England Part II: North We Go

As the second half of our more than two-month stay in England began, we continued enjoying our long housesit outside of London. There, we celebrated Thanksgiving by cooking our first ever traditional, homemade Thanksgiving meal, watched the Macy’s day parade, the dog show and, of course, some good ‘ol American football to make us feel like we were at home instead of thousands of miles away from our families.

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We visited Virginia Water Lake and Great Windsor Park one chilly Sunday to see the famous destination that is rich in history, spanning several centuries. Our 7-mile walk along the beautiful winding pathways took us past tons of gardens and wildlife, a 100-foot totem pole, and a cascading waterfall. We warmed up with a steaming hot chocolate that we bought at one of the several pavilions in the park.

Daniel has always dreamed of going to a football (soccer) game in England so we bought tickets to attend a Reading vs. Stoke City match that happened to be just a short train ride away. We spent the day exploring the town of Reading, visiting the ruins of the Reading Abbey built in 1121. Perfect timing for us, it had been fully restored just last year and recently opened to the public. Yet again, we were moved and inspired to be in the presence of something still standing after 900 years of weathering and multiple destructive events.

The football match was exciting and close, with goals from both teams. As the game was coming to an end and it seemed like the home team was going to take a loss, much of the stadium began to file out, including ourselves. We stopped by the bathrooms on the way out and just then, we heard the stadium erupt in cheers while the fireworks went off to celebrate a home team goal in the very last minute. As we came out of the bathrooms, we heard a guy yell, “Dammit, I missed the bloody goal because I was in the loo!” We couldn’t help but look at each other and crack up from his very British accent, very British words and the fact that we, too, had missed the bloody goal because we were in the loo. Nonetheless, we had a blast and enjoyed the experience and excitement of attending a football match in the country where the sport originated.

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For our final trip to London before moving on to Wales, we made a stop at Kings Cross Station and took the obligatory photo at platform 9 3/4 to honor the classic, Harry Potter.

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We then headed to Camden Market, the thriving district with over a thousand shops and vendors selling art, fashion, music and food. We enjoyed getting lost among the little stalls, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells and people-watching throughout. There was just so much to see! After it turned dark, we began to see the wonder that is London at Christmastime, with the myriad of lights and decorations at every turn. We can certainly attest that the city undoubtedly lives up to its hype at this time of year.

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After meandering away from the markets and marveling at the neighborhood’s full-blown holiday spirit, we snuck into a packed pub at just the right time to snag a table next to the Christmas tree. We enjoyed a couple of signature gin cocktails while asking each other trivia questions from the cards left on each table (LOVE this idea!) and listening to the friendly, happy and tipsy Brits all around us.

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Our next adventure took us to Cardiff, Wales where we checked into our quaint, little hostel next to the river where we were greeted by very welcoming Italian employees, a precious hostel kitty named Sammy, free chocolate cake and the nicest traveling family from Singapore. We got out to explore the city center and found an Indian restaurant where we had the BEST Indian food to date. So good in fact, that I give sole responsibility to that one meal alone for my newfound desire to add India to our travel route.

While the weather didn’t cooperate with us during our weekend in Wales, the cold and the rain certainly did not stop us from getting out and taking advantage of all that it has to offer. We toured the medieval Cardiff Castle and the Victorian Gothic mansion built in the 11th century and walked the long, narrow passages of the Roman fort built in the 3rd century!

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After exploring around the Cardiff Bay, we took the bus back to the city center. A man sitting across from us heard our accents and acknowledging that we were tourists, asked if we needed any help finding our way around town. He wished us safe travels and before getting off at the next stop offered us two free coffee cards, just because. Maybe, just because he was Welch and we weren’t and it was his way of extending a warm welcome to his country with the simplest of gestures. And it worked. We certainly felt welcomed in Wales during our short stay there.

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Saying goodbye to Wales, we took a long, northbound train to Manchester where we were greeted by the two most delightful and friendly women at the train station with open arms. They brought us back to their big, cozy house and shared a delicious Turkish meal with us before they set off to their home country of Ireland for the holidays. We were left to look after their sweet kitty Pips and stay warm in front of the wood-burning fireplace.

Being in the city known for the best Christmas markets in all of the UK, we, of course, had to spend an afternoon visiting all eight of them! We sipped on mulled wine, enjoyed some German food from one of the many vendors, sampled lavender and wasabi cheese, and listened to the Christmas music as we worked our way through the maze of vendors.

As this year was the first time for both of us away from our families on Christmas, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice Christmas Eve dinner at a celebrity chef’s restaurant in the heart of Manchester. We ordered duck, lobster risotto, ox cheek, cod and the most delectable cheese board with sweet crackers and chutney for dessert.

Our super friendly server suggested that we go around the corner for after-dinner cocktails to a place called 20 Stories, named for its location on the twentieth story of a building overlooking the city. Aside from the fantastic views, the outdoor patio full of heated mini-igloos was the most adorable and cozy place to enjoy our fancy cocktails (requiring a special machine to create a smoky flavor and a process of 10 minutes to make!)

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Christmas day was spent eating and drinking in front of the fireplace, playing board games and watching holiday movies. We might have been slightly homesick but we reveled in the fact that we were enjoying our celebration nonetheless and doing so in a beautiful home, in a lovely country, all while living out our shared, lifelong dream.

Surprisingly, the weather was much warmer than we anticipated (average highs in the 50s) so we enjoyed our time there by getting outside often and jogging in the nice park across the street.

Being so close to Liverpool, we decided to take a day trip there during our last week in Manchester. After spending the day exploring this amazing city, we only wish we had more time there. We both agree that Liverpool may, in fact, be our favorite in all of England! As the home of the Beatles, there are Beatles tributes everywhere you look. From Beatles bars to souvenir shops to statues to street musicians playing their music. The city continues to be very proud of their beloved Beatles and is not afraid to show it.

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We were impressed by the city’s massive Cathedral, the architecture, the many docks along the waterfront and the energetic, colorful streets of the city center. It was one of those places that just makes you feel so happy and alive to be there… maybe even a place where you would want to live.

Thankful to end on a high note, it was time to say goodbye to England after ten weeks. We hopped on another long, northbound train to Glasgow, Scotland where we have spent the last week petsitting an unruly, monstrous, terror of a puppy while trying to understand even the slightest of what these Scottish folks are saying.

England Part I: A Royal Adventure

On October 12, our 90-days in the European Union had come to an end so we had to leave the area in order to comply with the union’s current regulations. We took a flight to the UK where we must stay for at least another 90 days before being able to return to the EU.

As always, we did our research before flying into England to make sure we were aware of any specific requirements so there would be no surprises once we arrived at immigration. Everything we researched said the UK was super chill and did not require proof of leaving the country with an exit ticket. So we didn’t bother purchasing them and arrived with one-ways.

You can imagine then how completely shocked and terrified we were after being detained upon arrival to the London airport and almost being sent back to the US for lack of having exit tickets!

The whole ordeal lasted a couple hours. It started with a very grumpy old lady on a power trip who began interrogating us from the get-go. She wanted to know the who, what, where, why and when of our stay in England which warranted us telling her our story of taking a year to travel the world. A story which she did not like. She seemed to believe that we were somehow lying and that what we were really trying to do was to settle down forever in the UK illegally. (Insert eye roll).

At that point, I politely reminded her to take a look at the pattern and history of our travel thus far, which would prove that we had been to 14 countries, never staying longer than 60 days in any of them. Apparently, she didn’t seem to care about that.

She wrote up an order for us to be taken into custody for further investigation with the possibility of deportation. Meanwhile, in the waiting area, I was receiving messages from our housesitting host whose family was waiting for our arrival with dinner prepared. We had no choice but to tell them what was happening and that if we were going to be allowed into the country, we were going to be a couple hours late. Oh, and to expect a call from an immigration officer who didn’t believe that we were in contact with an American expat family in London.

Finally, another officer came and got us for round two of interrogation, only he was even more thorough to the point of demanding enter and exit dates into every country we have been to, proof of how we are making money and bank account statements showing exactly how much money we have. In addition to that, we had to make the officer understand the concept of international housesitting and prove that we have been housesitting in different countries over the last seven months.

After two hours of uncertainty and high stress, we somehow convinced immigration officials that we are not criminals nor are we seeking permanent refuge in their country and were finally granted access to enter.

While it was an unpleasant experience, to say the least, there was a hard lesson learned. And that is… don’t believe anything you read on the internet! And always, always, ALWAYS have proof of onward travel no matter what anyone tells you.

We made it out of the airport and hopped onto the Paddington Express, a fast train connecting Heathrow with central London. We arrived late but the family was kind enough to wait for us and during dinner lightened the situation by making jokes about our shady business and near downfall of our smuggling empire.

The family left on their holiday the next morning and we were left to care for their two old pets for a week. The Great Pyrenees, Monty and the sweet, old kitty, Whipper proved to be a handful and made for one of the most challenging housesits we have had thus far. Every day we would take Monty out to walk around the block and he would slowly and very unsteadily make it halfway when he would just collapse on the sidewalk (due to either exhaustion or spite, we’re still not sure) and would refuse to get up. Which wouldn’t have been such an issue if weren’t for the fact that he was a 70 lb. bear who would have to be carried all the way home, half a block, every single day. I found it absolutely hysterical. Daniel not so much as he was the one doing the heavy lifting.

On one of the last days of our housesit, we were out with Monty on his regular route and out of nowhere, the oldest and slowest dog in the world took off in a full-blown sprint at the speed of a racehorse. The two of us were chasing him down the street, running as fast as we possibly could, worried that he was going to run out into traffic. After turning a corner and running into the neighborhood security guy, we discovered that Monty had been chasing one of the many foxes that roam the area, which prove to be the only thing that makes the old dog move faster than a turtle. And to think, all that time he had us fooled.

The most amazing part of this housesit was the location in St. John’s Wood, central to everything in London. We were only three blocks away from Abbey Road where the Beatles shot the photo for their album cover.

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We were also just a short walk away from the Primrose Hill, overlooking the beautiful skyline of the city.

One day we were feeling brave and decided to visit the famous Marble Arch by renting bikes (or hiring cycles, as they say). This turned out to be a poor choice and one that I immediately regretted. I saw my life flash before my eyes on multiple occasions and was certain that we were not going to survive. London has some of the worst traffic in all of Europe and cyclists are expected to drive along the road with the millions of cars. Some streets have bike lanes, but many do not so the bikers are sprinkled in amidst the chaos of blaring horns and merging vehicles coming from every which way.

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To add to the fear and uncertainty of biking in a foreign city on unfamiliar roads is the fact that they drive on the left side here so everything is opposite. And it can be extremely confusing when you are not used to it. But the signs at every crosswalk served as a helpful reminder to us newbies for how to survive and not get plowed over by a moving vehicle.

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It was just a quick tube ride to get to all of the other famous landmarks so we ventured out and visited the London Bridge and Tower Bridge and saw The Shard and Borough Market.

We were even able to attend the official watch party of Daniel’s beloved Seahawks at The Barrowboy & Banker Pub the day they were playing in London against the Raiders. He was especially excited that this was his first time watching a Seahawks game surrounded by fellow fans. And the place was packed so it was definitely a fun way to watch and celebrate a win. We had the best traditional English food, fish & chips and pies.

Throughout the rest of our stay in central London, we explored all around and were able to see Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, London Eye, Parliament, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. We took advantage of the short week and feel like we got the full London experience!

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We then headed East towards our next housesit in the Cotswolds but first we had a couple days to spend in Oxford. There we toured the campus of the oldest university in the English-speaking world. It was truly impressive and I must admit, made me miss being a student.

Upon arrival in the Cotswolds, more specifically, the village of Bledington, we were warmly greeted by our host as she picked us up from the train station. We were brought to her family’s beautiful and cozy country house and introduced to Coco the kitty who liked us so much, he brought us a bird into the house that he’d caught on our second day there.

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We had heard about the common use of the Aga in English households but it was at this housesit where we learned how to actually use one. An Aga is a very expensive cast iron stove (and source of heat) that burns constantly using oil. So basically it’s a stove that stays on 24/7. Whenever you want to cook, you simply open the hotplate and you can boil water in under two minutes or if you want to bake, the oven is always ready at 425 degrees. It is such an interesting concept to us, as we have never heard of anything like it but in England, Aga’s are very popular, especially in country homes and we came to love it!

As this was our first rural housesit, we had to sacrifice the convenience of public transportation and having everything we need nearby. So our second day there, we trekked four miles to the nearest town of Kingham to get groceries. It was beautiful fall weather that day and was a lovely nature walk to we certainly didn’t mind the distance.

Aside from a school and a church, the only other public space the village had to offer was a pub called King’s Head Inn which just so happened to be the current “UK’s Pub of the Year.” So obviously we had to check it out to see what the hype was about. We visited on our last night and enjoyed 10 pound (as in price, not weight) local burgers and sat near the fireplace in the most quaint and adorable little cabin pub ever. We loved it.

Next, we traveled back to London for another housesit where we celebrated our first wedding anniversary along with our six months of traveling. We had a lot to be thankful for. So we treated ourselves to a nice dinner and a West End Musical, The Book of Mormon (courtesy of the Moreno-Denton family!). It was the most hilarious show we have ever seen and did not stop laughing for two hours. The show will actually be in Kansas City December 26-30 so for all of our KC friends and family, you should go see it!

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Our anniversary weekend celebration continued with a day trip to Stonehenge and the precious city of Bath. It has always been a dream of ours, especially Daniel’s, to visit the prehistoric monument that was built over 5,000 years ago and whose origin remains a mystery to this day. It is mind-blowing to imagine how these 40-ton stones were brought all the way from Wales and set up on their ends in a circular formation without the help of modern-day machines. Stonehenge was truly a site to see and even more impressive than we had imagined.

The tour then took us to Bath, the appropriately named city known for it’s Roman built baths. The city became a spa in 60 AD and some of the baths are still there to this day. Bath is also known for its Cornish pasties and fudge, which we indulged in both and we also had lunch at the oldest house in town, built in 1482.

Our next adventure took us to the coastal town of Brighton, located in the South along the English channel. Although it was rather chilly during the Halloween week we were there and way past beach weather, we had a great time nonetheless. We walked along the Brighton pier, explored the marina, ate lots of delicious food, got lost in The Lanes and saw a movie in the theatre for the first time in six months.

We took a ride on the British Airways i360 glass viewing pod 531 feet in the air, overlooking the city, the ocean and the countryside. We could even see across the English Channel to France!

Any who knows us knows that we are Halloween freaks. It is by far our favorite holiday and since we started dating 5 years ago, we have gone all out every year with our face paints. This year was obviously a little different but we couldn’t miss out on the Halloween fun so we threw together some last-minute cheap props and went out. To our surprise, even being a Wednesday night, the entire town of Brighton was not only out but EVERYONE was dressed up! We went to three different bars and drank and danced the night away.

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When we got back to our hostel room we had luckily had to ourselves for three nights, we opened the door to see that we had a roommate for our fourth and final night. This would normally be no big deal, as it was just one guy and just for one night. Until I looked over and saw a middle-aged Indian man wearing my flip-flops! I had been drinking after all, so I told Daniel (in Spanish) so that he could confirm that I wasn’t in fact, imagining things. I knew it couldn’t be a coincidence that this man had the exact same women’s Nike sandals as me. So finally I approached him and said, excuse me, are those my shoes? As he casually kicked them off towards me he replied, oh, you’re okay, as if I was being an inconvenience to him and that wearing a stranger’s shoes was somehow perfectly normal! But seriously, WHO DOES THAT?? It was yet another awkward hostel moment that we can now laugh about in hindsight.

Our next housesit took us north to the little town of Burgess Hill where we sat for Kiba, one of our favorite kitties we’ve had. It was the first housesit where we didn’t even meet our host. We showed up, found the hidden key, let ourselves in, stayed a week, locked up and left. Kind of the perfect set up for anyone who wants to travel the world and stay in amazing places for free! Our visit there was short and sweet. We worked a lot, explored the Bedelands, the nearby nature reserve and went to the town’s tiny, one-screen theatre. It was here where we also discovered our addiction to macaroons and nearly ate our weight in macaroons throughout the week.

We left on a train that brought us to Sunningdale, the exclusive golf community right outside of London where we currently are housesitting a sweet kitty for five weeks. We were picked up at the station by our host’s lovely parents who brought us to the house, gifted us a freshly baked cake and shared an afternoon tea with us while sharing stories about travels (theirs and ours). Our host later messaged us telling us that her parents want to adopt us. So we now have English grandparents (who make the best lemon cake we have ever tasted!) We are happy that this will be our longest housesit yet, allowing us plenty of time to settle in, live like a local and focus on working.

Our first week here, we took the train to London and visited St. Paul’s Cathedral and Stamford Bridge, the stadium that is home to Chelsea FC, one of England’s most successful soccer teams.

Being only 20 minutes by bus to Windsor, we of course had to take an afternoon to go explore the 1,000-year-old Windsor Castle where the Royal Wedding was held. We spent several hours exploring the beautiful grounds of the castle and cathedral, inside and out. We were even there when Her Majesty The Queen arrived!

 

We still have another month in Southern England before we move on to Wales, Northern England and Scotland. But what we have seen thus far of this amazing country has been bloody brilliant!

Stay tuned for Part II of our England adventures. Until then… cheers, mates!

Switzerland Part II: Crossing Borders

The second half of our Switzerland adventures all started because of a cow parade. After just missing the ceremony in Lauterbrunnen, we were really disappointed. So we did some research and discovered that there would be another one the following weekend in the eastern town of Mels. We were so excited to have a second chance at witnessing this authentic Swiss tradition where herders bring their cattle down to the valley from the mountains every year for the winter. The farmers dress in traditional costumes, decorate their cows with flowers and bells and parade them through the streets while onlookers cheer and celebrate the beginning of autumn.

Renting a car with Rachel and her friend Gyanu, we made a day trip towards Mels. But first, we hopped across the border to spend the morning in Feldkirch, Austria since we were so close. We walked through the farmers’ market, ate some delicious crepes and toured the city’s castle on top of the hill.

Next, we drove for 30 minutes and arrived in Mels just in time for the beginning of the parade, better known as Alpabfahrt. We walked out onto the sidewalk to see a procession of a large herd of sheep. It was the most chaotic scene as hundreds of sheep were being led by young kids banging sticks on the ground, yelling and trying to coax the herd in the right direction with fruit. The leaders of the sheep pack would stop dead in their tracks, creating a massive pileup throughout the entire herd. Some would turn around and start heading the wrong direction while others veered towards the sidewalk to eat flowers. Watching from along the edge of the chaos, I was reminded that perhaps I was a bit too close as my foot got stomped on by one of the rebellious sheep who refused to follow in line.

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We walked around the town, sampled a ton of different kinds of cheese and watched the procession of the cows.

Finally, our day trip took us north to the tiny country of Liechtenstein (that has a whopping 62 square miles!) Stopping in Vaduz, the country’s capital, we stood on the bridge bordering two countries, with one foot in Switzerland and the other in Liechtenstein, saw a 700-year-old house, visited the castle where the prince lives and got an amazing aerial view overlooking the city.

Over the course of one day trip, we were able to visit three different countries and only spent five hours in the car!

In fact, did you know that the entire continent of Europe, with all of its 44 countries, fits inside the United States? This close proximity of countries is what makes traveling here so easy. We have already been to 10 countries here in just three months!

Once back in Basel, the city bordering both France and Germany, we decided to take advantage once again of the easy opportunity to cross over into a new country. We got a last-minute housesit in Freiburg and took a two-hour bus ride into Germany’s Black Forest. We spent the afternoon hanging out with our host and learning about her city. Bruna, a Ph. D student from Brazil studying forestry, was one of the friendliest and most interesting hosts we have yet and we really enjoyed getting to know her.

The next morning, taking Bruna’s advice, we set out on a full day’s hike to explore Freiburg’s surrounding forest. The 10-mile hike took us up mountains, through valleys and around town. We even climbed over 200 stairs to get to the top of a viewing tower that we could feel swaying in the wind. It was really scary but the amazing photos we got made it worth it.

We then explored Freiburg’s center, checked out the city’s book sharing program, took a walk through the park, listened to jazz musicians, enjoyed a typical German bratwurst and onion sandwich from a street vendor, and went inside the Freiburg cathedral, learning that it was the only structure that survived WWII.

It was a short three days in Freiburg dogsitting little Otto but we fell in love with the city in such a short time. The friendly people, the cheap prices and the stunning nature left us wanting to come back and visit again one day.

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Our next stop was Stuttgart, a thriving city known for its Porche and Mercedes-Benz headquarters. We arrived at our hostel that we had booked at the last minute (and which seemed to be the only option of lodging left in the entire city), to find out that I was sharing a room with seven smelly and loudly-snoring dudes. Throughout the day, it smelled like a boys’ locker room and at night it turned into a bear den. It certainly was not an ideal situation, being the only female, but luckily I brought earplugs and managed to get some sleep.

Our first day in Stuttgart, we went to the Mercedes-Benz museum that we had heard so much about and it fully exceeded our expectations. The tour of the eight-story museum takes you to the very top floor where you go back in time to the 1800’s and see the first original cars ever made. From there, you slowly wind down in a spiral through the museum, visiting each floor that represents a new decade of car manufacturing. But in addition to the cars on display, the museum also takes you through the story of world history and you get to see all of the important historical events that took place in chronological order. If you are ever in Stuttgart, Germany, this is a must-see!

Lucky for us, we also found out the same week that we were in Germany happened to be the opening of Canstatter Volkfest, the world’s second largest Oktoberfest celebration (next to Munich). While we would have loved to extend our trip a couple days to really enjoy it to its fullest, unfortunately, we had another housesit back in Switzerland beginning the following day. So we settled for spending just one afternoon at the event. But it ended up being one of our favorite days in the last five months of our travels so the stinky hostel and the six hours on a late night bus after drinking beer all afternoon was so worth it!

We weren’t sure exactly what to expect of the festival so we got there early and staked out our seats in the main tent where the opening ceremony was being held. We sat down and ordered a beer from our server who kindly informed us how the opening day works. She told us that at 3 pm, a band marches through the tent, an important official gives a speech and there is an initiation that involves tapping one of the beer barrels. And it is at that time the beer starts flowing and the 3-week party begins. But until then, no beer is served. So we patiently waited until 3:00 when the keg was tapped and servers began carrying out the huge beer steins, 12 at a time! We could not believe how much weight one single server was able to carry. They even had their wrists taped to be able to withstand the weight of 12 full steins of beer.

After enjoying a refreshing German beer, we went out to explore the festival grounds and immediately our minds were blown at the massive, insane looking rides. We have never seen anything like the rides they had. After weighing our options, we went for a “chill” swinging ride that went a measly 250 feet in the air over the Neckar river. It was equally exhilarating as it was terrifying.

We walked all around the festival, taking in all the sights, stopping at every other stand for a beer or an authentic German snack and all the while feeling like such a minority as we were some of the only people out of thousands who weren’t dressed in the traditional lederhosen and dirndl. But it didn’t really matter because, in the end, it was one of the most fun and unforgettable days we have had so far.

What followed, however, was not so much fun. We left the festival, got on a six-hour bus back to Basel, had two hours of sleep, left at 4:30 AM and then sat in a train station for ten hours before catching our ride to our next housesit. It was a long and quite miserable day but we endured, made the most out of our sleep deprivation and managed to have a little fun despite the circumstance.

Upon arriving to Küsnacht, the small town on Lake Zurich, our awesome housesit host picked us up at the train station, brought us to his immaculate home and served us some strong, well-deserved cocktails. We took the most rewarding showers of our entire lives, were in bed by 9 pm and slept for 15 hours straight. We woke up the next afternoon in this beautiful, modern, and spacious home overlooking the lake and did not have a single worry in the world.

We have spent the last two weeks in this amazing place, eating fondue and raclette on the regular, taking jogs on the lake, having a run-in with Tina Turner, loving on some cuddly kitties, and exploring the nearby city of Zurich. I would say that we are lucky for where we are and for all the experiences we are having while traveling the world but that wouldn’t be fair to say. It’s not really about luck at all. It’s about creating your own destiny through hard work, patience, following your heart, and never giving up on your dreams, no matter how crazy they may seem.

 

WHAT MAKES SWITZERLAND UNIQUE:

  • 1 of 2 countries in the world with a square flag.
  • 3rd most expensive country in the world.
  • After 10 pm, the entire country is considered to have quiet hours where everyone must respect their neighbors (no showering/no laundry/no loud music, etc.)
  • Assisted suicide is legal.
  • Minimum wage is $60K/year. A teacher’s salary is $75K.
  • You are not allowed to wear street shoes to a gym. You must bring your clean, “indoor” shoes.
  • Everyone is so honest, you will see lost clothing wrapped around a fence or post in the hopes that the owner will walk down that street again and find it.
  • There are more banks than dentists. It is known as the banking capital of the world.
  • More chocolate is consumed here every year than anywhere else in the world.
  • You have to pay to per garbage bag and if you fail to recycle, you will be fined.
  • 23% of Swiss citizens are foreign making this country a true melting pot.
  • There are four official national languages; German, French, Italian and Romansh
  • People have their eggs delivered to their mailboxes every week.

 

 

 

Switzerland Part I: Alpstanding Memories

After being gifted the movie the Sound of Music for Christmas one year when I was young and watching it over and over, I had always dreamed of visiting the Alps one day. I had fantasized about dancing around in sunny, open fields surrounded by massive snow-capped mountains, just like Maria had. It is no surprise then, that Switzerland and Austria have been among my top three countries in the world that I was the most excited about seeing. Now, after spending more than a month here I can say with certainty that the Alps are everything I had hoped they would be… and so much more.

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We first arrived in the northern part of Switzerland on a bus coming from Milan, so we were fortunate enough to witness the immense beauty of the country’s mountains, lakes and forests during the four-hour ride. We were in complete awe of the landscapes, we had never seen anything like it!

At one point while traversing through the heart of the Alps, it got a bit scary since the only options for getting through are either along man-made bridges jutting out from the side of the mountains or through insanely long tunnels that have been carved out of the inside of the mountains. We even drove through the worlds longest tunnel that was 11 miles long!

We arrived in the town of Meilen overlooking Lake Zurich where we took care of a dog, two cats and a beautiful home. For two weeks we were completely spoiled with a fully stocked kitchen, Hello Fresh deliveries, steaks, wine, and fresh grapes off the vine straight out of the backyard. Every night we grilled out, dined al fresco and had the most amazing view of the lake. It is moments like these where we realize just how special and rewarding this trip really is and are reminded to not take a single moment for granted.

One afternoon we were able to meet up with Rachel, a family friend who is living an hour away in Basel to go on a 10-mile hike and explore the hills and forest surrounding the area. Afterward, to cool off, we took a dip in the brisk waters of Lake Zurich. Although it was the end of summer, it still felt like a polar bear plunge! But the water was so clean and clear, we couldn’t resist. Our housesit owner even told us the water is so clean that you can safely drink it.

As a way to say goodbye to summer (and the end of five hot, sweaty months throughout our travels) we decided to go paddleboarding on the lake, which is something we have both always wanted to do. Not only was Lake Zurich the perfect place to paddleboard, as the waters are perfectly clear but it was also the perfect timing, as it was one of the last hot days before the season began to change to fall.

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Our housesit came to an end and we moved onward to the northeast of the country, to the third-largest city of Basel. Here we spent a week with Rachel in this adorable town that appears to be the bicycle capital of the world. Everyone everywhere rides their bikes. To work, to school, to shop. The bikes rule the streets in Basel. Even pedestrians must yield to them. There are bike lanes everywhere and bike lots where you will see hundreds of bicycles lined up, many of them not even chained because crime and theft are virtually nonexistent in Switzerland. We were amazed by this concept of biking as the preferred method of transportation and admire the city for making it work.

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During our stay in Basel, we didn’t get out much because everything in Switzerland is SO expensive! Just to give you an idea, a cheeseburger will cost you $25, a fast food meal $18, a plain bagel $8, and a bottled water at a restaurant $6.50. In Zurich, the average cup of coffee is the highest in the world. So, as you can imagine eating out in this country is pricey (for tourists). If you live here and are earning a Swiss salary, everything is relative and seems fair (the minimum wage here is 60K/year). So we cooked at home and focused on working throughout the week.

Our weekend trip took us to Lauterbrunnen, a little town nestled in the foothills of the Alps. We arrived to what seemed like a ghost town, with not a soul in sight and got settled into our cute little cabin hostel. We then strolled down the main street, climbed the side of 1 of Lauterbrunnen’s 72 waterfalls in the valley and dined on the local cuisine of schnitzel and rösti (the Swiss version of fried pork and a spin-off of hash browns). It was absolutely delicious.

The next morning we got up super early to head out for our next adventure that took us to the very top of one of the highest mountains in the Alps. We rode three different intensely long cable cars all the way up, where we arrived at Piz Gloria and had brunch in a 360-degree rotating restaurant in the clouds. While sipping on champagne and enjoying the view from the top of the world, we were entertained by a yodeling male choir. After two hours of taking advantage of the all you can eat (and drink) buffet, we walked out onto the edge of the earth and took it all in.

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Before starting our descent, we visited the James Bond 007 museum that was created in memory of the movie filmed there in 1969. We then mustered up enough courage to venture out onto the famous Skywalk, a mix of glass and fence sidewalk platforms built into the side of the mountain, looking straight down 10,000 feet. It was one of the coolest, most terrifying things we have ever done!

After taking one cable car back down, we opted for hiking the rest of the way so we could see the quaint little mountain towns, magical waterfalls and adorable nature trails while watching dozens of paragliders floating through the valley. The sun was shining, the air was cool and it was the most perfect hike to date. The landscapes were so unreal, we felt like we were living in a dream.

We took our time, stopping for a beer along the way and visiting The Honesty Shop, an unattended store where you simply make a purchase by putting money into an envelope and dropping it in a box. What an incredible concept!

We finally made it back to Lauterbrunnen, the little mountain town that hosts hundreds of base jumpers annually. It is perfectly situated among some of the world’s best base jumping cliffs and brings people from all over the world. And we were lucky enough to witness a jump in action and meet the jumper himself as he landed in a field right next to us! After we cheered him on, congratulating him on an awesome flight, he showed us the GoPro video he had just taken where he was flying just inches away from the side of the mountain in a squirrel suit at a speed over 100 MPH. We walked back to town with him while he shared his story with us. We found out that this adrenaline junkie from Salt Lake City had just sold everything he owned, quit his job and set out to travel the world with just a backpack, a squirrel suit and a parachute. His journey had only just begun and Lauterbrunnen was his first stop on his world tour.

Later that evening, having dinner at a local restaurant, we were trying to find his Instagram page he had shared with us earlier but weren’t having any luck. As we were talking about his page, we heard a voice behind us say, “Uh, did I just hear my name?” We turned around and there he was, David, the base jumper. It was a very curious moment of coincidence that reminded us all how funny life can be. He joined us at the bar and we chatted the rest of the evening about his adrenaline-chasing, death-defying pursuits.

The sad reality of the sport, however, is that not all participants are lucky enough to defy the odds. There are many deaths every year, making it the most dangerous sport in the world. We found out from David that there had even been a death the previous day due to a jumper, one of his friends, going out in less than favorable conditions. It had rained earlier in the afternoon, leaving everything damp. When he went running towards the edge of the cliff to gain momentum for the jump, he lost his footing and slipped at the last second, falling forward and was unable to pull his chute. The accident happened in the early evening, at the same time we had arrived in town. While walking to our hostel, we saw the rescue helicopter as it was in flight to the scene and even had the discussion whether we thought something bad had happened. We concluded that it was probably just a helicopter tour for people wanting to get an aerial view of the Alps. Sadly, we were wrong.

As we said goodbye to Lauterbrunnen and headed back to Basel, we decided to make a pit stop in the little town of Thune. We had a lovely afternoon eating flammkuchen (Switzerland’s famous flatbread pizza) on the beautiful canals of Lake Thun and watched a river surfing competition. And yes, river surfing is a real sport! Who knew?

Arriving back in Basel, we took the next couple days to explore the Old Town and watch all the locals float down the Rhine River on their wickelfisch, a waterproof bag where they store all of their belongings. The floaters enter the river on the south part of town and float several miles before getting out. But if they’re not careful and get out in time, they will cross the border into France and we have heard they’re not so forgiving at the border! We so badly wanted to take the float but decided that purchasing wickelfisch wouldn’t be worth it for a one-time use. So instead, we spent the rest of our time in Basel on our laptops, making money to fund our next great adventure.

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Overall, our first two weeks in Switzerland were absolutely amazing and equally unforgettable as the second two weeks! Stay tuned for our next blog coming soon… Switzerland Part II.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arrivederci Italia!

Goodbyes are not always easy. Especially when they signify the end of a trip, a chapter, or perhaps a relationship. We are very fortunate, however, that goodbyes are never difficult for us because we know that there are new adventures, unexplored countries and exciting experiences waiting for us on the other side. Goodbye only means moving on to the next hello.

As we say goodbye to this beautiful country, we look forward to our next stop in Switzerland. But we will certainly carry with us the fond memories that we made here. We loved hearing and learning a different language, experiencing another culture, and enjoying the beautiful sceneries and impressive cities.

Our first unforgettable experience was visiting the vineyards of Valdobbiadene in the mountains of northern Italy. There, we sipped on bottles of prosecco served from a vending machine and ate cheese, salami and olives while looking out on the most stunning views. It felt like something out of a movie. We bought the cheese and meat from a tiny store with no attendant. Just a little room where you choose your cheese from a refrigerator, grab your meat along with a cutting board and knife, then pay for your goods by adding up the prices and inserting that amount of money into a machine. All based on the honesty policy. It was amazing to us that places like this exist because sadly, there are so many places in the world where this type of system would never be possible.

After spending the afternoon and watching the sunset in this magical place, we were just about to head home when a local Italian came to our table. After hearing us speak English, he began to ask us where we were from and what we were doing in Italy. He was very friendly and excited about practicing his English so he invited us to join him and his friends at their table. Of course, we obliged and then shortly after we were joined by another couple from England who are traveling all of Europe in a van that they turned into their home. After five more hours and countless bottles of prosecco later, we had shared lots of stories, laughs, photos and Instagram accounts. We ended the evening with a tour of the couple’s home on wheels and were given an invitation to come visit them when we are in London in November.

The next day, we headed to a small town, Bassano del Grappa where we tried one of Italy’s most popular drinks known as a Spritz. We had seen this bitter, orange concoction made of Campari and prosecco on every sidewalk cafe we had passed, so decided we should give it a try. It was certainly unique but a bit too bitter for our taste. We enjoyed the views looking out over the river, nonetheless.

Verona was next on our tour de Italy where we visited the “little Colosseum”, saw Romeo and Juliet’s balcony, touched Juliett’s boobs for good luck, and tried grappa, an extremely potent grape-based brandy that tastes like rubbing alcohol.

It was here that I experienced my first awkward bathroom situation. I walked into the women’s room and chose the one empty stall. As I walked in, I saw what looked to me like a men’s urinal and I immediately panicked that I was in the wrong bathroom. After confirming that I was in fact, in the women’s room, I realized that this was my only option and just went for it. Aside from being difficult with the potential for making a mess, I can’t imagine that they are saving much money by putting a hole in the floor rather than a toilet. Surely, there has to be a better way…

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My next awkward bathroom experience was at another restaurant we stopped at for a glass of wine. I followed the signs that said toilette and found my way into an empty stall with the typical hole in the floor that I was now familiar with. While in the stall, I suddenly heard a voice singing in the stall next to me. The only shock about this was that it was a man’s voice! I immediately panicked once again and thought that THIS time I had made the mistake of going into the men’s room and I felt mortified. I waited until the man left the bathroom before making my escape in hopes that no other men would see me. But after all of this worry about being in the wrong bathroom, it turns out that there (and in many other places in Italy) there are no separate rooms based on gender. The toilette is the toilette.

My third and equally embarrassing bathroom moment happened several days later. While following the toilette signs in another restaurant and preparing myself for floor urinals, men in other stalls and any other odd experience that may come my way, I was definitely NOT prepared for what I saw when I opened the bathroom door. There was a man standing there, casually going about his business. I immediately yelled, oh my god, I’m so sorry! and shut the door as quickly as I could. Again, mortified, I later discovered that this bathroom simply doesn’t have a lock. And that was supposed to be normal..? With all of these awkward moments, I learned one thing… normal is completely different in another country.

We knew our Italy experience wouldn’t be complete without seeing Florence and Rome so we took the train to spend a long weekend exploring these two iconic cities. In Florence, we saw the 500-year-old marble statue, David created by the Italian artist Michaelangelo, walked the famous bridge, Ponte Vecchio and stumbled upon an action movie set where we got to see stunt drivers during a getaway scene. Getting to watch multiple takes of this adrenaline-pumping scene was probably one of the coolest things we have experienced on our travels. Can’t wait to watch the movie Six Feet Under next year when it comes out on Netflix!

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That afternoon we went to check into our AirBnb and were greeted by our host. He seemed very excited to show us around our place while practicing his very limited English but it wasn’t until he saw our US passports that he got overly excited and spent the next 10 minutes telling us all about his upcoming vacation to New York. Then as he was leaving, he asked us if we would take a selfie in our room and send it to his boss. We were both thinking that maybe they wanted a photo for their reviews or for some sort of marketing material. So we were both extremely confused when our host followed us into the bedroom and just stood there in anticipation. He then asked, do you have your phone ready, at which point we realized he actually wanted to be in the selfie with us! We were humored and thought it was cute, albeit a bit odd at the same time. Apparently, just being American was novelty enough to warrant a group photo.

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We almost didn’t make it to Rome because we thought we wouldn’t have enough time but we decided it would be worth our while to make time. So we extended our visit one night and made Rome a priority, which surely did not disappoint. This awe-inspiring city makes you feel so small when you’re walking the streets and looking around at the massive structures and architecture that tower over the city streets. Every single creation in Rome is a wonder not only because it is super-sized but because it is hundreds (and some, even thousands) of years old. It is truly mind-blowing to imagine how the Romans were able to build such monstrosities with such limited tools and technology.

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Before heading back up north, we could not leave Rome without visiting the Vatican City. Although we couldn’t make it inside and see the world-famous Sistine Chapel due to a mile-long line, we at least got to enjoy the massive columns, surrounding wall and the outside of the St. Peter’s Basilica.

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Venice was another must-see on our list so we took a day trip there to walk the tiny, old sidewalks and see the canals and gondolas that make the backdrop of every view picturesque. It was a quaint, charming city and one that we were glad we didn’t miss.

Finally, our last stop on our way north to Switzerland was Milan, our number one European city where we could see ourselves living. Maybe it was the clean, quiet, tree-lined streets of the neighborhood where we stayed, or the interesting and fashionably dressed people that we enjoyed watching, or the perfect blend of modern living and historic architecture, or the amazing and reasonably priced food, or the fact that it was the least touristy feeling city in Italy… whatever it was about Milan, we both felt like it was somewhere we would like to settle down one day.

During our stay, we also took a three-day trip to Croatia, one of the countries we dreamed about visiting since our journey started a little over four months ago. To get there, we had to cross the entire country of Slovenia, which looked like a fairy tale. We only wish we would have had the opportunity to stop and enjoy it a bit more.

It was only a little over a three-hour car ride to get to Rijeka, the third largest city in Croatia, just after the capital city of Zagreb and Split. This coastal town on the Adriatic Sea has several beaches that have been awarded the Blue Flag, a certification based on environmental, safety and accessibility standards. We visited a couple of them and enjoyed swimming in the cold, calm waters.

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We also visited Rijeka’s highest point at the Trsat Castle which overlooks the entire city, the sea and the mountains. The views from the top of the castle were breathtaking.

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Overall, in the fourteen days we spent in these two countries, we traveled approximately 1,300 miles in cars, trains, and buses allowing us to take in all the incredible sites; mountains, lakes, rivers, bridges, tunnels, charming little towns and big cities. We certainly made the most of our time here.

Also, during our two-week stay, we ate more Italian food than we’ve eaten in our entire lives and to give an honest review of this culture’s cuisine would be to say that while it is good, it is far from varied. Italian food equates to one food group… carbs. Consisting of bread, pasta, pizza, potatoes… and more bread, it seems that there are some very important food groups missing. After two weeks of an Italian diet, I was having serious vegetable withdrawals. Sure, they might sprinkle a few olives or mushrooms on their pizza or pasta, but as far as an actual full serving of vegetables, forget about it. So, while we did have some of the tastiest pizza ever, Italian food just doesn’t have enough variation for us to say we loved it.

After covering so much ground and visiting many of the cities we had dreamed of on this trip, there is still an entire southern half of this country that we hope to explore one day. Maybe we will just add that to our next world tour’s itinerary. 😉

Random observations:

  • Houses in Italy are BIG. Four stories and six bedrooms is the norm.
  • The Italian language is spoken loud and with a lot of emotion. It often sounds like people are fighting when they are just having a nice conversation.
  • Pizzas don’t come sliced, you must cut them yourself. And don’t you dare ask for parmesan or red pepper flakes!
  • Horse meat is very common and sold everywhere.
  • Roundabouts are more common than stoplights.
  • Italian people are very attractive.
  • When you meet an Italian who doesn’t speak English and there is a communication barrier, just speak Spanish. 90% of the time they will understand!

 

*Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for (almost) daily photos of our travels and adventures at @more_two_life and like our Facebook page.

¡Viva España!

Life happens. Plans change. If you would have told us three months ago that today we would be in Europe, we wouldn’t have believed it.

But here we are in our fourth country on our second continent and what a relaxing change of pace it has been! We couldn’t be happier that our route led us to beautiful Spain, nine months before we had anticipated. We have been so lucky to have two amazing, long-term housesit opportunities here, one in Madrid and one outside of Barcelona, allowing us to explore Spain’s two largest cities.

Before arriving in this amazing country, however, we had yet another bump in the road that challenged our patience and our problem-solving skills. Once again, our one-way plane tickets turned out to be a problem. But this time it was the airline that was requiring proof of onward travel at our country of departure, rather than an immigration requirement at our country of arrival.

After our first immigration scare arriving in Costa Rica, we had done our homework and while researching Spanish and European laws, became aware that we might run into this problem. So this time we were prepared and arrived at the airport extra early to allow ourselves time to make the necessary arrangements. Sure enough, the second question we were asked (after showing our passports) was to show proof of our return tickets from Europe to our home country. Not only did we need to prove our onward travel from Spain, but we also needed to prove our return to the US… neither of which we had.

We told the Iberia attendant that we would be right back. We quickly stepped aside, pulled out our laptop, connected to Wifi and purchased the first flight from Madrid to NYC that we could find on a random date, within 90 days. But of course, we had to make sure that the tickets were refundable so that when we landed in Madrid we could cancel the tickets and not be charged the $1200 for a flight that we had no intentions of taking.

In the end, we were able to give the airline what they needed in order for us to board the plane and upon arrival in Spain, successfully canceled the flights to get our money back. And while it may seem that we were cheating the system (we kind of were!), it was still all legal and legit and believe it or not, many travelers do it every day. There is even an entire business dedicated to helping travelers with proof of onward travel where you can essentially rent a valid, verified plane ticket for 48 hours for just $12. After considering this option, we decided to just “rent” our own tickets for 24 hours for FREE!

We have discovered that in order to travel the way we are, you must get creative to get past policies that would otherwise prohibit world travel, without the purchase of RTW (round the world) tickets which for us, was never an option. There are just too many regulations and restrictions that you must follow that did not align with our travel plans.

Despite all of this, the capital city of Spain welcomed us with open arms and within an hour we were in love. As our Cabify driver took us from the airport to our first housesit in the heart of Madrid, we were looking out the windows, admiring the beauty of the city in complete awe, and in agreement, we both thought, this looks nothing like the first three countries we’ve visited! It truly felt like we were on another planet.

We continued to enjoy the blue skies, green parks and unforgettable surroundings that Madrid has to offer for the next week while kitty sitting for two beautiful Bengals. We were amazed that we did not see one single piece of trash in the streets or on the subways or in the parks. The subway even had air conditioning and was very modern and surprisingly clean for public transportation. We explored much of the city on foot, walking up to ten miles every day. After experiencing Madrid for ourselves, we both agreed that if we were ever to live in Europe, this is where you would find us!

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During our five days here we walked La Gran Vía, one of the main avenues very similar to Times Square, saw the Royal Palace, admired famous sculptures, explored the beautiful Parque del Retiro and toured the Santiago Bernabéu, giving us lasting memories that we will cherish forever.

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Our next housesit brought us to a small town outside Barcelona called Cerdanyola del Valles. With a population of only 50,000 people, we definitely got a feel for small-town life in Spain, especially since we spent a month there. With cobblestone brick roads, a quaint town square, tons of sidewalk cafes and a daily schedule based around afternoon siesta, it was the perfect place for us to slow things down and focus on working.

We were able to tour the entire town over the course of a month by getting out and jogging every day. We never ran the same route twice and I’m pretty sure we covered every single neighborhood and side street on the map. We added up our daily runs tracked by our phones and it came up to 71 miles! So yeah, I think it’s safe to say we explored Cerdanyola del Valles, Spain.

Each week we would take the 25-minute train into Barcelona to experience the city.  During our four trips we visited historic cathedrals and monuments, got lost in the narrow, charming alleys of the Gothic Corridor, saw a flamenco show, rode a funicular up the side of a mountain, toured the famous Montjuic castle overlooking the city, walked the world-known La Rambla, stood in awe in front of La Sagrada Familia, drank delicious sangria, visited Gaudi’s houses and Park Güell and swam in the Mediterranean. I would say that we have had an amazing time in this country and have been fortunate enough to do everything we could have imagined. I was especially grateful that I got to celebrate my birthday in beautiful Barcelona while counting my blessings for all that is to come in this next year of adventures.

 

And now, here are some random observations we have made during our visit:

  • -Drinking beer for breakfast at sidewalk cafes is absolutely acceptable… and very common.
  • -Everyone smokes. Literally, everyone. There are even cigarette vending machines all over the country.
  • Air conditioning is not common, even in the heat of the summer (surviving 97 degrees with one small fan has made us fully appreciate this luxury)
  • Doorknobs are in the middle of doors, not on the side.
  • Olives. Every day, every meal. Olives everywhere.
  • Pedestrian bridges over highways have no fences,  no guardrails, no nothing. We find this odd.
  • Peeing on the sidewalk, in public, in the middle of the day is apparently acceptable. We saw this often with children but also witnessed a grown man stop in the middle of the street and shamelessly take care of business.
  • Angry women on cell phones. Shouting, cussing, throwing their hands up in the air. We saw this everywhere.
  • 5-10 percent gratuity is the norm and it must be in cash (credit card receipts do not include lines for tipping)
  • Animal legs hanging in every restaurant and grocery store, hooves and all.
  • Africans on subways selling pirated merchandise constantly having to roll up their laid out goods into their sacks to run from police. We saw this often.
  • All men wearing shoes in the style of a slipper/flat/sandal that is by far the most feminine looking thing we have ever seen a man wear.
  • Good Spanish wine costs 1 Euro a bottle! ($1.17)
  • If you piss off the people that live in the apartments above you, expect to have them throw bleach on your hanging laundry (happened to our hosts) or black pepper on your dog (happened to our neighbor).
  • Gazpacho! No Spanish diet is complete without this tasty cold soup that you can drink straight out of the carton.

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As we move on to our next country and next exciting experience, we are also sad to say goodbye to this cute, little town and adorable kitties that we have come to love. We will never forget Cerdanyola or Gus and Turtle, the two furbabies who stole our hearts.

 

 

 

¡Pura Vida!

As our adventures in Central America come to a close, we reflect on how grateful we are that our four weeks here have been super chill, relaxing and all Pura Vida (as the locals say, to mean good vibes).

But it didn’t exactly start that way. We experienced a near-disaster, which almost kept us from entering the country to begin with. After standing in line at immigration for what felt like forever, we finally made it to an official. We greeted him in Spanish, answering all of his questions and providing him with the many documents he was demanding.

The process was extremely intimidating, as it felt more like an interrogation than a conversation. It was still going smoothly, however, until he asked for the one piece of the puzzle that we were missing – an exit ticket out of the country. In all of our research, we had somehow failed to discover this one small, but very important detail.

After continuing to sternly lecture us, the official kept saying that he could not let us in the country without proof that we would be leaving, without exception. Distraught and panicked, we were almost certain we would be sent on a plane, straight back to Mexico where we had come from, at our own expense.

Lucky for us, however, the ultimate decision for us to pass through immigration was at the sole discretion of the official. For whatever reason, he believed our story and gave us the benefit of the doubt. We were through. But not without learning a hard lesson in what NOT to do when entering a country. (After doing more research, we discovered that this requirement is strictly enforced in Central America, while not being an issue in most other countries).

Due to the nature of our world travels, we have only purchased one-way tickets, one country at a time, to keep everything open and flexible for change. We don’t have rigid plans and we don’t adhere to strict schedules because we know that new work opportunities may open up for us.

It has only been two months on the road and already we have modified our original route many times. Sometimes due to safety concerns, other times because we fell in love with a place and wanted to stay longer, and others because we were chosen for a housesit. But no matter what our reason for changing it up, we always maintain a “go with the flow” attitude.

After barely dodging a bullet at the airport, things began to look up after that. We were greeted outside immigration by a friend of the Moreno family, Sonia who gave us a ride back to her house and offered us a nice meal and a place to stay for the night.

The following day, we went to the Aguilar house and I was reunited with my host family, who I lived with eight years ago when I was studying abroad. Although it was a short stay, I have always and will forever consider them my Tica family and hold them in a very special place in my heart.

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Mama Tica even remembered my favorite Costa Rican dish, patacones and made them for us during our afternoon visit.

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We then hopped on a bus and headed for the Pacific coast where we stayed at Jacó beach in the coolest lodging arrangement ever! The cylinder was just big enough for a bed and a bookshelf but it was super cozy and quaint.

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We got so excited when we discovered the beach volleyball tournament taking place the next day. We showed up to find out that it was 2 on 2 and that I was the only female on any of the teams. But instead of worrying, we brought our KC skills to the court and ended up dominating the first round. We then went on to the final, where we were playing against two Venezuelans in a fun and friendly match. Just as we were in a race for the win, one of the opponents dove sideways to save a ball and came down hard on his right shoulder. The minute he stood up, he grabbed his arm and while staggering back and forth as his face turned white, he started to pass out. We are not sure if it was the pain or the shock of having a dislocated shoulder, but it was really scary to witness.

Needless to say, we won the tournament. We were awarded a couple of cold beers as our prize and the losing team was awarded a couple of beers as a consolation for their injury.  And the Venezuelan kid was okay after popping his shoulder back into place and passing out a couple more times.

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From there, we took a bus, south to Manuel Antonio where we had an unforgettable housesit in a beautiful house overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Located on the edge of the national park, we spent two weeks watching monkeys play all around us from the windows, the patio, and the pool.

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We hiked the national park, saw wildlife throughout the deep jungle, and walked the pristine beaches.

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Our next adventure led us to the Nicoya Peninsula, which took six modes of transportation to arrive; 3 busses, 2 taxis, and a ferry. By the time we arrived in Santa Teresa, we were completely exhausted by a long day of travel. The first thing we were told upon check-in to our hostel was that the entire town would be out of power the following day from 7 am – 3 pm. And here, without power, also means without water.

We woke up that day in the dark, wondering how we were going to 1.) Brush our teeth 2.) Make breakfast 3.) Buy anything, anywhere in this town. In that moment, we realized just how much we take these things for granted.

So we followed the advice on the signs of all the closed shops in town that said, “Sorry, we are closed. Go enjoy the beach.” So we did. We went out and had an absolute blast getting beat up in the waves, lost two pairs of sunglasses to the ocean, and got the worst sunburns from a cloudy sky that we have ever had.  And it was so worth it.

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We returned to the hostel’s pool in the afternoon, where we met a couple of crazy Australians who spent the rest of the day entertaining us along with all of the other guests from the hostel by sharing three bottles of vodka along and their insane, party-going ways. We met people from all over the world and made friends from Australia, Canada, Turkey, Ireland, and Mexico. It truly was a cultural exchange and a lesson in how to take a less than ideal day (no power or running water) and turn it into one of the most memorable days we have had yet on our travels.

The following day we returned to San Jose (after traveling for 10 hours in a bus) where my Tica family graciously allowed us to stay with them for the night. Early the next morning, we were back on a bus, headed for the other side of the country towards the Carribean.

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When we arrived in Puerto Viejo, we checked into our 6-person dorm in our hostel and got settled in. We decided to give the dorms a try this time around, in order to stay on budget. Up to this point, we have had the luxury of staying in private rooms everywhere we go.

To say that it turned out to be a nightmare experience, would not begin to describe our first night there. At first, upon meeting our super chill, polite German roommates we thought it was going to be all good. But later, a Costa Rican couple joined our room and proved that they were there to party. And party they did … until 5:00 in the morning, while coming into the room every 30 minutes throughout the night, waking us up every single time.

So at 5:00 am, we finally fell asleep. Only to be awoken again at 6:00 to the sound of the Costa Ricans’ alarm clock (who were too drunk to hear it going off). We had to get out of bed to wake them up and yell at them to turn it off. But instead of turning it off, they would hit snooze every time, forcing us to yell at them again to turn it off. This continued for over an hour until finally, all four of us (the two of us plus the Germans) got up and went to lay by the pool to try and get some rest.

In the end, we switched to a private room and decided that the dorm life is not for us.

After several days in Puerto Viejo, we packed up and headed for Panama. We had read that the trip would take us three hours… but that was not taking into account the three additional hours it took us to go through immigration and customs on both sides of the border.

The whole process involved these very official government buildings and a walk across the bordering river on foot:

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Our destination in Panama was Bocas del Toro, a province made up of hundreds of small islands. During our stay, we went on a tour that took us around to five different islands where we saw dolphins, starfish, sloths, and tons of beautiful fish as we snorkeled through the coral reef. We also got to explore the famous island Cayo Zapatilla, where the TV series, Survivor was filmed. It had the most beautiful, picturesque beaches we have ever seen (next to Holbox, of course!) and is one of our favorite adventures thus far.

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Overall, we have had a lovely time in Central America and have enjoyed the biodiversity, the food, and the Latin-American vibe. Tomorrow, we get on a 10-hour bus and return to San Jose to get to the airport so we can fly to our next destination.

Stay tuned! Check out our FB and Instagram to see where in the world we end up next 🙂