Is it just me or are you glad 2017 is over?
Obviously, these turbulent times are a big contributor, but for me, mostly it's because I'm SO DARN TIRED.
Most long-term nomads settle into a slower pace by year two, but I just did a tally of our travel numbers and think I've identified the source of said exhaustion.
- 26 countries across Asia, Europe & North America
- 38,988 miles traveled (the circumference of the earth is 24,901 miles)
- 1460 miles walked
- 43 Airbnb apartments/12 hotels
- 37 trains
- 27 airplanes
- 14 buses
- 1 ferry
Throw in 118 cat cafes (Paula) and 656 new chocolate milks (Perry) and I'm confident we can trademark the title 'Fastest Traveling Couple With the Strangest Interests'. We've even started dragging family and friends into our obsessions, thanks for obliging us!
We're taking a travel break for the holidays in the US with family (thanks Mason, Karrie, Finn & Sadie!!) to rest, recover and plan our next move. We expect to be traveling (slowly) until summer, but will likely be settled somewhere by this fall. Stay tuned!
With this pause, I've been able to look back on the year that was. Our second year on the road had fewer rainbows and butterflies, a predictable result of seeking more challenging destinations (China, Mongolia) and stricter frugality, but feel fortunate that we 1) are both healthy, 2) were able to visit a ton of new places, 3) made lots of new friends and 4) experienced loads of adventure.
So, in the spirit of all those end-of-year recaps, I've compiled the best (and worst) of our 2017 moments because I can't resist a list. Or rhyming.
The Best & Worst of 2017: Cities
Paula's Favorite: Kyoto, Japan
I loved the tranquility and living history of this beautiful city.
Maybe it was the contrast to the chaos of Tokyo, but Kyoto felt like one big sigh of relief. I could actually think while I walked and absorb the environment around me.
It turned out to be a walking meditation bonanza. From the historic castles and temples to the natural scenery, there were plenty of opportunities to take in the serene atmosphere, even in 'crowded' places.
For example, we hiked Fushimi Inari shrine one day and while it was busy at the bottom, there were very few people at the top, where it was quiet and a bit spooky. I made it to the popular Bamboo Forest another day for a relatively undisturbed trot through the walking paths and nearby Arashiyama neighborhood, but my favorite peaceful outing was walking the Zen gardens of Nanzen-ji temple and nearby Path of Philosophy at sunset (photo above).
Throw in great ramen and the best cat cafe ever, and Kyoto was an easy pick for my favorite city in 2017.
Perry's Favorite: Sapporo, Japan
Japan is definitely our favorite country having exceeded all of our expectations and Sapporo, in northern Hokkaido, takes Perry's top spot for being friendly, clean and beautiful. According to Perry it's manageable size and coolish weather make it an extremely livable city.
Runners Up: Paula
- Sapporo, Japan: Same reasons that Perry listed PLUS the best ramen, see favorite meal below.
- Tallinn, Estonia: One of our favorites last year, we made a return visit and loved it even more. Progressive culture, friendly people, lots to do and low prices keep this city forever in my esteem.
- Berlin, Germany: Always full of activities and excitement, I adore this diverse, hip metropolis.
- Chengdu, China: Sichuan cuisine, lower pollution and a manageable size, if I lived in China, this is the city I would pick.
Runners Up: Perry
- Oslo, Norway
- Tallin, Estonia
- Lijiang, China
- Hamburg, Germany
Perry & Paula's Least Favorite: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
While our trek in the Mongolian countryside was adventure travel beyond my wildest dreams and despite how much we loved the people of Mongolia, we just didn't feel much for the capital city. The pollution, the traffic, the run-down conditions, it's, um, a bit grim.
The Best & Worst of 2017: Experiences
Paula's Favorite: Trekking Mongolia
If you missed the short video I produced showing the beyond-words wild beauty of Mongolia, I implore you to check it out here. It was far and away the most exciting experience of the year.. and my entire life! If you liked the short version, watch the longer one, especially at the 15:08 mark where the beautiful faces of the people and cute baby animals are guaranteed to make you smile!
Perry's Favorite: Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge
Mongolia and Tiger Leaping Gorge are one and two on both of our favorites lists for a reason. The sense of rugged accomplishment, plus the exhilarating feeling of being in the middle of nowhere were memories-of-a-lifetime type stuff.
Runners Up: Paula
- Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge: This article was the most widely read on my blog in 2017, so much so, that I've earned a coveted first page on Google search results!
- Diverbo Language Camp (aka Englischausen): We switched up our second round of Diverbo from Spain to Germany and loved it just as much, maybe even more! We even got to meet up with folks from the program later in our travels!
- Walking the Great Wall of China: This is one of those places you need to see with your own eyes as it's hard to convey the scale of it in words. I was truly gobsmacked.
- Outings with Bob & Johanna: We met this dynamic duo from Sweden at our guest house in Dali where we had a memorable day hike on my birthday. We were fortunate to meet up several times after that- in Chengdu to sample Sichuan street food, in Beijing for Peking Duck, and a decidedly off-the-beaten-path dinner in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. However, we particularly enjoyed our stay in Sweden for fika (coffee breaks), killer falafel and a day trip to Ales Stenar (Sweden's Stone Henge).
- Cooking Classes: I took cooking classes in Bangkok, Tokyo and Mexico City and they were among the most fun experiences I had all year.
Runners Up: Perry
- Chocolate Milk Hunting in NYC: Some of the best he's ever tasted, discovering it while taking in the sights of Manhattan makes this a highlight for Perry
- Walking City Walls of Xian: This nine mile long square is forty feet up in the air and rings the ancient inner city of Xian for a uniquely memorable experience.
- Night Sky in Mongolia: One benefit of no electricity is the lack of light pollution which means you see more stars than you ever have before in your life. Truly awe-inspiring and a consolation when having to walk to the outhouse in the middle of the night.
Paula's Least Favorite: Eurostar Gare du Nord
Once again, we were lucky to avoid major travel trouble, but the one crappy episode that stands out in my mind is the day we spent in Paris before our train to London. It rained (not in the weather forecast) and made my feet wet and cold, causing massive blisters. Then, we stood in a chaotic and anxious crowd of people for two hours before being informed that our train was delayed an hour (causing us to miss our onward train to Peterborough and repurchase tickets at triple the cost). When the line finally started to move, we were held up by immigration once again, because our former UK residency visas still haven't been updated to 'leave' status in the system.
Eventually, we boarded the train only to discover my beautiful boots were completely ruined.
I'll try to remember Paris this way.
Runners Up: Perry & Paula
- Getting ringworm on my face in Japan (Paula)
- Having our Paris house sit fall through two days before we arrived
- Freezing cold apartment in Mexico
- Riga bus debacle
- Outhouses in Mongolia
- Train ride in sandstorm between China/Mongolia (Siberian express was cool, not the sandstorm)
The Best & Worst of 2017: Food
Best Meal: Sapporo Engine Miso Ramen
On the recommendation from the pianist we met at Cats & Dogs Jazz Bar in Sapporo, we knew it would be a meal to remember as we looked at each other after every bite to say 'OMG, what is this and why does it taste so good???'
- Mango Sticky Rice, Bangkok, Thailand: I couldn't get enough of this stuff and know that I will return to Thailand one day just to eat it. One of the best I had was also part of my Thai cooking class which was all supremely delicious.
- Sichuan Hot Pot, Chengdu, China: The first bite set my mouth on fire, but I kept going and I'm glad I did. The exotic variety of vegetables, noodles and meats that we dipped into the spicy hot pot, plus sharing it with someone who knew how to order was memorable meal perfection.
- Heuriger Nigl, Vienna, Austria: I can't thank Bill and Judy enough for sharing this experience with us. We tried loads of Austrian specialties washed down with a sublime Gruner Veltliner and finished the meal with desserts covered in custard. YUM!!!!!
- Khao Soi, Chiang Mai, Thailand: This northern Thai coconut curry noodle soup was so delicious, we ate it four times in ten days... and it only cost 40 baht or $1.22 USD per bowl.
- Katz Delicatessan Pastrami on Rye, NYC: I've wanted to visit Katz since I-don't-know-when (probably the first time I saw When Harry Met Sally), but it was worth the wait, crowds and $22. I didn't know pastrami could taste that good so excuse me while I reminisce about it and weep.
Worst Meal: Century Egg in Chengdu, China
We did a street food tour with Bob & Johanna, led by their hostel where we tried many wonderful delicacies... and one nasty one, a Century Egg, essentially an egg that's been buried until it becomes rotten, then dug up and eaten. See for yourself in this video... and this one!
It's been quite a ride, but despite a few (truly) minor inconveniences, I haven't lost sight of the bigger picture. We are doing exactly what we want, when we want, and the freedom to move as we are is something for which I am truly grateful. I would like to extend this gratitude to our friends and family for all of the support and encouragement (and beds and meals!) you've provided us.
I wish you all much peace, love and adventure in 2018!