Thursday, June 20, 2013

Trip, by the numbers

Number of countries visited
  • 11 (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Japan) 

Time on the road
  • 199 days, or 6.6 months (from November 23, 2012 to June 10, 2013) 

Number of different “beds” (including overnight trains and planes)
  • 77 (Amberlea), 100 (Mark) 

Best and worst accommodation
  • Worst: Pak Ban Phoen “Hotel”, Chiang Khong, Thailand (still the worst! though there have been some other serious contenders… like sleeping on that train in India...)
  • Best: Hotel Dewachen, Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan (spectacularly remote setting, gorgeous view, and deliciously luxurious, even without heat) 

Different types of transportation
  • Plane, train, bus (big bus, mini bus, local bus), car, jeep, van, taxi, bicycle rickshaw, tuk tuk, song-teow, pick-up truck, moto (self-driven, moto-taxi, and moto-with-sidecar), city bus, subway, skytrain, monorail, longtail boat, ferry, junk, kayak, raft, innertube, bicycle, and by foot (the ol’ heel-toe express) 
A local bus in Nepal – how many people can you cram in a mini-bus?

Number of photographs taken
  • Just over 20,000… but Mark took at least 3,000 of those... Somehow this will be whittled down to a manageable number for a photobook(s) – coming soon! 

Monday, June 17, 2013


Over the course of the trip, we flew over a lot of spectacular and glorious landscapes, but it wasn't until we were flying from Montreal to Ottawa on the home stretch that it felt like we had come home. The rich green forests, patchwork of fields and farmlands, fresh rivers and lakes – this beautiful land will always be home to me.

After 33 hours in transit, and 40 hours of being awake (and a total of about 6 hours of “sleep”), we arrived home to bright balloons and a Welcome Home sign from our amazing friends and neighbours; a gift basket, an impeccably clean house, and a freshly cut lawn from our awesome tenant; and over the last week hugs from greatly missed friends and family (and meeting a brand new little one too!). It’s all enough to make me weep with joy every single day.

Thanks to the wonderful care of our dear friends, our cats were perfectly adjusted, and they settled back in seamlessly (except for a brief period of hissing between them about who’s in charge), and are back to their old habits. It makes me so happy to have my furry little beasts around again :)

It is surreal, but so wonderful to be home. All the familiar sounds – the key in the door, the creaks in the floor, the songbirds in the trees – home. And hugs! Skype is great, but it just can’t replace a good hug.

Those old feelings of wanderlust might hit me over the next few months and I'll yearn to be on the road again, but for now, I’m staying put. There’s no where else I’d rather be.

It’s good to be home.

We have the best neighbours of all time.

Simon curled up right where he used to always nap. Business as usual.

Wuzzle wasted no time getting settled back into her old nap spot.

So glad I didn't miss the peonies... they're my absolute fav.

Had to kick out the new tenants who were setting up shop...

It's so great to be in my kitchen again! This butternut squash lasagna was delish,
and so was this salad (didn't pause to take a photo before it was all gone...)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Santa Monica, California

We had a 10-hour layover in LA on the way home, which turned out to be plenty of time to get out and see a little bit of the city (even after baggage claim took over an hour, but a 600+ passenger, double-decker plane = a LOT of luggage…). How easy it is to get around when you speak the language! The hardest part was deciding where to spend our few hours: Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Rodeo Drive, the Sunset Strip… so many fun places to spend an afternoon! We decided upon Santa Monica because we wanted to dip our feet in the Pacific, now that we were on the other side of it!

We went for burgers, and it was a reality check when the bill was equal to our entire daily budget for most of the countries we visited… But the burgers were really, really good… (I had the Earth Burger – a mushroom and edamame patty, truffled ricotta, cipollini onions, butter lettuce, roasted tomato, and white soy aioli… drool! So glad I’m not stuck on rice and bananas anymore!)

Since 9/11 there are no lockers in LAX at all, so we had to carry our bags.

Last stop: Tokyo

I was still nursing some gastro troubles for our time in Tokyo, so we didn’t get to explore as much as we had hoped. But even with 6 months in Tokyo alone, it would still be difficult to explore it all. It’s big. The biggest city in the world by many counts. But for such a massive city, it doesn’t feel as overwhelming as you might expect, with so many spacious parks and temples and gardens. And it’s so clean! I’m pretty sure the streets of Tokyo are cleaner than some of the guesthouses we encountered earlier in our travels.

We wandered around Ueno Park, Asakusa, Shibuya, Ginza, and of course Shinjuku where our hotel was. We also went to a cat cafĂ©! I can’t remember where I heard about this phenomenon, and I thought there was only one, but apparently there’s almost 40 of them throughout the city! Black cats, fat cats, or just a random assortment of cats – I know you probably all think I’m a crazy cat lady now, and you’re right, but it was a fun and unique experience. Only in Tokyo.

Also, before I wrap up my posts about Japan, there are three things about Japan that need mentioning: vending machines, toilets, and school kids.

(1) Vending machines – they are everywhere! Even in the quietest town (like Koyasan), they seem to be spaced at frequent intervals for all your beverage needs. You can get the typical selection of cold beverages (pops, iced teas, juices), but some vending machines also issue hot beverages. Yup, you can get hot canned coffee. It’s pretty cool. I mean hot. Good. Excellent. And there’s always a recycling bin right beside it for the empties.

(2) Toilets – the Japanese have perfected the bathroom experience; no consideration has been left out. Cold tushie? No problem: heated seats. Stage-fright? No worries: complimentary flushing sound or music. Ever feel that unfresh feeling? The Japanese have got you covered: your choice of bidet or spray functions – all of which have temperature and directional control.

(3) School Kids – in every city it seems to be Field Trip Day. Which also means Interview The Foreigners And Practice Your English Day. In Nara alone, we were approached by no less than seven groups of kids, all with varying degrees of confidence in their English skills. It’s generally the same series of questions: where are you from, what is your name, do you like [city name], what Japanese food do you like, etc, etc. Then they may ask for your signature, but will always, always ask for a photo. They are all impeccably polite, and adorable, and you might just get a little origami gift for your time.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Kyoto is a beautiful city, full of lovely parks, zen gardens, temples, riverside picnicking, busy shopping streets, and quiet forest pathways. Unfortunately I was fighting some sort of gastro bug (an Indian souvenir no doubt…), so we got out as much as possible, but certainly missed a lot. And who needs scrumptious okonomyaki, tempura, tepenyaki, and sushi when you can have rice and bananas?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Koyasan: the definition of serenity

And I thought Nara was serene! Koyasan is a peaceful and tranquil mountain-top town of centuries old monasteries and temples, and a pilgrimage site for Buddhists. Mark and I stayed at a monastery – the same one he stayed at when he came to Japan almost three years ago – and like his experience last time, we were the only two guests in the entire place! The long hallways were silent, save for the occasional pitter patter of the resident cat.

It was a traditional ryokan experience, sleeping on futons on tatami mats, and our lovely room looked out over the beautiful garden and coy pond. This unique B&B includes use of the onsen (bath/hot-tub), and a delectable, vegetarian, multi-course dinner and breakfast. Sort of like Japanese tapas. Or edible art. So many new and interesting flavours. And so much! Monks might eat with austerity, but they provide quite the feast for their guests!

We were also invited to join the head monk for his morning prayers. Since the morning prayer wasn’t until 7am, we woke up at 5am and walked along the Okunoin, the two-kilometre path lined with memorials, graves, and monuments, set amongst towering cedars, and leads to Gobyo Mausoleum where the founder of Koyasan, Kobo Daishi Kukai, is buried. It was so lovely walking amongst all this history, hearing the wind through the branches, while the morning sun began to brighten the forest.

Riding the cable car up to the top of Mount Koya.

Mark (Obi Wan) in the yukata robes they provide.

Our dinner and breakfast feasts were so beautifully presented!