A New Tradition I Wholeheartedly Endorse

In the last month, I’ve met up with friends traveling through London–Leila, one of my keep-moving-or-die kindred spirits, and Karl, who was touring with his band from Iceland, Arstidir. They both surprised me with chocolate from places they’ve visited. This is a new tradition I wholeheartedly endorse. Come visit me in London and bring me your local chocolates as offerings. I am a benevolent queen and shall accept them with grace.


Estonian milk chocolate on top, Icelandic milk chocolate with hazelnuts on bottom.

They were delicious.

Slovenia by the Numbers

Lakes circumnavigated on foot: 1

Lakes jumped in mid-circumnavigation: 1

National poets side-eyed for their choice of muse: 1

Fancy breed horses that rebuffed my attempts to pet them: 4

Entertaining guided tours taken: 2

Picturesque castles viewed from a distance: 5

EU-wide award-winning ice creams tasted: 2

Attempts made to take this one special elevator to a club in Ljubljana, only to have the elevator stop a floor below the right one every time: 5

Mini-waterfalls admired: 2

Total days spent in Slovenia: 6

Total money spent: $361

Average per day: $60

Times I said, “Seriously, so beautiful” out loud: It basically became my catchphrase

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Japan by the Numbers

High-speed trains whisked away on: 6

Temples visited: 20+

Wedding processions stumbled upon: 2

Bill Murray homages performed: 1

US Navy bases visited: 1

Perfectly planned gardens appreciated: 15

Perfectly planned gardens found wanting: 1

Traditional performances attended: 3

Schoolkids who made me part of their project: 17

New foods consumed: 23

New foods enjoyed: 21

Beatles cover bands watched: 1

Intimidatingly fashionable teens seen on the street: hundreds 

Total days spent in Japan: 20

Total money spent: $1,254.60

Average per day: $62.73

Total money spent, minus the rail pass: $629

Average per day, minus the rail pass: $31.45

Gratitude I have for my many hosts: boundless

Fun fish for Children's Day

Children’s Day banners in Kawagoe

Laos by the Numbers

New friends made over a big do-it-yourself hot pot meal: 3

Pick-up badminton games observed: 8

Laotian wedding karaoke performances stumbled upon: 1

Meals that made me cry from the spice level: 1

Bears seen playing in the bear rescue center: 2

Bears seen napping through the heat in the bear rescue center: 4

Monks and novices spotted: 56

Conversations with novices: 3

Boats used for transportation: 4

Buddha statues seen: 4,034

Total days spent in Laos: 10

Total money spent: $562.79

Average per day: $56.28

Total money spent, minus gifts: $341.04

Average per day, minus gifts: $34.10

Shifts volunteered at Big Brother Mouse: 3

Meals shared with students from Big Brother Mouse: 1

Total days I could easily have spent in Laos, given more time: 40

Good morning!

Good morning!

Thailand by the Numbers

Attempts to say ‘thank you’ in Thai before I got remotely close: 23

Attempts to bargain at night markets: 8

Successful attempts to bargain at night markets: 5

Elephants hand-fed: 10

Baby monkeys cooed at: 1

Fruit shakes consumed: at least 30

Laundry I washed myself during my six weeks in the country: 0

Meals I cooked myself during my six weeks in the country: 2

Oceans fearlessly kayaked in: 1

New fruits tasted: 5

New favorite fruits: 5

Meals that introduced a whole new meaning to the word ‘spicy’: 3

Total days spent in Thailand: 44

Total money spent: $2,947

Average per day: $67

Total money spent, not including airfare: $2,802

Average daily cost, not including airfare: $64 (yes, that is much more than many backpackers spend while there, but I got a lot of gifts and some comfortable private rooms, not to mention a week with the elephants, on that budget)

Pools, rivers, and oceans swum in: 3

Wats (temples) visited: countless

Times I tired of admiring the symmetry and detail of a Thai wat: never

Wat Po

Wat Po in Bangkok

New Zealand by the Numbers

Hot spring rivers frolicked in: 2

Sights that made me say “wow”: at least 12

Sheep spotted: ~100,000

Cows spotted: ~80,000

Glaciers hiked: 1

Couches surfed: 8

Times I had no idea what vowel a Kiwi was using while talking: at least 9

Concussions sustained: 2

Road trips enjoyed: 3

Radio stations picked up on entire 8 weeks in the country: 2

Times I heard the inexplicably popular song “Maneater” on those radio stations: 9

Number of different tracks off the 12-track “Jagged Little Pill” I heard on those same radio stations: 6

Total days spent in New Zealand: 55

Total money spent: $3,965

Average per day: $72

Christmas carols sung at full volume while driving through the mountains: 8

Carols we knew more than the first verse to: 0

Dolphins swum with: at least 30, possibly more; magic is hard to quantify

milford blues

Australia by the Numbers

Miles traveled: ~6,030

Kilometers traveled (after all, it’s the unit of measure here): ~9,800

Methods of transport used: 5

Times an Aussie actually said “G’day, mate”: 0

Times an Aussie called me “mate”: at least 10

Times I heard the unofficial anthem “Livin’ on a Prayer”: 16, or that’s as high as I counted before I started crying as a stress response to hearing it

Days spent in medical care: 15

Sweet treats purchased after visiting doctors: 6

Possessive wallabies admired: 1

Wild kangaroos spotted, ever so briefly: 1

Parrots permitted to perch on my head: 1

Wild koalas spotted: 3

Wild penguins spotted: 8

House pets befriended: 3

Total days spent in Australia: 69

Total money spent: $6,098

Average per day: $88

Total money spent, not including airfare: $4,573

Average daily cost, not including airfare: $66

Germans encountered: ~10,000

Brits encountered: ~8,000

Americans encountered: 3

Days spent feeling sorry for myself and my sick body: 6

Days spent enjoying myself and feeling very fortunate indeed: 63

Lifelong dreams achieved: 2

kangaroo sign

New Year’s Celebrations Check-In

Hello, dearest fellow travelers! How are your New Year’s Celebrations coming along? Eight months of the year have come and gone, so while the magazines are already moving from guilting you for your bathing suit body to guilting you for your imminent holiday gluttony, I propose we go back and review our much more fun lists of activities we knew we’d enjoy in the year 2011. Here’s a recap of the concept:

“[With New Year’s Resolutions,] soon every decision becomes a negotiation, every moment a cost/benefit analysis. It’s mentally exhausting to live in a near-constant state of trade-offs.

“Thus, New Year’s Celebrations are totally free of cause and effect. You don’t go see that iO show as a reward for going 30 days smoke-free; you go because you have a free night and $12 and it sounds like fun. These are no-strings-attached things to do. The list is just a reminder of all the ways you love to have fun, a handy reference for whenever you might have cause to use it and celebrate the fact that you are alive.”

Here were mine. I’ve put a strikethrough the ones I’ve done this year, and I’ve added some new ones as well.

  • Spend an entire day at the beach
  • Spend an entire day reading
  • Visit a museum I’ve never been to before, like the DuSable or the NMMA
  • Eat a peach (and play a good album)
  • Say “yes” to a random invitation when I have plans to do something more dull
  • Visit the Garfield Park Conservatory when it’s cold outside, all the better to enjoy the tropical interior
  • Drink a beer chosen by the bartender at Quenchers
  • Lose my voice singing along to a mix CD of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals
  • Learn how to sing harmony on a Girlyman song
  • See a band in concert I’ve never heard before

What about yours? Got any new ones? Any that you’re happy to have done?