Leaving Ireland, quite possibly home to the friendliest people in the word, we headed to Scotland, which certainly has its own group of cordial individuals.  It’s just too bad we didn’t get to enjoy it all more as the culmination of traveling seemed to catch up with us and we nursed a couple colds throughout our stay in Glasgow.

Edinburgh is such a cool city and thankfully we were up to explore and caught it with some of the sunniest days they’d seen in a while.  Our flat was situated within walking distance of everything anyone could need and the recommendations we had received a few months before, while meeting a local in Copenhagen.

Skyler is all about the red double decker bus that you see in most cities, which tours you around the most notable sights a city has to offer.  It did get us to a fantastic hike known as Arthur’s Seat, which is the main peak in Holyrood Park and also offers stunning panoramic views of Edinburgh.  It was a tough climb to the top, but the 360 views and pic-nicking crowd at the top made it a memorable stop. 

Of course when you think Scotland, you think Scottish whisky, or at least we do.  And thankfully, we found a nearby, and stocked to the brim, bottle shop that offered tastings.  You can’t believe how many scotch’s start with the word ‘Glen.’  But also how different they can all taste when you learn the process and nuances that goes into distilling this classic beverage. 

Of all the places we visited throughout our trip, Scotland is easily one of the few countries we could have used more time in to maximize all it has to offer…. and we will someday!   


40 degrees Fahrenheit or 4 degrees Celsius, depending upon how you look at it, is a mighty big difference in temperature. It's also the same drop we experienced when we took off from Dubrovnik and landed in Dublin.  Going from blazing hot days with relentless sunshine to windy, overcast and dreary conditions in a matter of just a few hours is amazing in so many different ways.  But that's the beauty of Europe, the ability to pivot from one country, civilization and culture to the next in a matter of minutes.  Did we mention the changes in weather, too?

Ireland is even more beautiful in person than people tell you.  We also happened to catch it when the weather was on its best behavior, according to the locals, which made for an incredible nine days.

First stop was the Guinness factory because not going would be like slapping every Irishman in the face.  It's an institution in this country, every bar serves it and everyone drinks it.  The storefront is an ode to the makers of Guinness and those behind its success, its impact on the country and the evolution of the brand.  Definitely a cool experience and yes, the Guinness does taste different in Ireland.  Not necessarily better or worse, but different.

We found ourselves taking a tour of an old prison that whilst extremely eerie and depressing actually finds itself at the epicenter of many a famous movie due to the acoustics of their main cell block.  The Italian Job (the original, not the one with Marky Mark) has been filmed there in addition to symphonies and concerts.  I guess the search for good sound knows no boundaries.  And due to the overwhelming amount of pubs, we sought out the one that bears Skyler’s middle name (a family name), the second of his two we should add, Madden.  You would think they'd have given us a discount considering the connection, but apparently the potential kinship didn't hold much water… err Guinness.

Picking up our car to start our road trip, we headed to Blarney to, of course, kiss the stone.  We both now have the gift of gab, but we promise to be gentle during any and all future conversations.  And if you ever find yourself in those parts, due yourself a favor and stay at the Whitehouse B&B.  Home to the nicest husband and wife combo who make you feel like you're family and also dish up a mean breakfast. But more on the Blarney Castle.  That place was spectacular with fields of green, several hikes to enjoy, foliage that has grown to epic proportions in some parts, a babbling brook and mainly just a lot to do to spend a day.  The climb up to the actual stone was something else.  Literally hundreds of people lined up to climb the carefully carved, but never ending narrow and unstable staircase.  Once at the top, the views were wonderful and it was well worth the ascent.  Actually puckering up to the stone is almost an experience in itself as you have to lay on your back and almost invert yourself while suspended some 200 feet in the air.  There are iron bars and a strong Irishman holding you to make sure you don't fall, but it's still freaky.

While there was a ton of awesome places and things to see, Inch Beach takes top honors for us.  The tone was set early as our beach front B&B had unblemished views of the Atlantic Ocean and the sand.  We even got to drive on the beach, which was an interesting concept, but tons of fun.  Inch Beach is also close to the quaint and colorful town of Dingle filled with shops and pubs.  And of course the start of a gorgeous drive around the Slea Head Peninsula, which featured magnificent views of the cliffs jetting into crystal blue ocean.

Speaking of cliffs, not to be outdone are the dramatic cliffs and views at the Cliffs of Moher.  Whether at sunset or in the morning, no daypart is immune to the stunning views and dramatic drops.  It’s also home to some of the best fish in chips you’ll ever have.

Galway... hmmm, it was what it was.  A college town that had a lot of energy and was eclectic, but compared to what we saw at our other stops, it was hard for this place to make a lasting impression.  Granted Skyler had been battling a cold for most of this road trip so maximizing our two days here was trickier, but we'd still recommend the other stops first.

Ireland, though, a must visit for any and all.


Croatia.  A special place, no doubt about it.  And luckily for us, we were joined by some of our best friends to share this wonderful experience.  In fact, this blog entry is a bit different than the rest as we’ve asked our friends to share their thoughts.  Yeah, we know you think we’re being lazy, but we figured you all needed a break from our words and deserve the fresh perspectives of some others…

We often travel to find balance.  A balance in our lives between work and play, or everyday routine and adventure.  I find it ironic then, that many vacations tend to lack the very balance we set out to find.  We've all heard (or been guilty of saying), "I need a vacation from my vacation" ... well, Croatia to the rescue!  Lusting for old European history, castles and cobblestones?  Check!  On the hunt for relaxed island vibes, vibrant blue waters and soaking up the sun?  Check!  Just sample the local gelato or sea bass in Split.  Enjoy laid back beach vibes or Miami-like nightlife in Hvar.  Go wine tasting on the Peljesac Peninsula or clubbing in a castle in Dubrovnik.  We are living proof that it's possible to accomplish such a varied mix of epic adventures on one single trip!



A good first stop for any Croatian visit as it's easy to get to from the airport and easy to leave via ferry boat or rental car to any of your next destinations.  The city is small, but the local vibe made it a relaxed, casual and easy place to visit. Our AirBnb was adorable and the terrace proved to be the perfect perch for us all to come together and catch up after too many months apart!  Split is a port-side city with gorgeous private yachts harboring in and out.  Although there are beaches, they are nothing compared to the other Dalmatian cities as we would soon find out.  But of course we paid them a visit anyway!  After a long hot walk to the rocky beach, we ran into the mostly clear water and treaded the current until we were sufficiently cooled off.  The city itself seems to be covered in wall-to-wall pink and white marble, which glistens off the steamy sunny days.  Between all the reminiscing and story-telling we squeezed in some history with a visit to the fortress-like center, Diocletian’s Palace, erected in the 4th century by the Roman emperor.  We also enjoyed to dine on some amazing Branzino and pasta to fill our tummies from all the walking and swimming, and just like that it was time to head on our ferry for Hvar Island!  



Hvar had an even smaller-town vibe than Split, with an incredibly tropical vacation-y feel.  As you’re arriving in the port, the town is dotted with palm trees, crystal clear beaches and a sprawling stone fortress atop the highest hill.  After a little apartment confusion and lugging our six suitcases up a steep driveway, we shoved our bags in our rooms and were eager to hit the beach.  Beach Pokonji Dol did not disappoint!  As we hiked, billy goat-style, down a rocky path in our flip-flops and beach bags, we were welcomed with the most pristine turquoise water below.  We collectively agreed this is one of the most beautiful beaches we all had ever seen.  The afternoon slowly drifted by with tons of swimming, cold beers at the beachfront Konoba and some giggle-inducing card games.  Day one in Hvar could not be topped… or so we thought.  Bright and early the next day we met Captain Edi for some sailing on the Baltic.  Although the winds weren’t conducive to sailing, it was a perfect day of jumping in every cove and cave surrounding Hvar Island.  A completely memorable spot was swimming in The Green Cave where there is a natural sunlight, creating a gorgeous emerald spotlight.  Edi sailed us into downtown Vis to grab some lunch, topped off with a glittering glass of champagne.  Literally the bottle of bubbly was shimmering with edible crystals.  A day on the open seas was so enjoyable, we booked Edi’s friend for a private speedboat the next day.  Matthias pulled up the next morning in a supersized dingy that sliced through the waves, with all of us hooting and hollering and one friend in the bow soaking in the best view and bumpiest waters.  We were able to explore farther this day and visited the glowing Blue Cave, which is created by sunlight coming underneath the water from outside the cave walls.  Absolutely gorgeous!  Our day was spent hunting for coves to enjoy, remote islands where we wine tasted and dined at family restaurants and a beach bar built tree-house style where the seating was perched in the branches.  We boated back to Hvar Town as the sun was setting and smiles plastered on all of our faces. 



Upon first glance down at the ancient city from the freeway WAY above (on a treacherous cliff) we could not wait to get into the city to start exploring!  Dubrovnik (minus the suitcases some of us had to carry!) quickly lived up the hype of one of the most unique cities in the world.  It was hard not to marvel as we walked through the polished floor corridors or look up at ancient castle walls.  Luckily, the crew happened upon a hole in the wall that lead down to a cliff side bar called Buza, which turned into the perfect place to enjoy a sunset view and refreshing cocktail.  Our first full day was spent lounging by the seaside pool at Grand Villa Argentina that featured one of the best pool views we've ever seen!  The next day a few of us ventured to do the famous castle wall walk which surrounds the full city.  What the wall lacked in shade... it made up for in tourists and stairs!  Luckily, the views were beautiful both inside and outside the walls and seeing the city from above almost helps you envision the city as a working castle back in the day.  The afternoon was spent tasting the delicious wine of indigenous grapes in the Dubrovnik Mountains at small family vineyards, along with freshly made cheeses and breads.  On the trip back to town, we stopped off at a little village to take a tiny boat with fisherman Mario to shuck fresh oysters with some homemade vino.  What.  A.  Day. 



Just a one hour flight from beautiful Budapest to Venice, Italy!  Skyler had never been and how can you really visit Italy without 32 hours in Venice?!!  You can’t.  So we prepared ourselves for heat waves, the mass of tourists, men in striped shirts rowing boats and restaurants charging an arm and a leg for pasta.  To our surprise, we managed to keep cool the evening we arrived by grabbing bow-front seats on a water bus (not to be confused with the very chic and $$$ water taxis) and toured around the gorgeous floating islands.  Venice is totally mesmerizing from the water, to the colorful buildings hugging each other, all framed by a neon pink sunset.  From the starting point, all the way to Lido beach and back, we chatted with people hopping on and off, and eventually were recommended a good mom and pop trattoria.  Of course, we did not find the exact one, but around a dark alley and through a maze of dimly lit streets, we sat down at a little restaurant with no more than 6 tables, mostly filled with cigarette smoking, espresso drinking locals.  And then the best buffalo mozzarella we have ever filled our mouths with arrived.  It was melt in your mouth mozz and it clicked we were in Italy. 

After all these months of traveling, through all terrains, cultures, climates… we were in Italia, and loving it!  Skyler ordered a dish worth writing about:  homemade flat pasta filled with melted parmesan and chopped radicchio.  The contrast of salty and bitter, melty and crunchy, dazzled our taste buds.

We had a late train out of the city, which left us with most of the day to explore.  We walked through the hot sun and down stone streets, across the famous canal bridges, wowed by how romantic and intense it all was.  Of course we visited with pigeons and sights at St. Stephen’s square, along with 84,598,234,834,789 other tourists and grabbed a late afternoon bite and Aperol Spritz (the first of MANY) before we hustled back to grab our bags and head for Lake Garda.

Venice is overwhelming in so many ways: heat, business, expense but most importantly, beauty.



This is where it’s said the Italians come to vacation and it’s true.  We did not hear any American accents, a very stark contrast from Venice, but instead it’s serves as their summer camping/lake getaway.  Bardolino is a delightful, chic, tiny town situated on the gorgeous Lake Garda.  Our days were filled with swimming in the fresh, clear water, after negotiating the rocky beaches, biking the coastal path and eating.  Pizza is the most economical meal in Italy.  Five to eight Euro will get you a pizza that two can share!  Topped with mushrooms, fresh sausage, cheeses and basil.  The gelato was also dangerous and we made sure to partake in the danger every night.

After a long day of swimming, sun bathing, biking and relaxing, we would head out to a trattoria and enjoy the local guitarists playing while sipping our favorite Italian aperitif.

If we were to come back, this is the place to splurge and rent a boat, not only to have a day on the water, but to explore the other surrounding towns along the rim of Lake Garda.


Cinque Terre

And we thought Lake Garda was beautiful… Cinque Terre is filled with five plus coastal towns, all decorating the rocky cliffs like sorbet-colored frosting.  We stayed in one of the smaller villages, Riomaggiore, and enjoyed hiking the thousands of steps up and down our apartment.  It’s no mystery why everyone has such a beach ready body here.  Riomaggiore, like the other four terres, has one main street where the osterias, markets, wine shops, boutiques and bars are all lined on.  Our first day was spent hopping on and off the water ferry to get off at each of the cinque terres and try out their beaches and towns. 

First up was the most popular and largest village, Monterosso.  Filled with colored umbrella beaches, lounge chairs, two main streets and fancy restaurants, we took to jumping in the crystal clear water and cooling down.  It was 90 plus degrees after all.  Feeling revitalized, we took the ferry to Vernazza, a tad smaller than Monterosso, but filled with the most colorful houses, it shows size does not matter.  There is not beach here, but that doesn’t stop the Italians.  Everyone had their towels laid out on boulders – or the boat ramp – and was swimming in the cove.  Just unbelievably gorgeous.  The ferry was getting quite crowded at this point and although we managed to grab rooftop seats, we couldn’t wait to enjoy the next terre.

It is also possible to take a train to and from each town.  After a couple days of staying in Riomaggiore and soaking up the rays, we rode the train to the furthest village and followed the famous coastal hike that brings you through each town.  We passed through creeks, waterfalls, vineyards, tomato vines, dudes selling lemonade through a fence from their properties, gorgeous views and olive groves.  It was a highlight of our stay and offers such a remarkable vantage point of Cinque Terre.  One of both of favorite moments was climbing up the many steps to the cliff-side restaurant, overlooking the ocean and ordering a meat and cheese plate, along with a carafe of house wine and losing ourselves to the exotic blue of the Italian Riviera.  Cinque Terre is just what you imagine.



So now we know why Diane Lane wanted to bask under its sun.  Ever since Leah saw the movie she claims it has been a dream to do as Diane did and restore an old crumbling villa in the remote hills of Tuscany.  Obviously after watching the film back in Denmark, Skyler (Leah’s movie pick) agreed we would need to create this 2001 classic.  

Honestly, it looks exactly like the movie.  What a cool stretch of land.  Vineyards on top of vineyards, and strewn out grape vines linked arm in arm, only interrupted for the rare stone villa.  We stayed in a gorgeous, perfectly distressed Agruiturismo (working farm/vineyard) called Fattoria di Rignana, converted from a centuries-old cathedral.  Although no tools were necessary, out bathroom was down the hall.  Breakfast was served on a massive old dining room table filled with warm croissants, jams, basil, goat cheese, granolas, yogurt, dried meats and coffee.  Since our villa was also a working winery we had access to the best pool-side rose you could ask for.  So we would grab a bottle, throw in an order of the afternoon tapas (melons, prosciuttos, mozzarella, olives, eggplant, etc.) and relax while staring at the rolling hills.  It was hard, but we ventured out a bit and wine tasted at a couple other vineyards.  We learned a lot about Chianti, Chianti Classico, Brunello and Super Tuscan.  The best wine we tasted, by far, was the Chianti Classico from the villa we were staying at.  It was full, jammy, and amazing. 

I wish I could integrate this next part as beautifully as the olive trees melt into the bursting purple of the grape vines.  However, I must caveat a bit of drama is about to follow.  Skyler, bless his heart, volunteered to revisit his manual driving lessons from 15 years back and save us half the money to rent a little stick shift Fiat 500 and maneuver through the gravel roads of Tuscany.  Leah’s hairdryer would have provide more horse power than this little coupe.  Every hill invited praying and leaning forward to try and shift weight as close to the front of the car, in hopes of not stalling and rolling backwards.  Not one to kiss and tell, but stalling and rolling back can be remedied with a glass of vino.

Budapest, Hungary

George Ezra might sing it best, "My house in Budapest.  My hidden treasure chest...."

Budapest was built for a princess.  Filled with the likeness of royal treasures.  We arrived under the cover of the stars and the twinkling white glow lighting up the castles, ornate churches and an ethereal parliament building.  These gorgeous monuments are situated on the Danube River, with the hilly Castle District on the Buda side and flatter Pest, connected by multiple styles of bridges, on the other.

The daytime unveils a completely different city.  For one, the roofs of the Castle District are straight out of a designer's textile portfolio.  Shiny turquoise, burnt orange, dark blue and yellow tiles situated in patterns, cap the Medieval and Baroque royal complex.  We spent many afternoons and evenings exploring the royal plateau, built for Hungarian Kings and stumbled upon surprises that we unwrapped like gifts.

Walking past Matthias Church to the other end of the hill where Buda Castle sits in all its flower covered glory, we were stopped by a round of archery happening down the stoop.  Oversized straw bean bags with huge red targets were set up in a row and Skyler was Robin Hood-ready with a handful of arrows and a bow.  After a few rounds of flying arrows, and lots of laughs under the hot Budapest sun, Leah finally pulled Skyler away because if she didn't, he'd still be there!

Another hidden gem was an ensemble of singers belting away in the park that totally blew us away with their fun a cappella renditions of recognizable songs.  The musical surprises continued into the evening.  Wanting to soak in every nighttime view, Leah led us to the castle wall and as we sat on the stone edge; close to midnight, the beautiful sounds of classical violin floated up from the bottom step.  A talented man that could have been playing for a hall full of people, was sweeping romantic music from his strings, filling the night sky.

As we perched ourselves on the terrace, known as Fisherman's Bastion, along with many other tourists, we enjoyed a panoramic vantage point of this fairytale city.

Leaving the castle walls, we made our way up a hiking trail to Buda's Lady Liberty and the Citadel, gracing the peak of Gellèrt Hill.  Another stunning view of the river and Pest made the uphill hustle in the heat totally worth it.  Hungry for some Hungarian food, we made our way to one of the famous Ruin Bars we had heard about.  Deserted buildings, damaged by war or neglect have been turned into open roof, crumbling yet trendy, funky decorated bars and restaurants.  The service is not friendly, instead you are met with rather stoic faces and sharp attitudes, but the buildings are so rad and interestingly decorated, that didn’t matter.

Another popular pass time among tourists and locals alike is visiting the massive thermal baths.  There are quite a few to choose from, some surrounded by DJs and a party vibe, others enjoyed by older men playing chess while soaking.  We grabbed our swimming gear and jumped into the traditional Szèchenyi Bath and could not believe how many different pools, at different degrees there were and how packed it was!  The coolest part was a circular water pressured path that pushed people around at a higher speed.  Like a lazy river for race car drivers.

Throughout our visit we enjoyed so many days of walking around the city, along the river, exploring the enormous Central Market and eating crème filled Hungarian sweets.  However, the highlight goes to the headphone guided boat trip along the Danube at nighttime.  Budapest after dark is romantic, glowing and just plain gorgeous.  This city was built for royalty and is brimming with treasures.

Krakow, Poland

This is a tough entry to write.  Mainly because our experience here was equal parts heartening and heartbreaking. 

Heartening because of how unspoiled the town of Krakow is with its astonishing, well-preserved medieval buildings in the Old Square.  The determined will of the people, the rejuvenation that has come of that rallying spirit, and the bustling nightlife.  Speaking of nightlife, lots of people partying.  Like shenanigan-type partying.  Granted it was Friday at around midnight when we arrived, and our ride into Krakow was an ominous dark road aside with the eyes of a dimly lit castle perched above the city, but people were blowing off some steam.  As we made our way into the festive glow of bars, restaurants and all types of music, we enjoyed quite the array of people-watching while scarfing down the Polish delicacy known as pierogis.

The city is so beautiful and full of life, it’s refreshing to see all the good being celebrated, and also important to see the past not forgotten.  We spent our first few days sightseeing around the Old City where Leah played amateur tour guide, escorting us along the Royal Path, narrating facts of olden times.  The Wawel Castle is something else with golden accents, mixed with patinaed roofs, and amazing architecture.  

Given the vast history of Krakow, one of our profound experiences was visiting Oskar Schindler’s factory, which is now a museum.  This pot-manufacturing factory saved nearly 1,200 lives and walking the halls gives a path back in history of everyday life in Nazi occupied Poland.

It was heartbreaking because of what the city of Krakow, it’s surrounding areas and the country in general has gone through.  When we decided to muster up the courage to view the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, a lot of emotion ran through our minds.  The ride there provided angst, but setting foot on soil such as that was even more difficult.  Seeing what just decades ago was a land of torment and horror of the worst kind, hearing the stories and knowing where we stood is where entire lineages were wiped away, the experience was shocking.  Witnessing the purpose of what the latter built Birkenau was used for was deplorable.  Being where so many millions of innocent people’s demise was, is indescribable.  The experience was beyond powerful and sliced through our souls from every angle; a tremendous piece of history we should never forget. 

Thankfully we scheduled a second tour that same day that was lighthearted and a lot of fun.  Dropping down some 200 feet into a salt mine where a salt-encrusted city is preserved, complete with running water, two churches, wall carvings and a health spa.  With elaborate chandeliers hanging down, this church is still active every Sunday and is also a venue for weddings, too.  And absolutely everything, down to the crystals hanging off the chandeliers, is made of salt. 

Our last day was spent walking around the Vistula River.  While a “beach” doesn’t necessarily exist, they sure can fool you with the waterfront watering holes and the tons of beach chairs they have on gravel rocks.  Certainly a unique way to spend an evening, amongst a flowing river complete with a medieval frosted skyline! 

Copenhagen, Denmark

Apparently there are two ‘Happiest Places on Earth.’  And no the other one isn't Disney World.  It turns out that in just about any poll you can find, Copenhagen is atop the list of happiest people on the planet and it's easy to see why... the people are incredibly friendly, well-mannered and helpful; everything is clean, buildings are immaculately preserved, and there is just a genuine feeling of respect, acceptance and laughter that is infectious.  Plus, the automated efficiency this city rolls with is remarkable.  Tram from the airport directly to the city?  Yes.  Bikes you can rent, equipped with iPads on them that provide directions, payment options and assistance if needed?  Check.  Cross walks armed with sensory intuitiveness that trigger only when needing to cross, otherwise letting the flow of traffic continue?  You bet.  Now all these fancy bells and whistles do come with a catch: Copenhagen is CRAZY expensive.  So while it prevented us from going out to eat or drink, thankfully the apartment we rented came with a kitchen where Leah, A.K.A. “the Magician of the Kitchen,” whipped up Michelin-esque meals during our stay.

For those of you who are fans of Hans Christian Andersen he called Copenhagen home and had a ridiculously touristy museum of his work that we checked and kinda dug.  Though his fables are a bit dark, he definitely left his mark on the city and even in the form of The Little Mermaid statue that hordes of people flocked to for pictures.  We were actually able to avoid the crowd and instead saw it from a boat ride tour that was a fantastic way to see the city.  The Baltic Sea and its tributaries that run through the city take you on an incredible ride of architecture, history, charm and beauty.  Seeing some of the most popular sites from the water was an outstanding way to experience the magic of such an amazing city.

Another characteristic of Copenhagen we didn't know about is there has to be more bikes in the city than any 9 college campuses put together.  Literally everyone is on bicycles and the city caters to it.  So naturally it makes sense to have stalls where you can join the crowd and rent your own.  As mentioned above, these bike rentals are futuristic where you can register and pay for your bike in one fell swoop.  Complete with an integrated GPS system that gets you to landmarks, specific addresses, bike drop-off points and even assists you with the peddling over 22 km/h.  The city is uncommonly flat, but still a nice perk when you want to enjoy the scenery.

The parks they have are also magnificent and the locals think so too: picnicking, sunbathing and sipping on some cold drinks.  We got lost in a few of the spacious manicured greens because they are everywhere.  Not as plentiful as aforementioned bicycle, Copenhagen's greenery is a site to see and is the cherry on top to an already gorgeous city.  Speaking of greenery, apparently Copenhagen has an area that used to be an old military bunker and now operates as an independent annex called Freetown Christiania.  This place was a site to behold where families, the young and old come to spectate on what it is that goes on here.  This sub-community looks like a mini Height-Ashbury, which operates with its own rules, bylaws, culture and even brews its own beer.  Pusher Street is where one of the illegal drugs is peddled and unfortunately doesn't allow for photos or even running because that causes 'anxiousness.'   All in all, everyone was pretty friendly, but definitely an odd setup with an overwhelming aromatic in the air.

Quite the opposite from Christiania is exploring the historic downtown area of Copenhagen.  Walking through the beautiful palace grounds, covered with manicured flower beds, fountains and ivy clad brick buildings, we made our way underground.  The caves feature the evolution of the city where footings for each of the original palaces that were central to Copenhagen still remain before they were burnt down, three separate times!  It's really incredible to see such a well-preserved piece of the city's history and get to explore it for yourself.

As we rounded the last lake during our last run of our stay, we were super bummed to leave.  Perfectville, we mean Copenhagen, was such an amazing place and everyone who reads our blog should go check it out.  Just make sure you save up before visiting to enjoy all it has to offer.

Riga, Latvia

Uber doesn’t exist everywhere, but when it does, man is it convenient (and drinks Does Equis).  With literally minutes to spare, our helpful Estonian local pulled into the bus stop that would link us to our ride to Riga.  This was literally a stop.  One that looks like it would take you to Main St, let alone another country.  Riding in style we enjoyed a scenic ride to Latvia, another gem in the Baltic.

As we negotiated our rollie-bags over the darling cobblestone streets, the little alleyway opened up to a fantastic medieval courtyard, outfitted with a modern open roof lounge right in the center.  Our charming hotel positioned on the corner of the square would be our headquarters for all the surprises that Riga would charm us with over the next five days.

We thought Tallinn was going to be tough to top, but Riga was rad.  Armed with a list of sights to see on day one, we started checking them off bright and early.  Okay, maybe more around noon-ish.  Skyler was really set on seeing The House of Blackheads in Old Town and after we arrived, Leah totally understood why.  The beautiful salmon-pink ornamental building had recently become the President’s new office!! Unfortunately, we didn’t have an appointment to view the interior, but the post office next door was quite quaint.  The Old Town was circled with a beautiful centuries old Church, historic buildings and a museum that humbled and educated us profoundly.  The forced occupation, Nazi rule, new found independence and constant border changes that the Baltic area has been through are incredible.  And yet, the pride and beauty of the city is seemingly untouched.  Following the sounds of a jazz crooner, we strolled into the breathtaking and even more delightful Domes Square.  This had to be the place where all the happy singing Disney scenes were inspired.  Everywhere you look are gorgeous stone or brick buildings decorated with ornate carvings and topped with fuchsia window boxes.  It was only fitting to join the locals with a cold beer and enjoy the perfect day. 

Another lovely part of Riga is the efficient public transit system.  After stepping onto what we hoped was the correct bus, we made our way out to the countryside of Latvia and the Ethnographic Museum.  Leah questioned Skyler’s choice in sightseeing on this one too, but figured perhaps the queen had relocated here so why not!  Low and behold, Ethnography is the study of people and cultures and this open-air museum holds 240 acres of historic buildings, homes, ways of life, cultures, forestry, artifacts, churches, as old as the 17th century… amazing!  We saw, we explored, we got lost, but we failed to conquer the entire museum as we attempted to run and beat the rain cloud and barely made it to our bus stop cover in time. 

Riga’s history and perseverance is impressive, and their modernity is equally as attractive.  A very hip city, we were told to bus it over to the Kalnciema Street Quarter, where local bands play, farmer’s sell sausage and fresh bread (as big as wagon wheels!) and people gather.  We mingled, enjoyed the old sheds and tasted homemade mustards laced with paprika and horseradish. 

So apparently there is a beach nearby and it’s called Jurmala (YUR-ma-la) and it’s as easy as a cheap train ride away.  We were captivated as soon as we stepped off.  Bright flowers, a pedestrian-only main street, ice cream shops and little wooden huts selling raspberries and snap peas.  Then there’s a beach where the sand is as soft as powdered sugar, but the water is brownish-clear and frigid.  Nobody cared; sweet old Latvian ladies were out swimming even when the rain started again and we booked it to the nearby techno-blazing beach club.

And to top it all off, twice actually, we found ourselves at an underground medieval dungeon-cave-like bar that was so perfect it was as if they made it just for us.  But they didn’t because it was super packed, but we loved the huge and abundant beams of wood in the ceiling, sea of burning candles and plethora of beers on tap.  They even provided musical entertainment, with one evening featuring a Latvian folk group looking as if they just walked out of an Arcade Fire video and another, a smooth jazz trio, that played eclectic hits.  This place had it going on and was just the sendoff we needed.  


Tallinn, Estonia

Psssttt… We have a secret to tell you.  A secret that all of Europe won’t share with you.  This is an amazing secret.  This about a hidden gem, which goes by the name of Tallinn, Estonia. 

Arriving in the most calm and tranquil airport, where everything runs smoothly, we made our way to town and what would be a sensational 4-day stay at the Radisson Blu Sky Hotel.  The Old Town was constructed during the medieval times.  And the view from our room looked out to this magical, medieval wonderland.  Fitted with limestone castles, cobblestone walkways and spiraling church steeples, Tallinn is picturesque and postcard ready in so many ways. 

Walking through lined archways of limestone, flower stalls, rugged pathways, everywhere you look a pub or candlelit shop lies before you, which seems to have the majestic motioning of a finger inviting you in.  But then you get distracted by the sudden smell of cinnamon where a young lady is selling warm nuts in a full on, hair-braided, long skirt getup.  There is so much wonderful happening, how do you begin?  That was our introduction to this splendid city.

After a trying few months in some serious warm weather and dense populations, our arrival to the city of Tallinn was like a warm hug.  Settling into our hotel where the staff and people were so welcoming, we figured this city was too good to be true.  How can one place ooze so much charm, yet so few know to enjoy it?  Sure, the cruise ships dock at the port and let out a handful of tourists who are determined to jam in a day's worth of sightseeing in 3 hours, but luckily for us, we had four days to bask in this awesome part of the world.

Our first full day of touring the city found us hoofing it up what seemed like enough steps to get to the top of Jack’s Beanstalk at the church of St. Olaf’s – a 12th century masterpiece.  Come to find out it’s only like 250 steps, but we swear the narrowness and two-lane foot traffic makes you think it’s triple that.  But it’s great preparation for when at the top.  Amongst epic views of the city, you have maybe two feet of real estate to maneuver, as the steeple engulfs most of the area.  Putting the tall in Tallin, St. Olaf’s is the tallest building in the city and rules have been implemented so that nothing can be built taller.  Pretty cool for a building that’s also withstood several lightning strikes, not to mention a war or few.  Rounding out the day we wandered back through St. Catherine’s passage and Master’s Courtyard, two of the more historic walk streets in Tallinn.

Of course we were parched and found a subtle doorway that opened into an enchanting courtyard garden.  It was maybe five minutes in before we began mingling with the owners who were super cool, groovy and offered hours of interesting conversation.  We should also note that in the summer, it doesn’t get dark until close to midnight, and even then it becomes more of a dusk.  So when you’re out, the concept of time vanishes and what you think is an hour turns out to be around four, which is what happened to us at this place where a quick afternoon snack easily turned into evening drinks.

You can’t be in a medieval city and not expect to be amongst ghosts and spirits.  Naturally we let our curiosity escape to a haunted tour that took us around the Old Town during which we heard several stories of mysterious deaths and folklore about the streets and buildings that still occupy part of the medieval center.  It was fascinating and is the kind of stuff you just can’t get back home.  At the end to calm our nerves, although it wasn’t all that scary ‘cause we’re tough like that, we were treated to probably the finest hot chocolate on the planet.  Imagine the best chocolate bar you’ve ever had mixed with some Tinker Bell pixie dust to enhance the flavor, then put it in liquid form.  We know, right!?!  That recipe must be stuff of legend, too.

We were fortunate enough that our hotel provided an escape to have drinks by the fire or on their rooftop terrace known as Lounge 24, which offered unparalleled panoramic views of this gorgeous city.  That presented the perfect sanctuary to strategize our future plans and on our last we day we strolled through the grounds and gardens of Kadriorg Park and the Presidential Palace – we must add, painted a lovely shade of pink.  We were also able to check out the beach at Pirita, which even in mid-July, was much too chilly for us to take a dip.  Maybe next time.

Those were some of the fastest four days of our entire trip.  When it came time to leave we almost threw a similar tantrum to that of a child when their toys are getting taken away.  This warm embrace had come full circle.  We can’t recommend visiting Tallinn enough, but just remember, it’s our little secret.  Shhhh…



Badge of honor: a medal or token signifying an awarded honor or distinction; also in figurative use.

In our case, surviving two weeks in India warrants consideration for such a thing.  In all fairness, we visited during one of the hotter months, a fact that we were reminded about almost daily.  However, the heat doesn’t take away a lot of the issues facing this country.  In any regard, here is our tale of the many cities we encountered.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” 

That’s largely been the sentiment during our visit to India.  When Leaving SE Asia we had a feeling of excitement.  India was a place we were both looking forward to ever since we designed our trip.  We knew it would be tough, but were hopeful the previous six weeks of heat, crowds, traffic and general chaos was the ideal trial-run.  Even with all that practice, it turns out we may have underestimated the potency of India. 

Observation to keep in mind #1…

India is an open latrine.  Not only for cows, goats and dogs who roam the streets, but the people too.  Ever seen someone crap in the middle of the street?  We have.  And urinating you ask?  Please…going wherever and whenever is no more common than the sun setting. 


New Delhi

On our first full day we joined a walking tour given by a young man named Sabir.  He is part of a program called Salaam Balaak Trust, which offers a chance for underprivileged youth to escape life on the streets and to maybe even get an education and follow their dreams, provided they put in the work and keep a good head on their shoulders.  We also got a chance to spend some time with the newest members, kids aged 7-9, who had run away from home due to abusive and/or drug addicted parents and poverty; who so often turn to life on the streets to make money.  It was really neat being able to interact with these youngsters who were excited to show us their new handshakes and hand slaps.

After our tour, we left for the HOHO Bus (Hop On, Hop Off), which is when all the street hustles you hear about started rolling in.  And since Skyler sticks out like a piece of garlic naan next to some butter chicken, well we (he) were the perfect candidates.  After being misled to the actual HOHO ticket office happened not once, but twice, in the span of 30 minutes, we finally found our way.  Some of the historic landmarks we saw included the Lotus Temple that recognizes the Baha’I Faith, a monotheistic religion which emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind and Humayun’s Tomb.  We missed out on seeing the India Gate in person (though we drove by) and the Red Fort, but thankfully India has a fort in just about every city, so we found our share in the coming days.

In a nutshell Delhi is every bit as crazy as we had heard and more callous than expected.  With a population of over 25 million, it’s second only to Tokyo in terms of sheer numbers, but tops amongst population density by almost double to the next highest city.  In other words, the impenetrable level of chaos is staggering.

Observation to keep in mind #2…

One of the more elaborate elements in the country of India is the train system.  Once occupied as a British colony, railroad tracks exist everywhere and offer a link to most cities and towns amongst the 29 states in the country.  This mode of transportation offers an inexpensive way to get from A to B.  On the other hand, if you’re expecting Amtrak and/or a cordial experience, think again.  The train stations look like abandoned bunkers inhibited by the homeless, loiterers and scammers who slightly outnumber the amount of rats who also call these places home.  Additionally, each station has “porters” who carry your bags, make sure you catch the right train (since they’re never on time) and generally look out for you.  Now their legitimacy…is up for debate.   



Our first train ride was to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.  This particular train wasn’t that bad, however, literally in front of the real security posed a guy who demanded our ticket info and extra money for not paying the tourist tax.  Luckily Leah had the presence of mind to tell him to take it up with our hotel who issued the tickets and he soon shut up.  We had hired a guide and upon arrival were quickly picked up and whisked away to the Taj Mahal.  The Taj is a masterpiece beyond description with an ethereal presence making you feel it should be perched up on the clouds.  Precisely crafted by 20,000 workers over a span of 22 years, its beauty doesn’t seem real, even when standing in front of and touching it.  A tribute to the third wife of Shah Jahan, it’s unimaginable how there could be a grander gesture in the name of love.  Before heading to the train station out of town, we saw the Agra Fort and the Botanical Gardens, which offers an almost equal and less expensive view of the Taj from behind. 

Needing to catch an overnight train that same day to Varanasi, our guide left us in the hands of a “porter” at the Agra train station.  Stashed in a waiting room with a fan and a couple of mice running around, we waited for almost four hours, three longer than anticipated.  Amid the heat and stuffiness an elderly woman joined us, offering a chair to put our feet on so the mice didn’t get too close.  Finally, we caught a break and met someone who was generally interested in our well-being, not our pocketbook.  Wrong again, her falsified record book of passenger entries, ticket numbers and train times was just another way to scam money from foreigners who don’t know better.  Once our train showed, after legit fears it wouldn’t, our porter directed us to our section and of course wanted another 100 Rupees for his time since our train was late.  As if it was our fault.  We got him to leave us alone and found our berth, which is typically reserved for a total of four people because it only has four beds.  But in this instance we joined a family of four occupying their two beds and one of ours.  Thankfully, and without an apology, he woke up promptly and made way to his bunk.  Within an hour of our train ride, Skyler started to feel sick.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the bathrooms were repulsive.  There are no holding tanks to catch anything, it’s just a pipe directly to the tracks.  No joke.  This whole situation and the next 12 hours was just beginning to get ridiculous. 

Observation to keep in mind #3…

If anyone is looking for an investment opportunity, franchising a store in India that just sells Pepto-Bismol would absolutely crush it!!!  It’s non-existent and crucial.  In fact, if you really wanted to double down, consider also stocking the shelves with a handsome supply of deodorant… maybe Tom’s of Maine since it’s organic?  This could effectively negate the paralyzing and vast stench of B.O., a fragrance best described as a chili cook-off gone awry.



After biding our time on the train with like nine different answers as to when our stop would actually be, we got to Varanasi, our guess of what the apocalypse must look like?  Literally crumbled and abandoned buildings were made into store-fronts, bedrooms, restaurants and pharmacies.  It was pouring rain and as soon as we stepped foot off the train we were bombarded by anyone who had a taxi or tuk-tuk wanting to give us a ride.  We had originally and foolishly declined our guesthouse’s offer to pick us up because we thought it was too expensive.  We thought we could get a better price, and we did.  But that too came at a price.  After one of the nagging taxi drivers won our business over the rest, he took us to his taxi where we met one of his colleagues.  What kind of taxi driver needs a co-pilot, we both wondered?  We soon learned the kind that wants to talk you out of your hotel and any other plans you might have, to take him up on a different hotel and different plans, that are of course better.  If the questions of where we were from and why we should choose his hotel weren’t enough, being told roads were blocked and streets unmanageable due to the rain were incessant.  We finally got our driver to turn down one of these soaked roads, which looked dicey, but we were tired of the car ride and sales pitch. 

Almost instantly the car started to take on water.  The worrying began as the water inched deeper.  And not just any water, the horrible, filthy, apocalyptic, street grime water.  To make matters worse, the exhaust fumes started getting so bad they began to engulf the car with pungent and hazardous gas.  We were asking them to turn back, pull over, anything, but keep going, but it was just bickering while the driver continued to truck on.  Tempers started to rise.  In the meantime, Leah was getting so dizzy from the fumes, she was trying to jump out of the car’s window – it was that bad.  Finally Skyler erupted and lost it on these guys who instantly stopped the car.  We grabbed our bags, which were somehow unsoiled, and waded through the waist-deep cesspool.  Finding shelter underneath an awning out of the rain and unsanitary water, of course the seedy taxi/co-pilot guy made a scene and demanded money.  15 minutes of arguing ensued and out of nowhere a local guy came to our aid, diffused the situation and even took us to our hotel.  Thinking we were part of another hustle, this guy was actually just a nice dude who wanted to be helpful.  He wouldn’t even accept any money as appreciation.  Imagine that?  We finally got to our place and didn’t leave for four days as we both nursed gnarly stomach bugs.  We did receive some help from our kind hotel owners, but it was futile, as only rest, water and porcelain could help us.  Our experience in Varanasi can easily be summed up by an unfortunate waste of time and money with a nice view of the Ganges River.

Observation to keep in mind #4…

Almost every place is cash only, especially restaurants as credit cards are just a paper trail of taxes they’ll have to pay the government.  Additionally, false advertising to get your business is rampant.  By that we mean, hotels say they offer Wi-Fi, but “it’s down and a guy is coming to fix it the following morning.”  Or you’ll find restaurant menus that are inflated with offerings they don’t have or never intended to carry to lure you in.



After deciding to still move forward with the rest of our days in India, the trip got infinitely better once we got to Udaipur (by plane!).  This place was on a lake that featured cool breezes amongst a magnificent landscape.  It’s also where they filmed part of James Bond’s Octopussy.  So we know if it’s good enough for 007, its good enough for us.  And it was.  Of course our taxi driver from the airport dropped us off just before our hotel to meet his “boss” who is surprise, surprise, a tour guide, our positivity was still unwavering.

Still feeling the severity of the stomach flu, we didn’t have much luck at our hotel restaurant with what we could and would eat because they were out of all of it and unable to locate the places that did because our Wi-Fi was down, we were determined to take advantage of what this place had to offer, and we did.  We caught an authentic folk dance show celebrating the villages, cities and towns that make up the state of Rajasthan.  There are two floating palace hotels, which are very high end.  One you can visit by boat and one you can’t unless you’re a guest.  The one you can see was awesome in addition to the vantage point from the lake.  A self-contained little city offered a restaurant, museums, gardens and amazing views of the town.  Our outlook was starting to shift for the better as Udaipur was our favorite city of India.  This helped set the tone for a much more upbeat experience, which was a great segue to our last stop in Jaisalmer.

Observation to keep in mind #5…

The smaller the town you go to, the more helpful and genuine the people are.  Perhaps they are less jaded than the big cities, or maybe they just don’t know better, but places more off the beaten path just feature more pleasant people.



Being just 50 kms from the border of Pakistan created some mixed emotions, but it was an opportunity to experience the desert-side of India and ride camels!  Plus, it helped knowing only a few days stood in the way of Europe and countries that represented a much better shot at respect, manners and overall awareness.  So regardless of our experience, we were playing with house money!  But to our disbelief and delight, our guesthouse was amazing!  The people, the accommodations, the service and the overall concern for our happiness was almost surreal coming from almost two weeks of the opposite.  A kind India, a welcoming India, an India that you feel actually safe in, is a remarkable feeling.  From amazing food, to being able to walk the streets, hassle and hustle free, we enjoyed our three days immensely.  The highlight was easily the overnight camel safari we did.  4-wheeling through the dunes of the Thar Desert was exhilarating as was a couple of amazing camels that awaited us who went by the names of Bubbaloo and ATM.  Our guide Dev was fantastic, too, helping to direct our experience, teach us his favorite card games and ensure our campsite and food was top-notch, and it was.  There’s few things like riding an animal seven feet high who navigates deep sand hills like a downhill stroll.  Sleeping under the night sky with shooting stars and constellations in full effect, this was the perfect way to cap a trip full of ups and downs.

15 days in India wasn’t always easy, pleasant or safe, but knowing we ran the gauntlet of what one of the gnarliest countries threw at us, a Badge of Honor only seems appropriate.



Leah’s Dad was coming to visit!!  Honestly, the most exciting thing in Bangkok was awaiting the arrival of Moji and his partner, Afsoun.  Going five months without seeing any faces of loved ones, we were overdue for some serious family love.  After some time spent catching up, hugging, engagement celebrating, supply exchanging, story swapping and gift giving, we hit the ground running for a crazy 36 hours in Bangkok.  Our mission was to get in and get out and our first stop were the royal digs.  The Grand Palace took some effort to get inside and we all had to rent clothes that completely covered us from head to toe, which made the heat even more scorching in the polyester threads, but the gleaming gold temples were beautiful.  Everywhere we looked there were shrines covered in mirrored glass, elaborate paintings and gold Buddhas: it was royal in every way.  Never enough gold, so we trekked it over to the famous resting Buddha, which lays 150 feet long, in all its shimmering glory.  Taking a que from the Master of Zen, we treated ourselves to some very firm Thai massages at the massage school, which left some feeling relaxed and some of us very sore.  After all that time in the sun, we headed over to the BKK Mall, which did not disappoint.  Six large stories of everything high fashion you can imagine.  Perfect Christian Louboutin look-alikes, Chanel dresses, Valentino slippers, Hermès bags – claimed to all be made at the same manufacturer as the real thing, but sold for a fraction, of a fraction, of the cost and 100% negotiable!  Whew!!  Time for us hit the beach, palm trees and have an umbrella in our drinks!

Hold up…the taxi ride to the airport needs to be mentioned.  Since there are four of us and five large suitcases (one was full of supplies Moji had brought for… Skyler), we could not fit into one car, so we hailed two cabs and told them to follow each other to the airport.  Two minutes in, Dad and Afsoun’s cab gets pulled over by the Bangkok Police.  Oh.  No.  We tell our taxi to pull over and try and ask him to make sense of what might be happening.  Of course he understands nothing.  After 15 minutes, we decide the safest thing is to head to the airport since that is what we all agreed on.  As our taxi starts creeping towards the freeway, the car starts sputtering and we notice the gas light and myriad of engine lights are on.  ….Wonderful.  We’re racing against the clock due to the delay, worried about Pops and going 10mph on a 50mph+ freeway.  I’m assuming one of the worst things when your tank is running off fumes is going uphill and we were about to find out.  Our cabbie slides into the emergency lane and we painstakingly crawl up a freeway ramp while unnerved, speed-abiding drivers zoom past us on a one lane bridge.  We eventually made it and were met by our other halves.  Where’s that umbrella drink we’ve been talking about?!!


Koh Samui

The minute you step off the plane in Koh Samui airport, you just feel the island vibe.  Everything slows down.  Then these little white trolleys pick you up to cart you around to the open-air baggage claim.  From the moment of our arrival, Peace Resort gave us that warm island welcome.  Skyler researched a dozen resorts on the island, looking for the perfect one for our mini family reunion and he could not have picked better, down to our beach front villas!  Boy was this a change of pace for us!!  For the next few days loads of laughing, swimming and storytelling ensued at the beautiful pool that looked out on the ocean.  We cruised over to the happening area in Koh Samui, Fisherman’s Village, filled with restaurants, boutiques, beach front bars and night markets.  Getting rather good at this negotiating thing, we picked up a few souvenirs and walked along the boardwalk with cold beers in hand.  The highlight of all of our stay on the island was the incredible group boat trip we took on a beautifully colorful junk boat.  Outfitted with a dark mahogany colored deck, a huge red sail and a very sassy captain, we sailed the gorgeous turquoise waters.  Our first anchor was a reef where we jumped in to snorkel and were swarmed with yellow and black fish.  Although the water was rather cloudy, these little guys came up so close it didn’t matter!  Back on board and after a delicious homemade lunch of spicy shrimp curry, we took the little dingy to the very remote and untouched island of Koh Pha Ngan.  Only the necessities on this island: a beach shack to serve cold drinks while your toes are in the sand.  Sailing back, we enjoyed watching the sun set and cheers-ing our new found, and wildly fun, Irish honeymooning friends.  Ready for some glitzy entertainment and Thai culture, we made our way down to Starz Lady Boy Cabaret where the beautiful and talented lady boys of Koh Samui would be imitating U.S. pop stars in a sequin studded performance!  We applauded and sang along the whole time, thoroughly awe struck by all of the routines and feathery bedazzled costumes.  I mean the headdresses were only matched by the moves on these ladies!!  After all the fun, the sad day had come to send Moji and Afsoun off and we are still reminiscing over the visit with a combo of heavy hearts and sore abs.


Koh Tao

It was a rather lovely ferry ride over to Koh Tao, an island layered with dive-worthy beaches and hippies in those billowy elephant pants.  This island was way less developed, much cheaper and had a laid-back vibe we were digging.  The weather had other plans and it rained on and off most of the time we were there.  On one mostly sunny day, we rented a scooter and Skyler steered us through different villages, only making pit stops to check out various beaches, but mostly we just felt the wind in our hair as we cruised from beautiful view to beautiful cliff-side view.  Our favorite aqua colored coast was dotted with shallow sandbars and we just took in the beauty as the warm water washed in and out.  As the rain started to pour, we grabbed cover at a beach front shack and noshed on pizza and watermelon smoothies until it was safe to scooter back home.  Four days on the little island had come and gone and adventure was awaiting us in the North.


Chiang Mai

Good Morning!  Woke up with the roosters at 4:30am and caught a rather rocky ferry ride back to Koh Samui, where we booked it to the airport and made it in time to catch our plane to Chiang Mai.  It’s hotter than we expected (we really should be used to this by now), but still a refreshing change of pace.  We’re trying not to get too excited, but everyone we are encountering is so friendly!  Feeling good, we stroll to a local eatery and grub on some traditional Northern Thai food.   Lots of crispy pork, dark greens and stews.  We passed through some small temples and a monastery, grabbed an iced coffee and head to the Saturday Night Market.  It’s packed full with handi-crafts, delicious fruit smoothies and live music at every corner.  Only to be shown up by the Sunday Walking Market, an even larger maze of blocked off streets that we explored/got lost in the next evening. 

All of this was really filler until we were able to visit the Elephant Nature Park, recommend to us by a friend.  This not for profit organization owns a massive piece of land where rescued elephants can be healed from abuse and live out their days as elephants should.  Leah was so pumped to spend the day cuddling with some elephants and had high hopes for a special connection with one special creature.  We were initiated by feeding dozens of watermelon halves to our assigned elephant, an elderly blind female who had been stabbed in the eye by her previous owner in her previous life as a logger.  She greedily munched on the sweet fruit and soon we had her friends coming up to snake their trunks in and grab a snack.  As we walked around the park, we heard more sad stories and touched many trunks, feeling the love and strength these animals carried.  Baby elephants played and flopped in the water as if they weighed nothing more than a few pounds and it was a happy sight to see.  The highlight was getting in the water and bathing one of our elephant friends with gallons upon gallons of river water, as he stood there, enjoying every minute of relief from the heat.  Although there was no actual cuddling, special connections from Leah’s side sparked!  We had one more thing to cross off our list, catching some local jazz that the area is known for.  Skyler discovered Baby Blues Bar, which was located on the roof of a weekday market and the musicians just kept pumping out the grooves as we swayed our shoulders and sang along to bluesy hits.  The singers had low, sultry voices that were shocking at first, but so so smooth and velvety to round out our Chiang Mai stint.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

We arrived via a very bumpy, six-hour bus ride from Phnom Penh.  Either that or we took the dirt road short cut.  Needing to hit the ground running, we had set up a traditional Khmer cooking class on the famous hot spot, Pub Street.  You guessed it, this place was stacked with bars on top of pubs, squeezed in with restaurants and tuk-tuks wherever there were gaps on the pavement.  Our chef walked us through the food market, which we quickly wished we hadn't seen, but nonetheless we encountered veggies of all kinds, animals of all species and enough spices to satiate Julia Child for a lifetime.  Back in the kitchen, Leah prepped traditional curry and spicy mango salad while Skyler whipped up some freshly fried spring rolls and the signature Khmer dish, Amok.  As we simmered and sliced, we chatted with a few young women that were volunteering their time and teaching skills at the local school.  There is no shortage of remarkable people we have met along this journey and it was great chatting the night away while enjoying the fruits of our labor.  Bon appetite!

It was time for some famous Thai, er Cambodian, massages!  Skyler booked traditional pampering to rest our weary muscles and we soaked up every bit of relaxation they provided.  Remember our Irish friends from Phnom Penh?  We met them at the local acrobatics circus that was traveling through the city.  A small tent that housed about 75 guests around a circular stage filled to the max provided awesome entertainment with great talent!  We watched the six performers act out a skit, filled with laughs, daring acrobatics and a little romance.  All the performers were at-risk youth that used the theatre academy as a safe haven and now their adult profession.  To top off all of the excitement, there was a surprise proposal at the end of the show that had everyone applauding and teary-eyed.

Inspired by the flexible circus performers, we signed up for a limber-inducing yoga class and tried to keep cool hanging in the pool the rest of the afternoon.  Plus we had a big day coming up!  We've learned seeing special monuments/places at sunrise is a 'thing' and Angkor Wat was no exception.  As we rolled out of bed and into our tuk-tuk, where we entered the masses that had also heard sunrise was the time to visit this spiritual sanctuary.  We walked up the long cobblestone bridge as the sun was punching through the dark sky and, even amid the crowd, felt some sort of peace.  Once inside, we sat on the grassy field and witnessed the rest of the emerging colors paint a beautiful backdrop to this ancient temple.  The two of us just sat and stared, maybe hoping for some angelic voice, a sense of newfound clarity or a spiritual moment.  Walking through, our guide educated us on the historical battles between Buddhism and Hinduism and the temple’s conversion.  About the wars Angkor Wat had survived and the crumbled walls the German government was rehabbing.  He spoke of demons and spirits, princes, princesses and the triangle of love between them all.

We hiked and trudged through dirt and sometimes rain to a couple more temples, including the one where Tomb Raider was filmed.  Enormous, winding trees integrated seamlessly through the temple walls and framed the various detailed carvings.  At the top of an endless staircase, we reached a temple with an incredible view of the city.  The rain started to pour and cleanse the spiritual grounds as people scattered looking for cover.  It was a romantic moment of gray hues and reprieve from our sticky sun-soaked skin.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Getting off the plane, there was a small bit of hope that we’d catch a break from the heat, especially after jetting past the most spectacular archipelago known as Si Phan Don or 4,000 Islands, but no such luck.  That wasn’t strange, we knew the odds were high that we’d continue to sweat profusely at all hours of the day.  However, what was strange was the fact our alleged non-stop flight to Phnom Penh began to land much too early.  Thinking that we hopped on the wrong plane, or in some ways maybe the right one if it was headed to Si Phan Don, total confusion came across our faces when we were about to land.  Seriously.  As we disembarked the aircraft and were told to get back on 45 minutes later, we must have asked at least three people where we were for confirmation of our whereabouts.  Turns out we were in Laos! Apparently, our plane was almost like a taxi of the sky, continuing on even past Phnom Penh to other areas of SE Asia.

Arriving at our hotel was a breath of fresh air as the décor and rooms were a trio of this Boho-Village-Chic thing that we totally dug.  We dropped off our things and grabbed a tuk-tuk, or motorbike taxi, and headed to the dock for an amazing cruise of the Mekong River.  In fact we saw four rivers collide, called the Four Faces: Tonlè Sap, Mekong, Bassac, and the Lower Mekong.  And if that wasn’t cool enough, we were the only two people who booked a tour so it was basically a private boat trip complete with amazing food, free drinks and a wonderful host.  We saw floating villages, temples, locals taking the ferry back home after school/work; a day in the life of an evening in Phnom Penh punctuated with a golden sunset.

Feeling compelled to take advantage of the 100 degree heat, we decided to do a bike tour through the city and local villages.  At the bike shop we met a really cool couple from Ireland, Brian and Ruth-Ann, who were celebrating their honeymoon with a 3-month tour of SE Asia.  Interesting side note, Brian turned the tables on Skyler with his towering 6’ 7” frame, one of the few people who Skyler hasn’t completely dwarfed while in this part of the world.  Our local guide had a great day planned for us, which featured trekking across the Islands of the Mekong on multiple ferries, watching farmers plow the fields, hanging out with cows and meeting a family who wields silk fabrics by hand.  It’s crazy to think how much time and careful detail goes into the silk that’s weaved.  The process takes weeks and can be had for a fraction of the price than you’d find most anywhere else.  It was a thing of beauty indeed.  Our bike ride back to the shop was also a part of the adventure as we weaved through traffic and across bridges that were no small feat in the unrelenting heat… even the locals were giving us the thumbs up.

Our last day brought us to the Animal Rescue Center where we got to spend some time with animals who had been rescued for one reason or another, but primarily because poachers hunt them or clueless individuals get these animals, which include but are not limited to, gibbons, monkeys, tigers and even crocodiles, as pets.  Speaking of monkeys, we’re pretty sure the entire population of them joined us for our visit.  Hundreds of them, uncaged and free to roam the grounds like we were, followed us throughout the day.  Feeding them the bananas we’d bought upon first arriving certainly contributed to our popularity, but they were everywhere and were surprisingly harmless although admittedly it was never fully comfortable seeing them dart past us.  Leah’s favorite animal was a gibbon who was actually blind, yet loved being massaged.  He was such a chilled, smooth and relaxed creature Leah said that if Barry White were a gibbon, it’d be this guy.  We also saw tigers up close and personal, leopards, bears, otters and even petted elk who roamed the area.  We had an authentic and delicious lunch at a place where the locals set up daily to feed all the visitors then relaxed on nearby hammocks to take a beat from the heat.  Leah made friends with one of the little girls and if it wasn’t for another almost four months of traveling probably would have tried to take her home with us. 

Alas our day was complete as was our time in Phnom Penh, which we thoroughly enjoyed.  Partly due to the fact Leah researched and planned so many great activities and also because the people were very friendly and the vibe was a lot more mellow. 

Off to Siem Reap to continue our expedition of Cambodia!  


Arriving in a country without its visa is never fun.  And as fate would have it, our first lapse thus far happened to be in Vietnam where not producing this document garnered such polarizing looks of confusion and disappointment, it was similar to that of someone letting one fly on your flight and you can’t figure out who dun it.  So needless to say we felt terrible.  But apparently between the time we left in January and our arrival in May, a visa is required to travel within Vietnam.  There’s certainly not much leverage you have when your options are to either fly back to your last destination, in our case Singapore, or shell out $320 (in CA$$$H) for a couple of emergency visas.  So without hesitation they took Leah’s birthday money and allowed us to stay in their country for the next 14 days.

After said debacle, we grabbed our bags, booked it outside and immersed ourselves in the wool blanket that awaited us and found a taxi driver to whisk us away to our hotel.  This guy was exactly what we needed. 

First, his soundtrack was impeccable.  Shifting from ‘N SYNC to Brittany Spears to George Michael’s “Careless Whispers” with an encore of the Eagles’ “Hotel California.” He sang along while admitting he had no idea what he was actually saying.  All of this while moving about traffic and multiple lanes as if they were one, flashing his brights so often and in such varying intervals, you would think he was navigating by Morse code.

Our journey to the hotel was pretty mesmerizing, passing through an incredibly vibrant city, so awake and full of life it seems doubtful this place ever sleeps.  Finally reaching our destination, Skyler offered the driver a tip that was rejected in favor for a more sizable bill, even though we’d paid in full upfront.  I guess there’s a first for everything. 

Sure it was approaching midnight, but this place showed no signs of slowing down so we sprang for a quick dinner amongst a street filled with hawkers, tourists, motorbikes, the young and old taking naps on cots on the sidewalk and a game of Frisbee.

Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City!

On our first full day of site-seeing we thought a history lesson was in order and attempted to hoof it to the Vietnam War Remnants Museum.  As if just getting there in the sweltering heat wasn’t enough, navigating through the hectic motorists, not to mention the jungle of electrical wires hanging above our heads, we endeavored to cut through a park, but were bombarded by a young man insisting to fix Skyler’s flip flops.  After multiple attempts at saying no, his sandals were being forcefully removed and bathed in leather conditioner, glues and practically re-soled while we just stood there and took it.  Sensing our weakness, he brought his cobbler buddy over and Leah’s sandals were the newest victim to the “repairs.”  We managed to run away from the eager sandal cobblers and made it to The Royal Palace.  Although it wasn’t the war museum, we did get a great debriefing on a more positive side to the U.S. and Vietnam relationship. 

A few hours and lots of walking later, we made it to the infamous museum and solemnly walked through a shocking account of the Vietnam War.  From propaganda displays from around the world against the USA, taunting images of wartime and stories of how this country is still affected today, the day we spent at the museum will forever have a lasting impression on us.  Seeing and learning about the Cu Chi Tunnels added to our eye opening experience and it was a heavy feeling to be on the same soil that saw such a tumultuous time.

On a recommendation from a friend, we anxiously decided to rent motorbikes upon our arrival in Hanoi and ride to Sa Pa, a really sweet mountain town located in Northwestern Vietnam.  All in all, we would be riding for 5 days and covering over 910 kilometers, while staying in country villages along the way.  We were scared, but there was no turning back now!  We packed our bags and flew to Hanoi where the rubber would hit the road.

Day 1

The alarm hit 6:30am and we met up with Quinn, our guide/translator/eating and drinking buddy for the ride.  We headed for the bike shop to get fitted in our gear and acquainted with our dirt bikes.  Keep in mind that Leah has some experience from back in her teenage years, gallivanting through the sand dunes of Arizona, while Skyler's experience stretches as far as Excite Bike on Nintendo some decades ago.  Doing a couple practice rounds through a surprisingly quiet neighborhood, we learned the gears, how much power our bikes had and where to access our horn, turn signals and brakes. After about 20 minutes of this butt-sniffing stage, we were thrown into the deep end.  If you can imagine thousands of scooters, motorcycles mixed with cars, bicycles and pedestrians jockeying for position in a limited amount of space, then you have a fantastic idea of what it was like getting out of Hanoi. The adrenaline was pumping so much that any other option, but to navigate our way safely through this sea of metal, dust and density, wasn't something under consideration.

Day 2

We had a long 220km ride ahead of us through the mountain clad countryside of Phu Yen, so we sprung out of bed at 6:45a, met our guide downstairs and chowed on some beef pho and bbq pork before jumping on our bikes to start our day.  Today’s views were full of terraced rice fields dotted with farmers in traditional straw hats.  The roads were under construction, which meant we needed to maneuver through massive boulders and steam rollers on our dirt bikes.  We dodged busses, dump trucks and water buffalo up and down the winding mountain trail like Pekaboo Street on the Giant Slalom.  Of course we can’t forget the customary honking at every blind corner to alert whatever oncoming traffic was beyond the bend.  The country villages were filled with H’mong people dressed in colorful skirts that led their goats, ducks or water buffalo with little ones at their sides.  The children were the cutest faces we’ve ever seen and waved as we zoomed through their towns that smelled like smoky wood, cinnamon, fresh spring Tide or cedar.

Day 3

The big payoff this day was finally getting into Sa Pa!  The roads were steep and winding out of Than Uyen and just about the only thing that brought us comfort was the fact each kilometer we rode up, the temperature equally fell to a much more humane climate.  Along the way we stopped at some unbelievably scenic lookout points, with Heaven’s Gate being our favorite.   Layers upon layers of rice paddies and rolling hills graced the backdrop of this majestic view.  After picking our jaws up from the floor, we hopped on our bikes and finished the last bit to Sa Pa.  This mountain town is fantastic.  The comfortable climate and bustling energy made for a great stopover.  This experience was a complete 180 from what we experience in HCMC and Hanoi.  Sure there was as many motorbikes as would fit on the streets, but the appeal was definitely superb.  The view from our hotel balcony was as well.  And to top off our stay, we treated ourselves to $5 foot rubs that our road weary legs enjoyed.

Day 4

Excited to have reached the peak of our journey, we were now on the descent back down to reality.  Riding our breaks so as not to let our bikes get out of control, we unwound the many kilometers we had just climbed the very day before, which was bittersweet, but we knew we had an exciting evening at our first homestay of the trip in Ngoi Tu.  Arriving to our accommodation in a picturesque village we were greeted by a super warm and friendly family who made us feel, well, right at home.  After a quick minute to catch our breath we headed out on their longboat to take a dip in Thac Ba Lake, which was created years ago when a new dam flooded a village that now remains underwater.  Relax, no one was hurt in this exercise as everyone was well informed of the apparently much needed reservoir.  A great way to wash off the day in bathtub-temp’d water, we enjoyed a striking sunset before returning home for a ridiculously tasty home cooked dinner. 

The patriarch of the family, Boi, ate with us and shared his homemade rice wine that he distilled himself.  Straight out of a movie—this guy was a character.  His only English, at least the only words he let us in on, were ‘cheers,’ ‘one more’ and ‘OK, last one.’  All in reference to the rice wine shots.  He was easily one of the highlights of the trip.  Lights out came shortly thereafter where our wide open room, which was shared by the entire family of seven, awaited us.  We never thought sleeping in 90 plus degree heat with relentless humidity could be done, but thankfully the nine fans they gave us did the trick.  Oh yeah, and the 14 shots of rice wine.

Day 5

Wow, after all the time on the road our riding was finally coming to an end.  We had our last stretch of 200ish kilometers left to bring us back full circle to Hanoi and we were ready for a/c and some clean clothes!  This trip had been one of the best experiences of our entire trek so far.  The smiling country kids chasing us and waving “hello!!” along the way tugged at every heart string each of us have.  The sense of accomplishment riding through intense traffic, construction, heat and mile-high mountain passes felt good, really good.  We had blended with the locals, eaten village dishes and stayed in four different cities throughout our 565+ mile journey and as we immersed ourselves in the hectic traffic that welcomed us in Hanoi, we started to relax our shoulders again.

Tuckered out and ready for some serious kickback time, we took it easy in Hanoi.  And just to make sure we’ve made this clear, it was HOT!  We toured the local temples, peeked at the local night market and shopped the busy streets.  To really cap off our trip, we were hurdled through the streets on a rickshaw ride and couldn’t have had more fun had we been at Six Flags.  

To sum up our experience in Vietnam, we learned very early on that this is the kind of place where most anything goes.  The way it appears the locals live, it’s more about the present than any other culture we’ve seen.  Every person, albeit a small sample size, we’ve asked about having ever left this country has replied in a resounding ‘No,’ and there aren’t likely any plans to do so.  Instead, it’s about the day-to-day and getting from A to B while surviving the best way they know how, whether that’s selling goods, services or food.  Often times you walk by a shop that houses any number of items the people are selling, which also doubles as their home. 

It’s like the traffic here.  There is absolutely zero regard for anything on the road other than what the locals are driving and where they’re going.  There are no yield or stops signs.  Everything just moves forward with a steady and heavy dose of a horn.  No one ever stops, though will slow down when absolutely necessary.  And the bigger vehicle you have, the less acuity is exhibited when driving.  But in this mayhem and in this introspective conundrum of what everyday life looks like, there is a sense of beauty to the organized chaos on the streets and on the roads. 

Sure people here want the latest iPhone, but the materialistic elements we see in so many other places don’t carry over; especially not in the villages.  Things are just simple, which is an art from that seems so far removed from memory that unless you’re forced to look at it in person, you don’t fully comprehend the bliss that appears to grace the faces and lives of the people here.  You see elderly riding scooters, weaving their way around as if there’s a checkered flag at the end of every street.  You see those same people carrying their weight in goods and food with nothing but a bamboo stick anchoring two baskets on either end like a see-saw.  Kids are playing in the 104 degree heat with enough humidity to act as a city-wide sprinkler system of scalding mist, with nothing but joy.  And in the villages where they seem to have even less than the people in the city, these same kids have the biggest smiles on their faces and were so enthused to wave and say the words ‘Hello’ in perfect English to us as we drove by. 

The 4,000 years this civilization has roamed the earth and developed their land and lifestyle is vastly different than anything we’ve come across.  While this way of life isn’t something we’ll completely replicate, it is one of the many experiences we were looking for when designing this trip.  A dynamic obverse to what our way of life was and a wonderful perspective the people here unknowingly gave us.

Bali, Indonesia

WE'RE ENGAGED!! Here’s the story.

From Skyler….

What Leah didn’t know was that I had identified our time in Bali as the place where I’d propose, a solid two months prior.  This was for a few reasons.  One, it’s Bali.  Two, while Leah had once dreamt that we got engaged in India with the locals all carrying sparklers as part of the celebration, that part of the trip wouldn’t be until July and well I couldn’t wait that long to marry such an incredible woman.  Plus, Bali has a bit of Indian influence so it wasn’t that far off.  And three, and perhaps the most important, Leah’s Dad is meeting us in Thailand shortly thereafter and I wanted the good news to be shared by our first visitor, an extremely important one, at that. 

I had the ring all packed up in one of the covert zippers in my suitcase that I’d inspect each time we checked our luggage, whenever housekeeping came and pretty much any time we left our room for that matter.  It was a great day when May 17th rolled around and even better when I reached into the zipper pocket to find the ring was still there!  Cleverley, I must say, I used Leah’s upcoming birthday (May 20th) as a way to slip in such an unsuspecting surprise.  A thousand different ways to actually pop the question had entered my mind leading up to it, but it was sunset drinks at the Rock Bar that won out.  Think of the Rock Bar as a lounge area literally built into rock with crashing waves and an astonishing view of the Indian Ocean.  Definitely a unique setting.  I got our names on the ‘list,’ we bypassed the line and took one of the first mini-gondola rides down to the rocks.  I should also mention that it was hot.  And humid.  Really hot and humid.  I had suggested Leah wear this killer outfit she picked up in Montevideo that I just always envisioned her wearing when I popped the question.  She looks absolutely beautiful in it.

So upon settling into our chaise longue, I immediately wanted to go for a walk, jitters nearing full affect, to kick the celebratory evening off right.  Leah had other ideas.  She wasn’t going anywhere until she got a few glasses of water and shared some words that went something like ‘Why did you have me wear this?!?  It’s 90 degrees out!  I’m hot and I’m sweaty.  And no, I don’t want to go on a walk right now.”  Well, OK then.  This was a bit of a curveball, but figured it would only be a matter of time before I got her up and moving.  It wasn’t as easy as I thought though as the sun was starting to make its way into the sea.  Thinking about a Plan B and where I might be able to do this whole thing again the following day, I finally, after pushing the issue, got her to walk down the steps to the sand. 

The time was right.  The medley of orange, red, blue and golden hues that painted the sky laced across a setting sun.  Feeling as though I had shushed the DJ myself from his melodic, enjoyable music, I busted out our pocket speaker and iPod containing some of our favorite songs.  All the things I had rehearsed in my mind had left me and what must have been an incoherent mix of praise and gibberish, while on one knee.  The next thing I knew I heard a “Yes! Yesss!” and realized I had asked her to marry me.  It almost felt surreal.  I had just made the best decision of my life.  I mean it’s not every day you get to marry your best friend.

From Leah….

We had just spent the afternoon swimming in the pool and lounging in the sun; one of my favorite ways to enjoy the day away, as many of you know.  As we meandered up to the room, Skyler suggested we start celebrating my birthday early (clearly I was not complaining) with a dinner spot he had picked.  We pulled up to this beautiful resort that was sprawled across the ocean’s rock-stamped beaches.  Wow, it was gorgeous!  I carefully made my way down steps, pool sides, terraces, sweating in my full length body suit, thinking to myself, “Why did he make me wear this again?” All I could think about when we were brought to our front-row seat in view of the crashing waves and hopefully soon to be setting sun, was what I would do for a gallon of ice cold water.  But instead, Skyler suggested we go for a walk the minute we arrived at this lovely daybed. “Ummm, NO,” was my less than chummy response.  Thankfully, the sun’s relentless heat dimmed into an intense orange glow hovering above the Indian Ocean and with that, I took in the beauty of Bali.  Two bottles of water later, I kicked off my heels and agreed to walk down to the beach.  Stepping into the soft sand, Skyler pulled out a little speaker and some of our favorite songs floated through the air.  With every note, I was reminded of our past vacations and celebrations, thinking how thoughtful he was to plan all of this and bring along some music.  I even jokingly patted down his pockets asking him if he was “going to propose or something.”  Instead, he went on to say the most wonderful words and I just felt so special to be receiving my 28th year in such a way.

Before I could process what was happening next, Skyler was on one knee in the sand.  Saying I was in complete shock is an understatement.  I just stared at this handsome man in front of me, wondering, ‘Is this a dream!? I’m pretty sure I’ve dreamt of something like this happening before.’  I had no idea this was coming. Then he asked and I answered.  The tears started to roll down my face as I held his, amazed this incredible man, my travel buddy and my best friend was instantaneously now my future husband.  I could not feel more grateful or overjoyed.

The evening followed with clinking champagne flutes under a starry Bali night, smiles plastered across our faces.  And saying the word “fiancé” about 102 times.  

Oh, right, Bali…

Bali was sort of the vacation within our trip.  Hey traveling is harder than it looks!  The Courtyard Marriott Nusa Dua, which we weren’t expecting much from, was unbelievably fantastic!  Two huge lagoon pools fringed the sides of an outdoor bar, which had an island that turned into a stage for musical performances at night.  Additionally, an amazing buffet breakfast, a well-outfitted gym and serene spa completed this ridiculously cool resort.  The double upgraded room we got sure helped as well. 

We were tucked away in the area known as Nusa Dua in the south eastern part of the island.  We didn’t deviate much from our hotel as it had everything we needed and given the heat and humidity, their pool usurped most of our time.  We did manage to get out and walk the streets of Seminyak that featured countless amazing boutiques (if only Leah could do some serious shopping damage!), restaurants and other shops.  A local driver navigated and narrated us through the countryside in Ubud and to the volcano in Kintamani.  Along the way, we took in a local performance about an ancient Balinese spirit.  Traditional music and elaborate costumes sending waves of laughter through the local school kids.  All of the people in Bali were so friendly it was almost like an island-wide rehearsal of pleasantness, but it was all genuine. 

Our time in Bali was unforgettable.  There are a few sightseeing items on the list we didn’t get to check off, but it’s easy to see why so many people seek out the luxury and beauty of this land.

Port Douglas, Australia

We came to Port Douglas with one major goal to accomplish: snorkel The Great Barrier Reef.  So we booked our tour a few days out and anxiously explored the town while our time to dive arrived.

Thanks to Skyler, we had the perfect hotel room located in the middle of the main street (thanks to Villa San Michele), lined with surf shops and restaurants and bookended with a beach on either side. The beaches there were interesting for two reasons: the sand was covered with miniature, perfect sand balls, created by all the crabs digging and “dumping” it out.  And the jelly fish.  Since the water was still very warm, the jellies were out and dangerous, so you had to swim in a netted area to keep safe or risk hoping vinegar would save your life after a sting.  After getting our fill of the sun and sand, we ventured in-land with a local tour called Daintree Wonder Tours to explore the Daintree Rainforest and the Mossman Gorge.  Our guide explained these rainforests as a war zone: all the trees, vines and ferns are crawling on top of each other and trying to beat one another out to get a taste of the sunlight above the canopy’s ceiling. It was really amazing to see the massive greenery and the extent the fauna will go to to grow.  Trees made a home on top of boulders, basket ferns found a stable seat high in a tree and vines weaseled their way up any possible surface.  Wild bush turkeys and blue butterflies sprinkled the 100+ million year old Daintree Rainforest.  As we hiked closer to the coast, mangrove trees lined the sandy edge. Roots exposed for oxygen; their “fingers” weaved in and out of the wet ground.  We were able to cool off in fresh water lagoons that dotted the rainforests.  Skyler practically cannon-balled in at the chance to refresh in the translucent water.  And as a treat for trudging through the rainforest, we stopped on the side of the road at a fruit orchard.  Tropical fruits that are totally unknown to us were hanging from the trees: jackfruit (tastes exactly like Juicy Fruit gum!), whittle seed (the seeds are chocolatey) and other exotic berries.  It gets even better…these exotic fruits were churned into fresh ice cream and the flavors woke up our taste buds like an alarm clock! Leah’s turn to cannonball!

What would a trip to Steve Irwin’s homeland be without some crocodile spotting?!!  In honor of the late great croc hunter, we hopped aboard a pontoon boat early one morning and coasted on the placid water to find one ourselves. After a lot of “floating log” spotting, we saw a croc emerge from the water and silence fell over the boat.  A long, spikey snout and dangerous looking tail stealthily glided by us.  We definitely didn’t want to know this creature’s capabilities.

Our great day of underwater discovery had arrived and we were beyond excited!  A two hour boat ride from Port Douglas to The Great Barrier Reef led us into the most gorgeous turquoise waters.  With our lycra stingray suits zipped, we jumped into the warm shallow sea.  Not going to lie, Leah was a little anxious about the mouth breathing part, not to mention the sharks, jellyfish, stingrays and crocs.  But once submerged, the peaceful ocean was absolutely calming and beaming with life! The massive corals were home to thousands of rainbow colored fish, sea anemone fish (Nemos!), parrot fish, electric blue fish, sea cucumbers and giant clams.  Our marine biologist on board gathered different creatures for us to learn, hold and appreciate.  Over three different dive spots through the reef, we were lucky enough to spot two white-tipped sharks, a couple massive sea turtles, a few stingrays and a bright blue star fish larger than a basketball.  Feeling much more confident at the last site, our instructor invited some of us to do a drift dive, where the boat dropped us off at one point in the reef and we swam with the current, exploring all the way to another spot where the boat picked us up.  The whole experience was absolutely blue-tiful and inspirational!  Thank you Wavelength for the once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Port Douglas is naturally gorgeous and charmingly chill and was a great Australia send-off! 

Byron Bay, Australia

“Uhhh.... good evening ladies and gentleman this your captain speaking.  It doesn’t appear we’re cleared for landing in Brisbane due to the storm below so we’re going to try for Sydney instead.” 

Not the most calming of intercom conversations you’d like having with your pilot while 35,000 feet in the air, but we were fine with the decision as our plane was getting rag-dolled in the sky and our knuckles and stomachs needed a break from the turbulence.  We eventually found our way to Brisbane later that evening, but the delay forced us to miss our bus to Byron Bay.  Thankfully Qantas picked up our hotel tab for the night there and a few cab fares as well. 

One day late, we had finally made it!  Walking up to the studio apartment we were renting, we could not have been greeted by a more positive and smiling face than Jeanine, our host.  A ball of good energy just bursting at the seams to dance and spread her joy wrapped up in a teeny little thing with bouncing red hair for days!  

This uniquely Bohemian-decorated studio in front of Phil and Jeanine’s house was perfect, and the minute we got there they welcomed us with good vibes and warm smiles.  Our hosts insisted we go on a hike to get a lay of the land and to shake off some jet lag that was resting in dark circles under our eyes.  We trekked on a sand path through rainforest trees and hiked to a clearing that overlooked the Arakwal National Park beach, a pure 7 km of virgin sand.  Continuing past a lighthouse, a 360 degree view of Byron Bay Coastline presented itself and we ended up at Clarkes Beach.  Packed with surfers, yogis and dread-lock donned hippies, we were soaking in the relaxing vibe.  Jeanine and Phil left us there and we walked through the chill, surfer town that makes Byron Bay.  We strolled up towards the main street and into the spot that housed all the afternoon locals.  We perched on a stool to sip some beverages and watch the setting sun.  Luckily, this would be our life for the next week.

Each day we crawled from the most comfy bed and lazily made our way down to Clarkes or Arakwal beach and soaked in the gorgeous landscape.  And every afternoon we were welcomed “home” by Phil and Jeanine to pick their brains about their travels and what led them to build their home in Byron.  A couple nights in, as Leah was prepping the chicken in our rad little kitchen, Jeanine popped over and asked if we wanted to go out dancing with her that night.  Ummmm YESSS!  The ever awesome Phil hauled us down to the local jaunt, The Beach Hotel, and we are greeted by Jeanine’s friends, who we learned refer to her as ‘Red.’  Awesome.  Red is off shaking everything she’s got in the front row, while a singer bellows Whitney Houston and other classics with funky attitude and the most powerful voice.  All night we groove to the music with the young and old.  We even saw a dance off when a few young men with impressive hip movements climbed on stage shaking it to ‘It’s Raining Men’ to everyone’s enjoyment.  This town just keeps getting better!  It totally seems as if everyone is on the same page of surfing, positive vibes and having a good time.

Our final evening capped off an incredible stay with a dinner at Jeanine and Phil’s place.  With a home-cooked spread to feed most of the neighborhood and some great tips about where to travel in India, we laughed and traded stories with our awesome hosts, their beautiful daughter Amber and a family friend.

Byron Bay and the people we met are one of our most special memories so far on our trip and will be cherished.  If only we could be welcomed by a surrogate family everywhere we go! 

North Island, New Zealand

North Island carries about 75% of New Zealand’s total population, with a majority in Auckland. The rain was relentless, which made it challenging to explore as much as we would have liked. That doesn’t mean we don’t have some interesting stories for you though!


Our favorite place that we visited in the North Island.  It was a perfect blend of New Zealand small-town charm with metropolitan fashion and trendy dinning.  You could almost walk from one end of the city to the other, but a short drive out of it offered you the rolling hills with their kaleidoscope of colors that is New Zealand’s signature mark.  Cuba Street definitely had it going on.  Every restaurant we passed by with amazement.  Some were designed with 1920s décor, some with an Americana-vintage feeling, one was an old converted laundromat and another had lit-up neon umbrellas hanging from the ceiling.  Cuba was all sorts of cool.  Off Cuba Street we stumbled upon a night market offering almost any exotic street food you could dream of. The street hustle bustle was included as well as we shimmied our way through the crowd to the other end.  And this awesome city happens to be located on a gorgeous, but rather windy, port.  Lined with architectural-savvy bridges, innovative sculptures and a beautiful marina this seaside town won us over.  


So this little town is known for their Art Deco architecture, after a post-earthquake rebuild. Honestly, we didn’t see a lot of 20s style buildings, maybe we should have looked harder. We stopped by a couple wineries with beautiful estates, but not so great grapes. This was a quick one-night stay and quite frankly, we wish we had more to say about this town. 


Oh man, we were (well Leah was) so excited about the natural thermal springs!!!  Then the rain came, and didn’t go away.  With only a one-night stop over, we debated whether it was worth the admittance fee to experience these sulfuric pools.  As the moon and stars came out, the rain gave us a break and we ran over to the Polynesian Spa to get our hot springs on!  We’re so glad we did, as we tried out all the different lagoons, from various springs offering different temperatures and minerals.  We also met a cool group of locals barely in their early 20s; we swapped stories from logging massive trees (them) to Hollywood movies and shows to see (us).


Major bucket list item!!  Having emailed people and researched so much about the glow worm caves in Waitomo, we were both so excited to see them.  Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside because the noise and light really disturbs those magical young insects, so we’ll do our best to describe this super cool experience.  To get to the glow worms, we walked through a dimly-lit limestone cave that resembled numerous inverted sand castles pieced all throughout these caverns.  Our guide was a woman of indigenous decent, who was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about these caves and creatures.  We should note that she was easily into her fifth decade and not very big in stature.  More on that later.  As she led us through the pristine grottos with only her words and subtle drops of moisture from these melting cone-shaped rocks, we were finally led to a wooden boat.  As soon as the last person got in we were off.  Nearly as impressive as the shimmering worms was our guide and how she navigated this pulley system up above with her bare hands, towing a dozen of us through the water with absolute ease.  Her eagle eye in this state of complete darkness was only matched by the brightly sprinkled caves.  Just imagine looking up to find the starriest sky you have ever seen only 6 feet above you with slightly blinking lights just centimeters away from the next iridescent glow… by the thousands.


Psssst…. Friend to friend, this stop was for a pillow and a hotel room.


An interesting city, so out of place among the pristine beauty that surrounds most of NZ.  It is larger and more established than Wellington, but less vintage charm.  It reminds you of San Francisco in a way, with all the hilly, yet walkable streets, leading to the CBD and eventually pointing towards the bay.  In truth, we had a lot planned in Auckland with some great recommendations to visit Waiheke Island, but the weather did not cooperate.  We still had our $1 a day 25+ year old Nissan bat mobile that struggled driving through some gravel roads, which left us with a high pitched screaming ride.  Was it embarrassing rolling up to Leah’s all-time favorite Sav Blanc vineyard, Kim Crawford, in a screeching (we are NOT exaggerating) vehicle?  Yes, but also quite humbling.  We hope we’re not breaking a lot of hearts here, but Kim let us down in so many ways.  The vineyard was owned by eccentric MALE (doesn’t everyone think our friend Kim is a woman too??) Kim Crawford, but he sold out to a huge alcohol distributor and now owns Love Block.  So after we practically risked our lives to get there in our barley-hanging-in-there-ride, the wine tasting room was basically closed down and handing discounted bottles to ex-employees and we were not wanted. It did get better.  We did a ton of walking and explored the main streets.  Our highlight meal was at an IN-N-OUT copy-cat and let us tell you, that is the highest form of flattery!  Those cheap, delicious burgers tasted of home and there might have been three double doubles plus two fries shared between us. We know there is more to do than we experienced, so as the Kiwis say, we’ll have to give it another go.

Thanks New Zealand for a couple of amazing weeks!  We were constantly awe-struck by the natural beauty and greenery, which we now know is facilitated by a lot of rain.  On a serious note, some of our coolest memories are from this country, camping our way through, wine tasting, heaps of prairies and cows, pristine lakes and some cool locals along the way. 

South Island, New Zealand

Below are all the towns we stayed in during our stint in the South Island as well as our favorite, and least favorite, memories of each. 


As our plane neared the Queenstown airport, snowcapped mountains engulfed the windows of our airplane as if clouds were pierced with ornamented drink umbrellas in the form of mountain tops.  For those of you who have been to the airport in Jackson Hole, this place is a distant cousin of an image.  The silver and white mountains fit nicely into the majestic pink sky as we walked the tarmac.  A welcomed briskness of legitimate cold weather smothered our faces, too.  Once we collected our bags our next task was to find out how we were getting to our hotel in the most economical way possible.  Thinking we’d take the city bus we were sorely mistaken as the best way to get to the city was by van transport.  All negotiation tactics were muted by this local driver’s know-how of the town, its bus routes, transfers and costs.  We soon realized that these Kiwis are very much a take-it-or-leave type of folk.

Okay so just imagine the most picturesque ski resort town lined with those famous jagged wintery mountains, clear blue waters pristinely dotted with a vintage 103 year old steam boat and perfectly flanked by grey pebble beaches. To top of it all off, Queenstown is home to the adventure seeker. If there is a rope to dangle from, a cliff to jump off or a speed boat to cling to, it will be done in this optimally named ‘The Adventure Capital of The World.” It seemed everyone was looking to stare death in the face, so we decided to buy a local Sauv Blanc and sit on the beach and watch the beauty of Queenstown unfold.

We closed our short stay and started the beginning of our RV adventure with one heck of a meal. Everyone we asked highly recommended The Flame and we were gladly filled to the brim with the finest New Zealand ribs and steak. It was time to leave this story book dream park and hit the road. We had no idea what was ahead but were ready for some serious exploring of the Kiwi backyard.

Milford Sound

In Australia and New Zealand, it’s commonplace to rent an RV and explore the wide-open roads.  And in some cases, you can get lucky and take advantage of what’s called a ‘vehicle relocation’ where the daily fee is a fraction of the normal cost as long as the origin and destination coincide with what the RV company is looking for, and in a set amount of time.  We took advantage of the relocation opportunity and happily volunteered to transport a 2 berth, self-contained campervan from Queenstown to Christchurch.  By self-contained, we have our own shower and toilet, and in our van they are one in the same.  The drive was captivating.  We felt like we were in the misty mountain hop. The drizzling showers couldn't put a damper on the sky high snow-covered mountains striped with equally high waterfalls cascading downward.  The beauty we passed through was insane.  Much of Lord of the Rings was filmed through the mossy dense forests and gorgeous backdrop we drove through.  We pulled into the only and last lodge near Milford Sound and took one of their last two available spaces.  Despite the relentless drizzle, Leah's camping ingenuity hooked us up with power, running water and a hot meal as if she had a gourmet kitchen.  Then we fell asleep to the sound of raindrops and our awesome little heater humming warmth.

Bright and early the next morning, we got on the Lady Bowen to cruise the famous Milford Sound.  Every bit of it lived up to the hype in terms of beauty and amazement.  And to top it off, the captain pulled our boat up a gushing waterfall so we could fill our glasses with New Zealand’s fresh mountain spring water.


Cromwell…. Well, we managed to roll in there after a drive that took most of the day to their finest RV Holiday Park establishment, that we think was their only one.  And maybe Leah pretended she was asleep so we didn’t have to pay the extra fee.  Hey, budgets get tight at times, which is when you have to exercise that cleverness. Gassed from being on the road most of the day, we were happy to have a place to post up at, plus we couldn’t manage the dimly (not) lit roads any longer.  Also, one of the best aspects of this location was it was a nine iron away from some of the South Island’s best wineries, a field trip we were starting to be accustom with. The standout winery was Northburn Station that had the most spectacular grounds including mountains, a lake with a little wooden boat and a beautiful stone building. But the wine was even better than the view, and the most ironic part was we visited on the last day this place would be in business. Bought out by one of those large champagne factories, this ‘lil mom and pop was closing its doors. If you ever see a bottle, grab it!

Lake Pukaki

After seeing pictures of a vivacious lake of a crisp minty-teal, we were sold on our first crack at what they call ‘Freedom Camping.’  Since New Zealand is fairly used to the campervan mode of transportation, they’ve created specific guidelines for those who feel like their campervan should be docked anywhere in nature’s beauty.  After searching for the best place we could be amongst nothing but the soil and stars, we decided this heavenly lake would be more than adequate.  After some wrong turns and unexpected stop-offs for their fresh catch salmon sashimi, melting in your mouth more than an M&M ever could, we found our spot.  We had to navigate a Flinstone-esque bedrock to creep towards the waters’ edge, but it was well worth our pseudo-4x4’ing to get to our private slice of land.  There we watched one of the more gripping sunsets until a sky full of luminous stars was the only thing we saw.  Sure we parked the car uphill so we could let the greywater we didn’t know how to empty drain out (thanks again Britz campervan rentals), but the angle we slept at it was overpowered by the wide angle of our grins for such a romantic evening with nature.


Our destination from the moment we grabbed the keys to our camper in Queenstown, we were told tales of how this once bustling town was devastated by an earthquake, which still has left it’s aftershock in the form of the disbelief and slow reclamation of the locals.  Seeing as this area was much more populated than most of our South Island travels, it was quite the adventure finding a parking spot appropriate enough for this miniature home-on-wheels of ours.  Sadly, that was one of the highlights of our experience there, unless you count the vending machine that dispensed french fries with a shaker of salt (salt! … salt!) chained to it at our holiday park.  Our curiosity never materialized to actual purchase power for one of our favorite foods, but we sense a future business opportunity on the horizon. This more than small town has the DNA of a cool spot, but needs some TLC to get there…


After we scored a sensational deal with our relocation campervan we thought our transportation luck had run out, but in fact, it had just begun.  The main car rental companies had stacked the deck with expensive options except for our friends at Omega.  Fingers crossed, we found our way to their location and met a spunky gal who wanted nothing more than to help us.  There, we secured another relocation for $1 a day for the four days we’d need the vehicle.  We kid you not.  The credit card fee matched the price we paid to take out one of their Mazda joyrides.  Playing with house money at this point, we were in good spirits even when we lost out on any and all lodging deals aside from the Top 10 holiday park, which featured nothing more than four walls and the steady sounds of locomotives trading off with the nearby highway.  

Nothing mattered for we were still paying 100 Australian cents for our car and it peddled us to the Marlborough wine region, which was sinfully delicious.  Nautilus took our hearts with such fine precision in their craft so much that even the uppity woman pouring our experience couldn’t divert our attention away from their fine wines.  If you do find yourself in the Blenheim area, and you should, take a peek at Giesen and Johanneshof Cellars as well.  But don’t expect much from the reds, as the whites dominate this region and for that matter, all of Kiwi-nation.


Located in the actual center of all of New Zealand, we, and an elementary school field trip, took in the impressive compactly sprawled town. Tucked away between Abel Tasman National Park and Picton, the gateway to the North Island, Nelson emits a feeling of incredible balance.  Its hills upon hills of rolling green that only end to make way for the translucent blue ocean. But this rad little hippie-woodsman-charming town has a special place in both of our hearts and it all starts and ends with the local hostel and hang out bar, The Prince Albert. Owned by a couple world travelers and California lovers, Mike (and his wife, who we didn’t get the pleasure to meet) made our stay there truly special. He told us to make it back in time after sight-seeing for the trivia night.  After some debating on our New Zealand knowledge, we rolled in and joined up with a pub regular (local legend, “Chris”) and having more game than Parker Bros., we took home THE WIN and a free dinner plus bar tab.  Basking in the glory we decided to cancel our plans the next day and stay just one more night.


All of a sudden the earth is shaking. Hard. It stops, we’re confused then the shaking comes back, but its way stronger this time. The youth hostel we just arrived at is rattling, the roof and deck is shifting and we’re perched upon a steep hill above the ocean. Yep, it’s an earthquake. A little freaked out, we gather with the owner and others and wait out the 6.2 jarring we just endured.  But as astounding as this was, what rivaled that experience was the batch of mussels, broth and seriously transcendent bread we ate in this port town.  This place was only supposed to be a stop-over for us, but we were pleasantly surprised with the stunning views and great seafood.  Knowing our stint in the South Island was quickly approaching, we longed for our boat ride to Wellington to start our journey to the North!

Sydney, Australia

Grabbing the bus down George Street with great anticipation, we tapped our Opal bus cards on the way out and headed for the wharf.  It’s not every day one gets to see the Opera House in person and as the sun was setting, we didn’t want to miss the glow of the sky surrounding this architectural masterpiece.

Sydney is wonderful.  Full of life, style and a metropolitan gusto you’d expect from the states.  Our hotel, The Cambridge, was nestled perfectly in Surry Hills, which is young, happening and a bit hipster.  Plus, The Cambridge came through with a free night and overall discount on our entire stay!  Gotta love those that love you.  We were within walking distance to all you’d need and close to the bustle of Oxford Street, a main artery that feeds into shops, stores, restaurants, a terrific bus line and the nearby Circular Quay and Rocks area.  Those last two provide the vantage point to the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, loads of touristy attractions and magnificent views.  All of this coolness and generosity more than made up for the ruthlessness of the Tiger Airways attendant at the check-in counter on the way to Sydney from Melbourne who literally wouldn’t let us enter the gate until we unpacked eight kilos of weight.  C’mon lady, we already paid your baggage fees.  No need for us to be holding three pairs of shoes, two dopp kits and nine shirts while going through security.

Of course, this fury of emotion made us hungry.  And after many weeks without some of SoCal's authentic Mexican, we needed our fix.  Leah found what turned out to be THE spot to be.  Two adjoining rooms, one dressed up with a Mexican theme and the other an English pub. The food was fantastic as were the locals who sat at our communal table and gave us a wealth of amazing recommendations, one would need three weeks to do it all.  To top it off, we got our fill of chips, guac, tacos.... and maybe even a churro or two.

Skyler has a sort-of-cousin who lives in Sydney with his wife and son that we had the good fortune of meeting up with for dinner one night.  It was nice to see a familiar face, even if it had been 20 years since the last time Skyler and Leo played rugby in Skyler’s front yard.  They treated us to an awesome meal in the Darling Harbour area where we were able to catch up and later see live music at the various waterfront restaurants.

We also had the chance to visit Manly Beach which was straight up marvelous.  We took a nice little ferry ride over and were dropped off at the foot of a five minute walk to a gorgeous beach.  Sure Skyler got distracted by every surf shop known to man in a square block, but eventually we made it to the sand and tried to recoup the bronze and in Skyler’s case, adobe-red, shades South America gave us. 

With all this furor we had heard about Bondi Beach we had to make the 35 minute bus ride to see it for ourselves.  Granted it was night time and you couldn’t make out more than the illuminated signs of restaurants, hotels and one Ben & Jerry’s that a had a line as if they were giving out free $100s, but we found ourselves a killer little beachfront restaurant.  Worth the effort, but probably a bit more spectacular in the daytime.

Sydney sure was a good time and there's plenty more to do than we were able to get done.  The locals truly are lovely and are happy to lend a suggestion, or seven, of what to do in their city.