Thailand Part 2

So we are in Sydney, Australia right now.  We are currently staying about an hour from the CBD (central business district).  We’ve had a rental car since being in Australia (3 weeks so far).  Today we met up with some friends that we made on one of the cruises, and decided to take public transit instead of driving down and trying to find/pay for parking.  As we were on the bus heading back home, I was zoned out in my own little world when I was surprised to find that I understood all the chatter and talking going on around me.  It was kind of a funny realization: I have gotten used to being on public transit and not understanding the language spoken around me 😉  So I guess it’s going to take a bit longer than 3 weeks to readjust to being back in English speaking countries.

Anyways, back to the second half of our visit to Thailand.  From Chiang Mai we took the train down to Bangkok.  It was a longer one (12 hours), but it was sooo pretty going through the jungle, mountains, rice fields, and then into Bangkok.  I also really enjoy travelling the way locals travel.  We were definitely the minority on the train, and it was cool to be served a meal of canned herring (some of us tried it, some of us didn’t try it, but I don’t think any of us finished it), meat and rice, and snacks of taro buns, coffee, soda, or water.  We arrived in Bangkok and stayed there for 5 nights.  We took taxis, rode commuter boats (they pack you in those suckers like sardines), walked and walked, and ate and had fun exploring with the Kinnis and Turners.  We had a day at the zoo, a day travelling up and down the river and checking out the markets, a day of chillaxing at the park and pool, and a day walking around downtownish….

Then it was on to another 12 hour train ride, this one overnight.  We booked second class tickets, and were each assigned our own berth in an open train car (not open air, but open seating).  Because the train was late leaving, as soon as we got on the train, the attendant was making up beds, and we were more than happy to climb into our selective bunks and have some nice down time.  It was really nice having our own space (hahah, you know you’ve been travelling a lot when you consider a bunk in a train car with a curtain around it a nice private space).  I pulled that pink curtain shut, started to write in my journal, only to wake up 11 hours later almost at our stop.   Gotta love being rocked to sleep by a train 😉  We took a bus, then a ferry, and then a taxi to an amazing little hotel/resort on Koh Samui, an island on the east side of Thailand.  It was gorgeous.  Amazing. place.  We ended up having two full days (arrived at 10am and left at 5pm the next day), and spent a few hours of each day at the beach.  We also walked around and checked out the area we were in (the quieter side of the island Mae Nam), which was awesome.  I would go back there in a second.  We had the beach almost to ourselves, and it really felt like a piece of paradise down there. A very nice rest before hitting the road again and heading to Malaysia.

The only train to Malaysia that we could find left the Surat Thani train station at 1am.  So we booked it and hoped we would still be awake when the train came through, and the station would be safe.  We considered renting a hotel until midnight, but Surat Thani is a small town, and there weren’t any hotels close to the train station.  I looked up tonnes of reviews of the station, and found a few by single females travelling who said it was safe, and they had no problems.  So  after leaving Koh Samui at 6pm, we got to the train station at around 9pm, and settled in for the wait.  It was HOT…open air train station, old station (no air conditioning, so electric outlets, no vending machines, open air toilets).  Just some plastic seats out in the open with some stray dogs wandering around, locals waiting for trains to come in, and lots of bugs.  It was a long wait…we didn’t have our usual electronic entertainment, since our iPads and phones were running low on juice and there was nowhere to charge them.  But we felt safe.  And it was kinda fun.  The police did a regular walk by, and there were guards on the other side of the tracks.  Every time a train was a few minutes away, one of the guards would run across the tracks and ring this HUGE bell and yell that the train was coming.  No automatic boards updating times here.  There was a chalk board that was updated by a lone female worker every hour or so.  Our train didn’t end up arriving until 3am.  We made some friends with a group of “kids” in their early 20s.  They weren’t sure if their bus was picking them up at 4am or 6am.  Jo had a nap and then chatted with them while we walked around in circles and tried to stay awake.  One of the policemen asked if he could get a picture with Jo (this has happened a couple of times in Thailand…the same with Jo’s cousin Roscoe).  I can’t tell you how tired we were when the train finally arrived.  We stumbled onto the train, crawled into our beds (yep, pink curtains for privacy again), and were asleep before the train even left the station.

So final thoughts on Thailand: We loved it.  We loved the food.  We loved the people we met.  We loved the flora, fauna and amazing, gorgeous beaches and water.  We loved meeting other tourists, but also loved meeting locals.  We loved bartering.  We had taxi drivers who spoke a little English, and some who spoke zero English (we used goolemaps and cellphones a LOT).  We can’t wait to go back and experience Thailand again some day 🙂

 

Thailand Part 1

So, it’s been awhile again. I think it’s because we have been relaxing, enjoying OZ land, and really feeling like we are on vacation this month.  Australia has been very comfortable, and it really does feel like we are on vacation, instead of “travelling.” (I will write about the difference in another post 😉 ). We are on the homestretch, and just chillaxing and enjoying being back in an English speaking country.  Anyways, enough about Australia, I bet you are all dying to hear about Thailand, so here goes 🙂

We were in Thailand for 3 weeks. We arrived in Phuket at the end of January, leaving 2 days early from the cruise, and stayed overnight there. I think it was a good place to start, because Phuket is super touristy, and we weren’t as overwhelmed as if we had been in a non-English/touristy place. It was an easy transition into Thai life, and as we left the ship (after saying goodbye to good friends and great staff), we wandered through town to drop our suitcases at the hotel, and then went back to the beach for the afternoon. If you have ever seen pictures of Phuket, it is every bit as beautiful as the pictures look. Seriously. Typical beachy, touristy area, but oh so gorgeous. We had a relaxing afternoon at the beach, and then spent the evening wandering around and trying out the local food: pad thai. So good. We found a food stall on the side of the road, ordered up two plates, and ate in an alleyway where some tables and chairs where set up. We had arrived 😉 A few things that stuck out to us were the pop bottles full of gas being sold at roadside stands. These were for scooters and motorbikes. We also noticed the thai fighting advertising trucks driving around. Jo said: “I’ve seen those on TV!!” Also, we were impressed with the motorcycles with bbqs attached to them. People would wave them down, the driver would stop, and then cook up whatever the person ordered. Looked good, but it was our first night, so we decided not to push it with trying out too much new food.  Anyways, even though we were only there for 24 hours, we felt like we had a good introduction to Thailand by starting here.

We had made plans awhile ago to meet up with Nathan’s brother and family in Chiang Mai, about 20 hours north of Phuket, so we took our first flight of the trip from Phuket up to Chiang Mai. It was just under two hours, and we were completely surprised that we got a hot meal and snacks on such a short flight. The time flew (haha) and we landed in Chiang Mai and headed over to the hotel where we met up with Jeremy, Carmen, Aria, Roscoe, Tom and Phyllis (Carmen’s parents). Sooooo good to see family again; especially in one of the places we were anticipating would be the hardest to navigate.  We were helping out at an international workers conference, and I really can’t tell you how good it was to hang out with family and new friends for almost a week.  We took songthaews (red trucks with benches in the back like a taxi), ate street food, went to night markets, got a Thai massage (sooo funny, but that’s a story for another time), and had a blast enjoying it all with family. Chiang Mai is another place that I highly recommend if you’re heading to Thailand. Almost everyone spoke English, and we didn’t run into any major issues or problems.  So the first week was at the conference, and then we moved over to another area of Chiang Mai.

We spent a day driving up into the mountains, and checked out a mountain village.  So many stalls/vendors, and so much stuff.  It was crazy.  And cool to see the village.  We saw an outdoor school, lots of greenery, coffee bean plants, and some waterfalls.  The ride up in the songthaew was bumpy and at times felt a little like being on a rollercoaster, but it was all part of the Thai experience 🙂  We stopped at the royal palace on the way back down, and also a way (temple).  It was an amazing day of exploring and experiencing true Thai culture.

Bartering is pretty much a given everywhere (even on songthaews, you barter with the driver), except in stores.  We didn’t really go into too many stores, except 7-11’s which are EVERYwhere.  Seriously.  Like every block has one.  We drank slurpees almost every day.  Not only because they were reminders of home, but because it was so hot here.  (Notice my frizzy hair in most of the pics ? haha).

We also took a day and went to an elephant sanctuary.  We got to feed the elephants, have a mud bath with them, and then rinse them off in the river.  It was awesome, and something we will never forget.  Such gentle animals, and so cool to be so close to them and have a few hours interacting up close and personal with them.

Then we spent another day just wandering around the area, and checking things out in the neighbourhood we were staying in.  We ate at some restaurants, but we also ate at food stands on the side of the road.  It was all super cheap, and we figured we’d take the chance and hope our stomachs didn’t rebel a few hours later.  Not sure if it was taking the ducarol all those months ago before we left, or just really good cooking, but our stomachs survived, and we made it through Thailand without any major gastrointestinal issues (sorry if that’s TMI).

I really wish we could pack you all up and bring you all with us. But, the next best thing is meeting up with friends and family along the way.  Honestly, when you are in another country….especially one as foreign as Asia, it is so, so good to see familiar faces and have co-travelers with you for awhile, and to know that we weren’t on our own for a couple weeks.  Thanks so much for letting us tag along on your Thai adventure Jeremy, Carmen, Aria, Roscoe, Tom and Phyllis. We really had a blast, and can’t believe all the things we saw in such a short time!  Our next 3 year anniversary is gonna be crazy!!

And to all of you for “travelling” with us and reading along…it’s almost as good as having you here with us as well, with the comments, emails and messages you all send.  We were just talking about that the other day.  How it’s been 8 months, but really doesn’t feel that long.  And I know that we missed out on a year of things at home, but it still doesn’t feel like we haven’t seen our friends for that long.  Social media, WhatsApp, messenger, and phone calls have all helped us feel like we’re still in touch with friends and family at home.  Anyways, that’s it for part 1 of Thailand.  I’ll try to get Part 2 up in the next couple days 🙂  As always, thanks for taking the time to read!

 

The People You’ll Meet

We had a few travel days, which are always busy, but a fun way to see things and meet people.

So I wanted to tell you about some of the people you will meet if you travel.

You will meet fellow travellers (FT). These are some of my favourite people. There is an instant connection when you start to talk to fellow travellers about the places they’ve been and the experiences they’ve had.  Sharing funny stories, and finding out that you aren’t the only one to feel a certain way about something in another country brings a certain camaraderie about. Even simple things like talking about food.   Funny story: I was telling my brother and sister in law the other day how much I miss cheese since we’ve left Europe. (I get food homesickness every once in a while, and this one just happened to be cheese). No joke, we were sitting in the train station yesterday waiting for our train to Malaysia, and the FT couple we were talking to asked what food we had enjoyed the most since leaving home. He then said that he missed cheese……instant bond right there 😉

I have found that you have to have to have a certain kind of humour to get through long term travel, and we have discovered that to be true with pretty much every other long term FT we’ve met. These last couple days we met a group of Americans at the train station (at 2 in the morning btw), who asked if we were waiting for the bus to get to the ferry. We told them no, we were waiting for our train that had been delayed an hour and was now coming in at 3am. No point in getting worked up about it, we both just laughed and made jokes about the situation, and how sleep is overrated anyways. Two other FT’s (two separate people) had been in a scooter crash earlier that day. Luckily they were okay, but they had both had to pay hefty fees to get their passports back from the rental companies. I’m sure at the time they were upset, but when we met them, it was a good travel story, and they both reminisced about it and chalked it up to experience.  On one of our cruises, an FT got taken by a tuk tuk driver to the driver’s home.  The driver called his kids out, and told the passenger he needed more money to support his family.  Another chalk it up to experience story that was shared over a cup of coffee.  These are the nitty gritty stories of real world travelling, that usually only FT’s will understand.  (Also, please don’t think I’m making light of these situations, as I know they could have gone horribly wrong, and sometimes do; I know that you have to go into travel with your wits about you, and keep your smarts about you too.  But there is also with a certain sense of humour/attitude that when you’ve travelled for so long, you learn to kind of just roll with the moment and whatever comes your way.  It’s an adventure.  Always be on guard, but know that you’re gonna have an amazing time, and some awesome stories to share.)

You will meet local people (LP), who are so proud of their hometown and country, and will go out of their way to make you feel at home. We have met a lot of these people through Airbnb, a home rental site for short term or long term rentals. It takes a special person to host travellers, and make them comfortable in a new and foreign place. We have also met a lot of these people just walking around and taking local transit. I shared our Italy bus story with you, and it is still one of my favourite memories. A local person saw us standing at the exit to the train station, while Nathan was trying to get the internet working on his phone. The gentleman asked us what we were looking for, and when we said “taxi,” he said, “don’t take the taxi, use this app instead….much cheaper and faster.” You will meet local people who offer their cell phones for you to make a local call. This happened twice that I can remember, when we didn’t have a cell plan…once in UAE when Nathan asked a janitor in the mall where a pay phone was. The janitor just pulled out his phone and offered it to Nathan. And our “Grab” driver (like Uber), offered us his phone to call the host of the Airbnb once he dropped us off outside the apartment here in Malaysia. We also had a taxi driver in Bangkok pull over and ask where we were going. When we told him we needed two taxis, he got another taxi driver, and then we said we weren’t sure what time the place we were going to was open until. He asked the other driver, they used their cell phones to look it up, and when we found out it was only open for another 40 minutes, he said we probably wouldn’t get there in time. It may not seem like a big deal, but he could have taken us for a ride and made money if he wasn’t such a nice guy. I seriously could go on and on about local people and how awesome they are.

That being said, you will also meet local people who aren’t that friendly, and will ignore you, or walk away when you ask them something, or yell at you about something. (One lady was pretty ticked at us in Greece that we didn’t speak Greece….and I totally get it 😉 ) It has been our experience that these LP are few and far between, and the nice LP outnumber the grumpy ones by miles.

I have always been a bit of a skeptical person…especially after researching and reading about travel scams, and people who have been ripped off by locals and transit drivers. This trip has taught me that there are far more good people out there than there are bad ones. You still have to be on your guard, and travel smart, but it’s nice to know that most people are willing to help if you need it, and all you have to do is ask.

Anyways, those are just a few stories I wanted to share….I could go on and on, but will stop there.  Thanks for reading.  We love you all, and are excited to be on the home stretch of the trip 🙂

 

India and Sri Lanka

Whew, what a month!  I can’t believe it is already February!  After booking flights to Bangkok from Dubai, we ended up finding a last minute opening on a cruise that we had been watching from Abu Dhabi to Singapore, via India and Sri Lanka.  If you read my post on cruising, you can imagine how excited we were to find this opening.  This would also give us a chance to visit India and Sri Lanka without us doing all the planning.  So we cancelled our flight tickets, and booked the cruise. Then went about the crazy (stressful) task of trying to get Indian visas in Dubai within a 10 day window.  So very glad we had a rental car, because I don’t know how we would have done it with public transit. (Well, okay, we would have taken a taxi, but we were running back and forth so much due to the time constraint, that it would have cost a small fortune ;)).  We got our visas and passports back in hand just in time to drive up to Abu Dhabi, where we stayed for the last four nights of our UAE stint.  Got on the ship on January 14, and took off for Mumbai, India.  As it was January, there were a lot of older folks on the ship, but the boys did make a few good friends, and enjoyed kids club and all the activities the ship had to offer.  Nathan enjoyed the trivia and guest lectures (and buffet), and I enjoyed the library, trivia, and meeting fellow travellers.  Having not planned on going to India, we had no expectations, and hadn’t had a chance to even research anything.  So we booked an excursion with the ship for the first port, so that we were with fellow travellers and could get a feel for how to navigate India with a guide.

We decided to do the market excursion in Mumbai, which took us to 3 different markets in the city, and allowed us to walk around a little bit, while still in a group.  Lucky for us, some of Nate’s fellow trivia players were on the tour as well, so we got to hang out and chat with them for the day.  We also met some other folks from Sweden, England, and Scotland.  It was a good group to go with, and the markets were quite interesting to explore.  We were a bit disappointed with the third market, which was just a  bunch of indoor stores, but we sat outside and hung out with our friends and watched the traffic and life in Mumbai go by.  We were only in the city for a day, so our experience was more of a taste of the city…  First of all, we were all amazed/awestruck by the traffic.  There were cars, tuk tuks, scooters, pedestrians, cows, buses, bikes everywhere.  There were no traffic lanes that I could see…just a mishmash of moving things going everywhere.   I honestly have no idea how people know where to go, but everyone was moving, and I guess you just go with the flow.  We walked up one street that had the same types of vehicles, but also had men pulling carts up them…. Stores/stalls/street vendors are everywhere.  We were told we could barter, but we weren’t interested in buying anything, as it was our first day, and we just like to explore and take stuff in to begin with.  Jo commented that Mumbai was louder than NYC, and I think that’s a correct assessment 😉

Our second port was Goa.  We had wavered back and forth about taking our own taxi into the city, but at the last minute, we decided to book a cheap(er) excursion that went into Panjin, India.  We were glad we did, as the taxi drivers ended up being on strike the day we were there, and it was a last minute scramble for people who were planning on taxis.  Anyways, it was a long bus ride up to Panjin from the port, and it was very cool watching the scenery as we drove.  There was lots of lush greenery, temples, huts, fields, and glimpses of the water from the road we were on.  Quite different from the city 🙂  We stopped in Old Goa for some pictures and then continued up to Panjin, where we had a guided walking tour, and then a couple hours to walk around and explore on our own. Quite the history, and we enjoyed learning about the architecture and people.  This is a gorgeous part of the country, and we kind of wished we had a few more days to explore this area.  The locals were very friendly, and we did have a few vendors following us and trying to sell things, but most of them backed off when we told them ‘no.’  And the ones that didn’t weren’t rude, they just kept walking with us and holding their wares out…we just kept walking and eventually they got the idea 😉  Of note: we (along with some of our fellow travellers), were surprised that a lot of the local people (food stalls and coffee shops), did not accept US currency.  They said it was too hard for them to exchange it, and didn’t know the exchange rate.  No biggie, but just a note to others if you are planning on going, to make sure you exchange moula before heading into the towns.

Our third and final day in India was spent in Cochin.  We got off the ship with some friends, who kindly invited us to travel with them for the day.  After talking to the taxi driver though, he said we would need two vehicles.  So we decided to head out on our own in a tuk tuk.  The driver we had was awesome.  He offered to take us around Fort Cochin for 3-4 hours for $10 US total.  (This was the going rate, although our friends got the deal for $5 US 😉 )  We went to churches, temples, the Chinese fishing nets, a market street, museum, palace.  Loved it!  Saw random goats walking around town 😉  We had a blast, and ended the day bartering at the stalls in our port.  As Canadians I think we always feel bad if we don’t give what the person is asking; but we have come to understand that bartering is a way of life in other parts of the world, and it is not offensive to offer an offensive amount back to the vendors…especially when you are obviously a tourist.  Prices go waaaay up when they see you coming 😉  One guy was asking $20 each for an item that we were interested in.  We bartered back and forth and walked away with them for $5 US each.

Had a few days at sea after India, and then had a day in Colombo, Sri Lanka.  It was HOT!!! We walked into town from the port. We were followed by tuk tuk drivers who called out prices to us, and some even pulled ahead, got out of their vehicles and walked alongside us.  Honestly, for us it wasn’t a big deal; just say no and keep walking.  Part of life here, and part of people knowing you aren’t local 😉  We spent some time watching the tide come in, and then just wandered, as we like to do sometimes.  We had no agenda, just walked and absorbed the city.  Went to the market and got some shorts for Isaac….again, we had to barter, but we are used to it now, and the vendors weren’t pushy at all.  I think because we know we can get it two stalls down, or at the next block, we really aren’t desperate about buying certain items.  The shorts were needed, but not any specific ones.  So Isaac got a couple pair of nice comfy linen shorts after we shopped around a few different stalls.  Met up with some friends from the ship, and then walked back to the boat.  We have been in the sun every day since hitting Dubai, and every day (including today), we have put on sunscreen.  Today was the first day we got burnt.  I guess it makes sense, since we are further south, and closer to the sun, but it was still a surprise to get back on the boat and discover burnt shoulders and cheeks after all these weeks in the sun.  Lesson learned 😉

So to sum it up, we are so incredibly thankful that this opportunity to spend a few days in India and one in Sri Lanka was opened up for us.  India is a beautiful country, and we would have loved to explore more inland, but were amazed at what we got to see in the few days we had.  Yes, the cities can be dirty, overwhelming, and busy, but that is why we love travel….to experience, explore and learn about life around the world.  As the lecturer onboard said: “lower your expectations, you are not in North America.”  We went in with no expectations, and enjoyed exploring and discovering firsthand a tiny little piece of life in India.  The locals we met were friendly, and as I mentioned, the vendors can be aggressive, but that is part of life here, and we just embraced it and carried on.  I think going via cruise was a nice way to do it as well, since we weren’t on our own trying to figure it all out solo, and had the same living quarters for 2 weeks…not having to pack up and move every few days.  It was nice having down days, relaxing sea days, and spending time with (mostly) English, American and Canadian travellers in between exploring days.

So that’s it for today.  Thanks for taking the time to read, and travel with us.  We miss you all (I have especially been missing my hiking/walking friends….you really miss nature and outdoor walks when you are on a boat for a couple weeks…that outdoor track just doesn’t do it 😉 )  We are in Thailand for the next week or two (have already been here a week), so stay tuned for our adventures in this beautiful country 🙂

Grandma Herringer

One last post before we leave. Just after New Years, Nathan’s parents called with the news that his Grandma was not doing well. It was not very long after that they called back to let us know that Grandma Herringer had passed away. From Nathan:
It was very hard to be away from family during those days, and especially during the funeral, but we are thankful we got to say one last goodbye to Grandma over Skype before she went home to heaven. Below are some of the memories we had of Grandma:

Grandma always loved to play a game whether it was baseball, horse shoes, cards (pennies, hand and foot, cribbage). I remember going to the family reunions and grandma would be working on putting together a baseball game for all the grandkids and she would be playing right along. Evenings after dinner were always spent playing cards with lots of laughs.

Grandma was an amazing cook and it always felt like coming home walking into her house to the smell of Dumplings, soups, sausage, turkey and fresh baked goods. There was always a container of fresh baked buns, cookies, butter horns, cinnamon twists and kuchen waiting for us when we got there. Grandma also knew each of our favorites and made sure they were there when we got there. (and she had a bag full to send with us for the drive to wherever we were going next). I always left her house full and a few pounds heavier.

Grandma loved when we would come to visit and always tried to make each visit special. She would try to plan something whether it was going camping, to a park, booking the dining room for dinner or making arrangements for us to go fishing in Arbour Lake. She also loved to just sit with the Great grandkids and talk, or read to them or have them read to her. The people in her life were the most important to her and she worked hard to ensure you felt special.

-Nathan and Riann

Isaac’s memories- Grandma was always happy and had a smile on her face. She loved to hear about what he was doing and encouraged him in everything he was doing. Isaac loved to hear her stories about great Grandpa and her childhood.

 

Josiah’s Memories- Jo remembers Grandma teaching him how to play cribbage. Grandma arranged for Josiah to go fishing at Arbour lake and sat with him while he fished.

 

We love you Grandma, and will cherish the memories we have with you , the boys and Grandpa.

United Arab Emirates

So, how do you fit spending three weeks in United Arabs Emirate into one blog post? I don’t know, but will do my best to try J (Also, the site is in Arabic right now, so will add photos late 😉 )

We disembarked from the ship on December 23, and were sad to say goodbye to the friends we had make on the ship. But we were welcomed by an old family friend from home, who picked us up at the port and spent the first day with us introducing us to Dubai. It was awesome to see BJ and meet his wife, Virginia, and spend an afternoon with them at JBR (Jumeirah Beach Resort), and then the evening at a Christmas market in Jumeirah. Seriously, there is nothing like arriving at a new city/country and seeing a familiar face! Soooo thankful that BJ and Virginia had the day off and were willing to spend it with us J December 24 was spent running around the Mall of the Emirates trying to find Christmas presents for the boys that weren’t too big or too heavy, but still fun. Do you know how hard that was? Hahah….running around in a strange (but amazing) mall and having the boys with us the entire time required some strategic buying and hiding. Anyways, we muddled through and then headed to the airport to pick up one of our BFFs Gregory Satarelli. He flew 11 hours from home to spend Christmas and New Years with us and explore some of the UAE. We waited an hour and a half at the airport, and the boys were hopping up and down the whole time…it was hilarious to watch them! Again, it was sooo nice to have a friend with us for this leg of the trip. It’s always more fun travelling with friends and sharing stories and experiences J Anyways, it was a late night and early morning when the boys woke up to open presents. Our tree was about 12 inches tall, but we did manage to leave some cookies and milk for Santa, and he did find us even though we were halfway around the world. Greg (Santa is in his name), brought a bunch of cards from our church peeps at home, some small (well done friends and family!) presents that mostly consisted of food and lightweight items….keychains and such, and it really felt like Christmas. THANKS to everyone for thinking of us, and especially to Greg for transporting it all. Then we were invited to a HUGE Christmas dinner at BJs brother’s house. It was a mix of ex-pats, and friends of friends, and it was awesome. Again, I can’t tell you how nice it was to sit down at a Christmas dinner with friends and feel like we weren’t missing out on the big dinner at home. HUGE thanks to BJ for the invite, and his brother and wife for hosting. Words can’t really express how welcomed we felt and how “normal” it felt to be there J The rest of the first week was spent with a mix of sightseeing and beach days. We quickly found one of our favourite beaches, and spent 3 or 4 days there….Kite Beach is awesome, and the boys had a blast swimming and playing in the water. Jo also really liked JBR on the day Greg left, as it had really big waves, and we spent about 2 hours in them, diving, body surfing, and getting tossed around in the shallow water (don’t worry, we stayed very shallow and kept the kids very close). We went to the old part of Dubai and introduced Greg to souqs. It was hilarious watching him barter, and I wish we had video of it….

We took a Dhow (traditional wooden boat) across the river for a whopping 5dirham ($1.50 Cad) total. Went to a museum and learned about Dubai’s history. We went to the Mall of the Emirates, the Dubai Mall, watched the water fountain show, and checked out lots of hole in the wall places to eat (the best food we found, by the way). The boys loved seeing Tim Hortons, 7-11, and other chains from home. Everywhere we went in Dubai, people spoke English to us. And it seemed to be the most common language while we were walking and hanging out. After a week in Dubai, we headed to another Emirate: Ajman. This one had a noticeably different vibe than Dubai. Definitely more Arabic, hardly any English heard, except when we spoke to people, and I would say we were one of the few white people in the area. The grocery stores were very different from the ones we used in Dubai, and it really felt like we were in a different country, even though we were only about 45 minutes away from Dubai. It was cool to go and experience Ajman, and we checked out the fish market, and did a safari from here. One of the things we noticed was the incense burning in the hotel lobby, and in other public areas we went. I also forgot to mention that we heard the call to prayer every day (I think 5 times). Like the bells in Europe, the call to prayer is something that you notice every time the first few days, but then fades into the background after awhile. (Unless you are staying in a hotel right next to a mosque, and then you really notice it at 545am 😉 ).

Anyways, for New Years we saw a record breaking fireworks show in Ras Al Khaim, another Emirate. So fun to see it in real life. And cool to see how the locals celebrate New Years. Fires and camping in the sand dunes beside the highway is quite common, and we saw a lot of people barbequing and ringing in the New Year that way. We also did the touristy thing and went on a desert safari….it was a blast! We went dune bashing in a Jeep (look it up on Youtube…it’s quite the ride), rode on camels, tried sandsurfing, and had dinner in the desert with a show in the middle. We also met some super nice people, and again, it was nice to chat with other travellers, and even some locals about the culture. After Greg left for home on Jan. 3, we took a few days to plan the next leg of our journey. We had flights booked to Bangkok for Jan. 5, but found an opening in a cruise that left Abu Dhabi on Jan. 14, and ended in Singapore on the 29. So we booked it. And then booked a place in Abu Dhabi for another week. We had gone to Abu Dhabi for a day trip earlier, and explored the Grand Mosque. Again, pictures do not do this place justice. The second time there, we enjoyed the beach, headed up to Al Ain for a day (amazing!!! Wish we had gone there earlier…saw a fort, the founding Sheikh’s family palace, Jebel Hafeet-highest point in the UAE, and even enjoyed a local festival that we stumbled upon), and then had another couple days of planning and booking.

It’s a great city!

Anyways, in terms of logistics, we are very glad we rented a car. We would not have seen half the things we did without one. Nathan did an amazing job of navigating through the crazy roundabouts and doing u-turns and following sometimes very hard to understand directions from googlemaps. We are very glad we started in Dubai, as it has a lot of chains, stores and other things that are familiar. And malls. With stores we know from home J (Not that we bought anything other than groceries, but it was nice to be back among the familiar). It is an amazing city, and we definitely understand the draw it has for people from all over the world. We are also glad we came in the winter. It got up to 30 degrees a couple of times, and we enjoyed the beaches and the warmth. Definitely hot enough for us in December/January 😉

And grocery stores are our best friends in terms of finding local food and popular eats. Even foods from home….once in a while 😉
Anyways, it was an amazing experience to be in the UAE for a few weeks. We will miss the sand, the call to prayer throughout the day, the bartering, and the friends. BJ and Virginia: thanks so much for making yourselves available and spending what time you could with us. We are very grateful you were here for us J
Greg, you came at just the right time…thanks for the laughs, the energy, for rooming with the boys, and having patience while we figured out life in the UAE. Jo still has your face as the screen saver on his ipad…it’s kinda creepy 😉 hahahah.

I am sitting in the Dubai port using the free wifi, so this is gonna go up unedited again. Sorry if it’s long, and kinda all over the place. We will be on the ship for another two weeks, stopping at 3 different ports in India, one in Sri Lanka, and then over to Thailand. Will catch up with you all then J

Thanks for checking in!!!

Cruise from Italy to Dubai

Well, it is our last official day in the UAE, and I am trying to get caught up on here. If you read my last post, you will know how much we enjoyed our cruise in December. We left the port of Genoa, Italy, and travelled from there with stops at Heraklion (Greece), Aqaba (Jordan), Muscat (Oman), Doha (Qatar), Sir Bani Yas Island (UAE), and ended in Dubai (UAE). When we originally planned this trip, the middle east never crossed our minds. We were wanting to take the Trans Siberian Railroad from Russia across to China in December, and that’s quite a distance away from here 😉 But, as has been our life for the past 6 months, plans changed, and we found this cruise back in September while we were in Holland. It sounded like an amazing way to travel and see some of the Middle East while not having to do a lot of planning. So we booked our tickets, and are so very glad we did. (One day Russia and China, we will make it to see you, I promise!!!).   The cruise took us through Egypt via the Suez Canal. What an experience. We went very slowly and it took about a day to go through the canal. There were locals out on the water fishing, and also ferries waiting to cross with men and boys on them yelling “Welcome to Egypt.” We spent most of that day just staring out at the water and land as we passed it by. Soooooo cool. We ended in the Red Sea that evening, and sailed across it for the whole next day. The boys (and Nate and I) thought it was really cool to be sailing over the Sea that we have read about in the Bible. I told Jo there might still be some ancient Egyptian chariots down there 😉 Our first stop in the Middle East was in Jordan. We booked an excursion to go to Petra (Indiana Jones for those of you who have seen it), as this was some place I had always wanted to see. So glad we were able to travel with friends we had made on the boat, as it was a 2 hour bus ride to Petra from the port. It was crazy to be there….seeing the desert, walking on sand, and seeing food brands (Lays chips for example) written in Arabic. (I know, duh, but it was still an eye opener to see at first). Anyways, Isaac was super pumped to see the Treasury (a building in Petra) that was used in one of the Indiana Jones movie. I just thought the whole thing was cool…cliff dwellings from thousands of years ago. Amazing!! Definitely worth the stop to see this place. Our tour guide also spent a good amount of time on the bus telling us about Jordanian people, culture, and lifestyles. It was quite interesting, and I wish we had more time to explore this amazing country. But we are thankful for the very little part that we got to see. Back on the boat we had 5 glorious relaxing days at sea. We spent most of these reading, crocheting, playing crib, hanging out with friends, going to craft/origami classes, swimming, and just sitting on the balcony watching the world go by. (We also had armed guards join us for this part of the trip since we were going through “pirate” territory; had to have lights out on all outside rooms after sunset, and we were not allowed outside on the seventh deck during those days). We stopped in Muscat, Oman, and decided to just walk around by ourselves for this one. We took a bus from the boat through the port, and then walked along the waterfront, and over to a souq. What can I tell you about this experience??? We are obviously tourists (white skin kinda gives it away), and the vendors are all trying to sell you their wares… they draped scarves over my arm, wafted frankincense towards us, kept calling you to come in and take a look. As long as you have no agenda, and nothing that you are absolutely attached to and must have, walking around souqs is a lot of fun. We loved it! And the Omanis are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. We bartered for some frankincense, and after we went back and forth and decided upon an amount, the vendor shook our hands and asked where we were from. Then he said he was from Bangladesh… I said Isaac’s best friend was from there, and then the man said, “well now you have two friends from Bangladesh.” We also met a couple of men while we were walking down from a fort. They started talking with Nathan, and told him they were on winter break from college. They talked for a bit pointing out other things to see, and giving tips on the area. A taxi driver saw Nathan’s hat and started talking to him about Canada. When we asked another store owner if Jo could trade some Canadian coins with him for some rial, he just gave Jo some coins and said “my gift to you.” Prior to this, I had been looking at 2 scarves priced in Rials. One was cheaper than the other, but I liked the more expensive one better. So I asked how much they were in US $….more expensive one was $15, and the cheaper one was $12. We only had $10 on us though, so I told him no, unfortunately. Then he asked me which one I liked better, and put the more expensive one in my hands. We loved Oman, and we loved the people we met there…seriously, nothing but generous, nice and friendly locals everywhere we went.

We spent a day in Doha, but it ended up being a bit of a gong show to start with. We were told by the cruise company that the only way out of the port was to take a paid bus ride into the city mall. So we paid for the bus and on the drive out, saw people walking all along the waterfront and souq across the street. Nothing bad about going to a mall, but we wanted to see local stuff, and the mall we were dropped off at was more of a modern one with stores and BONUS: Tim Hortons!!! Woot woot. So we bought some timbits for the boys and hopped back on the bus to the port, where we walked right back out and over to the souq. Because of prayer times and such, the souq ended up being closed, but it was still cool to walk around and see the stalls and some animals along the way. We ended up back out along the waterfront, where we found a park that the boys played at for a while. Watched some men taking care of some camels in a pen, and then walked along the water looking at the old boats and searching for fish (guess who did most of the searching).

Time to leave again, and we felt like we didn’t really get to know Qatar that much, but it was cool to see some of the city, and walk around the waterfront. Definitely a neat place J

Sir Bani Yas is an island used as an animal sanctuary. We were tendered to the Island by boat, and had a day at the beach. Crystal clear water, a play park, and inflatibles for the kids (and adults) to play on, made it a nice day of chillaxing. Again, we opted out of doing the paid excursions, and just enjoyed the sun and sand.

So all of that was our first taste of the Middle East. It was definitely a great time, and we would highly recommend this cruise itinerary to anyone thinking about it. There are so many highlights to this trip, but this cruise was definitely one of them !

 

On Cruising….

For most people cruises are a vacation, a way to get away from it all, and enjoy seeing new places. Before this trip, we had never gone on a cruise, but we have two under our belts now, and both have been amazing trips for us. This past trip (18 days from Genoa, Italy, through the Suez Canal, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, and ending in the UAE) was not only a vacation and a way to see a different part of the world that we wouldn’t have seen if we flew from Europe to the UAE, but it also became more of a refuge. I don’t think we realized how hard we had been going for the first 5 months until we stopped and boarded that boat for a glorious 18 days….18 days of not packing up and moving, 18 days of not having to figure out new grocery stores, reprogramming our brains to a new store layout, new foods, new currencies, etc.; 18 days of not having to look up places to stay, of not having to figure out transportation from one place to the next. It was awesome. And I think it was a much needed break from the constant moving that we had been doing. Don’t get me wrong…I wouldn’t change anything about the European leg of the trip, but taking the cruise halfway through turned out to be a very good decision. It was a break when we didn’t even realize we needed one. We made friends that we hung out with for more than a few hours over a couple of days before packing up and moving to the next place. The boys got some of their independence back by having friends they could hang out with on their own, and kids clubs that they could go to on their own. We saw some really cool places with some really cool people. It was really hard to leave the boat once we arrived in the UAE. I got into a bit of a funk for a couple days before disembarking…it felt like we were saying goodbye to home all over again. But then BJ met us at the port. And our friend Greg flew in from Hamilton to spend 10 days with us. And on Christmas morning, Greg walked into our little hotel room with an armful of presents and cards from home. And it felt like we were where we were supposed to be, with our friends and family still cheering us on.

So that’s a lot of “and’s,” and “,” and other grammatical sentence problems, but I’m just gonna post that without editing, and put up pictures on the next post. Thanks for travelling with us everyone. Can’t wait to see what the next half of this journey brings 🙂

 

 

6 Months In….

Happy New Years Everyone!!!

Thought we’d do a 6 month check-in.  Enjoy 🙂

Favourite place:

  • Nathan- Wagrain, Austria
  • Riann-all of them
  • Isaac-the bed
  • Jo-fishing in England with Tracey

Favourite food:

  • Nathan-Schnitzel
  • Riann-Shwarmas and pizza (Greece and Italy)
  • Isaac-all the foods (except haggis)
  • Jo-haggis, just cause Isaac hated it

Best thing about Travel:

  • Nathan-losing preconceived notions about different countries and seeing how people live in other countries
  • Riann-the people we meet and new places to see
  • Isaac-seeing new places
  • Jo-making friends

Best memory:

  • Nathan- seeing the boys excitement walking around Stonehenge
  • Riann-watching the boys grow more comfortable navigating around different cities, languages and cultures
  • Isaac-too many, I have a lot
  • Jo-swimming in the waves in Dubai

Funniest memory:

  • Nathan-watching a video from Greg after he flew home from Dubai showing his car not starting (Because it was frozen)
  • Riann-taking the local bus in Italy with all the Italians telling us where our stop was and talking back and forth over our heads about us…
  • Isaac-listening to Greg’s stories while driving
  • Jo-that’s pretty easy, but I can’t remember any of the funny ones

Worst part of travel:

  • Nathan-being away from friends and family
  • Riann-leaving places you have grown to feel comfortable in
  • Isaac-leaving places and new friends
  • Jo-you miss friends and family and traditions you do with friends

 

Buses: too many to count right now; will have to look it up in the journal

Boats: 12

Trains: 53

Countries visited: 23 (2 we only drove through quickly, and Egypt we cruised through without getting off the boat)…

Cars: 7

Tickets: 3 (that we know of 😉 )

 

Happy New Years Everyone!!!!

An Austrian/German Christmas

When we were talking about this year and the things we wanted to see, one of the high points on my list was Germany/Austria’s Christmas markets. I can’t tell you the history of the markets, (year they began, why they began), but this is where the Christmas market tradition began. So we planned a return visit to these countries with the main purpose of checking out markets, and experiencing a nice cosy/traditional German Christmas. I mentioned before that Nathan’s parents met up with us for this leg of the trip, and it was so fun sharing the experience with them J We started off in Vienna, which had markets everywhere we turned. And so much history…we took a tour of the Schonnbrunn Palace, where Mozart played his first concert for the Empress, took a quick peek in St Stephen’s Cathedral, which was also home base for a lot of world renowned musicians/composers (sorry, I am not too into classical music, so the facts didn’t really stick, but I think Handel was a choirboy here, Mozart applied to be the choir master, but passed away just before his term was to start….). Vienna was the place to be if you were a musician back in the day. And the cakes…..mmmmmm the cakes. It was a good thing we were walking so much, because the cakes and chocolates were too delicious not to eat. Vienna was a great way to get into the Christmas spirit and feel like we were getting a little bit of winter. And the Christmas markets were a lot of fun. I think my favourite one was where every booth had homemade wares to sell. There were leather goods, puppets, ceramics; all hand made, and all with something a little different. The boys had some spending money and did pretty good with buying things they wanted as well as remembering that we didn’t have a lot of space in our bags to be filled up with “stuff.”

After a week in Vienna, we headed back to one of our favourite places: Salzburg. The boys were quite happy to be back in a city we knew, and played at the park outside Hellbrunn Palace for a good hour. We checked out some more Christmas markets, and enjoyed some delicious Austrian/Hungarian food. The boys had fun playing in the snow and at the play place outside our lodgings for the weekend. Then it was down to southern Germany, where we stayed at an Airbnb in the country. We did a few day trips checking out the towns in the area, and went back to Neuschwanstein Castle, which we were able to tour this time since tours were not sold out (kinda nice not going at the height of tourist season 😉 ). The boys had fun sledding and playing at a park close to the house, but I think because it was a little colder out, and the sun is setting earlier, there weren’t any other kids their age out to play with. Drove from Wildsteig to Munich, and spent a day there in the main square. Then it was time to say goodbye to Nathan’s parents, and hop on a train to Italy. We are so glad that we went back to this area, and really felt like we got some Christmas and winter in before we head to warmer places. It is going to be different having a “warm” Christmas, and we’re not quite sure what to expect in terms of “Christmas” (decorations, music, etc on the ship and in Dubai), so these two weeks really felt like we got a “home” Christmas.

So that’s it for today…catch you on the next post 🙂