In October of 2019 we took off for one of the biggest adventures of our lives and landed in Paris, France on Halloween. We made our way to the coast to the beautiful La Rochelle and then south for a night of splurging in Bordeaux just before heading to Portugal and then on to Spain for some tapas filled evenings. A short week took us driving from Tangier to Marrakesh in Morocco before returning to Europe and celebrating Christmas in Germany. Carl always wanted a white Christmas, but alas only a few flakes fell that night. We did get caught in a short snow storm during our stay in Prague though, and the best part were the 2 straight days of fireworks for New Years Eve and Day – it’ll be hard to top that kind of celebration!
A long, long train ride to Netherlands and a day trip to Brussels brought us into warmer but windier cities. We were based in Utrecht – a place we had never heard of before but certainly love now! It’s supposedly one of the happiest cities and we weren’t surprised. We thought we had arrived in the winter wonderland in Copenhagen, Denmark, but true winter was waiting for us in Finland. Our friends took us on one of the most magical adventures winter hiking through Seitseman National Park, where the snow blanketed the forest and made the trees bow.
We almost had to cancel our trip
By February we ate our fill of gelato in Rome and pizza in Naples, exploring ruins and navigating the social rules of the Italians. We ended our leg in Europe with a couple weeks in Greece, a quiet week in sleepy Santorini and then a harrowing week when Carl’s passport was stolen.
We had just arrived in Athens and taken the train to our AirBnB when an incident on our train car had the doors closing too early and trapping passengers exiting. We believe the thieves took advantage of the chaos to pickpocket people. We noticed the missing passport when we checked in and went through our bags. That night was one of the scariest and uncertain moments of our trip – we weren’t sure if we had to try to go back home for a new passport. Fortunately, it was the best possible situation of a terrible scenario. There was a US embassy within the city and it was simple enough to go and get a temporary one while we extended our trip and waited for a new official passport.
But the troubles weren’t over
After receiving the new passport the day we were booked to leave Greece, we ran into more trouble at the Immigration counter. Because Carl was exiting with a brand new passport, he was asked for all the documentation proving his previous one was in fact stolen (make sure you get a police report, it’s not required for insurance but it is advisable for immigration!). I was then asked to show my passport while they tried to figure out our dates within the EU. Turns out, with all of our adjusted plans, we’d technically overstayed in the EU.
Luckily, my agent had already stamped my passport, allowing me to go through and told Carl’s agent that because Greece has its own visa agreement with the US, he counted those days separately from the rest of the days in the EU, which meant we were ok. After anxiously waiting for his agent to go somewhere else and confer with someone else, Carl’s passport was stamped and we were allowed to leave!
To warmer places
Our first taste of Southeast Asia was Vietnamese – which also happens to be Carl’s favorite cuisine. We mimed and pointed our way through orders of bánh cuốn and bánh bèo, adjusting to the sudden heat and humidity. After a stunning hike through the Marble Mountains in Danang, Carl wound up sick and had to suffer on a travel day no less! We still made it to Hue, but then spent our time there swapping sick days. We’ll have to return and give it a proper visit.
From Vietnam we took a quick stopover in Manila, Philippines to meet up with Carl’s parents and surprise his grandma. They packed our couple of days with sights and new fruits like atis, or custard apple, which became a favorite throughout SEA. With his parents, we headed to Japan, the land of dreams.
For the Foodies
Japan is one of the few places that really delivered on expectations for me. Perhaps it’s because I grew up watching Anime, but discovering that certain nuances were truly an accurate representation of their culture gave me such satisfaction. Plus, there’s very little bad food there, you could live off the ready made food at 7 Elevens! South Korea also offered a plethora of food options and our weeks in Seoul and Busan left us wanting more, though maybe venturing beyond such big cities. By the way, there’s a famous llama that walks down the boardwalk in Busan.
Well into May, we landed in Singapore Changi Airport – indeed one of the most beautiful airports, but with the longest immigration line we’d ever been in. The small but stunning country is one we eagerly recommend for those who love Asian food and vibrant lush garden spaces. Singapore is one of the most expensive stays and activities, but their streets and transit system is so clean and the best food comes cheap! Similarly, the street food in Thailand is no joke, but also too spicy for the uninitiated (me). Good thing they offer plenty of options with no peppers involved, like the incredible Lek Seafood: possibly one of our best meals of the entire trip.
Where we left our hearts
By now, likely via InstaGram, you’ve heard of Bali, Indonesia. Most people cannot stop raving about its beauty, but we experienced quite the dichotomy there. The Balinese are such wonderful people that hold fast to their traditions while welcoming visitors with open arms. The island however is fast changing to meet the desires of tourism, so your experience here can vary greatly depending on your itinerary and expectations. 10 days went by way too quickly and then we were bound for Malaysia.
Kuala Lumpur was delicious, similar to its neighbor Singapore, though grittier. We spent a week in Kuching to attend the rainforest world music festival (amazing!) and then made our way back to Finland to visit our friend again in the summertime. Tampere is definitely a city we could live in long term; the Finnish really know how to live! We took advantage of a stopover deal with Qatar Airways to visit Doha, which not just due to the heat, took our breath away.
A Taste of the Expat Life
Because we loved our first visit so much, we decided to return to Bali and stay the couple of months before we were to meet my parents in Japan. We finally had time to breathe and slow down in Bali – until we met Kacang, a typical looking Bali stray puppy, and our lives changed yet again. We were first just helping to foster her through her medication period, but when we couldn’t find anyone to adopt her afterwards, we decided to take her home with us.
While Kacang waited out her vaccines, we spent our last month of traveling going back to Japan to take my parents around. We also did a WorkAway in Iwanai as our very last stint before going home. This winded ramble barely tells the story, so if you’re ready to dive into this crazy adventure of ours, pick one below!