Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Strait of Magellan

This isn't really a post. I just wanted to upload pics of the Strait of Magellan in southern Chile to show a friend.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sgin, sgin, everywhere a sgin - Oz and NZ edition

Beside my love of license plates, you might know of my love of entertaining signs. I especially love signs with bad English translations, but the following signs come from two English speaking countries - Australia and New Zealand.

It's been a while since I've included photos, so hopefully this will make the blog look more exciting again.

First up, we have this food stand outside the Sydney Opera House. I took this picture for two reasons: 1) it features two of Karen's absolute favorite foods and 2) these foods don't particularly go together.

Next up is a very Australian sign we saw on Fraser Island. Nothing amusing about it, but definitely not a sign you usually come across.

Well, I guess that's it for Australia. Now New Zealand is where I really hit the goldmine.

I now realize that we didn't actually post that many pictures from New Zealand. I think it's because we were staying in the van and so weren't spending the nights in towns with internet cafes. And then after New Zealand we went to Tahiti and Easter Island for about a week and internet access on the islands is slow, hard to find and expensive. So New Zealand got left behind.

First up are pictures from Dunedin on the South Island. Dunedin is a very quaint college town. It features the steepest street in the world. Every year they do a race up the hill and back down. There have also been a few people who have done it on a unicycle and via other strange methods.

Now the first of the funny signs. In case you were wondering, Tuesay comes between Monay and Wednesay.

If you ever find yourself in Te Anau, New Zealand, just make sure you don't go down the Wong Way!

This upside down sign was supposed to be impressive, but frankly the lake wasn't the best one we saw.

The Fat Duck is one of the most expensive and highly rated restaurants in the UK. However, this one in Te Anau wasn't on the same level. This duck seems to have pancake batter all over his wing. Poor thing.

In Queenstown, I liked this sign for Cemetery Road (No Exit). Clever.

Queenstown gets a lot of foreign tourists. And obviously there are sometimes cultural differences. Good thing there are signs to ease the transition for foreigners.

Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world. Only when I was looking at these pictures this month did I realize that Karen and I managed to mix up the sexes for the head shots.

And speaking of bungee (although these pics have nothing to do with signs), you can do the big gorge jump.

First, take the cable car out to the middle of the gorge.

Then look down (or not).

And then head out to the ledge, and jump!

On the west coast of the South Island, there are two major glaciers, the Fox Glacier and the Franz Joseph Glacier.

Watch out, Karen! There's a glacier behind you!

Actually, up close, you can see the glacier melting (you might be able to see the water dripping off in the picture). And during high melt periods or after heavy rains, there can be flooding. As the ice melts, ice balls and rocks of various sizes also come tumbling off the face.

Now you might be wondering about my poor spelling in the post title. In the US, there used to be a commercial for Snickers candy bars showing workers having a long day. Two of the commercials featured guys who messed up some painting jobs - one featured a street painter who managed to spell "STOP" on the ground as "SOTP" and another guy painting an American football end zone who was supposed to paint "CHIEFS" but wound up painting "CHEFS".

Anyway, in Hokitika, we went to a restaurant where we ate outside. In the back, there was a little work area where they were painting a new sign for the restaurant. Or, I guess I should say "restu...".

The next day we were driving past this scenic lookout. I guess the scenic lookouts in New Zealand have to market themselves well.

Finally, on our last day in New Zealand we were in Christchurch and Karen and I were hungry. Karen was very excited when she spotted this "bread shop" across the road. Needless to say, she was a bit disappointed after crossing the street only to discover there was no food on offer at the "bead shop".

Monday, October 29, 2007

Old England vs. New England

As a sports fan, I'm clearly living in the wrong England. In the past 2 weeks we've seen the England soccer team lose in Russia and are now in serious danger of not qualifying for the Euro championships next summer. We saw a not very good England rugby team get very lucky and make it to the World Cup final and lose to South Africa. And then the English rookie driver in Formula 1, Lewis Hamilton, had the season championship wrapped up with 2 races left to go, only to lose it on the last race of the season and lose by 1 point (yet strangely, the English didn't really care and still thought he did really well).

In the meantime, on the other side of the pond in New England, we have:

- The New England Patriots, who play American football, have run their record to 8 wins and 0 losses and are averaging over 40 points a game. They are already the team of the decade, having won 3 Super Bowl championships since 2001.

- Boston College football who are the only real top division college team in New England are ranked as the second best college football team in the country. They are also 8-0.

- The University of Massachusetts football team, who are 7-1, their only loss coming at Boston College. They play in the second tier of college football and are ranked 4th in the country at that level.

- Karen's and my alma mater, Yale, is 7-0 in football. They also play in the second tier and are ranked 13th in the country at that level.

- Although I have to admit that I don't really follow soccer in the U.S., for completeness sake I should point out that the New England Revolution who play in Major League Soccer took home the U.S. Open trophy in early October.

- The Boston Celtics, who are the best team in NBA history but have been not very good for about 20 years, finally have a great team again and are favorites this year to win the Eastern Conference.

Hmmm, I think I'm forgetting one more team. Which one is it? Oh yeah, of course it's everyone's beloved Boston Red Sox.

The Red Sox finally broke the Yankees' 9 year reign at the top of the American League East division. Then they swept the Angels 3-0 in the first round of the playoffs. Then a dramatic 7 game win against Cleveland. And then tonight, they complete the sweep of the Colorado Rockies in the World Series for their second championship in 4 years.

After waiting 86 years from 1918 until 2004, Red Sox Nation now has two championships in 4 years with two 4-0 sweeps.

I have to say I'm very excited by the sweep, as the World Series games are shown between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. over here, so now I don't have to stay up for Games 5, 6 and 7. Time to go and get some sleep!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A GINORMOUS thank you!

Oh yes, ginormous now appears in some dictionaries. Apparently English speakers decided that 87 words that mean "big" weren't sufficient enough so we've decided to combine two words that already mean "big" and make another word that means exactly the same thing. "Ginormous" either comes from "giant" or "gigantic" and "enormous". I thought it was a recent creation but apparently it dates back to circa 1950. Who knew.

Anyway, on to the real point of my post. Since today (October 20) marks the 1 year anniversary of our initial flight from London to Beijing and the start of our trip of a lifetime, I wanted to give a big thank you to a lot of different people. Not going in any particular order, I wanted to thank:

- all the family and friends we had the chance to meet up with over our 10 and a half month hiatus from real life. Especially those who opened their homes to us (including Gwen and Ludo in Beijing and Steve and Anna in Sydney who let us stay at their houses without ever having met us before!! We come with good references. :) ). As noted in my last post, getting the chance to stay with friends and family was a welcome respite from the hotel grind.

- those of you who showed us your cities, took us out to dinner, shared highlights of your towns with us, etc. It's always best to explore a new place (or familiar places) with those with insider knowledge.

- all the new friends we made along the way. From whitewater rafting in Nepal, to our multiweek tour of India, to Australia, to Antarctica, to the Salt Flats of Bolivia, to Atacama Desert in Chile, to Galapagos, we met some great new people along the way. Heading out on a big trip with just each other to talk to for so long is a daunting prospect - making great new friends along the way is a must to keep sanity!

- even though none of them are reading this blog, the large majority of our tour guides and adventure guides were absolutely fantastic and opened up new perspectives on the places we were visiting.

- all those who supported us along the way with communications from home and abroad letting us know what was going on back in the real world.

- all our loyal readers of this blog! We loved writing this blog, which helps us to remember all the places we went. We're just glad so many people were able to enjoy the trip along with us through the blog. Hopefully we kept you entertained. And thanks for all your comments.

- finally, my wife Karen. She did a heck of a lot of the planning and organizing for this trip, both before we headed out and once we were on the road. At the end of the day, there's no better person to spend every day of 10 and a half months with than Karen. :)

While we're here on our 1 year anniversary, I might as well post an updated version of my "places visited" maps. Here was what my world map looked like pre-trip:

create your own visited countries map

36 countries visited and nothing in South America or Oceania (except French Polynesia), only 4 continents and nothing south of the equator.

Here's what it looks like post-trip:

(I really like this map from that shows country borders and includes Antarctica, but it seems to be a bit funny and may or may not load properly, so I've included the same map from the old site as well):

create your own visited countries map

On this trip I visited 2 new countries in Asia (Nepal and India), 2 new ones in Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) and 7 new ones in South America (Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador), for a new total of 47. I'll have to plan something special for when I reach 50. All 7 continents are now covered as well.

We also did that big road trip in the US and travelling back east along I-40 added 5 mores states (New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee) which brings me up to 36 total.

New map:

create your own visited states map

As you can see, it looks like I need to start planning my next year long holiday to include sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Plus my next American adventure should take in the Pacific Northwest, upper Rockies, the deep South, Appalachia, Alaska and Hawaii and, I suppose if I have to - North Dakota. I've still got a lot of ground to cover!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

And you thought Hollywood stars slept around a lot

Still a few more things to mention about our trip. Along the way, you could say we slept in quite a variety of places, usually changing places almost every night. Places where we slept ranged from planes to buses to airports to boats to tents to actual hotels. I thought it would be interesting to track the different places we slept on our trip. So, here are the stats:

Overall we spent a total of 322 nights in 143 different locations (some visited more than once). We slept in what I classify as at least 16 different types of accommodation. Here's the breakdown:

151 nights in 92 different hotels or hostels (mostly hotels)
60 nights at 7 different extended family homes (in Thailand, Philippines and the US)
29 nights at 9 different friends' houses (in China, Australia and the US)
17 nights on 2 different boats (Antarctica and Galapagos)
15 nights at 8 different B&Bs (North Island, New Zealand; Santiago and Valparaiso, Chile; Lima and Trujillo, Peru; and Quito, Ecuador)
10 nights in 5 different lodges (mostly in Peruvian rainforest and Patagonia)
9 nights living in 1 van on the South Island, New Zealand
7 nights in one rental apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina
5 long nights spent on 5 different overnight buses in South America
5 wonderful nights spent in 2 resorts (El Nido, Philippines and Mancora, Peru)
4 nights on 4 different planes (London-Beijing, Manila-Sydney, Papeete-Easter Island, Boston-London)
3 nights on 2 trains (2 nights Shanghai, China to Lhasa, Tibet and 1 night Varanasi to Delhi, India)
2 nights in a relaxing bungalow on Moorea, French Polynesia
2 nights in 2 different covered tents (1 while whitewater rafting in Nepal and the other in the Rajasthan desert, India)
2 nights in a regular tent (while whitewater rafting in Peru - sad to admit, but this was my first time ever sleeping in a tent)
and finally 1 long night sleeping at the airport in Mumbai, India waiting for a 5 am flight to Bangkok, Thailand (although the Mumbai airport is designed for odd-hour flights and provides a large number of reclining seats for people to rest in)

I took a very liberal interpretation of the hotel/hostel category. This was basically anything that didn't qualify as one of the other categories. This includes the grimmest places we ever stayed in Tibet which were basically thin walls to attempt to block the wind and cold and plywood beds with foam mattresses. I'm not really sure what classification to give these types of places.

As for best places to stay, we occasionally got to stay in decent places. But I still think the overall best value for money goes to the place we stayed in Sucre, Bolivia where we got a huge room, huge beds, hot water, great cable TV, etc. for $12 a night and stayed 3 nights. Great stuff.

Besides people's houses, the longest time we spent in one place was in Cusco, Peru, where we used the same hotel 3 different times for a total of 11 nights. Of course they also gave away our room reservation the 4th time we tried to stay there, so that's loyalty for you.

And finally, I have to give a huge thank you to all the friends and family members who allowed us to stay at their houses. Over 25% of our nights on the road were spent at 16 different friends' and family's homes. Most of these were in the US, but we also benefited from such kindness in China, Thailand, the Philippines, and Australia. Not only did these stays allow us to save some cash, but they also provided us with some very welcome breaks from finding a hotel every night. And of course gave us the opportunity to spend some great quality time with the people we care about. So to everyone who hosted us on our journey, thank you so much.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Parla Lei genovese?

Yesterday was Columbus Day in the US, when most people get the day off. Columbus Day sometimes riles up Native Americans, but usually it's a non-event. I was going to write about Columbus anyway before I realized it was Columbus Day. Namely what I was going to ask is why doesn't everyone in the New World speak Genovese (or Ligurian), the Italian dialect from Genoa (Genova) in northwestern Italy?

As everyone knows, Columbus sailed for the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. Hence, Spain was able to lay claim eventually to the largest part of the New World. Columbus had spent almost 10 years in Portugal trying to convince the Portuguese king that he should sail for them, but Portugal wasn't interested. Despite this, Portugal still managed to get the Pope a few years later to give them Brazil.

But Columbus, or Cristoforo Colombo, was from Genoa, an independent city-state (Italy wouldn't be created for another 400 years). Genoa was the richest city in the western Mediterranean at the time, so I wonder why Columbus never sailed for them. In fact, Ferdinand and Isabella were poor in 1492 and couldn't fund the whole trip so Columbus lined up private backers from the Italian states, but they were only interested in any profits he made, rather than land claims.

But now I read in the New York Times that there's an air of mystery around Columbus's origins. Different theories abound that he was either the result of an illicit dalliance of a Portuguese prince, a Catalan from northeast Iberia, from one of the Balearic Islands like Majorca, or a Jew from anywhere in Iberia. Here's the New York Times article and another article concerning his origins. Anyway, I'm still going with the assumption that he was Genoese.

But the reason I was going to write about Columbus anyway is because of John Cabot, born as Giovanni Caboto in ... Genoa. John Cabot seems to be a forgotten man in the history of exploration but had a major impact. Cabot, like Columbus, went to both the Portuguese and Spanish monarchs to convince them that he could get to Asia by sailing west. The Portuguese were still focused with getting to Asia by sailing around Africa. The Spanish backed Columbus instead of Cabot. So Cabot took his idea to England and convinced the king there to back him. He sailed from Bristol in 1497 and "discovered" Canada (most likely landing in Newfoundland). Of course the Vikings had been there centuries before, but like Columbus in the tropics, Cabot was the first of the new wave of European explorers that opened up the New World permanently to Europeans. So, having been rejected by the Portuguese and Spanish, Cabot helped to lay the English claims to North America. A successful claim, given the ethnic and linguistic heritage of Canada and the United States today. And, for full disclosure, there is some evidence that the Basque people from northern Spain were fishing off of North America for decades before the 1490s, but there has been no evidence of Basque settlements in North America.

Both Cabot (who was jealous of Columbus having beaten him with his discoveries) and Columbus went to their graves (Cabot in 1499, Columbus in 1506) 100% convinced that the lands they sailed to were part of Asia and still had no clue when they died that they had discovered the Americas.

So, the whole point of this post is that I found it massively interesting that besides the megapopulation of Brazil speaking Portuguese and a few scattered French and Dutch (yes, Dutch) speaking enclaves in the New World, the Western Hemisphere is almost exclusively either Spanish or English speaking. Yet, if you think about it, this part of the world could have all been speaking the same language from the start over 500 years ago, and that language could have been Genovese/Ligurian.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What a flake

Well, we're still waiting for internet at home, but we still want to post a few more pictures to our blog once we're set up at home. In the meantime, Karen and I have been running around town looking for jobs, attending interviews, etc. In between interviews, I've managed to spend some time at various museums around town. Fortunately, a lot of the museums in London are free.

After working in the financial district of London (the City) for 6 years and not having visited before, I finally got the chance to visit the Bank of England Museum. The Bank of England has been around since 1694 so there was lots to see, including lots of old notes (the Royal Mint issues coins while the Bank of England issues notes; in Scotland and Northern Ireland (but not Wales), individual banks are allowed to issue their own notes) and tracing the history of modern money. You even get the opportunity to lift a solid gold bar (13 kilograms).

One of the more interesting things was the list of former governors of the Bank of England. A favorite was the governor from 1918-1920, Sir Brien Ibrican Cokayne. Sure, you can try to hide your addicition in a fancy spelling, but we all know he got knighted for providing charlie to the king. Actually, looking into it, it was his father, George, who changed the family name from Adams to Cokayne. Hmmm, nothing suspicious about that at all, is there? George actually had some sweet jobs during his life, including the rather glamorously titled Rouge Dragon Pursuivant. Now that's the title I'm going to demand from my next job. One previous holder of the position in the 1500s was a guy named Fulk ap Howell. Now I'm sure his colleagues never made fun of his name when he made a mistake.

Getting back to Bank of England governors, my other favorite names (and there are a lot to chose from) were: Delillers Carbonnel, who was succeeded by Stamp Brooksbank; there's also Sheffield Neave followed by Bonamy Dobree.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Well, today was supposed to be our "go-live" date for internet at home. So I was hoping to post a few more pics, etc. once we were online at home. Well, for some reason we decided to go with the worst service provider in the UK and, of course, they failed to deliver. Our order was put in on September 7 and we were supposed to be all set for today. We even called 3 times in the last week to make sure all was going ahead. Well, today, they finally tell us there was a problem with the line and they couldn't do anything with it. OK, enough is enough so I asked to be put through to the cancellation department. When I spoke to them, there was no problem at all cancelling - because they had cancelled the order on their side when they started running into problems ... on September 11th, over 2 weeks ago!!! So, no one could bear to tell us the truth over the past 2 weeks when we called and absolutely nothing was happening and we still would have been waiting forever for nothing to happen. It was as if our order was never even placed. Simply ridiculous. So, we're back to square 1 in terms of getting home phone service and home internet service is probably still 2-3 weeks away. Grrrr....

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Still more to come

Sorry about the sporadic updating since we've come back to London. We haven't totally abandoned our blog just yet - we still have lots more to post about and some great pics that still haven't been shown. We're currently waiting for our internet service to be turned on at home (probably about 2 weeks away, if we're lucky). So we've been parked down at the internet cafe since we've been back. But it's a pain to do the picture thing, so hence no good updates recently.

We do promise to have some new material on here, but it might be a few weeks. Probably best to check back towards the end of September to see what we've managed to do.

Thanks for your continued loyal readership!

Friday, September 07, 2007

We're Baaaaaack!

We arrived on the 6th of September, a gorgeously sunny English morning allowing us a clear view of the London Eye, the Thames, and Hyde and Regent's Park as we landed. Ahhhh, it's good to be home. Of course, our arrival home wasn't without a hitch. The night before our flight I tried to check-in online only to find that not only could I NOT check-in early, but that we were booked for a flight on September 25, not the 5th of September as we thought all along! Needless to say, we had a minor heart attack but luckily our round-the-world ticket which has been relatively trouble-free for all these months was easy to change with a quick phone call to British Airways. Also, because it was our LAST LEG of the flight, the check-in lady at Logan Aiport told us she was getting us "special" seats. I was psyched--she must mean we were getting upgraded! Sadly, this was not to be. What she meant was that on an almost full flight from Boston to London she gave us a row of 3 to ourselves while most of the other Economy class members were smooshed to the core. Kevin was thankful for any extra leg room at all. Overall, though, our ticket was wonderful...we were never charged extra to change dates, all the airlines on the OneWorld alliance we travelled with were safe and mostly efficient, and we NEVER lost a piece of luggage! Thank you for the memories BA and the rest of the OneWorld Alliance members!

Now that we are back and dealing with all the nitty gritty details of getting our London lives up and running (such as Internet, I sit in an Internet cafe as I write this and think back to those third world internet cafes we spent so much time in), I thought I should share a recent story about travelling on buses. I really enjoyed travelling by bus in South America. Kevin and I reckon we travelled around 3,000 miles throughout the South American continent and for the most part the buses were comfortable, on-time and smooth. Now, flashforward to the New York city Port Authority just one week ago. What a different story! I went to Greyhound bus with a ticket I pre-booked in order to attend a wedding in Providence, Rhode Island. Little did I know that my bus would also pay a visit to America's favourite pasttime...CASINOS. I was standing in line, waiting to board my bus when the ticket attendant said "Priority to all Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods ticket holders". A huge stampeded went PAST me and got to board the bus first, then she allowed people headed to Providence to board. Now, you have to picture the craziness which is the New York Port Authority. Not a pretty sight on any day, the place was a giant noisy, smelly and unfriendly place on Labor Day weekend. There was about 5 seats left after all the gambling people got on board meaning only the woman and her family who had been waiting 2 hrs for a bus got on board and all the rest of us were left behind! The only option would be to take a bus one hour later that would arrive 3 hrs late because it was a local bus that stopped everywhere. No sirree! I overheard from all the disgruntled passengers left behind that there was a bus by Bonanza leaving in 10 minute that was direct so I leapt on to it and got to Providence on time. But that whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth because a) I wasted $30 on Greyhound b) They won't give me a refund (and that argument with a screaming Greyhound employee is worth another story in itself) and c)Most American buses are tight and uncomfortable (if you can afford it, go by train!) and Greyhound has probably never heard of a semi-cama (a half bed)

Anyway, it was an eye-opening experience that proved, yet again, that the first world has some things to learn from the third world.