Thursday, August 16, 2018

Here We Go! Days 68-73 (Lon-DONE!)

For the last stop on this grand adventure of a summer, we took a nice train ride through the English countryside from Glasgow to London. Most of my time in London was spent trying to keep myself from making silly remarks in a bad English accent, but we got a few other things done.
We so fancy! We took the opportunity to see a couple of super-American musicals. Hamilton was interesting, and my favorite character was definitely King George (and it was a special treat to see him in London). The Book of Mormon was out-of-control funny in the most uncomfortable ways.
Of course, spent a couple of days on the big bus, touring around (very slowly) and seeing some of the sights. The view from a boat on the Thames was probably my favorite.  
Other than that, we at a lot of food, I was able to track down a few more places that sell my new favorite beer, and we enjoyed getting to know the little part of Soho where we stayed.

Then, it was back on the plane for an 8 AM arrival in Lahore. I'm getting used to the heat, the smells, the people, the creeping work-stress...

What an adventure this summer has been! Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Here We Go! Days 61-67 (Do I have to glasGo home?)

The less said about the transit from the islands, through Lisbon, to Glasgow, the better (FYI: if life ever asks the question "What about Ryanair?", the smart answer is "Hell no!").

Who loves Glasgow? We do! Beautiful little city, nicely set up for walking, great food, lots to do.
This is what it looks like. Everywhere.

Botanical Gardens provide some new fruits and flowers.
Went downtown one day, got some street food, heard some drums, then this shit started happening!
Super crazy parade action! Marching bands! Community groups! Dance troupes! Steampunk strollers! Just a blast of creative humanity in our faces. We had no idea this was going on, but we got a front row seat.
Apparently, we'd stumbled into Festival 2018, a sort of side project for Glasgow's hosting of the European Championships (like summer Olympics for Europe). A big part of this weekend was these traveling bands from all over the world that did crazy drum and jazz numbers all over the city for the rest of the day (and the next day). We just walked around, followed the sounds, and saw some amazing performances right on the street.
We left this day feeling exhilarated. It was really just a celebration of beauty and humanity and difference that you can only get in a city that gets itself and welcomes the rest of the world in. As I was looking through the pics from the day and thinking about how it made me feel, I noticed some of this feeling coming through in the faces of the people who got caught up in my photos. Here's a bucketfull of exuberance and happiness for ya! (The cop really wanted to smile; I could tell. Plus, he was surrounded by people in purple and blue/green leotards with their faces painted orange dancing and playing the drums! Who wouldn't be smiling!)
If I forget everything else that happened this week, may the universe let me remember that day. Who cares what else we did?

Thanks Glasgow!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Here We Go! Days 51-60 (Take your Pico, chums!)

On Pico, we're staying in a strange wooden house with this view from the front porch, where we spend most of our time.
On our first morning, we were greeted by a full rainbow.
And several days in, we caught the tail-end of the lunar eclipse.
Pico is a long, skinny island, so you can see the ocean from just about anywhere. Turn around, and if the clouds are cooperating, you can also see Mount Pico, the highest mountain in all of Portugal. We had planned to attempt the climb, but your hero was felled by a dastardly sinus infection/fever and ended up spending several days (and a few boxes of kleenex) of indisposition, expectoration, and convalescence.
Milady puts a brave face on things: We finished off our diving with an excruciatingly uncomfortable, mildly unsatisfying shark expedition. 11 hours of rough seas on a poorly-outfitted boat next to buckets of chum. You've probably heard of chumming; it's exactly as disgusting as you might expect, and much more tedious. Let me walk you through the process.
Get a big bucket with a lid, poke holes in it, fill it with rotting fish guts and bones, tie a rope to it, and throw it in the water. This is your "perma-chum", and stays in the water for the duration. Next, get another bucket, fill half way with fish guts. Now it's time for the expert chumatier to mix seawater with the guts in a special process designed for maximum chum-distribution, and carefully scoop out the mixture with a special chum scoop and dump it in the water. The chumatier will patiently repeat this process for LIKE 6 FUCKING HOURS! As the boat drifts, this creates a yummy chum slick, which, in theory, will attract the sharks. When the chumatier sees signs of sharks, he informs the divers, who suit up and jump in.
Divers wake up and quickly gear up, jump into the chum slick, grab on to the rock lines extending from the boat, and look for the sharks. OK, so we were pretty lucky in the end to get like 60 seconds of close-up time with a 3-4 meter long blue shark, surrounded by a school of striped pilot fish. Very cool and sharky. Was it worth the 11 FUCKING HOURS on the boat? Ehh...
So, this mildly traumatic experience cemented our decision to stay off of boats for the rest of the trip, and led to a mildly euphoric recovery day, which included cooking a big meal.
Did some trundling around the countryside in our little underpowered car (Rani is looking forward to the next two stops in UK cities where she doesn't have to drive). Pico's unique viticulture has earned it UNESCO World-Heritage status. Grape vines are grown directly in the volcanic gravel, so they have to be protected from wind by rows and rows of rock fences.
We heard a rumor that there was one sandy beach on the island, but we couldn't find it. We did find some nice views, though.
Happened upon Sao Joao Forest Park, which is full of exercise equipment (reminiscent of Chinese parks) and, strangely, a small herd of deer!
Stumbled into a regatta in São Roque, where they use old whaling boats for recreation now.
This guy guards the shore.
Helpful road signs warn of... Lots of bugs?
And, for no reason at all, my new favorite coffee mug.
Tomorrow, we're off to the continent. The Azores have been mostly good to us, overloading our beauty receptors and maxing out our serenity reserves. Overall a unique experience for us, which we've enjoyed for just long enough to be ready to move on.

Onward for the final push!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Here We Go! Days 42-50 (OMG 50 DAYS?! HOW IS THIS SUMMER SO LONG?)

We spent our last full day on Sao Miguel doing a little exploring of the last part of the island and completing our circuit of THE ROAD that goes around the island: EN 1-1A.

Coffee in this cute little square in the cute little town of Nordeste.
Stopped by a couple of viewpoints, with well-maintained gardens and rest-areas (Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego, Ponta da Madrugada), saw a couple of new-to-me flowers and some nice views of the northeast coast. I think the sign in the middle says "don't pee in the garden". If it doesn't, I'm not interested in correcting my translation.
Weren't looking for it, but Rani spotted Cascata da Ribeira Quente, a hot waterfall, between these two tunnels in the road!
Ate a giant octopus in Ribeira Quente.
Then, having traveled this (is)land well, we headed back home and packed up. Ridiculously early flight the next morning, all of the expected frustrations of a small airport and a suggested check-in time that is way before people get up and show up to work, and we were off on a short flight to the island of Santa Maria, where we were faced with an even-smaller airport! Got a car, met our next Airbnb host, and took a nap before checking out some beaches (COLD water here, but fun waves).

St. Lawrence Beach, with just a little bit of sand, and a pool built in to the coast.
Santa Maria a different flavor of island. It's small, about a fourth the size of Sao Miguel, and less developed. We're staying in the center of the island, and everything is about 20 minutes away. There's not a lot to do here, which is great, especially since we have a really nice place to stay.
We came here mostly because of the diving, which was pretty nice. On our first dive, we just hung on a line in the middle of some beautiful blue water while a school of giant mobula rays circled us. We made the trip out to the middle of the ocean to Formigas, which is just a bunch of rocks with a lighthouse on them. Two hours travel each way by rib-boat (cold and wet). But the water here is beautiful, and there was lots to see, including some close encounters with giant groupers.
We don't do photography on dives anymore, which I'm pretty happy about. I like just concentrating on the view and my place in the water. Not having pictures of our dives also adds to the dream-like experience of diving: alien creatures in an alien landscape, quiet and blue. We dove this week with a family of professional photographers, and I am a little sad we didn't get their contact information to see what a professional would make of the dives we did.
The rest of the time we've been enjoying being in a very comfortable house on a beautiful hillside overlooking the village of Santa Barbara, cooking (mostly) our own food, reading, Netflix-ing, and recovering from diving (still having some trouble with my right ear).
View of Santa Barbara from our patio.

Today, we make one last stop at the beach, tidy up the house, and get ready for our last stop in the Azores: Pico Island tomorrow!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Here We Go! Days 33-41 (SFB)

Disclaimer/Warning: In order to fully express my feelings about this leg of the trip, I need to use some strong language, because this place is


Exhibit A: Did all of the airport nonsense, got a car, and within 3 minutes we're on this FUCKING RIDICULOUS ROAD that's lined with hydrangeas. Is this a special occasion? A memorial stretch of the highway? Some kind of inside Seussian joke from the Azorean people? NOPE! It's just a regular-ass road. That's just how it is here. Don't question it. (BTW, hydrangeas are also used as FUCKING FENCES IN COW PASTURES)

Exhibit B: This is the little seaside village we'll be staying in for the next week or so. So goddamn cute! Every morning, in fact as I write this, a little van comes down this street blowing a clown horn and selling fish.

Exhibit C: This is our fucking back yard. Enough said.

OK, I'll stop with the "exhibit" nonsense, because it's all a fucking exhibit. Just everything.

After a day or so of recovery in our cute-ass little home, some grocery shopping, laundry, we were ready to strike out and explore the island of San Miguel.

A note on driving: thank the fucking universe that Rani's doing all the driving. Most of the streets here are tiny, with houses right up on the curb, windows and doors opening directly into the street. She's gotten the hang of the "rules" for dealing with these streets, and is navigating them like a pro now, but it was stressful to start. 
Here's what it's like on the country roads:

First stop: Ponta da Ferraria, where a hot spring meets the ocean. There's a natural pool where the hot spring water and the cold ocean water mix, where we swam for a bit to start our day.
Did some 'yaking in Lagoa das Sete Cidades.

Milady turns over a new leaf and changes clothes in public.
The first time we visited Sete Cidades, it was pretty cloudy, and we couldn't see anything off of the viewpoint nearby, which some say is the most beautiful view in the world. So we came back a few days later on a clear day.

OK, that's pretty fucking beautiful. Miradouro da Boca do Inferno, and it's view of lagoas Rasa, Santiago, and Sete Cidades, was well-worth the second trip.

And the hike, of course, was full of these pretty little bastards.

Coffee, fresh fruit, and pineapple upside-down cake at A Arruda Pineapple plantation. Did you know pineapples take like 2-3 years to mature? They have to grow them in greenhouses here because of the weather, and the local pineapples are small and very sweet.

Out of our way, cows!
So fucking pretty: Lagoa do Fogo
Seriously cows! We took a little walk up here through some pasture, and had to learn some cow-herding methods to get 'em off the path (make yourself look big and clap your hands).
Gotta see where this goes, right?
Guess what? Another fucking beautiful view (with the Islet of Vila Franca do Campo in the background).

Queen of the hill
Bathing in some rust-colored thermal pools in Parque Terra Nostra botanical gardens. Beautiful grounds, stunning trees and ferns.

Somewhere in there, we also had a few days of diving. Nothing too exciting, but decent dives and nice to get back into it. The water here is FUCKING COLD, so we have to wear more gear than we're used to.

So we have a couple more days here, but we're sort of winding down this leg and getting ready for the next island. We're taking a post-diving morning off, so I can sit in the back yard, write this, and contemplate the ridiculous view with this goddamn storybook tree staring at me. Seriously, I just stare at this tree for like an hour every day. And I'm OK with that.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Here We Go! Days 27-32 (sort of a half way point)

So family: ☑

Rani off to Boston to see a teaching friend from the China days, and me to Colorado to hang out with some college friends.
Good times were had by all. I did a little hiking, checked out Boulder, ate and drank a lot, and caught up with the guys.
Rani had a great time in Boston seeing all of the sites.
We had our second night alone of this whole trip (!) in Boston. It's nice to be back together again.

Friends: ☑

Now we're waiting in the airport to leave the country and begin our second Atlantic adventure. More soon!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Here We Go! Days 19-26 (...Jiggety-Jog)

Spent a few days at the family home in Three Rivers, Michigan. Good relaxing with the parents as we planned dinners for the upcoming reunion, enjoyed some nice quiet time, did some reading on one of my favorite couches in the world.

The siblings began to arrive, along with the geschwisterkinder, and quiet time was over.
Hey, that's my reading couch!

Seriously, get off my couch!

Hey, those aren't your shoes!

Milady does the Aunt Rani thing pretty well.

The focus of the weekend was my father's 70th birthday, and we siblings were having a little trouble coming up with an appropriate theme for this momentous occasion. Luckily, he fell out of a tree this past year and gave us much fodder for jokes, gifts, and cake.
Father, mother, sister, and the newest edition.

My brother captured a video of my dad, fueled by powerful narcotics, relating the story of his accident, which I transcribed into a poem.

The niblings present the old man with his birthday throne.

Mother adorns the birthday boy with his cloak (the shirt that was cut off of him at the hospital).


The eldest pontificates.

Don't be bashful! Check out this ridiculously hilarious cake my brother made!

And now we don't have to climb ladders to trim trees anymore, right Dad?
I'm impressed by this man's resilience (already training for a marathon again) and energy (which is amplified whenever his grandchildren are around). Happy birthday, Dad!

Then it was a big pack-up for the move to Lakeside Melodies, where Rani and I had our big party two years ago. Still beautiful as ever. Swim, cook, eat, repeat.