Although Ireland was our last full stop on the round-the-world itinerary, we took a rather circuitous path home that let us see a few friends in France along the way. After flying from Dublin to Paris, we took the train north to Lille/Hantay to see Betty (aka Laurie), Löic and their two adorable girls, Nyah and Maelyn. A huge thank you for being such wonderful hosts (even though they’d just returned from the U.S. the day before). We had such a good time just getting to hang out and visit for a bit. From there we took the train back to Paris, immediately hopped a flight back to London and spent another night with Leo, Sarah and Sander, complete with a visit and wonderful dinner with Leo’s parents too. Thank you so so much again! Early the next morning we got back on a plane for our 11 hour flight to Los Angeles. We were again completely spoiled getting to travel in first class with turn down service, afternoon tea and Matt Damon sitting across the aisle....seriously! It’s hard to believe the trip has come to an end, but it was certainly an incredible way to wrap things up. Thank you so much to everyone who helped us make this possible and for following along with us on this crazy adventure. Until next time.....Kat and Greg
After dropping Mom and Dad off in Dublin, Greg and I had an extra night before picking up some friends from New York, Blake and Trudi. They were total troopers after their overnight flight too, but we all agreed that the best way to beat the jet lag was an immediate visit to a distillery. Thus, our first stop was a fairly cheesy, but super fun tour of Tullamore Dew. From there we kept driving on to Kinvarra where we’d used Airbnb again to book an apartment for a couple of days. The name of the game for the week was adventure and this place definitely helped set the right tone. Ronan, our host, was probably best described as eccentric and his house had the character to match. We drove north the next day through Connemara and then to Kylemore Abbey. The abbey was gorgeous, though we wished we’d been able to see more of the inside. From Connemara we drove back a bit past Kinvarra for an evening of live music and really great food in Doolin. We also had our first real taste of Irish driving and decided the full rental car insurance was a really good idea as we drove a road with at least ten switchbacks and barely enough room for any cars coming from the other direction, eek! The next morning we set off toward Killarney and where we were staying for the next couple of nights. The drive through county Clare was of course beautiful and we stopped to see both the cliffs of Moher and a cute little jam shop that Greg knew about (and seems to randomly make it to on every visit to Ireland). That night we stayed at another place booked through Airbnb. It was completely different than Ronan’s though, and much closer to our previous (and more positive) experiences. We walked down into town for dinner and then on our way back stumbled on some more live music that totally made the night. The next morning we set off to spend the whole day driving the Ring of Kerry. We could have easily spent the entire week on this drive, but even in our limited amount of time managed to see a goat crowned as king, a couple of castles, 1400 year old forts, and some of the most amazing views we’ve seen anywhere. On our last full day in Ireland we spent the morning driving from Killarney back to Dublin. Midway we saw a sign for Moneygall, President Obama’s ancestral home. With an American flag lined street and a place called ‘Obama Cafe’ it was super fun, very bizarre and totally worth the stop. Once we made it to Dublin we spent the evening on a whirlwind tour through the Jameson Distillery, Guinness Storehouse and a great pub near Temple Bar. It was a perfect way to end our week in Ireland!
From London we flew to Dublin to spend the night before Mom and Dad’s flight arrived the next morning. They were total champs the next day as we took the train to Belfast and then the ferry to Cairnryan (Stranrear), Scotland. We stayed in a great little guesthouse with rooms above the bar and some of the friendliest people working there that we’ve met on the trip so far. From Stranrear we started our Scottish road trip and headed towards Edinburgh. On the way we stopped for a really fun visit in Stirling to see the castle and William Wallace memorial. That night we also made it to see the Edinburgh tattoo. It was absolutely fantastic and a definite highlight of the trip.The next day we went back and toured the Edinburgh castle before driving on to Aberdeen. The drive from Aberdeen to Fort William was full of even more castles. Stopping first at Tolquhon (described as pretty, but not meant to withstand attack), Fort George (just the opposite) and the Urquhart Castle (a gorgeous combination of both set on the banks of Loch Ness). We tried to spot Nessie, but alas no luck! We crossed off a bunch more of our Scotland to-dos on our drive from Fort William to Glasgow the next day. First we did the drive through the highlands of Glencoe, and although it was foggy the views were still breathtaking. We next stopped to meet Hamish the highland cow (and his friends). He totally lived up to the hype and was completely worth seeing. Finally, we went on a tour of the Glengoyne distillery. Our final night in Scotland was spent in Glasgow with a quick visit to the Glasgow cathedral before going back on the ferry and to Dublin via Belfast. All in all if was a wonderful week of sight seeing and getting to spend time with Mom and Dad. Exactly what we were hoping for!
We had a really great week in England and can’t thank Leo, Sarah and Sander enough for letting us stay with them. We spent our first day getting to hang out with them starting first with a lovely brunch in Notting Hill followed by a walk through the Portobello market. Sunday was just as chill with lunch and a walk along the canal. The rest of the week was spent just hanging out and meeting up with a bunch of friends either from or who have relocated to the U.K.. Shout outs go to Nemo, Leon and Max for the lovely day I spent in Manchester, Andy for hosting Greg in Bristol, Tom for the lovely afternoon catching up, Steve and Mischa for dinner, and Seren for the wonderful afternoon at the Tate Modern. We also managed to meet up with and have a drink with Kabir who was in town from Salt Lake City on business. We certainly made up for the past few months of not seeing anyone we know. We did spend some time as tourists too; walking along the river, checking out Covent Garden and seeing a great exhibit of 150 years of Tube posters at the Transportation Museum. Our time in London wound up being the perfect place to relax, regroup and get used to being back around people we know!
After a quick flight from Munich we arrived in Madrid and grabbed our rental car to drive down to Cordoba for the night. We stayed in a hotel with a great view of the old town and spent a few hours the next morning wandering through the mosque and the charming little side streets around it. From Cordoba we drove to Granada where we spent most of the day wandering around the Alhambra. We weren’t sure what to expect and were completely impressed. The palace was gorgeous and we had a wonderful day exploring. We spent that night in Malaga and the next day went on to Gibraltar. My favorite part may have been being able to walk right across the border, but taking the cable car up to the monkeys (Barbary macaques) was a ton of fun too. We had fish and chips and enjoyed our day in the UK before heading back to Spain for the night! After Gibraltar we went to Seville. We had plans to explore the city a bit, but after such a whirlwind week just needed some time to regroup. We had a lovely evening just catching up on a few things and a good night’s sleep before driving back to Madrid for our flight the next morning.
After flying into Germany (from Finland) we spent our first evening in a cute little hotel just outside Munich and had dinner and drinks at Weihenstephan, the oldest brewery in the world. Greg and I have plans to make it back in 2040 for their 1000 year anniversary. Crazy! The next morning we set out into the Alps, stopping in Innsbruck, Austria for lunch and then making it on to Triesenberg, Liechtenstein for the night. The drive was gorgeous and Liechtenstein seemed both bigger and more nestled into the mountains than we had expected. Our hotel was near the top of a hill that couldn’t be accessed by cars in the winter and had bobsleds available instead to bring you back to the car park in the snow. The next morning we started our day at the Leichtenstein stamp museum (it’s seriously a thing and related to why Lichtenstein is an independent country) and then became international mini-golfers. Maybe the best course we’ve ever played, complete with a “driving hole” where a real golf swing was required to get the ball 30 meters or so across a green. From Liechtenstein we drove on to Italy. We were planning to stop in Milan before spending the night in Torino, but the traffic was terrible and we decided it wasn’t going to work out. Our hotel in Torino wasn’t in the best part of town so we settled for a nice meal at the Pizzeria across the street and decided to cut our losses for the day. The next morning we set out for Switzerland and the two days we planned to spend near the Matterhorn. I’ve learned on this trip that I’m really not a fan of driving along mountain roads, especially with steep cliffs, so was a bit nervous about this part of the drive. Super impressed by the Swiss, however, as every time we reached a steep or narrow part of the road there was a tunnel or avalanche shelter. Well done Switzerland, well done. The Matterhorn was great and totally worth the trip. We took the train from our hotel in Täsch to Zermatt, hung out there for awhile and then up to Gornergrat. It was a bit chilly for me (a few degrees lower than the arctic circle had been), but perfect for Greg and absolutely beautiful. From the Matterhorn we went on to Geneva (with an unfortunate detour back to Italy where I’d left our toiletry bag). It did mean we got to stop for the best gelato I’ve ever had. Greg’s experience with a rapidly melting cone and a beard was less than ideal (though hilarious for me). We had just a quick day in Geneva, but still enough time for me to geek out on a tour of the U.N., before heading to Zurich. Another brief evening, breakfast in the city center, and then back into Germany. We spent the next two days in Kaiserslautern staying with Greg’s friend Gunnar and his family. This was a total highlight of the trip so far. Gunnar, Sonja and their two daughters, Mina and Lotta were so much fun and such wonderful hosts. It was really nice to spend some time in an actual apartment (not just a hotel or hostel) and our visit was topped off by a morning with them at the pool followed by a delicious German lunch. We also took a quick morning trip to Frankfurt (only about an hour away) to meet up with someone I had worked with at Apple in Albany. Hayley happened to have just moved to Germany and was getting married on the day we could pass through so she invited us to the wedding. Besides being international mini-golfers we’ve decided this now means we can be called international wedding crashers too. It was a really sweet ceremony at the Frankfurt town hall and we had a good time meeting her other guests (including a good part of the Genius team from the local Apple store). Thanks Hayley for inviting us!!! From Kaiserslautern we made our way back to Munich for one last evening. Unfortunately the temperature had risen by about ten degrees since our first visit and staying in a hotel without a fan or AC (and with mosquitos swarming in through the open window) was rather unpleasant. It’s hard to complain about anything on this trip though and after at least a few hours of sleep we were off to Spain.
We think we’d like living in Finland. It feels like I’m making it up when I say how much we’ve enjoyed just about every place we’ve been on this trip, but no, they’ve all been really different and really great in different ways. As much as I’d like to vacation again in a lot of them though, Finland is the first place we’ve been to where I would seriously consider living. OK, granted, we were here in the summer and 24 hours of cold and dark in the winter might be too much, but in a country and culture like this it might be worth a try! This was Greg’s third trip to Finland and my first so he got to play tour guide while we spent the first two days hanging out in Helsinki. I’d been craving Mexican food so one of our first stops was at a great little Mexican restaurant near our hotel for burritos and margaritas! That’s what everyone associates with Finland, right?! On Saturday morning we boarded a ferry to take a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia. It started out as a bummer of a day since we’d heard about Fuzz that morning, but it turned out that it was just what we needed. The two hour ferry ride to get there was very pleasant and when we got off the boat we walked straight into the Tallinn Maritime Festival. There were street vendors, food trucks, live music and Russian tall ships...so much fun! After going back to Helsinki and a great day of just bumming around we boarded an overnight train to Rovaniemi. The thirteen hour train ride turned out to be very comfortable and since we figured it would probably be best to sleep for at least some of it, we were a bit disappointed that it wasn’t longer (especially with so much of it in daylight, with such great views, and with really fast, free wifi). Once in Rovaniemi we took the requisite trip to Santa’s Village and to the Arctic Circle and stopped into Santa’s post office to write a few postcards. We also had a really great traditional lunch of smoked salmon and berry juice in a Lappish hut, warmed by a fire, while we waited out a brief rainstorm. It was absolutely perfect. We also realized that it had been ten years to the day since Greg was in Rovaniemi the last time...crazy! After flying back to Helsinki we stumbled upon the Tall Ships race that happened to be passing through. Another round of summer street fair made for a perfect end to our time in Finland. P.S. For those of you who know what a non-picky eater I am, I finally found a food I never want to try again....salted licorice...ick!!!
After arriving in Moscow and getting a good night’s sleep, we walked the next morning from our hotel down Tverskia street to Red Square. The tour of St. Basil’s was totally worth it and we had a good time wandering through the passageways and small rooms inside. We also checked out the GUM shopping mall with it’s gorgeous architecture and ridiculously high prices. On Tuesday, we went to the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics. The museum was better than we had expected and had some great replicas (and a few originals) of various Soviet satellites, shuttles, and a replica of the MIR space station that we got to walk inside. We also spent a good part of the day touring the Mocow metro (on purpose). It absolutely wins as the most architecturally and artistically impressive metro either of us has ever been in. Each station had some sort of mural or statue or even stained glass that was absolutely gorgeous. We could have spent a week just stopping at every station to explore them all. With rain the previous two days we decided to go to the Kremlin and see Lenin’s tomb on our last full day in Moscow. We should have known better. We did manage to go inside the Armory at the Kremlin which was very impressive, but we had gotten the wrong tickets and couldn’t go any further inside the courtyard. We had also seen the outside of Lenin’s tomb on our first trip to Red Square, but since the inside was closed that day we planned to go back after the Kremlin. Alas, we messed that up too and it was closed again by the time we got there. Oh well, we both decided that we liked Moscow even more than we’d expected to and seeing it again (maybe in the winter) would be worth a trip back.
If I ever run away you can probably find me in Santorini! So wonderful! We arrived in Athens after a roundabout flight from the Emirates. We were supposed to have a rather long layover in Cyprus and hoped to leave the airport, but because of restricted airspace over Syria our flight was significantly delayed. Alas, no passport stamp for us. We spent our first day in Greece bumming around Athens and enjoying time just sitting in some of the outdoor cafes (an instant indication that we were back in Europe)! The next morning we explored the Acropolis and hiked up to see the Parthenon. We’ve been to some pretty amazing and culturally significant places already on this trip, but the sheer history (and maybe relationship to western history) here was humbling. We spent the rest of the day wandering around the Plaka neighborhood nearby and just taking in the city sites. The seven hour ferry ride to Santorini the next day was a bit long. We thought we knew what we were getting ourselves into, but the boat was packed and the whole experience was fairly unpleasant. Luckily, once we got to Santorini everything was great. Freddy, our hotel owner, was there with his son (Freddy) to pick us up. We spent the next few days lounging by the pool and exploring the area of Perissa beach near our hotel. Towards the end of the week we rented a car for the day and drove around the island. We stopped first at the Red Beach and then drove out to the eastern end to see the lighthouse. Then we spent the afternoon in Fira before continuing on to see sunset in Oia. It sounds like a lot, but takes maybe 45 minutes to traverse the entire island so made for a very relaxed day exploring (ok, maybe slightly less relaxing for Greg who did the driving through the narrow streets...). Fira and Oia look just like every postcard I’ve ever seen of Santorini and totally lived up to the hype. The small streets winding up the side of the island were beautiful, with the white and blue house and gorgeous pink bougainvillea flowers. Oia was more crowed that Fira, but gorgeous, and we managed to see a procession of donkeys before we left. The ferry back to Athens was much less crowded, more pleasant and fairly uneventful (in a good way). It turned out to be a nice way to end our trip before another overnight in Athens and then backtracking to Amman and then off to Moscow!
Dubai was a good place to relax and warm up again after South Africa. We cashed in another free hotel night to stay at the Grand Hyatt for my birthday. It was completely over the top, but gorgeous, and seemed to epitomize what we saw and experienced in the Emirates: people from all over the world and lots of gold leaf. This was a fairly short stopover so we didn’t do much sightseeing, but still managed to check out the Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world) and the Dubai mall (largest mall in the world). Also both completely over-the-top and pretty much what we’d expected. We also scouted out and tried some camel milk chocolate (bar and milkshake). Seriously you should look this up. I'm jumping on the "it's the next superfood bandwagon" (ok, maybe not when it's combined with chocolate, but very tasty)! Everything else we did and saw felt a lot like spending time in a big western city (ok, except maybe the indoor ski slope, the giant in-mall aquarium, and most of the local attire…hmm). A great place for a few days and maybe longer if on a corporate travel budget.