Planning Our Post Peace Corps Trip – 5 Months in Asia

It’s a bit of a tradition for many Peace Corps Volunteers – the Close of Service trip.  Peace Corps service is always a little exhausting.  Eating strange food, missing good pizza (and NW beer); making new friends but missing friends and family from home.  Most volunteers eagerly await a trip to close out their service – a bit of a reward for making it to the end and for many a time to reflect and decide what’s next.

Our plan took on many variations throughout our time in Peace Corps. Knowing we may not be able to do a 2 or 3-month trip again until we retired, we wanted to make the most of it.

Our first plan was to travel overland through other parts of Central Asia.  We’d see Tajikistan, and make a mad dash through Turkmenistan on a transit visa en-route to Uzbekistan.  It would be epic, adventurous, slightly dangerous.

About a year into Peace Corps this sounded far less enticing than delicious food in the Balkans or lounging on a beach in Southeast Asia. We were in the middle of planning a 4-month trip that would take us across Turkey, hit all the Central Europe/Balkan nations we’d missed before, and end up on some beaches in Asia when our hasty departure from Peace Corps and Kyrgyzstan changed our plans once again.

The early exit turned out to be work out well for us.  We were able to be home with our families for the holidays, lighten our bags a bit for the trip and really plan out our route (which is to say, research a lot of places that look fun and we’ll figure it out as we go).

LA sunset
LA sunset

The trip became longer.  Right now we’re expecting to be gone at least 5 months although our return ticket is flexible (sorry Mom!).

We’re flying into Tokyo, spending some time in Taiwan and then a brief layover in Hong Kong.  We have a little over 2 weeks in Myanmar before we head to Cambodia & Vietnam for the only planned section of the trip as Taylor’s parents join us.  Beyond that, nothing is planned.  We’re definitely going to trek in Nepal and experience as much of Southeast Asia as we have time for.

We’ve (actually mostly me but Taylor is my sounding board) done a lot of work on places to visit.  Some everyone has heard of, some so remote they may take 3 days of travel to get to.  We’ve packed as well as we can and we’ll share what we find works for a photography loving techie and remotely working couple travelling everywhere from the plushest Tokyo hotels to high-altitude teahouses in Nepal and remote Indonesian islands. We’ll share what works, what doesn’t, photos, stories and if I can push through the learning curve maybe even some decent videos.

Last sunset in America
Sitting on the beach for our last sunset in America for awhile

If you want to see what we’re up to, you can follow us by:
-Subscribing to this blog (which will be undergoing some changes when I get away from this Myanmar internet)
-Following us on Instagram.  I post at least one photo from each day on the trip on @EricPaulPhotos and we’ll post plenty of selfies @Eric.And.Taylor
-Subscribing to our YouTube channel here: Link. This will be new to us, so watch as our video skills improve as we go (we hope).

PS – The timing of all this is a bit of a lie.  As I write this, I’m sitting on a wooden bench seat on a very slow and bumpy train in the heart of Myanmar.  But can we all just pretend?

Here’s Video 1!

Slovenia Caves and a Castle (in a cave)

I’ve started to realize that I’ve been planning all my trips lately based on a single photo or comment from someone about a particular locale.  For Slovenia, it was a photo of Vintgar Gorge (I’ll share photos from this place soon) which was amazing but I had to find other things to do as well.  Turns out, Slovenia is amazing, especially if you like hiking.  It’s filled with awesome canyons, caves, castles on islands, delicious food and its inexpensive compared to Western Europe.  After just a few days it became one of my favorite countries in Europe.  It’s easy to find cool sites in Slovenia and we found two on the way to Lake Bled from Croatia.  Predjama Castle and Škocjan Caves, the latter of which is also a UNESCO site.

Predjama Castle
Predjama Castle

We visited Predjama castle first which is not just a castle but a castle in a cave (the best kind.)  There’s a long and interesting history to the castle but I’ll just share my favorite anecdote.  In the 15th century this robber baron named Erazem was holding down the castle.  The kingdom of Hungary was mad at him and sent an army to try and take it over.  For a year and a half, Erazem held off his enemy and by using a secret tunnel in the back of the castle could obtain fresh food to prevent being starved out.  They taunted their befuddled attackers by throwing fresh cherries at them from the castle – the attackers thought witchcraft was at work – how else could they get the fresh cherries?  Eventually, the besiegers bribed a servant to reveal when Erazem went to the toilet.  When he did, they fired a cannonball at that part of the castle (the weakest section also) and killed him while he sat on his (other) throne.  The tour inside the castle is 12 euros and worth it. Continue reading “Slovenia Caves and a Castle (in a cave)”

Dear Taylor…These Travel Tips (and more) Are For You (and everyone else)

Dear Taylor S.,

Sorry we left you hanging for awhile. We received your message while we were in Budapest, on another vacation (how fitting since you mentioned you appreciate travel tips).

 

In any case, congratulations on accepting your 2016 invitation to be a Kyrgyz Republic Peace Corps Volunteer!

To settle any confusion, I am not talking to myself; there will be another Taylor joining the Kyrgyzstan Volunteer community next year.

Below are some tips for you as well as for other volunteers coming to Kygyzstan.

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To give you a taste of what’s waiting for you:

You will soon know what all of the following mean:

PST, LCF, HE, TEFL, SCD (hope you already know this one), LPI, PM, CD, SSM, DO, PCMO, IST, MST, COS, SPA, PCGO, GLOW, TOBE, PSN, VAC, VRF, EAP…not done yet…PDM, MRE, FLEX, ACKG, PCT, PCVT, PCV, RPCV, PCL, and everyone’s favorite, RADAR (I actually forgot what that stands for, but you’ll find out soon enough).

Nurlan, Usubaly, Naima, Mariia, Sultan, and Leila, will become common names for you to say.

You will begin to become familiar with statues like this:

 

And you will be able to say (and read) the following without batting an eye:

Менин атым Тейлор. Мен жыйырма…  жаштамын жана мен Америкадан келдим. Мен Тынчтык Корпусу бизнес волонтёрмун.

Seriously.

And there’s a good chance you will start to miss things like this (unless you are a vegetarian or lactose intolerant, in which cases you will not be alone; other volunteers have found their way). Hint: Eat/drink as much of your favorite foods as you can over the next 6 months. Ah! The countdown has begun!

Continue reading “Dear Taylor…These Travel Tips (and more) Are For You (and everyone else)”

Trogir, my favorite little spot in Croatia

The town of Trogir
Neum lunchspot
Stopping in Neum, Bosnia for a quick lunch

It didn’t even dawn on me that when driving from Dubrovnik to Trogir, our next stop, we’d have to pass through a tiny little piece of Bosnia that reaches the coast until our trip began.  The Balkans have experienced countless wars over the centuries one of which was the Austro-Ottoman War.  The war ended in 1699 with the Treaty of Karlowitz creating the majority of the borders in the area that exist still today.  The border crossing in and out of Bosnia turned out to be trivial, they looked at our passports quickly and didn’t need to see paperwork for our rental car.  The only restaurants or hotels that exist on the 20km of stretch of land is the small town of Neum.  The little resort town is cheaper than surrounding Croatia and we ate a delicious café (Restoran Bonaca) overlooking the ocean.  Excellent and cheap seafood – definitely the ideal lunch spot if driving between Dubrovnik and Split/Trogir.

Trogir Boardwalk
The Trogir boardwalk is usually lined with luxury yachts but it’s still unpretentious and has cheap food

Trogir itself is very close to Split, one of Croatia’s largest cities.  Split gets more tourists than Trogir and is supposedly a very nice city but Trogir was absolutely perfect for us.  Trogir itself is a tiny little medieval town (and a UNESCO World Heritage site) on an island wedged between the mainland and a larger island in the Adriatic.  Our AirBNB was in a great spot just across the bridge from the Old Town and was an easy walk (AirBNB is a great option for Trogir, there are very few hotels.)  Trogir is great to walk around at night and so small you can become familiar with it in just an hour or so.  The first night we ate dinner at a pretty forgettable place but the second night we ate at what would end up being my second favorite restaurant of the trip.  Kristian Pizza is truly amazing.  The food and service were so great we ended up going back a second night.  The restaurant is family owned, the father walks around greeting everybody and the son was our server.  I would eat the seafood gnocchi and the homemade pasta everyday – please excuse the gratuitous food photos here.

Continue reading “Trogir, my favorite little spot in Croatia”

Belgrade – Forget the qualifiers, it’s just awesome.

Belgrade sunset

Reading about Belgrade before our trip I kept reading about how despite the ‘grit and rough edges,’ Belgrade is ‘actually a pretty decent city.’ We were going to Belgrade based on the recommendations of friends so I suspected we’d like it more than the lukewarm praise online made it sound.  It took about two minutes of walking outside our apartment and I knew my friends were right – Belgrade is awesome.  There are a handful of cities around the world that Taylor and I loved it instantly and this is definitely one of them. Great people, awesome food, plenty to do, easy transit system, super cheap, the list goes on.  Everywhere you go people are eating outside, you can drink anywhere you want in the city and enough people speak English there is rarely a challenge trying to order food or get a drink.  Throw in the fascinating history of Yugoslavia and I already can’t wait to go back.  We actually flew in and out of Belgrade, travelling a large loop in between, and had nearly a week there total.  Here are our favorite parts (and lots of pictures.)

Belgrade Fortress

Rising above the rest of the old city and set in Kalemegdan Park is Belgrade Fortress.  The Balkans are covered in castles and fortresses but this one is unlike the rest (or any other I’ve been to.) The entire fortress is a multi-use facility now and open 24 hours a day.  There’s a museum, several restaurants, public basketball and tennis courts and pretty killer views the Danube & Sava River confluence.  Some sections such as the Clock Tower are an extra cost to enter but most of it is open for exploring.

Belgrade Underground Tour

Continue reading “Belgrade – Forget the qualifiers, it’s just awesome.”