Archive for ‘Random Musings’

April 10, 2012

Greatest Hits

by Johnny

Whenever we talk to people about our trip, the first question that always gets asked is, “So, what’s been your favorite place?”  I’m sure we’ll get this question a ton once we get back (which is just fine with us…we love talking about our trip).  It’s just that it’s such a hard question to answer.  Literally every single place we visited offered up something unique and special which made it worth traveling to.  That said, we tried to rank some of our favorite places in various categories (a fun little exercise to help pass the time on long travel days).  But before our rankings, here are some of our favorite, most memorable experiences from our 320-day, round-the-world adventure (these were too hard to rank, so they’re in chronological order):

Without further ado, here are our rankings…or at least as they stand on April 9, 2012 during our 5-hour layover in Seoul, South Korea:

Favorite Major City?
Johnny:
1. Istanbul, Turkey
2. Paris, France
3. Rome, Italy
4. Melbourne, Australia
5. Cape Town, South Africa
Anna:
1. Rome, Italy
2. Paris, France
3. Istanbul, Turkey
4. Barcelona, Spain
5. Cape Town, South Africa
Favorite Mid-Sized City?
Johnny:
1. Venice, Italy
2. San Sebastian, Spain
3. Avignon, France
4. Sevilla, Spain
5. Queenstown, New Zealand
Anna:
1. Venice, Italy
2. Avignon, France
3. San Sebastian, Spain
4. Dubrovnik, Croatia
5. Verona, Italy
Favorite Village/Small Town?
Johnny:
1. Luang Prabang, Laos
2. Göreme, Turkey
3. San Gimignano, Italy
4. Uzès, France
5. Ronda, Spain
Anna:
1. Luang Prabang, Laos
2. San Gimignano, Italy
3. Uzès, France
4. Hvar, Croatia
5. Göreme, Turkey
Favorite Beach?
Johnny:
1. Mawun Beach, Lombok, Indonesia
2. Thong Nai Pan Yai, Koh Phangan, Thailand
3. Lombarda, Korcula, Croatia
4. Playa de la Concha, San Sebastian, Spain
5. Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia
Anna:
1. Thong Nai Pan Yai, Koh Phangan, Thailand
2. Mawun Beach, Lombok, Indonesia
3. Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia
4. Sète, France
5. Playa de la Concha, San Sebastian, Spain
Favorite Accommodation? (These aren’t necessarily the nicest places we stayed, but are the places that had the most character, friendliest owners, best vibes, etc.)
Johnny:
1. CS Solar da Rede, Douro Valley, Portugal
2. Ca’ Venexiana, Venice, Italy
3. Private Apartment, Avignon, France
4. Poplar Tree Lodge, Hout Bay, Cape Town, South Africa
5. Arch Palace Hotel, Göreme, Turkey
6. Baan Rim Nam, Koh Chang, Thailand
7. MotherHome Guesthouse, Siem Ream, Cambodia
8. 9 on Heron, Knysna, South Africa
9. Nirwa Homestay, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
10. Villa Chitdara 2 Guesthouse, Luang Prabang, Laos
Anna:
1. CS Solar da Rede, Douro Valley, Portugal
2. Ca’ Venexiana, Venice, Italy
3. Private Apartment, Avignon, France
4. Doctor’s Retreat, Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
5. Baan Rim Nam, Koh Chang, Thailand
6. Villa Depolo, Korcula, Croatia
7. Dreamland Resort, Thong Nai Pan Yai, Koh Phangan, Thailand
8. Biba Beach, Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia
9. Matisse Apartment, Uzès, France
10. St. Leonards, Blenheim, New Zealand
Favorite Country for Food?
Johnny:
1. Italy
2. France
3. Thailand
4. Spain
5. Vietnam
Anna:
1. Italy
2. Thailand
3. France
4. Spain
5. Turkey
Favorite Market?
Johnny:
1. Neighbourgoods Market, Cape Town, South Africa
2. Les Halles, Avignon, France
3. Night Market, Luang Prabang, Laos
4. Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey
5. Mercat de la Boqueria, Barcelona, Spain
Anna:
1. Neighbourgoods Market, Cape Town, South Africa
2. Night Market, Luang Prabang, Laos
3. Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey
4. Les Halles, Avignon, France
5. Psar Chaa, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Favorite Restaurant? (Taking into consideration both food and atmosphere)
Johnny:
1. Konobo Dionis, Pakleni Islands, Croatia
2. Les Papilles, Paris, France
3. Ristoranta La Vista, Varenna, Italy
4. A Travessa, Lisbon, Portugal
5. Phakdee Bakery, Luang Prabang, Laos
6. Sapa Rooms, Sapa, Vietnam
7. La Castellana, Montefioralle, Italy
8. Cafe Safak, Göreme, Turkey
9. Eslava, Sevilla, Spain
10. Vegie Bar, Melbourne, Australia
Anna:
1. Konobo Dionis, Pakleni Islands, Croatia
2. Les Papilles, Paris, France
3. Ristoranta La Vista, Varenna, Italy
4. A Travessa, Lisbon, Portugal
5. Bar Goiz Argi, San Sebastian, Spain
6. Longtail Beach Resort, Thong Nai Pan Yai, Koh Phangan, Thailand
7. Phakdee Bakery, Luang Prabang, Laos
8. Sari Organik, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
9. Amisfield Winery & Bistro, Queenstown, New Zealand
10. Olympia Cafe, Kalk Bay, Cape Town, South Africa
Favorite Wine Region?
Johnny:
1. Douro Valley, Portugal
2. Provence, France
3. Tuscany, Italy
4. Franschhoek, South Africa
5. Central Otago, New Zealand
Anna:
1. Douro Valley, Portugal
2. Tuscany, Italy
3. Provence, France
4. Franschhoek, South Africa
5. Hvar, Croatia
Favorite Natural/Scenic Wonder?
Johnny:
1. Mawun Beach, Lombok, Indonesia
2. Milford Sound, New Zealand
3. Cappadocia, Turkey
4. Drakensberg, South Africa
5. Pakleni Islands, Croatia
6. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
7. Cape Peninsula, South Africa
8. Routeburn Track, New Zealand
9. Muang Ngoi, Laos
10. Vintgar Gorge, Slovenia
Anna:
1. Cappadocia, Turkey
2. Milford Sound, New Zealand
3. Cape Peninsula, South Africa
4. Kruger National Park, South Africa
5. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
6. Drakensberg, South Africa
7. Lake Bled and Julian Alps, Slovenia
8. Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, Bali, Indonesia
9. Stari Grad Plain, Hvar, Croatia
10. Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
Favorite Monument/Museum/Man-Made Wonder?
Johnny:
1. Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
2. Temples of Angkor, Cambodia
3. Puente Nuevo, Ronda, Spain
4. Real Alcazar, Sevilla, Spain
5. Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey
6. Pena National Palace, Sintra, Portugal
7. Duomo di Siena, Siena, Italy
8. Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
9. Ephesus, Turkey
10. Versailles, France
Anna:
1. Real Alcazar, Sevilla, Spain
2. Temples of Angkor, Cambodia
3. Pantheon, Rome, Italy
4. Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
5. Pena National Palace, Sintra, Portugal
6. Ephesus, Turkey
7. Puente Nuevo, Ronda, Spain
8. Versailles Gardens, France
9. Duomo di Siena, Siena, Italy
10. Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
Country with the Friendliest People?
Johnny:
1. Turkey
2. Croatia
3. Bali
4. New Zealand
5. Laos
Anna:
1. Turkey
2. Thailand
3. Croatia
4. Bali
5. Laos
If we could snap our fingers and be back in any one place we visited, where would it be? (This could be a good way to gauge our “favorite” place, although the list will probably be different if you ask us next week)
Johnny:
1. Korcula, Croatia
2. Göreme, Cappadocia, Turkey
3. Kruger National Park, South Africa
4. Venice, Italy
5. Luang Prabang, Laos
6. Istanbul, Turkey
7. San Sebastian, Spain
8. Paris, France
9. Thong Nai Pan Yai, Koh Phangan, Thailand
10. Queenstown, New Zealand
Anna:
1. Croatian Islands (Hvar and Korcula)
2. Thong Nai Pan Yai, Koh Phangan, Thailand
3. San Gimignano, Italy
4. Venice, Italy
5. Sète, France
6. Luang Prabang, Laos
7. Lake Bled, Slovenia
8. San Sebastian, Spain
9. Douro Valley, Portugal
10. Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia
Country we most want to visit next?
Johnny:
1. Colombia
2. Chile
3. Nepal
4. India
5. Norway
Anna:
1. Chile
2. Peru
3. Norway
4. Japan
5. India
April 8, 2012

Thats All, Folks

by Johnny
May 24, 2011 – Dinan, France April 8, 2012 – Balangan, Bali
March 23, 2012

Renwick, NZ to Ubud, Bali; The Road Less Traveled

by Anna

Over the past 10 months we’ve been faced with many daunting travel days. In the end, no matter how bad and exhausting they are, they are always worth the reward of arriving in a new country or at our next destination. We recently had one of our most challenging travel stints yet, from Renwick, New Zealand to Ubud, Bali (obviously not the most popular or often traveled route!). Luckily Johnny has mastered the art of travel planning and figured out how to get us to our final destination, Indonesia.

Day 1 started at Windsong Orchard, where we cleaned up the Blueberry Cottage, said goodbye to Bob and Jennie, and walked down the road to the bus stop. We hopped on the 9:55am bus for a 20 minute ride to Blenheim, where we switched to another bus headed to Christchurch. After another 4-hour ride, we arrived at a makeshift bus station in Christchurch (the original station is in the closed off part of the city that is still in ruins from the earthquake). Since we were lugging around our wheelie beasts and because it was cold and drizzling, we didn’t spend any time in Christchurch and found a cab to the airport. We had a lovely 14 hour wait from 4pm-6am at the airport where we attempted to sleep on the cold, hard ground in the arrivals terminal (sleeping at the airport was not as fun of an adventure as I thought it would be!).

Finally at 6:00am we were on our 3 hour flight to Sydney, Australia. After a 4 hour layover and some breakfast at the Sydney airport, we were on our final 5 1/2 hour flight to Denpasar, Bali. Upon arrival to Denpasar we were picked up by our guesthouse owner’s nephew and because of the rain, ceremonial processions passing by and traffic, it took us another 2 hours to get to Ubud (at least we got to see a little bit of beautiful Bali along the way!). Made, the owner of our guesthouse, met us in Ubud with a big smile and helped us traverse a small path along a river through the rice paddies to get to our new home. The view immediately made our exhausting two days worthwhile!

The moral of my story? Travel isn’t always easy, but (for the most part) it is always rewarding!

If you’re going to be stuck at the airport for 14 hours, you might as well eat nachos!
“Les Mis” trying to sleep at the airport Fellow sleeping friends
Goodbye Australia!
Hello Bali! (Procession along the road by the airport) The view from our room made the long trip worth it!
March 18, 2012

A Tribute to Big Red

by Anna

Well, when we first laid eyes on Big Red, aka “Big Bad Red,” aka “BR,” we weren’t too sure about him…he was dirty, his floors were coming off and he had wires dangling from under his hood (we later discovered this was BR’s antennae). Our relationship was off to a rocky start. But as BR trustily led us down windy tracks, past vineyards, sheep, mountains, lakes, more sheep, glaciers and oceans, our love for BR began to grow. We’d cheer him on as he sputtered his way up steep hills, and we’d breathe a sigh of relief when he’d make it through off-road style dirt roads. By the end of 4 weeks our emotional attachment to BR was strong, bordering on true love. Johnny and I had to bid ado to BR in Nelson…it was sad, but we had a good ride.

Check out some glamor shots of Big Red below and an overview of the adventure he led us on through the South Island!

January 16, 2012

The Only Thing We Like More Than Traveling

by Johnny

…is traveling with family and friends!  So happy to be joined in Thailand by Anna’s brother Peter, his girlfriend Sheryl and our great friends Tommy, Michelle, Greg and Hillary!

December 30, 2011

Happy Birthday Anna!

by Johnny

I’m so blessed to be sharing this adventure with the love of my life.  I can’t wait for many more adventures to come.  Happy birthday!  I love you!

December 18, 2011

Top 5 Reasons We Did Not Enjoy the Overnight Train in Vietnam

by Anna

5. The train looked like it rolled out of 1955, and I’m pretty sure that was the last time it had been cleaned.

4. The ride felt like Thunder Mountain Railroad…sounds fun, but not for 16 hours or when trying to balance over the metal hole in the bathroom.

3. The entire train car reeked of rancid, stinky feet as everyone on it removed their shoes about an hour into the journey.

2. The shady man across the aisle from my seat chain smoked with his two-thumbed hand in our non-smoking car and stared at Johnny and me for most of the trip.

…and the #1 reason we did not enjoy the overnight train from Da Nang to Ninh Binh…

1. Cockroaches! The fearless little pests crawled on the walls, the backs of the seats and even on to us a few times.

The train from Ninh Binh to Hanoi wasn’t much better, but at least it was only a couple of hours. This time, the only seats available were the top bunks in a four-person sleeper, and the woman beneath Johnny’s bunk hacked up a lung the entire trip. The best part was that she would hock up her loogies into a plastic tupperware sitting on her lap. She had quite a collection going by the time we got to Hanoi. Oh…the joys of travel!

September 11, 2011

Back To The Boot

by Johnny

A couple weeks ago our second workstay host emailed us to say that she had gotten sick and would no longer be able to have us as helpers.  We were a little bummed because this workstay was on an operating winery outside of Rome, and we were really looking forward to learning about the winemaking process as well as attending the weekly sustainable agriculture dinners the winery hosts.  But we figured, “Hey, nothing an extra couple weeks bouncing around the Croatian islands and a detour down to Montenegro can’t fix.”  And as you can see by our recent posts we’ve been having the time of our lives.  But once we got to the island of Vis, even though it’s just as beautiful and even more remote than the others, something just wasn’t feeling right.  It’s hard to explain, but both Anna and I were feeling a little…well…bored and worthless.

I think I just heard a collective “PUHH-LEEAAASSSSE!” from all the employed folk back home, but it’s true.  We weren’t really meeting any locals…we weren’t really learning anything new…we were just lazing around waiting for something to happen.  And while I am thoroughly enjoying being the tannest I’ve been since Junior Lifeguards, we didn’t save for years, quit our jobs and take this once-in-a-lifetime trip just so we could sit on the beach for weeks at a time (although we are definitely looking forward to posting up on the beaches in Thailand and Indonesia).  OK, now I’m really pissing off my working friends.  Anyways, we quickly booked an overnight ferry back to Italy and emailed every farm and winery we could find in hopes that they could take us for a week or so before our friends Brian and Marisa meet us in Florence on September 26th.  Fingers crossed!

September 3, 2011

A Day In The Life

by Johnny

Lately I’ve been getting a ton of emails asking, “Johnny, what are the five best days of your life?”  No, not really.  But I’m going to tell you anyways.  Here they are, in chronological order.

July 11, 1989 – Anaheim, CA:  1989 MLB All-Star game at Angel Stadium with my dad, Grandpa Joe and Papa; Bo Jackson crushes lead-off homer to center field.

July 20, 1998 – Ventura, CA:  My first Phish concert at Ventura County Fairgrounds; monster 21-minute, funked out “Bathtub Gin” opener had me hook, line and sinker (pun intended).

August 14, 2004 – San Francisco, CA:  I move to San Francisco and start work; feel truly independent for the first time and lucky to live in my favorite city on the planet.

August 15, 2009 – Santa Ynez, CA:  My wedding day; best party of my life.

September 3, 2011 – Hvar, Croatia:  See below.

I’m just kidding.  I couldn’t possibly rank the best days of my life, but today was definitely up there…one of the more memorable ones of this trip for sure.  Now, if you only check in on this blog once in a while, you may have the impression that our trip is full of lavish meals and endless wine drinking.  That’s far from the truth.  It’s actually full of cheap meals and endless wine drinking.  Just kidding again…Johnny’s on fire!  Actually, most days we make a tea and have some granola in our room for breakfast, wander around town, have a baguette and some fruit for lunch, wander some more, make some pasta or find a relatively cheap restaurant for dinner, wander again, go to bed and then have leftover pasta for three meals the following day.  Well, after a few days of this routine here in Hvar, Croatia, we decided to treat ourselves to something special.

Our day started like most do with some granola for breakfast on our deck, and since awesome decks are commonplace here in Croatia we were spoiled with a fantastic view.  We ran out of our usual green tea, so we decided to get some kava (coffee) in the old town (what a treat!) and found a tiny, authentic coffee shop.  The shop has been in the same family for generations, and the woman who runs the place still uses her grandma’s original recipes.  We enjoyed our coffee sitting on some cushions on old stone steps.

Coffee break

When Anna and I talk about “treating ourselves,” it basically means we search out some unknown restaurant with incredible food and stuff our faces.  Today was no different.  We had read on some foodie blog about a restaurant called Dionis located somewhere in Pakleni group of islands right off of Hvar.  We called ahead because it’s encouraged to make reservations…not because it’s overly popular but because they need to know how much food they are going to make that day.  We jotted down some confusing directions from the blog and grabbed a 30 minute taxi boat over to the cove of Palmizana on the island of St. Clement.  While this may seem like a lot of effort just for a bite to eat, this was only the beginning of our journey.  Our directions basically said “find the red sign to the village of Vlaka and follow the blue markers all the way to Dionis” and, well, that was exactly right.  Little did we know, however, that these blue markers took us on an hour long hike through the center of the island on an incredibly overgrown hiking trail.  Even though we’re sitting here with scratches all over our arms and legs, the beautiful views and best meal of our trip (no joke!) were well worth it.

Red sign to Vlaka…so far so good Follow the blue marks…piece of cake
Is that a blue mark?  I think we’re lost. Blue mark on a tree?  Now I’ve seen everything.
Yep…definitely on the right track now
With views like these, who cares if you get lost?

After navigating the rocky, narrow path for about an hour we cut inland for a little bit and finally laid our eyes upon Dionis.  With its setting in the middle of vineyards and olive trees and with views of a bay in the distance, they could’ve served chicken nuggets and I would have been happy.  The setting only got better when we got inside.  There were about six big, wooden tables under a thatched roof with an open wall towards the vineyards…a perfect, rustic setting.  We were definitely the only English speaking people in the place, but another group loved us and would cheers us every time they took a drink of wine (which was often).  It was great.

We made it!
Getting closer Inside of Dionis
We’re hungry!
View from our table
Our new buddies

I don’t pretend to be a food critic, and I’d run out of adjectives talking about how delicious the food was, so I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.  Everything was super fresh and simply prepared with olive oil, garlic, lemon, rosemary, chives and parsley.  And the coolest part is that everything we ate came from within an eye-shot of those pictures you see above you.  Warning:  Looking at the following pictures will make you hungry and jealous.

Bread, olive oil and white wine…all homemade
Eggplant isn’t our favorite, but we loved this aubergine pie Dalmatian cheese and olives
Anna asked the waiter about the fish, so he showed us the morning’s catch
Grilling up our grub More grilling
Anna’s Scorpaena fish and grilled veggies
Johnny’s grilled squid and veggies

After a couple hours we finally and reluctantly peeled ourselves away from the table.  We were so full that we contemplated just sleeping somewhere in the vineyards so we wouldn’t have to make the hike back, but we pressed on slowly but surely, stopping at a couple of the coves we saw one the way in for some dips (some of the skinny varietal).

Nice little spot for a dip
I ate so much my boardshorts literally exploded off my body…good thing I had some nudist friends across the bay
Some cool flora on the hike back Beautiful
Coolness

We made it back in time to catch our boat back to Hvar, and Anna made a new buddy during the ride.  Too stuffed to eat anything for dinner, we wrapped up our amazing day with some red wine on our deck, and I couldn’t help but smile knowing that we have many more of these types of days ahead.

Anna and her new friend Coffee
Dusk from our deck
August 31, 2011

Johnnys Top 5 Tunes

by Johnny

Lately I’ve been getting a ton of emails asking, “Johnny, what are the top five songs that have been playing on your iPod this trip?”  No, not really.  But I’m going to tell you anyways.  Here they are, in no particular order.

Ugly Casanova – Here’s To Now
This song is from the 180° South soundtrack.  Anna and I have watched in on a couple of long-distance train and bus rides, and we get inspired every time.  The tunes are great, too.

Talking Heads – The Book I Read
I love Talking Heads.  For me, they’re one of those bands that has such a unique sound that they may as well have their own genre.  What kind of music is this?  It’s Talking Heads.  I especially like the album The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads because it was the first one I ever bought at Amoeba Records on Haight Street in San Francisco with my good bud and old roommate John Norton.  This song rules.  You think James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem were inspired by David Byrne & Co.?

Paul Simon – Born At The Right Time
This old favorite came on the shuffle while gazing out a train window somewhere deep in the French countryside.  The chorus hit me like a ton of bricks, and it’s been in heavy rotation ever since.  It just made me feel so blessed…not only to be on this trip with Anna but to have such great family and friends back home.  I don’t know what I did to deserve so much.
“Never been lonely
Never been lied to
Never had to scuffle in fear
Nothing denied to
Born at the instant
The church bells chime
The whole world whispering
Born at the right time”

Robert Palmer – Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley
OK, enough of that sappy stuff.  Before Robert Palmer was making cheesy but awesome ’80s music videos, he made the funkiest album ever made by a male Caucasian, as my good friend Will Yale will agree.  Here’s the title track.

Phish – Suzy Greenberg Outro Jam
It couldn’t possibly be a Johnny list without a little Phish.  This Suzy Greenberg outro jam from the September 14, 2000 in Darien Lake, NY has been doing the trick lately.  For those impatient few, minutes 7:00 to 11:00 contain maximum shredding.  Warning:  may make you confused; will make you dance.