Hiking in Ehrwald, Austria

If I could insert googly-eyes, I’d do it.

I know we’ve only been in Munich for 2 months, but I’ve been dying to get to the mountains. So, when a soon-to-be-whenever-Germany-lets-Shane-finally-work (ugh) colleague invited us to tag along on a day trip to the Alps, we jumped at the chance. So, last Friday we headed (only) an hour and a half south to Ehrwald, Austria.

The hike starts at the Ehrwalder Almbahn – the village’s cable car – and loops around the mountain, following signs to the Seebensee (Seeben Lake). Head around the lake and take the path straight ahead (and up) to the Coburger Hütte (hut) for some refreshments and a nice view of the next lake, the Drachensee. To return, backtrack past the Seebensee and keep right following the signs for the Almbahn. Finally, a left on to the Immensteig Trail cuts down the mountain and back to the parking lot.

Sounds easy enough, right?

Wrong.

Can you spot me? (Photo thanks to Justin & Alice)

“It’s rated as difficult, but it’s only 800 m of elevation gain, so it can’t be that hard!”

From the 800 m elevation gain (~2600 ft), 12.5 km distance (~7.5 mi), some scrambling, and some “oh shit” moments – this route earns it’s difficult rating, but man, it was worth it!

Ehrwald village in the background.

The hike itself started out easy enough. Were my quads already burning? Sure. Was I embarrassingly out of breath after a whole 5 minutes? Absolutely. Regardless, we trudged on, my lungs figured out this whole ‘altitude’ thing, and we headed for the Seebensee.

The start.
Up we go!

It may have “only” been a total of 800 m in elevation gain, but I swear the first half of the hike was nothing but up. It was one of those experiences where you can SEE the top, but the top never seems to get any closer. Luckily, there were some built in break spots with phenomenal views – which you needed to start the next portion of our “probably not that difficult” adventure. The scrambling. At least there were cables, right?

Started from the bottom now we’re here. -Drake. (Literally, we started at the parking lot in the photo.)
Mountain-mounted handrail cables.

After about 3 hours (from the start) we arrived at the first lake – the Seebensee! The water was incredibly clear and there were lots of people – families with small children included – sunbathing and swimming. Obviously, there was an alternate route to the Seebensee…

Seebensee – Coburger Hütte straight ahead!

At this point, we were hot & had been promised a hut with beer. We didn’t realize it yet, but we could literally see our destination. We had a little more work to do first…

An unexpected bonus? COWS! Free-range cows with giant bells! Apparently this is a ‘thing’ in the Alps. Sheep & cows are put out to graze wearing bells so their owners can find them again later. Too bad for you if you’re a sleepy cow – in this area, the bells were constantly ringing. For a while, you could only hear them, but we did eventually get close enough for a cow-photoshoot. They obviously see humans all the time because they didn’t give two shits about us.

Can I pet dat cowwww?
Caught in action.
My masterpiece. What a beauty.

I digress. Onwards and upwards to the hut! Thanks to my one track mind (nooo… not beer. Fanta, actually, with a beer accouterment. Does that make it a two-track mind?), I forgot to take a proper picture of the Coburger Hut. From above you could see the second lake, Drachensee. We intended to go swimming, but honestly it was kind of chilly up there! By the time we were properly refreshed we were also properly cold, so we skipped the swimming.

The hut from below.
The Drachensee from the hut.
View over the Seebensee from the Coburger Hütte (1910m, ~6250 ft).

After that, it was time to turn around! It was another ~2 hours back to the car. I think at this point, everyone was happy to be on flat ground for a while… little did we know we were going to be scrambling straight down the side of the mountain with those cables again.

Photo thanks to Alice.

So, note-to-self: Trust the hike ratings. It was certainly a difficult hike, but if you’re feeling fit and confident in your feet then it’s by no means unmanageable. Honestly, going up and down with the cables felt a little sketchy at first (especially going down), but you get the hang of it and it’s really fun! I would absolutely recommend this hike, and do it again.

Here’s a link to the hike on Komoot. And if you’re considering it, here’s what you can expect on the Immensteig Trail (at the end of the hike). Conversely, you can just be surprised, like we were. 😜

If you’re interested in the Seebeensea and the Coburger Hütte but a difficult hike isn’t for you, then I recommend checking out the official tourism website. They list all the trails and their difficulty.

Our group – Us, Josh, Alice, & Justin.
Drachensee.

Until our next mountain adventure –

Tschüss,

Whitney

Munich: A Shwitastic Guide!

22 days.

That’s how long it took for me to get around to buying a cheese pretzel (käsebrezel, as I now know). This may seem insignificant (which, ok it is), but I love cheese and I surely love that cheese on a pretzel – ERGO – this is an unacceptable situation.

My pretzel antidote is part of a bigger concern: not taking full advantage of our new city. It’s easy to get caught up in the routine of life, especially with everything going on in the world today. As a way to hold ourselves accountable, I’ve created a ‘Make the Most of Munich’ map – a Munich bucket-list, some might call it. Without further ado…

Icon Color Key (i.e., our recommendations):

⚪️ Yet to visit. [grey]

🛑 Eh, it’s ok to skip this. [red]

🧡 If there’s time, check it out. [orange]

✅ Highly recommend! [green]

If you’re curious about something, check out each icon. I’ll be updating as we adventure, so you’ll find links to our experiences here!

Have we missed something? I’m always interested in ‘hidden gems’ or unique experiences. So please, let us know what we’re missing!

Tschüss,

Whitney

Feature image icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com

Dear Holland: a love letter

If you’re reading this, then we are officially no longer residence of the Netherlands.

I started to write this post a few days ago, but something just didn’t feel right about it. Last week, we finished watching the Michael Jordan documentary on Netflix, and it made me realize that we’re having our own version of ‘the last dance’ – our Last Dutch Dance! Naturally, I started wandering around the house muttering things to Meatball like “This is the last week of squeaky floors! 🙌” and “This is the last week you can sleep in a king-sized bed! 😣”. It made me realize what was missing from my original post was a little bit of heart. Yes, I can tell you all the standard reasons why the Netherlands is a great country to live in (work/life balance, universal healthcare, pragmatic attitudes) – if you’re interested in specifics I’d love to talk about it in detail one-on-one. Instead, I’d rather tell you all the personal reasons we loved living in Holland.


Our Apartment.

I first want to pay homage to our little apartment over the flower shop. Actually, for Dutch standards, it’s not so little, but when we first moved here in 2014 from a 2 bedroom + living + diving + sunroom apartment in Pittsburgh, it sure felt small. Despite all the apartment frustrations (squeaky floors, mice, bees, perpetually cold, terrible wifi) it’s been a great apartment. It came furnished, we can walk to the city center in ~5 min, we have some great views and a really cool landlord.

Over the years we’ve learned to deal with all the quirks: Meatball can catch mice, I can catch bees, Shane bought a space heater, and well – the wifi is still shit. Suddenly, the furnished apartment we found on the internet from across an ocean turned into a home.

View from the living room window.

Bikes!

Biking just outside Groningen city (May 2019).

Now, I realize that this one is quintessentially Dutch, but it’s true! Bikes. are. life. The average number of bikes per person in the Netherlands is 1.3 (and 1.4 in Groningen), and it makes sense. The majority of trips are made on the bike. To the grocery store, to the city center, to work, for leisure activities. And you can’t just have one bike. If you have space, then one should always consider keeping a guest bike, or a crappier bike to take to the city center where the risk of being stolen is higher.

Shane and I bought bikes the first week we arrived. Miraculously, Shane has managed to keep the same bike all 6 years. I may or may not be on bike #4 (2 stolen, 1 rusted apart). Regardless, I will never forget that first week re-learning how to be comfortable on a bike. Over the years, I would say we fit right in. We’ve mastered the art of biking with your hands in your pockets, transporting crates of beer (or a cat, or Christmas tree), staying up-right after a few too many drinks, and navigating the mayhem of a four-way-free-for-all-bike-intersection unscathed.

Biking isn’t always fun though. We’ve both had our run-ins – with cars, buses, scooters, and other people. One time the side mirror of a car caught Shane’s bike handle and just pulled him along… only slightly scary. We’ve also had our fair share of weather. We don’t have a car, so rain or shine, wind or heavy wind, if you need to get from A to B then it’s to the bike, Batman! Sometimes it would be nice to have a car, but the ease and accessibility of using the bike outweigh the occasional inconvenience. Plus, bike maintenance is much cheaper than car maintenance…

We sold our bikes just before we left Groningen. Shane spent €60 on his bike the first week, and sold it for €25, making his net bike cost per year (excluding maintenance) €5.80. Over the years, I spent €270 and had to give the damn thing away for free because no one would buy it, bringing my bike cost per year to €45. I personally think I won this contest, but I’ll let you decide for yourself.

The Market.

Our first Saturday market trip (June 2014).

This is not a secret. We love our market!

Het beste markt van Nederland 2016! 🥇 *humble brag*

It’s the best market in the Netherlands every year in my book! This will be, hands down, the number one thing we miss in Groningen. We have shopped at the market every Saturday from the moment we arrived. Why? It’s cheaper than the grocery store, there is more variety, you can find local produce (or at least national produce), and it has a great atmosphere. Plus, it’s just fun to have a ‘spice lady’, a ‘dried beans guy’, and a ‘THE veggie stand’.

Relatedly, another thing I am going to miss is making people happy with exact change. The Netherlands doesn’t use the one and two-cent euro coins. Instead, if you’re paying in cash, then your purchase will be rounded to the nearest 5 cents.

For instance, at the grocery store, you weigh your own fruit and print a sticker with the final price. If I wanted a single banana, then smart-me would find the banana that costs €0.17, because when I pay in cash I’ll only pay €0.15! But, if my banana is too heavy and comes out to be €0.18 cents, well then I’m overpaying for that banana (by a whole €0.02)! Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

At the market, vendors LOVE exact change and with the rounding system, it makes it easy! I would LIVE for those Saturday “ooh mooie!” (ooh, great!) moments. Unfortunately for me, making people happy with exact change has become a casualty of coronavirus.

Our last Saturday market trip (May 2020).

Food.

Clockwise from top-left: brokkelkaas, stroopwafels, Groninger droogeworst, and puur pinda rotjes.

If I’m being honest, Dutch food isn’t all that exciting. I’m stereotyping a little, but a typical day would be bread (with butter, jelly, or hagelslag) for breakfast, bread (with cheese or a savory spread) + a boiled egg for lunch, and some form of meat and potatoes (and maybe veggie) for dinner.

The Dutch only eat “warm” at dinner, so when Miss Americana here showed up on day 1 of my new job asking for a microwave to re-heat my leftovers I was met with some confused looks. Another food faux-pas: mixing peanut butter and hagelslag (sprinkles) on the same piece of bread. This makes no sense to me, as hagelslag is typically chocolate flavored, and who doesn’t love peanut butter + chocolate combo?!

There are a few things we will miss though, like droogeworst (dried meats, spiced regionally), stroopwafels, zuurkoolschotel (sourkraut casserole), stamppot (potatoes + endive or kale mashed together), and Groninger mustard.

The two things I will miss the most? Gevulde spekulaas, which I’ve raved about before, and cheese. I am unabashedly a cheese snob now. Brokkelkaas anyone? 😋 Shane’s top choice? Droogeworst with cheese accompaniment.

Terrace Culture.

First sunny day [pre-coronavirus] (March 2020).

Of all the restrictions we’ve faced during the coronavirus lockdown, I think this is the one that hurts the Dutch the most. Especially since the weather has started to turn warmer. Terrace culture is no joke here – if the sun is out, then the terraces are packed. I like to lovingly refer to the Dutch as ‘anti-vampires’, a group in which I now include myself, because if the sun is out then people are in it. It’s also comparable to cats when they find that one sliver of sunlight…

Sun-kitty.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging. Over the years we have come to worship the sun like the Dutch. It’s almost like you’re brainwashed to think “Sun. Must sit. Terrace. Beer. Now!”. Don’t want to pay for beers at a restaurant? No worries, generally speaking, there are no ‘open-container laws’ here. We just pop some beers in a backpack and head out. One of our favorite spots was the Oosterhaven (East Port) just down the street from us.

The Oosterport (March 2020).

The Weather.

Beautiful Dutch day on top of the Forum in Groningen (December 2019).

If you don’t complain about the weather, are you even Dutch? I’m pretty sure NOT complaining is a reason to fail the integration exam… So, I would be remiss not to bring it up.

Long story short? It’s a love-hate relationship.

Love: The sunshine! When it’s beautiful outside, it’s really beautiful. Even if its cold, a sunny day changes everyone’s attitude. When it’s warm and sunny the city has a certain inspiring energy to it.

The Witte Molen on a sunny day (March 2020).

Hate: The lack of sunshine. Sometimes, it will go literally weeks without seeing the sun. This can be particularly uninspiring in the winter when it’s grey all day and dark at 16:30. And, in Groningen at least, there are always a few weeks of thick fog that add to the gloom.

Shane’s work building in fog (Nov 2015)

Love: How fast the light changes. Sunrise and sunset change so quickly that it’s noticeable from week to week which gives you hope during those dark winter months. We are currently coming into peak light season, where the sun will come up at ~05:00 and set at ~23:00.

Hate: Trying to sleep during peak light season. Blackout curtains required! 😆

~23:00 June 21, 2019.

Love: The weather is consistent. When in doubt plan for windy, cold and rainy. Plus side, I have a lot of jackets now!

Hate: The weather is consistent. I miss having true seasons. I don’t necessarily miss those stiflingly hot & humid North Carolina summers, but inevitably I reach a point in the spring (right about now actually) when I’m just sick and tired of being cold all the damn time. When it’s June and I still have to wear a jacket… 😑

We have had some heatwaves (last summer) and were lucky enough to see the canals freeze, so temperature swings do happen. Just don’t expect to wear shorts all summer, or see snow in the winter.

Frozen canals during the ‘Siberian Bear’ (March 2018)

Despite my love-hate relationship with the weather, I can say without a doubt that moving to the Netherlands was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We’ve had a lot of personal milestones over these past 6 years: we got married, traveled to 17 new countries, learned a new language (sort of), Shane got a PhD, and I’ve found 2 jobs. But I think, more importantly, moving to another country has completely changed our perspective on life. When the scripts are flipped and your the outsider, the immigrant, the person who doesn’t understand the language – it changes you. Personally, I think it’s made me bolder, more patient, more compassionate, and instilled a sense of personal responsibility to understand others’ cultures.

A bucket-list item – the pyramids! Cairo, Egypt (April 2017).

We’ve also grown as a couple. Moving across an ocean with another person can go one of two ways. Thankfully, for us, it’s only brought us closer together. We’ve both moved out of our comfort zone in one way or another, and had the benefit of the others’ support to get through it. And, thanks to that Dutch work/life balance, we’ve had the financial means to enjoy living in Europe and the time to establish life priorities as a couple. Quarantine ain’t got nothin’ on us!

So, to the Netherlands, and to Groningen in particular, we are forever grateful! And to all the people we’ve met along the way:

Dutch, Canadian, Chinese, Finnish, German, Indian, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Luxembourgish, Mexican, Portuguese, Serbian, Spanish, Syrian, Swiss, and Turkish

Thank you for welcoming us and making our expat life complete. 💛

And with that, we’re off to the next chapter – Germany!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Snowboarding: Jasna, Slovakia

I’m going to tell you a story about our wintersport holiday!

…wintersport holiday. Can you tell we live in Holland?

Since we’ve just come back from our month long adventure in Cambodia and Vietnam, we really only had two goals: snowboard & snowboard cheaply.

Turns out, Eastern Europe has plenty of good snowboarding if you’re willing to sacrifice piste kilometers, and since we were looking at a 3 day trip that’s exactly what we decided to do.

Shane originally found Jasna, Slovakia on an Apple News article talking about “little known ski areas” – something to that extent. Once Jasna was on the radar, I started researching.

Turns out, there’s not much out there on snowboarding in Slovakia.

I’m here to change that, folks! So here we go.

First up, my go-to snowboarding specific website, World Snowboard Guide, gave Jasna a 7/10.

For real, if you don’t know about this site then you need to. It gives you the whole run down of how each mountain ranks specifically for snowboarding. It’s how I found Livigno, Italy last year and where I generally start planning trips. For us, anything 7 and above is a winner!

How to get there:

There are three nearby airports: Propad (Slovakia), Krakaw (Poland) and Vienna (Austria). Propad being the closest, but appeared to only be serviced by carriers originating in the UK.

For us, coming from Amsterdam, the best option was to fly to Krakaw and drive ~3 hours to the mountain.

We flew with KLM for ~180 euros per person including 1 extra checked bag for the gear. KLM allows you to check a ski or snowboard bag with not additional fees, which is quite handy.

See ya, Holland!

A car rental from the Krakaw airport from Wed – Sun was ~60 euros, which we were thrilled about! What we were not so thrilled about was the 200 euro fee to cross the boarder from Poland to Slovakia. If you rent a car in the Netherlands you could literally drive the thing TO Slovakia and they could care less, so this was really a surprise for us.

Consider yourself warned! If you rent a car in Poland you will be charged a fee to cross the boarder!

Our handy dandy car rental that perfectly fit all our crap!

Where to Stay:

This was a tricky one for me. We were trying to keep it cheap, so staying on the mountain itself was definitely out. You can stay in what looked like gorgeous ski in-ski out lodges and spas on the mountain, but you’re also going to pay a hefty sum for that.

We also are grown-ass adults and weren’t trying to stay in a dirty run-down hotel. Balance, ya know?

We settled on Penzion Routunda which is located smack in the center of Liptovský Mikuláš; the closest town to Jasna Chopok – the main mountain. 160 euros got us 4 nights in a 1 bedroom apartment with free parking, enough room to store the gear, and enough kitchen to cook breakfast before we headed out.

Staying in the center of Liptovský Mikuláš was a great option. There were plenty of restaurants for dinner and a grocery store nearby. You, of course, won’t find your typical après-ski, but for us having some cold beer and a snack at home before we ventured out to dinner worked perfectly.

You can buy beer by the 1.5 LITER in Slovakia!

The Mountain:

Ahh.. and on to the good stuff. The mountain itself!

Jasna Chopok is located ~15 min driving from Liptovský Mikuláš. A ski bus is available, but we could never find a clear ski bus map with pick up locations or times so we decided to drive.

The first day we were a little late out the door – lifts opened at 8am and we were on the road probably at 8am. If you want good parking, don’t do that.

It was fine. There is parking (P4) at the bottom of the mountain and a shuttle bus that takes you up, but the shuttle is jam packed and only ran every 45 min (?!?!) and when you’re tired and ready to go, you’re tired and ready to go!

The next day we got our sh*t together and were in the P1 parking lot – the closest one to the main lift – by 7:15am.

Even made it in time for a pre-lift pick-me-up.

As for the snowboarding… it was perfect for a 3 day trip.

This is the first year that I can truly say I’m a proper snowboarder. I can finally handle my own and enjoy a good fun park!

…there were no fun parks in Jasna.

Ok so there was one small section, but the only access was a terribly slow lift or the bain-of-a-snowboarders-existance: the tow rope.

I would say most of the pistes were intermediate level. Shane, who’s been snowboarding for much longer than I have, might say otherwise. Regardless, after three days we had fully explored the area, and if we stayed longer we might have been bored.

Easy riding meant I could practice my snowboarding selfie skills.

I would also like to disclaimer that my opinion on this would probably be 100% different had we had fresh snow. The entire back-side of the mountain was essentially off-piste, but since there was no new snow it was all ice and unusable.

We were able to sneak out a few good powder runs on the first day after ~10cm from the night before, but to get there, we had to brave the white out…

So,

Was Jasna worth it?

Yes.

A 3 day lift pass was 90 euros per person – a fraction of the cost for a 3 day pass somewhere in the alps. Our total expenses (excluding food and drink) were 620 euros including our surprise boarder-crossing fee. The average dinner for two (including drinks) was ~20 euros. Compared to your average ski holiday in Switzerland, Austria, or France – it’s a steal.

I would also highly recommend Jasna to anyone who’s learning, or who might take kids. There’s plenty to keep those who are more experienced entertained, while letting the newbies gain some confidence.

And of course, had there been fresh snow, the off-piste area would have been amazing! Instead, I stared at it with envy from the gondola…

Biggest downside? No funpark. I was looking forward to landing some sweet jumps (and by jumps, I mean baby-sized jumps)! Maybe next year.

But, Shane found a dog (he named him Pablo) so it couldn’t have been all bad, right?

OH! And here’s the video of our Jasna adventure!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Dubai, UAE

Ever wondered what the tallest building in the world looks like?

Yeah, I did too!

It’s pretty damn big.

When we realized that we had the option for an extended layover in Dubai on our way home from Hanoi, we jumped on the chance! The City of Gold was always intriguing for me, but I didn’t think we would ever plan a trip just for Dubai, so a 22 hour layover was the perfect compromise!

We landed at 5am from our 8 hour flight with the intention of going all out; instead of “shop ’til we drop!” we were going to “Dubai ’til we drop!”. It’s like the city knows how to attract visitors or something, because they give out a 72 hour stopover visa-on-arrival for free. And, in case this is useful information for anyone, I had read mixed reviews about a hotel requirement when you go though customs. To be on the safe side, we booked at room at the Holiday Inn Express, but were never asked to show proof.

And actually, to toot the Holiday Inn Express’s horn a little bit, it was a great selection for our short time there. It’s walking distance from a metro station which takes you to the airport in one direction and the city center in the other, despite our 5am arrival time they got us into a room by 8am (for free!), and because we would miss breakfast the next day (our flight home left at 3am) they let us have breakfast that morning while we waited to get in the room! Can’t really complain there.

Semi-grumpy ‘just off an 8 hour flight and its 5:30am’ faces… that was until we could go to the HUGE breakfast buffet!

After breakfast we were able to get in the room and change into our “Dubai outfit” – one set of non-airplane clothes in our carry-on bag – and we hit the town!

…well, we tried to hit the town.

Public Service Announcement: Friday in the UAE is like a Sunday in America (or Europe). Things, including the metro, don’t open until 10am.

So, we walked back to the hotel, watched TV for an hour, and then tried again.

And we succeeded!

View of the Dubai Mall fountain area.

Our first stop was the Dubai Mall, which was the entrance point for the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world!

I will say, I’m not crazy about malls. Like, ok – if I need something and that’s the only place I can find it then sure – but mostly I’m just annoyed by the number of people. On our way into the mall I was anticipating my annoyance, especially because of the swarms of people we were walking in with, but I quickly got over it.

I have a Fitbit, so I’m telling you the honest truth when I say this. It was 1km (0.6mi) from the Dubai Mall tram stop through a covered tunnel to the mall entrance. I mean. I was tired before I even got there, but boy oh boy if I was a mall-walking Grandma I’d be living my best life! Even more so, because the mall is 5.9 MILLION square feet (~500,000 sq meters) and home to over 1200 stores.

And shut the front door, because when I was Googling for that number I learned that this mall is only the 20th largest mall in the world! I can’t even.

Long story short, it’s a big ‘effin mall and we found some storm troopers.

Thanks to the internets, I was warned that it takes some time to actually find the entrance to the Burj Khalifa. That was accurate. I think it took us 10 minutes to find the first sign, then you would walk in that direction and suddenly the sign would disappear. Turn around, look for sign, repeat. No joke, 45 min later we found the entrance. Luckily, we were just winging it and did’t have a ticket with a specific time.

I was originally going to pass on going up the Burj Khalifa because Tripadvisor / random internet searching scared me for the line. There were some horror stories about whole days wasted, but in the end we decided YOLO and just went for it. Great decision – we waited in a reasonable 45 minute line before we were at the top!

View from the 124th floor!

There are actually two ticket options: you can choose to stop at levels 124 & 125, or for (quite some) extra cash you can spring for going all the way up to the 148th floor. We chose to stop at level 124, I mean after that the view is basically the same right?

The elevator ride was an experience in itself. You go from ground level to floor 124 in a matter of maybe 30 seconds? It’s incredible! Your ears barely have time to register the change in altitude. A few steps out of the elevator and you’re met with an open air terrace with sweeping views over Dubai.

After about 45 min and a million pictures we headed back down and to the mall for lunch… because why leave when you have all the food choices you could ever want!

We did eventually leave, and headed to Dubai’s Old Town for the afternoon.

Our first stop was the Dubai Museum; we both like to learn a little bit of history of the place we’re visiting. I’ll save you the trouble and tell you to skip this museum. It needs a good renovation, I’ll just put it that way. I didn’t even bother to take any pictures of the outside, so we will just move on.

The Old Town is known for it’s souks, which are open air markets that sell a particular item. There is the textile souk, spices, saffron, but probably most well known is the gold souk. If you were in the market for gold, this is the place to buy it and at a very competitive price.

Granted, the souks have modernised over the years…

In order to get to the gold souk from the Dubai Museum we needed to take the water taxi across the Dubai Creek (not exactly what I would constitute as a creek, more like a river).

We were’t sure how to make this happen as there were exactly zero signs and most of the people using the water taxi looked like they were with a guide. We spent a little time sitting waterside and just watching. We learned that all the water taxis appeared to go to roughly the same location, you needed small change, and you paid the driver on the boat.

This was apparently correct, because we made it on the boat, paid the driver an unknown amount of dirhams, ended up on the other side of the creek, and had a lovely 10 min boat ride in the process!

We weren’t really in the market for anything (ha! see what I did there), so after we had our fill of wandering we headed back to the mall, where we took more pictures, had an alcohol free dinner at TGI Fridays (go figure, no alcohol in public spaces in the UAE), dessert at Krispy Kreme, and waited for the Burj Khalifa light show and fountain show.

Definitely didn’t expect to see this in Dubai!

And that’s about all the time we had for Dubai! After the light and fountain show (not pictured – you’ll have to wait for the video version, but it was SUPER cool!) we were EXHAUSTED and happy to have our hotel room so we could shower and have a few hours of good sleep before we needed to be at the airport.

Back on the plane to the Netherlands.

And somehow, in the blink of an eye, our much anticipated month of Southeast Asia travel was at it’s end!

The unfortunate thing about the travel-bug is it’s not easily curable. If anything, travel incites wanderlust. So, until the next trip!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Eden Eco Village: Kampot, Cambodia

Our stay at Eden Eco Village was one of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip.

Like a lot of other highly-anticipated things, this one didn’t live up to my expectations, and to no fault of Eden. Let’s see, where do I begin.

Oh yes, this will do.

If you remember from my last post, on our way to Phnom Penh we ended up with a flat tire. After leaving our friends the night before, we took another VIP van with Mekong Express to the town of Kampot. I would like to reiterate that this was in no way a reflection of the service we received from Mekong Express. When your “highway” looks like this, then there’s bound to be a mishap…

Turns out, “highway” number 4 from Phnom Penh to Kampot is quite possibly the worst road I’ve ever been on in my life. First, driving in Cambodia is nerve-racking, to say the least. The first rule of driving in Cambodia is “there are no rules”. Theoretically, it seems that the driving rules are similar to those in America or Europe, but instead of you know, staying in a line of traffic, it’s “gun-it-until-you-reach-a-slower-object (car, scooter, pedestrian)-slam-on-breaks-swerve-and-keep-going”.

This style driving, combined with a case of the “Irish flu” from the night before, a pot-hole riddled “highway” and 30°C (86°F) temps made for a fun ride. And if you’re Shane, who came down with the actual flu… well. Tie him up and throw him in a river because he was dead. (Sorry Marsha, we didn’t tell you this at the time…)

What was wrong with the van? We hit a pothole so big that it knocked the spare tire loose from underneath and we were dragging it. After about 30 minutes it was successfully reattached and we were on our way again.

Stuck and not quite sure for how long…

A 3-hour trip turned into a 5-hour trip, but regardless we made it to Kampot. I can’t say this enough. The road was so bad at one point I looked at the GPS, it said we were about 30km (18mi) away. Think of a normal highway, you’d be there in 15 min? We still had 1 HOUR of travel time left.

Phomn Penh to Kampot.

Eden Eco Village was located about 5km (3mi) outside the city of Kampot. Our instructions to get there: “Take a tuk-tuk across the new bridge and down the dirt road until you see the signs.”

Hm. Ok then.

To our somewhat delight, this worked!

We showed the tuk-tuk driver and he knew exactly where to go. Over a newer looking bridge and down a dirt road until we saw the signs for Eden. That part was delightful. What was not so delightful was the dirt road itself, which was red mud, puddles, and potholes the entire trip pushing Shane to the edge of vomit.

I was most excited about this place because we were staying in a bungalow on the side of the river where you could literally jump off your bungalow porch and swim!

Remember how I said Shane was on the edge of vomit?

The only thing he did off the edge of our bungalow was puke. Multiple times. Poor guy.

The view from our bungalow. At least he had easy puke access, right?

My idyllic time at Eden was off to a great start. A sick husband was not something I (or he) anticipated.

We only had two nights here, which was and wasn’t enough time. I think if Shane had been healthy then we would have loved to stay longer. But with him sick, and the relenting heat (and – sorry Eden, my only true complaint) weak fans in the bungalow it wasn’t as magical as I had imagined it to be.

But, as we would come to learn by the end of our time in Cambodia, having expectations is your first mistake. Better to just experience things for what they are.

On our only full day, I knew I wanted to swim in the river and I wanted to do something active. We had been mostly touring cities, so now that we were actually out in the countryside I wanted to see it. Eden provided (for free) bicycles and a list of activities in the area so I forced Sis to go on a hike with me. The boys, not up for an athletic adventure, stayed behind while Sis and I went out to tackle White Mountain.

Following what I would refer to as “country boy” directions – “turn left on the road by the school that goes through the two overhanging trees towards a chainlink fence” – we had a lovely ride through the surrounding local village.

And back through the village when we missed the turn.

And for another time when we missed the turn again.

Third time’s a charm though and we found the path towards the chainlink fence all the while getting waved at by the friendliest children on their way to school.

Biking through the village.
On the right path now! White Mountain straight ahead.
“Park the bikes on the side of the ‘nicer’ road and take the path up.”

Our directions described the hike as “short but strenuous with a little bit of scrambling”.

That description was 100% accurate as Sis and I were gasping for air by the time we reached the top. The view was worth it though.

A successful hike required an afternoon dip in the river!

Tubes provided!

Keeping with the theme, this wasn’t as relaxing as expected, cause you know… river currents! HAH! It was refreshingly cool but MAN did you have to work to stay in front of the bungalows! Something about that flowing river…

Dear Eden, I suggest ropes with a carabiner to attach you to your bungalow for worry-free floating..

And that about wrapped our time at Eden and in the Kampot area.

As I said before, I was so excited to come here but because of the road, it did feel very isolated. It’s definitely the type of place you go to enjoy nature and just relax with no agenda. I mean look at this bungalow!

But, being isolated when one of your group is sick made me a little nervous. And, to top it off, we discovered during our time in Eden that Terry picked up a foot parasite (sorry Terr Bear if you didn’t want this on the blog!). No worries, it turns out they are quite common – even in America – and he could have gotten it anywhere. He took it in stride, even named it Riley, and it was cured with a bumpy ride on the back of a random guys scooter to the “good” hospital for medicine.

If you have the chance to visit Eden Eco Village though, I would definitely do it. The bungalows are beautiful, they are (as the name suggests) eco-friendly by using solar power and reusing where possible. And they work very closely with the local community, giving them jobs and teaching English along the way. And I cannot say this loud enough, but THE FOOD! Ah, it was so amazing. I mean look at this salad!

All the food was made to order and literally, nothing was bad. I think we might have tried the entire menu. If you go, don’t skip the coconut milkshakes!

Morning view from our bungalow.
Just for you, Mom!
Sunset at Eden.

So, while it seemed like nothing went quite right in the two days since our group of 6 became a group of 4, all in all, our time in Kampot was too short.

We headed out the next day for our final stop in Cambodia,

the island of Koh Rong!

More to come soon!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Egypt: Giza, Marsa Shagra, & Cairo

I’ve never actually sat down and made a ‘lifetime bucket list’, but if I had the Pyramids at Giza would have been on it.

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But not anymore! 🙂

And they don’t call them ‘great’ for nothin!

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We had three nights total in Cario which bookended our trip to Marsa Shagra for diving. The beginning of the trip was dedicated to the pyramids, starting with the amazing view from our hotel, aptly named, Best View Pyramids Hotel!

If you ever find yourself planning at trip to the pyramids we can’t recommend this hotel enough! The Australian owner, Grace, is beyond accommodating and the view is really the best! And to top it off, the hotel is perfectly primed for viewing the pyramids nightly ‘sound and light show’. That’s a savings of about $30! *wink!*

We planned a full day tour with a private guide & transportation to the Giza Pyramids, Sphinx, the ancient capital of Memphis, and Saqqara (the step pyramid).

Having the guide was great for multiple reasons: someone else drives you through the madhouse that is Cairo traffic, you don’t get hassled if you’re with a local, and you actually learn about what you’re looking at.

Having a guide was also great, because he insisted on being our photographer and knew all the classic typical tourist poses.

Quick recap on pyramid facts.

The Giza pyramids are actually the last of a series of pyramids that act as tombs for various pharaohs (kings) during the time of the Old Kingdom. Essentially, earlier pharaohs perfected the pyramid, so by the time King Khufu was ready to build his tomb he was able to go big or go home with the Great Pyramid. And contrary to popular belief, the Great Pyramid is the first in the series of three. The 2nd pyramid, built by Khufu’s son – Kahfre, didn’t want to outshine his dad so his pyamid was smaller out of respect. It only looks larger because the plateau on which it’s built is higher. (Strategic planning maybe?) The third and samllest pyramid belongs to Menkaure, the grandson of Khufu.

Unfortunately, the Great Pyramid (Khufu) was closed on the day we were there. We were able to go inside the third pyramid, though, which may have actually been a blessing in disguise. The tomb of the third pyramid is in the bottom. The tomb of the great pyramid is in the top; aka: we didn’t have to climb up 300+ stairs to see an empty room (all the tombs have been raided).

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Next up, the Sphinx!

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The second half of the day was spent at the ancient capital of Memphis and Saqqara which was the necropolis for the capital. Saqqara is home to the Djoser step pyramid (named after King Djoser) which was the first pyramid and considered highly innovative. Saqqara itself is a large complex, and we were able to go in a few other well preserved tombs.

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After Giza, we headed south for a little R&R and diving at Red Sea Diving Safari- Marsa Shagra. This was the same place that we visited in 2015 when we completed our open water course. We decided to come back because we didn’t feel like we were able to really take advantange of all the diving this place has to offer. We were newly certified and still timid, and needed a repeat!

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I’ll try not to rave too much and skip straight to the pictures, but I can’t say enough good things about this place. Our days went a little something like this….

wake up with the sun – dive #1 – breakfast – dive # 2 – lunch – dive #3 – beer – dinner – bed- repeat.

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Breakfast view.

Any place that revolves around food & diving is my kind of place!

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Just for you, mom. 😉

Of course, the resort itself is beautiful. We choose this particular company becuase they work hard to preserve the reef by treating their properties as marine protected areas, having designated days for ‘reef clean-up’, they offer conservation courses, and have an overall focus on ‘earth friendly’ practices. For example, each person who comes is given one water bottle (if you don’t bring your own) and you’re asked to refill at various water stations placed around the property.

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The main area: dive shade and relaxing shade.

What makes this place particularly special though, is the attitude. The staff are beyond friendly and helpful. The dive instructors go out of their way to get to know the guests, and the boat drivers may not know your name but they know your face and they know your dive preferences. “North reef zodiac-zodiac?” – yes please.

Here, your unlimited dive package allows you to dive as much as you want in their house reef, which in itself has 6 different options and, according to the instructors, is “one of the best in the Red Sea”. Everything is completely relaxed and at your own pace. You just write on the boards where you’re going, what time you leave, and your expected return time and off you go!

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“The Board” (North side)

When we arrived I would say we were relativley inexperienced even though we have our advanced certificate. But this trip, we literally doubled the number of dives in our lifetime and used the time to practice some important skills.

Such as…

Flipping off a zodiac.

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Getting back on a zodiac.

It’s really unfortunate that I don’t have a picture or video of this because let’s be real. No one is graceful getting back in a zodiac. Just imagine a fish out of water… 1-2-3 heave! … and you’re flopped head first over the side of the boat with your fins flappin’ in the air trying to wiggle all the way in.

Descending in open water.

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Ascending in open water, and deploying our surface marker bouey (SMB).

Jumping off a big boat for a dive. 

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Underwater selfie skills. 

Clearly the most important of them all.

We started and ended the week with beautiful weather. The middle of the week (you may want to sit down for this) it RAINED. Yup. I call it the curse of The Netherlands. I mean, it didn’t’ rain for three days straight or anything, but on three afternoons there was high winds and a passing storm which, as you can imagine, drastically changed the visibility.

Same spot, different day.

Overall though, we can’t complain. Now, here are just a bunch of diving pictures.

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I call the next series “The Shwits with Jellies”.

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And our favorite dive: Long Canyon

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I think you can understand why we didn’t want to leave, but we had to.

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Back to Cairo for one night. Main goal: The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, which (no lie) every Egyptian person we spoke to asked “Have you been to the museum?”. Egyptian people are very proud of their museum, as they should be, becuase it’s quite literally jam packed with cool things. And yes, we were able to see King Tut’s mask (his mummy is in Luxor). No photos allowed though. It is amazing how well preserved it is.

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The Nile River

And that was our trip! The only thing we could have asked for is more time. There is so much to see in Cairo, and we weren’t able to make it to Luxor as we orignally hoped. But that’s ok, because we are already daydreaming of our next trip.

As for safety, because we’ve had a lot of peole ask, never once did we feel unsafe, even in the wake of the attack in Alexandria. Every Egyptian person we met bent over backwards with kindness and was THRILLED to meet two Americans who were not afraid to come to their country. For example, as we were leaving the Egyptian Museum a man just struck up a conversation with us (“I’m  not a taxi driver, I’m an English teacher!”) and proceeded to tell us about Tahrir square, the oldest street in Cairo, the festival that was happening that evening for Easter, and where to find “food that is OK for American stomachs”.  And perhaps this is just an illusion of security, because I realize that the government isn’t held in the highest regard by locals these days, but we experienced more security checks at varioius points in our journey than in any other country we’ve been to so far.

I think the key to Egypt, as with any country, is to be aware of your surroundings, know the basics of the local culture, and be respectful of it. For instance, I wore pants and shirts that covered my shoulders despite the warm weather and I wasn’t offended when people addressed only Shane for any decision making (even our tour guide).

Long story short, don’t be afraid. Egyptians are friendly and welcoming people and the extremists who commit terror acts do not represent them. So if you have a chance, GO TO EGYPT!

endrant.

Shane is working on a video compilation of the trip, so keep a lookout!

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Tot ziens,

Whitney