candid cambodia

One thing that’s great about travel is that it takes you out of you comfort zone. Physically you’re out of your comfort zone, but also photographically travel takes me out of my comfort zone. I would say I’m more of a landscape/outdoor photographer, but traveling lets me take photos that I wouldn’t normally take. I’m not usually much of a people photographer, but something about travelling makes me more of a people watcher, so I decided to try my hand at people photography.

watercolor artist at work

One thing that impressed me about Cambodia was all the artists. Every market in Cambodia had artwork for sale, and a lot of it was very impressive.

leather work

There’s also a lot of artisans, and they seem to start at a very young age, like this boy working with leather.

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Sadly there are many people who were injured from land mines. At several places around the Angkor temple complex you can hear bands formed from people handicapped by mines.

resting in the shadeSometimes you take a picture that you think tells one story, but find later that the story is completely different. I took this picture of what I thought was a guy relaxing alone with his guide book at the top of the temple steps. It wasn’t until I got home and saw the picture on my computer monitor that I saw the crutches.

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I’m not sure what the story is behind these kids. At several of the temples I saw kids playing alone. I didn’t see any parents, and they weren’t begging for money, they were oblivious to all the tourists around them.

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There were also many kids selling souvenirs. They were obviously not oblivious to tourists. They would literally follow you all the way back to your tuk tuk. I felt bad for this one (partly cuz I took her picture while she was following me) so I bought some post cards from her. Later on at our hotel I saw a flyer that explained why we shouldn’t buy from these kids.

buddhist ascetism aint what it used to be

Possibly because many of the Angkor temples are Buddhist there seemed to be a lot of monks around. To me it’s a bit strange to see a monk with a tablet and a cellphone is in his hand. Buddhist asceticism isn’t what it used to be.

freshly blended fruit shakes

At the night markets there are a lot of fruit shake stalls that will blend you a shake for a $1. They have Jamba Juice beat on price and taste, and it was especially refreshing in the warm and humid climate in Cambodia.

whole family on a motorcycle

We saw a lot of interesting sights from the back seat of our tuk tuk. The families on motorcycles especially amazed me. Back home a 250cc motorcycle would be considered under-powered, but here we could see entire families no one 125cc motorcycle.

These candid photos are a bit different from my usual photos. Something I realized is that I missed focus on a lot of these pictures, I should’ve taken my time and focused on the subjects’ eyes. But then in taking my time I’d probably lose the candid feel of the photos. So I think I just need to continue to practice at getting faster at focusing but at the same time staying less noticeable.

siem reap

The last stop for us in southeast Asia was Siem Reap in Cambodia. From here everyone else would travel back home to California, while I would continue on to Korea to visit relatives. Siem Reap served as a great finale to a trip that had been full of incredible experiences.

the road outside our hotel.

For some reason I had expected Siem Reap to be pretty undeveloped, with dirt roads everywhere. But when we arrived I was surprised to find that everywhere we went there were paved roads. Well, everywhere except for the street that our guest house was on. For some reason the street that we were staying at was still a dirt road, with chickens and stray dogs roaming around. When we rounded the corner to our guesthouse for the first time I was thinking, “Really?! What just happened? This does not look promising…We literally went from first world to third world when we turned onto the street our guesthouse was on…” The guesthouse turned out to be really nice though, with comfortable air conditioned rooms, and super friendly staff. There even was a nice swimming pool.

riding to the angkor complex by tuk tuk

Just about everyone who visits Siem Reap is there to view Angkor Wat, so the day after our arrival in Siem Reap we took a tuk-tuk to the Angkor Wat complex. A tuk-tuk is a carriage attached to the back of a motorcycle. Riding in one takes some getting used to, because there are of course no seat belts, and the streets can be chaotic.

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This is the famed Angkor Wat. Apparently many people wake up super early to take a picture of the sunrise here, but we were too lazy to wake up that early. We heard it was overrated anyways, because the bazillion other people there trying to take the same sunrise picture at the same time kinda ruins the experience.

asian tourists seemed to be everywhere.

The temple complex definitely was crowded, especially with Asian tourists. Apparently (and surprisingly) Koreans are the biggest tourist group in Siem Reap, followed closely by the Chinese.

climbing the steps to the top of angkor wat

There are mobs of people at all the famous tourist sites, but the biggest crowd was at the steps to the top of Angkor Wat.

first view of the bayon. this ended up being my favorite temple.

Angkor Wat is the temple that most people have heard of, but there are actually quite a lot of temples in the Angkor Wat complex. My favorite within the complex was this one, the Bayon.

more faces

The Bayon is interesting because all of the four sided towers have faces carved into each of the sides.

nose to nose

You can get nose to nose with the faces of the Bayon. Okay not really, but our guide pointed out a bunch of interesting spots to take photos, like this one where it does sorta look like you’re nose to nose.

incredibly detailed carvings on one of the towers at banteay srei

Another of my favorite temples was Banteay Srei. This one actually wasn’t in the Angkor Wat complex, it actually was a fairly long tuk-tuk ride away from where most of the rest of the temples are. It’s worth making the trek out there though, because it’s a bit different from the rest in that the sandstone is a brighter pink color, and the carvings in the sandstone are much more intricate.

ye old market in siem reap

The temples are the main attraction in Siem Reap, but the markets are pretty interesting too. These markets have a lot of stuff that is unique to Siem Reap, such as beautiful oil paintings of the Angkor Wat temples, or paintings of the floating villages on the lake outside of Siem Reap.

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The night markets were especially interesting to me, because you can get a lot of food for cheap, and there’s some really interesting and exotic foods. I tried this snake on a stick, and it only cost me one dollar. I also had frog and cricket, though I wasn’t brave enough to try the tarantula. It was all pretty cheap too, though I ended up paying for it later in toilet time because I ended up with some pretty bad diarrhea by the time I left Siem Reap.

Siem Reap was a great finale to an amazing journey, I really enjoyed my stay there. Exploring the temples was amazing, the food was cheap and good, the night life seemed fun (and not at all sleazy like it can be in certain parts of Asia), the only thing that put a damper on the enjoyment was the stomach aches and diarrhea I had. If I’m here again I think I’ll stay away from the snake and frogs and insects.

ah phuket, lets go diving

Landing in Phuket was a bit of a culture shock for me. I knew Thailand was not going to be as developed as Singapore or Europe, but I wasn’t prepared for how different it would be. In Europe and in Singapore transit was pretty easy, there were subway stations or trains for the most part to get us where we wanted to go. For the most part it was a matter of just looking up subway lines on Google maps.

Landing in Phuket immediately felt different. When we landed at the small airport in Phuket, we had no clue how to get to our hotel. There’s no train or subway. What they did have were these minivans and taxis. We decided to go with a minivan, mainly because it was much more cheaper than the taxi, but also because it seemed like everyone else was picking the minivan as well. So we went with the minivan, and found that it wouldn’t leave until it was completely full. And then before the minivan would drop off any of its passengers at their respective hotels, it would make a stop at a tour agency to try and sell us tour packages. We had already planned out our days in Thailand, so thankfully it wasn’t too hard a sell. We really only had two full days in Thailand, the first of which was dedicated to scuba diving.

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This might be the first selfie I’ve ever posted on this site, me and my dive buddy Tim. Unfortunately for us the one time I post a selfie is the one time it’s impossible to not look like a dork. Being underwater makes for an automatic bad hair day, and having a scuba regulator in your mouth causes extreme duck face.

DCIM101GOPROMy first impression of our divemaster wasn’t too great. He introduced himself as Philippe.  He barely said anything to us in the beginning, and on the boat ride to our dive site he basically went off by himself and chain smoked. But he actually turned out to be pretty cool. He was a diver for the French navy, and had served a tour in Iraq. (I didn’t know that the French navy had any part in the Iraq war– you learn something new every day.) When our boat started to get close to the dive site, he started to get friendlier and went over the safety protocols and dive site information with us. And at the end of the trip he talked about his life as a divemaster in Phuket, which actually sounded like a pretty sweet life.

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Philippe had a little pointer with him that he would use to point out stuff to us from time to time. Unfortunately for the most part I didn’t really understand what he was pointing at. He did point at some cool stuff that I did see though, we saw a little string ray that was camouflaged in the sand, and we saw a little parasitic fish that was latched onto a larger host fish. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of that stuff, for some reason every time I pulled my GoPro camera out of my buoyancy control jacket while he was pointing I got nothing.

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This dive trip resulted in a number of firsts for me. It was my first time diving from a boat. It was a bit scary at first, taking that big first step off the back of the boat. And dropping down to the bottom was a bit scary at first too, since it was my first dive in a couple of years. When we got to the sandy bottom our divemaster had us practice regulator recovery and mask clearing, which eased my mind, and as we started swimming around the bottom I began to relax a bit. Getting back on the boat was a learning experience too. We had to hang onto the ladder and pull off our fins, meanwhile the boat is rocking back and forth and there’s a heavy tank on your back making things a bit more challenging.

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Another first for me, swimming through an obstacle.

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Being underwater all day made us crave fish for dinner. We found a little outdoor seafood restaurant that seemed fairly popular, we stopped there and ordered some fish. It turned out to be pretty awesome, it was covered with aromatics, lime, chili, garlic and cilantro and steamed to perfection.

elephant high five

Our second day in Phuket was spent doing an elephant tour. I’m not usually big on organized tours, but the high five with the elephant at the start of the tour made me think that this would be pretty awesome.

the amazing view during the ride

The tour started with an elephant ride. During the ride there was a beautiful view of the bay. I think one of the islands at the far end of the bay was where we had gone diving the day before.

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The tour wasn’t all just elephants, it was a cultural tour of Thailand. They had Thai cooking demonstrations with amazing fresh made curry powder, along with coconut oil making, rice farming, and rubber harvesting demonstrations.

water buffalo tuk tuk

They even had a water buffalo tuk-tuk to ride.

thai buffet on a junk boat

The tour ended with a buffet on a boat ride in the bay.

patong beach

After the tour we walked around a bit to work off the buffet. We explored the touristy areas of Patong (the town in Phuket we were staying in) and walked on Patong beach. There are a ton of tourists from all over the place, but it seemed like the majority of tourists were European.

My first impression of Phuket wasn’t too great, but by the end of my time there I was enjoying it. I can see myself coming back. The food is awesome and cheap, and the scenery is beautiful. There’s not too much of the shady go-go bars and massage places that I heard other parts of Thailand has, it’s definitely more family friendly, especially if you stay away from the center of Patong. And apparently the diving is pretty good, our divemaster was telling us that the Similan islands which we could reach by liveaboard boat from Phuket has some world class diving.

singapore

Apparently Singapore is a pretty expensive city to stay in. We looked hard to find an affordable yet convenient rental on AirBnb, but gave up and ended up reserving a few nights at a backpackers’ hostel. When we arrived at the hostel, we were drenched in sweat. We found that the hostel wasn’t air conditioned, and we found that the room we were staying in had five bunk beds, so there were possibly going to be ten people trying to sleep in the humid heat.

Our recently met travel companions Sophia and Suzy had smartly booked a room in a hotel, and they found that there were rooms still available in their hotel, so we ended up cancelling our reservation at the hostel and booking a room at their hotel. It ended up being about $120 a night, which is close to double the next most expensive place we’d stayed at during this trip, but we decided it was a fair price to pay to be able to sleep at night. We lost the deposit that we paid for our hostel reservation, though in hindsight it wasn’t too bad because we got to store our bags there for the first day, and a locker at the train station would’ve probably cost the same as the deposit.

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We didn’t have too much of an itinerary for Singapore, more than anything it was a foodie destination for all of us. Our first stop was to Clarke Quay to visit Jumbo seafood for chili crab. Clarke Quay seemed to have a cool night life with various bars with bands playing live music, we would stop at one of them later on our trip where we discovered a cool local cover band called 3AM.

Singapore - chili crab @ jumbo seafood

One food I was really looking forward to trying in Singapore was the chili crab. It was pretty good, spicy and sweet and savory at the same time. Since I love crab so much I may try to make this at home sometime.

maxwell center. first singapore hawker center experience.

I’d heard much about the hawker center experience and was looking forward to visiting one to see what all the fuss is about. It’s kind of overwhelming, there are a ridiculous number of food stalls packed in a small area, so it’s hard to decide what to eat. Being a hawker center noob we just gravitated to the stalls with long lines of people ordering.

hainanese chicken rice

Hainanese chicken and rice was another dish that I was really looking forward to trying. We found a stall at the hawker center that had a long line of people waiting for it. It didn’t disappoint– the chicken was very moist, and the rice had soaked up a lot of the chicken flavor. I actually eat this at a restaurant back at home from time to time, but it’s much better in Singapore.

the marina bay sandsThe Marina Bay Sands is pretty cool, even from just an architectural standpoint. There’s a swimming pool and a park on the suspended roof, to me it boggles the mind that they can have that kind of structural load suspended in the air like that.

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There’s a bar at the top of the Marina Bay Sands called Ku De Ta. We went to the top so that we could get a view of the pool and of the skyline. The drinks were seriously expensive. This is the most expensive cocktail I’ve ever had. You’d think if you’re spending more than $20 for a drink it’d be strong at least, but no, this tasted pretty watered down.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother architectural marvel is the Cloud Forest, which happened to be next to the architectural marvel that is the Marina Bay Sands. In fact you can see the Marina Bay Sands through the glass.

indoor waterfall at the cloud forest

The Cloud Forest is a humongous indoor arboretum that’s large enough to house a 35 meter tall waterfall.

chinatown

We spent a good amount of time in Chinatown shopping for souvenirs, but they also had a pretty good and cheap hawker center.

pork noodles

The hawker center in Chinatown was where I had my cheapest meal in Singapore. It came to about $3 USD, and came with dry noodles, a bowl of soup, and even came with an iced lemon jello dessert (not pictured.)

layers of temple

This ended up being one of my favorite pictures from the trip. There’s a pretty big Buddhist temple at Chinatown, this was taken near the entrance.

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We went to the night safari. I kinda wish we had gotten there a little earlier so we could walk around more because I really enjoyed it. In concept I guess it’s not all that special, it’s basically not much different from a zoo. But it was cool because it’s open at night when the animals are most active. If I go back I think I’d want to take a camera that’s really good in the dark, maybe a Nikon D750 or Sony a7. My camera was pretty much pushed to the limits by the darkness there.

Singapore is a place I’ve been wanting to visit for a while. I would have to say it’s a nice place to visit, the city is clean, the food is great, and except for the night safari it’s easy to get around by subway. But I think for me, once is enough. It was too hot and humid for me, and this was in the winter. I’d probably die or at the very least be an incredibly uncomfortable sweaty mess if I ever went in the summertime.

passing through prague

The last city on the European leg of our journey was Prague. At this point we were starting to get weary of the winter weather in Europe and were looking forward to the warmth of southeastern Asia. And the lack of sleep was catching up to us. So we decided to take it easy, and just hit some of the main sites in Prague that were close by, spending most of our time at the old town square and Prague Castle.

waiting for the clock to chime

No trip to Prague would be complete without watching the Astronomic clock strike. Even though I’d seen it before it was still sorta mysterious and magical to watch it again.

view of the old town square from the clock tower

We decided to pick up a Prague card, which included a trip to the top of the clock tower. The view of the old town square is nice, especially since it was decked out for Christmas. It had a Christmas market similar to the ones in Vienna.

the charles bridge from our boat

We probably didn’t get our money’s worth on the Prague card, since we didn’t visit any museums and we didn’t ride the subway very much. But we did get to ride a boat underneath the Charles Bridge, which we probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.

spires

One of the things I love most about Prague is the architecture. There’s a ton of old buildings and towers with beautiful spires.

changing of the guard

Much of our sightseeing time in Prague was spent at the Prague Castle complex. We arrived just before the daily changing of the guard. I had staked out a spot outside of the gates to watch and take photos of the ceremonial changing.

musicians for the changing of the guard

But then I later found that it was actually more interesting to watch from inside the gates. Inside of the gates you can watch the band playing in the windows, and you can watch the officers performing their inspection of the soldiers.

waiting for the symphony concert

Inside of Lobkowicz Palace there’s a daily classical concert. The ensemble and performers apparently changes daily. We had a piano, flute, and violin perform a lot of classical pieces, some of which I recognized even with my extremely limited knowledge of classical music. I wasn’t sure on etiquette during these sorts of things so I didn’t take a picture during the performance, but in hindsight I wish I had since they were so talented.

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Even though it seemed like we didn’t spend too much time in the castle, we stayed until it started to get dark. During the golden hour the lights came on at St Vitus cathedral, and the tree in front of the cathedral was lit up as well, making for a much better nicer photo than the one I took earlier in the afternoon.

old town at night

By the time we reached the front of the castle it was getting pretty dark. The lights were starting to come on throughout the old town. Prague is a beautiful city, and the old town is even more beautiful at night.

The city of Prague holds a special place in my heart. Prague is the first city I had ever visited in Europe, and the similarly titled “Passage to Prague” is my first trip journal on this blog for an international destination. The train ride from Prague to Vienna during that trip was my first time riding the rails through Europe, and it was also my first experience traveling solo.

It’s been almost two years since that trip, and I’ve seen a little more of Europe since then. And it’s amazing to see how far I’ve come as a traveler– back then Prague and Vienna were the destinations, this time around Vienna and Prague were just stepping stones in a much longer journey. But even though I’ve become somewhat of a more seasoned traveler, it’s nice to see that places like Prague still have a bit of magic left in them.

vienna revisited

After spending a couple of days in Venice we hopped on a night train to Vienna. The sleeper bunks were all booked, so we ended up in second class seats for the eleven hour ride. It ended up being okay though, because we ended up in a train car that had separate little rooms for the second class seats, and we ended up being the only people in our room, with an entire row of seats for each of us, at least until we started to get close to Vienna.

As we reached the city outskirts the train began to fill up with people commuting to work. When we arrived at the train station in Vienna we hopped onto the crowded subway to get us to our AirBnb rental. The rental was owned by a nice Indian lady who worked as an IT consultant for the World Bank. It was pretty basic accommodations, and it smelled like curry, but it was fairly cheap and conveniently located near a subway station.

schnitzel

During our long train ride to Vienna I had messaged an Austrian friend who was from Vienna about where to get a good Wiener Schnitzel. I knew he wasn’t in town, since he was working on his PhD in the US. But his wife Eun-Young was in Vienna, so we met with her for schnitzels at Figlmüller, the famous restaurant in Vienna that’s been serving schnitzels for more than a century. The schnitzels there were huge and super filling, but surprisingly their mixed salad was pretty awesome too. I don’t think I’ve ever raved about a salad, but honestly I liked it so much I’d consider flying back for it.

vienna city center from the base of the alps. too bad it was kinda overcast.

Eun-Young showed us around town for a bit– she took us up to a coffee shop at the base of the Alps. There would’ve been a nice view of the city from there, except that it was pretty overcast that day.

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She also took us to some sites that are missed by most tourists. There’s an interesting horizontal clock that I missed last time I was in Vienna. She also took us to Vienna University, which had many famous alumni including Erwin Schrodinger whose famous wave equation I’m sure I learned about in physics class in college but now I have utterly no clue what the equation means.

the christmas market at city hall

We went to the Christmas market at Rathaus park. The park was packed with people looking at all the decorations and the booths filled with ornaments and foods.

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My favorite part of the Christmas market was the Weihnachtspunsch (Christmas punch) which was warm and fairly heavy with the alcohol, which made it go down even warmer and lifted the spirits. It was nice to walk around with a mug of the stuff admiring all the decorations.

more lights and more crowds in the shopping district

December seems like a great time to visit Vienna. Not only the Christmas markets, but the entire town seemed like it was decked out in Christmas lights and decorations. And even pretty late at night there were tons of people out. That’s another thing that I love about Vienna, it’s probably one of the safest cities in the world to be out at night.

christmas market at schonbrunn

We visited Schonbrunn palace. There was a Christmas market there too, though by now we were kinda done with the Christmas market thing. The tour of the palace was nice, the palace retained most of its original furnishings, so you were able to see what life was like inside the palace.

belveder gardensYou can’t see it in this picture, but Belvedere palace had a Christmas market too. (They’re basically everywhere.) But we weren’t there for the market, we were there to tour the art exhibits.

So this was actually my second time in Vienna, and even though I’ve been here twice now, I can honestly say I wouldn’t mind returning again. By now I’ve seen most of the palaces and museums in the city, and I’ve seen more than my fair share of the Christmas markets. So I guess there’s not much more to see from a tourist perspective, except maybe visit the famous symphony. But there’s something about Vienna (and Austria as a whole) that seems inviting and comforting to me. I think out of all the places I’ve been to in Europe so far, it would be the place that I could most see myself living.

venice

Out of the cities that we were visiting in Europe, Venice is the one that I was most looking forward to. It was also the city that I was most worried about our accommodations. We had rented a small apartment on AirBnb, but we didn’t have an address to the apartment. Our train arrived late at night, and we were supposed to meet on a bridge to get our keys to the apartment. Sounds pretty sketchy, right? To make things even more interesting, our host was actually unable, so we were supposed to meet the host’s friend on the bridge, but we didn’t actually have their contact information.

the area near our apartment in venice is desserted at night.

When we arrived near the bridge we found the area eerily deserted. I was actually quite surprised, because I thought Venice would be overrun with tourists. I took a picture from the bridge I thought we were supposed to meet at. It turned out that there were actually two bridges pretty close to each other, and we weren’t exactly sure which one we were supposed to meet at. Thankfully as we walked between the bridges we met our host’s friend.

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In the morning we got a better look at our apartment– it was actually a pretty charming little place. The back of the apartment actually opened directly into a canal. The neighborhood had few tourists, there seemed to be a fair number of students who lived in the neighborhood, which made sense because there was a college nearby.

gondolas

My first impression of Venice is that it’s a very beautiful city, and out of all the cities I’ve been to I’d have to say it has the most unique character. It has the same sort of old world character that most of the places I’ve been to Europe has, but it’s unique because everything centers on water.

UPS deliveries by boat

Even UPS delivers by boat in Venice.

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The gondolas are the famous way of traveling around the city, but we ended up not riding any. We traveled mostly on foot, though we rode the vaporettos (the ferry system) a fair amount too.

san marco square

Like most cities in Europe there’s a big public square. In Venice it’s San Marco Square.

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The square is famous for its pigeons, but they’re trying to crack down on tourists feeding pigeons. There are signs that say “Please don’t feed the pigeons,” but these Asian tourists apparently didn’t pay attention to them.

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The touristy areas are filled with little shops and various carts selling Venetian masks and various trinkets from Burano and Murano, the islands north of Venice.

ferry at murano island, which is known for its glass work

We spent a day taking the ferry to Murano and Burano. The island of Murano has various glass art displays throughout the island, including this one of ducks.

glass blowing

Murano is known for its glass artisans, they produce a lot of glassware using the technique of glass blowing. They’re also known for glass sculpture, which is used to produce statues and other artwork. We saw a quick demonstration of both techniques.

glass symphony orchestra

Throughout Murano (and throughout Venice as well) there are many shops that have miniature glass sculptures for sale. There’s everything from animals to inanimate objects like boats to even full orchestras made of glass.

burano, venice's colorful cousin

From Murano we took a ferry to Burano, which is Venice’s colorful sister island to the north. Unfortunately it was raining when we arrived, so the colors of the houses weren’t as vibrant as usual.

burano is known for its lace

Whereas Murano is known for its glass, Burano is famous for its lace. There were many lace shops on the island.

lace master at work

This lace shop even had a granny creating new pieces of lace. It seems like a time consuming process, which explains why everything was so expensive.

fish soup. good seafood in Burano.

Supposedly seafood’s pretty good on Burano, which makes sense because it’s an island. We had fish soup at one of the trattorias on the island. Maybe it was because I was cold and wet, but the soup really hit the spot. Well actually it was really good, probably among the best seafood soups I’ve ever had.

I was really looking forward to visiting Venice, and it didn’t disappoint. It definitely has its own character that’s very different from anyplace else I’ve visited. And it was nice visiting Murano and Burano, which had their own unique character as well. That being said, I don’t know if I’d ever come back to Venice– it’s one of those places to visit once, just to cross it off a bucket list. There’s not too much there that I’d need to see again.

mad tired in milan

The first international stop of our round the world trip was Milan. In truth I wasn’t really looking forward to Milan. There were other people who got our crazy flight deal that had to fly into Milan as well, but they decided they would skip touring the city and flew out the same day. Tim and I decided that we wouldn’t spend the night in Milan, but since our flight arrived early in the morning and our train would be leaving late in the evening, we had the entire day to explore the city. I’d been to Milan before, and I felt like I had already seen all there is to see there, so I thought I would be just seeing the same stuff over again.

they take christmas seriously here in milan

The main attraction in Milan is the Duomo, the big cathedral in the center of town. Like most big squares in most big Western cities during this part of the year it had a big Christmas tree, although this one was just getting setup.

milan

Even though I’ve seen the Duomo before, I was actually kinda looking forward to seeing it again because of a chance encounter at the airport in New York. We were sitting at the gate waiting for our flight to board when we saw two kids playing pretty rough. Tim, I guess because he has nephews and nieces that are pretty young, tried to scold the kid. The little girl stopped beating up on her brother, but then started hitting Tim and me. We were wondering where the parents were, when an older gentleman came over and told us to please be patient with the little girl, since she was being adopted from a rough orphanage in Serbia. We ended up talking with the nice old man for a bit, and found that he was originally from Milan, where we were headed. He said to look out for two things that are easily overlooked at the Duomo, one is the statue of Saint Bartholomew, the other was the calendar on the floor.

The statue was pretty easy to find based on his description. It was pretty unique looking because you could see Saint Bartholomew’s muscle definition pretty clearly, that’s because he was skinned alive and wears his skin draped over his shoulders. We walked all over the church looking for the calendar, eventually finding it near the entrance. It’s easily overlooked, and almost everybody walks right past it without noticing it. The calendar consists of a line with the zodiac symbols embedded along it. Apparently at noon each day a beam of light shines through the ceiling and a circle of light appears on the calendar. Unfortunately we couldn’t see it because we arrived after noon, and there was probably too much ambient light to see it anyways, since the door was open.

park in milan. forgot the name. nice foliage.

We went to Castello Sforzesco and took some pictures of the castle. I think we exited at a different side than I had last time, because I saw these park grounds for the first time. There were nice colors in the trees even though it’s pretty much the end of autumn.

santa maria della grazie. home of da vinci's last supper. it was closed.

The church of Santa Maria delle Grazia is the home of Leonardo’s famous Last Supper painting, which I missed out on last time I was in Milan because I didn’t buy tickets in advance. Alas I would miss out again because the church is closed on Mondays.

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There’s a small church near the Duomo that has walls decorated in bones. I missed this last time I was in Milan. It’s a bit morbid, but this picture kinda describes how I was feeling at that point of the trip. I felt pretty dead, since I wasn’t able to sleep much during our overnight flight from New York. I’m pretty bad at travel math, but Tim calculated that we would be up for 30 straight hours. I really wanted to take a nap here, since it was pretty quiet, but Tim had something against sleeping near the remains of so many dead people. So yeah. I was feeling pretty dead at this point, but there was a light up ahead, our train ride to Venice was just a few hours ahead. And after that there would be much rejoicing. Okay maybe not so much rejoicing, but there would be awesomeness after that train ride. It’s kind of like the picture– there’s death, but there’s a light at the end of that tunnel, then the heavens afterward…

aperitivo in milan.

The last time I was in Milan I discovered the aperitivo, which is basically the Milanese version of happy hour. I thought the whole concept of the aperitivo was pretty awesome– you buy a drink and they give you free food, unlike an American happy hour where the food is just discounted. So we walked around the area between the Duomo and the train station looking for a place that had aperitivos. After a while we couldn’t find one and sat down at a random deli feeling utterly defeated. We each ordered a slice of pizza or something, and ate dejectedly. At 6 o’clock a waiter came and brought over an aperitivo menu– so apparently we weren’t defeated, we were just early. So we each ordered a drink, and they brought over the aperitivos, which consisted of various breads and deli meats and olives. That’s something I need to keep in mind in case I ever find myself in Milan again– aperitivo starts at 6 (which is kinda confusing because that’s usually when happy hours usually end where I’m from…)

After our little semi happy hour (it’s hard to be truly happy when you’re utterly exhausted) we had a train ride to Venice. So it seems like a day in Milan was plenty more time than needed. I guess I’m being a bit harsh in my judgment of Milan– it’s not a bad city at all, there’s just not to much to see from a tourist’s perspective.

new to me in new york

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m not the biggest fan of New York. So I don’t really ever go out of my way to visit this monstrous city. But I found myself here because our flight out of the country departs from New York. So without too much of a plan, we explored some of what New York has to offer, and it ended up that all of the stuff we visited was new to me.

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This was my first time visiting New York during the Christmas season. There were many Christmas decorations up, and many of the trees throughout the city had lights on them. And of course there’s the big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, which we passed briefly, but for some reason I didn’t take a picture of the tree.

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The last time I came to New York the World Trade center area was still under construction. Now the construction is mostly complete, there’s a memorial for each of the twin towers that were destroyed on 9-11, and the Freedom tower is just about complete as well. There’s also a 9-11 museum, which we didn’t have time to visit.

nyc1Despite having been to New York City a few times, I never really visited the Theater District. We wanted to see “The Book of Mormon” seeing as how that would have been one of the few plays that wouldn’t be too bromantic to watch, but found that even the cheapest tickets were nearly $200. We decided to wait in line for standing room tickets, which ran concurrently with the ticket lottery. (There’s a limited number of standing room tickets that are first come first serve for $27, and there’s a lottery for an even more limited number of front row tickets for the same price.) We weren’t successful in the lottery, but we were able to get some of the last standing room tickets. They’re actually in a pretty good location, right behind the orchestra level seats, the only downside is you have to stand for the entire show, and by the end of it my legs were hurting pretty badly. It was totally worth the pain to save more than $150, and the show itself was hilarious.

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Another thing we had to wait in line for was the cronut at Dominique Ansel Bakery. We waited about an hour for it, possibly one of the most famous baked (or is it fried?) goods in America. It’s also probably pound for pound the most expensive baked (so actually according to Wikipedia it’s fried) good I’ve ever had, costing $5 and an hour of my time. I’d say it’s worth it though. It’s hard to describe, it’s flaky like a croissant, but at the same time it’s sweet and doughy like a doughnut, which I guess is the point, seeing as it’s a cross between the two.

lower manhattan from a random pier

After polishing off our cronuts (and several other delights from the bakery) we decided we needed to walk off some calories. We walked towards the waterfront and found a pier from which we took some pictures of the skyline of lower Manhattan.

the high line

Then we walked on the High Line park. This is another New York attraction that’s new since the last time I’ve been to New York.

watching the traffic is fascinating

To be perfectly honest, I think the High Line park is a bit overrated. But there are some cool features built into it, like this little amphitheater where you can watch the traffic drive by underneath you. Why is that cool? I don’t know to be honest, but it felt cool just because I’ve never really seen anything like it before.

I enjoyed my time in New York city. It was cool seeing all the things that were new since my last visit. And I guess my attitude towards the city has improved. My main gripes with NYC were the dirtiness and crowdedness of the city, as well as the perceived danger of being in the wrong parts of the city. But after having traveled to some of the major cities in Europe, I’ve found that NYC isn’t all that bad, and it isn’t all that different from cities like London or Paris or Rome. Those cities are just as dirty and crowded. And after being in those cities, I’ve come to realize that NYC is pretty cool too, and I wouldn’t mind returning for another visit.

inauspicious positioning

Once in a while an amazing flight deal comes along, one that’s almost impossible to pass up. It is because of one of these amazing deals that I’m about to embark on a journey that I’ve always wanted to do, a journey that circumnavigates the globe.

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Back in May I received a message from my friend Tim asking if I wanted to get in on an amazing flight deal. As part of this deal we would be able to fly from New York to Italy and from Prague to Singapore for under $325. It was a deal that was too good to pass up, but it would take a good deal of planning to fill in the holes in the itinerary. In travel blog parlance, we’d need to take what’s called a ‘positioning flight,’ a trip that we’d need to make solely to take advantage a fare deal.

For our positioning flight we decided that we would take a red-eye flight to New York, leaving California late at night and arriving in New York the morning before our scheduled international flight. Then we’d spend a night relaxing and eating in New York, before flying out to Europe. In Europe we would be taking the trains from Milan to Prague, stopping in Venice and Vienna along the way. From Prague we had our ticketed flight to Singapore, which we’d use as a base from which to take discount Asian airlines to Phuket (Thailand) and Siem Reap (Cambodia.) The plan was then for Tim to fly home from Cambodia, and I’d continue on using airline miles to visit family in Korea for a little over a week before flying back home. It seemed like a good plan, but all hinged on that initial positioning flight to New York.

Our itinerary seemed like it would have an inauspicious start when we received an email from US Airways stating that our flight had been rescheduled. Instead of being a red-eye flight arriving the morning after our departure, the flight had been rescheduled to arrive very late at night the same day. This would mean that either we’d need to spring for another night in a hotel or we’d need to spend the night at the airport. Since both of us are kinda cheap, we decided that we’d just rough it on the airport floor.

Luckily we didn’t have to rough it at the airport. Tim had some other friends who had gotten in on the same flight deal as us, and luckily for us they weren’t as cheap as us. They had booked a hotel for the night, and they were fine with us crashing on their hotel room floor. They were staying at the Marriott in Queens, and when I checked my email I saw that lo and behold I had a Marriott free room certificate.

My Marriott credit card had just been charged for its annual fee, and as part of that deal I get a free room certificate good for up to a category 5 hotel room. When we arrived at the Marriott at Queens I asked what category their hotel fell under, to which they replied category 5. What seemed like an inauspicious start to our trip wasn’t looking too bad anymore. In fact, it seemed like things were starting out on an awesome note! But when I called the Marriott reservations line, I found that the front desk had been mistaken, the Marriott in Queens was actually a category 7, so I wasn’t able to use the certificate. So we still ended up on the floor in Tim’s friend’s hotel.

This was again looking like an inauspicious sign for the rest of the trip. If we had this much trouble with flights and hotels before even leaving the country, things would only be more difficult after we leave the country, since communication using our cell phones may not be possible. And to make things even more complicated, for most of our trip we’d be using AirBnb instead of hotels, and I figured if we had this much trouble with a hotel, AirBnb might be even worse, since we may have trouble getting in touch with our hosts. And if the huge US Airways was able to reschedule a flight for a different day, wouldn’t a small discount airline in Asia be even more unreliable? I’m not usually one to worry, but these thoughts, especially the worries about communicating with our AirBnb hosts, would stay on the back of my mind throughout our crazy round the world trip.