Tuesday, January 21, 2014

If You Are Even Slightly Interested In My European Plans...

You might all be thinking...

We get it, Sam, you're going to Europe.

Or maybe...

Shut up about it already.

But you clicking on my blog link means you're at least vaguely interested, so I got that going for me, which is nice. We have a lot of our plans solidly nailed down and only extreme extraneous circumstances could alter what we have planned and booked, so I thought I'd share what I'll be doing for the month of April.

March 31 will be the last day ever of teaching abroad. We are gonna hang around for a few days, get the last remaining things in order and then hightail it to Tokyo on April 3. I've never been to Tokyo. I lived in Japan for an entire year and have gone back for two subsequent vacations and yet, no Tokyo. I'm pretty excited to hang around that city for the evening/night and see our friend Vivian. (It's nice having friends all over the planet.) Plus, I love Japan. I'm really, really glad to be getting to stop back there one last time and have some delicious food (and milk tea) before returning to the Western World. 

We depart the Asian continent for good the following morning, April 4, at 11am, with a nonstop flight to London. I have a feeling that my excitement will not be contained easily. This flight is 13-14 hours, and like the five other planet-crossing flights I've taken, this one will be no different: GET ME OFF THIS GOD FORSAKEN AIRPLANE. 

We will be in London April 4-8. I'll be spending my birthday there! That's quite the birthday gift, I'll take it. We'll be doing a lot of AirBNB, which I'm pretty excited about. 
Here's our place in Prince Harry Land: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/294177 
We have to stay pretty far out of the city center, in Zone 4, so that's slightly a bummer but Al and I are not hostel people, so my main goal was to just find the nicest, cheapest place in an area where we won't get mugged. Zone 4 was the closest we could even afford to the center, but that's alright. We also want places with a kitchen (hence using AirBNB a lot) so we don't have to eat out every meal. We are trying to do this budget (a word that is NOT synonymous with Europe), not exactly on a shoestring, but saving some cash by cooking a few of our own meals is a smart way to go, I think. 

April 8 we're taking the bus up to Liverpool so Al can see all the Beatles stuff. I'm sure it will be a nice thing to see, but that's more his thing. The Beatles have cool history and are respectable for sure, but just not something I'm whole-heartedly interested in. He's pretty excited. Everyone told him that the sights are easily done in a day, so we're just spending the day and night there. 

The following morning (the 9th) we're catching the train from Liverpool down to Paris! I can't believe in just a few short months I get to see the Eiffel Tower with my own eyeballs. Sure, most Parisians consider it an eyesore of the city, but whatevaaaaa. I'm going to do everything cheesy and cliche (wine and cheese picnic on the lawn, a kissy romantic picture in front of it...) and NOBODY CAN STOP ME!!! 
Here is where we're staying: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/132533 
It's not exactly a cute Parisian apartment with the pretty gates on the windows and parquet floors or whatever, but you can't beat the price. And for Heaven's sake I'm in Paris, I'm not going to be in my room. 

On the 12th, we're taking the trek to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris to pick up our rental car and begin our France/Italy road trip, the bulk of our vacation! The amusing part is, the first time Al will be behind the wheel of a vehicle in over two years he will be trying to navigate himself out of CDG airport. Good luck, Al. We're getting an early start and making our way about 3 hours south of Paris to the Loire Valley, our first stop. This area of France is known for its castles and wineries. (Castles and wineries! Swoon.) Check out these cool castles we're going to see:

Is that not something out of Beauty and the Beast or what?

Here is where we're staying in this area: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1395494 
We'll be hanging around here April 12-14, then early on the 14th we're going to start driving south (to the "South of France", dur), stopping wherever our hearts desire. I for sure want to stop in Arles (so much Van Gogh history!), and then Aix-en-Provence and possibly Marseilles, Nice or Cannes, but it's all about time and prioritizing. We will drive east along the Mediterranean, cross into Italy and continue down the coast until we reach Rome. A few months ago Al had the insane idea to go to Rome (Vatican) for Easter. I mean, being in one of the most holy cities on earth on one of the most holy holidays of the year? AND get to see the freaking Pope? Sign me up! So that's what we're doing (along with millions of other people making the pilgrimage for the exact same reason). Easter is super late this year, so we'll be in Rome April 18-21, that's giving us 5 days to drive from the Loire Valley to lovely Roma, in which we are staying here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1314143. We have to stay pretty far outside the city because we'll have a car, and it's basically impossible to drive in the center. We'll park it for a few days and take public transport into the center and The Vatican. 

We will fight the Easter crowds in Rome (I am going to sob when I see the ceilings in the Sistine Chapel, just sob) and then get an early start the morning of the 21st and head back up north, where we are going to relax in Tuscany for a few days. I realize "Tuscany" is a very large area, I just haven't narrowed down where exactly yet. I know we're going to go the farmhouse route and stay among wineries and olive groves (It's a B&B! It's a farm! They have wine and chickens and Italian cooking classes and cypress trees! Heaven!). It seems they are a dime a dozen though; it all just comes down to picking one I guess. 

On the 24th, we are going to start our journey back north, back to Paris. The only stops I know for sure we're making on this leg of the trip is Pisa (no I refuse to do the stupid picture of "holding up" the leaning tower) and the Cinque Terre region. Check this out: 

No, you're eyes aren't deceiving you, this place actually exists, it's not some Photoshop miracle. I just found out about it a few months ago and immediately added it to our stop list. There are five little towns along the cliffs that all look like that, and it's called Cinque Terre. I know enough Spanish and French to know that translates into Italian as "five lands". Stoked. We will continue driving up to Paris until the 28th or 29th. I'd like to spend our last day or two in Paris again to relax a bit after all the driving. 

On April 30th, we catch our flight from mainland Europe up to the Arctic to go to mofo ICELAND. This, above everything else, is what I'm looking forward to the most. I mean, who goes to Iceland!? Me, suckas, ME. I've always, always wanted to go. Iceland Air is hella cheap with a free stopover there, so of course we're going. We only planned on two nights and one full day as kind of long layover before heading to the US, but after watching "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (a must-see) we decided to add an extra day. We land in the afternoon, so we'll spend that day and the next full day in the capital, Reykjavik (it's the northernmost capital city in the world!), and then early the next morning we're renting a car and making the drive along the southern coast to Jokulsarlon, the iceberg lagoon. There are tons of spectacular sights along the way, and I'm also hoping we're not too late in the year to see the northern lights. We'll stay the night somewhere in SE Iceland, then make the 500 km drive back to Reykjavik where we catch a flight home at 5pm. 

The flight from Reykjavik to Newark is about 6 hours, getting us there in the evening, too late to catch any flights out...meaning we have to spend the night in Newark. Gag. Oh well, we fly to Nashville the next morning, arriving early afternoon. 

So, that's the plan. I like it! I can't wait to see all the amazing things we'll add to it along the way! 

Friday, January 10, 2014

I Know I Can't Really Complain, But...

It's cold here. Since this is my third winter here, I'm sure this is the third blog post I've written saying similar things, but Busan winters can blow me. I know y'all back home have been enduring much, much worse weather and temperatures than I can even imagine, but it's all relative, right?

But, now that most of your weather back in the homeland is pretty much back to normal, we're again on par. The average winter temperatures here and the temperatures in West Virginia are roughly the same, except here it's sunny and clear every single day, coupled with very windy conditions from being on the coast, making it feel about 20 degrees colder than it actually says. Plus I have a 20-25 minute walk to work, which makes for a very unpleasant portion of my day. Americans live a very sedentary lifestyle, walking only from your house door to your car door to your work door. If I have to go anywhere within a 1-2 km radius, I walk; which is nice, except in the winter. I'm very jealous of the fact that you guys only have to be out in the cold for very brief periods of time. And once I'm at school, the cold doesn't stop there. The hallways and bathrooms are not heated, and the classrooms and offices only mildly so (along with children who are allergic to keeping doors shut), leaving me in a constant state of shivering from December to March.

So, yes, most of the United States was buried under snow and arctic winds were ravaging the country for a week or so, but generally speaking, you weren't really out in it for very long. You had warm houses and cars (and hallways and bathrooms) to at least shelter you from the frigidness. I am in no way minimizing your suffering. Trust me, I know it was really serious and I'm glad I wasn't there to experience it. Just saying, be glad it was only a week of extreme cold and not nearly four months of dressing like Randy from A Christmas Story to walk to work, then swaddling yourself in a blanket in your office huddled around your coffee cup refusing to go pee because the bathroom is an igloo. I am very, very glad this will be my last winter in this city. Unless, for some unknown reason, we move to St. Paul, I'm sticking to the southern half of the US forever so I don't have to deal with a long winter season ever again.

Here's a nice picture of some clear water in a warm, remote, tropical locale to take your mind off winter.

Perhentian Besar, Malaysia

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Resolutions Are Nonsense: Happy 2014

Call me a sourpuss or something, but I don't buy into that whole "new year, new me" bullshizz. I think that making resolutions is a surefire way to set yourself up for disappointment. Statistically, only 5-10% of people actually stick to their resolutions. Are you going to be one in that small percentage? Probably not. If you aren't willing set goals to lose 50 pounds, quit smoking and volunteer more in August, why do you think you would on January 1st? Yeah, the calendar changed, but you probably won't.

Now before you point the cross hairs in my direction and send out a witch hunt for my head, understand that I very much like the idea of the New Year and making an attempt to do good, just like I like the idea of Valentine's Day; both are stupid, so indulging without seriousness is A-OK. Valentine's Day is corny and tacky, but is it fun getting flowers from Al and reveling in all the pink and fluff? Sure! Just like it's nice to think about changing your ways, even though, more than likely, you will not. Not to say that resolutions are tacky, but they shouldn't have much stock put into them, just like Valentine's Day. 

I don't think I've ever made a resolution, ever, and as it turns out, come Feburary 7th, I'm not wallowing in guilt because I haven't stuck to something I told myself I would or wouldn't do. Just like everyone else, I like the fresh start that the new year brings. For some reason, in my head I don't see years or calendars as linear, I see them as sort of a long oval, where December 31 is at the top and then January 1 drops back down to the bottom, allowing us to work our way back up to the top again. And starting from the bottom isn't bad, especially when it comes to the New Year; it's that clean beginning we all love. I just don't think we should make promises to ourselves, serious ones at least, that we will more than likely never fulfill. I'm all about trying to get to the gym about a month before we leave here and bust my rear so that I'll look great in our vacation photos. New Year's resolution? Nah, just something I want to (maybe) accomplish. 

2014 actually scares the bejeezus out of me. It's the year of uncertainty. In 91 days, Al and I will be finishing our teaching abroad life and heading into the (as of right now) American Unknown. Between today and April 3, we still have to acquire a Green Card and a couple of jobs. (The Green Card is a necessity, the jobs would be a plus). We will be setting out to Europe with a month itinerary of amazing places to see and then we land in the old USA with a somewhat shoddy plan of attempting to start our lives there. What scares me the most is that in the past 2 1/2 years that I will have been here in Korea, out of all the dozens of people I've known best, only three have not yet returned after they finished and went to their respective homelands. Every single person (except the three) that I've gotten close to, who has left at one point, has come back here because of the debilitating job situations in the Western World. We've had quite a few return in the past few months and three more will be arriving in the next month or so. I do not, under any circumstances, want that to become us. I am DONE teaching and I do not want to come back here. I'd rather work at Walgreens and live with my mother forever. 

I already know, and am preparing myself for it, there will come a time during this coming year that I will be aching for this life and this place. Possibly Al more than I because in some ways (the partying kind) he is much more of a child than myself. Not to say that him liking to go out every weekend is bad, but the bars not closing and staying out until sunrise every weekend is something that is just not done in the US unless one is 22 years old in Panama City on Spring Break (or a student at WVU), and I'm sure he will miss that aspect more than I will. I will be aching for the freedom we have. I've said it a million times, but we have very little responsibility and can basically do whatever we want whenever we want. Once back home, that's life, and something I'm 50/50 on. But, Al is almost 30, I'm almost 28, we have to start somewhere, sometime, and I know this is the time. I don't want to be 30 years old and come back here. I refuse. Life is calling! Because I know that there will probably be more than a few occasions of intense questioning and wanting to come back, I think I'll be better prepared for it. Something like the grass is always greener and people want what they can't have, right?

New Year's Eve was eventful yet again, although a little less lackluster than last year, I think. My outfit was fab, but nothing really screamed "New Year's Eve" this year other than my hat with the giveaway "Happy New Year" and the somewhat ho-hum countdown that occured in the very packed venue where we were located. With about 5 minutes left to midnight, the band left the stage saying they'd be back for the countdown, but with about 30 seconds left, a group next to us decided to take it upon themselves to start counting from 10. No one was into it, so they stopped. About 20 seconds later, they started it again, this time everyone else halfheartedly chimed in and...that was our countdown. No music, nothing on over the speakers. I found out a short while later that it was actually a friend of ours (whom I like very much) who started the whole thing, so it's hard to be mad. I just put too much store into big events. I'm exactly like that scene in Christmas Vacation when Ellen says to Clark, "You set standards that no family event could ever live up to...parties, weddings, graduations..." Yep. That's me. I always have such high hopes for big events that I feel extremely let down when they don't live up to the hype I have in my head. Despite it not really feeling like NYE, we still had a blast out and ended up at karaoke (where else) until about 6. Not a bad night.

In Korea, they believe that what you do on January 1st sets you up for the entire year and is sort of a prediction of how one's year will be. (Al swears it's just the country putting that in their heads to keep them productive, working and un-lazy even on a holiday.) If that's the case, my year will be obese and nearly comotose, as my January 1st was spent ordering McDonald's and moving only from the computer to the bed. I don't know if I agree with Al, I think it's a nice idea, superstition, tradition, whatever it is...although knowing this country like I do, he might have a slight point.

Let the anxiety about 2014 begin!