So, What Were Our Favorite… Castles?!

We’ve finished our RTW trip. We get a lot of questions about our favorite things on the trip, so we’ve decided to start a new series called “So, What Was Our Favorite…” We visited 29 countries on our RTW: Egypt (just 1 day), South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe (just 1 day), Namibia, Germany (just 1 day), Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, USA, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia (just Bali), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, and Nepal.

This edition will cover our top 10 favorite castles/fortresses around the world. These are not in order of preference, instead they are in the order in which we visited them.

Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town, South Africa

The Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town was the first permanent European settlement in South Africa, built by the Dutch East India Company in the 1660s. It is quite beautiful, with yellow walls and a star shape. Entrance includes a tour which we quite enjoyed. We also were fortunate to see the “Key Ceremony” at noon.

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Český Krumlov Castle, Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

This building doesn’t quite look like a fairy tale castle, but was fun to explore! It’s free to walk around the grounds, but to go inside you do have to pay for a guided tour. There are a few different tour options; we chose the one that took us through Renaissance and Baroque era rooms (no pictures allowed inside, unfortunately). We also really enjoyed strolling through at sunset. You can get quite high in the castle which makes for lovely views over the city.

Spiš Castle, Slovakia

As you approach the town of Spišské Podhradie by bus, you are immediately struck by the enormous size and majesty of Spiš Castle on the hill above town. The entrance fee includes the use of an audio guide (free as long as you returned it within 90 minutes). We walked through the castle and listened to the stories on the guide. There actually wasn’t very much left of the castle. The royals stopped living in it in the early 18th century, and then in the late 18th century it burned down. What’s left has more of the feel of an archaeological site than the other castles we visited. It was built in the 12th century and went through many phases of construction and purpose. It has 3 baileys, which we learned were walls to protect itself. It is really more of a fortress. It went through many owners, but always was an imposing view over the valleys nearby.  The grounds of the castle are massive: there are multiple courtyards within the complex. After doing the audio tour, we spent some time just soaking in the ambiance from different places within the structure. The view was great as well!

Diocletian’s Palace, Split, Croatia

This palace takes up a good portion of old town Split. It was built for the retirement of the emperor of the Roman empire around 300 AD. There are an interesting mix of original Roman structures and other houses and shops built during the next several centuries after villagers moved inside the walls following the Slavic invasion in 700 AD. It was awesome to see that the area had been inhabited for so long, with people still living and working inside.

Diocletian's Palace is in the background, with all the modern development now surrounding it

Diocletian’s Palace is in the background, with all the modern development now surrounding it

Fortress and City Walls at Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor has a very impressive defense system. Not only does it have thick walls to protect from attacks from the sea, it also has a series of walls running up the hill behind the Old Town that protect from attacks by land. Today, you can pay a small fee to hike up the old walls all the way to a fort at the very top. We took advantage of this one evening, and had great views over the bay as the sun set.

Gjirokaster Castle, Gjirokaster, Albania

The castle at Gjirokaster offered sweeping views of the valley, an eerie collection of old tanks from WWII, and even a tomb of Bektashi, the founder of the Bektashi sect. It also had an old US Air Force jet that was shot down during communism that was just there, ready to play on. It was nice to spend time in the castle where we didn’t see a lot of other tourists. There was also a museum of more old armory which we did not choose to visit. The views of valley and neighboring mountains were absolutely stunning.

Palamidi Fortress, Nafplio, Greece

We took an afternoon to visit the largest of Nafplio’s Venetian fortresses, which doesn’t have much in it but provides excellent views of the surrounding area. You can take a taxi up to the fortress at the top of the hill, but we decided to climb the steps. We didn’t start heading up until 2:00… and were disheartened when we saw a sign at the base that the fortress was closing at 3:00! We raced up the stairs and made it at about 2:30. The good news was that admission was free since it was the first Sunday of the month. We just had time to explore one of the seven bastions, but were quite impressed with the structure. (We think they should film Game of Thrones here!) We were kicked out at 3:00 and regret that we weren’t able to spend more time in the fortress, but we found a piece of the walls that was outside the gates to sit on, and read our books while looking down over the Old Town. It was a great place to relax and then later enjoy the sunset.

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

Topkapi Palace in Istanbul was the home of the Ottoman sultan from 1465 to 1856. The palace has four different courtyards and many exquisitely decorated rooms. We toured through all of the areas open to the public, including the harem which required an extra ticket. The grounds were expansive and, despite sort of bad weather, we enjoyed exploring most of the nooks and crannies. We were particularly excited here because it finally happened!! – Someone recognized Eric’s Rice baseball hat. We met a current Rice student (Jones College) who was studying abroad. How fun!

Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

We spent a hot and crowded day in Bangkok exploring the ceremonial home of the Thai monarchy, the Grand Palace. We paid our steep (500 baht = $15) entrance fee and headed into the first part, Wat Phra Kaew, a.k.a.the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. We first explored the colorful chedis, then braced ourselves and dove into the big crowds squeezing in to see the Emerald Buddha itself. The statue was pretty, but far away and a little small, so we didn’t linger. We left the wat and then walked through the grounds of the palace. This was formerly the residence of the Thai royalty, and there are many fancy buildings that show a mix of Thai and Western architectural styles. Most are closed off to the public, but a few of the throne halls are open, so we wandered through them to see the splendor and take a brief respite from the heat. The splendor of the buildings with colors and sparkles is hard to beat. We also followed a tip from Wayne and Peggy, who had visited the previous day, and finished our visit at the slightly out of the way Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, which ended making our top 10 favorite museums list.

Imperial Citadel, Hue, Vietnam

The Vietnamese city of Hue was the seat of the Nguyen dynasty and thus the capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945. The main remnant of this ruling period is the ruins of the Imperial City, the home of the emperors. It is surrounded by a large wall, and then within the Citadel is another set of walls and the impressive Ngo Mon Gateway into the Imperial Enclosure, where all of the main activities took place. From there we explored the large site which had been largely destroyed during the French and American wars. However, there is a lot of ongoing restoration work. We explored the Thai Hoa Palace which was used for official receptions and important ceremonies before heading to the Hall of the Mandarins. The Forbidden Purple City was once reserved for the personal use  and residence of the emperor, but there is not much left now. Some of the the most beautiful parts of the entire enclosure were the Truong San Residence and the Dien Tho Residence for the wives and mothers of the emperor.

 

We’ve Finished our RTW, so What Were Our Favorite…. Drinking Experiences?!

We’ve finished our RTW trip. We get a lot of questions about our favorite things on the trip. We’ve decided to start a new series called “So, What Was Our Favorite…” We visited 29 countries on our RTW: Egypt (just 1 day), South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe (just 1 day), Namibia, Germany (just 1 day), Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, USA, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia (just Bali), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, and Nepal.

As many of you know, we are not really big partiers- but we definitely like a good drink/drinking experience. As we traveled around the world, we tried as much of the local alcohol as we could, but there were a few “drinking experiences” that really stood out. These were times that we remembered best for being somewhat alcohol centered, however, we think you’ll notice that often it wasn’t just the alcohol that made the experience so memorable.

This edition looks at our top 10 favorite “drinking experiences” around the world. These are not in order from best to worst. They are just our top 10 favorite in the order in which we visited them.

Chobe Safari Lodge, Kasane, Botswana

For three nights on our self-drive safari, we stayed at Chobe Safari Lodge in Botswana. The campsite itself was a little substandard. But the benefit was that we were less than 100 feet from a bar overlooking the river, where we spent multiple afternoons drinking beers and watching elephants graze. The sunsets were gorgeous and we enjoyed some local beer. The beers themselves weren’t wonderful, mostly pretty boring lagers, but the setting and sights were awesome!

Groot Constantia Wine Estate, Cape Town, South Africa

We visited here during our city sight-seeing tour in Cape Town, and we wish we could have spent the whole day there! It is the oldest wine estate in South Africa. It was started in the late 1600s by members of the Dutch East India Company. It took awhile but it then began to compete with all the fine wines in Europe and has continued to make excellent wine since then. We took the cellar tour and participated in a delicious wine tasting. We then wandered the vineyard and explored the historical buildings. The location was lovely and historic and we felt like we had a nice connection because we had just read James Michener’s Covenant which was about the history of the Cape and we had learned about a similar winery in the story. Definitely an enjoyable day!

Valley of Beautiful Women, Eger, Hungary

Just over the hill, about a 25 min walk from the Old Town of Eger, is the Valley of Beautiful Women. We’re not sure why the name, especially because we saw almost no one in our time in the valley. It was a miserably rainy day. But, the bad weather didn’t deter us from our reason for visiting Eger: the ~ 50 wine cellars all right next to each other, clustered in the valley. Tastes are free and glasses were as reasonable as 100 forint (about $0.50)! We really enjoyed striking up a conversation with a bored Hungarian working in the first cellar. We chatted about wine, Hungary, language, and her life. We also enjoyed trying the Eger special wine: Egri Bikaver or Bull’s Blood. The wine gets its name because in 1552, the people of Eger withstood a siege by the Ottoman Empire for a month. 2000 men from Eger against 100,000. They held! The king Istvan Dobo helped his troops by giving them wine which stained their beards red. This lead to rumors through the Turkish army that the men of Eger were so strong and vicious because they were drinking the blood of bulls! Every cellar has their own variant of this famous Eger wine. They also will fill up a plastic bottle of wine for cheap prices. We filled our 1 liter nalgene bottle of our favorite wine for only 500 forint (a little over $2.00!!) There are many cellars to try, but the rain and the alcohol caused us to only get to 3. We wish we lived close by cause we would go back regularly!

Buza Bar, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Buza means hole in the old Dubrovnik dialect. That’s just what this bar was – a hole in the wall. Literally, you walk through a hole in the city walls of Dubrovnik. The bar was quite crowded, but it was still an absolutely beautiful view out over the ocean. We had a few drinks there at sunset, enjoying our last evening in Croatia. Gorgeous!

Literary Pub Crawl, Dublin, Ireland

This was a new adventure for us! Dublin has a very rich literary history- writers such as WB Yeats, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, and and James Joyce made Dublin their home. Neither of us knew much about any of these authors, nor had read anything by them. But, Della thought that maybe this would be the perfect way to learn more about them, especially as we were in Dublin… and it couldn’t hurt that beer was involved. We really enjoyed the pub crawl! We went to 4 different pubs throughout the evening. At each one, we enjoyed our guides. They made sure to tell us stories either about the history of Dublin or about one of the many authors that contributed to that history. They also sprinkled in several small performances, either scenes from different plays or books, or from letters from the authors. It was an entertaining way to spend an evening exploring Dublin’s past and Dublin’s beer!

Red Mountain Winery, Inle Lake, Myanmar/Burma

On our first full day in Inle, we rented bikes and headed out of town toward a winery! The Red Mountain Winery is about 5 miles outside of Nyuang Shwe (the main town for Inle which we were staying in). It was a glorious day and we really enjoyed the ride. It was quite a push up the hill to get to the winery, but it was so worth it. You can get a taste of 4 wines for about $2. The wine was OK though not fabulous. We each found one we liked well enough to enjoy a glass of while we nibbled on an appetizer and took in the view. We waited around for the free tour and ended up being the only 2 on it for a little while. It was a short tour and we learned how the winery is quite new, imports most of its plants from France, and has mostly broken machines so they do things like label by hand. The glorious views and lovely day make this a fantastic place for a drink!

A Riverside Bar, Vang Vieng, Laos

Many people talk about the joys of tubing down the river and stopping for crazy party drinking at the riverside bars in Vang Vieng. We weren’t really into that, but on our last day in town, we headed down to the river where there were a few small riverside huts and a small bar with music playing. It was past the crazy, tubing part of the river so it was really quite calm. It also helped that we hung out there during sunset. It definitely felt like spending a day at the beach (without the icky sand and salt!) We had nice shade and shelter from the sun in our bungalow. We took turns going for a quick dip – the water was pretty cold – and relaxed and read our books while sharing a Beerlao. The bar also had some speakers playing Western pop music, many of which we recognized and had fun singing along to. We also enjoyed watching the huge air balloons floating above us as the sun sank down to the horizon.

Beachfront Restaurants, Ko Lanta, Thailand

We had a short time on the beach during our trip to Thailand. (Short was just the right amount of time for us!) We stayed near Khlong Nin beach, which was quiet and restful. There were lots of beachfront restaurants where you could sit and enjoy a drink. We ate many lunches, using the restaurants as sun blocks while we enjoyed our beer and looking out on the beach. Many of the beachfront restaurants offered happy hour deals on beer, which was great since the beach faces west. We took advantage and made sure to find a good seat to watch the sun fade below the horizon.

Sampling Fresh Beer, Hoi An, Vietnam

In Hoi An we had our first chance to sample “fresh beer,” a classic beverage that is unique to the country. The beer is called fresh because it has just recently been brewed and is served without preservatives. It has less alcohol than normal beer and less carbonation, but is very cheap. We paid only 3000 dong (about 15 cents) per glass! It was also extremely hot during our time in Hoi An. Stopping in at a restaurant or stand to enjoy a cheap, quick, and refreshing fresh beer was a great way to cool down and rest out of the heat!

Wine in Our Own Lodging, Anywhere Around the World

In several countries (though most notably: Croatia, Montenegro, Greece, and Hong Kong), the most affordable option for drinks was to buy a bottle of wine (or retsina) and take it home for an evening in. There were many a bottle that we enjoyed while lounging on a balcony of our hotel or in the sunroom of an airbnb that bring back some wonderful memories. There is something special about spending time together, remembering the new and exciting experiences of the day, planning our next moves, and relaxing – with no stress of job (or calories). It’s a freedom we will try to remember often as we restarted our jobs this last week.

 

 

 

Spanish Legacy and Texas History in San Antonio, Texas

After we returned to the US following our round-the-world trip, we had a busy summer visiting family and friends within the country. In the latter part of June, we took a trip down to Texas to visit Eric’s family. We ended up seeing quite a few sights around the state.

One of our favorite days was spent touring the famous Spanish, Mexican and Texan sights in the city of San Antonio. Eric has a cousin who lives in San Antonio and graciously agreed to host us and Eric’s parents while we visited.

Downtown San Antonio

We found a self-guided walking tour online and did a part of it to explore some of the sights of the historic downtown. Based on where we were able to find free parking, we started the tour halfway through and only did the first part (and did it backwards). Some of the highlights included:

  • San Fernando Cathedral – the oldest cathedral in Texas, founded by some of the original settlers of the Spanish colony in San Antonio who were from the Canary Islands (an interesting fact that Eric didn’t know)
  • The River Walk – No visit to San Antonio would be complete without a stroll down the shaded paths by the “river” that runs through town. Though derided by some, it’s still a pleasant magnet for activity in downtown
  • La Villita – We found a nice cafe for a lunch break in this collection of shops and restaurants on the site of a historic village
  • The Menger Hotel – We walked through the lobby of this Victorian building which has seen many famous guests and is still operating today

The Alamo

We ended our walking tour at The Alamo, arguably San Antonio’s and even Texas’s most famous attraction. The site was originally one of the Spanish missions, built as San Antonio de Valero in 1718. By 1793 though, it was abandoned, but then in 1836 it was used by the Texian Army during the Texas Revolution. It was the site of the famous Battle of the Alamo, where all of the Texian defenders were killed when the Mexican Army led by General Santa Ana overtook the fort. The massive losses later served as a rallying cry for the Texians as they won their independence.

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As such, this is a hugely important site in Texas history and a very popular site to visit. Also, surprisingly, it is free to visit. We purchased audio guides to better understand what we were seeing.

Not much is left of the compound from the battle of 1836. The image that most people think of when thinking of “The Alamo” is actually just the chapel building of a much larger complex. It is the main building still standing, so the bulk of the visit is focused there. Since many people died inside, it is treated as hallowed ground.

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Throughout the courtyards of the complex are more informational signs about the Alamo and Texas history in general. It’s a fascinating story, so we spent quite a while just going through them. There is more information in one of the other still-standing buildings, the Long Barracks, but we skimmed through it because we wanted to have enough time for our final stop of the day.

The Missions

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Spain established Catholic missions in the New World in order to try and convert the Native Americans to Christianity. The area that is now San Antonio proved to be fruitful for this type of work, so many missions were built along the San Antonio River (including what we now know as the Alamo).

Today, the ruins of the missions comprise the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park (minus the Alamo, which is run independently). There is a nice hike-and-bike trail connecting them to each other and to downtown, but we were running low on time so we just drove.

We started at one of the largest and most well-preserved: Mission San Jose. We explored the grounds inside the well-built walls and the recently renovated chapel. There were only a few other people here, which was a nice change of pace from the busy Alamo.

The park closed at 5, so we hurried and just drove by a few of the other sights: Mission San Juan, Mission Espada and the Espada Dam and Aqueduct. Just the brief glimpse was interesting, so we hope to get the chance  to return and visit in much more detail.

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At the time of our visit, the missions and the Alamo were not UNESCO World Heritage sites (something that some of us, namely Eric, obsess over seeing), but we read that they were considered strong contenders to be named as such soon. And just a week later, they were! So now we can add the San Antonio Missions to our list of sites visited.

Pearl Brewery

To cap off our day of sightseeing, Eric’s extended family took us to the up-and-coming development near the former Pearl Brewery. We had a nice dinner of Mexican “street foods” at La Gloria, then walked down and back up a newer, less-developed stretch of the RiverWalk. Both the kids and adults in the group were fascinated to watch sightseeing boats go up and down a set of locks along the way.

Final Thoughts

One day is clearly not enough to see all there is to see in San Antonio, especially if you are interested in all of the Spanish and Texan historical sites to be found. Thanks again to Eric’s cousin and her family for hosting us on our all too brief visit!

Summer Rendezvous 2015

We were quite excited to be back this summer so that we could once again participate in Della’s family’s annual party at their cabin in the Colorado mountains. It is such a treat for us to be able to spend time in the mountains again. It was a little painful that we only got to visit the cabin once in the entire summer season of 2014.

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For Rendezvous, we spent a long weekend up at the cabin, enjoying the cooler weather, the lovely silence of the wilderness, and even a blue moon.

On Saturday, the family took a hike to two small mountains that we have affectionately named Della and Dana Points (Dana is Della’s sister). The weather was absolutely glorious, and we couldn’t have had better views.

On Sunday, many of our friends joined us at the cabin for the annual Rendezvous. The weather was a bit less nice, with intermittent clouds and even a few rain drops, but we still managed nice hikes with the guests.

Of course, we also played our annual Rendezvous Games. Two more teams were added to the Centennially famous Yellow Apron Award.

Thank you so much to all of our friends and family who made it a lovely day!

We finished our RTW, so What Were Our Favorite… Museums?!

We’ve finished our RTW trip. We get a lot of questions about our favorite things on the trip. We’ve decided to start a new series called “So, What Was Our Favorite…” We visited 29 countries on our RTW: Egypt (just 1 day), South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe (just 1 day), Namibia, Germany (just 1 day), Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, USA, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia (just Bali), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, and Nepal.

This third edition will cover our top 10 favorite museums around the world. These are not in order of preference, instead they are in the order in which we visited them.

Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg, South Africa

The museum started with the beginnings of Joburg as a mining town, and then went through the first attempts at segregation to the implementation of the full-fledged apartheid system in the 1940s. Then, there were displays about the realities of living under apartheid, and the first wave of resistance that led to Mandela being sentenced to life imprisonment. Then, as we went chronologically. We got into the student uprisings of the 70s. For the 1980s, there was a gripping video detailing the horrific violence that brought the apartheid movement to its breaking point. We then moved on to the 90s, which detailed Mandela’s release, then end of apartheid and the founding of the new government (and also showed how close the country came to total anarchy at the time). The museum is particularly gripping as it starts right out with you being randomly assigned to be white or non-white, and then having to enter through the respective door and then garnering a different experience for the first room based on what you picked. While we visited, there was also a large exhibition on the life of Nelson Mandela.IMG_9186

Cradle of Humankind Museum, Outside Johannesburg, South Africa

This nice (and relatively new) museum is set up to explain the history of life on Earth and the history of human life as well. Once you enter the main building, you are taken down into the basement and you do this cheesy but fun boat ride that takes you though the different elements necessary for life. We then went through the different exhibits in the large space. There ranged from discussions about DNA,to extinct animals, to the different types of hominids that paleoanthropologists have identified (many of which have been found in the Cradle) to what it means to be human. We particularly enjoyed some of the interactive exhibits, for example, there was a long hallway with illustrations which helped to show the length of different eras in time.

Posing with an austrolopithicus

Posing with an austrolopithicus

Shindler Factory Museum, Krakow, Poland

This was the only museum we visited in Krakow, and it was excellent! The permanent exhibits walk you through what happened in Krakow during the years 1939 – 45, during the Nazi occupation. The museum does fascinating things in each room, designed to make you understand the subject with all of your senses. The room for before the war has nice, warm lighting and happy music playing. It feels like sitting in a comfortable room, watching old family movies about Jewish life in Krakow. Then you enter a hall which describes when Germany attacked. It is black and gloomy with red lighting streaking across the walls, representing the fire, and the sounds of shooting and bombs is everywhere. Even the floor of each room played a big role: in the room describing the initial attack, the floor was uneven; in a room describing life for the Nazis, the floor was fancy swastika tiles; in a room for a concentration camp the floor was actual white gravel. The last room was quite interesting as well. To get into it, you walk through a dark room with a spongy floor (we aren’t quite sure of the interpretation). Then, you enter the “room of regrets”, which is stark white and covered with snippets of writing. Upon closer inspection, the snippets are quotes from people who did something (or didn’t do something) during the war period. The building was actually Schindler’s Factory (from Schindler’s List), so his office is preserved and there are a few rooms dedicated to him.

Room of regrets

Room of regrets

Gallery 11/07/95, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

We paid a visit to this moving and disturbing exhibit in Sarajevo – a series of exhibits that attempt to explain some of the tragedies of the war, mainly the genocide at Srebrenica. Our guide gave us a brief overview of what happened there. It’s hard to give a concise explanation in this space, but the gist of it is that over 8000 Bosniak people in the town, mostly males, were killed and dumped into mass graves by the approaching Army of Republika Srpska, even though the town was supposedly under UN protection. We walked through the photo gallery, watched a documentary, and also listened to the stories of some individuals who were affected. The gallery also included a small display and a documentary on the siege of Sarajevo. We vaguely remembered that Sarajevo was in the news when we were kids, but I don’t think we realized the scope of what the town went through. It was under siege for almost four years, which is the longest siege in modern history. The residents had to live in constant fear of being attacked by snipers in the hills surrounding the valley that the city sits in. The documentary, called Miss Sarajevo, was shot during the siege and showed the resilience of the residents in the face of this (and was later turned into a U2 song). It is extremely moving and worth a watch. (If you do watch the documentary, and you should… it’s linked in the previous sentences… and you find yourself as taken with the young girl in the beginning and the end as we were, here is a video of what she was doing in 2009!)

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National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece

The museum went in chronological order and was quite extensive. The first major area was the Cycladic figurines and other art, from the 3rd century BC. Then, they covered the findings from Mycenae. We were pretty excited to see the artifacts from Mycenae that we had heard about when at the site and from reading Greek Treasure. The next stop was the Archaic era, where we again learned more about the kore and kourous statues. The next major era was the Severe Style. The sculptures started to get more realistic, but the expressions were stern. For the classical era, many of the finds were split into different rooms. There was a large collection of rooms focused on the art found on tombstones in the ancient cemeteries. There were many elaborate marble carvings to be found. The next period is the Hellenistic era, which was characterized by sculptures which more realistic faces (instead of idealized) and more active movements. The final period covered was the Roman era. Here they tried to copy the Greek styles and were somewhat successful, although the art was less impressive. All of this chronological history was enhanced by enjoying the museum while listening to Rick Steves’ audio tour. There is much more to the museum so it could be worth multiple trips.

The Jockey of Arteision

The Jockey of Arteision

Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil, Sparta, Greece

It may not sound interesting, but we found it fascinating. The top floor of this little museum gives the history of the olive and discusses how it and its oil can be used for a wide variety of purposes: food, light, rituals, etc. The lower floor discussed all about how to make olive oil, and had examples of the different machinery that has been used to make the oil from ancient times until the present.

Della about to perform the pressing stage

Della about to perform the pressing stage

Antalya Museum, Antalya, Turkey

This is a large archaeological museum, and we enjoyed seeing the different exhibits that included the Stone Age in the Antalya area, ceramics, Roman-era sculptures and sarcophogi, and finally a small exhibit on life during the Ottoman era. Our favorite exhibit was a room with different sculptures of Greek/Roman gods found at the nearby site of Perge, mainly because each statue included a sign with extensive text describing the myths around the god.

One of the goddesses

One of the goddesses

The National Museum, Singapore

When we visited, we were disappointed to discover that the main exhibits at this museum were under renovation, but ultimately it turned out that the temporary exhibit on the history of Singapore was very good! It walked us through the history as described above in a nice chronological fashion, with good displays. It also worked hard to set the mood and tone of each period in history through the size, color, and feel of the rooms.

The exterior of the museum

The exterior of the museum

COPE Visitor Center, Vientiane, Laos

COPE is an organization that helps provide prosthetic limbs to those who can’t afford them all across Laos. The visitor center describes their work in making the prosthetics, but also talks in detail about one of the main reasons so many are needed: the tons of unexploded ordinance (UXO) that remain in the country as a result of the many bombs the US dropped during the “secret war” as part of the Vietnam war. We also watched a couple of short documentaries about the efforts to go in the countryside and defuse the found items before someone is hurt by them. The problem is especially tough because scrap metal can bring in a significant amount of money, so people will risk harm and handle items that they shouldn’t. The visitor center was small, but we found that it contained a lot of interesting information and was quite moving.

Where the US dropped bombs on Laos during the war

Where the US dropped bombs on Laos during the war

Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, Bangkok, Thailand

This museum is actually within the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok and is free with admission with a palace ticket. Our first intention was just to take advantage of the AC and uncrowded bathrooms, but we also checked out the exhibit on the Queen’s fashion and were fascinated. Apparently, before a world tour in the 1960, she helped revive some classic Thai styles and designed nine different outfit styles that are still used by the Thai women today. There was also an activity room that described silk fashions, and Della got a chance to try on a traditional outfit.

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We visited a lot of museums on our RTW the world tour, and came up with a few observations about the ones we liked the best. It was important to us that the museum have good signage and/or a good audio tour. We also enjoyed when the exhibits were interactive or really created a good atmosphere. In addition, the museums that taught us the most about things we didn’t know about or if we were moved by their content.

Exploring Closer to Home: Southern Colorado

After our trip through northern New Mexico with Eric’s parents, we split from them and headed back towards home. We decided to make a scenic trip out of it, and add a few more of the sites in southern Colorado to our trip, including another UNESCO World Heritage site and one of our favorite national parks.

Mesa Verde

After leaving Chaco Canyon, we drove north out of New Mexico to the southwestern Colorado city of Durango. We hadn’t pre-booked a place to stay, but had identified a road on the north side of downtown with a few cheaper off-brand hotels. The first one we tried had no one at the front desk and the door locked (which seemed strange), so we went a little further down the street to the Day’s End Motel. It was a little run down, but we did have a decent room that would work well for our purposes.

For dinner, we decided just to do something close rather than head to downtown. On Yelp, we found a Mexican restaurant called Tacos Nayarit within walking distance. We enjoyed the food, especially the cheap tacos which were their specialty.

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The next morning we headed out for a day trip to Mesa Verde National Park, our third UNESCO World Heritage site of this roadtrip. It is mainly known for its intricate cliff dwellings set high up on the walls of picturesque canyons.

Our first stop was the recently renovated visitor center, where we picked up some maps and a few self-guided trail brochures. We also signed up for a ranger-led tour of the Balcony House (you have to register in advance for these tours since space is limited).

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We paused a few times on the drive into the main part of the park to take in the scenic views out over the valley below.

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We had a little time before our tour, so we did the self-guided walk through the Spruce Tree House ruins. Here we got our first look at one of the famous cliff-dwellings built by the Ancient Puebloans. This is the same general culture that built the structures at Chaco Canyon, but archaeologists are still debating the exact relationship between the two. The cliff dwellings were built after the great houses in Chaco Canyon were abandoned, so one theory is that the builders came to Mesa Verde and built there,  but there are not very many architectural similarities, so it’s not clear that it would have been the same people.

After a brief stop in the museum and a picnic lunch, we headed to the trailhead for the Balcony House guided tour. The ranger who led the program was very interesting and quite informative. He had grown up in the area so he was able to explain a lot about what we were seeing. A lot of the beginning of the hike was taken up with him giving a safety briefing for accessing the ruins, since the ruins are found in the side of a steep cliff face, requiring a bit of an adventure to get in and out of.

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The ranger also explained something that we had found confusing: why the people who built Mesa Verde were now called Ancestral Puebloan. The two of us had both visited Mesa Verde as children, and remembered the park literature then referring to the Anasazi people. As it turns out, this was a phrase that had been invented by historians, and the modern-day descendants found it offensive. The term Ancestral Puebloan was deemed to more accurately reflect who these mysterious ancestors were.

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The first “obstacle” was a large ladder, which turned out to be pretty fun to climb. The ruins themselves were actually a little small, and it felt like we had to rush through them, since it took a while for the large group to all get up the ladder. After a brief tour of the ruins, we crawled out through a narrow tunnel (smaller than the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam), up another ladder, and then along some stairs. It was a little nerve-wracking but also pretty fun.

Our next activity was a self-guided drive along the sites of the Mesa Top Loop. Here were got to see some of the ruins of other types of structures found in the park. Most people only know about the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, but those were actually built later in the area’s history. The early settlements were more traditional farming villages, with small buildings and the ceremonial kivas which are the hallmark of the Ancestral Puebloan culture. We could see the progression of building technology as the years went on, culminating in the big cliff houses. Historians are still unclear what drove the culture into such an isolated location. Was it for defensive purposes from some outside threat? They don’t know for sure.

Our last stop was the Far View sites, a collection of buildings making up a small village on top of the Mesa. Here we found some of the larger buildings that reminded us a bit of the great houses in Chaco Canyon. The most impressive ruin here was an ancient reservoir that was used as a water supply for the village.

The drive out of the park was pretty, with the sun starting to set over the mesa and valleys below.

We stopped in downtown Durango and decided to eat at a Nepali restaurant we had seen earlier. We felt it was fitting to go there after our recent earthquake experience. We didn’t tell anyone we had been in the country, since we didn’t really know how to. We donated a little money to a collection that they had set up for relief efforts.

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Pagosa Springs

The next morning we packed up and headed east. We took a slight detour to Vallecito Lake, where we drove around and took some pictures. This was for the benefit of Eric’s dad, who has fond memories of the summers he spent there at a camp run by his uncle. The camp is a RV park now, but you can still see some traces of the old buildings.

We drove on to the town of Pagosa Springs, where we stopped for lunch and then an afternoon of lounging in their signature attraction, the natural mineral hot springs. There are a few options of different places to experience the springs. The town visitor center had a nice brochure comparing the costs and benefits. We chose the Overlook Hot Springs, a cheaper spa housed in an old Victorian mansion on the main street.

As it turned out, for most of our time there we had the whole place to ourselves! We started at the outdoor tubs on the roof, but the intense sun drove us inside. Here we lounged for a long time in the dimly lit main room, alternating between some of the hot mineral pools in there (and occasionally a cold plunge pool!). It was very relaxing, but we finally, reluctantly got out of the pools, showered off, and headed east once more.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Our destination that night was the town of Alamosa. Once again, we hadn’t booked anything ahead, but we did identify one cheaper place just outside downtown, the Riverside Inn. We were lucky and got the last available room for the night. We were also surprised – the room was large! We weren’t expecting to have a separate room with a full oven, refrigerator and dining area.

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We hadn’t prepared to cook on our own, so we headed in to town to find some dinner. Like any respectable Colorado town, Alamosa has a microbrewery restaurant, San Luis Valley Brewing Company. We love beer, so we made this our dinner stop for the night. We shared a taster tray of their brews, including some interesting ones made with green chile. The food was pretty good as well.

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The next morning we headed out to a park which Della has great memories of as a child: the Great Sand Dunes. It was overcast though, and as we drove out, it started to rain :(. We stopped in the Visitor Center and browsed their exhibits while we waited for it to clear up. Eventually it only started drizzle, so we went out to explore the dunes.

Unlike other parks, there aren’t many rules about where you can go for a hike. You kind of just set out and hike wherever you want on the sand – the wind will erase your tracks before you know it!

In the spring and early summer, there is one small obstacle you must cross – a seasonal river of snowmelt runs between the parking area and the base of the dunes. There are no bridges across it, so you have to figure out your own way across. On a hot summer day, it might be fun to splash across, but this was a cloudy, cold, late spring day, so we spent a while debating our options. It was too deep to think that we could make it across in our waterproof hiking shoes, so we decided to wear sandals and just get wet. This was complicated by the fact that the creek exhibits an interesting phenomenon called “surge flow,” which means that there are waves of water surging down the creek. We tried to time our spurts of activity around surges, but they were pretty frequent and we still got pretty wet. Our feet were numb from the cold water by the time we got over. In retrospect we wished we had brought dry shoes and socks to change into on the other side.

Instead, we just explored the dunes in our wet sandals. It was windy and starting to rain again, so we didn’t go very far. We walked up one dune, took in the view, and then headed down again once it started to hail/sleet. It was a disappointing visit to the dunes :-/. Though even with the bad weather, we managed to have some fun!

We ran back across the creek, and hurried to the car where we tried to warm our feet back up. Once they started to thaw, we hit the road and drove back to Denver.

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Our unplanned roadtrip through northern New Mexico and southern Colorado was a success. We got to see three UNESCO World Heritage sites, a lot of natural beauty, spend some time with family, and do a little mental recovery from the abrupt end of our trip in Nepal. We weren’t quite ready to end our travels, so it was nice to do a little bit more traveling in our own backyard.

What Were the Most/Least Expensive Places to Travel Per Day?

As you might have gathered from reading some of our recent posts, we enjoy gathering and analyzing data- especially when this data regards the costs of our recent RTW adventure.

We kept detailed budget information on all of the places that we visited, in part to see how much we actually spent in total for our 10 months of travel, but also to look at the information broken down by country. We recently wrote about how much we spent in total and were excited that we had managed to keep under our goal of spending less than $100/day on the trip.

But for those of us who are really curious about data, or those who might be considering trips to some of the countries we visited, we have a bit more information!

We visited a total of 29 countries on our RTW trip, but for various reasons, we kept a budget breakdown by country of only 17 of them (as well as a budget for our whole self-drive safari in southern Africa). Some of the reasons we didn’t include a country might be: we visited for only a day so the data isn’t that valid or interesting (Egypt, Zimbabwe, Germany, Macau), we visited with our parents and they either changed our mode of travel significantly or paid for a significant portion of the trip so we felt like the data would not accurately represent what we did there (Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina), we visited friends/family/relatives at home (USA), or our activities ended up being so strange and out of the ordinary that they don’t represent a normal trip to the country (Nepal). We also kept our budget for our self-drive safari as a whole rather than separate the countries we visited (Botswana, Namibia).

We took the data that we were keeping which was in categories for spending (Accommodation, Activities, Alcohol, Food, Miscellaneous, Transport, and Visas) and divided each of those out by day to get some idea of which countries were expensive in which categories.

Here are the countries we have full data on in alphabetical order.

expenses per day

As you can see: 17 countries plus our self-drive safari were looked at. They cover three continents: Africa, Europe, and Asia.

We kept a record of how many days we were in each country.

expenses per day days

The shortest amounts of time were in countries that we managed to plan last minute layovers in on our way somewhere else (Ireland and Singapore). We actually are a little regretful that we didn’t spent more time in Poland. As it was, we only crossed the southwestern corner and visited only one city there. Krakow was great and it whet our appetite to see much more of Poland. Hong Kong is small so we spent a short time there, but we ended up wishing we had more! The longest visits were in the places that were farthest away, places where we felt a return trip was slightly less likely. Our self-drive safari took us to 4 countries and was the longest period of time where we did one activity on the entire trip.

Average Accommodation Costs Per Day

expenses per day accommodation

Our cheapest accommodations were, unsurprisingly, in southeast Asia. The surprise there is that Turkey was so affordable. The great thing about all of those is that we also got nicer accommodation in all those places than in some of the others. We almost never stayed in a dorm in SE Asia for example, whereas, our most expensive nights were in Ireland where we rented just one room in someone’s home. Singapore and Hong Kong both were high and both of those rooms were small and relatively uncomfortable. The self-drive safari were all campsites (!) yet this ranks on the more expensive half of our accommodations. Strange.

Average Activities Costs Per Day

expenses per day activities

This is, no doubt, a difficult one to compare. Activities costs depend largely on time of year, length of stay, and interests. Montenegro was low, for example, because we didn’t do a lot while we were there. We took a week to calm down and relax, mostly walking and people watching. Vietnam and Thailand rank more expensive on this list, but that is in part because the cost of activities were so low there, that we chose to do more! For example, we took many day tours in both those places: days with elephants, cooking classes, cave tours, guided excursions, etc. We did none of those things in Albania, choosing more “do it ourselves” activities. However, this does give you a decent representation of activity costs. Ireland and Singapore were very high and that shows!

Average Food Costs Per Day

expenses per day food

Our lowest costs here were in SE Asia again – with the weird standout being Cambodia. We’re not sure what to say about that except that it was the beginning of our experience with hot, humid SE Asia. We weren’t tough yet and looked for places with indoor seating and AC which undoubtedly increased our costs. Bali ranks high because we traveled with some friends who really enjoy food! Our self-drive safari comes in low (for the first time) because we did all of our cooking for ourselves. The same can be said of Montenegro, which also comes in pretty cheap. For our entire week there, we only ate out once. Interestingly though, Vietnam and Thailand come in very cheap and we ate out for almost every meal there! They both are excellent places to be if you enjoy eating! Ireland was just plain pricey!

Average Transportation Costs Per Day

expenses per day transportation

Not surprisingly, our self-drive safari comes in the most expensive here with the cost of renting our safari truck and paying for gas. It is frustrating to see Greece come in so high, especially because the transportation there ended up being so unreliable. Albania was a true winner in this area – easy transport (though not super comfortable) and very cheap prices.

So… What were the most and least expensive places?! Let’s find out!

Average Total Cost Per Day

expenses per day total

Our cheapest country was Albania! Who would have thought that the least expensive place to travel would have been somewhere in Europe? The most expensive by far was our self-drive safari. This also seems a bit of a surprise because we were driving ourselves and staying in campsites along the way. Other things we noticed which muddle the data: We tended to spend more in places were we spent the least amount of time (see Ireland, Hong Kong, and Singapore). We think we felt the pressure to cram the same amount of things in but had to do it in a hurry. This definitely caused higher average per day costs.

There you have it! Check out our activities in each country to get a better idea of how this data might relate to you and your travel style.