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The end of our travels, the beginning of a new chapter

During our trip to the South, we managed to outrun two hurricanes, survive the public medical system in Louisiana, and celebrate my birthday.

But don’t worry, everyone is okay. We left Louisiana before hurricane Gustav hit, the surgery for the family member was planned and successful, hurricane Ike never made it to Austin, and birthdays are just an excuse to have a party.

Frequently asked questions

Over the last six months we have traveled the world, met some amazing people and experienced events that have forever changed our perceptions. Since we have returned, there are some questions we are asked on a regular basis, so I thought it would be a good idea to summarize them below:

What were some of your favorite countries?
We loved all of them in their own way, but if we have to narrow them down, they include: New Zealand for its beauty; Japan for its culture; India for its energy.

What were some of your most memorable experiences?
Hiking the Great Wall of China; seeing the Himalayas, Mt. Everest and the Taj Mahal in one day; surfing at Bondi Beach in Australia; being amazed at New Zealand’s beauty atop a mountain glacier; getting chills in Normandy; feeling the energy and determination in India; getting too close to wildlife in South Africa; being French for a summer; adjusting to everyday life.

What was the grossest thing you ate?
Not sure what it was, but it was in Japan with ugly tentacles.

Would you have done anything differently?

Yes. Planned the trip to be a year.

Do you and Eric still like each other?

Yes, very much so. Being together every day for months at a time will do one of two things: break you apart or bring you closer. Luckily, the latter applies to us.

What were some of the greatest lessons learned?
Human nature trumps cultural differences and we are all more alike than different; people are fascinating; it’s okay to relax and breathe; we are more wasteful than I ever realized; always have a good map; Subway,7-11 and McDonald’s are truly global; it is easy to take things for granted — even traveling; no matter where you go, you still want to share it with your friends and family.

We’re back. Now what?

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Before we left we thought we might have an epiphany and return with clarity about the meaning of life. We thought we would want to join the Peace Corps or something. But, that’s not the case. We are still the same people with some of the same questions.  But we can say we are more at peace with just being. We take more time to appreciate people and their stories. We also have different perspectives on many things, especially when it comes to international relations and our views about the United States.

As for work, I do not want to go right back into corporate America. Although, I am not going to do a complete left turn because I do like what I do for a living. I am going to venture out on my own and be a marketing consultant.  Freelancing will be a new challenge and help us save up for the next trip :) As for Eric, he’s in the same business and working on some exciting projects. Together, I think we’ll be fine.

Goodbye

We are sad our journey has come to an end. But, we are grateful we had the opportunity to enjoy the experience of a lifetime. We will miss sharing our stories with you. We appreciated and looked forward to your emails, comments and encouragement we received along the way. We are thankful to have had you travel along with us.

We are certain we will continue to travel. It may not be six months at a time, but you never know.

Fast facts about our final trip: Louisiana and Texas

Accommodations: Various friends and family
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  • Cities visited:
    Shreveport and Natchitoches, Louisiana; Tyler, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, Texas
    Sites/activities: Survived the public health system in Louisiana; painted porches; visited plantations along the Cane River; celebrated my birthday; BBQ’d Texas style; discovered Frisbee Golf; played Wii for the first time; continued our vacation with friends and family; returned back to NYC
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    Notable meals:
    Grandmother’s home cooking; Tex-mex in Austin

    Back to the USA

    Tomorrow we are going back to the United States, but we refuse to accept our travels are coming to an end. I mean, we are, after all, traveling to one of the most exotic destinations yet — Texas. (The reader can interpret the word “exotic” as he or she sees fit. :))

    Over the last six weeks, we spent time traveling around France and Belgium and visiting Eric’s family. It has felt more like a vacation than our other destinations since we are familiar with the language, customs and food. And, we barely used a guidebook. That’s a sure sign we have relaxed from our active backpacker mode. Or maybe we are just getting good at this traveling thing.

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  • Now, we are going to Lousiana and Texas to visit my family and friends. While the South is like a country within itself, we will only be posting stories if we have material that will entertain you. And, of course, there will be the “farewell” post giving closure to our adventures when we return to reality. I promise I will try to avoid any likeness to the infamous “it is with mixed emotions” departure emails we have all sent at some point in our careers.

    We hope everyone is doing well and are looking forward to seeing you soon.

    Friends and fine art in Paris, France and Bruges, Belgium

    It’s official. Eric and I are not as socially inept as we thought. After traveling with little or no contact with English-speaking people, we were beginning to wonder if we could interact with anyone besides each other.

    I had visions of arriving back in New York, going to Starbucks and ordering a latte by smiling, pointing and speaking in broken French. And, that was just ordering coffee. I envisioned being thrown into a full panic attack if someone actually wanted to discuss Obama vs. McCain.

    But after spending the last five days with our American friends, we are now confident we will be able to have somewhat intelligent conversations when we arrive back in the States.

    Touring the City of Lights

    We were welcomed to Paris by a few bums, punks and tourists at the train station. This was not the same French culture John and Melissa had been exposed while at Eric’s parent’s house or Belgium. I began to wonder about Paris being the most beautiful city in the world.

    Eric had the pleasure of being more of a tour guide than a tourist while we were in the city. He translated, kept us from double-tipping in the restaurants and navigated to the worthy Paris highlights.

    Talent, tipping point or just really good PR?

    Of all the sights in Paris, I was most excited about exploring the Louvre. Not because I am an art connoisseur, but because I have seen the Louvre twice before, but never actually went inside of it.

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  • As we entered through the controversial glass pyramid into the 650,000 sq. ft museum, we followed the strict instructions of the guidebook: get a map, highlight what you want to see and accept that you will only see about 1/10,000 of the displays.

    We were determined to see Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. After roaming around, seeing the works of art in the in the Italian Gallery, and getting tangled up in the audio tour apparatus, we arrived at the coveted masterpiece. I am not sure if it was because it was displayed across from the largest painting in the Louvre, the protective glass case, or the rope keeping the crowd at least 15 ft. from the painting, but Mona Lisa is small. And, she’s not that exciting.

    I pushed through the crowd to view the painting from the closest point possible. I listened to the audio lesson giving an overview of the painting. Then I just stood there staring at her grin and wondering if I would all of a sudden twinge with emotion or maybe have an epiphany. Nope. Nothing. Nada.

    Tipping point or not, I really don’t understand how she became so famous, especially after seeing other, more impressive, Louvre paintings. I would love to meet the PR rep for DaVinci’s account. Perhaps he or she could teach us a few things — like how to smile for candids.

    Fast facts about our trip to Paris, France and Bruges, Belgium

    Accommodation: The Andrea Rivoli in Paris, France
    Sites/activities: Learned the importance of self-portraits from Melissa (notice more people photos); discovered the world’s largest beer glass and chocolate boobs in Bruges; was confused about how the Euro can be so strong when no one works in the summer; visited the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, Champs Elysees, Arch of Triumph, Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle; walked miles for a sandwich; had good times with our American friends
    Notable meals: Mussels and french fries in Bruges, Belgium; Eric’s mom’s welcome dinner in Northern France; picnic in Luxembourg Garden in Paris, France

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  • Photos:
    Bruges, Belgium and Paris, France

    Back to the land of Flanders

    We have now made it back to Nord (Northern) France. We toured France for almost three weeks instead of two. You can see all of the places we visited on the map below:


    View Larger Map

    Traveling around France was easier than some of the places we have visited. Although, it was just as impressive. Each region within France has something different that makes it unique and desirable. You can see the photos for each region in our Flickr photo sets.

    Change of plans

    We made some modifications to our itinerary. In August, we plan to tour other parts of Europe instead of Egypt. We were looking forward to Egypt, but found out it is over 100 degrees there. Yeah, that didn’t sound appealing to us either. As for South America — that will have to be in 09. I guess we should have taken a year off :)

    Friends from the south

    We are now looking forward to two of our friends, John and Melissa, arriving from Texas this weekend.  We’ll keep you posted on our adventures of visiting Belgium and touring Paris, the City of Lights.

    If you want peace, know war

    I’ve seen movies about World War II. I’ve studied war topics in school. I’ve even listened to my grandfather painfully recollect memories of watching his comrades get killed during his tour of duty. But none of these things could have prepared me for our trip to Normandy.

    War territory in Normandy and Northern France

    As we drove from the region of Brittany to Normandy, we began to see highway markers for WWI and WWII historical sites, monuments and tributes to the young soldiers who died fighting for liberty. While all of Northern France and the Atlantic coast was occupied by the Germans in WWII, Normandy is the most well-known area because of its historical importance in winning the war and the complicated “Overlord” mission, also known as D-Day.

    American land in France

    When we arrived to the town of Colleville sur Mer, where the American flag flies as high as the French flag, we followed the signs to visit Omaha Beach and the American war cemetery. We made our way through security and into the visitor’s center where there were war facts and stories of individuals — who they were, what they did in the war, and where they died. I had chills as I watched video footage highlighting the days before the invasion on June 6, 1944.

    The video showed Eisenhower giving his final approval to go forward with the mission the English, British and French had trained for for the previous two years. He gave his speech to the thousands of soldiers, who waited on both ships and planes, to “take the hill” in Normandy.

    Afterwards, when we walked outside to the meticulously landscaped American cemetery, we were humbled as we looked out at over 9,000 white crosses organized into symmetrical lines. But, it wasn’t the collection of crosses that affected me the most. It was looking at each one individually. For every name and ID number there was an actual person. A person who experienced fear, survival and eventually death for a cause greater than himself.

    The La Cambe German cemetery, while not as elaborate, told a similar story of individuals, death and the torment of tyranny.

    The other sites we visited were just as much, if not more, impactful. Many of them still looked as they did 65 years ago with bunkhouses, craters left from air strikes, and miles of underwater barriers along the Atlantic Wall. Some places honored not only the soldiers, but also the millions of other people who died — civilians, medics, journalists, allies and enemies.

    A trip of discovery

    Being in the United States, far away from where thousands of people perished, made it difficult for me to feel and understand the consequences of war. There are, of course, those that have taken special interest in the events of the past, but I have never been one of them. Eric grew up in this area and has an understanding and empathy I never comprehended. Now, after visiting here, it makes sense to me.

    On this trip around the world, I have been reminded of how each person has a story, comes from a different place, and always has something I can learn from. In Normandy, it wasn’t words, but rather the silence of those who died that taught me the most.

    Fast facts about our trip to Bordeaux, Bretagne (Brittany) and Normandy, France

    Accommodations: Lou Bercail in Pauillac, Bordeaux; La Chesnaie in San Malo, Brittany; La Ferme des Mouettes in Colleville sur Mere, Normandy
    Activities and sites: Bordeaux: Tasted wine at chateux (castles); spared you from yet another wine tasting story
    Brittany: Were two of 20,000 daily visitors to the Mont Saint-Michel; walked the beaches of St. Malo; watched the 42 ft tides come in at sunset; ate local fare including crepes and cider
    Normandy: Visited the famous war sights including American and German cemeteries, Omaha Beach, Point du Hoc, and Sainte Mere-Eglise
    Notable meals: Picnics in Bordeaux; Crepes and cider at Crepes de Margeux in Brittany; seafood at La Mere Chamblain in Normandy
    Photos: Brittany and Bordeaux; Normandy

    Celebrating holidays, sunshine and life in Provence and the French Riviera, France

    It doesn’t take much for us to find an excuse to celebrate. So, that’s what we did as we traveled through the south of France. 

    Sometimes, it just works out

    We didn’t book a room before deciding to go to Avignon. Remember, we’re trying to be spontaneous on this road trip. What we didn’t count on was the city’s theater festival. We finally found the last room available in a small town right outside the city in Morrieres les Avignon.  

    Over the next three days, we explored the city’s highlights, toured the surrounding villages and watched a symphony under the stars. And, we made up for missing the 4th of July in the United States by joining in the parties honoring Bastille Day

    You either have it, or you don’t

    We have met many different types of people in the last few months. Some people you click with and others you don’t. Our good fortune followed us when we met our fellow roommates. We ended up exchanging addresses and having a place to stay in our next destination of Nice. Delphine’s sons were out of town and she had a large apartment with spare rooms, so we took her up on her offer.

    Exploring the south side

    When we arrived in Nice, we went to the beach. Although, it was a different kind of beach –  a rock beach. I felt as if I was lying in a gigantic version of the Zen rock garden many people have on their desks.

    There were thousands of tourists in Speedos and topless, but it made for great people watching, especially when they were trying to get in and out of the water with the rocks digging into their feet. We looked just as funny as everyone else stumbling around, minus the Speedos.

    After exploring the sandy beaches in Cannes and St. Tropez the next day, I figured out I actually prefer the rocks. You don’t have to deal with sand getting stuck in your suit.

    Every day is a good day

    The last night we were in Nice, we had an unexpected celebration. It was the midpoint of Delphine’s 6-week radiation therapy for cancer.  We ate on her terrace and as I tried to keep up with the French conversation, I realized spontaneity can end up being the best plan.

    Cross country to the west

    We made it through our 10-hour drive to Bordeaux. We now will explore the western side of the country if I can manage to finish posting these stories using a French keyboard :)

    Fast facts about our trip to Provence and Cote d’Azur (French Riviera), France

    Accommodations:  Bastide in Morrieres les Avignon; Delphine’s apartment in Nice 
    Activities and sites: Baked in the southern sun in Nice; checked out the “seen and be seen” scene in St.Tropez, Cannes and Monaco; discovered ocre in Roussillon; bought pottery in Gordes; checked out the local market in Isle sur Sorges; figured out a symphony is like a novel without words; visited the Palais des Papes and the Pont d’ Avignon; celebrated
    Notable meals: Dinner on Delphine’s terrace
    Photos: Provence and French Riviera, France