Incredible Iceland

We’re on our fourth and final day in Iceland, and I definitely would have been posting more regularly if we’d had more consistent Internet access! Unfortunately the hotel has been pretty unreliable, but fortunately we haven’t had to spend too much time there, as we’ve been driving all over the Icelandic countryside and exploring some of what this beautiful country has to offer.

We arrived on the 23rd and set about walking throughout the city of Reykjavik, which is really more of a large town. There are no large buildings, and most of the homes are wood or metal (painted to look like wood) and resemble small ski lodges. In fact, the whole city feels like a skiing village mixed with an Alaskan town. While there may be plenty to do in Reykjavik, we only spent half a day walking through the actual city, as I had rented a car to drive around the countryside. And I am quite glad I did (even though this country is ridiculously expensive).

Our first day we set out to drive around the Golden Circle, which is a route near the city of Reykjavik that goes through a national park and a large geyser from which all other geysers get their name (it’s called Geysir and that’s just what the info booth said, it could be made up to sound impressive). Both of them were stunning, and just driving around the country itself is amazing. In fact, it’s hard to get anywhere because I have to keep pulling over to take pictures, run up mountainsides, explore caves, or scramble along waterfalls. Everything is absolutely gorgeous, and there is no end to what you can decide to explore. I could rant about it all endlessly, but instead I’ll just point you to my Flickr album. The black sand and stone beaches were incredible, the perfectly blue rivers and lakes are amazing, the fissures are like mini-canyons, the basalt columns are completely unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and honestly it’s just all pretty unbelievable.


Layover in Dublin

Athens is behind us and we’re moving on to colder pastures in the upcoming weeks, particularly Iceland and the UK! While I’m very excited for both of those stops, we had a couple of days to spend in Ireland as a layover from Athens to Reykjavik, and I already can’t wait to come back.

We only got to spend a day and a half in Dublin, but the city is beautiful. The architecture is mostly older style, but the city was very alive and full of activity. Whether it was tourists, students, or shopkeepers, the pedestrian streets were full of activity and open stores (quite a contrast to Athens). The parks were full of people relaxing in the sun, and the streets were bustling with locals and tourists. It really felt like a living and active city, which was very cool to be a part of again (after Sri Lanka and Greece which felt… less than active).

We went to the famous Trinity College for a stroll around the beautiful campus grounds, and then set off to the National Museum. It was free to enter, and had several exhibits detailing the incredible history of the island and its people. Afterwards, we walked around the city center and down around Temple Bar. It really is a beautiful city, and it’s wouldn’t be a waste of a day to just walk for a few hours looking at the old architecture.

After Dublin, we made our way to Belfast for a night before flying off to Reykjavik. We didn’t get to see or do much in Belfast, but again just spent a half-day walking around and looking at the way the city blends old architecture and narrow back alleys with modern buildings and architecture. Both cities are incredible, and I look forward to returning!


First Stop in Europe: Athens!

At long last, we have arrived in Europe! We’ll be here for the next few months, and even though we’ll be visiting a few countries here, it’s nice to be in a bit more familiar territory and to relax a bit more. We had a few days to spend here in Athens, and so we’ve been pretty busy seeing all we can of the city!

The first thing to note as we’ve explored Athens is the incredible number of ruins and archaeological sites. Of course I knew that Ancient Greece is a big deal, but there are ruins absolutely everywhere. The city is quite proud of them, but it does seem a bit too focused on them to look ahead or look around. Anything that isn’t an archaeological site has graffiti on it, and most buildings are cracked or crumbling in places. It’s a very strange thing to see after spending so much time in cities that are actively growing and expanding. We’ve also had beggars or vendors come up to our table in over half of our meals in the city, which is also a new experience and also not a great indicator for the city overall.

While that may have made the city sound like it’s in a pretty bad way (which it pretty much is), there is still plenty that’s worth seeing here. We’ve gone to the famed Acropolis and Parthenon, watched sunset from the highest point in the city, been to the Panathenaic Stadium, the Temple of Hephastus, and various other famous Ancient Greek ruins. It’s been very cool to see everything. At least, the things that are reconstructed or less-destroyed (I’ll admit that looking at stone outlines of buildings in the dirt is not as exciting when I don’t know much about Greek history other than the mythology). It’s been a fun stop, and I’m excited to see more of Europe!

(Also, my internet access is too unreliable here to upload a photo to this post. So check them all out on my Flickr album here)

Sri Lanka

A Stop in Sri Lanka

After a massively exhausting travel day, Lexi and I are in Sri Lanka! We left Seoul at 11:30 PM, arrived in Sri Lanka at 4:30 AM, and bounced from bus to train to tuk-tuk until we finally got to our hotel sometime in the afternoon. It’s strange to be back in a world of tuk-tuks and aggressive vendors after spending a few weeks in Japan and Korea, which were so clean and polite, but we were both at least more prepared for it now that we’d been to Cambodia and Thailand.

Travel here is somewhat terrifying. The first train we rode on shook as though it had been caught in an earthquake every time it started to move, and after the shaking the cars creaked and groaned in protest of the weight they had to bear down the tracks. Reserved seats do exist, but only on certain cars, and Lexi and I were not fortunate enough to get them. We found ourselves on the “unreserved” cars, which cannot sell out. This means they are absolutely jam packed, to the point that some people literally hang out of open doors at the end of each car. A packed train car on a 90 degree day after so much travel is not the most pleasant experience, but we made it work and found our way to Anuradhapura.

In Anuradhapura we had one day to see everything, and fortunately it only takes about three hours. We set out early and were back by noon, having seen ancient meditation spaces (there are old carvings and grooves worn out in the stone where people used to meditate, it’s actually very cool), stupas for various religious purposes (including one built because a guy felt bad about eating a curry or something. It seemed like something straight out of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and the oldest tree in the world with a known planting date, said to have been a sapling from the tree under which the Lord Buddha attained enlightenment (over 2500 years old). It was actually a very cool day, and I was glad that we had come out to see everything here, even if it was a tremendous hassle to actually get there.

We’re now in the south of Sri Lanka, preparing to spend a couple of days on a beach before heading onwards to Greece and the rest of Europe!


DMZ Visit and Leaving Korea

Our time in Korea has come to an end, as has our time in Southeast Asia altogether. It’s been absolutely amazing and incredibly diverse as we’ve explored this area of the world, and I hope to return someday to see more and spend more time here!

For our last couple of days in Korea, we tried a bunch of new foods and went to the DMZ. While we were bit apprehensive about an area that is still actively contested by North Korea, the tour was fine and actually a bit unexciting. We visited a tunnel that North Korean had attempted to sneak through the DMZ unnoticed, watched some more propaganda that was a blend of history, fear-mongering, and optimism about the future, and finally went to an overlook with telescopes through which we could see into North Korea. It was definitely as close as I ever want to find myself to North Korea, and looking through the smog and haze into the country was a bit eerie, just knowing that a place like that really exists and there I was looking at it.

After our DMZ tour, we went out with one of Lexi’s friends from college and tried some new local foods. Everything was delicious and a bit spicy, but I’m glad I tried it all and I’ll definitely miss the food in Korea! The whole country has been a ton of fun. It’s both familiar and foreign, and I would love to return someday to see more of it!


Starcraft and More in Seoul!

The past couple of days have been full of fun new experiences in Seoul, and I’m really enjoying this country! I’ve been to a Starcraft competition, a few museums, and walked around various districts of Seoul, and everything has been either interesting, fun, or both!

In the last two days I’ve been to the National History Museum, the War Memorial and Museum, and a “Trick Eye and Ice Museum” (which was more of a playful exhibit than anything else). The National History Museum was pretty great, it helped to fill me in on the history of Korea and the various emperors and kingdoms that have ruled the peninsula from some 2500 years ago up to now. It was interesting to see all of the history, and follow it up to modern day Seoul.

The War Memorial was decidedly different. It was focused on various wars that Korea has been involved in for the past 2000 years, from early civil wars through the Mongol conquests and up to the Korean War. The last two thirds of the museum (give or take) was dedicated to the Korean War, and the exhibits began to change from objective to propaganda against the North and its supporters. It was interesting to see propaganda in favor of the US (as opposed to what we saw in Hanoi about the Vietnam war), and the museum was still well done even if it had a clear stance on more recent wars.


The most fun event of the past couple of days was definitely going to a Starcraft match. After getting a bit lost, we found our way to the small studio on the second floor of an office building, and sat down in the crowd of 40-50 to watch Starcraft for the next four hours. I don’t really watch Starcraft and I certainly don’t play (I’m way too bad at that game), but it was a ton of fun being surrounded by people shouting and getting excited by the events on the screen, and to follow all of the action as it unfolded with the competitors and crowd all in one room.

Finally, we went to the Ice Museum and Trick-Eye Museum. The Ice Museum was pretty awful, it was a freezer full of ice sculptures! I guess, that’s what you’d expect, but it was just so cold! The Trick Eye museum was built up by TripAdvisor and other people we’ve come across, and it was also pretty disappointing. We just walked through a few rooms of perspective tricks that only work on a camera (not on a human, which has depth perception) and that was it. While the museums weren’t worth it, they brought us to a university district that was packed with shops, restaurants, and random groups of dancers along the street. The area was a ton of fun to walk around and explore, and helped to make the museum worth the trip.



A Visit to Seoul!

Sadly leaving Japan behind, I am now enjoying a week in Seoul, Korea! The city is incredible, with everything from ancient (and remade after war) palaces to museums and parks, to lively night districts, and the world’s biggest e-sports scene. There is plenty to see here, so we’ve been walking all over and sort of picking things at random to go and see. And so far it’s been great!

Our first day we went over to Yongsan station to see the OGN E-Sports Stadium, where one of the world’s most popular video games, League of Legends, is played three nights every week to sell-out crowds of some hundreds. We managed to get fantastically lost, but had fun walking through a massive mall, and Lexi got to visit an H&M (which she’s always happy to do).

The next day, we set out walking to see renovated imperial palaces. We managed to find a free guided tour through the Gyeongbokgung Palace, and got to see the currently restored 30% of the original palace. It must have been massive to still be three times the size of what we saw, because the palace we saw was gorgeous and quite massive. Sitting in the shadow of two nearby mountains, the backdrop for the palace is also something to behold. This is the first city we’ve been in with mountains on the border, and it’s pretty awesome to see everyday.


In the evening we went back to the OGN Stadium in Yongsan to try to find some spare tickets to see a League of Legends game. Sadly we were unsuccessful in getting tickets, but we did get to peak inside the studio and see/hear the crowds. It seemed to be some 80% female spectators, and the screams of the audience when a player scored a kill confirmed that there were quite a few women there. It was weird to see so many women attending a video game competition, when usually you think of video game crowds as being male. But it was cool to see that many people out watching a League of Legends competition!

Fortunately, there are also cherry blossoms in bloom here in Seoul! As it’s been a couple of weeks since they first bloomed, many are starting to fall off. Even so, they are beautiful and it’s nice to have them in all of the cities we’ve been to in the past few weeks.



Sayonara, Japan!

Our time in Japan has come to a close! Yesterday we went out to a temple and a couple of shopping districts and biked throughout the city, which is a great way to see more of a new city! We rode around through parks, seeing more people out having picnics and enjoying the gorgeous cherry blossoms throughout Osaka. The shopping districts, Namba and Shinsekai, were also pretty fun. Namba was absolutely packed with people and shops, with pedestrian streets stretching out for kilometers in all directions.

On our last day, we met up with people that we’d met last Friday at our hostel and went out through the city. First we met with Chizuru and went out to Expo City, a large shopping and amusement area outside of Osaka close to where an world expo was once held. We went to an aquarium / exhibit on interesting animals (unique shapes, abilities, or colors), a Pokemon gym, a place called “English Village” (which was recreations of scenes of everyday American life where people can go practice English), and a park where the world expo was held. The aquarium was really cool, the Pokemon gym was great, the English Village was hilarious, and the park was beautiful, so it was overall a pretty great day.

In the evening, the three of us met up with a Japanese man we’d met at the hostel who wanted to bring us out to a district he enjoyed. We met him in the Temma district and proceeded to bounce around through various restaurants trying new foods. We went to a standing bar, filled with Japanese businessmen winding down their workdays, and for the first time I tried bamboo shoots (they were good!). Then we went on to a sushi restaurant, which was of course delicious. Finally, we tried a local food called takoyaki, which is pretty much fried balls of dough with octopus in them. Also pretty tasty.

Japan during the cherry blossom festival is absolutely gorgeous, and I’m sad that we have to go so soon! But with all of the recommendations from other travelers and locals around Osaka, I’ll just have to come back someday to see more of this incredible country!


Time in Osaka

After a week in Japan, I’m now out of Tokyo and over to Osaka! It’s a 3 hour bullet train (Shinkansen) from Tokyo, very near to Kyoto. The city is much calmer and more open than the massive city of Tokyo, and so far it’s been very nice and quite beautiful!

We arrived just as the cherry blossoms were said to be in full bloom and at their best viewing, but unfortunately our first day here was freezing cold, rainy, and windy. We spent the day checking out the area near our hostel and getting some food, and then retired to decide what to do when the weather improved on our next day. Our hostel offers free drinks for guests on Friday nights, so we went down to see other guests and get a drink. We found that it’s apparently very common for locals to come by and take advantage of the gathered foreigners to practice English! I spent about four hours sitting in the common area, talking to locals, learning more about Japan and Osaka, and apparently being a part-time English teacher of sorts.

Today was our second day, and the weather was perfect. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom, the weather was great, and everyone was out because it’s a weekend! The parks were full of people having “hanami” parties, in which families or friends gather together and spend the day amongst the cherry blossom trees. It was pretty cool to see so many people out and enjoying the beautiful trees. I have too many pictures to put on just one blog post, so check them out in my Japan album on Flickr!