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It’s Official: We’re Back!

Posted by on Jan 13, 2016 in Our Grand Tour of Europe, Uncategorized | 4 comments

On Saturday our trip finally came to an end as we flew into SeaTac Airport. It still feels surreal that our traveling is actually done (for now) but we’re keeping plenty busy with reestablishing our home lives.

We’re looking forward to posting our final thoughts on the trip. And to seeing all of you! So don’t be a stranger. Call us up, plan some time to hang out and let us know if you have any questions you want answered in our post-trip wrap-up. We hope to hear from you soon!

   

  

SE Asia: Thailand

Posted by on Jan 7, 2016 in Our Grand Tour of Europe, Uncategorized | 2 comments

The last stop of our epic journey was Thailand. We gave ourselves plenty of time—three weeks—to see both the north and the south of the country. Knowing our trip was winding down, I wanted us to experience everything we possibly could, from exotic temples to lush jungles to deserted beaches. Mac wanted plenty of time to relax in the warm sun. So we compromised and spent a week doing as much sighsteeing as possible and two weeks living the simple life.
It certainly didn’t take us long to find the exotic when we flew north to Chiang Mai. It seemed like everywhere we wandered, by foot or by car, there was a Buddhist temple nearby. I immediately fell in love with Buddhist art. To Mac, the temple displays were like a garage sale. There was so much to look at that his eyes couldn’t focus on anything. But to me, it was dazzling and perfect—I didn’t want to look away from the gold, the jewels or the statues. It was my kind of art.

   
   
We made sure we got up close and personal with the temples—and with the Thai custom of bowing to show respect. Another measure of respect: I had to cover my shoulders, lest my bare arms seduce a monk away from his meditations.

 
One of our favorite experiences in Chiang Mai was spending the day at an elephant sanctuary. We got to feed the elephants, give them mud baths and bathe with them in the river. It was one of the coolest days of the whole trip.

   
   

  

We got to experience the elephants’ natural habitat on our own by spending another day trekking in the jungle with a guide who explained everything from the local flora and fauna to how Thai people protect trees from logging by giving them sacred cloths and declaring them monks. Most of the people in northern Thailand are Buddhist and it’s very bad karma to kill a monk, so protecting trees this way actually works most of the time.

  

Our guide was super knowledgeable (he even made us cool leaf hats!) but our favorite thing about him was his mad slingshot skills. He tried to teach us some tricks but we weren’t very good. At least, I wasn’t. Mac used his slingshot to protect me from a would-be-lunch-thief monkey later in the trip, which was pretty awesome.

  
  
One of the most interesting sights we saw in Chiang Mai was the women of the Long Neck Karen Hill Tribe. They stretch their necks with very heavy brass rings. The women start when they’re young, so by the time they’re older their necks can be quite lengthy. The brass rings can only be taken off for short periods of time. If the rings are left off for too long (such as with punishment for adultery), the women can die because their necks are so weak that they’re unable to support the weight of their heads.

  
We really enjoyed our time in Chiang Mai and I, especially, had a hard time leaving. But after months of sightseeing, and in preparation for heading home, we needed a vacation from our vacation. No sightseeing (except snorkeling) and no alarm clock. So we headed down to the south of Thailand, to the Phi Phi Islands and Tarutao National Park, for some rest and relaxation.

You won’t see a lot of photos from those two weeks because we didn’t really take any. Instead, we plopped ourselves down on the beach and did nothing. We’re usually really active travelers but for once we let oursleves just be. Christmas passed quietly and so did New Years. Through it all, we read books, swam and thought about life. And we tried to get used to the fact that our trip was almost finished.

 

  
It didn’t seem quite real—and it still doesn’t. But tomorrow we’ll start our journey back to Seattle. There’s a lot about traveling that we’ll miss—and a lot we won’t (stay tuned for our individual wrap-up posts). It’s bittersweet to be trading in the exotic for the familiar. But in its own way, home is just our next great adventure. Because the true test of a traveler’s spirit doesn’t come from traveling at all. It comes from the struggle to make life at home every bit as growth-inducing and memorable as being out on the road. We’re ready for the challenge.

SE Asia: Cambodia

Posted by on Jan 5, 2016 in Our Grand Tour of Europe, Uncategorized | 4 comments

After exploring Europe (and Turkey and Morocco) for nearly eight months, Mac and I were ready for a different kind of adventure and a completely different culture. So we set off for SE Asia. Our plan was to spend a week in Cambodia and three weeks in Thailand.

Because we flew in to Bangkok, we had to cross most of Thailand to reach Cambodia. We could’ve flown but we decided to take a 7-hour train instead. The ride didn’t disappoint. There was lots to look at inside–and outside–of our 3rd class car. We spent most of the ride gazing around in awe at everything from the chickens and puppies riding next to us to the fields and lotus flowers we passed by. Mac said it was just like watching National Geographic.

 
   

Once we reached Cambodia, we set up a home base in Siem Reap, the town closest to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat–and the whole reason Cambodia was on our bucket list to begin with. It was a photographer’s paradise.

  
  
 
   
 

We enjoyed visiting the temples so much on our one-day educational tour that we returned the next day to ride bikes around the religious complex and take everything in at our own pace.
 

Everywhere we looked, we found something interesting, from kids farming lotus flowers to a migration of 50+ monkeys, including this cute little baby one. (This was when I still thought monkeys were cute. In Thailand, one attacked me and tried to steal my lunch out of my hands. It was terrifying. But I won.)

  
   

There was some foreshadowing that monkeys are mischievous creatures. We watched these guys attempt to unzip another biker’s purse. While they weren’t ultimately successful, they did manage to get away with the woman’s water bottle, which they punched a hole in and drank out of.
   
 

When we weren’t exploring Angkor Wat, we were exploring our little town. Siem Reap is a small, very poor village with a bustling tourist district. It was strange to see such poverty and affluence mixed all together but somehow it worked.

  

We made time to watch some traditional Cambodian dancing, which is meant to bring to life the exotic women depicted on the Angkor temples.
  

And thought about going to a happening lounge … until we got creeped out by the welcome sign and the possibility of being surrounded by people who needed to be reminded not to bring grenades to a club.
  

So we turned our sights to culinary adventures. We started small, with coconuts fresh off the tree and shark/alligator Cambodian BBQ.
  
   

We heard rumors of “mystery meat” but didn’t think much of them until we saw this very helpful sign.
 

Finally, we were ready for our biggest culinary adventure yet: crickets, snakes and spiders.

   
   

Mac led the charge on this one. We got chasers first, to help wash everything down.
   

And then debated the best way to eat everything. 
  

I had trouble working up to it.
 
 

But finally got on board.

 

Surprisingly, it wasn’t as bad as we thought it was going to be. The spider legs tasted like pork puffies and the snake was tough and a little spicy like jerky (with vertebrae poking out). The cricket was actually the worst, because its legs and wings kept poking the inside of our mouths. And it didn’t taste very good. But we were quite proud of ourselves for being so brave.
  

Cambodia was everything we were hoping it would be–very, very different from Europe. We’d like to go back someday to see even more of the country beyond Angkor Wat. But we’ll skip the bugs next time.

Europe Trip: Scandinavia

Posted by on Dec 28, 2015 in Our Grand Tour of Europe, Uncategorized | 1 comment

Our last big adventure in Europe, from late November to early December, was spending two weeks in Scandinavia. We had planned to visit both Sweden and Norway in search of old friends and unknown family. Along the way, we got a good dose of cold weather and winter fun.

Our first stop in Scandinavia was Stockholm, where stayed on a clipper ship that has been converted into a hostel. This specific boat, the af Chapman, had been on our travel bucket list ever since we’d seen it on a travel show while we were preparing for our trip. We don’t usually book accommodations in advance, but we made an exception for this spot. It was fun to stay in our own cabin on such an old-fashioned ship–and well worth the wait.

  

The boat was great, but our favorite part of visiting Stockholm was actually reconnecting with Olaf, a Swedish childhood friend of Mac’s, and his family. They took us to a cool tv tower for an amazing view of the city and showed us all sorts of places only locals could know about. We visited a Swedish daycare, learned about local politics and the Swedish economy and enjoyed amazing traditional dinners. It was more than we ever could have hoped for and was a great lesson in true hospitality.

  

In between visits with Olaf and his family, we explored the city on our own. I loved soaking in the Swedish Christmas spirit. There were decorations and little reminders of the holiday everywhere. And everyone looked so stylish in their cold-weather gear!
  

The best-dressed award, though, had to go to a group of Danish girls we met while walking around the old town. They had plastic wine glasses tethered to their very eclectic suits and all kinds of other helpful little tools for impromptu drinking. I had to ask them to explain their costumes, of course, (it turns out the costumes are traditional outfits for Danish students and they’re customized according to the students’ majors) and grabbed a photo with them.
  

From Stockholm, we headed to Norway to meet some of my Norwegian family that I’d never met before. It was quite a journey to get to Gaupne, the town my ancestors are from and where much of my Norwegian family still lives. Our favorite part of the journey was on a boat through the fjords.
  
 
 

At last we arrived–and it was like a storybook. Odd (pictured below) and Svein, my shirt-tail cousins, took us on a driving tour of the area. We got to see the church where my great great grandparents–and my great great great grandparents–are buried. And we were lucky enough to meet even more of my family and get invited to a big Norwegian lunch at Svein’s house. It was such a wonderful couple of days. I really loved learning more of our family history, hearing stories about my great grandpa and seeing heirlooms that have been in the Øvrebø family for generations. I even got to learn how to correctly pronounce our original last name (kind of–it’s actually really hard). It was a really special experience.
   

   

With friends and family checked off our list, only one big thing still remained for us in Scandinavia. We really wanted to experience cold, snowy, Arctic Norway. I’d always assumed that Norway was snowy for most of the year but it’s not. So we had to fly all the way north, to the town of Alta (400 km north of the Arctic Circle), to experience the Norway that had been on our bucket list.

We’re so glad we did. Alta turned out to be one of our favorite spots of the whole trip. We immediately fell in love with the water and the mountains, which were all kinds of enchanting shades of gray that changed almost hourly. We jumped right into the Arctic lifestyle, eating reindeer (it felt a little mean so close to Christmas but it was tasty), relaxing in the jacuzzi and taking slippy walks on the icy roads.
  

We even went dog sledding, which surpassed all of our expectations. We both loved driving the sled, cuddling the dogs and waddling around in our massive snow suits.
      

The next thing we tried was ice fishing. We got to dig our own holes with a massive hand crank and then had a good laugh over how small our poles were. Unfortunately, we liked ice fishing more than the fish liked us. We sat out on the frozen lake for quite a while and didn’t get even a single bite. We still considered the day a success. After all, it was a day spent relaxing in nature–and that’s our favorite kind of day.

  
  

We also broke Mac’s snowshoeing curse, which was a major win. He’d always wanted to go snowshoeing in the past, but something happened every time to make it impossible. He finally got to go snowshoeing in Alta and loved it.
 

Everything we did in Alta felt like a dream come true, especially seeing the Northern Lights. We had been crossing our fingers that we’d be lucky enough to see them and they came out in full force on the night of our safari (we hired a guide to drive us around and literally hunt the Northern Lights with our cameras). It felt like the perfect ending to our Europe trip, the brilliant manifestation of the travel magic we’d been experiencing for months. Because it wasn’t just Alta that was a dream come true: it was our whole trip.

    

We thanked our lucky stars that we’d been lucky enough to see so much of Europe … and Morocco and Turkey. But after Scandinavia, we were off on a different kind of adventure: SE Asia. So we traded our snow suits for swim suits and hopped another plane for the last major chapter in our travel story.

Europe Trip: The Bavaria Files

Posted by on Dec 21, 2015 in Our Grand Tour of Europe | 1 comment

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I know you were expecting more of the same professional-level blogging that this pretty girl has been providing all trip.

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But just when you were getting comfortable with the soothing rhythms of Ms. Overby’s writings … BOOM, a Mackenzie blog appears. This entry harkens back to mid-fall for our trek through Germany’s southern region of Bavaria. If only there was a video I could post that would most accurately sum up this region …

BANG! Cute kids in lederhosen flailing about like the weird inflatable things at a used car lot. Now for all intents and purposes I could just drop the mic right there and walk off stage cause Germany isn’t getting much better than that, but for the sake of our endearing fans, I will elaborate further.

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We set off from just south of Munich with the hopes of hiking the entirety of King Ludwig’s Way. King Ludwig was apparently super rich and had a fascination with medieval lore, including castles, knights and dragons. Basically he is one of my idols. Anyway, he built a bunch of cool castles around one of the most beautiful stretches in all of Germany. How could we not hike it?

 

YOU SHALL NOT PASS!

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Kidding, not even wooden Gandalf could stop us. As you can see from our collection of colorful pictures, the fall season was in full effect. The air was crisp, the days were getting shorter and leaves were changing, all to the beat of our marching steps.

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Candidly, Bavaria is one of Cassandra’s favorite spots on earth. She loves the culture, loves the food and loves the scenery. Cass had been excited for this leg of the trip since the early stages of planning. I believe she ordered over 500 helpings of Weinerschnitzel over our 10-day excursion (note: figures are estimated). It was with this sentiment as our backdrop that we stumbled into a small German village, exhausted from a day of hiking. The lovely couple that rented us a room owned a small dairy farm in town. We knew this because the barn was attached to the room we were staying in. Being in such a small town, we thought it prudent to inquire early about where to best rustle up some grub. The landlady informed us that everything in town was shut down due to the yearly village talent show. She then invited us to tag along, if only to experience of a bit of the local vibe and get some food.

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What we ended up walking into was a full-blown fall festival talent show. Think Oktoberfest without all the drunk tourists. This was traditional Germany with all the “fixthins.” We had lederhosen and dirndls galore, songs, skits, cheesy jokes, beer and sausage. It was a true “Rick Steves eat your heart out” moment.

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I even rallied the next morning to help the farmer with his cows. All in all, it was quite the authentic experience, the kind that every traveler hopes for but that can never really be planned.

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Our next hike brought us to the fantasy, nerd-inducing castle of Neuschwanstein. This castle was the basis for the castle built in Disneyland. Constructed on a large cliff and surrounded by a river, it lords over the valley below.

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Ok, why not one more.

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After doing a few swipes with my stick sword, ala the hero in Sleeping Beauty, we continued along our crimson- and gold-painted trail. Trekking though meadows and forests, we continued to live out the fairytale to the last step.

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And with nothing else left to say, I leave you with another bit of the hilarity that is the act of being German.

Europe Trip: Eastern Europe

Posted by on Dec 18, 2015 in Our Grand Tour of Europe | 2 comments

In late October, Mac and I were ready for our grand tour through Eastern Europe. We had quite a list of places we wanted to see—Lake Bled (Slovenia), Budapest (Hungary), Krakow (Poland), Prague and Cesky Krumlov (Czech Republic) and Berlin (Germany). There wasn’t a lot of time for each place. In some areas, we only had 3 days. But both of us saw Eastern Europe, with its powerful history of occupation by both Nazis and Communists, as a key component in our global education. Along the way, we saw some amazing sights. We’re excited to share them with you—and hope to inspire you to do your own tour of Eastern Europe.

We started our grand tour in Lake Bled, Slovenia, with its idyllic, fog-enshrouded church island. It rained most of the time we were there but we didn’t mind too much. We tromped around in our rain jackets and spent plenty of time relaxing over big dishes of Slovenian food in our hotel’s restaurant.

 
After three days in Lake Bled, we headed for Budapest. This was one of the best surprises of our trip—we absolutely loved Budapest, from its gorgeous buildings to its ruin bars (set in bombed-out buildings from WWII) to the Communist walking tour we went on. BTW, walking tour day was also laundry day—and it was cold out. The result was the ragamuffin outfit you see in my photo (yep, I’m wearing socks and shoes with my summer dress and puffy).    

 
  
From Poland, it was off to Krakow—and one of the most moving experiences of the trip. We spent a day touring Auschwitz, the famous concentration and extermination camp from WWII. Even though we knew generally what we were in for, we were still shocked by the sheer amount of cruel and evil acts committed in the camp.  

   
Krakow and Prague were only a night train—and a cheat meal—apart. (We normally try to eat local wherever we are but sometimes we just crave McDonalds … and give in to our craving.)

 
Although Prague was beautiful, we just didn’t connect with it the way we did most other cities in Eastern Europe. We couldn’t put our finger on exactly why, either. Maybe it was too touristy; maybe somewhere along the way it had lost a bit of its soul. Whatever the reason, we were excited to leave the city in favor of the Czech countryside.


 
The small country town we chose was Cesky Krumlov. It was romantic and old-fashioned and charming—everything we were hoping for.

  
 
It didn’t hurt that we got to stay in a room that matched the vibe of the town.

 
After feeling like we’d gone back in time in Cesky Krumlov, we transitioned back to the modern world by finishing our Eastern Europe tour with a trip to Berlin. The city was in fine form and greeted us with vivid colors, lots of history (including a 3rd Reich and post-WWII walking tour) and as much graffiti as we could photograph.

      

  
It was over way too quickly. Almost before we knew it, our days in Eastern Europe were over and we were on a bus bound for the Netherlands. But that’s a whole different story.

Europe Trip: The Netherlands

Posted by on Dec 17, 2015 in Our Grand Tour of Europe | 0 comments

Throughout our entire trip, Mac and I have planned our itinerary around the weather. Even though it meant spending more money on transportation, we wound our way through Europe (sometimes in zig-zag patterns) hitting towns, festivals and attractions at prime time. For most of the trip, our strategy worked. Until the Netherlands, that is. We were supposed to visit the land of tulips, windmills and dikes in July but we chose to do a boat cruise through Europe then instead. That meant we didn’t get around to visiting the Netherlands until November—the country’s rainiest month.

We didn’t let the weather deter us, even though it tried its darndest. Our original goal had been to bike the notoriously flat roads. In between seeing Amsterdam, the Hague, Delft and Rotterdam, we did just that. It was some of the most challenging biking we’ve done all trip. We faced such strong headwinds that at times we barely moved forward; torrential downpours soaked our rain gear right through; and we had to wait out a few squalls in the shelter of overpasses. But we did it. And we got some great windmill porn along the way. Here are our favorite shots.

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To Endings … and Beginnings

Posted by on Dec 8, 2015 in Our Grand Tour of Europe | 1 comment

When Mac and I originally set out on this epic journey, we thought for sure we’d be home by the beginning of October. It’s funny to think that with our original timeline, we would’ve been back stateside almost two months ago. Instead, in the fall we decided to extend our trip. After all, when are we ever going to have the opportunity to travel like this again? Probably never.

  

Extending meant we had more time to wind our way through Europe, which is what we were doing until today, when we flew to Southeast Asia. In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be posting about the last of our European adventures, from hiking King Ludwig’s Way in Bavaria to biking through Holland to embracing winter at the very top of Norway.

  

 
  

It was very bittersweet for us to finish up our grand tour of Europe. And it still doesn’t feel quite real. But we’re excited to kick off this new adventure in a totally different part of the world. For the next month—and the last month of our trip—we’ll be exploring Thailand and Cambodia before heading back to Seattle in early January.

We’re looking forward to beaches and hot weather, which they have plenty of in this part of the world. But more than anything, we can’t wait to see all of you when we get back home!

Some Turkey for Your Turkey Day

Posted by on Nov 24, 2015 in Our Grand Tour of Europe | 3 comments

We wanted to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and share some of our Turkey for your turkey day! We needed a second helping of the country after we missed out on Cappadocia the first time around (in June), so after Morocco (in mid-October) we circled back. It was well worth a return trip and we’d definitely recommend it as an addition to any travel bucket list. From hot air ballooning to other-worldly landscapes to hidden cities, Cappadocia is one of the most unique spots we’ve ever seen, let alone visited.

  
 
  
 

Morocco: The Best Place to See Only Once

Posted by on Nov 23, 2015 in Our Grand Tour of Europe | 2 comments

By mid-September, Mac and I had run out of Schengen time—you’re only allowed to be in Europe for 90 days out of every 180 on a tourist visa. So while we waited to be let back in, we headed to Morocco (northern Africa) to at least wait in style.

I had been to Morocco once before, for three days back in college, when the country had completely captured my imagination. I enthusiastically sold Mac on the romantic Moorish architecture, colorful jalabas (traditional clothing) and exotic camel safaris. So off we went for a three-week adventure. Little did we know we’d be getting way more adventure than we bargained for.

  

To be honest, it probably didn’t help that we were coming to Morocco from England. In just two hours on a plane, we went from being completely comfortable in our surroundings to dealing with a disconcerting amount of culture shock. Even though I knew generally what to expect in Morocco, I was still taken aback by the maze-like dusty roads, the plethora of street hustlers, the people who looked nothing like us.

  

It’s a hard line to walk as a traveler: being in a place that is so foreign that it expands your comfort zone while also being comfortable enough to enjoy the experience. It’s a line that would challenge both of us in Morocco. 

  

We started off the best way we knew how, by learning some of the local language (Arabic) and culture at a private afternoon workshop run by Creative Interactions. The best part? We got to cook tajine, a traditional Moroccan dish, and ask all of the questions we wanted to about religion  and politics.

  

Armed with our beginner Arabic, we set out to explore our homebase of Marrakech. It’s not a city that goes down easily—it’s chaos incarnate, a complete assault on the senses. Picture the city from Aladdin, with all of its confusing alleyways. Then add a chorus of mosques sounding the call to prayer, the spicy scent of kabobs on the grill and the contorted bodies of snakes dancing to their charmers’ shrill flutes. Finish things off with a good dose of people—people everywhere, hawking goods from shanty shops, crowding in market stalls, climbing over each other to reach a pile of newly arrived jalabas. It’s wonderful and terrifying, all at the same time.

  
  
  

More interesting than chaos,  we found dichotomy. It was fascinating to us that everyone has a satelite dish, yet most deliveries—and trash pickup—are done by donkey.

  
  

We walked up and down alleys for days, ducking donkeys and carts and motorcycles, to explore the chaotic city and its well-hidden neighborhoods. One of our favorite places to explore was the tannery district, where we held mint, aka “Berber gas masks,” to our noses to fight the putrid smell as we watched sheep and camel leather being made.

  
  

And of course we tasted everything we could—which led to three weeks of stomach problems for us both.

  

After exploring Marrakech, we were eager to move on to a more peaceful place. We took a day trip to the surprisingly gorgeous Atlas Mountains—and got caught in a traffic jam of historic proportions as two fighting villages blocked the only road through the mountains as part of their dispute. Mac took it all in stride; I hyperventilated in the backseat.  

  

We tried again for a peaceful place and finally succeeded with three days at a “luxury camp” (in this case, luxury still means tents) in the Sahara Desert.

  
  

  

It was a magical experience. For hours, we rode camels. When we got tired of that, we sandboarded on the hot dunes and ate under a cloudless blue sky while watching the sun go down in the distance. All around us was complete and utter silence, except for nighttime, when the air would fill with the deep beat of drums and the tinny clicking of shackles.

  
  

    

 
For those few glorious days in the desert, we blocked out Marrakech. We forgot about the stress of such foreign travel. We didn’t know that there would be many other challenges to test us during our time in Morocco, from overnight buses to sand storms to 3rd world postal services, but for a time our forgetting and our ignorance were bliss.
We don’t regret going to Morocco. After all, it gave us some of our richest experiences of the trip. But take our advice: seeing it once is enough.