Friday, April 29, 2011

One Year Ago Today...

Happy Birthday Henry!


Sunday, January 23, 2011


While traveling we saved one bill from each country we visited and we just had them framed. It starts with Colombia because Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Route


Saturday, August 21, 2010


The final stop! We must say we had eyes on home at this point and as a result didn’t do too much research on London before arriving. Thankfully our friends Jed & Becky and Meri provided us with some great advice. Additionally, we met up with our friends Christian and Lorna for drinks our first night and got some good advice from them too.

Again, perhaps we were distracted by the impending end of the trip, but for the first time we forgot to bring our camera to someplace we wished we had it and therefore have no pictures from our first day. We met up with Christian and Lorna outside the Embankment tube station and headed to one of the riverboat bars on the Thames.

As we’ve mentioned previously, we met Christian while traveling in Panama several years ago and some of his travel stories were the earliest inspiration for this trip. So it was great to share our experiences with them and compare notes on places we’ve all been. For example, Christian and Lorna met on the Routeburn Trail, a trail in New Zealand that Leslie and I hiked (or tramped) on this trip.

It was great to catch up with Christian and to meet Lorna. They were off to Norway for a short holiday themselves, so this was our only chance to see them unfortunately.

On day two, we hit the big tourist attractions. We took the train from our tiny hotel to the Westminster stop. We had seen Parliament and Big Ben from a distance the day before, but on this day we had some time to walk around see the area properly. Despite the fact that this area is an obvious tourist attraction, it was great to see these iconic landmarks that have such a deep history.

We wandered up and down the street on Westminster for a couple of hours before crossing the Jubilee Bridges and walking along the Thames to the Tate Museum of Modern Art. The museum was very cool, especially in that it was teeming with young artists honing their skills.

From there we headed to the Globe Theatre right next door. We toyed with the idea of catching matinee of Merry Wives of Windsor, but we would have missed the first half of the play and so we decided against it. But I had to promise Leslie I would go to the Shakespeare Festival in Boulder next summer.

From there we kept walking along the Thames to the London Bridge area. This is where things get really touristy with attractions like the “London Bridge Experience” and various “dungeon experiences” on every block. That is really not our sort of thing, so we quickly moved on to check out the Tower Bridge and to the Borough Market.

If there is one thing you should have learned form our blog, it is that Leslie loves markets. And the Borough Market was no exception, so I’ll let her describe it.

The Borough market is obviously different than most markets we had been to around the world. It has really fancy foods in a super clean environment (not like almost getting fish entails splattered on you in the markets in Cambodia if you’re too close and not careful!). But it had just delicious looking foods, seafood and produce straight from the producers or growers. It is pretty pricey though so it is good we don’t live near here as we would be broke shopping there all the time!

As we were now well into afternoon, we started to punctuate our various tourist sights with a stop for a half pint a local pubs. Much of the world loves lagers and I love ales, so it was nice to finally get a good cask-conditioned ale. One of the pubs we visited was The Rake, recommended by Jed. It was funny to see so many Colorado beers available, but I had to try some of England’s harder to find offerings such as the Whisky cask aged Harviestoun Ola Dubh.

We eventually started to wander home for the night having covered a lot of ground on foot that day.

The following day we went to explore some of the neighborhoods. We started by heading to Hampstead Village and then into Hampstead Heath, a great park where we could get a bit of nature.

After that we jumped back on the train and headed to Camden. This area is known for being a hip neighborhood … I think this was probably at one point a really cool area, but now feels more like a giant Urban Outfitters store.

Once again back on the train, we made our way to Soho. This is a beautiful neighborhood and, once again, we stopped a few pubs along the way.

We walked down towards Leicester Square and on to Piccadilly Circus, which is very Times Square-like in that it is dominated by chain stores and attractions such as Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Again, this type of thing isn’t really our style, so we hopped on the train and headed back towards our hotel in Earl’s Court.

Back in Earl’s Court we found one more pub and grabbed a few pies. Our favorite is probably the sweet potato, goat cheese and spinach.

Now we are sitting at Heathrow awaiting our final flight of the trip. It’s hard to believe it is coming to an end, but we have had an amazing year and are happy to be seeing our friends and family again soon... and also maybe to get a new pair of shoes.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010


We are feeling the wind down of the trip happening. Only a few more days left and short trips to Barcelona and London before heading home. Trying to get on our flight from Johannesburg to Madrid was a little trying as there were tons of Spanish football fans still streaming back home from the World Cup a month later still blowing vuvuzelas IN the airport check-in line. However, we made it to Barcelona with our eardrums still intact and feel in love with the bohemian feel of the city.

Barcelona is a city to get lost in. There is the main drag, La Rambla, which is packed with people, restaurants, shops, bird and hamster stands(!) and street performers. It is a little crazy with the amount of people on La Rambla.

We even tried to duck into the La Rambla market (as I love markets) but could not stay for long as it was stuffed shoulder to shoulder with tourists and locals. 

Off La Rambla and into the Gothic Quarter is where we loved to stroll in no particular direction. There are small quirky alleyways where locals shops and beautiful architecture hide around every corner. It is in these small streets that we really fell in love with the feel of Barcelona. It has a hip feel where it seemed that artists and poets reside.

While wondering around we actually stumbled into our friend's sister store Papabubble. My childhood friend Chris runs the New York City Papabubble store and made us amazing customized candies for our wedding.

Of course no trip to Barcelona would be complete without seeing some of Antoni Gaudí's work. Sagrada Família is a huge Roman Catholic cathedral that has been under construction since 1882 and expected to be completed in 2026. Allegedly when Gaudí was asked about why the construction was going to take so long he simply said, "My client is not in a hurry." It is so intricate and you can take the view in for a long time seeing new details emerge.

Also we visited Casa Batlló at nighttime.

We had amazing tapas in Barcelona. In Barcelona it seems that it is traditional to "tapa hop" getting a couple of small plates at a couple different restaurants. Our favorite was the simplest; anchovies and rosemary olives with toasted bread.

Also, we had to try what Mark Bittman (food columnist for the New York Times) called the "best sandwich [he] ever had." It is the flauta d’ibéric d.o. jabugo which consists of a bread roll with jabugo ham (allegedly the best in the world from pigs that probably have a better diet than half of the people in the world!).

It was a really good sandwich. The best we have ever had? Well, Jim and I still agree that that award still goes to the Lomito from Fuente Alemana in Santiago, Chile.

We headed to the La Barceloneta beach to get a taste of the Mediterranean. We sat and watched as the beautiful yachts went in and out of the dock while catching some sun. It was a perfect day for the beach and great for finishing up our short time in Barcelona. We head to London next and then the long flight back home!


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Kruger National Park

Our final destination (more or less) in Africa was Kruger National Park. Kruger is the jewel of the South Africa National Parks with all of the “Big 5” (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, buffalo) living within its borders. It is also big enough that the range of the animals doesn’t feel limited and therefore make you feel like they are trapped there for you to see, which we felt in some smaller parks.

We opted to do the self-drive safari instead of hiring a guide and riding in safari vehicles. This was partly because it was far cheaper, partly because we were fairly confident we would see most animals and partly because we are just naturally more do-it-yourself types. Though we had talked to many others that had done guided safaris and had seen animals – leopards in particular – that they say they never would have seen without the guide.

We reserved three nights in three different “rest camps” along our chosen route moving from the south of the park to the far north. The rest camp accommodations were very nice and all reasonably priced. The first night we stayed in the Pretoriouscop Camp and had the basic accommodation, which was a simple thatched roof mud hut. But it was still very comfortable.

That first day we were a little worried as we drove for some time and saw very few animals… not even many antelope. It was nice to be on some dirt roads though far from any crowds. We eventually made our way to the Lower Sabie Camp which is where a good chunk of the safaris go out of. The place was pretty crowded, but we hoped the camp’s reputation for having frequent lion sightings would hold true. As we drove just north of the camp, we saw a small traffic jam ahead with cars angled in every which way. We knew there must be lions nearby. Sure enough we were able to catch the faintest sight of a pride moving through the trees down by the river.

This is as good a place as any to discuss the strange experience of game drives. It is definitely necessary for park visitors to be confined to their vehicles for safety reasons, but it was strange for us to spend three days in such a beautiful place just driving around. Also, the phenomenon of “big 5” animals being followed as a gallery follows the leaders on Sunday of a Major is more than a little strange, though the animals seem used to it.

We ended up seeing lions three more times. The next time we saw a pride lounging under a tree taking turns feeding from a recent kill, but that too was from a pretty great distance.

The third time was the charm as we were among the first to spot a pride sleeping under a tree and grabbed a good spot to view them before most of the gallery amassed. We had some time so we just hung around for about two hours. Every now and then they would roll over or sit up for a while or get up to stretch their legs or simply move to a shadier spot. It was pretty cool and Leslie snapped about 150 pictures over the course of the two hours.

The last time we saw a lion, a solitary male crossed the road right in front of us. We were able to snap a picture of him as he moved into the tall grass and trees, but this was the closest sighting we had. We even heard him roar.

We saw many other animals as well: zebra, giraffe, kudu, antelope, buffalo, elephants, rhino, baboons, monkeys, hippos and many more.

One of the coolest sightings we had was early on day two when on a back road we spotted a cheetah relaxing in the sun on a large rock. One of the things I wanted to be when I was in kindergarten (in addition to an astronaut and Terry Bradshaw) was a cheetah. This was probably as close to that dream as I’ll ever get.

By day three we were pretty satisfied with all we had seen, but we still hadn’t completed the “big 5” tick list. While the tick list itself was of little importance to us, we were eager to see a leopard. The leopard proved to be very elusive. We took some back roads where there had been recent leopard sightings, but the leopard is nocturnal and mostly hides by day. Additionally, leopards cover great distances making recent sightings of limited use in tracking them down.

Then trouble hit. We were pretty far off the main road in our tiny Tata and we got a flat tire. For obvious reasons we couldn’t get out of the car to change it. We remembered a hide nearby where you are allowed to get out of the car so we drove on the flat the 6kms to the hide. We quickly changed the tire, keeping eye and an ear out for anything that may be lurking and headed to the nearest rest camp. Rather than drive much further, we changed our reservation to that camp and the next morning headed out of the park as planned. We were able to get a new spare through the car rental company right at the border of the park. Not a huge crisis, but interesting nonetheless.

The luck of it was that we took a different road out of the park than we would have otherwise. And on that road, we got our leopard sighting. It was moving very quickly away from us in tall grass and we weren’t quick enough to get a picture, but it was cool to see.

Kruger was great. A large camera with a massive telephoto lens seems to be the norm for most visitors and I can see why. Still we got some good pictures with our little point-and-shoot Canon and it was very cool to see all these animals in the wild! Now it is off to Johannesburg and our flight to Europe. One week left in this adventure.


Monday, August 9, 2010

The Kingdom of Swaziland

Swaziland, the small country surrounded on three sides by South Africa and bordered to the east by Mozambique, was a welcome stop on our route from the coast to Kruger National Park. You could easily drive the length of the country in a day, but we allowed ourselves four days to explore just a bit of this tiny kingdom.

We expected to visit two of Swaziland’s National Parks – Mkhaya and Mlilwane – but were thwarted at the first. The road from the highway is definitely a 4x4 road and our little Tata was not equipped to even attempt the river crossing we encountered barely 500 meters in. We spoke to a local boy and realized we hadn’t sufficiently researched this park. It turns out that it is one of the fancier parks in Southern Africa and prior reservations are strictly required. A tractor comes twice per day to pick up guests and bring them to their swanky accommodations. We later learned that these accommodations would have been way outside our budget anyway.

So, we moved on and landed at the Swaziland Backpackers Hostel in the Ezulwini Valley. This is the gateway to the Mlilwane National Park and the most commonly visited area of Swaziland. We had a nice night here, but decided to move on the next day. We moved to a hostel not too far away that afforded us more opportunity to get out and hike around and see the area.

We went on a short hike that afternoon up the mountain Sheba’s Head where we had some beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. We also met some nice folks that evening that were just beginning their round–the-world trip. Now veterans of this sort of thing (ha!), we passed on some of what we have learned as others had done for us when we were first starting out. Although I think the one rule of this sort of travel is that no two people (or couples) experience the same things and places in the same way. You’ve just gotta see for yourself!

Finally we headed into Mlilwane. Mlilwane actually has a hostel inside the park that made for nice affordable accommodation. The real perk of Mlilwane is that large predators aren’t much of a threat. There are crocs and pythons and hippos and even ostriches you need to be wary of, but you aren’t confined to your vehicle as you are n most game parks.

So we went for a hike. The park, like the country, isn’t that big and we covered a good chunk of it in one day. We hiked the “Hippo Trail” and it was nice to get hiking again. We came across all sorts of animals as we hiked from zebras – some were skittish, others didn’t seem fazed as we walked right past them – warthogs, crocs, monkeys and a myriad birds and antelope.

After the hike we sat at the Hippo Haunt restaurant at the main camp and had a beer. This is an interesting place as it is next to a small pond where hippos reside. There is small stone wall on the edge of the pond and every now and then local school groups will show up and a ranger will put some grain out for the hippos. Onto shore the hippos come. It is neat to see them up close and get good photo opps, but it does feel a little TOO zoo-like. It’s hard to really think of these hippos as wild, though they could leave the area if they wished.

The next morning we set out for South Africa again and left Swaziland behind. It is beautiful country and the people here are incredibly friendly and nice. Oh and one more thing… Swaziland can’t abide catapults.