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On Bangkok and Good Advice from Bad People

We thought for sure we’d be ready to flee as soon as the plane touched town.  A city of legendary heat and humidity, swarming with chaos and 9.5 million people… no thanks.

Bangkok at dawn

And first day does overwhelm all the senses.  Nothing looks or feels familiar.  There are cockroaches.  Rats of unusual size.  With every breath you inhale exhaust fumes and and the heavy scent food in various states of deliciousness and decay.  Trash collectors dump and sort the contents of their trucks on the street and you learn to play a bold and decisive game of Frogger against taxis and tuk-tuks and mopeds pretty quickly.

Bottle collector

Multicolored taxis

Alternative transportation

Side saddle, no hands

Building decor

Not gonna lie: our first full day was spent exploring the malls. And the day after.

Beard Papa's

Mall Christmas tree

But after that, we began to see and appreciate some of the beauty.  It can be as obvious as a towering golden chedi, as commonplace as a woman selling offering flowers, or as inconspicuous as a cat napping on a wall. So we stayed for a little bit.

Woman selling flower offerings

Alley behind dried fish market

Dried shrimp for sale

Monk walking past Grand Palace

Phra Siratana Chedi

Prasat Phra Dhepbidorn - the Royal Pantheon

Kitty at Wat Pho

Wat Pho

Plumeria

Florists making offerings

Bangkok sidewalk at night

Mass of power wires

Cat faceoff

Bangkok traffic

BBQ street vendor

While we do enjoy taking it slow and getting to know a place for at least a week or more (versus the usual 2-4 days that most other backpackers average), if we’re being honest, our lack of speed is also due to reluctance to make a decision.

The downside of this habit is that we’ll visit fewer places overall and sometimes pay higher prices by booking last minute transportation.  On the upside, we’re more relaxed and get a better sense of a place than we would have if we were just zipping through.  We find the good restaurants with the best prices, can easily say “yes” to unexpected opportunities, soak in the little details, and feel more like honorary residents rather than faceless consumers just passing through.

Bangkok is renowned for its tuk-tuk scams and assorted schemes to part the naive from their money, but only one of its citizens thought we looked like a good target.  Luckily, he was just a guy sitting at the table next to us in a sidewalk restaurant, and it wasn’t a big deal.  While we were disappointed that his friendly chit-chat quickly turned into an attempt to get us to visit his friend’s shop that is having a “big gem sale for tourists today only,” he did suggest that we head north for the mountains before visiting the islands.

We took the latter advice and hopped the night train to Chiang Mai the next day. As we write this six weeks later, we’re so glad we did. Our northern path brought wonderful people and unbelievable experiences into our lives. So thanks, scammy guy. You’re the best.

Democracy Monument at night

26
Dec 2012
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Thailand

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Exploring Amman

Homemade Jordanian flag

Our friends Cody and Vanessa moved to Amman in August this year to study Arabic. Back when we were all still in Iowa City, we had talked about maybe going through Jordan to see them on our year of wandering, but it didn’t seem like the timing was going to work out. And then those cheap Royal Jordanian flights started popping up and suddenly our path to Asia took a new direction.

Satellite dishes

Amman is a city of 1.5 million people. About one quarter of its residents are Iraqi, Palestinian, Sudanese, Somalian, and (more recently) Syrian refugees. The terrain is hilly, the climate is desert, and the official religion is Islam. After chilly Berlin, the blue skies, dry air and temperatures in the upper 70′s were so welcome.

Amman side street with blue truck

Rapid population growth means that the city is a constant swirl of dust and traffic with examples of prosperity and poverty elbow-to-elbow. You can buy fresh produce from a roadside stand or a souk or you can buy a value meal from McDonalds or KFC. You might see goats being grazed in an empty lot in the middle of the city accompanied by a shepherd wearing a polo shirt, or you might see a guy with a python around his neck at a street fair.

Python at street festival

urban goats

McDonalds

Everything is tan and square for as far as the eye can see, but that makes the flowers and palms and mosques and rare youthful artistic flourishes seem even more stunning.

East Amman homes

View of the Roman Theater from the Citadel

sand colored city

pink flowers

blue flowers

Amman mosque

Stairway graffiti

Since the city expanded so rapidly, it’s an urban planning nightmare. There are broken sidewalks, curbs two feet high at pedestrian crossings, few traffic signals, and each roundabout approach is prefaced with an official U-turn lane because the most roads are purposefully constructed to allow only right turns. Horns and exhaust fumes are constant. Many travelers spend only a day or two in Amman before heading off to more exotic locations, and you can mostly understand why.

Traffic, downtown Amman

Construction site, West Amman

Late afternoon

The major highlights of Amman can be “done” in less than a day, starting at the top of Jabal al-Qal’a (the Hill of the Citadel) to see the ruined Temple of Hercules and Umayyad Palace, then down to the Roman theater below, on to the souks and shopping streets downtown, then a stop at one of the dozens of Western-style cafes on Rainbow Street.

Squinty

Temple of Hercules

Tony at Temple of Hercules

Umayyad Palace

Column detail, Temple of Hercules

Alicia at Umayyad Palace

Roman Theater

Ammann souk

Pickled everything

Sugarcane juicer

Shopping downtown

Feather dusters

Downtown Amman

Rainbow Street sign

Juice shop on Rainbow St.

After nearly two weeks in Amman, we were feeling comfortable with the city. Dust, fumes, late night celebratory gunshots, crazy cab rides and all. The sounds seeped into us in a familiar rhythm. The constant jingle of what might be an ice cream truck constantly patrolling the neighborhoods. (It’s actually a truck filled with propane tanks for residential stoves.) The repetitive loudspeaker shouts of another truck slowly rolling through the neighborhoods. Let your imagination run wild and it might be mistaken for an angry tirade of someone inciting revolution. (They’re actually letting you know that they’re selling cabbages and onions and stuff.)

Propane truck

And of course, the most “other” sound of all: the five times daily call to prayer. In Turkey it would vary from city to city and from mosque to mosque. In Amman it had its own aura that, with our limited experience, we can only describe as “not Turkish” yet as beautiful as our favorite call from of The New Mosque in Istanbul. Its a sound that we will miss as we continue our journey eastward.

Mosque

We really loved our time in the Middle East. All the wonderful food, the sights, the sounds… most of the smells. We hope we can experience it all again someday.

(Watch our video of a rolling vegetable vendor, the souk, and the call to prayer in downtown Amman)

26
Nov 2012
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Jordan

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A Tiny Slice of Paris

We had only two full days in Paris before our flight to Tbilisi, which is far too short to really see much, so we didn’t go crazy rushing around the city trying to pack it all in. We picked only two things we really wanted to do (visit the Catacombs and Musée d’Orsay), made sure they happened, and anything else was gravy. Here are a few fun photos that don’t have much of a story behind them.

17
Jun 2012
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France

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Toulouse Miscellany

A little collection of photos from Toulouse. A view of the city from Sharla’s semi-supersecret location, the Pont Neuf at night, all the used Converse your heart desires (every vintage and second-hand shop had piles of them), delicious food, political stickers on the street (we were there a few days after President Hollande was elected).

The last photo is a stunning culinary find from a subway stop convenience store for the price of just a few Euros. Back home, these things grow wild and are difficult to find even if you know what you’re doing. If you’d rather have someone else do all the hard work for you, not very affordable. Alicia rehydrated them and cooked them for dinner. Yum!

14
Jun 2012
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France

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Barcelona: Streets and People

A collection of people and street scenes in Barcelona, including a minor peaceful protest we encountered and a huge banner demanding that a leader of the protests be freed from jail. We loved the city and all of the unexpected beauty around every corner.

06
Jun 2012
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Spain

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Views from Above: Barcelona

Views of Barcelona from Park Güell and Sagrada Familia.

31
May 2012
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Spain

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Misc in Madrid.

Strolling through Parque de Retiro. The vertical garden. The Egyptian Temple of Debod. The courtyard at the Royal Palace. Tony waiting in the rain for the photographer’s vision.

18
May 2012
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Spain

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Madrileños

Random passersby from our hostel window. People at Plaza Mayor. Dog walkers. Restaurateurs on their smoke break. Weird old dude throwing bits of meat to stray cats and pigeons. A random juxtaposition on a metro platform. And our favorite sight, neighborhood guys giving each other BS in the bar on their lunch break.

17
May 2012
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Spain

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