Monthly Archives: April 2015

Vienna 2015

Vienna was alright. We didn’t visit for long, three nights, so we didn’t get a real indepth experience. Vienna was a very important city and Capitol of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire so there are a lot of beautiful buildings and palaces laying about. When we were in Prague we met a friend of a family member and she told us Vienna will be a lot like Prague but it’s a much bigger city. She was absolutely right: Vienna and Prague have a similar cultural feel but Vienna is much larger and much more expensive.

We the coolest thing we did was visit the Imperial Treasury. There were all sorts of amazing jewels, crowns, vestments, and other fancy items. It was amazing to see the incredibly detailed and beautiful work, the photos do almost no justice for how beautiful the actual items were.

I celebrated my 32nd birthday in Vienna so we decided to go to a restaruant that also made their own beer. Oh man, the Pils and Marzen were off-the-charts-amazingly-delicious. While we can get Pils and Marzens in the US, it’s not the same as the US beers are generally more carbonated and marzen are commonly available in bulk in the fall. This is the second time on our trip where I wished I could bring the beer home :).

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Prague 2015

Prague turned out to be quite the delight! We flew to Prague from Dubai and we are back in Europe after six months in Asia / Indian Subcontient / Oceania. It was great to be back in the world of meat and potatoes, have amazingly delicious beer, and enjoy some very beautiful sights. The weather was fantastic, the tourism season is just starting so it wasn’t overly crowded. We had a great time and would love to go back.

The food was delicious, meals consisted of brats, sausage, meat and more meat. After a the first day in Prague we realized that our diet had changed to lean more towards vegetables, fruits and other vegetarian cuisines whiles traveling. Looking back, we didn’t purposefully cut meat out of our diet but we unconsciously gravitated towards vegetarianism after being in a lot of countries where the cold storage, handling of meat, and cooking of meat is questionable. So, naturally, we made up lost time and had brats, steaks, sausages, and goulash for nearly every meal :).

Interestingly enough, per capita, Czech people drink the most beer in the world. This leads to deliciously cheap beer with many different brands and varieties. Beer is cheaper than soda so it only makes sense for beer to be the refreshment of choice! I bought as many different beer types and brands as I could find. I couldn’t find a favorite which means more ‘testing’ is needed and I’ll have to go back to Prague!

The Old City of Prague is beautiful and compact. Bohemian kings ruled from Prague and later it was a very important city in the Austrio-Hungarian Empire so the old town is littered with historical sites, beautiful buildings, amazing churches and a lot of history. I don’t remember learning much about Eastern Europe in school so it was really cool to learn a lot about the history, the empires and why Prague is a lot like Munich, Vienna, and Budapest. Prague is a very musical city with lots of buskers and many musical performances in the many churches. We ended up catching a musical show one night and it was a wonderful experience! For Europe, the attractions were very reasonably priced and well worth the time.

The crowds really weren’t bad at all. Before 9AM and after 8PM it felt like we had the old city to ourselves. We were lucky to find lodging in the heart of the old city so it was fun to wander around before the crowds came out. We did have a pretty big surprise: groups of Chinese tourists. There weren’t a lot of Chinese that travel in Japan which gave us a nice respite and we didn’t think there would be many Chinese tour groups in Eastern Europe. In general, the Chinese tourists are hardest to be around as they rove around in packs and practices which are normal for a lot of people, like queuing, using trash cans, covering our mouths when sneezing or coughing, being quiet, using inside voices, eating food in an appropriate way, taking turns enjoying a tourist site, and letting people pass, are very foreign to a lot of Chinese tourists, especially when they are in big groups. It can be comically hilarious while being very frustrating.

We ended up meeting friend of family member and her daughter. They live in Prague, showed us around a bit and then we had a wonderful dinner with them. It was a great experience because they lived in Minnesota for a short period of time and were able to tell us all about the Czech Republic, Prague, and their history (communism to democracy and joining the EU). It was definitely the highlight of our time in Prague!

All-in-all, it was an awesome visit and we absolutely loved it. Prague wasn’t on our original list of places to visit but we are oh-so-very happy we visited!

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Dubai 2015

Dubai is a really quirky place. After spending a few days there, I think the Burj Kalifa, the world’s tallest building, is more of a middle finger to the desert and Dubai as a whole is a proclamation to human ingenuity / hubris more than anything else. Hear me out; Dubai:

  • Has almost no natural resources other than some oil and some natural gas, both which are mostly exhausted. So Dubai focused on becoming a re-export and finance hub like Singapore.
  • Has somewhere around 20% of the world’s construction cranes being used to transform the desert into huge buildings. They are building everything everywhere. It’s impossible to get away from the construction.
  • Has an indoor snow skiing resort. Dubai has no mountains and has average high temps in the upper 90s, lower 100s for a lot of the year while only getting 6in of rain per year. Really though, screw the desert, right?
  • Has huge fountains in the desert. Because, why not?
  • There are aquariums and even ice skating rinks in their malls. Because, why not?
  • Built their own luxury islands. Because, why not? Regular land is for regular people.
  • Is a place where anything, no matter how outrageous, is possible. Like taking your pet lion out for a ride in your Rolls Royce. Because, lions want to see the skyline too and don’t want to be couped up all day, right?

Dubai is a weird blend of the pragmatic economic approaches of Singapore with the completely outlandish sites and behavior of Las Vegas, sans the alcohol. We spent our time walking around taking in the sites and people watching and a lot of the time we just thought, “this place actually exists”. The food is very good and is a blend of the various 170 different nationalities residing in Dubai. It’s easy to find delicious Mediterranean like food with strong Arab influence.

Overall, we’re happy we had a short stop-over on our way to Prague and we’re looking forward to some slightly cooler weather :).

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.




Kanazawa & Tokyo Part II 2015

So this is it for Japan. We visited Kanazawa’s famous garden for a couple of days and headed back to Tokyo to make our flight to Dubai. We thoroughly enjoyed all 20 days in Japan and very much enjoyed seeing cherry blossoms every single day we were in the country. We had no idea Japan would become our favorite country and we are truly lucky to have had all the different experiences.

Kanazawa was a beautiful place. We were fortunate to catch the cherry trees at peak bloom. The three days were spent enjoying the gardens and the sights along with discovering umeshu, a delicious fruit wine. Even though umeshu is very good, we are happy we discovered umeshu at the end of our time in Japan. Much like everywhere else, we found many locals who were quick to help us find our way or ask us how our time in Japan was going.

We had two really cool things happen on our last day in Tokyo. First, we finally found a sushi-conveyor place and were floored with the sushi’s deliciousness. I’m not sure why I thought it might not be the best sushi I’ve ever had as every single meal in Japan, no matter where purchased, has been amazing. We’ve had food from every type of restaurant: higher end restaurants that serve organic & cage free meats, convenience store food, fast food, typical restaurants, and quick-serve like restaurants where we had to order from a machine. All, yes ALL, where awesome and the sushi place was no exception. Second: while killing time before our flight we found we could learn origami in the Tokyo Tourist Office. We simply followed the steps in the instruction book and started making cranes. After awhile, three Australian children came over and we all did origami together. They spent nearly 45min with us and their parents thanked us for helping their kids learn origami. However, I think their youngest daughter’s reply to her mother said it best, “They didn’t teach us, it’s in the book. We just followed the book”. She wasn’t wrong smile emoticon. By the time we were done we had spent about three hours making origami and had a small crane army.

We’re going to miss Japan. The conscientiousness, the courtesy, the cleanliness, the quiet, the beauty, the food, the infrastructure, and how everything works as advertised will be greatly missed. A lot of nations have some of those items almost none have all.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Kyoto / Osaka / Yoshino Japan 2015

Our time in the Osaka / Kyoto / Yoshino area was quite rainy and cold but we’ve continued to have great experiences!

Kyoto is the religious / cultural center of Japan. There are many temples and shrines all over the city. We spent two days in Kyoto and saw just a handful, I think it’d take months to visit all. We visited on the weekend so the place was wall to wall tourists. Even though it was busy it was still very fun to see everyone enjoying the temples, the blossoms, and see all the people walking around in their traditional Japanese clothes.

We took a day trip out of Osaka to Yoshino to visit a forest of cherry trees. There’s something like 2,000 cherry trees in the small valley area. We were fortunate enough to have the weather break-up enough to see the valley lined with cherry trees in bloom. Even though it was cold and rainy it was amazing! Well worth the three hour train ride each way.

We went to a Geisha show / musical that was a rather interesting cultural experience. I didn’t really know what to expect and I left a bit flummoxed. The costumes were very pretty but we had no idea what was going on during the show since it was in Japanese. It was a lot like Chinese opera but it neither sucked nor did it hurt my ears. Overall, it was a pretty neat experience and I think I’d go again but I’m not sure.

We’ve found more helpful and kind people along the way. I have two great examples: first, as I mentioned, the weather hasn’t been great, so our host ended up getting us a gift of fancy jello (not kidding) as a condolence. I didn’t realize it until that moment but surprise jello is always great and welcomed! Second, it’s hard for us to find places in Japan because street names and addresses usually aren’t posted and a lot of the time Google Maps will have businesses in the wrong location so it’s the worst of both worlds. We depend a lot more our hosts to help us find addresses and routing. One of our camera lenses gave it up to the gods so I started looking online for a store we could visit near us but quickly gave up. I emailed our host and told her that we were looking for a specific lens and about how much it should cost. In very short order she found a store in her little city, she sent a message with the location resolvable in Google Maps, she had called the store and verified they had the lens in inventory, she shared the price and wanted to know if she should call them back to hold the lens for us. Talk about service!

Traveling around Japan and being a tourist in Japan is probably the greatest thing ever. It’s quiet everywhere so we can sightsee in peace even when there are large crowds, people are incredibly courteous so people aren’t cutting in line or barging around the place, everything is on time, there are no scammers, prices are exactly as advertised with no bait&switch, things are very good values, locals are incredibly tolerant of tourist doing stupid things (as we know from the stupid things we’ve done), and when we need help there’s always plenty of people to help us. It is spectacular. We love it. We are sad we are leaving in about three days

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.


Himeji and Hiroshima Japan 2015

Japan is crazy awesome.

After Tokyo we headed to Himeji to see a recently re-opened castle and cherry blossoms. We were very lucky because we ended up getting great weather, saw some awesome cherry blossoms, and we were able to tour the castle without having to wait the 2-4hrs that everyone else did. The coolest thing that happened had nothing to do with those things; we ended up having an awesome experience with a local Japanese man when we went out for supper. This man was called by the restaurant owner to come talk to us because he knew English. So, he arrives, strikes up a conversation and by the time the night was over he had paid for our meal, brought us to his home to meet his dog, I drank all of his beer, he gave me a bottle of sake and a book about samurai. He was super friendly; he said he was very happy to meet us and was happy to speak English with us. Very cool experience.

The Himeji Castle was just re-opened after five years of restoration work. Combine this with cherry blossoms and it turns out everyone and their uncle was visiting the castle. We bought tickets and quickly realized it was 2-4hr wait to get into the castle so we decided to skip the castle and walk around the grounds. At 3:56PM we were pretty much alone, everyone had left, so we made a dash for the castle to find that there was no line and we were the last people to be admitted before 4PM. We didn’t have to wait and we took our time. The staff let us stick around until 5PM when they told us “sorry, castle is closed”.

Hanami, or eating / drinking while watching cherry blossoms, is a really big deal. Everywhere we go there are groups of people having hanami. We attempted our first hanami, bought a bunch of food and found a beautiful garden to enjoy our lunch. We were wondering why no one else was having hanami and thought it was great we had the place to ourselves. Near the end of our lunch a security guard came RUNNING and told us we could not be eating in the garden. It turns out, eating and picnicking in that garden was strictly forbidden. It may not seem like a big deal but this would be equivalent to eating in a Smithsonian garden.

Hiroshima was neat. The atomic blast dome and the peace park were all really interesting. We spent a lot of time walking around and found many streets, rivers, and water features lined with cherry blossoms, it was beautiful! There’s a very large underground shopping center in Hiroshima so it was easy to get around. In general, the infrastructure in Japan has been absolutely amazing. The trains and subway run on time, there’s mass transit to everywhere we need to go, and most everything is very walkable.

We are in the Kyoto / Osaka area now and we’ve been enjoying it. Unfortunately, we’ve had quite a bit of rainy weather so there’s been fewer outdoor activities :(. That said, the cherry blossoms are just as beautiful in the rain and our experiences here have been just as awesome as the rest of the country!

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Singapore 2015

We made it back to Singapore, lucky us!

While searching for flights between New Zealand and Japan we happened to find a great flight deal through Singapore so we decided to make a week long stopover. Since it was our second time in Singapore we didn’t really do anything and we used the time to relax, trip plan, and recoup our energy. It was great!

We really like Singapore. Everyone is friendly, the subway goes everywhere, the food is AMAZING, and it’s a great value – food is cheap and lodging is cheap enough. We’d be happy to go back pretty much any time. We enjoyed great food and pretty much all the pictures show the food we ate.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.