took a short video which I have posted below.  Hopefully it works…

We eventually found some food (Italian again – ugh), went to the grocery store, and then walked for about 30+ minutes back.  By this time it was dark and the neighbor hood was a buzz with activity (although it is 24/7, so not sure what the dark had to do with it).  There were food stalls galore, auto repair shops, a mosque with several shrines along the street, wild dogs everywhere (at least 100 in our short walk), furniture stores, pot holes, kittens, beggars, welders, kids playing badminton, people bathing, people building things, people tearing things apart, people doing nothing, you name it.  Oh, and did I mention wild dogs?

Anyway, it was a great last night in Delhi.  Tomorrow morning we will do this walk again (Ty found a promising coffee shop for an attempt at breakfast) and then head to the airport for our flight through London to Reykjavik, Iceland, where the temperature is half of what it is here.  Wish us luck! 

3 Weeks In… Starting to Feel Like a Vacation

Ah, another slow day here in Delhi.  This has been a big trip and every day we get a chance to do very little is a blessing.  We started the morning with a trip to the Delhi Red Fort, not to be confused with the Agra Red Fort, which is near the Taj Mahal.  I have now been to both and would give the following overview:

  • The Delhi Red Fort is bigger, especially looking at it from the outside
  • The Agra Red Fort is way more interesting, especially on the inside

Most importantly, the rain that had been in Delhi since we arrived finally left us and it became, well…  HOT!!!  I nearly melted today.  It was as hot and humid as the Room to Read school visit in the hills of Nepal, except in the concrete jungle of Delhi.  Frighteningly hot.  Extremely hot.  Anyway… 

The fort was a bit boring compared to what we have seen so far.  From the outside it looks huge and intimidating, but once inside it becomes a much smaller place with only a few interesting buildings.  I only took about 10 photos, which says a lot given our photo progress to date.

We finished the fort a bit early so we walked down the street past a Jain temple (but not ‘the’ Jain temple, evidently) and Ty finally got a taste of real India.  Beggars, hawkers, crowds and heat.  Not to a level I have seen in my trips to Mumbai, but a good taste nonetheless.  

The rest of our day was spent having lunch at Connaught Place and then a long drive back to the house, where we proceeded to do nothing, the holy grail of vacation activity.  We even ordered delivery for dinner – more Murgh!

Tomorrow may be slow as well.  One can only hope.  :) 

Can’t Get Enough of the Murgh! (Delhi)

Today was our first full day in Delhi, and it started early.  Our driver “Shiv” picked us up promptly at 8am (his suggestion) so we could be at the Red Fort early enough to beat the heat and the tourists.  One problem, which we only found out after 20+ minutes in the car: the Red Fort isn’t open on Mondays.  Doh!  Shiv loses a point on that one. 

Detour to breakfast, which he suggested we take at the Imperial Hotel, one of Delhi’s finest.  This was both good and bad.  Good, because it was beautiful and near-perfect (sipping tea with businessmen and tourists of at least come considerable wealth).  Bad, because this trip was not about sipping tea with business men.  For those that know me, I have sipped tea as a businessman in hotels like this for 10+ years and while I love it, I’m not ready to be around it again just yet.  Also, it cost just a bit less than a night in our last hotel in Kathmandu.  That said, it was a nice break from the budget traveling we had grown accustom to.

After breakfast it was “Gentlemen, start your sightseeing” again as we were sped off to the first of many sights, the Jama Masjid Mosque.  It was beautiful, but we never actually made it inside.  It was raining and the entrance was covered with water and the rules say no shoes.  People were walking through the water in their socks, which was where we decided to draw the line today.  Laundry comes at a premium on the road.  They also wanted us to give up the backpack and pay some rupees to take pictures.  We declined and took a few from the outside.

Next up was Humayun’s Tomb, a stunning set of buildings and gardens not unlike the Taj Mahal in Agra, but deep red in color Vs. white.  We were early here as well and for India, you could almost say we had the place to ourselves.  We even took the time to shoot a video interview on the grounds (our computer and connections have been way to slow to show the video (shot in HD – huge files), so look for that after we get home).  Just when you think you have temple fatigue again, something comes along to re-impress you.  Humayun’s Tomb did just that, and we were once again enjoying ourselves and snapping photos like machine gunners in battle.

After the tomb was one of our least anticipated, but most underrated sights, Qutb Minar.  Like many sights on this trip, the pictures won’t come close to doing this tower justice.  Not only is it large and old, but the detail on it is simply amazing and the surrounding tombs and gardens were equally impressive.  What sounded like a boring sight became probably my favorite of the day.  Check out the photos section for more on this one, but also book a trip to see it yourself.

Last up for sights was the Lotus Temple, a more modern structure that resembles either a) a lotus flower, or b) the Sydney Opera House.  Same architect?  It was quite a long drive to get there and on arrival we found it closed as well.  Strike two for Shiv.  Not having a good day.  He was quite worried, but not us.  We were quite happy to just see it from a distance because it was almost lunch time and the food here will always beat the sights (and just about everything else you can imagine).

At the suggestion of my friends James and Elizabeth (who lived in Delhi for two years) we were taken to Zaffron.  While expensive and expat-ish, the food was excellent!  I can’t get enough of the Murgh, in just about any form, and we had two dishes of it with lunch including the Lababdar and another of the Tikka variety.  Excellent!

With lunch finished, we were headed back home when Ty decided he wanted a beer for the evening (our plan was to do nothing except read and/or sleep).  Our driver stopped along the road near a “beer store” which was a bit odd and down-market, especially for the two travelers who had dined at the Imperial on the same morning.  It was a hot, dirty place filled with the Indian equivalent of malt liquor and a generous amount of loiterers out front (even by Indian standards).  Four tall cans of Kingfisher later and a brisk walk past the “very interested” crowd and we were on our way.  Home at last.

On a final note, I just finished a book I can’t help but recommend.  Lost on Planet China, by J. Maarten Troost.  If you have any curiosity about China, or even if you know it well, this book is a must read.  Both Ty and I read it in just a few sittings and it is hilarious.  Check it out (literally)! 

Oh, and don’t forget there are new photos posted!