A Travellerspoint blog

USA

Steamboat, Minneapolis, Chicago and New York City

sunny
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Arrived in Denver for the last leg of our ski holiday...
Straight off the plane, Kelly took us to his skating rink to practice for his show in Steamboat, and we gracefully joined him (well Tara did at least while i continuously pulled a cutting edge move by tripping over my "toe-pic!")
After one day of spring skiing with Kelly and Kierann, we were worried about how long the slush would last. However spring skiiing was the last thing on our minds as we got "snowed in" by the massive Colorado snow storm of 2009 (over 20 inches in 3 days), and were reluctantly forced to extend our last ski holiday by one day. 3 weeks of skiing clearly wasn't enough!

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Steamboat here we come!
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After comparing the latest technology with Tara's old "slick sticks", we tried to convince Gary to stick his on the wall where they belong. Although he wouldn't admit how much he loved a pair of parabolics, they must have been pretty good since he ended up buying them for a deal of a lifetime!
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We were pleasantly surprised to run into my old skating coach, Jean, and her husband Jon in screams of joy (literally) on the ski slopes.
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Sideways tree skiing - for experts only! (And just randomly wondering, if anyone knows how to rotate a video clip, please let us know!)

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Minneapolis quickly became a haven for us to recover from the first two months of our trip. It was wonderful to spend time with family and friends. Addie is growing faster than ever and continues to charm us with her funny comments such as when Tasha asked her if she wanted to put her hair in a pony - "No, I want CRAZY hair!". Charlotte is the happiest baby we have ever seen. You look at her, and she smiles. You smile at her and she laughs. Adorable.
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Travelling in Style on our way to Chicago!
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Chicago:
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We were just in time to see the season-opening game of the Chicago Whitesox taking on the Kansas City Royals. The military jet flyover and fireworks were a fitting start with the Sox coming good at the bottom of the 8th with a 3-run homer that the Royals couldn't match in their last innings to take the game a close 4-2. Although it looked beautiful and sunny, it was actually freezing (windy...)!!
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New York:

New York also was a great break for us with Aliceyn very kindly loaning her apartment to us while she was soaking up the sun in Florida. It was a perfect base for us and again were able to catch up with many friends and re-visit some of our favourite neighbourhoods as well as new ones.

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Although the weather was pretty gloomy for most of our week in NY, we were lucky to have some sun on our last morning, which we spent taking a walk through Central Park - we could certainly feel spring in the air!
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Posted by HT 16:10 Archived in USA Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Canada

Vancouver and Mountains!

rain 5 °C
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At least when we arrived in Vancouver it wasn't raining...unfortunately it didn't take long before our luck changed. Anyway, it was a promising early morning drive from the airport to Tom Johander's apartment across from Granville Island. We were also able to squeeze in a great sunset shot from his apartment.
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We spent a few relaxing days around Vancouver, which was much needed change of pace after nearly two months of go go go. Home cooked meals with Tom, cycling around Stanley Park, Granville Island markets, ferries to Granville Island and over to Vancouver island in Victoria, cafes (great coffee finally!), etc. Vancouver is a very nice city and we really enjoyed our time there.
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WHISTLER!
We drove up with Tom on Saturday to see what all the fuss was about. Tom could only ski for one day, but fortunately for him in his words, ¨It was the best skiing in Whistler ever.¨ It was definitely a great day with fresh powder and almost spring skiing conditions. We were fortunate to stay another two days, but the weather cooled down considerably (as low as -27 degrees celcius/-9 farenheight). Burr! But we pushed through and enjoyed some amazing skiing including the glacier at blackcomb.
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Our next stop after Whistler was Vernon to visit Andrew's Aunt Gill and her husband Chris. We hired a car and drove 6 hours through the beautiful mountains. We saw this reservoir had to stop to take a picture (and it was time for a bathroom break in the woods!). Skiing aside, we had a very relaxing week with Gill and Chris. we got them hooked on a card game of 500 which kept us up late into many of the nights, movies, and wonderful dinners (thanks again Gill!) They showed us the highlights of Silverstar (where Chris was thankfully very patient with the camera work and video), their local mountain and we discovered together a new mountain, Revelstoke, which was an expert's paradise (ie skiers like us!) with virtually all black runs and 2000m of elevation from top to bottom.
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Synchro Skiing...It took a while to get this video just right but we finally got it together (or as close as we were ever going to get!)...

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When we saw this at the top of the gondola, we knew we were in for a great day!!
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In case the text is a bit small to read, here it is:
¨# of people who have spent the night (unprepared) in the backcountry in the last 31 days: 9


  1. of people who have required a helicopter sling rescue: 4


minimum backcountry rescue cost: $500
risk to yourself and rescuer: unacceptable
respecting the mountain, our ski area boundaries and your own life: priceless¨

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Before heading back to Vancouver, we managed to get our taste buds ready for Argentina with a few visits to some of the famous wineries here. Very popular here is the Gewurstraminer grape and late harvest ice wines. For something more our style, the merlots were big full bodied wines. Although it is a pity that their wines are mainly for domestic consumption.
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Back to Vancouver! Views of downtown Vancouver from Grouse Mountain were unbelievably gorgeous. we snow shoed to the top of the mountain in the late afternoon making it back to the chalet just in time for the amazing sunset and to watch the lights turn on in the city. The clouds formed a ceiling just above the setting sun in a perfectly straight line. All you see in the photo below is sun and clouds in the middle, the top black half is the flat cloud, and the black below is the mountain. A great way to end our stay in Vancouver!
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Posted by HT 09:39 Archived in Canada Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Japan

Hakuba, Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo

0 °C
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After a month of travelling through Indochina, we were definitely looking forward to cooling off in Japan and what we had started to refer to as "our holiday" (of course, within a holiday - sorry, that was not meant to be facetious for those sitting in their offices!).

Our first stop in Japan was Nagano, home of the 1998 Olympics.

Andrew was one of the lucky ones to be protected from the cold by the carpet of hair on his face. My smooth skin on the other hand was not helping me one bit, so my latest obsession was the hot cans of coffee, tea, and hot chocolate that were dispensed from the vending machines...that, and the beer can vending machines which you can get ALL over Japan, and they were especially nice at the bottom and top of the ski slopes.
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It was a lot of fun catching up with Mal and Sally and all of their friends in Nagano. Here we all are eating at one of the many low tables where we tasted horse sashimi among many other delicious Japanese food.
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This was this gorgeous snowy path we walked through on our way to see the snow monkeys soaking in hot springs. I can say this was one of the highlights of Japan for me, but Andrew was not a happy camper when he had to give up a day of skiing to see ¨some monkeys¨. However, even if he doesnt admit to it, he agrees 100% with me that it was UNFORGETTABLE!
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Despite the somewhat grumpy expressions on their faces, the monkeys were very tame and playful and they did not seem at all bothered by us standing only centimeters away from them. We only saw one monkey who tried to swipe a woman´s camera from her when she got a little bit too close.
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This is how we would feel the following week after days of soaking in the ''onsen'' (Japanese hot springs)...very relaxed!
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KYOTO and OSAKA:

Andrew was so jealous of the monkeys, that he decided it was his turn for a soak...
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We went to many temples in Kyoto and saw many cultural treasures of Japan thanks to Aki, Mitzie, and Kiku Kojima who were wonderful hosts. The colors of spring were starting to bloom and it was evident on the cherry and plum blossom trees scattered across Kyoto. Aki and Mitzie also gave us an incredible gastromonic experience (lobster sashimi was my favorite and Andrew loved the Kobe beef BBQs and Japanese pancakes, okonomiyaki), ensured we were very relaxed thanks to the many hours of soaking in hot springs every day (which was especially nice after hours of walking around the city), and introduced us to a ryokan hotel where we slept on tatami mats and had breakfast cooked for us in our room. Andrew was in beer heaven at the Suntory beer factory, followed by whisky heaven at the Suntory whisky distillery. We managed to squeeze in a few games of pachinko in Osaka, which made me dizzy and tired. Andrew had me feeling very hopeful when he shared his victory story of winning $200 the last time he played years ago in Japan. So you can imagine my disappointment when our around the world trip was not paid back by a miraculous jackpot on the machines.

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I wish all cities had this hot spring foot bath at the train stations so we can relax before boarding the next train!
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Tokyo:

Tokyo is a hustle and bustle city filled with many interesting cultural experiences. We wandered the streets of Harajuku where people watching is possibly the best in the world due to mainly girls dressed up in costume which is a mix between goth and Alice in Wonderland. We enjoyed practically the freshest sashimi possible at the Tsukiji fish markets in the early hours of the morning where they are at their busiest - despite the early start however, we had to be quick on our feet to avoid being run over by the motorized carts zipping around all over the place. We couldn't believe the size of the fish at the fish markets, and we were amazed by the massive tunas and scallops that were the size of my fist. Although HK and Tokyo are both cities where space is limited, the thought of a ''room'' advertised as 2x2 metres was hilarious and had to try it out! And believe it or not, the capsule hotel was truly a fun experience for us. The girls stay on different floors from the men, so Andrew and I kissed goodnight in the elevator at the end of our day and we crawled into our little cubbies for the night.
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See you in Canada...!

Posted by HT 09:33 Archived in Japan Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Vietnam

Mekong Delta, Central Highlands, Hoi An and Hanoi

sunny 25 °C
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Hello again!

So, after Cambodia, we crossed into Vietnam at Chau Doc in the Mekong Delta, and slightly anxious about the mere 14 days we had to reach Hanoi, quickly headed on down to Can Tho, where we arranged a visit to the floating market.

Bringing the goods in...We were also able to sample pineapple which our driver cut up for us, pomelo and even a hot pot of coffee from one of the boats that pulled up next to us - given the 5:30am start, it was very welcome.
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After weaving in and out of the floating markets and canals of the delta region, we were offered snakes for lunch, but opted for fish instead - it was delicious and came with rice paper and vegetables which we used to wrap our own fresh spring rolls
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After seeing what passes for a "bridge" in Vietnam, I don't think we can complain about the bridges in Minneapolis - the locals were even carrying their bikes across!
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After a short stop-off in HCM City, we decided to take the path (somewhat) less travelled through the Central Highlands of Vietnam to Hoi An. Our first stop in Dalat revealed a charming mountain city built around a beautiful lake and stunning sunset. It was easy to see why the French often came here as a summer retreat from the hotter and more humid lowland cities. It was also a very easy city to tour around with motorbikes available for rent. After a few anxious moments (mainly for Tara on the back after seeing me do a few wheelies during the practice run!), I was able to get used to the manual gear shifts and we were free to zip around the local sights.
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More waterfalls...
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Tara brushing up on her archery - could come in handy if we run out of money!
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Our next stop was in Buon Ma Thout, where Vietnamese coffee and green tea is grown - and tastes great! Apart from a few minority groups, there was little else to see and do here (even finding a restaurant open past 6:30pm was a challenge), but some beautiful scenery and virtually zero tourists by now (most go to Dalat and then back to the coast).
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Propaganda not yet dead in Vietnam...
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The next few shots concern our harrowing bus trips from Kon Tum down through the mountains to Danang and then to Hoi An. In short, we were seriously concerned for our lives as this bus full of about 20 people hurtled around narrow mountain roads and around blind corners on the wrong side of the road...we could have been back in Hong Kong, the bus spent so much time on the left hand side! Although we passed another wreckage of a bus that was being cleared and towed away by police, this seemed to have zero impact on our driver who resumed his reckless driving immediately after passing the police barricades...After about 6 hours of driving in this manner, we arrived at our destination (alive!) and very much ready for more than a few drinks! You can see in the picture below that even the locals are in awe of what is happening in the back of the bus...
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The toll on Tara's mental health was starting show as we set out from Danang on another bus that was almost no less stressful than the first and to relieve her state of high stress, she jotted down some lines on what we have been going through...
"Bus trips from hell,
Panic, rushing, too slow,
Pushing old ladies out the door without stopping,
Why 2 horns?
Swerving, loading junk onto bus, so much stuff!
Yelling, head-on traffic, people vomiting in plastic bags and throwing them out the window,
Ripping us off, woman yelling "Aye Aye Aye Aye Aye!", but where is she?
Loading motorbikes, bicycles and fishing equipment onto bus, mean boy in yellow shirt collecting money and yelling,
People grabbing my arms, stress, can't calm down
Scared for my life, need some peace and quiet, help
people running frantically up and down the aisle,
Screeching tires around sharp corners, way too fast,
Stop passing people, it isn't a race,
Stay on the right side of the road, "oh my god",
"We are safe, we are safe, we are safe...""

Although proud to have made the trip through the highlands using all local transport, an organised tour group seems the preferable and safer way to go if we do it again...But all smiles now in lovely Hoi An, where we were finally able to enjoy a beer with our survival buddies Karli and Annika from Estonia, who we met in Buon Ma Thout
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Some scenes from Hoi An where Tara enjoyed the shopping (including no less than 2 pairs of new tailor-made shoes which somehow found their way into my backpack!), we hit the beach a couple of times and visited the My Son ruins. We also ate extremely well and not only were restaurants open for dinner, but there was more than 1 restaurant open for dinner!
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Well, after a short (and cheap) plane trip from our sanctuary in Hoi An, we made it to Hanoi with a few days up our sleeves but time was still short to arrange the various tours and other activities we wanted to squeeze in before heading on to Japan...Fortunately, we had read up on the local scam in Lonely Planet before arriving - we jumped into a cab at the airport, showed the driver the hotel we wanted to go to and showed him on a map and everything seemed fine. As we neared the destination, I felt something was not quite right as he started to drive away from where we needed to go and suddenly he started telling us that there was a festival on and roads were blocked and refused to drive down streets that were clearly still open to traffic. Anyway, we finally started pulling up to a kerb and I looked up to see what hotel it was - clearly not our hotel, however, to our amazement, someone ran out of the hotel shouting welcome and the name of the hotel we had originally asked to be taken to. After telling the man I was not born yesterday, a stalement ensued as the driver refused to drive and I refused to get out of the cab or pay until we were taken to the right place. Eventually, the driver agreed and we drove on, but before we even made it there, he again started saying it was around the corner and it was closed to traffic (another lie). We didn't believe him, but had had enough so got out and walked the last couple of blocks. The final insult came when the driver had the cheek to ask for more money because we forced him to drive further than we agreed at the airport! Of course, he didn't get anywhere with that - we are battle-hardened now.

While tempting to try the local thing and my beard was certainly getting to that point, we could hear the scraping skin from where we took the photo, so I decided my own shaver was probably best!
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The water puppet show was definitely a highlight of Hanoi!
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Our first destination outside of Hanoi was a river trip at Tam Coc, aka the "Halong Bay of the Rice Paddies", and then on to the real Halong Bay (in the Ocean) where we boated through the mysterious mountains, kayaked through caves, and had a tasty seafood lunch before arriving on our private island for the night.
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On our last day in Vietnam, we woke up in our beach bungalow to the sound of waves crashing into the beach and the taste of salt in the air and that same day we were off to Japan for our ski "holiday" where we were greeted with several inches of cold dry snow!

Posted by HT 09:22 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Photo Update


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As promised, here is an update of some photos from our time in Laos and Cambodia now we have a fast internet connection and reliable computer (Vancouver!)...

The SBC preparing for an afternoon of tubing down the Nam Song River in Vang Vieng (more correctly called a pub crawl):
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After a few courage boosting "special" drinks, it was hard to resist the 15m rope swings dotted along the river!
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Another change of pace when we left Vang Vieng to kayak down to Vientiane, including through the rapids behind us...but somehow managed to capsize only after passing safely through - go figure! Our guides were cooking our BBQ lunch at this point.
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Four Thousand Islands and Champasak in southern Laos
By the time we left, this bus had 37 people in the back. It was unbelievable.
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Remember the Where's Waldo books? Well, this is our version, but it is called Where's Andrew? The bus wasn't even half full yet when I took this picture.
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We had been riding the bus for about 20 minutes when all of a sudden it stops and 30 people come running towards our bus with meat on sticks. There must have been about 20 dead chickens, 4 dead pigs, and maybe some rats that were shoved into our faces via the openings on the sides of the bus. And everyone bought at least one, if not 5 meat on sticks. Lao people eat all day long! This happened again about 20 minutes later when everyone on the bus except for Andrew and I bought huge bunches of some kind of vegetable/fruit that smelled like a cross between a turnip and an apple. Which by the way ended up either on my lap or under my feet!
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The Angkor Wat Temples of Siem Reap - starting with our favourite, the famous faces of The Bayon
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Fortunately, this one was in a friendlier mood...!
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And a beautiful sunset...
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A random elephant amongst the traffic in Phnom Penh
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If you can believe it, there were five on this bike...the 4 you see and a little baby on the left leg of the lady in the back
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Skulls at the killing fields
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Posted by HT 19:47 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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