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Archive for the ‘Travel ‘n Stuff’ Category

Italy, circa 2006

Barring any travel-related incidents, delays, or issues, when this posts I will be safely in Florence, Italy, kicking off a amazeballs trip (oh, yes, in the 6-month delay since I last posted I picked up this new word) with my family.  Drew decided that there is no good way to tell people you are spending Christmas in Italy without sounding like a jerk.  He may be right.  I think it makes us sound like glamorous jet-setters, but to each his own.

This picture is from 2006, but our current apartment is just behind that row of buildings. Weird, right? It's like I'm a future stalker of myself.

If you’d like to convince your family to spend the holidays in an exotic locale, it really can be done.  I’ve written about some of the logistics of this previously.  Here are a few simple steps:

  1. Begin with a family that lives all over the place, making any holiday visit a hassle for at least several people.  In our family, 4 out of 5 kids live out-of-state (2 well beyond driving distance) full-time and the 5th is just biding her time until she can also move far away.
  2. Sprinkle in a little adventurous spirit.  No worries – this may take years to develop.  In our family, the bulk of our international travel has been in the past decade.  During that time, we’ve had one Peace Corps volunteer (West Africa), one year-long post-college traveler (4 continents), one volunteer in Ethiopia, one adventure in Asia, and a nice mix of additional Western European jaunts thrown in there (I can count 15-20 European trips combined among all of us).
  3. Plant the idea early and bake.  The first time we did this (yes, we’ve done this before – 2007, Paris), the idea was planted about 18 months in advance.  One sister was heading into the Peace Corps, her ability to come home for Christmas was shaky at best, and I ever so subtly suggested that perhaps a trip to Paris, the mid-point location, would be a good idea?  It helps that Paris is my dad’s favorite city, several of us kids took many years of French in school, and we found the most unbelievable apartment to share among 9 of us.
  4. Just do it.  Once an idea like this gets some family momentum, it’s hard to put the brakes on.  The emails start flying, the vacations from work are officially booked, credit cards magically appear for flights, and poof.  Here we are.

As my pictures are still in the camera, here are a few from my last trip to Florence (October 2006).

My first Florence gelato experience - hopefully the daily tradition is continuing in 2011The Duomo - center of the cityView of Florence from the Duomo bell tower (just 400 steps to the top!)

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Time flies.  After a full six months of not posting anything here, I have no better excuse.  I have lots of worse excuses – too much work, too much traveling for work, not enough focus, not enough time, boring content, etc.

My real feelings about why my writing has tapered off are, as with most things, complicated.  After the high of the Asia trip (the links are still active, so just head back into the archives of Jan/Feb to relive the entire thing), normal life appeared boring in comparison (at least to me).  When things got interesting again and I took a new job, I was much busier figuring out how to travel and work, and even though I may have had interesting things to say, I was lacking the time.  Finally, when I figured out the schedule and got comfortable with the job, I had the time again but felt guilty about the time that had passed, the gaping hole in the archive calendar.

And here we are.

I am not starting anew on January 1st, as might be customary for a fresh start.  I have spent a good amount of time over the past two weeks reviving my active goal setting (which was ditched mid-year amid the job change), and vowing to make 2012 a more deliberate and amazing year than 2011.  And, I must say, that’s a pretty tall order given that 2011 started off with a month in Asia, and wrapped up with career changes, a move to NYC on the horizon and a trip to Italy (which hasn’t even started yet!).

Might as well kick of 2012 in style right here, right now.  Much more to come as the year wraps up and I finalize my goals, spend the holidays in Firenze (Florence, just perfecting my overdone accent in my head), and enjoy the calm of the holidays.

Oh, and all the cute photos I was including in every post?  Yeah, I haven’t taken a picture since September (and that was for a wedding I was helping with).  I’m also planning on changing that in the new year, but in the meantime, here’s an oldie but goodie from January 1, 2011 when I was just stepping into a new year, and kicking off our Asia adventure.

Jan. 1, 2011 - kicking of the new year with a plane to Asia

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By Drew & Julie

This is our last post about Asia!  It’s been a fun project to document our travels so closely, even though we definitely did not set out to write a post every single day for over a month.  When you’ve got nothing but time, however, the impossible suddenly becomes a good idea.  We arrived home a week ago, and have successfully transitioned back to work, back to Eastern Time, back to cold weather and back to our daily routines.  We’re already planning our next adventure (we’re thinking Prague, Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava in Spring 2012), so we’ll start our research promptly. 

Until then, thanks to all of you for joining us on this wild ride.  We hope that our leap to make a big dream like this come true will inspire others to do the same.  Going forward, the blog will revert back to Julie discussing her attempts to knock items off her Life List, a noble endeavor but not nearly as interesting as tales of adventure. 

Drew, contemplating the next big adventure

Julie, enjoying a peaceful moment

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Well, here we are.  I’ve been dreading this post because I’ve been afraid to do the final tally on the costs for our trip.  While I think we did a great job managing our costs on the road (for the most part!), seeing all the figures also makes me a little queasy, knowing we could have spent our hard-earned cash on so many other things.  Who am I kidding – would I trade this for new kitchen cabinets???  Hell to the No! 

Note #1: I am not including several home expenses that remained during our trip, namely our mortgage payment, heating oil and snow plowing.  We did cancel our cable and cell phone service for the month.  We also had friends come in and check on the house weekly to make sure the heat was still on, there were no drips or frozen pipes, etc.  Lisa and Lisa, you’re the bestest.  We couldn’t have done this without you! 

Note #2: There could have been many more clothing and gear related expenses pre-trip, but we both borrowed good travel luggage, I borrowed a pair of shoes from my sister, we borrowed extra packing cubes and other packing items from my parents, etc.  If we had bought all new stuff, it would have cost an extra $1,000 or so.

Note #3: We had many medical-related expenses pre-trip, including several vaccinations and prescriptions.  Fortuantely, our health insurance has a flexible spending component that covered all of these.  The total cost was probably about $500. 

Note #4: I’m going to go ahead and include the cost for Basil for the month.  Obviously, this was an extra cost (not just maintaining our heat), and having Basil at Kamp K-9 was a non-negotiable for us.  We adore Kamp K9, and its fabulous owners who treat Basil as if he were their own.  In fact, when we picked up Basil last weekend, I think he was a little less than thrilled to be going back to our boring house. 

Pre-Trip Expenses:

Flights – $2428.66

Clothes/Shoes – $241.68

Guidebooks – $88.16

Random Gear (from our fave store, Tripquipment) – $56.88

Visas – $125

Trip Insurance – $242

Expenses During Trip:

Expenses Post-Trip:

Basil – $906

So, friends, the final, FINAL cost for us to leave our lives for one month is….$8229.49.  The first good news is that nearly half of these expenses are one-time, so if we had stayed for an additional month, our expenses wouldn’t have risen too much.  The second good news is that a lot of these expenses were paid for months ago, so most of the actual payment out of pocket is over.  Phew 🙂

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By Drew

Boarding pass to Tokyo

The hardest part about traveling is the travel.  By that, I mean the physical act of getting from point A to point B.  Whether it’s a plane, train, bus or car, the task can be arduous.  We experienced long travel days on our trip in various forms of transportation.  While it wasn’t ever terrible, after the 25th car/bus/train ride, it can be tiring.  For our long return trip home, we decided to splurge and fly business class.  Luckily, our splurge required no money, just a load of airline points we had been saving for almost three years.  Our route home took us from Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo, then Chicago and finally Boston (that’s 20 solid hours in the air).  I was particularly excited because I am a bit of fan of aeronautics and the airline industry in general.  We got to fly in a Boeing 777-300ER for the second time this trip (the most powerful twin-engine jet in the world) and test out Japan Airlines’ new business class seats for ourselves.

Of course flying business class is a complete perk.  Additional leg room, lay-flat seats, great food, unlimited high quality booze and access to business lounge at the airport.  I must say going back to economy will be tough after our experience.  The business class lounge in Tokyo was reason enough to justify spending the points.  In addition to a full breakfast spread and business center, they had private shower rooms available.  The rooms were covered in dark slate tiles, had a toilet with a heated seat and a shower with a massive shower head and multiple shower heads going down the wall.  Simply put: the best shower of the trip was at an airport.  I also booked a free 15 minute reflexology massage (massage style number 5 for those who are counting) in the “relaxation room.” Here are some pictures with our point-and-shoot camera of the lounge and our seats:

The Japan Airlines lounge in Tokyo

Drew, laying down in his seat. With Bose noise-cancelling headphones

An empty seat

The food was also incredible, as expected.  It was coming non-stop, as were the hot towels.  Seriously, every time a flight attendant walked past, I swear she had a pile of hot towels for us to refresh our hand and faces.  Here are a few pictures of the Japanese meal we had (you could pick between Japanese and Western…most of our fellow Americans picked Western but we both decided to go native).

Our appetizers for our Japanese lunch

A very tasty apple/cinnamon custard dessert

Crane chopstick holders

As you can surely imagine, our 20 hours in flight was certainly improved by our luxurious surroundings in business class.  Still, 20 hours is a long time to be sitting anywhere, so we were relieved to finally touch down at home. 

(Editor’s Note: Just wanted to comment that I am able to cross another Life List item off with this amazing travel experience.  Or maybe I need to add a new item that says “Fly in luxury for every flight for the rest of my life…!”)

Plenty of room to relax and contemplate how the other half lives

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KL Expenses

We’ve arrived at the last location expense tally.  Congratuations for sticking it out, though if you want to recap, here are our expenses from Hong Kong, Bangkok, Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore.  Later this week, one final post will go up sharing our total expenses, plus some pre-trip expenses, so you can start saving for your own adventure.  Trust us, it’s much cheaper and easier than you can imagine.  First, a couple quick notes on our spending in Kuala Lumpur:

Note #1: The currency in Malaysia is called the Rinngit.  Currently, it’s almost exactly 3 MR to 1 USD, which makes it easy to figure out how much things cost on the road – just divide by three! 

Note #2: We held off buying most souvenirs until we arrived in Malaysia.  We didn’t want to lug around awkwardly shaped Christmas presents for a month, so we went a little nuts in KL on the shopping front.  With all those malls, it’s just hard to resist.  Granted, waiting to shop here didn’t exactly provide us with the greatest deals since many items rival US prices. 

Note #3: We were in KL for four days and four nights.  All average daily expenses are divided by…yes, 4!

Hotel:

Sahabat Guesthouse (3 nights) – $119

Traders Hotel (1 night) – $110.50

Hotel (average nightly expense) – $57.38/night

Transportation – $37.40 (includes one metro ride, transportation to airport)

Food – $221.27 (includes all meals, and one meal at the Traders Hotel accounts for nearly 65% of the total food cost for our entire stay)

Drinks – $36.51 (we went out for some local Jaz beers a couple nights, so we separated out this expense)

Entrance Fees – $5.00 (just one entrance fee, to the Islamic Arts Museum)

Gifts/Souvenirs – $84.82 (includes Christmas presents for several family members, a small wooden durian fruit replica painted silver for our coffee table, a book at the airport)

Misc. – $82.25 (includes some hotel service charges, cold medicine, laundry, a Kuala Lumpur guidebook, umbrellas and the upgrade at the Traders Hotel)

Total Cost (not including hotels) – $467.15 or $116.79 per day

Yikes!  We spent the most per day in KL than we did anywhere else by far!  We blame our 24 hours of extravagance at the Traders Hotel which accounted for about $300 once you include our fancy dinner and all those fun service charges that get mysteriously tacked onto any hotel bill.  It just goes to show that you can spend a lot of money anywhere in the entire world – seriously, we saw $1,000 hotel rooms in the poorest, cheapest areas of Southeast Asia.  Just goes to show that a little ingenuity and research can uncover gems anywhere.  (though, our Traders Hotel expense was entirely worth it!)

 

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By Drew & Julie

We spent a full four days and four nights in Kuala Lumpur, and did surprising little.  In addition to the entire day spent at a hotel, most of our waking hours were split between wandering neighborhoods, taking breaks in air-conditioned malls and sampling street food.  Also, despite the fact that we’ve been taking all of these pictures with the great DSLR camera, in KL we stopped wanting to lug it around, so all of our photos are with the point-and-shoot (not bad, but nothing stunning).  We’re including a few more photos, though the quality isn’t quite up to par.  Here are our Top 5 in no particular order.

1. Air-conditioning.  Malaysia is hot.  Hot AND steamy.  It’s brutal.  When you’ve sweat through numerous layers of clothing and you feel like you’re going to pass out, a blast of cold air really helps.  Fortunately, Malays love their A/C.  As you walk by any store on the street, you get a puff of frigid air from the A/C within (yes, they keep the doors open and let in the hot air which makes us wonder how big their bills are).  And when you just can’t take it, pop into a mall because there is one within a block, and wander around until you get cold.

2. A fancy hotel.  There’s just something extra special about a really nice hotel.  We’ve stayed in some nice places on our trip (13 total hotels actually, and two planes and two trains), but the luxuriousness of five-star digs can’t be beat.  Maybe it’s the great showers.  Or the particularly comfortable bed with a pillow menu, just in case you don’t like the pillow the room comes with.  Whatever it is, we loved feeling like royalty for a while.

The illustrious Traders Hotel

3. Street food.  Our first guesthouse in KL was a block from a famous food street called Jalan Alor (jalan means road in Malay).  On J. Alor, food stalls stretch up and down the street, and the road is quite well documented on various food websites as one not to miss.  We tried lots of food on Jalan Alor – chicken wings, sweet BBQ pork, laksa (a spicy coconut soup), and several veggie dishes.  There’s also a great Indian restaurant on the corner where we went twice to drink hot milk tea and eat naan (flatbread).  We had no idea that our guesthouse was in such a cool neighborhood, and it was such a welcome surprise.

Jalan Alor (taken from a table, beer in hand)

4. Le Tour de Langkawi. Kinda like Le Tour de France, this bike race in Malaysia is arranged in stages that cover the country.  One day we literally stumbled upon the finish line of Stage 10, the final stage of the entire thing.  Crowds lined the streets cheering, there were massive police escorts, and watching the blur of cyclists was a once in a lifetime.  It’s funny how some of the neatest moments find you!

5.  Quinn, our ride into KL.  On our flight from Singapore back to KL, we happened to sit next to the same woman we had sat next to a few days prior (on the flight from KL to Singapore).  Realizing the coincidence, we struck up  a conversation.  She is an ex-pat living in KL with her husband, who works for HP (she had spent the weekend in Singapore at her son’s basketball tournament).  After exchanging travel stories for the short 40 minute flight, she offered us a ride to our hotel in KL!  It saved us about $40 in transportation fees.  It was nice to talk to someone living in KL and get some insight into the city.  Thanks again Quinn!

A clean shot of the Petronas Towers

What didn’t make our Top 5?

1. Time to go home.  As our amazing adventure wound down in KL, we found ourselves mentally gearing up for the transition home rather than spending our hours immersed in the local scene.  We think that the mental preparation for going home is normal, but it also meant that our last few days were spent reminiscing about our favorite places, discussing home stuff (what to buy at the grocery store???), and gearing up for work.

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