Croatia – July 2018 – Split & Roman Ruins

Our next main destination on this vacation was Split – a large coastal town known for its Roman ruins, beautiful waterfront, and proximity to a bunch of smaller islands. Split did not disappoint. The town itself is sprawling – encompassing not only the waterfront, but a large inland area as well – complete with multiple suburbs.

We stayed outside the city center, in an area that I’m sure was gut renovated post-war (there was an old gun turret at the end of our block that for some reason I completely forgot to take a picture of).

The place we stayed was good – on a nice quiet stretch of waterfront walkway (quiet enough that we didn’t hear the revelers when Croatia won the semi-finals of the World Cup).

Our main destination in Split was Diocletian’s Palace – right at the City Center waterfront. For my history nerds, this palace was built around the beginning of the 4th century BC as a Roman emperor retirement home. For my Game of Thrones nerds, the basement was used as the underground passages in Mereen.

The palace itself is interesting – not much remains of it but some outer walls and continuing excavation into its basement – which was laid out to mirror the upper floors. Some interesting rooms to explore down there, and good signage on history (thankfully history signage instead of television signage).

Nowadays, the upper street is a twisting warren of alleyways packed to the brim with shops, restaurants, religious houses, guest houses and apartments – good luck finding an address quickly.

Note: this is the first place we ran into where you have to pay to use the public restrooms – at a cost of 5 kuna.

After spending half the day wandering the alleyways of the palace, we hadn’t gotten our full Roman ruin fix, so we jetted out 5km or so to the suburbs and the ruins of Salona. This was a couple-hour jaunt in the direct sun, with of course not enough sunblock or water or hats or anything that would make the trip more comfortable. That would be silly – and waaaay too responsible. So we explored. And me in flip flops. Also had a mini version of one of our infamous death hikes through an olive grove looking for a more direct route back through the neighborhood we passed through (how weird would that be?!).

After our trek, we burger & beered and passed out early to prep for a day of island hopping.

Part 1 – Zagreb

Part 2 – Plitvice

Croatia – July 2018 – Plitvice Lakes

Today’s adventure took us from Zagreb to Split, with a few-hour detour in Plitvice Lakes for some light hiking and waterfall viewing.

The drive was really cool and I’m glad we rented a car instead of trying to take public transportation (which would have also been easy) or going with an organized tour bus (which sounds like hell).

The Croatian countryside is nuts – you’ve got everything from rolling hills and corn fields that reminds me of Ohio, to craggy mountains that look almost like the moon if not for the crazy little scrub trees (maybe cedar?) clinging on for dear life, to the clearest bluest water you’ve ever seen, to lush vineyards and olive orchards(?). The scenery truly runs the gamut.

If you ever have the chance to come to this part of the world, rent a car and take the old highways. You’ll see more in the next travel day post, but daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn it’s pretty. All of it.

Today’s travel was mostly on the luxurious new highway – but it’s not always clear when you’re on that (the old highway is freaking nice as well), and it’s pretty too – just with more overtly convenient to an American potty options.

Plitvice 

This is one of those must-see spots in Croatia, and there’s hot debate as to which National Park is better – Plitivce or Krka. Krka you can swim in, but I’d heard the waterfall viewing was even better in Plitvice – and we were driving right past it (turns out we drove past both).

So, Plitvice it was.

We sailed past Entrance 1 and my pre-planned route, and ended up at Entrance 2. Which turned out really cool because we got to take a short boat ride + a longer tram/bus thing ride at the end that looped us almost right back to the parking lot.

Pro tip: when you enter the park, there will more than likely be a hella long line of people waiting to get in. Don’t be one of those people – either hop out of that line and find the money changing/ticket counter, or – better yet – pay at the trailheads further on down. Much shorter line. Like an hour shorter.

On to the pretty:

A second perspective: the landscape photographer in his element, but tortured by people and a lack of tripod.

And that was Plitvice. We could have spent hours more there happily (especially in a lower season that wasn’t so crowded), but this trip gave us a feel for what we would like to come back to see – definitely low season, and a longer hike. This was a great starting point trek and there were spots when the crowds thinned a bit, so we could take more time in (moderate) silence to shoot what we wanted to shoot without getting jostled on the wooden walkways or crowded around if it was a particularly Insta-friendly vista.

Split took another hour or two to get to, and then we were rewarded with this seafront:

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Croatia Part 1 – Zagreb

Stay tuned for our exploration of Split + then some!

Croatia – July 2018 – Zagreb

Part One – Zagreb

This trip was different. DH and I both needed an escape from the “sandpit” (if you don’t know, we live in Doha, Qatar), and it’s oppressive over 100 degree (F) temperatures with random days of high humidity and/or sandy crunchy air thrown in for good measure, hectic work schedule (for him), and the overwhelming beige-ness that living in a desert brings. We wanted to visit somewhere that had a bit of city, a bit of (some form of) democracy, some pretty water, and some hiking amongst greenery.

Europe it was – despite July being peak season.

So, we packed off to Croatia for a week knowing absolutely zero about it. For me, I knew nothing other than Pinterest said it was pretty, the Dalmatian Coast is known for seafood, and it’s close to Greece. DH has been really busy with work lately and flew in blind. We both *thought* it was part of former Yugoslavia but didn’t *quite* know if our world history was correct – spoiler: it is, go public school.

I also purposely failed in planning this vacation aside from picking towns and procuring most of our accommodation, hence the different-ness of this vacation from all others where I’ve got the fun scheduled in.

I read a crap-ton of blogs, came up with bullet points for each town + a couple restaurant and cafe options for each + an alternate plan for each area, and let the winds take us where they may (in a structured guidepath).

And you know what?

I didn’t die.

I didn’t hyperventilate about not being able to see everything X city could possibly have to offer while DH throws a hissy about being pressured to see too much once. This has happened – most notably, when my A list plan for Scotland got changed and we didn’t get to see Skye (which I’m still unhappy about, even though we had a great time poking around Loch Ness).

I was fine.

And we did most things on the list, I think. Could have dealt with a bit more history and culture lesson, but that’s what the internet is for.

We stayed busy while shuttling off to bed at 8 or 9 each night. And we ate fantastic food, drank some killer local beer – and found some really neat spots along the way, with enough time spent in traffic one afternoon that we got to learn a little about the history of the place whose sheer abundance of beauty we’d been goggling at all week. Go, us! We weren’t rushed, we I didn’t over-plan, we weren’t stuffing food in our faces to eatitall, and although DH still needed a vacation from his vacation, we had a relaxed but still physically demanding (from walking) time.

Success!

On to the pics!

Zagreb

Zagreb is the capital of Croatia, and one of those really cool old European cities. You can see in spots it’s former communist past, but more than that – the buildings are beautiful, the streets are bustling, and the arts scene is vibrant. The food is also delicious, as it was absolutely everywhere we went while in Croatia – even the touristy areas.

 

Just a small selection of the great stuff we ate:

Most was definitely not paleo ;x.

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DH appreciating his beer while being a goof ❤

The plan for exploring Zagreb was loose. Walk around, see some shit, hit a market or two, make sure to make it to old town. Eat food. Drink beer.

Luckily, that’s easy to accomplish here – the streets are all pretty, the city is safe, and Google Maps works great everywhere.

This is what happens when you have two photographers in the family:

They capture different and sometimes better angles on the things you see. Which is perhaps the best part about having a dual-camera family.

Our home away from home in Zagreb, Lobagola B&B:

Lobagola was our favorite place we stayed during this trip. It’s clear that travel is important to the owners and they really know what amenities are appreciated while on the road. That, comboed with really cool art taste + a killer local guide/art history lesson, really comfy beds, and a focus on local and fresh foods for breakfast and you’ve got a great base from which to explore.

And that was Zagreb Pass 1 – we briefly visited Zagreb at the tail end of our trip, and stayed in a (slightly) different part of town – you’ll see a few more shots at the end of this trip.

 

Stay tuned for the next leg of our Croatia journey!

 

Cochin, Kerala, India

I was recently lucky enough to share a visa hop date with a girlfriend of mine here in Doha – who was ready for an adventure – and who also wanted to explore India. This was the first trip either of us had taken to the subcontinent, and the first trip we’d taken together – so we decided to opt for a 5-day “India light” trip by visiting Kochi/Cochin (spelling depends on who you ask) in the Southwestern state of Kerala.

Kerala is on the Malabar Coast, and is tropical with tons of shoreline on the Arabian Sea. This state is known for palm trees, backwaters, tea and coffee plantations, and lush wildlife. According to Wiki, the official language is Malayalam, the population is 34.8 million, and the average life expectancy is the highest in India at 74.9. Which is super interesting – while there, she and I marveled at just how many old people were wandering around in such great shape.

This area is also really culturally diverse, with Hinduism, Islam and Christianity as the largest religions and a blend of Aryan (South Asian), Dravidian (South Indian), Arab and European cultures. We saw quite a few religions represented during a whirlwind town tour – most notably Jewish, Catholic, Hindu, Jain, Krishna and Islam.

Cochin is a large port city, with a metropolitan population of 2.1 million. Called Queen of the Arabian Sea, this town was an important spice trading center from the 14th century on and has maintained close trade ties with the Arab world. It was the first Portuguese colony in India, and was ruled by the Dutch, British and Kingdom of Cochin. Nowadays, Cochin is the financial, commercial and industrial capital of Kerala, as well as home to the Indian Navy’s Southern Naval Command and state HQ of the Indian Coast Guard. Cochin/Kochi is a top tourist destination, and at least according to Wiki’s sources, by 2025 will be one of the global cities contributing 50% of the world GDP. Wiki How cool is that?!

Ok, enough nerding out and on to the pictures!

I’ve also posted four vlogs on the trip – 1, 2, 3, 4 – if you’re curious to see a bunch of video of tuk-tuk rides, backwater cruises, and amazing traditional dancers.

Before I even jump into the trip, let me just say that it started out with quite the bang. My girlfriend, Amanda, and I were given an unexpected upgrade to business on our Qatar Airways flight and we were giddy with excitement.

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Thanks, Qatar Airways – what a way to start an adventure!

On to Kochi.

Around Fort Cochin

We stayed in a guest house in the Fort Cochin area of Kochi called Greenwoods-Bethlehem run by a really sweet couple – Sheeba and Ashley. We chose this location because of the tours and amenities available (daily yoga, ayurvedic massage and cooking classes specifically), the fact that it had Wifi and air conditioning, and the reviews on Trip Advisor and Booking.com. We were led to believe that the couple really takes care of their guests – and the reviews were not wrong in the slightest. Both were really sweet, and Sheeba knew exactly what a couple of girlfriends wanted out of a vacation – her suggestions were always spot on! Plus: the breakfasts each morning were fantastic, and the tea in the evening was just the thing to help relax after a day of sightseeing. I would definitely recommend and would stay there again.

 

The neighborhood Greenwoods is located in is also prime, and most things we wanted to do or see were within walking distance (of course, it was hot and tuk-tuks are cheap (around 20 or 30 rupees or under 50 cents) and really persistent – so we ended up hitching a ride to most locations).

 

 

Most evenings, we found ourselves at one of the local + tourist hangouts – the area near Fort Cochin beach and Princess Street shopping district. This area was great – you’ve got the ferry terminal nearby, scenic Chinese fishing nets, a bunch of restaurants and cafes, a really cool kids park, and beachfront hawkers selling their wares.

 

We ate dinner in this area every evening but the last, and most of what we had was fantastic. My first meal in India was Chicken 65, a dish I’d just heard about on Ugly Delicious a food nerd show I was loving on Netflix (if you’re at all into food and culture – give it a watch – the episode examining fried chicken on a global scale was at once frustrating and fascinating and this show’s examination of the concept of authenticity is something that really got my brain going). But I digress (obvs. have we met?).

 

Backwaters Tour

 

 

We did a day drip excursion (set up by our lovely hosts at Greenwoods) to the Kerala Backwaters.

The Backwaters is a popular day trip from Cochin – they’re a chain of lagoons and lakes linked by natural and man-made canals that is fed by 38 rivers and encompasses about half the length of the state of Kerala. According to Wiki, a comparison can be made with the American Bayou – which I can kind of see. The parts we saw at least were less “pointy teeth monster infested swampland” and more “serene to the point of coma because you probably won’t be eaten”, but I can see the resemblance in the lushness of the surroundings and the mixture of salty and fresh waters. We saw part of the Valapattanam river (the Northernmost), a canal, then I believe Vembanad Lake – which is the largest in the area.

Our ride was one of the 2,000 kettuvallams (houseboats), which is a human-powered thatched roof wooden hull boat with a really shallow draft, and was traditionally used as a grain barge.

Tours exist that can take you out on a more extensive ride (overnight), but the trip we took was a day excursion – and, to be honest, was a couple hours too long for either of our tastes. It was definitely a relaxing journey, and with a different mix of fellow travelers (we had a raucous group of post-grads on holiday from other parts of India or abroad who stuck to themselves – only so loudly one couldn’t really talk over them), and a more engaging tour guide – we would have been sad to see the boat go. As it was, we were excited to get back on the road (and our pimp ride!) to start the couple-hour journey back home.

Around Town

Most of the rest of our visit was taken up by shopping, morning yoga, ayurvedic massages, and tuk-tuk rides around town.

 

Jew Town and Spice Market 

Jew town? Yep, that’s what it’s called – this area still boasts a Synagogue and lots of beautiful lace shops. The Spice Market was also pretty cool – it was Portuguese, then Dutch, then English, then Indian. Super cool, and has been turned into a womens’ collective / popular Tuk Tuk driver stop.

A note on that: In this part of the world (and I’m suspecting all of Southeast Asia), it is common for tuk tuk drivers to make extra stops when ferrying around tourists. You don’t have to buy anything at the markets/museums/shops they bring you to – and as long as you at least go in and have a look, the driver will get something in return (usually something like a kilo of rice, a beer, a snack, etc.). It’s not hurting you any – it takes 5 minutes to as long as you want it to (in Sri Lanka, our driver took us to cool workshops where we spent quite some time chatting with artisans and actually had to be collected by said driver or we’d be there happily all afternoon), and it helps the local economy. Plus: you’re spending next to nothing in your own currency for a ride; in my view, yes dude – make some extra cash. /end rant but really I could go on and on about the gig economy, tourism, and the like but will spare you – suffice it to say, I’m super happy to go along with the flow while on vacation, and if it’s a good driver (and not a pushy jerk), I will help them out as much as time allows. It makes my experience richer, and it’s a barely any effort way to directly impact someone’s family. Our Barbie Girl driver you’ll read about in a bit? He’s 1 month older than me, looked about a decade older, and has 3 kids. /end rant for real.

 

 

Tuk Tuk Tour

Our last day, we took a massive tour around the area to see all the highlight touristy sights – we hired a tuk-tuk driver who took us on a 2-hour tour around town for about $2 while loudly and enthusiastically singing “Barbie Girl” and “Who Let The Dogs Out?” and ended up adding an additional trip across the bridge to the Kerala Folklore museum for another $2 or so. I loved the whirlwind tour and was completely happy to see what people commonly visit while in town. Tuk Tuk drives around town were probably my favorite part of the whole trip – watching the world and normal life stream past from a bouncy, loud ride with the breeze in my hair was a great way to experience the area.

Museums

 

Churches and Temples

 

Some random pics I swiped from my girlfriend

 

 

Kathakali Dancers

The last thing we had time for on our journey was a Kathakali Dance. Man, I’m glad we made time for this – it was certainly one of the highlights of the trip.

Kathakali (Wiki) is one of the major forms of traditional Indian dance and is indigenous to Kerala. Not unlike Japanese Kabuki theater, this style of storytelling includes beautiful costuming, face painting, no spoken dialogue, and an all-male cast. Dancers spend 6 years(!) learning their craft, and it really shows. What they can do with their eyes and convey with their faces and subtle body language is stunning. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me, and I’d go back for another viewing in a heartbeat. If you want to see more, check out the fourth and final Cochin Vlog on my YouTube channel. Super cool.

 

And that was our 5-day girlfriend visa hop trip. Simply put, Kerala was fantastic and somewhere I’d visit repeatedly. I can’t wait to see more of this vibrant and diverse land!

Sydney Pictorial – Part 3 of 3

This holiday season, I lucked up bigtime and won a door prize at a holiday party – one free ticket anywhere Qatar Airways flies. Qatar airways flies to over 150 places as of the time of this post (with more being added almost monthly). I could have chosen pretty much anywhere, but settled on checking out the home of a bunch of my new friends – Sydney, Australia.

Things didn’t mesh up with DH’s schedule (or desire for a 14-hour flight), and I found myself on one hell of a visa bounce – an 11-day Grand Adventure to a hemisphere and country I’d never been to.

This trip was fantastic. I absolutely loved Sydney, and had a splendid time getting in 20 – 30,000 steps a day, eating as little or as much as I wanted, sleeping in a schedule that made little sense, and speaking to no humans unless I really wanted to.

Sydney itself feels like a cross between New York City, Seattle and the California beaches – lots of big buildings, lots of beautiful coastline, a bustling maritime life – and of course, beaches (and that laid back beach life) aplenty.

Since I saw a bunch and took a ton of shots, I’ll be splitting the pictorial into 3 parts. This is the last installment – part 3.

Part 1

Part 2

Thursday, February 1

Today was my big beach walk. I hopped a bus to Bondi Beach, then set out for Coogee Beach via the Coastal Walk.

Famous surfer paradise Bondi Beach
The Instagram famous Iceberg Club pool 
Love me a rocky beach
I had almost forgotten that this particular shade of sea blue used to be one of my very favorite colors as a kid. It’s a weird shade, so not one I’d generally say when people asked, but it was. That and the Crayola crayon color Cadet Blue 
How pale girls do the beach
Another ocean pool 
I could watch this all day
Salt air and booming waves does my heart good 
Watching the waves crash never gets old 
What a seaside eternal resting place! 
I much prefer rocky beaches to sandy beaches 
This looks so cool 
The underwater trail is down there 

I think this was my favorite part of the trip – I may hate going to the beach and may refuse to swim in the ocean, but I loooooove the coast. The salt, the noise, the immensity of the ocean – love it all.

On my way to Target and I was so HYYYYYYYYYYYPE
I almost cried. Legit brought tears to my eyes. All my dreams of leggings, Uggs (which were for sale on every freaking corner and even in some pharmacies) & PSLs (pumpkin spice latte) were dashed. DASHED, I tell you. 

After my beach walk, I was super stoked to check out Target – Target is on the short list of things I really and truly miss from the US – and I almost cried when I discovered that Australia Target is not the magical basic bitch playground as the ones at home. This one felt more like (old school) Big Lots than Target – the lighting was sad like at some Burlington Coat Factories, the shelves were too short for the space, the goods looked kinda off, and the whole place looked kinda dingy. I was so sad.

Friday, February 2

Escape the city! I took the 2-hour train ride to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, and did a super light amount of “hiking” – electing to only see Echo Point and the Three Sisters and head home.

Echo Point – Heeeey … looks kinda like NC’s Blue Ridge Mountains
1 of 3 Sisters

2 of the Three Sisters
The Katoomba rail station

Walked to Finger Wharf and stumbled on some more Navy

Finger Wharf 
Surprise Navy
Wandering back because apparently I was allergic to the Metro on this trip – that, and everything was a 20 – 40 minute walk away and I had all the time in the world. 

And had dinner next to the Opera House – right in time to catch the sunset light show.

Sunset light show telling some sort of Aboriginal history of Australia story 

Saturday, February 3

My last full day in Sydney.

I wanted to make the most of it and hit as many neighborhoods and markets as possible.

I did the Farmers Market in Carriageworks

Yep, this was every bit as hipster and as cool as a friend of mine had said. She was right: looooved it! 

Hit Oxford Street for the Paddington Market, and unfortunately completely forgot to document it.

#photographyfail

Wandered Newton

Another hipster area of town – loved this one too 
This railing style was absolutely everywhere
Sometimes I feel like … I don’t have a partner … Sometimes I feel like … My only friend. …It’s the city I live in …. The city of Angels … 

Hit the Fish Market for lunch

Not pictured: Octopus on a stick and a huge scallop mornay 
Finally got to take the Light Rail somewhere! It’s the replacement for an old trolley car system. 

Did the craziness that is Paddy’s Markets in Haymarket

After first wandering through Chinatown 

Paddy’s Market is like a flea market met random shipping containers from China. Lots of jumbled stuff – everything from elephant trunk looking banana sling style wang holders to Australia paraphernalia, to leather goods, to Thai pants and other summery wear, to heaps and heaps of bags  

And took a looooooong walk through Darling Harbour, Barrangaroo, and up to Circular Quay in the evening.

Walked from my hotel in Haymarket to Darling Harbour – 19 minutes, then around the edge of the Harbour 

To Barrangaroo (a new yuppie shopping, luxury apartment and business district that reminded me of lower Downtown Manhattan)
Stumbled upon a free concert in the park 
Set my sights on Circular Quay and the ferry – another 20 minutes or so away 
Another cool wharf with theater and dining options aplenty 

A convict that came through Hyde Park Barracks made this – this arrow is the symbol they stamped in everything 
Back to the Quay and to the lie of a metro ride home. This station was closed for maintenance, so it was up the hill (grumble) for a free connector bus back “home”. 

Sunday, February 4

Only half a day! I hit The Rocks to catch that craft market one last time

❤ this part of town
Under the Bridge and Up. Another. Hill. 
Ok, fine, the climb was worth it. 

The Observatory
Go, Science! 
The telescope
Back down to a less touristy part of The Rocks

Finally made it to the Observatory and learned more about *why* and how Australia was discovered

And took a little time to wander as much as I could on the way back to Central train station to grab the bag I’d stashed that morning.

Last lunch in Sydney – grabbed a porchetta/kale salad/extra fatty garlic dressing salad from a fast-casual make your own bowl joint and headed to the Botanic Garden for a nice view of the water (with shade!). Didn’t even mind the couple tiny ant bites I earned. 
Government House – I strolled the grounds, but the only way to see the building was by tour and I couldn’t be bothered 
Walked past the Custom House and was curious – turns out, it’s a super cool library/coworking space/public hangout spot 
With an awesome scale model replica of the city in the floor 
Walked by General Assembly’s Sydney branch in hope of fast Wifi and to check out the digs — it was closed. Whomp, whomp
One last trip over the Darling Harbour bridge
The last legit street art I’ll see in awhile 
So cool! 

THen it was off to the airport and on a 14-hour flight home.

Kinda sad I missed Chinese New Year in Sydney 
I got to sit on the upper level. Recommend highly – felt like I was in a much smaller plane.
Home again. 

Sydney Pictorial – Part 2 of 3

This holiday season, I lucked up bigtime and won a door prize at a holiday party – one free ticket anywhere Qatar Airways flies. Qatar airways flies to over 150 places as of the time of this post (with more being added almost monthly). I could have chosen pretty much anywhere, but settled on checking out the home of a bunch of my new friends – Sydney, Australia.

Things didn’t mesh up with DH’s schedule (or desire for a 14-hour flight), and I found myself on one hell of a visa bounce – an 11-day Grand Adventure to a hemisphere and country I’d never been to.

This trip was fantastic. I absolutely loved Sydney, and had a splendid time getting in 20 – 30,000 steps a day, eating as little or as much as I wanted, sleeping in a schedule that made little sense, and speaking to no humans unless I really wanted to.

Sydney itself feels like a cross between New York City, Seattle and the California beaches – lots of big buildings, lots of beautiful coastline, a bustling maritime life – and of course, beaches (and that laid back beach life) aplenty.

Since I saw a bunch and took a ton of shots, I’ll be splitting the pictorial into 3 parts. This is Part 2. Stay tuned for the rest!

Part 1

Monday, January 29

Today, I went on the hunt for new hiking shoes in the CBD (Central Business District) and the open and closed-air malls populating the area – finally settling on a pair of minimalist barefoot runners from Merrell. Highly recommend these shoes if you hate bulk, love flexibility, but also need at least a touch of padding. I wore these exclusively for the rest of the trip – did 20 – 30,000 steps on pavement every day, and was comfortable.

Down a random alleyway that caught my eye
Windows in the Queen Victoria Building (an upmarket mall)
QVB skylight
World Center open/not-so-open shopping center. I spent a lot of time here – my favorite grocery (Coles) was in the basement, it was 2 blocks from the hotel, and my favorite burger place (Grill’d) was just out of shot to the right. 

Tuesday, January 30

Back down to Circular Quay and on a ferry to Taronga Zoo.

It’s on all the Sydney imagery for a reason
Someone had a sense of humor – this was in the reptile house
Look at that view! The giraffes are actually losing their view soon – they’re relocating within the park 
This is Mr. Alpha Male who saw a lone female on his way to picking up some groceries one of the keepers had just tossed out telling me what’s what — right before he walked to the next window and gave it high spin kick to drive his point home. I get it. You’re a badass. Not interested in joining your harem. 
Watch out for those famous Australian Drop Bears 
Tons of birds – wild and non – in this park 
You can’t really get away from stunning views at the Zoo 
Reminds me of Key West 
Even big kitties need a nap 
I know … more view. 

A friend of mine had said that if I happen to have any unscheduled time, hop a ferry and go where it takes you. I took her advice and headed to Cockatoo Island – I was not disappointed. This is kind of like Governors Island in NYC, but with onsite camping and a much richer history (convicts, a girls school, shipping center, military – the whole lot).

From the ferry 
Ferry views 
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From the shipyards on Cockatoo Island
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You can camp on the island as well – everything from these little tent sites to a B&B type situation 
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You know me and some good old fashioned industrial decay – ❤
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More tent camping

Then it was back to Circular Quay and to the Opera House for some golden hour exploration.

Wednesday, January 31

Walked down to the Botanic Garden and Mrs. Macquaries Seat, with a stop first at the Hyde Park Barracks Museum. If you ever have the chance to visit Sydney, I highly recommend this museum detailing the city’s convict and refugee past. Lots of artifacts really lovingly displayed and some really great stories to go along with them. A must see!

Layers of history told in color stories
So. Freaking. Cool. 
Fascinating to see what these women had with them to start a new life on an uncertain continent 
If you are ever in Sydney, GO TO THIS MUSEUM. You will not be disappointed. 

Prisoners’ hammocks 
Botanic Garden 
Busy bees in the wildflower garden
This type of pockmarked rock formation was all over Sydney – both in town and in the Blue Mountains
The Macquaries were a huge deal to early Sydney 
I couldn’t resist 

I also took the ferry out to Watson’s Bay to see The Gap (the entrance to Sydney Harbour) and the Lighthouse.

Waiting patiently

Part 3

Sydney Pictorial – Part 1 of 3

This holiday season, I lucked up bigtime and won a door prize at a holiday party – one free ticket anywhere Qatar Airways flies. Qatar airways flies to over 150 places as of the time of this post (with more being added almost monthly). I could have chosen pretty much anywhere, but settled on checking out the home of a bunch of my new friends – Sydney, Australia.

Things didn’t mesh up with DH’s schedule (or desire for a 14-hour flight), and I found myself on one hell of a visa bounce – an 11-day Grand Adventure to a hemisphere and country I’d never been to.

This trip was fantastic. I absolutely loved Sydney, and had a splendid time getting in 20 – 30,000 steps a day, eating as little or as much as I wanted, sleeping in a schedule that made little sense, and speaking to no humans unless I really wanted to.

Sydney itself feels like a cross between New York City, Seattle and the California beaches – lots of big buildings, lots of beautiful coastline, a bustling maritime life – and of course, beaches (and that laid back beach life) aplenty.

Since I saw a bunch and took a ton of shots, I’ll be splitting the pictorial into 3 parts. This is Part 1. Stay tuned for the rest!

Thursday, January 25

This was mostly a travel day. Bye, Doha!

This was my home for the duration of my trip – Space Q hotel (hostel) in Haymarket (the Thai/Chinese area of town).

This place was really cool. The location couldn’t be beat – I was 20 – 30 minutes from pretty much anything I wanted to do, and blocks from Central Station and it’s trains, buses and light rail.

Friday, January 26 

Australia Day! I woke up and headed to Circular Quay to see the festivities, wandered The Rocks a bit, and headed over the Sydney Harbour Bridge to catch the Australia Day Harbour Parade.

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Ship racing from the Sydney Harbour Bridge
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The conclusion of the Tall Ship Race 

Australia Day was cool. The whole city was decked out in Australia and Aboriginal flags, music was everywhere, street food was flowing freely, and the general atmosphere was one of a big party. Since I’ll miss my own country’s celebration day, it was great to take part in somewhere else’s.

Saturday, January 27

I woke up super late, wandered around downtown a bit trying to figure out what I wanted to do, decided to point my feet toward Darling Harbour and checked that out, went to the Sea Life Aquarium, wandered over to the Queen Victoria Building juuuuust as everything was closing (as I was discovering, much to my American chagrin/mild outrage, almost every damn thing barring restaurants and bars closes by 7pm), and decided to drown my lack of shopping options sorrows at this really cool viking bar I’d heard about on Facebook – Mjolner.

Hyde Park 
Super cool doorway on Elizabeth Street
Elizabeth Street
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Darling Harbour
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These guys were a big constant everywhere I went in Sydney
Cool sea stars
Fairy Penguin
Queen Victoria Building – Syndey, whyyyyy with the early closing?!?! Super frustrating for Americans! (I’ve since been told that Australia values work/life balance highly – which is actually something we should all aspire to. Just super frustrating when you’re used to everything being open late!)
Mjolner was amazing. The cup holds a fat-washed something alcoholic with gold sherbert paint on the outside. I had a short rib trencher and couldn’t finish half. 
The ferris wheel in Darling Harbour. Darling Harbour was a little tourist trappy for my taste, but was jam-packed with restaurants, shopping, the aquarium and other touristy things to do, a cool maritime museum I didn’t get to see, the convention center, and really high caliber street performers. I spent a fair amount of time here. 
Floaties in Darling Harbour

Sunday, January 28

I hopped down to Circular Quay and onto a ferry to Manly Beach. Walked that beach a bit, hopped the ferry back, decided I wasn’t done and hopped another ferry to Milson’s Point to check out Luna Park – which was cool, looks a crazy amount like the Luna Park in Coney Island (for good reason – it’s modeled after it), headed back to The Rocks to check that museum out and learn more about Sydney’s early history, walked the craft market going on there, grabbed Korean bbq on the way back to the hotel, and called it a night.

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The Sydney Harbour Bridge from the ferry
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Pulling into Manly Bay
Manly Beach – super crowded the day I went (I think there was some sort of kids surfing or other water sport thing going on), but full of cute little beach shops and restaurants. 
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The beach
From the ferry. The ferry system in Sydney is robust, convenient, and provides a great way to see the city. 
The Opera House looking all cinematic
Yes – this is a *lot* like the one in Coney
In fact, it was modeled after it. 

Part 2

Part 3

National Cruise Dhow Boat Tour

I recently had the opportunity to join a bunch of fellow Doha bloggers on a fantastic sunset dinner dhow boat cruise from The Pearl, past the Katara cultural village, the stunning skyscrapers downtown, West Bay and almost to the Museum of Islamic Art at Doha Port.

This trip was sponsored by the only dhow boat cruise operating out of The Pearl – National Cruise and coordinated by the woman who runs a really cool and useful blog I’ve used as a resource time and time again – New In Doha.

The boat we were on was stunning – if I remember correctly, the gentleman that gave the safety rundown said it was hand made out of Teak and can be configured pretty much however you want with a few hours’ notice. The cabin is also air conditioned, which was really appreciated since the day was warmer than most of us had prepared for. We were also treated to a buffet catered by the Four Seasons, and all the fresh juices and water we needed to stay hydrated and happy.

The A/C was great and all, but we spent sunset lounging on the upper level deck, which was decked out in fine carpets and textiles in a relaxed seating lounge area.

 

Apparently I’m also a photog failure and took exactly zero pictures of this gorgeous boat. The wood grain was beautiful, and the sweeping lines were really charming. Plus, it’s been outfitted with completely modern electronics and all the safety bells and whistles – something pearl divers of old would probably have appreciated a bunch.

Also on the “I’m a failure as a photog” front – I was starving and took no pics of the food … and too busy eating to try and capture the skyline at night. Looks like I have an excuse to book another cruise with the DH. 🙂

I had a fantastic time getting to know my fellow local bloggers, learn a bit from a really talented local photographer (shoutout to Najla Nabil Photography), and partake in a really cool “only in Doha” experience that I can’t wait to share with friends and family!

The Big Move – NYC, USA to Doha, Qatar

I’ve started and re-started this post about a thousand times and have zero idea what I’m actually going to say about something that has taken up so much of my internal life for so long, and something that I’ve done pretty much nothing but pour all of my energy into for for months and months and months. Now that the move itself is over, and life has returned to (a new) normal, 1000% surprising for me (as a freaking writer who can be waaaaaaaay too in their own head and self-reflective), I find myself grasping for the words to describe this move in any sort of meaningful way.

Hmmmmmm ….

If you’ve been here awhile, you may remember that I recently started a YouTube channel with the express intent of keeping friends and family (you all included) updated on the move, the process of picking up and moving ones life across the globe, and the adventures I find when I get where I’m going.

Well, I’m where I’m going (for now). To keep up with more daily/weekly life kind of content, visit my channel here: Gastography on YouTube  I post 2 videos a week – Tuesdays, I aim for some sort of tour or showing you all something neat (this week was a tour of the new place); Fridays, I post a weekly wrapup of things I’ve accomplished or what has happened. This Friday will be a Doha Week 1 post. I’ll 100% ramble. As I do.

This space I intend to keep relatively the same. My POD (Picture Of the Day) posts keep me grounded, and sharing recipes with you all is something I love doing and hope to get back into the swing of creating and sharing. It also helps that when I’m posting recipes regularly, I’m also eating healthy. Need to do that. I also look forward to sharing mini pictorials with you all from around town as well. I’ve not been inspired to create those in awhile and really hope that this change of location will spark that fire again because I miss it.

As for the move ….

A lot of changes have happened in my life in the last two months. Changes that have been percolating for a few years, simmering since last year, and really getting going full-force since mid-summer. Since the beginning of the year, DH (for those of you that are new, DH is my Darling or Dearest Husband) and I:

  • In February, moved boroughs from our beloved Brooklyn out to the wilds of Staten Island
  • Dealt with that move and all the drama it created in our lives. This “new normal” adjustment period was rough – the logistics were a whole other level of difficult (for those of you that don’t know, Staten Island is a borough of New York City – that’s only accessible by Ferry or by bus/car. It has internal and limited train service, and to get anywhere I wanted to go in Manhattan or Brooklyn took at least an hour there and an hour back). The culture clash between our beloved neighborhood and new neighborhood was challenging to navigate, as was the emotional turmoil brought on by no longer living in an area of town we’d built a comfortable and easy life in
  • Made some awesome new friends and built a nice little social life in our new home
  • Went through a crazy rollercoaster of will we/won’t we get the job opportunity that will move us across the planet
  • Dealt with aaaaaaaaalll that. This was also rough and fraught with drama
  • Got the final final final go-ahead that this move was happening
  • Threw ourselves into the huge amount of planning an international move requires (me mostly and at super helpful times like 3am when I should be sleeping)
  • Dealt with a sick dog and the worry that caused
  • Went through a whole yo-yo process with his health – he seemed sick, then fine, then sick, and we ultimately lost him to a fast-acting cancer
  • Had zero time to deal with that – and had to go through that process separately, since DH had already made the jump
  • Traveled to visit family and friends, renewing relationships and taking time to bask in the familiar
  • I at least completely jacked my sleep schedule up in this process. Turns out that I don’t sleep so well without a DH and pupper to share the bed with – I also had a lot of different beds and locations to try and fall asleep in (plus a lot on my mind), so that didn’t help
  • We both also quit even attempting to eat healthy. I crawled into a carb and have yet to crawl completely back out – my body misses green vegetables and my pants size is screaming for a cease-fire from fries and sweets
  • In the process of this past 10 months of constant change, I’ve also quit working out. This is no bueno, and something I need to return to post-haste. I’m starting to get winded from climbing stairs or mall walking
  • DH and I spent about 6 weeks apart – he setting things up here and getting used to a new job + new country + new schedule; me wrapping our life up in the US, shipping things over to him, and jettisoning 98% of our possessions — if you are interested in what we brought or how to possibly start getting rid of your own pile of “stuff”, check out the YouTube channel. I detailed what we packed and what we got rid of there.

And those are the major highlights. The only constant this past year (and really, the year before it) has been change and I’ve really felt myself growing into someone who doesn’t immediately panic in the face of it anymore – which is totally good for me, but a different state of being. I suppose that’s part of why I don’t have a deep well of allthefeelings to pour onto the page about this big move — it’s just one more bump I’ve driven over this year. Maybe with age, I’m becoming more relaxed? More go-with-the-flow? I’d say more nihilistic, but that’s hard to imagine. I suppose moreso with the small things in life that really used to get under my skin.

It’s not that I didn’t spend a whole wellspring of energy freaking the F out about logistics involved in moving, just that I consciously chose to focus that anxious energy on tiny nitpicky things (like the availability of toilet paper in a bidet-using country and making sure my DH was stocked with creature comforts like familiar condiments) instead of the larger identity-related issues like the nature of home and country and nationality and dwelling on the loss of my fur baby love.

I suppose in time I’ll finish unpacking all that internal sturm and drang and I’ll have some lengthy exposition posts on it all.

As always, thanks for listening. I feel like I’ve done a crap job at explaining this whole move, and have talked about it so many times with so many people individually that I have a 0% chance of remember who all I’ve spoken to while in what process of this whole thing + the content of what we spoke about. Including you guys. Questions? Leave a comment below.

Now back to our regularly-scheduled food-related content.