Interlude: The writing on the wall

We’ve just passed the one-year anniversary of our round-the-world adventure, and it’s been nearly six months since our winter trip to France and Germany. Although we’ve totally upended our lives and moved into an RV, at the moment that isn’t creating much in the way of compelling content. Instead, we thought we’d share some travel photos that haven’t yet made it on the blog.

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One of the things we loved so much about Berlin was the stunning array of street art. Berlin’s street art tradition is now known worldwide; the city was recently designated an official City of Design by UNESCO. (Oddly, Detroit is the only U.S. selection.)

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Manger et boire à Paris

Of course we went on a food tour while in Paris. How could we not? This is the city where I learned to cook (and drink), and there are far too many delicious choices to navigate on your own. Many thanks to Jennifer from Paris by Mouth, who escorted us through the Saint-Germain neighborhood with grace, hospitality and true passion for food and wine.

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Our first stop: the esteemed Poilâne bakery, the most famous boulanger in the world. Poilâne is operated by Apollonia Poilâne, who took over the company when her parents died in an accident in 2002. She was eighteen, and she ran the company from her dorm room at Harvard until her graduation, four years later. Interviewed during that time, she said, “The one or two hours you spend procrastinating, I spend working. It’s nothing demanding at all.” Words of wisdom, indeed.

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32,831 miles later

About eight months ago, we decided to put our regular lives on hold for a brief period and venture out to see the world again. We were heartsick and weary and in desperate need of a break from pretty much everything except each other. So we gave away our chickens, threw a few clothes in a backpack and locked up our house. And thus it happened that on a chilly January day, we left Colorado for Japan.

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Colorado

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Japan

In Japan, we visited monkeys in hot tubs and worked on farms. We ate ramen and tempura and so many other delicious things. We walked Tokyo and Kyoto and fell deeply, completely in love with a country so strange and different and welcoming and lovely that we cannot wait to return.

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New Zealand

From Japan, we flew to New Zealand. We rented a ragged campervan and drove the length and breadth of the country. We stumbled on an old sheep station and did some stunning walks and learned how macadamia nuts grow. And we discovered that we are perfectly content to live in a campervan…and we plan to do that again soon, too.

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Cambodia

After New Zealand, we were off to southeast Asia. We started in Cambodia with Angkor Wat and we also saw interesting things being made, like incense and rice noodles and tofu. Oh, and it was hot. (At least we thought so until we got to India, where we learned what heat really is.)

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Vietnam

We traveled overland to Vietnam, where we jumped on trains, dodged motorbikes, devoured street food and struggled to learn more about a conflicted country with a conflicted history.

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Thailand

Then it was time for a brief rest in Thailand; we went to more markets and bicycled through rice paddies and learned how to make handmade paper. We didn’t ride any elephants but we loved our time on the Banana Pancake Trail.

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India

No matter what, we weren’t ready for the heat and noise and crush and total sensory assault that is India. We’ve never traveled anywhere that we loved and hated in equal measure – sometimes in the exact same moment – and this complicated country has for certain gotten under our skin. We’ll be back here, too, and much better prepared this time.

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Spain

We flew from India to England, with a brief jaunt to gorgeous Madrid. This is one hell of a city…we miss drinking canas and eating jamón y queso at 2AM with hundreds of other people in the city’s beautiful plazas.

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England

We finished with some restorative time in the Midlands’ lush, rolling hills, where the innumerable shades of intense green defy belief. Hours of walking with only cows and sheep for company and then perhaps a brief stop at the local pub for a pint of Tiger. It’s not the worst way to spend a day.

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Colorado

And that brings us to now. We’ve been home for about three weeks and we’re struggling to adjust. This is not the country we left; it has been immensely challenging to reconcile the joy and freedom and lovely people of our travels with the rage and divisiveness and fear currently smothering all of us like a dense fog. But we’re back on our bikes, we’re volunteering on a goat farm and we’ve planted our garden. And this fall, we’ll be out on the road again to search for our farm property in earnest. Thanks for joining us on our travels over these past months and please stay tuned, friends, as our journey has just begun. We’re off to find Quiet Farm.

Four days in Spain

In the midst of a few weeks in England with N’s family, we tucked in a quick trip to Madrid. N and I have both been to other parts of Spain before – Barcelona, the Balearics, Valencia, Seville and Granada – but neither of us had visited Madrid, and we absolutely adored this city. Just look at this architecture!

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See the small black dots in the lower center? They’re turtles! In a train station!

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Walk this way

We believe that one of the best ways to explore a big city is by walking it. During this adventure, N and I have tackled Kyoto, Tokyo, Auckland and Wellington, plus numerous small towns and villages. Never before, however, have we encountered as much danger as we did when exploring Ho Chi Minh City (formerly and still sometimes Saigon) and Hanoi in Vietnam.

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It’s every man (or woman) for themselves out here.

Imagine the biggest non-motorway road you can. Now envision it filled entirely with cars, and fill in the empty spaces with thousands of motorbikes. Add more motorbikes. Throw in pedestrians, elderly women on bicycles, wheeled carts filled with vegetables, tuk-tuks, and a few more motorbikes, just for good measure. Feel free to paint in lane lines and dividers on your imaginary road, but don’t worry too much as everyone will assiduously ignore these. Now imagine that everyone who has access to a horn or a bell or any other noisemaking device is using it – at the same time. Oh, and don’t forget to let everyone text while they’re driving. Now you might just barely have the tiniest inkling of the risk involved in walking Vietnamese city streets.

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Southeast Asia is absolutely overrun with motorbikes. Tourists can rent them, but do so at your own risk; serious accidents are common.

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We love walking (maybe me just a touch more than N, especially in the southeast Asian heat) but never before has it been quite so difficult. Even on the sidewalk – ostensibly a safe haven – we faced myriad obstacles.

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Sidewalks in Vietnam aren’t so much for walking as they are for sitting down to catch up with friends.

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If the road traffic is too much, the motorbikes will join the pedestrians on the sidewalks. Also, feel free to park your car wherever you’d like, as demonstrated on left.

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Pop-up meat markets, like this one, also make navigating sidewalks in Hanoi somewhat challenging.

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Oranges, anyone?

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We regularly saw bicycles and motorbikes loaded with two, three or four family members. Child safety seats? Not so much.

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The kid sandwiched on the motorbike in the foreground apparently doesn’t need a helmet.

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Even when the crosswalk light says it’s the pedestrians’ turn, this is typically the gauntlet you face. Beware.

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No, that isn’t a crashproof bike helmet.

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We saw motorbikes carrying all manner of goods, from extension ladders to mini fridges to lengths of steel pipe to balloon bouquets.

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The bicycle on the right is loaded with ceramics for sale. Imagine how heavy and unwieldy it must be to ride.

We learned quickly that the only way to make progress was to take a deep breath and step out into traffic. No one is actually driving all that fast, and the motorbikes will elegantly navigate around pedestrians like a shoal of fish. As long as you move smoothly and consistently – and don’t stop in the middle – the system actually works, surprisingly. It defies all Western conventions. Numerous times, we saw panicked tourists frozen on the side (or the middle!) of the big roads. Know that a good degree of faith is required.

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Apprentice monks have places to go, too.

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Yes, N was crossing the road when he snapped the shot. Risky job, this.

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Drivers wait for a fare…these carts only seat one passenger, so they’re not practical unless you’re traveling solo.

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Notice here that lane lines and directional traffic are merely a suggestion.

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We read a helpful travel trip: “If taking a motorbike taxi, ensure your driver is sober and lucid.” Honestly, how would you know? Our airport shuttle bus driver fell asleep with alarming regularity along the journey.

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4AM and we can finally use the pedestrian crosswalk safely.

Navigating Vietnamese cities on foot has been one of the trickiest and most tiring parts of our travel thus far, but it certainly qualifies as an adventure!