Hop, Skip and the Final Jump Home
Trip Start May 15, 2004
60Trip End Jun 2007
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Well, when we think back to China, it does feel like a long time ago already. Then we think about all the things we've done and all the places we've been and realize that we've seen so much . Yet, now we are home and it already feels like we never left. All is back to normal. And, yes, we have enjoyed our life...
We've been home two weeks now and are only now getting this final update out to you. First a summary of our stops in Germany, Toronto and the small American town of North Collins. Then at the end, a few comments on our whole trip and a whole bunch of random stuff including: favorites, random numbers as well as a BEST/WORST list.
The Hop: 5 Days in Germany
All along our travels, the Germans we met were appalled that we were going to stop in Frankfurt for a few days. So we emailed our Winnipeg friends who are living in Leipzig to see if they were up for 2 stinky travelers to crash their flat. Although they'd be gone for the weekend running a marathon in another town, we would have the place to ourselves for a night before they got home and then get to hang out. We landed in Frankfurt and began our very own (train) marathon to Leipzig on a "weekend pass". 4 trains and 8 hours later we arrived in Leipzig slightly tired, remember, we'd just had a 12 hour night flight. Our next obstacle: call the neighbor of our friends to meet us and give us the key... Here is the first funny twist...
"The Meeting of Manitoba"
Rea was quite proud of herself, her German was returning faster than she expected and we not only called the key guy but also got directions as to how to find the church where we were to meet. We arrived at the church but still had no idea who we were looking for. Then Tim spotted a guy with a MANITOBA hat! We figured our Winnipeg friends must have given him the hat as a sign to us. So we approached and asked if he had our key. He was very confused and then broke into a smile after hearing our story and why we'd asked him if he had our key. He wasn't our key man but he was from WINNIPEG! Then his aunt and uncle came out of the church and they too were from Winnipeg. Since they were Mennonite and from Winnipeg, we played the "Menno Connection" game...(For those of you who aren't Mennonite, this is a normal conversation that Mennonites will have when they meet or get together and it is basically to see who you know in common. It can be particularly fun if you figure out you have relatives in common.) The results? As it turns out they are pastors of the church in Springstein where Rea's mom grew up, they were teachers in the same school division as Rea, they are related to Tim's family friends and Tim's boss (who by the way also once dated Rea's mom! Which we found out in a previous Menno Connection game years ago). It was good for a laugh but we still didn't have our key... Our key guy was a bit confused walking upon such a gaggle of tongue wagging Winnipegers but handed the key over and we were off in search of a warm meal, clean bed and shower.
We were glad our friends were away for the first night because we stank, our bags stank, our clothes stank and soon their apartment stank. We had 29 hours to deal with our appalling "souvenir" before they returned. We scrubbed the smells of Asia out of our skin as well as washed and aired out our belongings. So by the time our friends came back we were able to just hang out-stench free. They took us walking in this amazing and huge park that stretches through and around Leipzig. We spent the days checking out Leipzig while they were at work and then chatted the night away when they got home. It was great to see friends.
Leipzig was a fabulous city. The downtown area was gorgeous. We basically spent the days feasting our eyes on the buildings and a few museums and feeding our bellies full of German breads, candies, chocolate and pastries. Rea had been turning out tales of the great bakeries, chocolate and gummy bears since her last trip to Germany 11 years ago. After listening to her for all these years, Tim now agrees that their bakeries are great, chocolate the best but Gummy bears not so special. (Which is a sacrilegious statement in Rea's books. Do not be swayed: their gummy candies are AMAZING!)
After tracking down her exchange partner from 11 years ago, we were surprised to hear that she was only 50 km from Leipzig in the town of Halle. We headed out for the day and met up with Rea's old pal. She introduced us to her quaint university town where we got a tour of Germany's oldest chocolate factory. We walked around the downtown and ate the best ice cream we'd had all trip! We talked and talked, getting caught up on 11 years in 5 short hours before we had to go back to Leipzig. Tim liked his first experience of the German Autobahn.
We splurged for the train ride back to Frankfurt and bought tickets for the fast ICE train. We were excited to go 163 km per hour, making for a shorter 2.5 hour train ride back to Frankfurt. We checked out Frankfurt's old area and ate a classic German meal of schnitzel, frankfurter sausages, beans and fried potatoes. Oh, and also a stein of good German beer.
For Rea it had sort of been like returning to a slice of home. So many memories were tweaked by being back in Germany. Tim enjoyed his first real taste of Europe. He found himself feeling overwhelmed when people talked at him. "I need an adult" he'd whisper to me. It was the first time we were in a country where we looked the same as everyone around us but English wasn't the first language. Tim found that to be an adjustment. It was sorta like the opposite of India...now Rea, the German speaker, was in charge of everything.
With that we jumped on a plane and returned to Canada.
The Skip: Toronto and Skipping over the Border to the US
Our friend from the "Center of the Universe" (his name for Toronto, not ours), came and picked us up to give us a quick tour of town. That evening Tim's parents met up with us and we all went over to Tim's uncle's house for the evening. We spent 2 days hanging out with family (Tim's mom's side) and exploring the city. Rea had never spent a night in Toronto and was impressed with the Skydome and CN tower (though too pricey to go up) but was incredibly disappointed and almost embarrassed by the Ontario Science Museum (also the most EXPENSIVE museum we'd visited in the WHOLE world!) While Tim and his dad went to the football game, Rea and Tim's mom headed out for a little shopping therapy where Rea bought a pair of shorts that actually came in her size!!! (Not possible in Asia.) We were also chance passers-by of "Woof-Fest"--a once a year dog extravaganza in downtown Toronto. It was like gay pride parade for dogs with all the doggy tutus, hats and other colorful costumes. Very entertaining.
Then we hopped the border into the US to see Tim's grandparents in North Collins. (Near Buffalo) There was a family gathering where Rea finally got to meet Tim's Dad's side of the family--we've been married 5 1/2 years and it was the first time we'd been to visit! Just as Rea was beginning to figure out the family tree, names and who belonged to whom, it was time to go... Of course a trip to another country is never complete without a small adventure so we set out to explore a really pretty gully that Tim's dad played in as a child.
The Jump: The Final Destination--Home?
We got onto our plane for the final leg of the journey to head home to Winnipeg.
Current Status: Although we are now "home" in Canada we haven't quite made the full transition back to regular life. We are of "no fixed address" currently and virtually still living out of bags. Our stuff is all in storage and we still haven't slept in our own bed yet. Tim is already back at work in Baker Lake and Rea, being unemployed is busy in Winnipeg looking for jobs and a place to live. But we now have a phone you can reach us at! (We are no longer cell phone virgins.)
Reflecting on the trip?
Without a doubt it was one of the greatest experiences of our lives especially because it went better than we'd expected. Generally we were blown away by all the amazing people we met, cultures we learned about and places we saw. We weren't sure how it would change us but we had some interesting, random and odd revelations besides the fact that rice tastes better in Asia:
1. While Tim lost weight, Rea remained exactly the same despite puking her guts out in India. (For good giggle look back at the pictures of Tim in China--he's got a chubby face!)
2. We now prefer squatters as public toilets, especially when in China. We will also be less likely to slag gas station washrooms in Canada.
3. We will likely be more adventurous in cooking and eating and are looking forward to comparing the North American versions of all our favorites. We also look forward to eating meat at an Indian restaurant. Ahh....Canadian hygiene standards!!
4. We realize we can live with a lot less. But will we?
5. The world has too many people. We love Canada's emptiness.
6. Cell phones are not a luxury. They are everywhere. We plan to lose our cell phone virginity when we get home by buying our first ones.
7. Our biggest surprise: Tim picked up reading and Rea picked up writing...things neither of us enjoyed in these prior to trip.
8. Although looking forward to the odd McDonald's meal overseas as a familiar taste of home, we are now once again repulsed by it.
9. We need to explore more of our own country. It is embarrassing that we won't visit our own backyard on account of doing it "one day".
10. We feel like real travelers now. Especially because we couldn't stop thinking about where we'd like to go next....even though the first trip wasn't finished...
So, in this our final blog, we sign off....that is until the next journey where ever that may take us. We hope you've enjoyed our blog as much as we've enjoyed sharing it with you. Keep in touch!
Rea and Tim
New Zealand and the surprising one: Laos
Cities? (In no particular order.)
Sydney (the fav with so much to do and generally for just being nice), Beijing (for culture), Queenstown (it's a mini Banff), London (the museums and iconic places), Bangkok (fast food, movie theatres and air con for when we needed a break from Asia), Lhasa (for being different) and Leipzig (for the cool old buildings).
Places? (Also in no particular order)
Top 4: Hiking along the Great Wall of China, Walking up to Base Camp at Everest, Exploring Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and Hiking in New Zealand (in particular the Milford Sound Track)
Close behind: Snorkeling in Fiji, Diving in Malaysia, River Tubing in Laos, The British Museum, the Tongariro Crossing hike in New Zealand, and the thermal areas of New Zealand.
Days on the trip: 254
Dollars over daily budget: $2.01 over per day
Number of photos: 29.6 GIGS! (around 10 000 photos)
Number of flights: 27
Nights on a boat: 4
Number of countries: 13
Km Driven in Australia: 9000+
Pills taken: lost count after 600
Cheapest Beer: (China) 1litre =33 cents.
Most expensive water: Australia: 500 ml= $3.50 (= 10 beers in China...hmmm)
Nights with bedbugs: 3
Days with Barfing: 2 Rea, 0 Tim
Cheapest country: Vietnam daily avg: $56.20
Most expensive country: New Zealand daily avg: $170.56 (though Australia and Fiji were close seconds)
Most litres water drank per day: 7 L each in India
Cheapest meal: $1 breakfast for both of us to eat in Vietnam (eggs, baguettes, fruit salad, cheese, yogurt, coffee, and fresh squeezed juice.)
Cheapest Room: $4 (Vietnam)
Priciest Room: $107 (Sydney YOUTH HOSTEL!!!)
Best Food: Muslim Chinese Worst Food: Fiji (Tibetan is close second)
Best Hotel Room: Kata Palms in Thailand Worst Hotel Room: Overall worst rooms: Tibet. Rest of the world: Tie--Sawasdee in Bangkok due to bedbugs and Sunrise Hut in Fiji due to urine smell, mouldy thatch and insane mosquitoes.
Best Clear Water: Fiji Worst most disgusting water: Chinese rivers generally or the Ganges
Best Coffee: Germany Worst Coffee: Vietnam
Best Beer: China Worst Beer: India
Best Airport: Kuala Lumpur Worst Airport: Heathrow or New Delhi
Best Trains: China or Germany Worst Trains: India or Vietnam
Best Planes: Air New Zealand or Malaysian Air Worst Planes: Indian Air!!
Best Meal: Xi'an China--Muslim Chinese meat on a stick and pulled noodles. Worst Meal: Some place in Hue we walked out of in Vietnam. Tasted like playdoh.
Best (easiest) to travel: New Zealand Worst (most difficult) to travel: China (language barrier)
Best Beaches: Australia Wor st: Vietnam's beaches weren't as stunning as many others but they weren't bad at all. We really didn't see a beach we didn't like.
Funniest souvenir we didn't buy: