Back to Life, Back to Reality – Home after 13 Months

Back to Life, Back to Reality – Home after 13 Months

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After 400+ days, 44 countries, 6 continents, we are finally back in the good old U.S.A. We landed on American soil on June 1st and made it back to our home in San Diego on June 11th. Since our return, we’ve been busy remodeling our kitchen and changing the flooring of our house. It’s been crazy but the end is in sight. I’ll soon be returning to patent attorney work and Diem will be beginning her real estate career. Our honeymoon was truly a trip of a lifetime and exceeded our expectations. It’s still a bit surreal being back but we’re excited to start settling in to our lives here.

I’m about 5 months behind on the blog posts but I thought I’d update my halfway blog post with some new experiences and answers. I’ll continue working through the backlog of pictures, cities, and adventures going forward and do my best to keep a consistent schedule. In the meantime, please enjoy and let me know if there are any more questions.

Lovely Angkor Wat, even better at sunrise

Favorite site/experience: Really tough one, but I’d have to say 1. The hikes we did in Norway (see here for the post) were absolutely gorgeous; 2. The sunrise balloon ride in Cappadoccia; and 3. Angkor Wat complex, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Huge area with ancient temples that each have their own character and charm. Honorable Mention to: the Fo Guan Shan Buddha Memorial, Kaohsiung Taiwan; the Sagrada Familia; the Pyramids of Giza; and Petra.

Worst/Disappointing Experience: Our experience in Fes, Morocco detailed here was definitely the worst experience we had on our trip. It left us with a bad impression of Morocco in general even though there are some beautiful parts of the country. Also, I’d have to say that Matsushima in Japan was definitely disappointing. It is supposed to be one of the Scenic Views of Japan and didn’t compare at all to the other 2 views. Also, Macau (see below).

Favorite City: 1. Cape Town, South Africa: Cape Each one of the wine country, Table Mountain, the Cape Pennisula, Great White Cage Shark Diving, the food, the people, and the beach could make Cape Town one of the great cities to visit. However, Cape Town has all of the above which easily made it our favorite city. We only spent 4 full days exploring and we definitely want to come back for more. 2. Hong Kong: the tall skyscrapers, the delicious food, and the beautiful views made this the city I really want to go back to; 3. Budapest: I was a little worried the city would let me down the second time we visited it but I could run along the Danube and stare at the Parliament Building, Buda Castle, Chain Bridge, and Fishman’s Bastion all day long. Not to mention Margaret Island, the City Park with the Vajdahunyad Castle, and the Szechenyi Thermal Bath. The food is also some of the best I’ve had and is really cheap for Europe.

Least Favorite City: 1. Fes, Morocco: As mentioned above, not only did we have a bad experience there with a particular individual but the market is so crowded and the people so aggressive, that it may have made this list even without our run-in. 2. Macau, China: Maybe if we had a couple of grand to blow it would have been a different experience but it was a pain to get to, a really hot day out, and the food we had there was terrible. The casinos were nice but the least expensive table games were about $50 USD a hand, no free drinks, and they only had a couple of table games that I recognized.

Sunrise in Borobodur, Indonesia

Favorite Country:  For me, it’s still Spain hands down. I love the culture there, the food is delicious, and it helps that I speak the language. I was surprised with how much I loved Norway though but we were only there in the summer so I don’t know if I would have the same answer when it is colder. Honorable mention to Cambodia (see Angkor Wat above); Vietnam (food); Indonesia (gorgeous sunrises over striking landscapes); and Australia (camping and Great Barrier Reef). So hard to narrow this list down because we had amazing experiences in almost all the countries we visited.

Least Favorite Country: 1. Morocco: We couldn’t get past how rude people were in Fes. However, we had an amazing time during our 2 day desert camel trek. 2. Finland: I just feel like Norway and Sweden have more beautiful capital cities and more beautiful nature. Granted, we didn’t visit the north of Finland or the archipelagos and I hear it is a great place to see the Northern Lights in the wintertime.

Delicious, colorful, and mostly healthy Vietnamese food

City with the best food: It’s probably better to consult Diem but she and I have some different tastes. She really enjoys Asian cuisine and while I like it too, the following are the cities that really stood out to me: 1. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon): Probably the craziest streets we walked on. The amount of motorcycles is insane but if you’re brave enough to cross the streets you’ll be rewarded with some of the best food in the world for under $3 USD. Diem had a field day with all the traditional Vietnamese dishes. I don’t know the names to all of them but the staples of Pho and Banh Mi were delicious. Every dish we tried had so much flavor and we made sure to eat our faces off during our stay. 2. Budapest: Not only is the goose liver at Comme Chez Soi one of the best bites of food I’ve had, but we also really enjoyed Zeller Bistro and there are a number of good spots at the market and other really reasonably priced restaurants. Ironically, the worst meal we’ve had in Budapest was the most expensive one at the 2 Michelin star Onyx (still a sore spot for me L). 3. San Sebastian: really delicious tapas (pintxos) for really reasonable prices. They go down easier with tasty sangria, Basque cider, or delicious Spanish house wine.

City with the worst food: Diem has done such a good job of finding great places to eat wherever we go so we really haven’t eaten too many bad meals. For my taste though, I may have to say Ireland in general. The food was a lot of meat and potatoes which was nice but nothing stood out. Diem would probably say India but I liked the food there.

Biggest regret: 1. Not planning ahead enough to do the Trolltunga hike in Norway. We were so close but yet so far away. 2. Not planning ahead enough to do the Camino del Rey hike in Malaga, Spain. 3. Not exploring Buenos Aires more. We were so jetlagged from our flight from New Zealand that we spent almost 5 days recovering / being lazy. We saw some highlights but missed out on a lot.

Lovebirds along the Great Ocean Road, Australia

What place are you most looking forward to? I think the places we want to visit next are Iceland and the Galapagos Islands. Diem also wants to visit Antarctica but I’m a little more hesitant to go.

How’s the budget going? We actually ended up spending around $57,000 for the 13 months. Almost $3,000 under budget. Diem did a great job of finding affordable accommodations and transportation which really helped us stay on budget.

Any Travel or Airbnb horror stories? Diem’s done a good job of making sure our Airbnb places have good reviews but our place in Gyeongju, Korea turned out to be a “love hotel” with a nice gift of condoms in the room. We also got a sweet 4 AM wake-up break-in from a small old Korean lady yelling at us in Korean telling us to pay money. We had to show her our Airbnb reservation and she left without much of an apology.

Our trip from Budapest to Kotor was probably the worst travel experience we had. We had an overnight train from Budapest to Belgrade where the cabin was nice but we were woken up at 1 AM and again at 2 AM for passport control. Belgrade train station and the surrounding area is pretty ghetto with buildings half destroyed. The train from Belgrade to Podgorica, Montenegro was really ghetto and we had a cabin to ourselves at first but eventually were packed in with other people and a bunch of kids for the last 3 hours. Then we had another 2 hour bus ride in a 12 person van where we had to stand in the aisle (Diem sat in the aisle) the entire time.

What did you miss the most? Our family, friends, and our dogs, in some order :P. Also, sleeping in our own bed and cooking in a fully stocked kitchen.

Jumping for joy in New Zealand, Mt. Roy hike




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Paul is a lawyer taking a mid-career break focused on capturing all his adventures during his yearlong honeymoon around the world.

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