Author: Denise

Shipwreck Economics

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As we neared Tana once again, the trees disappeared and the towns grew larger and more numerous. In between, we’d pass through the “Land of Toy Trucks,” followed by the “Kingdom of Small Musical Instruments.” That is, all the roadside stalls would feature the same merchandise for a long time, then suddenly switch to something…

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Isalo

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The most scenic part of our journey through Madagascar began as we climbed into the mountains that form the spine of the island. We spent two nights at an incredible lodging built almost entirely of local stone, with no effort spared to show off the artistry of the masons. Just as impressive were some of…

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The Rhinoceros Does It Again

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Michel had issued our marching orders; we needed to leave our idyllic seaside sanctuary in the early hours and drive a difficult, sandy stretch of coastal road before it got too warm. The last two cars to make it through had taken six hours to reach Salary Bay. The Land Cruiser, tires half-deflated, hubs locked…

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The Day Of The Rhinoceros

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I have never experienced a true monsoon season. I can only imagine what it must be like in some countries where it rains virtually non-stop for half a year. How do you build a bridge over a river that’s a reasonable hundred meters wide for much of the year, but swells to more than a…

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Civilization: Not Always All It’s Cracked Up To Be

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In the morning we angled back inland through the bush. We skipped the tour of the village at Belo sur Mer, which is famous for the sailing cargo boats they build there by hand, because there had been a death there the day before, and the community was in mourning. The drive was long, bumpy,…

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It’s a Small, Small World, and a Big, Big World

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Traveling the world has never been easier. An ordinary person with a passport and some money (a modest sum, by American standards) can reach almost any country on the planet in 24 hours or less. You can place a phone call or send a message or a photo almost anywhere in a matter of seconds….

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The Avenue of the Baobabs

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After a couple of days exploring the Tsingy area, we were presented a choice by the tour company. Stella would be leaving us, so for the remaining weeks in Madagascar it would be just us and our driver. But which driver? We liked Sosoe, but he spoke almost no English. His ride was certainly newer…

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A Magical Reality

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Only a quarter million tourists visit Madagascar each year. The busy season, such as it is, starts in July and continues into February. We started our tour there in early July, which meant that most of the people in the little villages we passed through hadn’t seen a vazaha in nearly half a year. Karel…

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Walk On Tiptoes

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Our new driver was named Sosoe. He spoke little English, but that didn’t stop us from kidding around—he definitely had a sense of humor. Sosoe liked to go fast whenever possible, and didn’t mind slamming on the brakes if necessary. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard tires squealing on a dirt road. We were…

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Zebu Shit Saves the Day

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The last morning of the river trip was a short paddle to the rendezvous with our new driver, Michel, who would be with us for most of the rest of our travels in the country, and a new guide and facilitator, Stella, who would take us to see Little Tsingy and Grand Tsingy. At least,…

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Fady

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One of the unique complications about traveling in Madagascar is that each region, village, and tribe has its own set of taboos (fady) that visitors are expected to observe. These might be mundane, such as a prohibition against eating pork, but they were sometimes so esoteric, our guides were at a loss to even explain…

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Outlaws and Rustlers

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In most of Madagascar, a zebu is the most valuable thing you can own. Investing in zebus is the Madagascar equivalent of owning a portfolio of blue chip stocks, because you can expect your herd to increase in size and value over time. But it’s much more than that. The zebu can also pull a…

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Le Leçon Des Mandarines

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We rode the last few miles to the river down sandy tracks through the bush. It all seemed so remote, which is why we were surprised to be greeted by a mob of children and a few adults at the river bank. They stared at us unabashedly while our guides conducted mysterious negotiations and then,…

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Madagascar is Burning

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Frank was there promptly after breakfast to begin our day-long journey to the Tsiribihina River. With his modest amount of English and our modest grasp of French (the official second language here), we were able to learn bits and pieces about what we saw as we climbed across the spine of the country on one…

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The Land That Time Forgot

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Madagascar is sometimes called The Land That Time Forgot. It is one of the poorest countries in the world and relatively undeveloped. We knew, when we made our travel plans, that we were in for a roller coaster ride of experiences, some of which would be amazing, and some of which would be very challenging….

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Bicycling in Bavaria

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Before we tacked a visit with Karel’s family onto the beginning of our trip, we had already arranged a week-long bicycle tour from Munich to Salzburg. The idea was to break up the long, long journey from Colorado to Madagascar, and give ourselves time to get over most of the jet lag. Under the new…

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Family Reunion

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We continued to Amsterdam early the next morning with only one glitch: they were even more strict about the weight limits. Once again, we were scrambling to redistribute the weight among various bags, and our gear, so carefully organized for a five-month odyssey, was now in a state of near-total entropy. We decided to purchase…

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In Iceland, The Future Has Already Arrived

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We had a brief, but interesting, conversation with our host, Vilbert, in Keflavik about the radical transformation that is about to take place in the world economy. This is currently one of my favorite topics, but it seems to have barely penetrated the consciousness of most people, so I was delighted when Vilbert brought it…

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A Rocky Start

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Iceland has a lot of rocks. I suppose it doesn’t really have more rocks than other places; it just seems that way because Iceland’s rocks are so visible, unadorned by trees and shrubs. The lichens and tundra and, on this day of the summer solstice, the stands of lupine, only seem to emphasize the jagged…

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Our trip to Cuba

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Changes When I was in my twenties, living in Alaska, I had an epiphany. Everything Changes. Sounds trite, I know, but this was a realization that pierced me to the marrow of my bones. At the time, the oil market had collapsed and the state-funded research institute where I had a job that I absolutely…

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Embracing the Montenegrin Way

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Surprise, surprise, there are stereotypes among the Balkan nations, and the Montenegrins have a reputation for being lazy. Our tour director, Oleg, who is Croatian, delighted in telling us jokes in this vein, and Karel got into the spirit and looked up some good ones online. Some of our favorites: A man swimming in the…

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Senseless Acts

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During our stay in Sarajevo, our tour group made an excursion to the nearby city of Mostar, in Herzegovina. The ride was spectacular, along the turquoise Neretva River. In my near-total ignorance about this part of the world, I had no idea that it has such wild, rugged mountains. One time, we asked the bus…

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Name: Sarajevo – Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

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The ride by public bus from Belgrade, Serbia to Sarajevo, Bosnia took us through scenic countryside and mountains and took the better part of a day. Although the country seemed beautiful and fertile, we noticed that many of the houses appeared empty. I’m not sure, but this may be a lingering after-effect of the Balkan…

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When Cars Take Over The World

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In the competition for most embattled cities, Belgrade may be the all-time champion. In its long history, it has been attacked or besieged well over a hundred times. It’s been razed to the ground, bombed to rubble, pillaged, and rebuilt scores of times. It has changed hands from one power to another every few decades…

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Revisionist History Lessons

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Budapest is very big, very old, and very beautiful. Long ago it was two different cities that united to straddle the mighty Danube. It is poised near the edge of the Orient. You might think the maturity of the city, like the grand prospects from the tops of its high hills, would lend a certain,…

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Lunch In Bratislava

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Nearing the end of the first half of our tour, we faced our most difficult travel day to date. It started with lots and lots of stairs, continued with hectic transfers, long waits, and hot, crowded train compartments. When we reached Bratislava, we stashed our luggage in lockers, then walked through the old part of…

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Playtime In Vienna

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Somehow, Vienna and most of its architectural and artistic treasures escaped widespread destruction during WWII, and then managed to be west of the iron curtain. As a result, it still looks and feels like the seat of an empire. We had only a day and a half to see the sights of this great city,…

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Enchanted Kingdom

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The train station at Český Krumlov set a new standard for near non-existence. The train stopped in what appeared to be a vacant lot, and our tour director urged us to get off. We climbed down into what looked like weedy dirt, but closer inspection revealed it to be a concrete platform in the final…

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Czech Principles Of Design

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Lucky, lucky you, city of Prague! This glorious city has survived over 1000 years of wars, crusades, reformations, revolutions, fires, and even communism. It is one vast, open-air museum of architecture over the ages, straddling the beautiful Vltava River, bedecked with numerous parks and gardens, and populated by the “smiling devils,” the most sophisticated and…

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Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life

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The old buildings of Krakow escaped some of the ravages of WWII and communism, even if the people did not. As a result, and for many other reasons invisible to us, I’m sure, the outlook of the city seems more hopeful. Everywhere we looked, we saw signs of humor, pride of place, and appreciation for…

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The Beaten Path

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Zakopane is a small city of 30,000 residents and 300,000 tourists. At least, that’s the way it seemed. The town is an artist colony and ski resort in the beautiful High Tatras, which are a sub-range of the Carpathians. It’s famous for its distinctive architecture of steep-roofed, timber-framed houses decorated with elaborately carved wood. The…

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Dust To Dust

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When we emerged from the train station on the hilltop plaza of old-town Warsaw, something about the place didn’t feel right. We walked down the narrow, cobbled streets, surrounded by medieval buildings and the usual throngs of tourists, just like Stockholm and a half-dozen other cities we’d seen, but something was off. “This doesn’t feel…

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Berlin: Poor, but Sexy

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As we step to the boundary between West and East, it is immediately clear that scenic beauty will now take a back seat to the human landscape of history and culture. We begin in Berlin. It’s been 25 years since the wall came down. The joy and shock of release have long since settled into…

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A Profile Of Two Dogs

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Diva, Queen of the Universe Breed: miniature dachshund Age: a sprightly 9 years, aging gracefully Diva loves long walks, mouse hunting, laps, pillows, and dried fish. Although she’s now an old lady, Diva still has ambitions of leading the first all-doxie dogsled team.   Pablo, Owner and Protector of the Universe Breed: miniature dachshund Age:…

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Festival—Norwegian Style

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One of the main events of our visit to Norway was Månefestival (Moon Festival): three days of music featuring all female lead performers, including Patti Smith, Beth Hart, and Suzanne Vega. The festival was held in the old quarter of Fredrikstad, on an “island” in the Glomma river. Fredrikstad was a fortified city in the…

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Hangin’ Out In Moss

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Every few days, the nature of our trip changes completely. First we were bicycling and island hopping in the Swedish archipelago, then we were on a leisurely, pastoral canal cruise. That was followed by a very different cruise along Norway’s wild and rugged coast. After that, a stay at a summer cottage on a remote…

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Souvenirs

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When we were in Thailand last year on our honeymoon, visiting a floating market, I spotted a totally useless souvenir that I loved: a string of elephants carved out of coconuts, with feather propellers for tails, spinning in the breeze. We still had many weeks of traveling ahead of us, and they were silly and…

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Another Mystery, Solved!

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Karel lived in Sweden for three months when he was in his early twenties, and he has fond memories of the beautiful, bare-breasted Swedish women at the beach. This time, in spite of the extraordinarily warm, sunny weather, there are no naked breasts in sight. Everyone is demurely covered. Why, oh why? Was it just…

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The Island of Meløyvær

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Please don’t ask me how to pronounce the name of this island. I can do it, but I can only remember it for about 10 seconds. Then I have to find another Norwegian to pronounce it for me again. Anyway, we just spent four heavenly days there, at the childhood home of our friend, Eirik…

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Things To Do In Harstad

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We had half a day on our own in the city of Harstad, population 24,500, while we waited for Gry, Eirik, and Gunn to arrive by bus from the airport. Peggy had arranged a tour for us, so after a bit of confusion about where to store our luggage (the lockers were in the bus…

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Hurtigruten

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We’d just settled into our room back in Bergen when Pegs arrived. Woo hoo! After sharing a pizza for lunch, she and I made a beeline for Bryggen and spent the afternoon poking around the old buildings and souvenir shops and soaking it in over cider and beer. Pegs arranged a tour of Troldhaugen, the…

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Sognefjord in a Nutshell

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Back when Karel was working on the plans and arrangements for our trip (he does a great job!), he asked me how many days I wanted to stay in Bergen. Ask yourself the same question. Bergen shmergen, I thought, I don’t know the first thing about it. “Whatever you think is best, Dear.” Always a…

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Party Town

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The canal cruise ended in Gothenburg. From there, we took a train to Copenhagen. We emerged from the station right across from the Tivoli, one of the oldest amusement parks in the world, and a fitting symbol for this lively, colorful, playful city. What a contrast with Stockholm! On the one hand, you have a…

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How We Do Things

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Even as Europe goes, Scandinavia is a more unusual destination for an American traveling abroad. First choice is usually Great Britain, France, Germany, or Italy, partly because these countries are so important to our heritage and history. So, I find it interesting that I sometimes feel so at ease here, I forget that I’m in…

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Land Of The Free

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Anyone who’s been following our blog knows by now that I try to make sense of what I observe, even though I know I’m only getting the briefest glimpse—and often a distorted one—of the countries we visit. One of the most striking things about Sweden, to me, is how empty of people it seems to…

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Slow Travel

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Unless you’ve been living in a cave since the turn of the millennium, you’ve heard of the Slow Food Movement. Well, there is also a Slow Travel aesthetic that has become fashionable, and Karel and I are fans of this style. We try to savor and enjoy a few, high quality, “authentic” experiences rather than…

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Back in Stockholm

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We had one full day in the city before our next big excursion, so we made ambitious plans to see a few museums. First on the list was the Vasa, a fully restored warship that sank on her maiden voyage in 1632 due to a design flaw. At the time, the Vasa was the largest…

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Stockholm’s Archipelago

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If you look at a map of Sweden, it looks as though the east coast doesn’t end, so much as disintegrate, into the Baltic Sea. There are about 30,000 islands and an uncountable number of rocks and bumps peeking above the water, which was absolutely flat and calm for our entire stay. Many of the…

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Biking Into The Real Sweden

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For our first adventure, we’re traveling by bicycle and boat around the Swedish Archipelago. Our ride picked us up outside the hotel in the morning, along with a family of three from Massachusetts who were doing the same trip. We drove a short distance out of Stockholm to a nineteenth century castle—manor house, really—where we…

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Dr. Gizmo

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You’ve heard of Inspector Gadget? Well, it appears that Karel may be related. I came to this conclusion when he bought a vest with 42 pockets as a way to carry around his camera gear. This is in addition to a pair of cargo shorts with super duper deep pockets, and a new backpack with…

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Continental Odyssey

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Just over a year since our last trip abroad, Karel and I are traveling again. This time we’ll spend three months exploring Europe, starting with Scandinavia, then working our way south through Eastern Europe, and finally a swing northward again through Tuscany and down the Rhine to Amsterdam. We’ll spend a couple of days visiting…

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The Great Flood of 2013

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This was definitely one for the record books. On Monday, September 9, a gentle rain began falling over the Front Range (the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains from Fort Collins in the north to Colorado Springs in the south). Many people welcomed it. Although it had eased considerably this year, we were still in…

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By The Numbers

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We’re home! (OK, not really. We were home, and were too busy to finish things up, so we actually caught up on most of our writing during our vacation in Paris – and now we’re home again.) The honeymoon has a happy ending, but the story has been told, and there’s not much more to…

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Where The Vikings Went

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Our honeymoon has taken us to some marvelous and exotic destinations, but not off the beaten track. The name, Iceland, however, still has a ring of wildness to it, a cold, lonely outpost at the bitter edge of the known world. The strange thing is, though, that in these days of air travel, Iceland is…

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Family time

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It was a long travel day from Santorini to Amsterdam, due to long waits between connecting flights. We took the opportunity to catch up on photo processing and blogging, although it was a losing battle, especially for me. Dineke and Martin picked up two bedraggled travelers at Schiphol and drove us another two hours to…

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The Compass

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Our honeymoon has been an interesting sampler of some of the many ways to travel, from the full package/bed and board/tour guides and transport, to the let’s-just-go-there-and-see-what-happens style. For this next adventure, we were committing ourselves to 10 days of a very unique blend of these two extremes. On the one hand, we knew where…

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Moonrise

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It wouldn’t be a honeymoon without at least one magical moonrise, right? We arrived on the island of Santorini (Thira), Greece, in the early evening and were almost done with dinner on the upper terrace at our hotel, when Karel spotted a great, red disk peeping above the horizon. The Mediterranean was glassy smooth, and…

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The Four-Dimensional World

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A clatter of hooves draws me to the balcony. What? Where? From my perch I can see half of the village of Pontone above and below me. I spot the horse just across a gully, down a bit from me, standing next to a parked van at the end of the single road. A man…

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Part Of The Herd

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We finally found out where all the tourists have gone. They’re in Rome; legions of them lining up around the Colosseum, mobs and globs clogging the Spanish Steps, masses of chatterboxes disturbing the sanctity of the Sistine Chapel. We were actually in Rome twice, with the Amalfi Coast sandwiched in-between, and we used our time…

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Shades of Gray

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We always felt safe and well cared for in Egypt, but this segment of our trip was not about immersing ourselves in an authentic cultural experience. Egypt is a challenging place for westerners, and especially for western women. In public spaces, men seem to outnumber women by four or five to one, and sometimes local…

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The River Nile

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There are advantages to traveling when tourism is down, but there are disadvantages, too. Our flight to Luxor was canceled due to lack of passengers, so we were rescheduled onto a different flight that left later, and didn’t arrive at our hotel until after midnight. Unfortunately, our bodies still hadn’t adjusted to the five hours…

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Black and White

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If you were an artist in Egypt, you might be tempted to dispense with shades of gray in your palette. In the dry air, the fierce light of the sun brightly illuminates some aspects, while casting others in dark shadow. There is water, or there is not, with a stark end to greenery at the…

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Friends Around The World

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When I was a little girl one of my best friends was a girl from Japan. Our families were very close for several years while we lived in New York City. Then, when I had just turned eight, we moved away. Junko and her family moved back to Japan a short time later, and we…

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Sincerely

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We used our last couple of days in Bangkok to take care of errands and do a little more souvenir shopping. I was mostly interested in textiles, but I found some beautiful porcelain at the huge weekend market at Chatuchak. Thai Five-Color Porcelain, also called Royal Porcelain, used to be available only to wealthy nobles….

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The Thailand I Thought I Would See

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We were enjoying our vacation from our honeymoon, which is what our stay in Bangkok felt like, but it was time to be tourists again for a couple of days. Jaa had kindly arranged a home-stay in an area of Thailand that still maintains the old ways of life on the rivers and canals. Karel…

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The Many Faces Of Thailand

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We returned to Bangkok for a day and bid farewell to Kelvin, who had to fly to New York on business. Interestingly, his work took him to Stonybrook, which is right near where I lived as a child. I’m sorry I couldn’t show Kelvin around my old stomping grounds the way Jaa showed us around…

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How The Locals Do Things

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Jaa and Kelvin kept us well-entertained by taking us to eat at local restaurants, plunking us into local waterfalls, and visiting Jaa’s rubber tree farm. The next day, we went on a full-day excursion to the coast, local style. Here’s how you do it: Start with dim sum for breakfast at the tour company headquarters….

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The World Decides To Amaze Us Even More

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Jaa’s hometown of Trang is only a couple of hours by public bus from Railay. Her family still has a house in town, where we stayed for a few days to visit her rubber plantation and explore some of the nearby beaches. Karel was keen on finding a music jam. We succeeded when we found…

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The World Amazes Me

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Kelvin joined us, on break from his job in Perth at Curtin University, and we set plans in motion for a trip to the legendary beaches of southern Thailand. Jaa made the arrangements for our flight to Krabi, with transfer by bus and boat to a resort at Railay West Beach. The beaches of Railay…

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A Vacation From The Vacation

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After nearly three months of travel, it’s time for a little break. My body seems to agree. I hadn’t gotten back to 100% after my brief episode with the flu. The moment I lowered my defenses, I had a minor relapse. Nothing like the first time, just a little tiredness and a special request from…

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Same Same – And Yet, So Different

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When you shop at the markets and decide to make a purchase, the vendor will often whip out a packaged version of the product, untouched and ready to go. “Same same,” they assure you, pointing from the sample you were holding to the proferred package. The wise buyer should verify this before handing over any…

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The Golden Land

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About a thousand years ago, Cambodia was rich and powerful. During the Khmer dynasty, the kings built fantastic complexes of temples and cities, including the crowning glory, Angkor Wat. We were told by our guide that the old name for the country literally meant Land of Gold, so named because the sands and rivers contained…

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Anything That Moves

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For our bus ride to Siem Reap, we were entertained by the many ways that Cambodians get themselves and their stuff from place to place. The highway was a decent road with light traffic, by Indochina standards. Besides the usual motorbikes, bicycles, tuk-tuks, cars belonging to government employees, small trucks, and tourist vans, we encountered…

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Land Of Orphans

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Karel and I elected not to visit the infamous killing fields or prisons of Cambodia, but the aftermath of this horrible period was all around us. Many of the adults we saw working in the shops, hotels, and restaurants were orphans. They grew up, not only without parents, but without teachers. They were deprived of…

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Charlie Chaplin And The Ninjas

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It was a long ride from Saigon to Phnom Penh, but the public bus was reasonably comfortable and we were entertained by a couple of Charlie Chaplin movies (The Kid and The Great Dictator), followed by the outrageously violent Ninja Assassin (think Kill Bill with a bad plot, overdubbed by a single, female voice in…

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The Conveyer Belt

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For our last day in Vietnam, we made a short journey to the town of My Tho, on the wide and muddy Mekong Delta. There, we boarded a longtail boat and visited a floating market, got off to see a fruit orchard where we sampled the produce while enjoying a performance of Vietnamese folk music,…

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Bienvenue

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Saigon is a lot like a modern American city. The bikers and drivers seemed more aggressive there, so we really had to be on our toes on the streets and sidewalks. And it was hot, unbelievably hot. The scheduled activities were focused around the history of the American War. Karel and I opted out. We…

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The Good Times Briefly Come To A Screeching Halt

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I was drifting off to sleep after our busy day when my body starting sending signals that something was amiss. I spent the rest of the night making frequent trips to the bathroom, sweating, shivering, tossing, and turning, and feeling miserable. The worst was over by daybreak, but I still had a fever and spent…

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Happy Buddha

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Hoi An straddles a navigable river near the coast of the South China Sea. Its location made it an important stop on the Sea Silk Route, but long before that it was a prominent player in the spice trade. It has had many names and been inhabited by different people over its long history of…

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Beauty, Peace, and Joy

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Ha Long Bay was magical. The air was clearer once we left the busy port area. Our junk, although not much to look at from the outside, was gorgeously appointed inside. The food was delicious, the presentation was spectacular. Loan continued to endear herself to the group with her stories and even singing. I went…

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Being flexible

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I had a version of Southeast Asia in my imagination. It was based on books and movies and travel journals and postcards. It wasn’t a perfect world; there was war, and poverty, and dictatorship. But it was beautiful and human, life was artful, and it was completely different from, and even immune to, the ways…

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Getting Better With Chopsticks

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Today a lime seed fell into my fruit shake, where it threatened to clog my straw and cause all sorts of trouble. Without even thinking about it, before it sank below the foamy froth at the top, I plucked out the slippery little bugger with my chopsticks. I’ve never had an easy time with crowds,…

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The Cult Of The God-King

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Old ways die hard, especially when they once represented life and death. It was a long walk to the mausoleum, but we went through a district of embassies and officials, so the sidewalks were passable and traffic was more orderly (although that’s not saying much). Ho Chi Minh is revered in Vietnam in almost the…

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The Old Quarter In The Modern Era

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Nothing we’ve done, nowhere we’ve seen, has prepared us for the streets of Hanoi. Our hotel was in the Old Quarter, a district of narrow streets and turn-of-the-century French architecture, absolutely jammed with people and motorcycles. Our bus was too big to navigate the few blocks to the hotel, so our luggage was crammed into…

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The French Connection

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(Karel was taking a couple of days off from photography, so we don’t have much visual material to post for this entry. The cover image of this post was taken at the village homestay and is not related to today’s story. Don’t worry, though, the avalanche will resume shortly.) The capital city of Vientiane is…

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The Wealth of Nations

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In the morning, Joan brought me over to meet her host family, so I could watch the mother working at her loom. The father, meanwhile, was cutting tobacco up for drying. It was interesting to see them at work and get a sense of how they produced goods for the local markets. It was a…

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The Village Dance

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From bottomlands as flat and green as a lake, the mountains soar skyward all around us, improbably high and straight-sided. With the smoke of burning rice paddies drifting between them, they look like the crumbling teeth of fallen dragons. After climbing and descending a few mountain passes, we leave this stunning scenery behind us and…

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Slices of life

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For our final full day in Luang Prabang, Karel and I meandered through the old town and visited one of the ancient temples. We stopped for a cooling drink on a terrace overlooking the river and watched people crossing a rickety-looking bamboo bridge (which gets washed away every year during rainy season), two young monks…

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How to ride an elephant

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For our first full day in Luang Prabang, we started at the ethnology museum. There are three major and several minor ethnic groups that comprise the population; we learned a bit about their origins, clothing, and cultures. Then we drove out of town to a beautiful waterfall, where we swam in the limestone pools. On…

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The Mekong

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After our arrival in Laos, it was a short trip upriver to meet our boat, but we very nearly didn’t make it when our songthaew stalled on a hill and wouldn’t get going again. Somehow, the driver managed to restart it, and we got over the crest of the hill and rolled into a spot…

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Parallel Economics

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Before leaving Chiang Mai, we walked in the old city and enjoyed a few temples. It was a long ride from Chiang Mai to the Thai-Laos border, through an increasingly rural landscape. We broke the trip up with a stop at a cashew farm and another at Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai, also known…

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The Train to Chiang Mai

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The next big adventure was getting ourselves and our luggage across the street to the central rail station during rush hour. Terrifying. We boarded our train and soon we were creeping, crawling, and lurching along the tracks toward Chiang Mai. The train moved very slowly and stopped frequently, but that was all accounted for in…

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Our Indochina trip starts!

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Our first excursion was a ride on a long boat on the Chao Phraya River and one of the canals that Bangkok is famous for. It was a nice glimpse of the old Bangkok, although the waterways are no longer the main thoroughfares of commerce through the city. After that we visited Wat Pho, where…

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The Big, Big City

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Bangkok has between eight and nine million people—about the same as New York City, where I lived when I was very young. I sort of expected it to be an Asian version of New York, but instead it feels even bigger, noisier, dirtier, and more chaotic. This is really surprising to me, because New York…

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Twenty-First Century Asia

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Our friend Jaa welcomed us at the airport in Bangkok and, after a brief visit to a local market, drove us to her house near the outskirts of the city. We took a short break to freshen up, then headed over to her mother’s home, nearby, to meet the family and have dinner. While Jaa’s…

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Back in the mountains

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That evening we were treated to a home-cooked meal in the home of a local friend of our tour director. The food was fresh and delicious. After that, we enjoyed another jam with the band at the restaurant. In the morning, we began our return trip to the southern part of the island, with a…

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Tragedy Of The Commons

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Five of our group opted to rise before the sun, walk the short distance down to the beach, and hire two motor-driven, outrigger canoes to see if we could spot any dolphins. There were four to a boat, so Karel and I shared ours with another couple not from our tour group. We glided out…

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Not quite so beautiful

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In the tropics, the trees are prolific litterbugs. As we’d walk down to breakfast, we’d always see the staff tidying up the gardens and grounds, but no sooner had they carried away a bushel of leaves and twigs and husks and blossoms from under one tree, than a little breeze would bring down another basketful….

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Jamming in Bali

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After the hike we moved on to the north coast tourist town of Lovina. Karel and I wandered down to the beach to find dinner. There was a restaurant called Sea Breeze that we’d heard had live music, so Karel brought his guitar along, just in case. Sure enough, there was a band of four…

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Pilgrimage

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Our vans climbed high up into the mountains, encountering rain showers along the way, and crossed the rugged spine of the island. Then, with the weather clearing again, we descended steeply into a huge, ancient crater. We arrived at a bare bones hotel and went to bed early to get as much sleep as possible…

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Life in Bali

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When you drive through Bali, you can see much of the commerce crammed up against the pavement, and get a sense of what’s important to the people here. Besides restaurants, hotels, and a few other touristy things, I have the impression that 80% of the Bali economy is devoted to religion. All the beautiful arts…

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Rain at last

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Over the next few days, we traveled by minivan to the highlights across the central part of the island, along with our tour director, drivers, and fellow travelers. Often we had local guides to take us through a village or park. At the first village we visited, just outside of Ubud, we were invited into…

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Welcome to Asia

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Karel has been to Japan, China, and Thailand before, but Bali is my first experience of Asia. When we left the serene confines of our resort—this time in daylight—every sight and sound and smell was a novelty to me. You can read about Bali on Wikipedia, but here are a few factoids for context: •…

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Drenched in Bali

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It was dark when we arrived in Denpasar, but we could tell instantly that we were in another world. It was very warm, but not unbearably so; however, the humidity was around 90%. As we stepped out of the air-conditioned jet, we were instantly covered with a sheen of moisture, and we haven’t been dry…

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Australia: First Signs of Culture Shock

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Travel day; we had a few hours in the morning to upload photos and check email at an internet café before heading to the airport. While Karel worked on that, I had a nice conversation with the girl at the desk, another Scottie on a work visa having a great time living in New Zealand…

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More impressions of New Zealand

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The pine trees in New Zealand were designed by Dr. Seuss. The ferns were designed by Stephen Spielberg. New Zealand reminds me, in some ways, of the US when I was growing up. I remember when farms were small, roads were narrow, retail shops closed by dinnertime, when we kids ranged from one end of…

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Queenstown: Boulder On Steroids

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People living in Boulder often lament that Boulder would be absolutely perfect, if it only had a beach. If you want to see what that looks like, go to Queenstown, which is nestled between high mountains and one of New Zealand’s largest lake, named Wakatipu. Like Boulder, Queenstown is overrun with young and athletic types…

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The Weather Gods Are Smiling

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We had only the briefest stay in Christchurch before boarding the train for the trip across the Southern Alps. What we saw of Christchurch reminds me a lot of Minneapolis, but we didn’t go downtown, which apparently is still a wreck after the 2011 earthquake and the—literally—thousands of aftershocks (still up to three per day)….

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The Bountiful Ocean

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As we left Picton the character of the east side of South Island immediately became apparent. The land was dry, grassy, and alternated flat plains and hilly ranges. Although we were on the main highway from the ferry terminus to Christchurch, it was sparsely traveled and more like a secondary route. After traversing a region…

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The Heroic Journey of Karel the Conqueror

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Picton – Wow! What a pretty harbor. By far the nicest ferry terminal I’ve ever seen. This tiny town has only about 3000 full-time residents. About twice that number are here every day in the summer, visiting. We’re at the north end of the South Island, a complicated realm of mountainous islands, peninsulas, bays, and…

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How to travel in style

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The Inter-Island Ferry is more like a cruise ship than a commuter vessel. It’s huge, with 10 decks, food court, café, bar, and private cabins. For families with babies, there are private nursery rooms, and for the kids there was live entertainment by a magician and two feature movies during the three-hour journey. The vehicle…

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Te Papa National Museum

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When we arrived in Wellington, the capitol of New Zealand, we immediately set out in search of good ice cream, which I’d been craving ever since my big hike. Then we explored art exhibits and did some window shopping. As dinnertime approached we started looking for a likely restaurant. We had just noticed we’d strayed…

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Impressions

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We zigged back over to the east coast to spend a couple of days in the town of Napier, the Art Deco capitol of the world. The entire business district was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931, and was rebuilt in that stylish mode over the next few years. They had a lot of new…

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Tongariro Crossing

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Dawn wasn’t looking very promising. The weather was cold and misty, and Karel didn’t exactly bounce out of bed. The hotel proprietress was knocking on our door and asking after his well-being, however, and she bundled us into the dining room. Never mind what we ordered; they stuffed us with the deluxe breakfast and sent…

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Rafting on the Tongariro river

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We just wrapped up a few days of adventure in the vicinity of Taupo and Tongariro National Park. Our first stop was at the impressive Huka Falls. Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake. At 616 square kilometers, it could swallow the entire nation of Singapore. There are several large volcanoes around the lake, some…

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Kia Ora (the Maori version of Live long, and prosper)

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Special treat this evening, a Maori feast and cultural show. We were transported by waka (the Maori word for canoe, but now used for any means of transport—in this case, a bus). Our waka driver, Dennis, is a Maori elder, jokester, and party animal. He taught us the traditional call-and-response chant for paddling a waka…

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Language issues

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Kiwis are very kind and will go out of their way to offer help if you look lost or confused. They speak English, of course, but that doesn’t mean an American (or Dutch guy) can understand what they say. Get used to it, because the Kiwi way of saying it is the RIGHT way. For…

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In the Crater of the Volcano

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Last night we finished the day in Rotarua, New Zealand’s most active geothermal area. We went out for a splurge, celebration dinner at the Makoia Restaurant. The meal included local delicacies and was served with tips on some of the healthful uses of the ingredients. For example, kawakawa leaves are a natural liver cleanser and…

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Digital Warriors

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We have so many photos and video clips every day, we’re unable to upload all the keepers before running into daily data quotas (you can’t find unlimited data transfers here, even if you pay for access). In addition, connection speed is usually just too slow to handle our video clips. We’re also placing a major…

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Hobbiton!

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This morning we “helped” feed the sheep and move the cattle. Then, it was off to one of the highlights of our New Zealand trip: Hobbiton! Neither Karel nor I are the type to go on a pilgrimage to set locations and movie star houses, with this one exception. Hobbiton is a place I’ve wanted…

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Gold Country

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A leisurely drive to the south today. We decided to skip the glowworm caves, which cut our driving time by several hours. We’ve learned you have to add 25% or so to the GPS calculated driving time, which is supposedly based on speed limits and traffic conditions. The speed limit is usually 100 kph, but…

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Kiwi Dundee

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I’ve started adding captions to some of the photos, so look there for interesting tidbits. For the past couple of days we’ve been touring the northern end of the north island of New Zealand. This place is incredibly beautiful! Sort of like California, only greener and a lot less populated. Today we had a prearranged…

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Traveler’s illness and dolphins

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Didn’t feel right when I woke up. Karel —my hero— rearranged our plans for the day to give me a few hours to sort it out. I’ve delved into our first aid kit and we’ll see how it goes. … Just a little traveler’s illness. I think I’ve slept or dozed for 30 hours and…

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From Auckland to Paihia

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We took a longer route up to Paihia (from Aukland) which took us over to the west coast (Tasman Sea) for a bit. The drive was beautiful, a lot like California, but greener, and you have it all to yourself. There are even big trees — we stopped to see the largest living kauri tree,…

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Total Lack of Culture Shock

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We flew on Air New Zealand to Aukland on a brand new jet. The safety video was a humorous spoof of The Hobbit, very cleverly done. In Fiji everyone spoke English, were very friendly, and went out of their way to make visitors feel at home. In New Zealand it’s much the same. Aukland is…

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Less of This, More of That

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Today we bid Matamanoa farewell and traveled to the “Mainland” to be close to the airport for an early morning departure. For convenience, our travel agent booked us into one of the major hotels for one night. It was high-end, luxurious, and utterly cold and bland. I’m pretty sure I stayed in that exact room…

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It Takes a Village. Or, Two Villages.

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Today we went on an excursion to the village of Tavua, on a neighboring island, where most of the staff of the resort live. It was a very interesting trip—we really learned a lot. The culture and economy of Fiji are so different from western norms, we think it’s fascinating. Tavua has about 200 residents,…

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Getting Ready

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Our big trip begins in six days! We’re traveling light — carry-on only. We’re “practicing” packing today. We just picked up our travel documents, which take up half a suitcase.

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Thanksgiving at Shady Hollow

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We hosted the local family contingent for Thanksgiving dinner. To create a centerpiece for the table and spruce up the townhouse, Denise scooped a few of the “Lovebird Houses” out of the storage box and placed them among the candles and flowers. WOW! Once again, we were delighted by these little treasures of love and…

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The Trip of a Lifetime

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Big News, we have booked our honeymoon travels and this is truly the trip of a lifetime. Our journey will take us from Fiji to Iceland: thirteen countries, four continents (excluding North America), in four-and-a-half months. For us, it has just the right mix of relaxation and activities, adventure and romance, roughing it and pampering….

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