Beaches, beaches, and more beaches. And seafood. And sun. Then more glittering, turquoise waters and soft-as-flour sand. And, of course, great company!
This was a beautiful week and wonderful reunion with our cousin. We’re so lucky to have family scattered around the world. And so glad to see Mei settled in to her new life in this tropical paradise. A bientot!
La Digue, Seychelles
The hour-long ferry ride here is the absolute roughest we’ve ever experienced. Small yacht + open water = seasick passengers all around us. Not pleasant.
But once we arrived, it was just calm, relaxed, and wonderful. There’s no need for a car on this island; just a bike is enough to get around. And don’t forget to bring your snorkelling gear, because the water is just fine!
Mei found a great deal at La Digue Island Lodge, and breakfast on the beach every morning was really a special treat. How lucky are we??
Welcome to Paradise
What can I say? We’re just not ready to hit the “stop” button yet! And since Mei has moved out to Seychelles, why not go and visit the beaches…er, I mean her, there?
It’s balmy, blinding, and absolutely beautiful here. There are dozens of secluded sites on Mahe that you can make your own for the day. Just bring your bathing suit, sunscreen, and a good book.
After 14 months…
After all the walking, hiking and rough weather, not everything came back in good shape. I broke both branches of my glasses; duct tape and glue didn’t help much, but I survived until the end of our journey. (you might notice that towards the end of the trip, the glasses are always sitting crooked on my face!)
As for the hiking shoes - the harsh muddy trail to Macchu Pichu did most of the damage. But besides the worn-out treads and peeling rubber, they actually cleaned up quite well.
I am glad our travel went pretty smoothly.
And I’m glad I can now wear fashionable clothes and shoes again…
Art at the Pompidou
The exhibit of Simon Hantai’s work at the Centre Pompidou was fascinating. There are two videos showing his process of tying, folding, crumpling, overlaying and painting his canvases, to create beautiful patterns with playful colours. His Meun series is probably his most popular and identifiable, but I think the Etudes and Les Blancs were more interesting to examine.
Traveling by train has always been a glamorous notion to me. Airplanes offer their own sort of glamour (which we pay for with money and emissions), but it’s not always the best method of getting from one place to another.
In my opinion, trains give you the best view of any countryscape, allow you the comfort of moving around, and is the most efficient way to cross any piece of land. Plus, you don’t need to arrive at the station two hours ahead of time, and they don’t harass you about the extra 0.5kg of luggage.
So, here are a few tips from our experiences around the world:
The man in Seat61 is the best comprehensive online resource for traveling by train all around the globe. He goes into detail about the ride, the destination, schedules, and how to reserve tickets in each country. His instructions on purchasing might be a bit UK-centric, so always shop for alternatives online or locally at the station.
Russia: it IS possible to book tickets through the official RZD website using Chrome and Google Translate. Here’s how I did it.
China: you can pre-purchase at the station Ticketing Counter for any to/from location in the country; just have your destination, date, and preferred times written out clearly (in Mandarin, if possible) for the agent to read. And remember to bring your passport.
Or, you can just pay your hostel to take care of it for you, for a fee.
India: at the major stations, there are Tourist Booking offices where you can pre-purchase any available trips; just bring your passport and a photocopy of the information page.
Cleartrip allows you to efficiently purchase tickets online, ahead of time, for the same price as you’d pay through official IRCTC agents. It requires setting up an account (scan and email passport, receive access code, register), which might seem a bit tedious, but it sure beats standing in long line-ups with everyone else!
Peru: Ferrocarril Central is the main website for the second highest train in the world. You can purchase tickets the day beforehand at the station, or through Tambo Peru Tours in Lima and Cusco (123 calle del medio). Take a look at the photos and tell me this doesn’t interest you!
Mongolia: tickets here were difficult to get in person. Only one agent spoke English at the station when we were there, and just writing down the destination+date on paper wasn’t enough. Thing is, the train from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing is very busy at times, and doesn’t run everyday, so reserving tickets a few days in advance is recommended. Ask your hostel to help you out with this one.
Caveau de la Huchette is the best place for live jazz music almost every night of the week. The underground cave has been the “it” dancehall for decades, and the place is just pumping! We love coming here
The Promenade Plantée is somewhere I’ve always wanted to explore; the converted railway over the Viaduct des Arts gives you a great view of the city and its architecture. The promenade stretches from the Bastille all the way to the peripherique, and takes you through lovely neighbourhoods, past quiet parks, and along a lovely green space that I think is a gem. It’s not the High Line, but I think it’s more unique.
We’ve eaten our way around the globe, and have probably taken more photos of food than ourselves. I know this list isn’t comprehensive, but it’s a good one to start with anyways.
To take a look at everything we’ve eaten (and liked) over the past year, just look up the “good food” tag and you’ll pull up all the yummy tumblrs!
So, in no particular order, our fave foods that we’d go back for anytime:
- street stalls in Bangkok
- "lechon al horno" in La Paz
- fresh fruit juices in the morning markets
- “dhal bhat" thali-set with banana pancake and spiced tea in Nepal
- "parilla" steak in Argentina
- pasteis de Nata in Belem, Lisbon
- “kuku na chipsi" and Bitter Lemon drinks in Tanzania
- grilled and pan-fried trout from Lake Titikaka
- Dim Sum and “cha chan teng” in HK
- juicy grenadillas in Cusco
- chai wallahs in Nepal and India
- ceviche in Peru’s fresh markets
- Chinese hot pot and Naxi fried rice in Yunnan
- "quinoa & manzana" drink in Bolivia & Peru
- oven-baked naan bread and Mughlai curry in Rajasthan
- fried whole fish with chili salsa from Lake Toba, Sumatra
- flat whites in Melbourne
here’s the round-up of the best places we stayed at during our round-the-world trip. Hostels were often the first place to look, but we weren’t willing to sacrifice comfort for a cheap 20-person dorm. Nor was the late night partying in the room our thing, so those places didn’t work for us.
Our budget was tight, and it was always a bit of a task finding somewhere charming and clean to sleep.
We carried sleep sacks and sleeping bags with us everywhere, but at these places, we definitely didn’t need them:
- The Loft Hostel, Chengdu, Sichuan, China - $7/bed
- Amazing Home Hostel, Arequipa, Peru - $7/bed
- Kumbha Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India - $10/room
- Elbrus Home, Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal - $14/room
- Saphaipae Hostel, Silom, Bangkok - $10/bed
- Nomad Guesthouse, Shuhe, Yunnan, China - $18/room
- Samosir Cottage, Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia - $8/room
- Jade Emu Guesthouse, Dali, Yunnan, China - $5/bed
- Enjoy Hostel, Miraflores, Lima, Peru - $8/bed
- Sania’s Guesthouse, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia - $17/room
- Halfway Guesthouse, Tiger Leaping Gorge, China - $4.50/bed
Opera Garnier, Paris
Having never been able to catch a performance here, it was great to take the guided tour around the opera and get a chance to admire the intricate and ornate architecture. From the carved wooden doors to the colourful painted ceilings, and the box forever reserved for the Phantom of the Opera, everything was cool to see. Plus, we were lucky enough to have a very animated history lecturer as our guide, so the whole tour was just fun.
This was not just another item to check off the list; hopefully next time we’re in Paris, we’ll be able to enjoy a beautiful performance on stage too.
One thing about backpacking and traveling on a budget is to figure out how to do a lot of things on your own, without going through a travel agency or hiring a guide or following the typical tourist circuit. But to make the most of any experience, it’s still important to hire local people who can take you places or tell you things you wouldn’t get to know on your own. And more importantly, it’s crucial to enlist the experts who will be able to keep you safe when in truly sketchy situations.
So here’s our round-up of some of the major tourist sites where you really don’t need to hire a guide, either because it’s absolutely safe to do without, or because the beaten path is impossible to miss!
- any touristed area in China is easy enough to navigate on your own; the tips you get at the hostel were always more than sufficient
- ditto for Myanmar’s cities
- the Annapurna Loop during busy season is so packed with trekkers, you can all guide each other along the well-marked paths; although it’s always helpful to hire a porter for the multi-week trek
- the Gobi Desert tour in Mongolia doesn’t require a guide, but a very capable and experienced driver is a must!
- Argentina’s Pumamarca and Humahuaca mountain villages are easily accessible by a cheap bus from Salta or Jujuy
- riding a motorbike around Indonesia’s Flores island and Mt. Batur outside of Ubud, Bali; just download the GoogleMap on your phone before leaving the hostel/cafe
- anywhere in Rajasthan has been so infiltrated with tourists, you can do it all on your own, including the temples/mosques and museums. Only exceptions are the official guides that can tell you about the history and architecture of a site, or the audioguide (like the one in Jodhpur)
- the Sacred Valley outside of Cusco can be explored on your own, either by bus or on a bike - just remember to pick up a map
Weekend trips to La Baule and Chantilly
It was great to get to spend time with family and visit places we’ve never been before. Fresh seafood by the platter, short bike rides through the forested estates, and crowded village streets….it was all lovely to see and enjoy. We even stumbled upon a charming wedding between a young naval officer and his even younger bride, followed by the cutest bunch of twittering flower girls I’ve ever seen!
Here’s another list of observations, tips, and notes I jotted down while on our trip. In no particular order:
- Bangkok is surprisingly clean, whereas you need a mask when walking around Kathmandu
- Inform your local Embassy of your itinerary; the Canadian Foreign Affairs website has an easy online tool to register your trip plans
- For those considering doing the Annapurna circuit on their own, or just wanting to make sure their money goes to those who work for it, there are many travel agencies in Pokhara offering portering services for treks
- Reserve enough pages in your passport for Visas; use post-it flags and ask the customs officers to fill in all blank spaces before starting a new page (most times they were amused enough to comply)
- You can always walk away from a taxi driver who refuses to use the meter or pretends to know where to go; save yourself from driving in circles or paying a ridiculous flat rate
- many bus and train stations and airports have pre-paid taxi stands
- ask your hostel for average rates, so you know what to expect
- Beware of fake monks and sadhus offering to give you a special blessing and then asking for money; monks should never touch money and only receives alms without asking
- When traveling for an extended time, always remember to connect back home!
- Accommodations in Myanmar always seem filled-up when searching online, when in fact there’s often lots of vacancy. Just ask around once you arrive in the town, and surely someone will be able to point you in the right direction
- The airport Departure Tax is not always included in the ticket price; always carry the equivalent of $25 USD on you
- South American bus terminals always charge a tax of $1-2 in local currency, so keep some change on you for all trips
We made it back to Paris in time to celebrate our one-year anniversary and Armel’s birthday, so how better to enjoy the food + company than at a picnic?
Besides, there were lots of babies to meet and young children to get to know again, so it was the perfect place to just have some fun!
This mediaval village a few hours south-west of Paris is charming, albeit a bit busy during the summer long-weekend. The nearby seaside town of La Baule is a popular retreat for Parisiens, so the whole area is bustling with families looking to get away from the city and just slow down for a while.
Traffic itself is much calmer here, so getting on a bike is the best way to get around while breathing in the cleansing salt air. And distances from one village to the next are short, so you can easily explore everything in a day.
There was a great antique fair set-up in Le Croisic, with many little things we would’ve loved to pick up.
And taking the Route des Marais is the most picturesque, allowing you to ride between the flats and chat with the farmers. The salt from Guerande is world famous, but this season’s harvest seems to be at risk with the unusual humid weather. We made sure to pick up a bunch from the farmers before leaving!