My Travel Record is Humiliating.

Recently, a friend of mine told me about a running competition she has with her husband to see who can visit the most countries beyond the USA, their country of residence. They both travel a lot for work so they’re both in the thirties (he just surpassed her with a trip to Lichtenstein). Then she laughed and said “but you’ve obviously got us both beat, you travel hobag” and pushed me out her 4th floor living room window. Miraculously, I suffered nary a scratch or scrape…only a fractured ego.

Just wanted to see if you were ever going to put down that pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk and pay attention. 

All of the above story is true except the violence part. I pride myself on my wanderlustic (made it up) tendencies, but when my friend said she’d been to thirty-something countries, that number sounded pretty high. So I thought I’d list all the countries, beyond the great US of A, that I’ve been to in my life. And I decided to do it in the form of a blog post because I have no idea how to not live in public. I’m also listing them in order of visit. I’m also obviously excluding multiple visits to the same country, even if the destinations within that country varied wildly in distance or type of visit, which sort of sucks, but those are the rules. I’ve also excluded my 1998 visit to Puerto Rico, because of the whole “self-governing unincorporated territory of the United States” thing. 

 

  1. Mexico
  2. Switzerland
  3. Italy
  4. Germany
  5. Austria
  6. Canada
  7. The Netherlands
  8. France
  9. Australia
  10. England
  11. Scotland
  12. Wales
  13. Ireland
  14. Greece
  15. Turkey
  16. Russia
  17. Mongolia
  18. China
  19. Vietnam
  20. Laos
  21. Cambodia
  22. Indonesia
  23. India
  24. Brazil
  25. Argentina
  26. Japan

 

Twenty six. TWENTY MOTHERFREAKING SIX?! I cannot believe I’m getting my ass handed to me by a couple of working stiffs. I mean, they’re totally awesome people and deserve all the happiness in the world, but you get my point. I’m going to go cry into a bottle of wine from New Zealand, a country I haven’t been to yet, now. And convince myself that both my friend and her husband are liars. And reconsider hanging out with them. And maybe start planning a whirlwind tour of every corner of Africa. 

Enjoy your ice cream.

 

Japan Part San: The Nara Period

There are sort of two ways of approaching the main draws of Honshu (Japan’s “Big Island”): go full urban and experience the modern city life, or try to capture the Japanese ancient history side of things. Luckily, MG and I allowed ourselves time for both, and I’m glad, because the two experiences could not possibly be more different.

Having already survived the neon/cherry blossom jungle of Tokyo and then escaping into the snowy wilderness north of Nagano for a few days, we’d gotten a sense of how Japanese country life is alive and well, but not in that quintessential, “former capital of Japan from 710 to 784” kind of way. So we headed south to Nara.

As I explained in my previous post, I knew before we arrived that there was some sort of wonderful park in Nara where friendly deer roamed freely and ate out of people’s hands. And since I’m a sucker, that’s one place I simply had to see. Turns out that Nara, while indeed very ancient, is a pretty big city these days, well-traveled, and by no means undiscovered. The hotel I had booked was a little hard to find, and once we were settled, a lot overpriced. It was already dark after a long day of train travel, and we were only in town for one night. Why did I make us come here again? I felt bad.

All was not lost, for Nara marked the first OKONOMIYAKI!!!! (emphasis mine, emphasis necessary) dinner that MG and I had. Okonomiyaki is often described as a Japanese pizza or pancake, but it’s more like a savory omelette stuffed with meat/fish/cabbage, and covered in Worcestershire-type sauce/mayonnaise, which sounds disgusting but is just the opposite. Okonomiyaki is a fatty fatty culinary delight, and also a fun word to yell at high volume over and over, preferably in a residential area.

The next morning we checked out of our hotel, stored our luggage at the front desk, and went off in search of the deer park.

The deer are not hard to find. They’re adorable. They have little mouths and tiny teeth and eat very delicately out of your hand (vendors are scattered everywhere selling rice crackers to feed the deer, which they love, though I suspect they’d eat just about anything).

They’re also really used to humans and tend to swarm you once they’ve spotted rice crackers in your hand. A couple of the dudes kept head-butting me, which might have been similar to murdering me with a trident had their antlers not been cut within the last year - apparently this happens as part of an annual festival so that the male deer don’t stab people to death over rice crackers. Instead, little furry antler stumps. Adorable.

The largest Buddha statue in JapanNara’s park is full of more than just deer; its temples are the main attraction. We picked a few to focus on, and as we made our way through hoards of tourists (it was conveniently a Saturday) I had to remind myself that that’s how these things go, we aren’t going to get Japan’s biggest Buddha statue all to ourselves, roll with it, embrace our touring peers, because here we all are, in an awesome place. And we did and it was great.

Next, MG and I hunted down the Harushika brewery for some sake tasting in a old, beautiful part of Nara. It was supposed to be 400 yen for 6 tastings, but we didn’t realize that until after we’d already tasted everything, and because of the language barrier we couldn’t seem to explain to anyone that we owed them money. So we bought a big bottle of the sake we liked the best and drank the whole thing in 24 hours. I’m calling it even.

Sake tasting in Nara

In hindsight, Nara really needs more than a day if you truly want to get a feel for the city and not rush through history. But that’s all the time we had before hopping on a local train into Osaka, and I think we did ok for our first stab (haha, get it? DEER ANTLER JOKE!) at taking in a Japan of yesteryear.

Sorry these updates are trickling in so slowly, btw. I’m drawing the whole thing out specifically to torture you. Hope that’s cool.

Japan Part Ichi: Tokyo Drift

I’m several days into a 16-day Japan trip, and thought you might like to hear about what I’ve been up to. If so, you’re in luck!

MG and I got off the plane at what would have been about 10 pm in San Francisco, except that in Tokyo it was 2 pm the following day. I was already hitting the wall as we waited in world’s longest customs line. After grabbing our luggage and wandering in circles at the airport for several minutes, we figured out how to get where we needed to go and boarded a rapid train from Narita airport into Tokyo.

Narita airport is a lot farther away from the city than you’d think… the train ride was a good 90 minutes to Tokyo station, and the first 45 minutes were mostly spent zipping through farmlands and making stops at smallish suburban outposts. MG and I mostly stayed silent, looking out our respective windows and taking it all in. I’m all too familiar with this time zone fatigue, knowing that it’s only going to get weirder for a while as my body fights to get on schedule as I slowly go insane and that pretty soon I’ll need to start figuring some things out - important things, like I NEED A SHOWER SO BAD WHERE THE EFF IS THIS HOTEL - by gesturing wildly to someone of whose native tongue I only speak several words (because I listened to Devo as a kid and also went through a phase where I taught myself to count to ten in as many languages as possible and Japanese was one of them…this is the type of activity that ‘only children’ like me come up with when they’re out of ideas, btw).

Thankfully, our hotel was a simple metro transfer and a couple shorts blocks down a narrow street in Akasaka, a neighborhood alive with both Japanese restaurants and international cuisine. I say simple because as soon as we arrived at Tokyo station and started studying a subway map on the wall, our expressions gruesomely contorted by confusion and exhaustion, an old man appeared out of nowhere and pointed us in the right direction (this was just the first of several instances now that folks have offered us unsolicited help or advice, simply because they’re being friendly. Japanese people have a reputation for being overly nice and polite… very true. Someone will notice I’m holding a camera and offer to take our picture. I won’t even have made eye contact. Amazing).

The hotel was nice… corner room with huge windows, great shower, and a heated toilet seat (which I now understand is commonplace in Japan, but you can imagine my oohing and ahhing upon first sit). The bed was wider than it was long, and the room came complete with a foot massager that I enjoyed immensely but ended up bruising MG’s huge American feet to the point that he’s been hobbling around for days since. Japan is built for small people. My people.

We ended up eating our first meal at a small noodle soup house down our street, which was simple and delicious and way too much food. The place was packed and nobody else seemed to have a problem finishing their portions. How are people eating this much pasta and sodium in one sitting on a regular basis and not obese, we mused.

Speaking of genetics, Japan is an incredibly homogenous country, which I assume has to at least partially factor into Tokyo’s crazy fashion sense. I’ve never seen so much color and offbeat outfits and crazy hair in seeming attempts to stand out from the crowd, on the subway as much as in and around Harajuku, Tokyo’s “cosplay” (costume play) scene and overall tragically hip shopping area. Which definitely exists, by the way… Gwen Stefani was telling the truth.

Adjacent to Harajuku’s fashion hub lies Yoyogi Park, where we headed to check out the cherry blossoms on our first “full” day in Tokyo, which just so happened to fall on a Sunday, which just so happens to be the day of the week that thousands of people swarm into the park with bottles of champagne, kegs of beer, food, wine, and boom boxes, throw down plastic tarps, and start partying under said blossoms. Young and old, babies, grandmothers…I’ve never seen so many enthusiastic/drunk picnickers. Kind of an exaggerated dichotomy between the serenity of nature and long bathroom lines. And lots of garbage.

Let’s talk about garbage while we’re on the subject. In general, Japan is very clean and there’s a lot of emphasis on better-than-average sanitation and sterilization, which I’m a big fan of in theory. Except that this translates into disposable items being disposed of REALLY OFTEN. For example, every single day when making up our room, the hotel staff supplied both of us with new toothbrushes, sealed in plastic. Every day for four days! That’s ridiculous. Or let’s say it’s raining outside and you walk into a department store - there are tube-shaped plastic sheaths provided at the entrance to stuff your wet umbrella into while you shop, then trash on your way out. You get the idea. Anyone for whom recycling is a way of life will find Japanese rituals like these a bit unnerving.

Tokyo’s metro system is faaaantastic. The trains run often and on time. They’re clean. They cover every inch of the city and are easy to navigate. I’m not sure if the rumors about people being stuffed into cars and women getting groped during rush hour are true, but I never rode in an uncomfortably crowded car… in fact, most of the time I could snag a seat. Although I did notice that during morning commute times, cars on either end are designated “women only”, so maybe I’ve just been lucky.

Before our trip started, MG and I had been joking about doing the Tokyo “Lost in Translation” tour - getting a drink at the New York bar in the Park Hyatt, getting lost at Shibuya crossing, singing at a karaoke bar, etc. - but we actually ran right into a traditional wedding procession at the Meiji Temple on our second day, which was magical.

As for eating, besides one misstep after a long day of walking where we ended up at an Italian-themed joint slurping up seafood pasta in cream sauce with chopsticks (it was actually really good, just not what we were looking for), the food in Tokyo has been outstanding. Freshest sushi ever. Excellent ramen. Lots of soups with rice and fish and tofu and a shitload of salt. I keep overdoing it and going into post-meal food comas. One night we took the metro to Roppongi and ate dinner at the restaurant where they shot the O Ren Ishi fight/bloodbath scenes from Kill Bill Part 1. Well, actually they shot it in a replica of the restaurant because, according to MG’s research, the owner didn’t want Tarantino making a mess in there. Regardless, the restaurant looks exactly like it does in the movie and as Kill Bill fans we thought it was kind of the coolest thing ever.

We spent our final day in Tokyo (for now anyway, we’ll be back there for three more days at the end of our trip) doing some touristy things: taking in the cityscapes from Tokyo Tower, getting a drink in the observatory of the Metropolitan Government building, and marveling at the cherry blossoms in Shinjuku Gyoen, which made Yoyogi Park look like amateur hour. I took roughly 5 million photos of cherry blossoms within an hour, though it’s impossible to really get a sense of how beautiful they are in photographs. Blossoms everywhere, in whites and pinks, falling everywhere like snow.

Yesterday we took a Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Nagano, where we transferred to a local train that took us up into the mountains along Lake Nojiri, where we’ve been chilling far away from civilization the last couple days. Well, except for the wifi part. Whatever, it’s 2010.

Sarah, the Goddess of Brain Tumors (part 2)

Well. A lot has happened since I wrote that long, rambling, sort of embarrassingly dramatic post about having a grand mal seizure. I probably wouldn’t have bothered with a follow up - because quite frankly, I’m so sick of talking about brains, how brains work, how brains fail us, why brains suck and are ugly, etc, that the next neurologist I meet at a dinner party I’m going to glare at the entire time, just because – but I knew I had to bite the bullet because 1) a lot of you really, truly care about me and my health and have told me so, and because I value your support I feel that I owe this to you, and 2)  I’m on so much medication that I’m basically a drug addict at this point and if I don’t write it all down YESTERDAY, I’ll probably forget that the entire incident and ensuing medical bullshit details ever happened. Which could actually be awesome, I’m not sure why I’m not doing that.

So remember that epilepsy medication called Dilantin that I was prescribed to keep future seizures away? And how I said that the list of side effects was side-splittingly funny? Well, one of them is a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction which I developed within several days, because I’m just cool like that. Me and Padma Lakshmi! At my first appointment with my new SF-based neurologist, she took one look at me and “we need to take you off Dilantin. We need to take you off Dilantin NOW. This is not good.” Shitty first visit to a new doctor, but I appreciated her honesty and concern.

So now I’m on another anti-seizure medication called Keppra, which is like swallowing 1500 mg of rainbows every day compared to Dilantin. I don’t feel 100%, I still forget easy words and have walked into several walls, but for the most part it’s very tolerable. I’m suppressing normal brain functionality though, and that makes me uncomfortable because anyone who knows me at all knows that I consider myself the wittiest person currently walking the Earth, and would rather die than be thought of as dim or unfunny. Maybe slightly less vain.

Since my initial seizure and treatment at Marina Del Ray Hospital, I’ve had 2 more MRIs and a bunch of yummy blood tests, but the diagnosis has kinda changed a few times. I originally had neurocysticercosis, then after a better MRI scan they thought it looked like ganglioglioma, a slow-growing tumor that isn’t necessarily malignant, but will continue to give me seizure problems until removed. (THROUGH BRAIN SURGERY, BTW. I mean, the only thing cooler than me having brain surgery would be me becoming a rocket scientist.) Anyway, after a third MRI there appeared to be some more swelling/scar tissue around the area, which is bad, and two additional, smaller tumors, which is also bad. The good is that now it really looks like neurocysticercosis and I no longer have several brain specialists with 4500 medical degrees from the world’s most prestigious institutions giving me conflicting information. It’s the parasite! Excellent, so we all agree! SO PUMPED!

Tomorrow I’m starting a course of anti-parasitic medication designed to shrink/collapse/kill/stabthroughheartwithstake my neurocysticercosis tumors. (You are taking a shot of Jameson every time I say that word, right?) It’s called Albendazole and it’s kind of like a radiation treatment, killing the bad stuff but killing everything else too and ravaging my immune system. I’ll need to be very careful about being anywhere I’m susceptible to infections or diseases. Like H1N1, for example. You know, that flu that kills people. And might be living in the public restroom where I work.

I’m considering wearing one of those little germ masks, just to be an asshole.

Here’s sort of a weird twist to this genius plan: I also need to take a side-effect happy steroid called Prednisone to minimize the additional swelling in my brain that will arise from taking Albendazole, the very drug that is supposed to kill my unwanted brain colonies. Apparently parasites will rage against the machine when attacked, and with enough disruption I might have another seizure. The other day when my neurologist was explaining all of this to me and kept needing to refer to various notes and diagrams and I was sort of crying because, I don’t know, SHOULDN’T SHE HAVE BEEN BORN WITH THIS KNOWLEDGE AND NOT HAVE TO LOOK THINGS UP, she sighed and said “I’m sorry Sarah, but understand, this case of yours, it’s very unusual. I mean, I’ve got a Pacific Heights practice and all, I don’t see stuff like this very often,” and we both had to laugh. It’s true, she works in a richie-rich neighborhood and regularly treats patients who didn’t sleep under a bunch of filthy camel blankets in the Thar desert in 2007 by choice. I like to think she’s secretly thrilled that Sarah Lane, world-weary street urchin, came along and gave her something to believe in.

I also met with a neurosurgeon, just to cover my bases and stuff… and the consensus is that opening up my skull should not be our first plan of attack, because – and you’ll really love this- since the tumors are in my right temporal lobe and I’m left-handed, I actually store more important data in that area than a right-handed person would… you know, like THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE and HOW TO TALK… so operating in that area is all the more risky. Left-handers really deserve Halliburton’s money for our troubles or something.

So, that’s where I am in my little journey. You literally know everything I know. And I definitely don’t want this blog to turn into this boo hoo place where I can only talk about what’s wrong with me, so don’t be too put off if you’ve come here looking for tech tips or pictures of me in my 7th grade cheerleading uniform. Once this passes, we’ll all go back to being ourselves and I’ll be wittier than ever and you will LAUGH AND LAUGH AND LAUGH AT/WITH ME.

Please think good thoughts over the next couple of weeks as I add some hardcore drug interactions to my already impressive juggling act. I hope this stuff takes. I want this to be over so, so badly, and despite the cool factor I don’t actually want brain surgery. I just want to be me again and to be happy to be part of this wonderful life. And to bathe in Lorazepam regularly….It’s like impossible to get pissed about anything on that stuff. Amazing.

I had a grand mal seizure. Want to hear?

So. I had booked what sounded like a pretty neat job… I didn’t know much more about it than that I’d be participating in an “expert panel” for MSN in the tech/gadget arena in Palos Verdes on October 12/13th, and my birthday actually fell on that first day, so I thought, well, huh, I’ve agreed to be working that day anyway, so why not fly down to LA for the previous weekend and see all my friends?

The MSN folks had arranged a car service for me, so as I descended down into baggage claim from a pleasant, wifi-enabled 1.4 hour flight, I saw a jovial older British guy with the ponytail holding my “LANE” sign (obviously at that time I had no idea he was British or jovial, but now it’s stuck in my memory). Anyway, nice guy. Led me to a Lincoln Towncar and didn’t blink an eye when I asked to be driven into Venice instead of straight to the hotel in Palos Verdes (where I’d been put up for the weekend by MSN). See, I just wanted to have brunch in Venice first. That’s all I wanted to do! Couple hours tops, two days before actual work. Slight chance of shopping. Slight!

So Venice resident Damon Berger (the future person to save my life, though I didn’t know that last part yet) and I walked two blocks from his brand-new kickass little bachelory beach bungalow to Abbot Kinney Blvd, the hipstery granola beautiful people main drag. We took our time choosing a place (which was nothing new, because we’re both picky about our food/service/sun exposure in our own ways) and settled on an organic/German/everything brunch spot called 3 Square.

We sat outside along the edge of the East/West wall at a 2-person table, just out of direct sun. Now here’s where everything gets fuzzy, because I remember certain things I said over the next five or so minutes, some of which were actually heard and have been backed up on official record, and some refuted for total inaccuracy/whimsy/fake language not recognized by any linguistics expert, anywhere. I remember asking to add mushrooms to an otherwise mushroom-free omelette, and was later told that I commented on how good bircher muesli was (it was an item on the menu). I remember the former but not the latter. Basically this is right around the time where things were falling apart upstairs. Keep in mind it was 11:30 am.. nobody was partying.

At this point, the really truly last thing I do remember is Damon looking across the table at me in a very concerned way and asking me if I was ok. “Sarah, are you ok? Seriously, are you ok?” And I heard him, and I saw him, and I couldn’t answer him. I could NOT stop whatever was coming. And that’s when I blacked out.

I’ve been told that at this point my entire body began convulsing, my eyes rolled back into my head, my mouth bled from where I had bit into it, and my lips turned blue. I guess that means I wasn’t breathing… blue lips? It wasn’t cold outside. Damon grabbed me and had someone pull my chair out from under me, brought me to the ground, and yelled for someone to call an ambulance. Apparently it arrived within about five minutes… good thing we weren’t dining in South Central. Damon would later tell me that he was convinced I was having either a heart attack or a stroke and dying right then and there, in his arms, and that it was the scariest moment of his entire life. I’m terribly grateful not to remember this part.

What I do remember is waking up in the back of an ambulance, an EMT to my left, Damon to my right. Now, this sounds really crazy and stupid but my initial thought was that I was being kidnapped, because when I begged to be let go they tried to hold me down and soothe me and keep in mind that I had no idea what had happened at the restaurant. I was in the back of a van and a strange man wanted to put a needle in my arm. I believe I kicked him. (EMT guy, I’m sorry I acted so badly with you, I know you were just trying to help. Keep on keepin on.)

I was admitted to Marina Del Ray Hospital, a place that I never knew existed, even though I lived less than ten miles away for two years. Kind of a small-town, kitchy feel to the place, and I say that with no disrespect- the kind of hospital where you don’t feel lost in the sterile shuffle of modern medicine. I was completely doped up for my 2.5-day stay, so forgive my swiss cheese memory, but I do know that the first IV drip I got was phenobarbital, the MOST WONDERFUL DRUG IN THE UNIVERSE, and also the #1 anti-seizure medication prescribed to dogs. Yay trivia! This is a little embarrassing to admit, but after four hours of intervenous intergalactic planetary space flight, I spent the rest of my hospital stay trying to come up with reasons why the nurses should give me more phenobarbital. (They never did, because they are mean, cruel nurses and only out for themselves.)

First test I got was a cat scan, which was a piece of cake… sort of like a mini-MRI. I think the next one was my actual MRI (which I was particularly sedated for, since I had heard it was a really claustrophobic experience… totally fell asleep in there). The third test was an EEG, which was a series of wires and suction cups attached to my scalp. I’ve never looked uglier…fact. There may or may not be a few iPhone pictures to back me up, but just take my word for it. 

Anyway, so yeah. 400 tests, strong drugs, really nice nurses, and some not-that-horrible hospital food. Besides the circumstances under which I was there, I really think it could have been worse. My hospital roommate was Mrs. Jimenez, who had literally had BRAIN SURGERY several times already. A lovely woman with a great family, and I hope she gets better.

I’m now on a drug called Phenytoin (brand name Dilantin), which I take three times a day and has one of the worst list of side effects I’ve ever read. You guys, it’s almost funny it’s so bad. This is anti-epilepsy medication, which nobody really thinks I have, but is my best overall seizure suppressant until I get a clear diagnosis and better treatment options with a local neurologist here in San Francisco. I hate it and I hate the way it makes me feel. I feel slow… not funny, not smart. I am not legally allowed to drive a car. Plus, I’m not supposed to drink alcohol, which is ONLY THE ELIXIR OF LIFE, NOTHING BIG.

They think I might have cysticercosis, likely contracted during my year traveling abroad. It’s pretty gross. I’ve actually tested negative for it already, but they also think I have something called a blood-brain barrier, which might cause me to test inaccurately in tests such as these. BECAUSE I NEED AS MUCH OF A CHALLENGE AS POSSIBLE WHEN IT COMES TO MY BRAIN.

So that’s where I am now. I have my first neurology appointment here in SF on Tuesday, and we’ll go from there. Think positive! I also just wanted to thank everyone who’s called me or written me or bought me beautiful flowers (McCloskey), sent various notes of support and encouragement, etc. I hope I can get back to all of you, but just know I’m reading everything and really appreciating the love. 

A quick but heartfelt congratulatory note to my cousin Martin and his beautiful bride Rebeca, who are getting married in Boston on Saturday in a gorgeous, joyful ceremony that I’m devastated to have to miss. A match made in heaven if there ever was one!

Top 10 Things I Miss About Traveling (But Hated at the Time)

Brave New Traveler has just published an article of mine in which I describe the attitude shifts one must come to terms with after embracing a vagabond lifestyle:

When you travel for more than a few months at a stretch, it becomes a job. A job you don’t really like all the time. A job you start to complain about.

I should know - while skipping around the world for a year, I did a lot less skipping than I did budgeting, reading transportation timetables, and gesturing wildly to unsympathetic street vendors.

But eventually the journey ends, you return to your normal life, and something magical happens: you find yourself wanting that old job back, warts and all.

Here are ten things I couldn’t stand then, but am pining for now.

Read the full article >>

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(Almost) Forgotten Hmong Gems

 

As you may know, I recently spent some time traveling the world. Somewhere between East and West, I forgot about a handful of short Quicktime videos I shot with my little Nikon Coolpix 5200. Man, I wish I'd used that feature more often. When you're traveling with an expensive HD cam, you often find yourself caring more about video quality than about the captured moments themselves. Sure, the little Nikon didn't take world's best videos, but it did go everywhere, and instant playback was a huge hit with the Hmong kids in northern Laos.

Check out more pics in my Laos Flickr collection.

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Soooooo....

Many of you are already familiar with sarah.word.'s sister site, sarah.on the run. But for those of you just tuning in, things will be slowing down around here as I finally get up and "running," so to speak. Hardy har. Unfortunately, I think sarah.pic. is also going to suffer during my world travels. Reliable worldwide service just isn't on T-Mobile's roster yet, and I sort of hate my Sidekick II anyway. I want to thank Textamerica for being awesome hosts for my camera pics all these years, especially the handsome and intelligent Jade. You guys are awesome. But the good news is alive and well in the adventure just beginning for me and my brand-new husband! Our new main site will be "brendanandsarah.com", complete with photos, contact info, FAQs, and links to: sarah. on the run. - Sarah's travel blog Brendan Moran's Exciting Travel Adventures - Brendan's travel blog The Traveling Morans- Our future Pulitzer Prize-winning video podcast This site will stay up and I will certainly check in periodically, but I think it's safe to say the commotion will be elsewhere until I have a desk job again. Hope you guys enjoy our adventure! I'm pretty sure you will. Love, Sarah

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Donning a New Skin

I've spent the better part of the last few days reading other folks' travel blogs, trying to get some inspiration for our own site redesign. sarah.word. has always been my personal outlet, but as it will soon serve as a base for the Amazing Adventures of the Traveling Morans, it deserves a facelift and restructure to reflect our new direction. Hardy har.

What's comforting is the number of really well-done travel blogs upon which I've already stumbled. I have little doubt we'll be able to update regularly, no matter where we are. What's daunting are the countless choices I have in regards to organizing our own journey. I'm leaning toward something like what Mark Yiin has done (his link was posted in my comments section, thanks!!). Not only is his blog easy to navigate, but he takes swell photos and tells good stories about his follies in a lot of the same places we'll be enjoying. Hey Mark, I want my Sunday back!

Anyway, I'm all ears if you have advice and suggestions for how this blog should look going forward. Be honest! Have your say! Brendan has already banished my present (and adorable) pink/gray/green color theme. I'm going to go ahead and blame it on his colorblindness. Besides, it's time for a change.

:)
s

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The Road Less Traveled

As promised, here's a look inside the first six months of married life with Brendan and Sarah! The actual dates may vary by a day or two, but that's the beauty of travel.

Late May- Do that whole vow thing

May 30- Fly to Greece's most romantic island (can you guess which one?)

June 8- Take a ferry into Marmaris, along the Mediterranean shores of Turkey. Spend some time exploring the "Turquoise Coast."

June 19- Head into central Turkey via bus to explore Cappodoccia's fairy chimneys.

June 26- Continue busing it north to Istanbul for a couple weeks exploring churches, mosques, bars and bazaars.

July 10- Fly into St. Petersburg, Russia at the tail end of "White Nights". Get used to the sun never setting.

July 17- Splurge on a 1st class train to Moscow. Observe very tall women who can hold their vodka better than Sarah.

July 25- Board the famous Trans-Siberian Express railway on a week-long journey through Russia, Siberia, Mongolia, and China.. finally deboarding in Beijing.

August 8- Fly south to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). Spend the next couple weeks enjoying pho up and down the coast of Vietnam.

August 28- White-knuckle it on a bumpy bus over the border into Laos. Hop on water taxis along the Mekong River to access various cities. Eventually settle in Vientiane.

September 19- Fly from Vientiane into Phnom Phen, Cambodia. Try to avoid landmines, but fail miserably. Just kidding. Glad you're paying attention.

October 3rd- Make our way into Siem Reap, Cambodia, to visit the wonder of the world known as Angkor Wat.

October 10- Fly into Thailand for one night in Bangkok.

October 11- Fly out of Bangkok and into Denpasar, Bali. Spend the next month happily among rice paddy fields. Hop over to neighboring Lombok for a night or two.

November 6- Make an appearance back in the States for a wedding in Wisconsin. Suffer from acute culture shock. Gain back the 10 lbs we each lost.

November 20- INDIA.

I'm going to stop here and continue the second itinerary leg next time so I don't drone on too long in a single post. But here's the deal- neither of us have been anywhere we're about to go, and even though we're dutiful researchers, we're still totally clueless. So if you possess knowledge on any locale I've mentioned above, share the wealth! Email me or comment below.

Our favorite resources thus far:
Airtreks.com - Reliable round-the-world plane ticket agents
Rough Guides - Amazing book series, better info than Lonely Planet
Adventure 16 - Best outdoor/adventure store in SoCal, if not ever

More deets coming soon!

:)
s

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The Best Week Ever

Some pics from Verana, the closest I've ever been to paradise:


Dscn0032_1Every morning as the sun rose over the jungle, tea and muffins were delivered to our patio. Sometimes Verana's resident feline, Max, would stop by and ask for cream before following us down the hill for breakfast.




Dscn0095On a day trip to the Marietas Islands, we were lucky enough to run across a family of blue-footed boobies, rare birds usually seen only in the Galapagos Islands, and some humpback whales on our way back to the mainland.



Dscn0119Anyone up for a strenuous afternoon of book reading, fishing boat watching, and cerveza sipping? Me too! I read three novels in seven days.






Dscn0168Our dinner chef, Fabian, unveiled a taco feast you'd have to see to believe. All meals were included in our stay at Verana, and every single dish was outstanding. I can't say enough about how well we ate, though I'm not sure I should have polished off all those desserts (14, to be exact).


Dscn0194_1Ok, just tell me this doesn't look romantic! Actually, all the houses were pretty open to the elements, so a hanging net kept the mosquitoes, scorpions and bats from sharing our nightly abode. We never really had a problem, but better safe than sorry in the jungle.


Dscn0221See our Stone House? We blended right in with nature. All the houses at Verana are very, very unique and have their own special perks, but I loved ours the best. We even named our bat.




Dscn0143A little vino at dusk, overlooking the pool, overlooking the Pacific. Not too shabby, my friends. Remind me again why I need a computer?






Now we're officially into 2005 and it's back to work in a couple days. As you can imagine, I'm dragging my feet juuuuust a tad. Hope this marks the beginning of a wonderful new year for all of us, and here's to sticking to our resolutions.

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There's No Place Like Home.

Don't let the title fool you- I really could have used another week or two. Man, do vacations rule! Kevin and I each took about 500 pictures- put 'em together and we've got a TON of frozen memories. And a few cool videos, too- one featuring an Irish burro eagerly devouring the apple we offered out the window as a peace offering. My Nikon held up. More on that during our Digital Cam War Finale on Monday's TSS.

It was a truly wonderful journey through the U.K. and Republic of Ireland. I'm too jet lagged and hungry to say much more, but rest assured I'll be writing a novella after a night or two of hibernation. For now, enjoy a few pics!

From London's ferris wheel we marvel at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament:

Housesofparliament_3


My Mirror Project obsession produces a fine piece at the local laundrette:

Chesterlaundrette_2

Chillin above Ireland's Cliffs of Moher:

Cliffsofmoher_2


A nice little beach along the Ring of Kerry:

Ringofkerrybeach_2


I hear my bed calling me. It's been terribly neglected and I must try to salvage our friendship. More pics and stories to come!

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Dublin. Word.

Ok, I'm in Dublin, in a little internet cafe above Grafton St (main shopping hub). Just used Burger King for the bathroom- the only reason I would ever enter BK inside or outside the States.

Ireland is so great. Moving here as soon as I win the lottery. We stayed out on the pier north of the city in a little town called Howth for a couple nights, right alongside the ocean and a unique tidepool. Now in the heart of the city, staying one more night and then renting a car and heading for the hills.

A highlight from this morning was when an elderly man stopped us and asked where we were from (Kevin's Oregon shirt tipped him off). When learning we came from NorCal, he told me he knew I was of Irish descent- the lips and the cheekbones gave me away, he said, although he said my jaw was Anglo (damn). He approved of Lane, as it's a strong Irish surname. He wasn't so sure about Rose, but thought Kevin to perhaps have lineage from Eire's Northern regions- the hair and the eyebrows. A really cool chance encounter with a friendly old Irish fellow, and then he was gone.

This has been SUCH a trip so far, and I still have a week left!! The laptop's at the hotel, no pics this time. But trust that I have hundreds. Still love the Nikon, though I admit to being jealous of the Canon's petite frame.

It's so refreshing to go somewhere far, far away, and be remined that the Earth spins around the sun the exact same way every single day, regardless of where you lay your weary head. That said, absolutely nothing puts the spark back in my eye like a good vacation far from home. Dr. Bobby helps.

Viva Europa!

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