Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe & Zambia

On November 14, we flew from our safari in Hwange National Park on a teeny, tiny plane back to Victoria Falls International Airport. From there, we were greeted by our driver from Wild Horizons who took us to Ilala Lodge, our accommodation for our few days in Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls had been occupied by local tribes for thousands of years and was identified by the British as a key area for hydro-power and rail transport. In 1905 the Victoria Falls Bridge was built and was the tallest bridge in the world for a few years. The bridge was the brainchild of Cecil Rhodes and connected Zimbabwe and Zambia with a rail line.

Throughout our short stay in Victoria Falls, we did a few, noteworthy activities!

Sunset Cruise on the Zambezi River: The Zambezi River is river that flows into Victoria Falls and it is the fourth-longest river in Africa. We very much enjoyed our 2 hour sunset cruise on the river. They served delicious drinks and food, and we encountered a crocodile and many hippos! Given then there were so many hippos, the boat moved very slowly along the river so that we did not disturb the hippos. Hippos are herbivores, but also very territorial. If they are caught off guard, they attack and are actually extremely vicious towards humans!

Helicopter Ride over Victoria Falls: We spent one morning taking a helicopter ride above Victoria Falls. It was our first helicopter ride, it was absolutely breathtaking, and it was so much fun!

Walking tour of Victoria Falls: After our helicopter ride, our private guide led us on a walking tour of the falls. It was the beginning of the rain season, so the falls were at their lowest levels of the year (about 2% of the maximum volume). Despite the lower water levels, the falls were still absolutely stunning!

Local Brewery Lunch: We ate many of our meals at Ilala Lodge, but one day we ventured out for lunch to The River Brewing Company. We had delicious food, tried all of their locally made beers, and watched cricket!

Local Market Shopping: We enjoyed walking through the local market for some souvenirs. Cody was very set on finding a one-hundred trillion dollar note that were circulated in the early 2000s when Zimbabwe was in the midst of hyperinflation and the currency was devalued 100% every day. After haggling with a few vendors, he had to settle on a ten trillion dollar note, but was happy with the souvenir.

There are many other activities at Victoria Falls (bungy jumping, gorge swing, elephant sanctuary…etc.). That being said, we had limited time at the falls and also wanted to spend a good amount of time just hanging at the hotel and relaxing by the pool.

Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

On Thursday, November 11, we flew from Cape Town to Victoria Falls International airport in Zimbabwe. Getting through customs didn’t take long at all, and before we knew it we were in the Safari Logistics office waiting to take a (very!) small plane to our first safari!

To get to and from our safari location, we took a 45 minute flight on the smallest airplane we’ve ever been on! Luckily our pilot, Ronald, made us feel very safe and comfortable!

Accommodations

After landing in our tiny plane at Manga Air Strip, we were greeted by our guide, Calvet, who drove us 30 minutes to our camp. Upon arrival, the staff greeted us with a traditional song and dance!

We stayed at Somalisa Camp, which is a protected area within Hwange National Park. It is home to three safari camps and a few bore holes that have water pumped in using solar panels year round. Since not all of the park is protected, this ensures that the larger animals have consistent water and prey without the risk of being killed by humans.

Every moment during our stay, we were in awe of how comfortable the accommodations were and how delicious the food was!

Schedule

This being our first safari, we quickly learned that most safaris follow a fairly standard schedule. The schedule optimizes viewing of “big game” that hunt during the early morning and evening when the weather is cooler and prey is resting. During our two full days at Somalisa Camp, we woke up at 5:00am and walked to the common area where coffee, toast, and fruit were waiting. After a quick breakfast, we hopped in the safari truck as the sun began to rise. The first hour or so was spent tracking lions and cheetahs. If found, we would wait for them to begin hunting, otherwise we would move on to view other animals.

After a few hours of driving, we would typically stop at a watering hole at 7:30am to watch the elephants drink and bathe. Our guide, Calvet, would make us coffee and provide light snacks.

Speaking of snacks…we came to find that we were fed 5x times per day, which seems excessive (which it was), but it was also amazing. After a short break and close interaction with the elephants, back on the safari truck we went. The next few hours of the morning game drive were spent touring the park and observing how different animals interact (more on that below).

During the morning, we also did a walking safari. This is when you get out of the safari vehicle with your guide and see some animals on foot. During our walking safari, we were beyond nervous and excited. The feelings and emotions that come over you when you’re out in the wild and can be approached by a lion, cheetah, or elephant are unexplainable! After a few minutes of walking, we heard a solo male elephant approaching us. Calvet turned around and indicated to Cody to walk quickly and quietly back towards the vehicle! Cody turned and began to retrace our steps. After a minute or two, we reached a large tree and hid behind it as the elephant approached. While observing these animals from a close range on the safari truck is amazing, but we recognized that when we’re up close and on foot all the rules change.

We typically returned to the camp at 10:30am as the temperature reached ~90 degrees Fahrenheit and we would take a quick nap before lunch at 11:30.am. All the meals at Somalisa Camp were incredible! Each dish was beyond gourmet (and they even catered to Melanie’s lactose-intolerance)! After lunch, we would take another siesta or relax by the pool.

Our favorite part of the camp was the natural watering hole ~50ft away from the main area of the camp. Hundreds of elephants would pass through each day to cool themselves off by spraying and rolling in the water. And, at the foot of the camp’s main area, there was a man-made pool that was filled each morning. Most elephant herds would come to the pool and drink ~10ft away from us!

3:30pm each day was “tea time” (aka happy hour)! We gathered in the common area for drinks and snacks before heading on the evening game drive.

The evening game drive began at ~4:30pm. And then, at around 6:30pm, we are fed (once again)! Calvet would pull out a cooler full of drinks and snacks while we watched the sunset and observed animals congregating in the distance.

Animals! (in no particular order & more pictures coming soon)

Baboons: We spotted many of these monkeys throughout our game drives. We loved watching the mothers care for their babies and we also loved watching them clean and pick bugs off one another. They really are so human-like!

Spotted Hyaenas: We don’t have any good pictures of hyaenas because they are nocturnal and we only spotted them after dark. We could hear them cackling as we went to bed each night. It really did sound like The Lion King!

Cheetahs: Calvet taught us that cheetahs are different from leopards because they have slender bodies and a dark tear-drop marking, whereas leopards are stockier and have rosettes (vs. spots). We saw cheetahs on all the days we were at Somalisa Camp. We even saw a female chase an impala while her three cubs followed behind!

Lions: We saw a total of eight lions during our stay at Somalia Camp; all of which were females (lionesses) and their cubs. It was incredible how close we got to them, it felt like they could hear our hearts beating!! We didn’t spot any males since they hunt alone which makes them very difficult to spot. Maybe we will see some on our next safari in Sabi Sands Game Reserve!

Zebras: We will never forget how locals pronounce this word z•eh•bras (the “e” is pronounced like the “e” in “eggs”). These were beautiful to see in person. Some zebras have “shadow stripes,” which are the faded stripes in between the darker, black stripes on their coat.

Giraffes: It was incredible to see these in the wild! They are so tranquil and just mind their own business. When they bend down to drink, they need to splay their legs so that their heads can reach the ground.

Hippopotamuses: We were pleasantly surprised to see hippos on this safari. Hippos do not eat meat, but they are also known to be the most dangerous animals to humans when on safaris. This is because they can easily be startled and are very territorial. We made sure to approach them very slowly and to keep a relatively far distance away from them. We were fortunate enough to see a hippo interact with a cheetah. The cheetah came to the watering hole with two of her cubs. The hippo approached them in a way to say “back away, this is my space” and the mother cheetah stood her ground. Then, the hippo came a bit closer and the mother cheetah scurried away. Even though cheetahs are extremely fast, hippos can and do kill cheetahs when they feel that their territory and boundaries are not respected.

African Elephants: Never have we ever seen so many elephants until this safari!! We loved watching the baby elephants, especially those with undeveloped trunks that had to submerge their entire face in the watering holes to drink! These elephants were definitely wayyy larger than the ones we saw in Asia.

Tortoises: We saw some of these in a few different sizes. They weren’t as big as the ones we saw in the Galapagos, but still very cute!!

Ostriches: We saw a good amount of these! They are very goofy and entertaining to watch.

Impalas: Impalas seemed equivalent to our deer.

Vivid Monkeys: We spotted these only once. They are very different looking than the baboons that we saw often on this safari. The vivid monkeys are white and slender with a black face.

Wildebeests: We saw many of these, but didn’t get any great pictures. We plan to share pictures with our friend we met on our safari, Kelly, and hope she has a few that we can add to this blog post.

Water Buffalo: When we saw water buffalo, they were typically just co-existing with other animals. We saw zebras just hanging out right beside water buffalo and elephants!

Water Monitor Lizard: This was a unique finding. These reminded us of the iguanas we see in St. Croix!

Wharthogs: All we could think about when seeing these was…Pumbaa!

Springhares: These reminded us of rabbits.

Jackals: We saw many of these and they reminded us of foxes.

Coqui Francolins: This was the first animal Calvet identified for us in Hwange National Park. It is a bird that camouflages well with the ground.

Secretary Bird: This is supposedly the tallest flying bird in Africa. When it kills its pray, its legs move like a secretary typing.

Bradfield’s Hornbills, Tawny Eagles, and Red-Crested Korhaans: These were other birds we saw plenty of. The Red-Crested Korhaan pretends to be dead to attract its mate.

Polecats: Supposedly this was a very rare sighting and Calvet was SO excited!

Kurus: We saw so many of these! We hope Kelly got some pictures of Kurus so that we can add them to this blog post.

Stembok: These were always just hanging out with the kurus and the impala.

Cape Town, South Africa

Thursday, November 4, 2021

After about 2 years of planning our honeymoon to Africa, it seemed surreal to actually be going on it!!

We flew KLM from JFK to Amsterdam and then Amsterdam to Johannesburg.

Thanks to the incredible travel agents at Classic Escapes, we were escorted off our flight in Johannesburg, taken safely through customs, and driven to a hotel near the airport for a quick rest before our flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town the following morning.

The hotel near the airport was way nicer than expected. And, they knew it was our honeymoon and surprised us with rose petals all over the room!

Saturday, November 6, 2021

After sleeping soundly, we woke up, had a quick breakfast at the hotel, and then we were escorted back to the airport in Johannesburg for our flight to Cape Town. After a quick 2 hour flight, we landed and were greeted by another driver who took us to our boutique hotel, Gorgeous George.

Upon entering our room at Gorgeous George, we were surprised to find an incredible welcome present from our travel agent, Natalie, from Classic Escapes!

After unpacking and having a quick bite upstairs at Gigi Rooftop, we met our driver, Abdullah, who took us to the waterfront. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening exploring the waterfront. Some people compare Cape Town to San Francisco and, we must admit, the waterfront area of Cape Town very much reminded us of the waterfront area in San Francisco!

We also made sure to stop by the Lindt store. In the car ride over to the waterfront, Abdullah told us that this store is only one of seven in the world that has chocolate making classes! While we don’t have time and aren’t super interested in attending a class, we still enjoyed visiting the store.

We got to our dinner reservation at The Silo Hotel early, so we decided to enjoy some drinks and bites on the rooftop!

When it was time for our dinner reservation, we went to take the elevator down and the power went out! Luckily it went out while we were waiting for the elevator (and not while we were in the elevator!!!), but either way it was quite scary. We learned more about daily power outages later during our stay in Cape Town (stay tuned)!

Luckily, after a few minutes, the generator kicked in and we were able to take the elevator down to our reservation at The Granary Cafe. The staff were beyond friendly to us and, when we sat at our table, we were so surprised to find an incredible wedding gift from Jessie and Aaron!! Not only did they treat us to our first dinner on our honeymoon, but they also treated us to a bottle of champagne from La Lude, which is one of the vineyards we plan to visit later on in our trip when we are in Franschhoek!

The dinner and drinks were delicious and a perfect start to our honeymoon!! The waiters were incredible, so friendly, and explained that the ginormous pink flower on our table is a king protea, which is the national flower of South Africa.

After our dinner, Abdullah picked us up to bring us back to our hotel. On the ride home, he explained that he writes poems in his free time. Before we left the car to go into the hotel, he gifted us a book of his poems! What an incredibly nice gesture, we can’t wait to read his book!

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Unfortunately, our jet lag got to us and we woke up early after a restless night. After a nice breakfast at Gigi Rooftop, we met our tour guide, Wayne, to explore Cape Town for the day. We don’t typically hire tour guides and pride ourselves on researching and booking everything on our own, but it’s our honeymoon so we decided to hire a guide this time around 🤗!

We started the morning by hiking Signal Hill, the smallest of the three distinct mountains in Cape Town. Signal Hill is one of the best view points in Cape Town. On every day of the week (except Sunday), canons are fired from Signal Hill. This has been happening since 1806 to relay the precise moment of 12:00pm to enable ships in the bay to check their chronometers, which are crucial for navigating rough seas.

After taking in the views of the city, we drove to Truth Coffee Roasting, which was named the World’s Best Coffee Shop three times. We enjoyed some of their signature blends and cold brew. While sipping our coffee, we told Wayne about the electricity going out while we were waiting for the elevator at our dinner the night prior. Wayne explained how this electricity outage is recurring and is called power shedding. The increased demand for electricity in South Africa over the past two decades has led to a shortage in electricity production and the government needs allocate electricity to avoid outages. Citizens here check an app each day to determine when the power in their neighborhood will be out. While we there, the country entered Stage 4, which meant the power was out for about 8 hours each day. Wayne explained how the app is helpful because he and his family can look at it each morning (similar to how we look at our weather app) and plan out their day around the power outages.

After an exciting morning, we headed next to Table Mountain and took the cable car to the top. Although it is a hikable mountain, our driver the day prior mentioned that Table Mountain claims more lives each year than Everest, so we skipped the hike and jumped on the cable car.

After spending some time at the top of Table Mountain enjoying the beautiful views, we got back in the car with Wayne and drove to Hout Bay Harbour Market. This market was extremely authentic and Wayne assured us that we were the only tourists there. We enjoyed a late lunch and Cody purchased some locally-made sunglasses.

Then we went to Camps Bay to enjoy the beach and have some delicious juice shots from Kauai.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped in the Malay neighborhood of Cape Town which is filled with many colorful houses!

Wayne insisted that, while in the Malay neighborhood, we try koeksisters. They were basically fried dough balls and absolutely delicious!

Then Wayne took us back to the hotel and we met our travel agent, Natalie, for a drink at Gigi Rooftop. It was so great to meet Natalie in person after rescheduling this trip so many times during COVID and Zooming with her often!

After drinks we just stayed at Gigi Rooftop to have a low key dinner and head to bed early to conquer our jet lag!

Monday, November 8, 2021

We started our morning early by ordering room service and making sure to meet our guide, Clive, in the hotel lobby by 8:00am. Once in the car with him, we drove along Chapman’s Peak Drive, which is one of South Africa’s most famous scenic drives. Along the drive, we made some stops at beautiful overlooks and also in a bohemian town for coffee and bathrooms.

After about 2 hours, we made it to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Preserve. There was absolutely no line to get in and barely anyone it the park (one of the silver linings of COVID impacting tourism right now). We stopped a few times within the park to see the many types of flora and fauna unique to South Africa. For example, Clive showed us beautiful white flowers that felt like dried out paper!

Clive also stopped along the road to show us a bunch of ostriches! Supposedly their vision is so good that they can see clearly for 3 miles. That being said, their brains are so tiny that they tend to be extremely dumb. Clive also let us know that ostrich meat is very popular in South Africa.

After a few stops with Clive, we parked the car at Cape of Good Hope.

After taking a touristy picture in front of the Cape of Good Hope sign, we hiked up for about 10 minutes. At the top, Clive told us to take a quick break and enjoy the views while he prepped a surprise…

When we turned around, Clive handed us glasses and was ready to pour champagne to congratulate us on our marriage and honeymoon!!

While drinking our champagne, we encountered our first (of what we will assume will be many) baboons!

After our baboon encounter, it was time to keep trekking on to enjoy the beautiful views of Cape Point!

From Cape Point, we made our way back along False Bay to Simon’s Town to view the African Penguins. We got right up close to the adorable creatures that populate the beach in hundreds.

After penguin viewing, it was time for lunch! Clive gave us a few options in the area and we decided to go to a spot in Kalk Bay called The Courtyard Cafe. The food was delicious and we tried Rooibos tea, which is very popular and made in South Africa. It was yummy!

From lunch, we made our way to visit the world renowned Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which were breathtaking!

After visiting the gardens, Clive dropped us off at the hotel. We relaxed and then went to our dinner reservation at The Potluck Club. The restaurant was in a very bohemian, newly developed food market and was on the top floor. While in the elevator heading up to the restaurant, the song Everywhere by Fleetwood Mac started playing!! This is the song we listened to throughout our 2017-2018 backpacking journey anddd it was our first dance at our wedding! We both started cracking up when we heard it playing and the other couple in the elevator looked at us like we were nuts! Not only did the elevator ride exceed our expectations, but so did the dinner!!

Tuesday, November 9

We FINALLY had a good night’s sleep and slept over 9 hours! We took our time getting ready and then had a leisurely breakfast at Gigi Rooftop.

We then packed up, said goodbye to the friendly man at the front desk and the security guard, and hopped in the car with Clive to head to wine country! 🍷

About 30-45 minutes outside of Cape Town is Stellenbosch, which is a historically Dutch farming town, home to a large university, and contains many wine “farms” (yes, they call vineyards “farms” here 😁).

Clive dropped us off for our lunch reservation at Delaire Graff Estate. Wow was it incredible!! We made sure to order Cap Classique, which is a sparkling wine that is similar to champagne!

After lunch, we walked around the Delaire Graff wine farm and then Clive picked us up and drove us to La Clé Des Montagnes! The staff greeted us with open arms, we unpacked, and then we soaked up the sun until dinner time. 🌞

For dinner, the staff at La Clé made us a traditional South African braai. Traditionally South African braai are meats and vegetable dishes cooked over an open flame and served with salads. Not only was the food delicious, but the table setting was beautiful as well!

After dinner, we enjoyed the gardens and relaxed ❤️.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

After a very, very good night’s sleep, we woke up and had breakfast on the patio right outside our room 🤗.

We then walked 5 minutes into downtown to explore and check out the local shops.

After our walk into town, we hung at the pool at La Clé until it was time to head to our lunch at Le Lude Estate and Orangerie Restaurant. This wine farm is famous for their champagne (or rather “Cap Classique”) which is the bottle Jessie and Aaron gifted us during our first meal in Cape Town!

After lunch, we relaxed back at La Clé until it was time for dinner at La Petite Ferme!!

We cannot begin to describe how beautiful the views were and how delicious the food and wine were for our final meal in wine country.

After dinner, we packed up and took our malaria pills because tomorrow morning we head to Zimbabwe for our first safari!!!

The Canadian Rockies

Day 1 – July 3, 2019

We left NYC bright and early on July 3rd. We had a layover in Toronto so we relaxed in the airport lounge there and did some work. After a 4 hour flight from Toronto, we landed in Calgary! We picked up our rental car and started our 3 hour drive to Golden. Along the way we stopped in Canmore to pick up some bear spray, (yes, that is imperative when hiking in Banff) and some snacks and groceries. We also stopped for dinner in Canmore and ordered some poutine and a bison burger and it was deeeeelish!

We decided to stop at Lake Louise on the drive to Golden since it was an off hour and there was room to park. Unfortunately it was pretty cloudy, but we knew we’d be heading back to see it again.

As we continued on our drive to Golden, we passed a black bear walking along the highway; what a perfect welcome! 😂

Day 2 – July 4, 2019

We built a rough itinerary for this trip, but quickly realized that we were at the whims of the crazy climate in Banff. We woke up early on Independence Day to light rain so we decided to hit some of the easier stops that required less hiking.

Peyto Lake

Our first stop was the northernmost destination on our itinerary. A short hike led us to the viewpoint over the lake that is fed directly from a glacier.

Bow Lake

A few miles south of Peyto Lake sits Bow Lake. It was too wet for the short hike at the lake so we picked up some coffee and Cody’s favorite Canadian snack, Coffee Crisp (a big coffee-flavored kit kat).

Spiral Tunnels

We stopped at Spiral Tunnels on our way to Emerald Lake because we wanted to see some tunnels! Much to our dismay, this was just a lookout to the old railroads that looped in circles through tunnels dug into the mountain to fight the steep downward grade of the dangerous railroad tracks.

Emerald Lake

Even though it was cloudy and rainy, this lake was absolutely beautiful! There is a small cabin on the lake with delicious snacks and a store nearby with the cutest souvenirs! When we come back at some point in the future, we’d love to go back and see the lake on a more clear day.

Natural Bridge

Our next stop in Yoho National Park was natural bridge, a rock formation that was once a waterfall, until the water dug through the rock, creating a tunnel that shoots out the water.

The rest of the day was pretty low key. We attempted to go curling for a fun indoor activity, but unfortunately the rink was closed. We then went to the grocery store and decided to get some food to cook for the evening in our AirBnB. We also picked up a local beer called Whitetooth. We relaxed, watched a movie, did some wedding planning, cooked dinner, and went to bed very early 😇.

Day 3 – July 5, 2019

The next day we woke up early to hit many stops on our drive from Golden towards Banff.

Takkakaw Falls

Takkakaw Falls is one of Canada’s highest waterfalls nestled in Yoho National Park. The massive waterfall stands at 833 ft.

After seeing the waterfall, we went into town for lunch at this amazing place called Bear Street Tavern. We got a pizza with prosciutto and truffle oil and dipped it into a combination of hot sauce and honey, the restaurant’s signature dish!

Johnston Canyon

This was a perfect, light hike to do (given the weather). The ~2 mile hike along the river led to two major falls (‘Lower Falls’ and ‘Upper Falls’ – very creative, Canada). Despite some lines for the photos, it was a nice 1.5 hour walk with quite a view.

On our way back into town we came across a grizzly bear!!! 😧

The Vermillion Room

A month or so before our trip, we made a reservation at this restaurant. The restaurant is in the Banff Fairmont Springs hotel which is a beautiful hotel overlooking amazing views. We got to dinner a bit early to walk around the old hotel. Dinner was absolutely delicious!

Day 4 – July 6, 2019

Lucky for us, the weather really cleared up for our last full day! 🙌🏼

Moraine Lake

Lake Louise

Agnes Tea House

Vermillion Lake

And, for the rest of the day, we explored downtown Banff. After we checked out the curling rink, strolled in and out of some touristy shops, and scoped out our ice cream place for dessert later in the evening.

We grabbed appetizer at The Park Distillery. And, after apps, we then went to Chuck’s Steakhouse.

Day 5 – July 7, 2019

We woke up early to check out of our AirBnB and head to the airport. On our way to the airport, we made sure to get our Tim Horton’s on our way out of Banff!

Overall, the trip was great but unfortunately the weather wasn’t ideal for all of the hiking we had planned. We would love to go back some day, especially with a group of friends that also loves to hike. We want to do Big and Little Beehive, the Plaine of Six Glaciers…etc.! Luckily, the flight isn’t too far so hopefully we will make it there again! 🇨🇦

Stockholm, Sweden

May 24, 2019

Since we had so much fun traveling to Barcelona for a long weekend, we decided to do it again and go to Stockholm for Memorial Day Weekend!

On Thursday evening we took a direct flight from Newark to Stockholm. We landed at around 7:30am, took an Uber to our hotel in Östermalm to drop off our bags, and started walking around and exploring the city. Stockholm is very walkable, measuring less than 5 miles in diameter, and is filled with shared bikes and electric scooters.

First we stopped at Nybrogatan 38 to have delicious coffee, an acai bowl, and avocado toast.

We then walked along the water and crossed the bridge into Blockhusudden to reach our first site, the Vasa Museum.

Vasa is a grand naval ship that was built in the 1600s. During its maiden voyage, it sank less than 1,000 meters from the shore into the harbor due to its two layers of heavy cannons. In the 1970s, archaeologists found the ship 30 meters below the ocean and began working to lift the ship. After years of work, the ship was brought to shore and is now the centerpiece of Stockholm’s most popular museum.

After the museum, we continued to power through the jet lag. We stopped into a small cafe along the river for some coffee and the first of many cinnamon rolls.

We then walked back to the hotel since it was time for check in and we needed a power nap.

After our nap, we had some time to spare before dinner. We walked through Park Humlegården to get to a hotel named Scandic Anglais, where we enjoyed some wine on the roof while overlooking the park. It was a little chilly, but we sat under a heat lamp and wrapped ourselves in a blanket.

From our drinks, we then walked about 30 minutes through the city to get to dinner (since it was still completely light outside!). We had dinner at Agrikultur and it was hands down the best meal of the trip.

This Swedish farm to table restaurant reminded us of Blue Hill in New York. They served us an amazing 8-course menu that consisted primarily of local vegetables, fresh fish, and parts of an entire cow that the restaurant purchased a few weeks prior. Our waiter chatted with us about traveling and his favorite restaurants in New York and Stockholm.

May 25, 2019

May 25 will, for now on, be an extremely special date since it was the day Cody proposed!! We are not going to go into details about our proposal on our blog. All we will share is that it happened in Park Humlegården and it was perfect 🥰.

After the proposal (and a not so brief photoshoot) we had brunch at Kajplats 18 (“Pier 18”). The small greenhouse-like restaurant was on the water. We sat by the window overlooking the harbor and shared champagne and a few small dishes.

After lunch we hopped on a ship for a 2-hour cruise of the Archipelago. We found two seats at the back of the boat and enjoyed the views and the comical banter from the tour guide.

After the cruise we walked through Norrmalm to a popular restaurant called Lilia Ego that our waiter from Agrikulture recommended. While we waited for our spot at the chef’s counter, we had a drink and delicious bread outside. Just like our dinner the night before, we were beyond amazed with how much we liked the Swedish dishes served to us!

When we arrived back at our hotel after dinner, we realized it had been about 12 hours of us being engaged and not telling anyone! Soo….we decided it was time to start calling family and close friends. There were many happy tears and lots of excitement. Afterwards, we weren’t ready for bed, so we decided to go across the street for drinks and a second dessert because why not?!

 

May 26, 2019

After sleeping in, we decided to spend some time in the hotel gym. After a quick workout, we had breakfast at the hotel and then headed to Gamla Stan. Gamla Stan is Swedish for “Old Town” and it is one of the largest and best preserved medieval city centers in Europe. The city is on an island and has two very conveniently named streets that circle the city called West Long Street and East Long Street.

During the walking tour it start pouring, so we decided to leave half way through and spend the rest of the day cafe/restaurant hopping! First we went to Kafe Krans and shared a sandwich, tea, and another cinnamon bun (surprise)! Then we continued to walk through the windy cobblestone streets and popped into a traditional Swedish restaurant called Restaurang Mårten Trotzig, where we tried Swedish meatballs made from reindeer and lingonberries! The meatballs were better than those at IKEA, but we decided they are not something we needed to have again 😝.

After we finished eating, the weather cleared up so we decided to walk to the photography museum called Fotografiska. This museum was AWESOME! Not only were there photography exhibits of Emma Watson and Cindy Crawford, but there also happened to be an exhibit called “Vanishing Traces” which featured many of pictures from the salt flats in Bolivia (aka one of our most favorite places!!). After walking through the museum, we spent some time on the top floor cafe to relax, call some more friends to tell them the big news, and take in the beautiful views.

When we were at Agrikultur on our first night, we talked with the head chef who suggested we try their sister restaurant called Bar Agrikultur before heading back to NYC. Since the restaurant is close to the museum, we decided to go there for dinner. Once again, we were blown away by how delicious all of the dishes we ordered were.

After having many pastries and food throughout the day, we decided that it was a good idea to walk back to the hotel.

 

May 27, 2019

We kicked off our last day in Stockholm with some more coffee and cinnamon buns, this time from a different spot called Robert’s Coffee. We then walked about 30 minutes to Oaxen Slip, the “back pocket” restaurant of Oaxen Krog, which is a 2 Michelin Star restaurant in Stockholm. It was very yummy!

After lunch we decided to ride electric scooters to get back into town and make our way to Södermalm, the hipster neighborhood of the city. We popped into a bunch of stores along the way attempting to find an old map of Stockholm, but unfortunately we were unsuccessful.

Before we knew it it was late afternoon and time to go to the famous cocktail spot called Pharmarium! Cody ordered a whiskey cocktail and Mel ordered a golden vodka cocktail.

For our last supper, we went to Matbaren in The Grand Hotel.

Stockholm will always be a really special place for us. Not only did we get engaged there, but also it was the 20th country we traveled together to!! 🇸🇪💕

Barcelona, Spain

Just because we’ve been back in the work/real world for over 6 months, doesn’t mean our travels will stop! When we quit our jobs to travel, we made sure to hit the “further away” destinations and promised we would go to Europe and other closer destinations when we were back to living “real life.” Well…we took our first, quick trip to Europe and it definitely won’t be the last.

Activities

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia is the large, unfinished church designed by Antoni Gaudi. The Basilica construction began in the late 1800s and is slated to be completed in 2026. Understanding the complication of his design, Gaudi never expected to see the finished product. The privately funded project is nearly complete and the interior was even more mind blowing than the exterior. This first stop on our trip had us planning a visit for 10 years from now.

Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau

Relatively close to La Sagrada Familia is Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Walking Tour of The Gothic Quarter

As we like to do in most cities, we booked a free walking tour of the Gothic Quarter. We booked with Craft Tours and highly recommend it. The tour started in Plaça de Catalunya, which is the transportation center of the city. From there we walked south on Passeig de Gràcia and entered the Gothic Quarter. The Gothic Quarter is the historical neighborhood of Barcelona which was walled in until the Industrial Revolution. The neighborhood was expanded in the 1850s when the Industrial Revolution pushed the city’s population to its limits and a more typical grid-style city began construction. The quintessential neighborhood contains small, winding streets that navigate through small shops, restaurants and churches.

Highlights of the tour included:

  • Chocolate Street: This might be the best smelling street we’ve ever walked on. There are tons of chocolate/sweets shops on this street that sell the famous “chocolate and churros.”
  • Plaça de Pi: This translates to the square of the pine because when the square was opened there was a large pine tree in the middle. The square is now surrounded by beautiful antique shops and old bars.
  • Catedral de Barcelona:  This is a beautiful cathedral that was constructed from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, with the principal work done in the fourteenth century. 
  • Chicken Wire Tribute to the Castellers: “Human Tower” is a professional sport in Barcelona. There are groups of people that will practice for hours on end and compete frequently to see which team can build the tallest human tower. As a tribute to the team that built the tallest human tower, the city now as a very interesting and tall sculpture in the Gothic Quarter.
  • Plaça Reial: This is a very frequented square that contains two light posts which were Gaudi’s first (and last) public work. Supposedly Gaudi was very difficult to work with and spent way more than he was budgeted for, which is why his public service career was very short-lived and he ended up spending most of his professional years working for extremely wealthy families that didn’t mind when he exceeded the budget.

Mercado de la Boqueria

This market was as hectic and filled with delicious food as most of the markets we have visited around the world. We spent about 15 minutes here, got a few bites to eat, and then escaped the chaos.

La Barceloneta

La Barceloneta is the small neighborhood near the man-made beach that was created for the 1992 Summer Olympics. We visited the area to grab some delicious seafood and we were definitely not disappointed.

Passeig de Gràcia

We enjoyed the walking tour of The Gothic Quarter with Craft Tours so we decided to book another tour with them for later in the same day! The tour focused on Gaudi and modernism and took place mostly on Passeig de Gràcia. During the expansion of the city during the Industrial Revolution, this street first became populated by the wealthiest families and today it still remains the most beautiful and expensive street in the city. Several homes were designed by the famous architects and reflect the modernist features of the early 1900s. Highlights of the trip were:

  • Casa Lleó Morera: This is one of three homes on the same block designed for a very wealthy family by a very famous architect. This home was designed by the famous modernism architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
  • Casa Bonet: This is another beautiful home on the same block.
  • Casa Batlló: This is one of Gaudi’s most famous homes. The main windows of the home are in the shape of a bat, which is one of the main symbols of Barcelona. The facade of the building is covered in colorful tiles, a common technique of Gaudi’s.
  • Casa Milà: This house is commonly known as La Pedrera. This was the last residence designed by Gaudi before his death.

Park Güell

As we learned the hard way, make sure to book tickets here in advance! Luckily we went on the first day, realized we couldn’t get in, and we were able to snag tickets for early in the morning on our last day. Park Güell was designed by Antoni Guadi in the early 1900s for the wealthy Güell family and opened to the public as a park in 1926.

Fundació Joan Miró

This art exhibition dedicated to Joan Miró is a must see. We took the public bus from Castell de Montjuïc, which was perfect because we passed through the Olympic Village and were able to see many fields and arenas from the 1992 Summer Olympics.

Castell de Montjuïc

We stumbled upon Castell de Montjuïc after visiting Fundació Joan Miró. The Castell once served as a primary fortification and lookout point for the city with views into the sea and mountain ranges that surround the city.

Food/Drink

Cal Pep

This was recommended to us by multiple people and we would highly recommend it as well. You sit at what looks like a diner bar, chat with the waiters, tell them you’re visiting and want to try everything, and then they bring out dish after dish of true, Catalan cuisine.

Arume

This restaurant has a very cozy atmosphere and THE BEST duck paella (yes, that’s correct, DUCK). The waitress was also so nice and brought us complimentary shots of something similar to Bailey’s at the end of our meal.

Can Majó

This restaurant is in La Barceloneta and sits along the beach. We got mini clams and grilled mushrooms, which were both very good!

Cervecería Catalana

This was recommended as a must from a friend who lived in Barcelona for over a year. Although they don’t take reservations, we showed up early enough so we didn’t have to wait for too long. The food was extremely well priced and delicious. We highly recommend ordering their signature dessert which is basically a crembrule in a croissant!

Rasoterra

Our guide from the walking tour of the Gothic Quarter sent us a list of her favorite restaurants in Barcelona and this was one of them. This was a nice change, since it is all fresh from a farm 10 miles away and vegetarian.

La Pallaresa Xocolateria Xurreria

This chocolate shop is the second oldest in the city and sells the famous hot chocolate with churros. We heard that the hot chocolate would be so dense that the churro stands up in it, but we were still expecting what we know as “hot chocolate.” Instead, the chocolate was really melted chocolate, similar to what you would get for fondue. Of course it was good 😝!

Botafumiero

This restaurant was recommended by a few of our friends, one of whom is from Barcelona! It is very “old school” and definitely a bit overpriced, but we enjoyed the experience.

Southern Sri Lanka

The last stop on our traveling journey was Sri Lanka and it was an absolutely perfect place to end our journey!! When initially planning our travels, we did not intend to go to Sri Lanka. However, many people we met over the last five months recommended it and since it was on our way back towards the USA we thought, why not give it a try!

We started our Sri Lankan journey in Colombo. We landed on January 6 and only had one day to explore the city so we made sure to keep ourselves very busy. After checking into our hostel, we had a quick lunch at Thalis Restaurant Indian Vegetarian Cuisine. This restaurant served both north and south Indian thalis and was absolutely delicious. The owner walked us through the menu and helped us pick out two, simple dishes. He also enjoyed laughing at us as we tried to eat with our hands and handle the spicy food.

After lunch we took a tuk-tuk to Vigaramahadevi Park, the city’s main park which contains the National Library and War Memorial. Surrounding the park are several museums and government buildings.

We walked through the park to get to the Sri Lanka National Museum. The large colonial building takes visitors through the long history, dating back to prehistoric times, of the island of Sri Lanka. We walked from the museum to the Cenotaph War Memorial, which was a bit underwhelming for a tourist.

We then found another tuk-tuk to take us to the famous Pettah Market, a central produce market that has been expanded into an enormous day market for everyday goods. On our way there, we drove through the Fort, the historic downtown area home to the modern financial district. We spent the early evening walking through the Galle Face Green Walk, a park on the water where dozens of small restaurants pop up each evening serving local food. We grabbed a drink at Sugar Bistro & Wine Bar (a sister restaurant of Sugar 41, which a friend recommended) and then went back towards the hostel for an early dinner.

Based on recommendations, we hired a guide to take us around southern Sri Lanka starting from Colombo. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into and boy were we beyond satisfied by our time with our guide Prasanna.

On January 7 Prasanna picked us up from our hostel in Colombo. All we had planned with Prasanna was which cities we would be sleeping in each night; we did not know what each day towards those cities was going to consist of.

As we started our 4 hour drive from Colombo towards Sigiriya, Prasanna gave us a brief history lesson of Sri Lanka and told us about some current developments within the country. Sri Lanka’s written history dates back 3,000+ years, but historians trace its prehistoric societies to 100,000+ years. In recent history, Sri Lanka was colonized by Portugal, The Netherlands, and Great Britain. In 1948, Sri Lanka gained its independence from Great Britain, however it experienced a period of turmoil during its 26 year civil war which ended in 2009. Since then, the country has flourished under its free market economy and its exports revolve around tea, clothing, and rice, with a growing tourism industry.

After driving for about an hour, we stopped along the road for fresh, yellow coconut water, coffee, and lavariya (string hopper with coconut honey). Prasanna described how there are many different types and colors of coconuts in Sri Lanka and that the yellow ones yield the most tasty coconut water.

After a bit more driving, we stopped for a buffet lunch. We had chicken curry, dhal curry, mukunuwenna mallum (great for eyesight), and pappadam. Prasanna explained how most locals eat with their hands and showed us the proper way to just use our fingertips. We then got back on the road to reach our first sight: the Dambulla Cave Temple. This temple consisted of five caves which are filled with beautiful cave paintings and many Buddhas.

The caves were home to a king who sought refuge from the Indians in the 2nd century BC for over 15 years. After reclaiming power, the king built the temple and it has been contributed to by following kings since. Interestingly, the Buddhist temple also contains a small Hindu temple, exemplifying how the two religions coexist peacefully in Sri Lanka.

After hiking down from the caves, we got back in the car to drive to our elephant safari. When we arrived at Minneriya National Park, we got in a jeep to head into the land of the elephants! Among all the countries we have visited, Sri Lanka treasures its biodiversity the most. No one is allowed to own wild animals, so elephants roam free throughout the country (and are known to kill people regularly) and it is illegal to harm an elephant. The elephants in the massive reserve were bountiful and free, a stark contrast to what we saw in Thailand.

Towards the end of the safari, a lone male juvenile charged at our truck from about 50 feet away and got very close. We were too frightened to take a picture and the driver sped off before he got too close. We left the park around sundown to head to our hotel for the evening.

On January 8 we had some coffee and then met Prasanna to head to Sigiriya Lion Rock, known as the eighth wonder of the world. The rock has been worshipped in Sri Lanka for centuries and was made famous by a ‘prince’ who killed his father in order to gain power. He sought refuge at the rock for 18 years and built a massive palace with 7 floors atop the rock. Today, only remnants of the structure remain as time and invading armies have destroyed the palace. Pictures on the rock are below, including the old swimming pool!

After our morning hike, we had some roti with banana and honey at a nearby cafe.

We then got on the road to head to a local village. We went to the village by bull cart (known as a “ferarri” back in the day) and a catamaran.

When we arrived to the village, a young woman showed us many cooking techniques that she uses on a daily basis.

We learned how to make delicious roti and a dip for the roti. Her roti recipe consisted of fresh coconut flakes, some salt water, flour, and a little bit of butter. The dip she made to go with the roti was even better than the roti! The dip recipe consisted of a few hot peppers, some pepper corn, salt, garlic, coconut flakes, and onion. She muddled all of the ingredients together with two big stones.

After our cooking lesson, we said goodbye to her, her husband, and their adorable baby boy.

Our next stop was the Lakruka Wood Shop. Here we learned about the many different types of wood that are gathered in Sri Lanka and saw the workers carving and making beautiful pieces. We bought a small elephant with its trunk facing towards the sky symbolizing “good luck.”

From the wood shop we made our way to Regent Spice and Herbal Garden. We were expecting to learn about the different cooking spices grown in Sri Lanka, but this was not the case. Instead, the private tour was more focused on home remedies and medicines that the locals use many herbs and spices for. At the end of the tour, we got complimentary massages and then met with the herbal doctor to learn about the different, natural medicines we could be using.

After the spice garden we made our way into Kandy to settle into our hotel. We had a causal, early dinner at The Garden Cafe.

On January 9 we had breakfast at our hotel before getting picked up by Prasanna. Our first stop for the day was The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, an extremely special Buddhist temple. This is the most famous temple in Sri Lanka and is host to the country’s most valued relics and religious ceremonies. The old capital of Kandy is extremely well fortified with only three roads leading to the city through massive walls. Prasana was very excited to show us what he deemed as the most important Buddhist temple.

After spending time at the temple, we had bite with Prasanna in town and then went to the car to start our day’s journey to Nuwara Eliya. Our first stop on the way was Hemachandras (Kandy) Limited, a famous gemstone center. At this gemstone center we watched a movie explaining the excavation process and then we went in the factory to see the workers.

As we continued to make our way higher and higher in the mountains to Nuwara Eliya, we passed beautiful tea plantations.

We stopped at Glenloch Tea Factory where we got to get a tour of the factory and learned how the tea is made.

We then drove about 10 minutes to reach Ramboda Falls. We hiked a bit towards the falls and then had a late lunch overlooking the falls.

After lunch we went to two more tea plantations: Blue Field Tea Factory and Danton Tea Factory.

We then continued into higher and higher elevations to reach the town of Nuwara Eliya for the evening.

January 10 was a big driving day. We drove about two hours from Nuwara Eliya to Ella and stopped for some coffee at Chill. Then we drove about five more hours before reaching Weligama. Along the way we stopped at a waterfall and at some markets along the road to try some local bananas and the famous Sri Lankan curd with honey.

After checking into our hostel in Weligama, we walked along the beach to find a casual spot for dinner. We ended up eating at Catamaran and ordered traditional chicken kottu roti. We spent the evening relaxing at our hostel, Basecamp (another great hostel we looked into is Ceylon Sliders, but it was fully booked).

We spent the remaining five days of our travels between the beaches in Weligama and Mirissa. We enjoyed complimentary, local breakfasts at Basecamp, laid on the beach, surfed, did some sunrise yoga, and laid on the beach some more.

We took some initial surfing lessons at Batu Surf School and then, once we were pros, we rented boards from Surfer’s Paradise.

We had local (and a few Western) lunches at Hangten, W15, Zephyrs, and The Doctor’s House.

And some amazing spots for dinner were Tiki Bar, Chef Akila, Kama Mirissa, and Big Fish.

Weligama is truly a surfer’s paradise with amazing food and a perfect climate. Surf board rentals are less than $2/hour and the food was amazing. Everyone we met was exceptionally welcoming and we were amazed by the hospitality of all the locals. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to end our 5 month journey!!! 😁

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

We spent two full days in Kuala Lumpur. The people in the city were beyond friendly and everyone spoke English. We definitely want to go back to Malaysia, as there are so many other places in the country to see!

Activities:

  • Menara Kuala Lumpur: Once the tallest building in the world, Kuala Lumpur’s space needle is a large tourist attraction with a viewing area from 250 meters high as well as a 360 degree restaurant and rooftop viewing area. The hill that it is constructed upon also has a small zoo, 4D theatre, and the “upside down house.” We opted to go to the observation deck and see the views of the city, including the iconic “twin towers.”

  • Petronas Twin Towers: After seeing the towers from Menara, we walked to the base of them and sat in the nearby park.

  • Flea Market Petaling Street: This was a typical, Asian flee market in downtown Chinatown. It was crowded, hot, and full of fake designer bags. Definitely not a “must” when in Kuala Lumpur, but it was still entertaining!

  • Batu Caves: These are caves and temples on a big limestone cliff located a short train ride outside of Kuala Lumpur (about 20 minutes). We went in the early AM to avoid the crowds, which we definitely recommend. The caves were interesting, as they were the first Hindu caves that we have seen on our journey. However, there was a ton of trash and a lot of construction at the caves which was a little disappointing.

  • Stroll around the Sultan Abdul Samad building: We spent the day walking around to see what we could find! This intricate building among the bustling city once housed the government and more recently the Judiciary.

Food:

  • Lokl Coffee and Co: This was a great coffee shop in Chinatown.
  • Restoran Yusoof Dan Zakhir: This was a delicious, extremely casual Indian food restaurant near the Central Market.
  • Alor Street Food Night Market: This is one of the most visited places in urban Malaysia. There were tons of restaurants with roadside dining, as well as the typical street market kiosks.

  • Dining in the Dark: Their website says it all. This was an extremely unique dining experience. Upon arrival, we were given a smoothie with three ingredients and asked to identify them all – we only got carrot correct (it was orange in color and didn’t taste like an orange). Next, we were blindfolded and asked to find paper clips out of a box of dry rice – this also proved to be extremely difficult. Finally, we removed our blindfolds, put our personal belongings into a locker, and were introduced to our waiter Yus, who is blind. He led us Congo-line style into the pitch dark dining room and to our table, helping us into our chairs. After getting a little oriented with the table setup, he brought us our first course of four appetizers. We then had a soup dish consisting of two soups, a main dish consisting of three separate plates, and a dessert dish! Eating blind made us appreciate the taste and texture of each portion of food, as well as have a greater understanding for how blind people feel on a daily basis. We had a very difficult time identifying the secret menu that would only be explained after the meal.

Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan

Day 1: December 24

On the morning of December 24, we arrived at Narita International Airport in Tokyo, Japan!! After figuring out the train and subway lines, we arrived at our AirBnB in Shibuya. We explored the area a bit while waiting for Jordan, Laura, and Fred to arrive. By mid-day we had all arrived and, although exhausted, we were eager to go out and see Tokyo. We decided to take the subway to Shinjuku station on a mission to find the famous “Piss Alley” (also known as “Shinjuku Omoide Yokochō”). After walking in the wrong direction for 15 minutes, we were finally able to find the hidden alley!

The alley is lined with tons of small, authentic restaurants that seat about six people. Although it was a bit crowded, we decided to have our first dinner at one of these restaurants. When we found a restaurant with all locals, we knew we were in a good place. After dinner, we went back to the AirBnB to relax and head to bed early since we were all running on very few hours of sleep.

 

Day 2: December 25

On December 25, we slept in and had breakfast at the AirBnB before getting picked up at 10:00am by our tour guide, Ari. Ari was born and raised in Tokyo and currently organizes privately guided tours of Tokyo for visitors like us. Our first stop with Ari was the Imperial Palace, the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan. While Japan has an elected legislature, the Emperor represents an important office similar to the Queen of England. The Imperial Palace was once a massive fortress, however today it contains a few small buildings for the family and a public park.

We then went to Tokyo Station to activate our JR Rail Passes and book our tickets for the bullet trains to/from Kyoto.

Ari then took us on the subway (which puts NYC subways to shame!) from Tokyo Station to Omotesando Hills. Omotesando Hills was built in 2005 and is a shopping complex in central Tokyo which reminded us of Fifth Avenue in NYC.

After walking along Omotesando Hills for about 15 minutes, we reached the Meiji Shrine. Ari taught us that most Japanese people are both Shinto and Buddhist and that this shrine is a Shinto Shrine. She taught us how to purify ourselves before approaching the shrine and the proper way to bow and clap when praying to the Shinto gods.

After a delicious ramen lunch with Ari, she brought us to the Harajuku neighborhood. Here we saw tons of colorful, interesting outfits as well as a “cat cafe.” Ari explained that people go to these cafes to have a cup of tea and play with cats…

We then went to the Shibuya neighborhood to see the “Shibuya Crossing,” rumored to be the busiest intersection in the world. It is said that over 1,000 people cross each time the light turns green. After witnessing it from a great viewpoint above, we believe it!!

In Shibuya, Ari took us to a very trendy cafe and then a famous department store called Loft. After exploring the interesting products in Loft, we thanked Ari for a wonderful day. After saying goodbye to Ari, we found a bar nearby and had some tea and beers before heading to dinner at Kaikaya. This restaurant came highly recommended from a handful of friends and lived up to our expectations. The family run seafood restaurant sources its fish from their own boats and the restaurant offers a cozy, casual experience.

 

Day 3: December 26

On December 26 we took the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. Along the 2:45hr trip, we passed Mount Fuji. After checking into our AirBnB in Kyoto, we walked to the famous Nishiki Market. This food market is filled with tons of fish, green tea deserts, and Japanese bean pastes. We tried lots of food as we strolled through the market, some of which we liked and some of which we really didn’t like.

We then walked to Nanzen-ji Temple, known to be one of the finest temples in Kyoto. It is surrounded by a big park that consists of many sub-temples.

After exploring the temple we went to an amazing sushi dinner at a small, family owned restaurant called Kikyo.

 

Day 4: December 27

We started December 27 with a delicious breakfast at Smart Coffee before heading to our two hour walking tour. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and showed us all around the Ginza district and taught us a lot of Geisha culture.

After our walking tour, we had a quick lunch and then went to Chion-in, a grand temple dating back to 1234. One of the most famous Japanese Buddhists taught at this temple before starving himself to death.

After walking through the temple, we then went up the hill to see the monks ring the 2:00pm bell.

We spent the rest of the day walking along Nene-no-Michi, one of Kyoto’s most scenic streets. Along this street we passed more Shinto shrines and many touristy shops.

After walking down some more scenic streets (Sannen-zaka and Ninnen-zaka), we reached Kiyomizu-dera Temple. This temple has a hall with a huge veranda and stunning views of the hillside and Kyoto city. The area around the temple consists of many pagodas, one of which is the “child bearing pagoda.” At the base of the temple is a waterfall where you can drink sacred water for good health.

After lots of walking, we went to Ki Bar to relax before our dinner reservation at Tempura Yoshikawa. This dinner was a very special, traditional nine course dinner. We were seated in a private room overlooking a beautiful zen garden. Our two waitresses were dressed as geishas and explained each course to us in great detail.

What a perfect dinner to start off Cody’s 27th birthday!! 🎉

 

Day 5: December 28

On December 28 we started our morning at a delicious cafe called Sentido. We then met our group for the day to explore Kyoto and Nara. The first stop was Ryoanji Temple, home to one of Japan’s most famous rock gardens.

The second stop was Kinkau-ji, which includes the famous Golden Pavillion.

The third stop was Kitano Tenman-gū Shrine, a Shrine dedicated to education. Many students in Kyoto come to this Shrine before big exams to pray to the gods.

After a quick lunch with our group, we boarded the bus to go to Nara! Our first stop in Nara was Todaiji, a religious complex known for housing one of the world’s largest Buddha statues.

After being blown away by the size of the Buddha, we then went next door to the deer park to feed the deer. The deer bow three times (yes, they are actually very obedient and legitimately bow!!) and then humans feed them “deer snacks” (which are sold throughout the park).

Once we all got a significant amount of deer bites, it was time to head to Kasuga Shrine. This Shrine is known for its 3,000+ lanterns that line its interior.

When we arrived back in Kyoto from Nara, we grabbed a beer at a nearby bar called Craft Beer Pub. We then went to dinner at Hafuu, a Kaiseki restaurant which is a traditional multi-course cuisine in Japan. We all had wagyu beef and it was by far the best we have ever had!

 

Day 6: December 29

On December 29 we slept in for a bit before grabbing breakfast at a coffee shop near Nijo Station. After breakfast, we took the subway west to Tenryū-ji Temple, which was initially built in 1339. The temple was built on the former site of an Emperor’s villa because a priest has dreamt that a dragon was rising from the nearby river, therefore meaning that the Emperor’s soul was at unease. As a result, the temple was built to ease the Emperor’s soul and it was named “Heavenly Dragon.” The temple building that stands today was built in 1900 and is surrounded by a 14th century Zen garden.

After walking through the Zen garden, we reached the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. This bamboo forest is a “must see” in Kyoto. Walking between the bamboo stalks is atmospheric and somewhat magical!

At the end of the Bamboo Grove, we arrived at the entrance of the Okochi Sanso Villa, which is the home of the famous samurai actor Okochi Denjiro. We spent some time walking through the gardens surrounding the Villa since they were absolutely beautiful.

We then went across Togetsu-kyo Bridge to reach the Arashiyama Monkey Park. Once we arrived at the entrance, we hiked about 20 minutes uphill to see the monkeys. Over 200 Japanese monkeys live in the park. This park is extra special because while the monkeys run around free, all of the human visitors are in cages!

After feeding the monkeys, we hiked back downhill to find a place for lunch. We ended up having delicious soba in town at Togakushi. After lunch we took the subway east to Keage Station to go to The Philsopher’s Walk, a pedestrian path that follows a canal and is lined with cherry blossom trees. We started at the southern point of the path (Nanzen-ji Temple, which we already visited on our first day in Kyoto) and walked North. We stopped along the way at a beautiful temple named Zenrinji.

After exploring The Philsopher’s Walk, we took a cab back to our AirBnB to relax before having an early dinner.

 

Day 7: December 30

We spent our last day in Kyoto exploring Fushimi Inari Taisha, a shrine that sits at the base of a mountain. We got to the Shrine early and hiked for about two hours through thousands of orange gates.

For those interested in visiting this shrine, we highly recommend going early. On our way back down the mountain, the trail was packed with tourists!!

After visiting the shrine, we had ramen in Kyoto Station’s “Ramen Alley” before boarding the bullet train back to Tokyo. For dinner in Tokyo we went to a Shabu-Shabu restaurant. Shabu-Shabu is a Japanese hotpot dish of thinly sliced meat and vegetables boiled in water.

 

Day 8: December 31

Most of Tokyo shuts down for New Years, but we were still able to find some fun activities. We spent the morning at Tokyo Tower to see beautiful views of the city from above.

We then went to Akihabara Electric Town, Tokyo’s “Times Square.” After being blown away by all of the crazy lights and electronics, we decided to do as the Japanese do and go to a cat cafe! 🐱

We then had a late lunch and relaxed at the hotel before heading to our New Year’s Eve cruise on Tokyo Bay.

The cruise was great! There was a live marching band, open bar, and fireworks!

 

Day 9: January 1

After a late night, we all decided to sleep in. After grabbing a late breakfast/early lunch in Tokyo Station, we took the train to Odaiba. In Odaiba we walking along the water and explored the nearby mall.

We took the train back just as the sun started to set and the views were beautiful!

We had dinner at a bbq place in the Ginza District. We barbecued many of the meats ourselves, including tongue! 😬

 

Day 10: January 2

For our last, full day in Japan we decided to explore Ueno Park. In the morning while it was still a bit chilly, we went to the “Van Gogh in Japan” exhibit at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. It was interesting to learn that while Van Gogh was very influenced by the Japanese, he never actually ever visited Japan!

After the museum we went to the Ueno Zoo to see some pandas 🐼.

For lunch we went to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant.

We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening strolling around the Imperial Palace (where the emperor appeared earlier in the morning). We reached the Andaz by 5:00pm for our last evening drinks and dinner!

 

Day 11: January 3

We all went our separate ways on January 3. Jordan, Laura, and Fred went to the airport early to head back to NYC. We relaxed for the day and strolled around Ginza before heading to airport for our flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. All in all, Japan an amazing, memorable vacation!! 🇯🇵❤️

Southern Thailand

We spent December 16 – December 23 in the islands of Southern Thailand. We had an amazing time and definitely, definitely want to come back at some point!! 🌴🌞

Phuket

Phuket is the biggest destination for tourism in Southern Thailand. Although the beaches are beautiful, they were extremely crowded. We spent two nights on Patong Beach (at an awesome hostel!), which was the perfect amount of time.

  • Patong Beach: This is the most famous beach resort area in Phuket. Although the beach was crowded, there were tons of good restaurants and umbrellas for us to hang at.

  • Phang Nga Bay: This bay, also known as Ao Phang Nga National Park, is about a 30 minute boat ride from Phuket and known for its limestone cliffs and caves. We booked a day trip here with an agency called John Gray’s Sea Canoe. We departed Phuket midday and boarded a big boat where we had a delicious, healthy lunch (cooked by the chef and crew onboard) as we sailed towards Phang Nga Bay. When we arrived, we got on a sea kayak with our guide for the day named Dool. Throughout the rest of the day, Dool brought us through many caves and to see many bays. One of the caves was a bat cave, also known as “Tidal Nape Sea Cave,” where we had to lie down in the kayak at one of the openings because the tide was too high! Once we got through the opening, the bay was picturesque! We also saw a rock formation in the shape of a skull and a big limestone cliff that the locals have started to call “Miny James Bond Island” (we decided not to go to the real James Bond Island since it’s just a huge tourist trap and this day trip would be much more enjoyable and have similar, and even better, views). Dool also showed us many of the fish and birds in the area, including jelly fish that surprisingly don’t sting!! At first Mel didn’t believe him, so to prove it to her he simply grabbed the jelly fish from the water with his bare hands!! After our lovely afternoon kayak tour with Doole, we spent the rest of the afternoon kayaking and swimming on our own before having delicious, Thai dinner. After dinner, Dool helped us make a flower “Kratong” that we then set off in the caves while making a wish. While in the caves after sunset, we flicked our hands and paddles in the water and got to see tons of bioluminescent plankton!

  • Night Market: Like most places we have been to in Asia, Patong had a great night market! Make sure to get a Thai pancake (and of course we got ours with peanut butter).

  • Muay Thai: We took a Muay Thai class at our hostel! It was an intense workout and we learned how strong (and flexible!!) fighters need to be 🥊!

Phi Phi

Phi Phi Island is a two hour ferry ride from Phuket. The set of small islands are famous for their appearance in the movie ‘The Beach,” Leonardo DiCaprio’s first movie. The actual beach used in the film is now extremely touristy with dozens of long tail boats. We saw the beach from the ferry, but decided that we could skip it and spend our short time in Phi Phi exploring the main island instead. When we arrived at Phi Phi, we were astonished by how developed it was since we had previously learned that the 2004 tsunami claimed over 1,000 lives. We soon learned that although the tsunami devastated most of the island, it only took two years to restore!

  • Hike to the viewpoints: The island has three main viewpoints that are an easy hike from the main town. The first two viewpoints were nice, but the third hidden viewpoint was the best! Just ask any local to point you towards the trail and it’s a quick 10 minute hike from viewpoint two.

  • Long Beach: This is known to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Phi Phi. We walked there for sunset, had dinner on the beach, and took a private long boat around the bend to get back to our hotel.

  • Aroy Kaffeine: We had a healthy, delicious breakfast here! The menu includes local food as well as our Western food, including peanut butter and açaí 🙌🏼.

Koh Lanta

We went to Koh Lanta for our last stop in Thailand! This island was our favorite, since it is much more easy-going and less touristy compared to Phuket and Phi Phi. We stayed at an amazing resort called SriLanta, which sits on a peaceful, white sand beach.

  • Go scuba diving: Several of the islands surrounding Koh Lanta offer amazing scuba diving trips. Cody dove with Anti-Gravity Divers, who were located next to our hotel and have a large boat that handled the large waves well. On the first day, he dove at Koh Bida which is near the Phi Phi Islands. The limestone cliff-island sinks about 30 meters into the water and offers large coral reefs as well as giant moray eels, snapper, barracuda and a large venomous seasnake. The second day at Koh Haa was even better. A local favorite dive-spot, Koh Haa is larger and has a few cave swim-throughs and large schools of fish around every corner.

  • Relax, do yoga, and get a Thai massage on the beach 🏖