Wednesday, February 25, 2009

what are we doing now?


Alicia got a job coaching softball in Briarcliff Manor. Karla is looking for work in northern California, but most recently put up her own website that features her artwork. enjoy!

email us:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Exchange rates while abroad

We thought it might be fun to post the exchange rates while we were abroad. The following were the rates at the time we were in each country:

$1 = 161.5 HUF (Hungarian Forint)
= 1.18 YTL (New Turkish Lira)
= 5.369 EGP(Egyptian Pound)
= 1200 TZS (Tanzanian Shilling)
= 49.62 INR(Indian Rupee)
= 35.7 THB (Thai Baht)
= 7.1 HKD (Hong Kong Dollar)
= 6.83 CNY (Chinese Yuan)

Sunday, December 28, 2008


It’s not the end just yet. We wrote these on the trip back home.

(They are a little out of order but they are fun anyway…)

Most famous Monuments:

•The Pyramids of Giza (Egypt)

•The Taj Mahal (India)

•The Great Wall of China (guess!)


•The Aegean Sea

•The Mediterranean Sea
•The Indian Ocean

•The Pacific Ocean

•The Nile River

•The Ganges River

Biggest Cities:
•Hong Kong (China)
Delhi (India)
Istanbul (Turkey)
Beijing (China)

Dirtiest cities:
1. Delhi (India)
2. Agra (India)
3. Cairo (Egypt)

Best weather:
•Dharamsala (India) - day we went to Children's Village
•Goreme (Turkey) - day we took tour
•Ayutthaya (Thailand) – day we saw the ruins
•Ubetu (Tanzania) – days in the hospital

Hottest country:

Coldest country:

Nicest weather overall:

Rainy days (5):
•Hungry - half day
•Greece - morning showers
•Tanzania - drizzle after 'hiking' in Ubetu, afternoon showers after safari, night rains at Suzanne's

Most relaxing days:
•Beach day in Santorini (Greece)
•Malaria days (Tanzania)
•Suzanne's house (Tanzania)
•Thanksgiving day (Thailand)

Most Stressful Days
•The day we left Hungary (catching the plane)
•Thailand - trying to figure out a way out while the airport was taken over by government protestors!

Number of Airports visited

Number of countries
•9 (including our 2 hour trip to Slovakia)

Best food
India (Karla and Alicia)

Turkey (Alicia)

Worst food
Hungary (most nondescript)

Spiciest food experiences:
Hungary (the green pepper)
Thailand (when you forgot to ask for non spicy food)

Most Sick
•Day we visited the Pyramids

•On the Ferry from Zanzibar (Karla)

•Malaria (both)

Modes of Transportation:
•bicycle rickshaw
•autorickshaw (aka tuktuk)
•student discount bus (walking!)
•safari jeep
•motorcycle with sidecar (A's favorite!)
•cruise ship

Cheapest Country:

Most Expensive Country:

Countries where we made most friends:



Where we made the least friends:


Cutest babies:

Friendliest People:
Tanzania, India, China

Least friendly:
1. Greece
2. Hungary

First place to re-visit:
1. India

Worst bathroom experience:
India (while taking a bus to Jodhpur)

Cleanest/Most organized city:
•Hong Kong

Worst smog EVER:

Coolest skyline:
•Hong Kong

Worst/Most annoying vendors:


Best tea:
1. India (chai masala with milk)
2. Turkey (apple tea)

Best coffee:
Turkey or Tanzania

Most animals:
Tanzania (safaris) and India (in the streets)

Favorite word in new language:
•muzungu (Swahili- foreigner aka someone who’s not from Africa)

•aroi (Thai- delicious)

•farang (Thai- foreigner)

•imshee (Arabic- go away child!)

Number of marriage proposals:
•too many to count (in Egypt)

Favorite street animal:
•cow, dog, and monkey

Weirdest street animal:


Best natural land formations:
•Mount Kilimanjaro
•The Himalayan Mountains
•The Goreme caves in Turkey

Best sunsets:
•Over caves in Goreme
•On the fort in Jaislamer
•over Hong Kong
•over Nile in Cairo on the first night
•from our cruise ship on Nile (with tea!)

Longest flight:
•HKG-JFK (16 hrs)

Longest lay-over:
•Tanzania (also most fun layover as we got to leave the airport)

Weirdest happenings/experiences:
•When our empty water bottle magically refilled half way at a restaurant in Hungary
•Seeing Guy in the SOK safari office and figuring out our flight was cancelled at the last minute
•When Hellen told us the day after that we drank goat's blood soup

Cultural idiosyncrasies that we still don't understand:
•urinating in public
•groping women in crowds
•not using toilet paper
•smoking...on the Great Wall
•the art of bargaining
•cutting people in lines
•how all non-native English speakers have the same phrases world-wide
•why Turkish people are afraid of taking the train
•the Chill
•why rickshaw drivers won't take us for a more than fair price
•love/hate relationship with cows in India
•why roads are always undergoing construction but are never completed in Tanzania
•how you could possibly like goats blood and intestine soup
•Asian spitting through teeth
•Men’s long pinkie nail (Egypt and Asia)
•snot-rocketing everywhere (India)
•not feeding people in the hospital
•Walking around with your naked child to beg for money

Funniest cultural habits:
•babies with split pants as to avoid needing diapers
•peace sign for photos (China)
•Men running in the streets not for exercise (Turkey)
•street vendors teaching dogs in tutus to do tricks
•biker hand warmers
•saying yes and then walking away when they don't understand

Cutest cultural habits:
•hand-holding amongst the elders everywhere and all Indian men
•getting up to give your seat to an elder

Weirdest foods:
•Ayran (yogurt milk drink)
•goat innards (nothing goes to waste)
•Turkish delight sweets (they taste like plastic with nuts)

Best new skill:

Religions we've learned about:
•Tibetan Buddhism
•Ancestor worship

Favorite traditional outfits:
•Khanga (India)
•Sari (India)

Best purchase:
•African shorts we had tailored

Best bargains:
•India and China

Most important lessons learned:

Strangest person we've met:
•woman in Tanzania when fixing the car. She kept talking in gibberish about snakes and such.

Most unexpectedly interesting person we stumbled upon:
•Carpet vendor named Ali (Turkey)

Languages we've learned:
•Hungarian, Turkish, Greek, Arabic, Swahili, Hindi, Thai, Cantonese, Mandarin

Language we learned the most of:
1. Swahili
2. Arabic

Coolest things we've done:
•Pet tigers (Thailand)
•Sailed felucca (Aswan- Egypt)
•Climbed Great Wall (China)

Place where we felt most at home:
•Noha's in Egypt

•Katie's in Thailand
• Lucy's in Beijing

Shortest time in a country or province:


•Hong Kong

Longest time in a country:

Tallest travelers we met:
•Daniel and Jake (Turkey)

Shortest traveler:
•cute baby sitting next to us on the plane from Beijing to Hong Kong

Funniest experiences:
•saying goodbye to Daniel and he was on A's shoulders while K was on Jake's
•impromptu group picture on the Great Wall

Tallest mountain:

Highest we've been
•Ngorongoro (only about 3,000 meters)

Scariest moment
•finding out about the Mumbai attacks while stranded in Thailand
•A Lost K at the airport
•Almost missing our flight in Hungary

Best new taste
•Fruit curry (India)

Worst new taste
•Blood soup (Tanzania)
•Mold cookies (China)

Best dessert:
•Baklava (Turkey)

Places we want to go next!
•Laos, Cambodia, Tibet, Nepal, Spain (K), Morocco, Senegal, Cameroon, Madagascar, all of South and Central America...the list goes on!

Special thanks to...
•Our hostel owner for giving us a good introduction to traveling (Hungary); Irmak and Ugur for being great hosts (Turkey); Noha and Karam for taking us in and driving us everywhere (Egypt); Hellen, Eric, Apo and George for helping us live with Malaria and for showing us how to live with just enough (Tanzania); Suzanne, Graham, and Chris for saving us from Malaria and letting us stay in the oasis of Arusha (Tanzania); Mr. and Mrs. Prasad for pampering us on our last day in India; Katie and Mike for taking care of us in Thailand and making Thanksgiving a reality; Lucy for being so generous, Karen for helping us get around Beijing, and Mr. Li for patiently driving us around (China).
•Our most faithful and loving companions: Diego and Fernando (our backpacks)
•Our families and our faithful blog readers
•And of course to all the new friends we've made on the road.

So THANK YOU all again for helping us make this trip! (Don’t mind the misspellings)

ke se nem (Hungarian)

teshekewr (Turkish)

efhiristo (Greek)

shokran (Arabic)

asante (Swahili)

shukriya (Urdu)

duniwaad (Hindu)

kap kun kaa (Thai)

m goih (Cantanese)

xie xie (Mandarin)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Day 105: December 18. Homeward Bound.

What a long day! We woke up at 6:30 and scurried around finishing packing and cleaning up after ourselves, before hopping in a cab to the airport.

We checked in and enjoyed our flight immensely because there was a really cute baby sitting next to us. It didn't matter that he only spoke Mandarin and we obviously don't...he still liked playing with us!

Our layover passed quickly with all the errands that we had to do: exchange money, eat lunch, spray ourselves with perfume, and of course write a list of the wonderful things we didn't want to forget.

Then came the long plane ride. Luckily we had personal TVs to keep us company...we each watched 4 movies! Hey, we had to figure out some way to pass 15.5 hours!

We had some delays coming in, and then were taxiing after landing for a half hour, then there was a long customs line, then we had to wait quite some time for our bags to come...and then suddenly we were surrounded by our families and four months worth of questions and embraces. And somehow, without ceremony, it was all over. Karla and Alicia went their separate ways to separate states.

The End.
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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Day 104: December 17th. Perfect Finish

We were on time for Mr Li today! After breakfast we were driven to Beihai Park, which, in keeping with our park experiences, was positively alive on a winter's morning. We saw some impressive music and dancing, fancy sword maneuvers, various sports, intense card games, and vigorous walkers. The park was on the big lake you could see from the top of the hill of Jingshan Park.

There were also some beautiful temples and even a cool man made cave where the emperor used to practice his kung fu. One of the courtyards leading to the temple had bedrooms and living rooms surrounding it filled with what looked like replicas of how the rooms used to appear. This style of display was different from the other bedroom displays we've been seeing where they have the room set up with what's left of the old actual furniture. You get to see the real stuff but its also nice to see what they actually could have looked like.

We had a couple more places to see while we still had the car. So we visited the Cow Street Mosque, the biggest mosque in Beijing. It said in the guidebook that the mosque had Chinese influence, and it was so Chinese looking that you could barely tell it was a mosque except for the Arabic written on the building and the graves. We made another stop just around the corner at the Fayuan Temple. Karla liked this one a lot. The complex was well laid out, not too big or busy, and was beautifully decorated inside and out. The trees must be beautiful in the summertime. Being expert temple goers, we swiftly made the rounds and where on our way to our final drop off point of the day-the Drum and Bell Towers north of the forbidden city.

When we got out of the car we managed to communicate that we would take a cab home from here (we wanted to walk around the hutong at leisure) and would be leaving the following day. With the words tomorrow, bye-bye, taxi and the hand signal of an airplane, he shook his head happily having understood, shook our hands, and pulled away.

We had lunch at a small restaurant, and thought we were ordering the dumpling soup. What came out was a fish soup with the whole tail in it! Karla, with her stuffy nose, loved it, and Alicia could only take so much of the extreme fishyness. Ironic we know.

After lunch, we visited the Drum Tower. We walked up a very large flight of stairs to get to the floor with the drums. We had just missed the demonstration and so walked around reading about the history of drums and time keeping and looking at the great views of the city while we waited. It was short but interesting to watch them beat these huge red barreled drums with great precision. Back down the stairs we went. To get up to the Bell Tower across the courtyard we had to climb yet another giant flight of stairs. Perfect. If we weren't sore from the Wall before, our legs definitely reminded us now. Upstairs was a very large bell cast as one piece. It was quite impressive.

We were still waiting to hear from Shanshan when we started to wander through the hutong. She is Chinese but studied at Alicia's sister's university. We had thought we could meet up with her to walk around but in the end we were going to meet her for a very traditional Chinese dinner. We explored the hutong quite thoroughly and we saw where they sell bicycle and motorcycle hand warmers. They are basically like giant mittens with a hole in the side that fits over the handles. They look pretty hilarious. It's such a great idea though, and all the rage here! Exploration complete, we made our way to the subway (after stopping a an ATM of course).

Dinner with Shanshan was a success. We ate hotpots, a meal that you essentially cook yourself. You pick the broth, the dipping sauce, the meat, the vegetables, and whatever traditional snack you want. She had a lot of fun explaining to us what this meal was all about. Apparently lamb was a warm meat, eaten during the winter. We got a garlic dipping sauce and a peanut buttery sauce as well. We got one spicy and one non spicy broth. We also ordered traditional chinese sweet tea and some preserved mini crab apple things they usually sell on a stick in the streets. Shanshan told us that she loves coming to Beijing because she loves to eat. We now see why- the food is very yummy! One thing we were supposed to have was Peking Duck. We know, we know, but you can't do everything! And we did have tofu Peking Duck with Lucy...

Overall, the meal was delicious. Unfortunately Karla's sense of taste wasn't all there due to another cold, but she enjoyed it if not for its process. Although putting your meat in the boiling pot and then trying to fish it out with chop sticks wasn't the fastest of processes, you still got very full even when eating slowly. We left dinner nearly three and a half hours later!!! It was fun to talk to someone who has lived in China most of their life- another reason it took so long.

After dinner Alicia put on her new biker gloves and we headed home to pack. It took us nearly an hour to get home and Karla even dozed in the subway while Alicia remained vigilant, but upon arriving at the apartment we put ourselves to work packing, listening to Christmas songs, and enjoying our celebratory Dragon Seal bottle of wine (our last night!). Packing took only twice as long for Karla as it did for Alicia (her excuse is that everything has to fit "just right" or else it won't fit at all). Regardless it was late when we finished but we spent a few minutes unwinding in front of the TV before passing out. We had to get up around 630, as our flight was at 10am. It's going to be a looooong day.
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Day 103: December 16th. All in a Day's Wall-k

This morning we were only 10 minutes late for Mr Li. This is a real improvement for us! He took us promptly to the Great Wall. It only took about an hour and a half to get there.

We took a cable car up to the entrance, and started walking. We figured that this would give us more face time on the wall. It turned out to be a lot warmer out than we had anticipated and soon were carrying most of our layers. Better safe than sorry I suppose. We soon decided that it was less crowded going the other way, not to mention that the lighting was better, so we about-faced and started walking in the opposite direction. It looked steep, but we were up for the challenge.

The Wall is certainly all it's cracked up to be, great because of the way it snakes around the hills, following the contours of the land. It stretches on as far as you can see...impressive not because of it's height but because of how long it is! Even though a lot of it is in disrepair, the crumbling bits are just as fun to try to follow along. Because the wall follows the mountain side, it's pretty darn steep in parts. It's especially impressive when it looks like its going straight up.

We had heard that this was the way the wall looked in places but you can't really believe it until you see it for yourself. It was downhill (mostly) and slippery when there weren't stairs (Karlas shoes have long since lost their tread) on the way there. Of course we made friends along the way. I think it was national photograph a white person day. At least they always asked with a giant smile on their face.

Anyway. We went as far as we could on that part of the wall (about an hour and a half of mixed walking, shuffling, picture snapping, and jogging). When we reached the end, there was a group of Chinese people applauding us and waiting for us to reach the top! We took group pictures and everyone else in the group exchanged phone numbers and emails, and we all went on our merry way. Karla couldn't stop doubling over with laughter at the peace signs they posed with when she was taking the picture. Alicia even joined in on the fun.

The hike back up sure looked extremely daunting. You have to see the pictures. Shockingly it wasn't nearly as hard as it appeared! In fact, it took us only a little over an hour to hike back up. Step by step we got there. Although our butts were a bit sore afterwards, it was an amazing walk. We really felt a sense of accomplishment, especially since our new friends took the mini train back up!

We did take the cable car back down to the parking lot (you'd be insane not to) and climbed back in the car with Mr Li, who took us back into Beijing. Although it was almost dusk and tried telling us that our desired destination was closed, he dropped us off at the Temple of Heaven Park. It was too late to go into the temple, but we walked around the park til sunset (one can pretty much guess what the temple looks like from the outside), then crossed the street to the Pearl Market to finish our Christmas shopping.

A very jolly cab driver took us home to sort out what we're doing tomorrow with Karen (our amazing and patient translator), who of course had to call Mr Li and tell him the plan. Once we had the rest of our trip planned out (yikes!), we walked to The Place shopping center across the street to grab dinner. We found a quick cheap place and had a delicious meal.

At home we watched yet another corny movie (good work hallmark), then hit the sack. Hope we're not too sore tomorrow!

PS - Please note the triple-entendre in our title. Now that's rare!
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Monday, December 15, 2008

Day 102: December 15. Busy Bees!

We ate eggs for breakfast this morning, then scurried around packing lunch so that we could have a more efficient day. Time is running short!

Mr Li picked us up from Lucy's and we drove to the Summer Palace. This was the summer residence of one of the Empresses, and was built (then burned down and built again) around this giant lake. It was a (relatively) warm day, so we walked around the periphery of the water, stopping to go over bridges and see temples, and of course to walk on the ice for a bit. It was just beautiful! There was more than one photo opportunity...

We took the (not-so) short cut around the lake because we wanted to have time to explore some of the dozens of temples and buildings near the entrance to the compound, and ended up climbing through some caves and rock formations to approach this fantastic three-tiered temple from the back side. Although the temple itself was a bit of a disappointment (they only let us in to the first tier even after we had to pay extra!), we were able to take in the view over the lake and walk down the front side through an elaborately painted tunnel of stairs. But we've come to realize that a lot of these temples look the same...

We ate our packed lunch of PBJ in the car on our way to the Old Summer Palace and walked around there for an hour and a half, looking for ruins. We found some, but we couldn't find the entrance to the 'good' least we got to see them from the top of a hill.

Mr Li next dropped us off in a 'hutong', which is a kind of small neighborhood connected by alleys in China. We had wanted to see another temple, but it was already closed, so we wandered around the 'hutong' instead. This was the best decision we made all day! We saw courtyards to houses with the laundry all hung out (and nearly frozen), people zooming by on mopeds, a couple of small fruit and veggie (and in the back, meat!) markets and a man pressing dough into noodles, as well as a bunch of storefronts with their salespeople outside greeting their neighbors.

We purchased some delicious clementines (Graham: who says there isn't fresh fruit in China) and Karla immediately consumed one (she's craving citrus as she has a cold coming on). Delicious! The woman even let us pose with her bigger-than-we've-ever -seen grapefruits. In fact we also saw some humungous cucumbers and horseradishes. When we tried taking pictures we realized that almost every fruit or vegetable was somehow oversized and so there would be no way to tell how big the foods in fact were. It reminded us of the ridiculously oversized map that Daniel bought in Turkey. We took a picture of him with it but realized he was so tall that in the end the map didn't look so big. It was nearly five feet long afterall. Is the size of the veggies and fruits a product of genetic engineering or are they just really good at growing things? We may never know.

In front of the noodle making shop we stood mesmorized for a bit watching the father-daughter team making and selling their raw noodles. They were covered head to toe in white flour. Putting the dough through the machine at lightning speed didn't stop him from smoking a cigarette at the same time. We didn't know whether to be amazed at his skill or disgusted at the ashes falling in the dough. After having them laugh at us for a while and after another guy on the street pointed at the noodles and pantomimed eating to show us what the funny looking white stuff was for (thanks dude), we continued on our way.

We decided to be adventurous and tried a couple of cookies being sold from a small store. Karla took a large bite out of a rectangular one that looked like one cracker was vanilla, one chocolate, and a marshmellow-like filling. She immediately gagged and practically sprinted down the street to spit it out. Drastic measures, thought Alicia. Alicia asked to taste it, and Karla shook her head vehemently. Alicia asked what it tasted like, and Karla replied 'basement mold'. Alicia of course wanted to taste it herself, and took a delicate bite. Indeed, we had purchased mold cookies. Yum.

When we decided that we'd had enough of new tastes for a while, we hopped in a cab to the Pearl Market, which was much like the Silk Market. Counterfeit goods intermingled with hand-made Chinese arts. It's interesting when the vendors look at us and immediately think we want 'Gucci' bags or 'Polo' shirts. Especially cause we still look like backpackers, whether or not we're staying in a nice apartment!

We (aka Karla) lost track of time and had to take a cab home and were nearly late to meet Mr Li who was picking us up to go to the doctor. So we sprinted across the shopping mall across the street and came tearing around the corner and Mr Li just laughed (he has an amazing patience). We haven't been on time for him yet!

We met Lucy's friend Karen (she's chinese but speaks near perfect english) at the doctor's, and before going in to see him, she took us to see where all the traditional medicines are prepared. The herbs are taken out of these drawers and thrown on big sheets of paper, then wrapped up for people to take home and boil and drink. It was really cool to see and amazing to think about how many kinds of medicines everyone had to remember.

We were lead into the doctor's office, and Alicia explained her hip issue, with Karen translating when necessary. The doctor immediately found the exact spot that was aching and without Alicia saying anything, he found every other sports injury she had ever sustained on her leg. He then poked and prodded the muscle back into place, telling her it needs to be rested (ok fine. When we get home!), and that it needs to be massaged back into a non-inflamed state. He didn't look to pleased that we would be hiking the great wall the next day. She walked without pain for the rest of the night, so she'll have to find a traditionalist when she gets home!

While Alicia had a huge needle sticking into her backside (acupuncture), Karla had the doctor see about her cold (he said it could be cured even though the cold is uncurable-but it can't hurt to try). He massaged her sinuses and chased her evil spirits away, and Karla felt a little better (her headache went away). In the end it was worth it. It's amazing how physical this kind of medicine is.

We shared a cab home with Karen, thanking her for staying with us, then walked across the street to The Place to get food for dinner. We had a weird meal of eggs and bread (Karla) and eggs and Singaporan meat (Alicia) while watching another weird but captivating movie on the Hallmark Channel. Unfortunately this one wasn't Christmas themed...
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