18 Months of Travel in Pictures!!

18 Months of Travel in Pictures

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Status Update: Back Home!

Hi Everyone, – I hope you are all doing great!!

I am back – and very excited about it. Of course it feels a bit crazy not being on the road any longer; not having to figure out where I am and where I am going, where I’m staying and what I am going to do once I am there… – ok, more or less I guess that is still the norm, but now it is back home in my own native English speaking country and now I can do it all with full open access to Pandora, Hulu and Netflix, – Yes, it is nice to be home!!

Welcome Home Austin

Welcome Home Austin

It has been a month since my last post, which was mostly just a summary of the stats of my blog for 2012 that WordPress prepared. Prior to that my last real post from the road was two months ago while living through the storm in Fiji, which is way too long ago. And since life has not stopped since getting back from the world travels, I thought I would give a quick update on what I have been up to and what I think I have planned for the next couple months, with a note of complete openness to changing it as we go.

Although it feels like the biggest way I have been spending my time since I have gotten back is playing “Words with Friends“, the truth is I actually have had a chance to do a few other things between checking the dictionary to see if “vaw” is actually a word. Now it is true that my life status is still “homeless and unemployed”, or more accurately I am living in a “box” and I am a “causal employee”. Which you cannot ask for a better employee status/title than causal employee, other then it would be nice if it paid a little more, or if it paid anything at all for that matter. And my temporary home, which I affectionately refer to as the “box”, is actually a great prefab house called a Kanga (www.kangaroomsystems.com) which with many thanks to my good friend’s Paul and Erin who recently built one as a guest house in their backyard in South Austin and were kind of nice to let me be the first occupant, I am not homeless anymore and not actually living in a box! – The Kanga is a great 14 by 14 foot home with a bathroom, kitchenette with a sink, a small table in the living area and a great Murphy bed  and a deck with two Adirondack chairs on it – It is perfect!!

New Home

New Home

Now that you have my living conditions down, let’s get into the interesting stuff; getting back and having time to catch up with good friends and family! Much like most of my holiday’s since I graduated from college, getting back from a year traveling I jumped back in to by bopping across the country to celebrate with family and friends. This year it started with landing in Bellingham after leaving the Cyclone in Fiji and a quick stop over Hawaii. I was very happily met by my good friend Lindsay with a cold six-pack at the airport at 8:00 in the morning , followed closely by champagne with his wife Iva, all in celebration in addition to my getting back and touching US soil again, the recently had a  new baby girl, Julinka (Julianna) who I got to meet when she was just eight days old!! She is gorgeous and I am happy to say that by the time I left I had spent a third of her life with her (at the time) – three to four days that is getting settled back in the States with Lindsay, Iva and Julianna, and going through all the boxes of things I had sent back to Lindsay while I was on the road and just getting re-amricanized!!

Lindsay and Baby

Lindsay and Julinka 

Me and Baby

Me and Julinka 

That was the kick of the holidays and the next 36 hours of flights and celebration, which started with flying into Austin for Heidi’s Christmas Eve Party. The Austin stay started off with a similar celebratory pick up at the airport by Laura and Robin (thanks guys!) and being whisked off to Heidi’s for a night of getting to see and catch up with a huge, fun group of good friends. The stay was brief, literally 12 hours from touch down to take off, with no time for sleeping allowed, it was perfect chance to see and enjoy friends for the holidays!!

Heidi's Party

Heidi’s Party

The early departure flight out of Austin got me into JFK by 11 AM Christmas Day with a pick up by my niece’s and a chance to catch up with them in route home to my brother Dan and sister-in-law Teresa’s house for Christmas dinner and celebration with family including my brother Jim and the Scully family. I was a little too tired to be able to add much to the games after dinner, but I was able to keep up until 11 PM and have a great time catching up with family, which was awesome!

NY Christmas

NY Christmas

Time slowed down a bit after that whirlwind start of it all. The next day, Boxing Day, we went up to my brother’s families house on the Hudson and had a couple of days of chilling and hiking and having fun catching up. That day after Christmas, we watched three movies in a row, just to give you an idea of the chillness factor of it all! – Perfect again!

The Hudson

The Hudson

The pace picked up again that Friday after Christmas – I drove back in the City with my nieces and their boyfriends and made it uptown just in time for Erin’s boy friend Mike to make it to work on time, my niece Megan to get to her cooking school and for me to make it to my brothers Jim’s to see his new place on the upper west side and to drop off my bag and run out to meet a group of friends getting together in the City the night.

In the next 36 hours I was able to see and celebrate the holidays with about two dozen  good friends at a bar in New York, followed by a quick nights sleep and another trip to the airport for a flight to Chicago for the chance to see and celebrate with another dozen or so good friends and family, for a night out in Chicago, which included visiting multiple old stomping grounds to end only as it should closing up at the Lodge. – Perfect!

New York - Dec 28th Holiday Celebration with good friends!!

New York – Dec 28th Holiday Celebration with good friends and family!!

New York - Dec 28th Holiday Celebration with good friends!!

New York – Dec 28th Holiday Celebration with good friends and family!!

Chicago Party

Chicago – Dec 29th Holiday Celebration with god friends and family!!

Foggy end of the night at the Lodge

Foggy end of the night at the Lodge in Chicago!! 

Making it back to the Midwest you would assume I would spend the following week or so heading up to see family and friends up in Northern Wisconsin, which would have been the case it was not for my good friend Reed who had a group gathering in Charleston and at his place on Kiawah Island, SC to celebrate New Years, so… of course, how do you say no to that – where else would I go. So, after 24 hours in Chicago I was back at the airport and this time on a plane heading back east to meet up with Reed and gang for the celebration in South Carolina!

Charleston and Kiawah were perfect. We did a “club ride”, riding bikes from club house to club house of all the golf courses on Kiawah and having a cocktail at each, starting at the Ocean Course where the PGA was this year followed by four or so more course club houses. That night we went out to the Sanctuary for NYE and the following day, New Years Day we did a day trip out in Charleston. And the last day getting in 18 holes of golf. A great way to kick in the new year and great people to do it with!!

The Kiawah Crew

The Kiawah Crew

I did get back to the Midwest on January 3rd to see family and friends that I missed on the short layover in Chicago the week earlier. Which sounds relaxing and I thought my schedule and plan actually was pretty laid back, until the car rental guy asked me where I was going… and I replied quit happily “I am totally excited, – I am going to see and catch up with family and friends  in Wausau and then in Antigo. I am then hoping to head over to the Green Bay to the Packer’s in the playoff game against Minnesota as well as see my good friend Mike’s band play there in Green Bay. Head back to Antigo, up to Minacqua, back to Wausau, on to Stratford and finally back to Milwaukee for a night with family before flying back to Austin in January 9th” – He was like”hold it”, …while making a huge triangle in the air to point out the distance between all these places and saying – “you’re going all the way up to Wausau, than over to Antigo onto Green Bay and back to here… – OMG, – we need to line you up with a bigger, better car with four-wheel drive…” – Which he did and which I was able to do all the above, loving to see everyone long the way.

It was a great trip around to see everyone and it is so nice to be back in Austin now. Which all the above, almost gets me back to where I am today, but first getting back to Austin we had a two-week celebration, both welcoming me back to town, followed by celebrating my birthday, bar golf crawls and all. I have to say, I would not change a thing – It was the perfect welcoming back home after the year plus of travel. A HUGE thanks to all for all the great hospitality and great spirits welcoming me home!!

Bar Crawl

Bar Crawl

Now, what I am doing now that I am back?! – I  am finally now getting settle into a little routine and having a chance to write this post. As mentioned I’m living in my friends guest house, which I plan to be in for the next month or so. I am taking the month to work on processing all I did and check where I am heading and what I am going to be doing next; write a book, go work for a large foundation or government agency, or change my job status from “casual employee” to active employee again. – All is yet to be determined. But I will let you know in the next month or so where I am and what is happening and where I am heading. In the interim, if anyone knows anyone on Lake Travis or Lake Austin that is looking for a house sitter to watch over their house (and boat/pool/tennis court) for the summer, please let them know I am available – and I will do if for cheap!! :)!

Work followed me!!

Work followed me!! – Post cards from around the world!! – YAY!!

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2012 Blog Stats in Review

Thank you all for following and being a part of my world adventures in 2012. I am finally just getting settled back in Austin and recently received this summary on my blog that the good people at WordPress.com put together for us on the blog stats over the year and I thought I would share with you all.

I promise I will be back in 2013 with updates on happening from my end of things while I figure out what I will be doing next; along with when, where and how… A lot of questions, but I could not be happier for what I was able to do and be back for the next step. As I am just taking time to process it all and catch up with good friends and family, we will be having a get together for Happy Hour this Friday, January 18th at Dogwoods on West 6th Street at 5:30 PM here in Austin for any and all of you that are around.

Come on by and join in on celebrating the New Year and all the exciting happenings of recent from birthdays to births, engagements to anniversaries and more to kick off a great and positive 2013 together!!

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 17,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 4 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

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Postcard from Paradise; Fiji in the Midst of Tropical Cyclone Evan

Water and wind are amazing things and when they come together in full force in a cyclone or hurricane you can see their true strength; which is a seriously solid thing. I just experienced it with my first category 4 and possibly up to a category 5 tropical cyclone in Fiji. Tropical Cyclone Evan hit this paradise of a tropical island nation in the middle of the South Pacific over the past 24 hours. I have been in or around a number of hurricanes, but always on the mainland in the US; in Texas, Virginia, Delaware, DC, …never 3,000 km from the nearest land mass bigger than a postage stamp. It is a bit of a scary feeling.

Cyclone Evan

Bula, Bula – Cyclone Evan hitting Fiji

TC Evan

TC Evan

I was lucky to be staying in a nice hotel just off the main island of Viti Levu, on the small, but attached by bridge island of Denarau – just about 20 km from Nadi and the airport and on the west side of the Island, which I think worked in our favor. The hotel had their sh@#t together. I checked in late Saturday night on my trek home to the States and on Sunday they gave us updates throughout the day. They gave us information about store and restaurant closings and recommended plans on where and when to stock up with supplies. Monday as the rain and winds started up in the morning, they put us in  lockdown in our rooms after breakfast. Lockdown at the Radisson Blu, Fiji – I guess I could be in worse places for the storm.

Well stocked with essentials

Well stocked with essentials

I don’t how they did it, but throughout the day of rain and wind they kept electricity running with a back up generator and somehow even the hotel movie channel was working long after the local TV stations had gone down. They even kept internet working for most of the day. It was super slow, but I assume that was the other 500 guest in the hotel downloading movies online and checking weather.com and all. A huge kudos to the hotel staff, that went over and above their duty to even deliver a hot meal to everyone locked up in their rooms, staff that is donning hard hats to protect themselves from flying debris and gale force winds. – Vinaka – Vinaka!! – Thank you – Thank you!!

Serious winds and rain from Tropical Storm Evan hitting Fiji, Monday 17-Dec-2012

Serious winds and rain from Tropical Storm Evan hitting Fiji, Monday 17-Dec-2012

So the storm ended up reporting sustained winds of 175 to 200 km/h and gusts up to 275 km/h – The eye of the storm hit where I was about 9:00 PM, with full on winds continuing through most the night. I woke up to strong winds still around and some off and on rain, but also I woke up to one of the coolest things; a number of the guests in the hotel were all outside helping the staff clean up and pick up after the storm. I guess it gave people a feeling or normalcy, what you would do if you were at home, but also it was just good-hearted thing, helping out when help was needed. It was great to see… and do.

The sun is starting to shine now and most the place is getting back to normal here. I am not 100% sure how the rest of the Islands fared, but my thoughts and prayers go out to all here and who have been and will be in the track of the storm. Good thoughts and prayers!

Not exactly postcard worthy, but I wanted to share some pictures from the storm, here in paradise… – some before and after and during…

storm from my hotel room Monday afternoon

storm from my hotel room Monday afternoon

Cyclone Evan at 5 PM

Cyclone Evan at 5 PM

Before and after pictures…

The beach Sunday night before the storm

The beach Sunday night before the storm

The beach Tuesday morning after the storm

The beach Tuesday morning after the storm

Walkway on Sunday before the storm

Walkway on Sunday before the storm

Walkway on Tuesday morning after the storm (but before cleanup)

Walkway on Tuesday morning after the storm (but before cleanup)

cooridor before the storm

corridor by room before the storm

cooridor after the storm

corridor by room after the storm

Trees along the golf course before the storm

Trees along the golf course before the storm

Trees along golf course after the storm

Trees along golf course after the storm

The dock looking good before the storm

The dock looking good before the storm

The dock after the storm

The dock after the storm

boat before the storm

boat before the storm

boat after the storm

boat after the storm

another boat after storm

another boat after storm not so lucky

The sea after the storm

The sea after the storm

Stay safe everyone – look forward to seeing you all soon!! Flights are scheduled to be leaving tonight and I should be back on the mainland soon!

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Middle Earth, NZ

I just arrived in Fiji, my 50th Country overall and the 31st new Country (and last) on this years journey before getting back to the States. That is if I can make it through this category 4 tropical cyclone Evan that is bearing down on us here. Apparently it is now packing 165 km/h sustain winds and up to 235 km/h gusts – It sounds serious in kilometers, but even at 100 mph with 150 mph gusts is a pretty solid storm. It is heading a little north of us, but the hotel and the island are preparing for it all well. And I have stocked up solidly on all the essentials – cheese and crackers, red wine, white wine and beer and sausage – I am set – All I need now is a few house guests!

They are preparing for us to potentially be off electricity for a while, so I thought before it goes down I would post one last post before getting home from my past 10 days in New Zealand. A good friend of mine back home has talked about moving to NZ for a while, and now that I have visited it, I can attest and support that it would be an amazing place to live!

I LOVED Wellington on the North Island and Queenstown on the South Island is an amazing outdoor activity paradise – It was amazing even before I found out they have an ongoing scheduled bar crawl there like three or four nights a week… seriously; – heaven!

All I can say is GO visit! It is amazing – A postcard every time you turn your head!

So as an attempt to show you that postcard view of New Zealand, below is a quick update on pictures and happenings from my time here in middle-earth – along with one closing comment; that the biggest and best thing about being in my 49th and 50 Countries is that it brings me one step closer to home and seeing and celebrating the holidays with family and friends!! – Cannot wait to see you all so soon!! Life is too good!

Arriving in Auckland

I actually got in late and stayed in a pit of a hotel out by the airport and was downtown early the next morning to catch a train to tour the north island in route to Wellington, so these pictures of downtown are actually from the end of my trip when I got back to Auckland, but Auckland they are…

Auckland CBD

Auckland CBD

KiwiRail – Northern Explorer Tour of the North Island (Auckland to Wellington)

Now here is where the fun started! – It was a full day tour and train ride down the North Island from Auckland to Wellington and Cook Straights at the southern tip of the island… the start of seeing middle-earth!

The Northern Explorer KiwiTrain tour through the North Island

The Northern Explorer KiwiTrain tour through the North Island

middle earth country side

middle earth country side

Wellington Cool

This is the place I can see living. Great people, great scenery, great bars, great restaurants, great culture, …and great weather while I was there (minus a rain storm!)

Wellington Cable Car View of City and Harbor

Wellington Cable Car View of City and Harbor

Wellington Downtown

Wellington Downtown

Christchurch – World Winefest & meeting up w/Robert and Mount Beautiful

The sole goal of going to Christchurch was to meet up with Robert, (but sadly no Krista), good friends from DC, who now live in Sonoma, but it turned into learning and living in the midst of all the wreckage from the Earthquakes that hit here on Tuesday, 22-Feb-11 at 12:51 PM. –  Serious carnage to the city infrastructure and sadly to the people. 185 people lost their lives that day – 120 in one building clasped – very sad. – But they are rebuilding (as there are tearing down) and I got to celebrate with them at their World Wine Tasting in the main park – along with meeting up with Robert and his group of good people from Mt. Beautiful Winery out of Cambridge, NZ – South Island, north of Christchurch!

Christchurch 12-51 22-Feb-11 - clocks in town stopped at impact of the earthquake

Christchurch – @ 12:51 22-Feb-11 all clocks in town stopped at impact of the earthquake – this one in the main sq stays that way less we forget

Christchurch winefest - celebrating a new beganing

Christchurch winefest – celebrating a new beginning

The Hobbit; An Unexpected Journey

Reference to the Hobbit was everywhere, and I am glad to say I was able to see the new movie while I was here in New Zealand. It opened here on the 12th of Dec – 12-12-12 and I went to see it on the 13th in an IMAX 3D theater, which was very cool. Although all the pictures from New Zealand Country side give you the feeling of the movie set, here are a couple more obvious ones…

The Trolls from the Hobbit in Wellington Te Pepe Museum

The Trolls from the Hobbit in Wellington Te Pepe Museum

Gollum in the Queenstown Airport

Gollum in the Queenstown Airport

Bus tour of the South Island (Christchurch to Queenstown via Mt Cook)

Middle Earth - Near Mt Cook and Lonely Mountain

Middle Earth – Near Mt Cook in route to Lonely Mountain

flower mountain lake

flower mountain lake

Mt Cook - Middle Earth

Mt Cook – Middle Earth

Queenstown

If the country was not beautiful enough already, Queenstown put an cheery on top of it all – Amazingly beautiful City and Region! – With Pub Crawls to boot!

View from the mountain trail around Queenstown

View from the mountain trail around Queenstown

Queenstown Double Cone / Twin Peaks from near hotel

Queenstown Double Cone / Twin Peaks from near hotel

Queenstown Sunset on the Bay

Queenstown Sunset on the Bay

Sidenote

Some sad tragedies happened while I was traveling through New Zealand – Obviously the unimaginable sadness up in Newtown, CT – All my thoughts and prayers go out to the all the family and friends of those who have been affected by that happening, but in addition, with things happening in three, a friend of mine that I met in Ghana with AOV lost her daughter earlier in the week and as I arrived back in Auckland I found out from a friend no FB that a close friend that we had growing up back in Antigo lost his life and struggle with some tough times here on earth. May the peace of heaven and the love of God be with all of them.

Auckland, Waiheke Island Wineries and One Tree Hill

Waiheke Wine Tour - View from Stonyridge Winery

Waiheke Wine Tour – View from Stonyridge Winery

One Tree Hill, - Auckland NZ

One Tree Hill, – Auckland NZ

Can’t wait to see you all soon!!! – Happy, happy early holidays to you all!!

Love and good cheers!

Joe

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AU – Down Under

I arrived on to my sixth continent and my 29th new country over all of this past year of travel via an overnight flight from Bali landing in Sydney on the Saturday morning after Thanksgiving, with no hotel reservations and no real plan. Which, I thought was an ok way to enter Australia, but I quickly learned, not so much. – But, let me digress and get back to that story in a minute, first let me start with passing on a good cheers to you all…

Australia

…and with a little music video to go along with your reading this post. I pass this on with many thanks to my good friend Reed, who I learned through him that Nickelback was on the road in Australia and was doing a show in Sydney the night as I arrived and again in Melbourne a couple of nights later. It was too late too coordinate seeing them in Sydney, but Reed had a tie with the band through a good friend from high school who was able to line me up with a VIP package to meet the band and see the show from the floor in the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. The below video is from the show and hopefully a good listen while reading this post. The band has tons of great songs that you all know, but this as well as being pretty well-known, gives a good tie to my friend Reed, who is rock star along with his friend Jonas and the band manager Chief – Many thanks to you all!!

Sydney from the harbor

Sydney from the harbor

Sydney and Manly Beach

Now, back to Sydney and no hotel room on a Saturday night… – In my defense,  I had checked on-line a couple of times for hotels, but they were all so expensive, I thought getting in so early (7:00 AM) I would be able to talk to a tourist information place and hopefully they could help… – well, in reality, all they did was laughed at me…  they said weekends book out in the City and prices go up accordingly… – They also said they have no idea or

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

recommendations (at least not under $450US per night) – until a place seemed to open out at Manly Beach, which sounded nice and a fun excursion through the City on the train and on a boat over the bay to Manly… – which worked out perfect. Until I got to Manly that is of course. – I had paid for the room, $120US and had a great ride on the train and the ferry with landmark views of the City and the harbor and out to a cool little area called Manly! – When I arrived at the hotel, it was really a

Manly Wharf

Manly Wharf

Backpackers hostel and they had no rooms/beds available which they had apparently told this to the information center that and in turn they had not received my payment…. – oh well – what do you do… – luck would have it through while I was there talking to the women about options, another women came in who was staying there and had just booked for another week, but had found a house to staying and did not need the extra week. She was ready to move

surf school

surf school

out tomorrow… – Which did not help me tons, but after she heard my story, she checked if she could move in that day instead and was able to and in turn she gave up her room for me!! YAY!! – I have a place to sleep and a day to discover Manly. I got my laundry done, I laid out on the beach and saw all kinds of surfing classes, mainly for little kids, which was cool and I got to eat my first burger and first burrito in way too long. Life was good!!

Coastal Drive to Melbourne

good thing to remember

good thing to remember

Out of Sydney I rented a car to discover a bit of the back roads and coast lines of Australia. I left Sydney on Monday afternoon in route to Melbourne (for the show and more touring). Although the drive was beautiful and a learning experience, the biggest excitement and biggest bummer of that 1,000 km + drive from S to M was seeing my first kangaroo in the wild, but sadly I did not get a picture of it. A view of the sights and the signs that I did see below:

Melbourne

Nickelback Melbourne 11-27-2012 - Thanks Reedo!!

Nickelback Melbourne 11-27-2012 – Thanks Reedo!!

Amazingly cool city. Of course it started with arriving to go to an amazingly cool concert, but it was cool regardless. I had heard about the alley bars and restaurants and shops and all, which I got to experience first hand, but first having my hotel blop in the middle of one of the alleyways. Cool, fun bars and people and all. – No complaints on Melbourne, other than I wish could have stayed a couple more days! A couple more pictures from the concert and some sights of walking around the City.

GOR - The Drive

GOR – The Drive

The Great Ocean Road

The GOR is beautiful, but truly the best part of the trip was meeting four college folks who were studying in Sydney and who were starting their summer break with a road trip to Melbourne and a drive down the Great Ocean Road. I bumped into them in a small town toward the end of the ocean road as we were all checking into a hotel; them without a car.

GOR - the crew

GOR – the crew

They apparently had a rent a car that they had been in an accident earlier in the day and it was out of commission. They were looking for a ride back to Melbourne the next day, which is about four or five hours along the highway, and since I was headed back to catch a flight anyway, I of course offered them a lift. It made the trip. First of all, this crew was so excited that everything was working out, it was such a good feel to start with. Then, we had a chance to drive the end of the GOR and see a couple of sites they had seen like the 12 apostles – which missing is like going to Deadwood and not seeing the No.1o Saloon – unheard of… – We also had tons of time to talk and I learned tons about growing up in China; school, family, politics, … – it was very cool! And a beautiful drive to boot!!

GOR - the best rock formation

GOR – the best rock formation

kayaking on the great ocean road

kayaking on the great ocean road

CairnsPort Douglas and the Great Barrier Reef

WOW!!! – That is about all I can say about Cairns, Port Douglas and the Great Barrier Reef. – It was recommended by a guy I met on a boat trip in HaLong Bay, Vietnam, who said it was a must see… – and the GBR was a great place to dive. – He was obviously so right. – I did three dives in five days, had tons of great sea food, local beer, I went to mass at the historic St Mary’s on the Sea, saw tons or sunsets and sunrises and overall had a an amazing great time! – Again – WOW is all I can say!!

Cairns Sunrise

Cairns Sunrise

GOR- Sunset - last night

GOR- Sunset – last night

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Bliss

There are many places that I have visited on my travels that I have thought, “I have to come back here”, but the first place that I truly have had the hardest time actually leaving was just this past week in Bali. I was there only five days, and maybe that had something to do with it, but I have been many places only five days, for that matter many places that i had been only one day, and after being there, where ever that might be, I was ready to move on and discover the next place. – Not so for Bali; I wanted to stay!

The crazy thing is I was headed to Australia, a new continent and new country, and one that I was really looking forward to visiting. I had heard stories that Australian women love the American accent – and of course all Aussie women are hot as all get out! Not to even mention seeing Kangaroos and Koala Bears in the wild and all, but regardless, with all that ahead, I still did not want to leave Bali!!

Serious white sand beaches of south east coast of Bali near hotel in Nusa Dua

Serious white sand beaches of south-east coast of Bali near hotel in Nusa Dua

Why the reluctancy… – I guess maybe because the island is all about rest and relaxation and rejuvenation, which is exactly what I was ready for! – Now with that said, as I look back on the five days in the midst of the R&R&R I somehow seemed to do tons. – I went diving one day on the north side of the island to see the USAT Liberty, which was torpedoed on WWII and stayed a float and only had one casualty, which was a guy who had a heart attach, only to be pushed back out to see after the main volcano on the island, Mount Agung, erupted in ’63, pushing the ship back out to sea 100 meters and making for one of the best wreck dive sites reachable from the shore in the world. – It was recommended by my dive instructor Annaleese in Ko Phi Phil and it amazing! I read a couple of books; Ken Follett‘s Sins of Our Fathers and finished reading World Without End, as well as re-reading the Love section of Eat, Pray Love ( to learn more about Bali). I went for runs on the beach in the morning and walks in the afternoon, saw sunrises near the hotel in Nusa Dua and had cocktails at sunsets near Kuta beach. I toured around the Volcano, Mount Agung, and saw the black sand and volcanic rock beaches of the north and the white sand beaches of the south parts of the island. I went to a wine tasting and celebrated Thanksgiving. I continued to meet great people from everywhere…- I discovered Ubud for a day and a night and walked the rice paddy fields and saw the country side and the ocean. I worked on my tan; the traditional bright red faced Irish tan – …and somehow through it all I had a chance to completely just chill and enjoy! – It was amazing – and hard to leave!

Diving Beach on the north of Bali called Talumben- location of the USAT Liberty - US Ship torpedoed by Japan in January, 1942 just off of Bali - The ship stayed a float into this beach with only one casaulity of a heart attach on board.

Diving Beach on the north of Bali called Talumben- place of the USAT Liberty – US Ship torpedoed by Japan in January, 1942 just off Bali – The ship stayed a float into this beach with only one casuality of a heart attach on board.

Rather than go on with words about all the happenings, I will let the camera do the talking for me and tell the story of way I never wanted to leave Bali. – Photo Log, journal and gallery below… – I hope you enjoy!

Sunset Bali 2

Sunset Bali 2

Happy Holidays from the Road

Happy Holidays from the Road

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Big City Tour of SE Asia!!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!!

I am spending T-day in Bali, and just had Balinese Suckling Pig for my Thanksgiving Day dinner! – It was excellent, but missing the celebrating the real thing back home with friends and family!

As I have traveled and posted on this blog most recently, I have mainly have focused on the beaches and happens there about, but this past month or so in SE Asia I have also had a chance to visit a couple Big Cities. In fact, as I left Thailand I did an actual true “Big City Tour” of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur on my way to Bali. I love big cities and I seem to learn something new and fresh and fascinating every time I get a chance to visit a new one! Here are a few collages (thanks again for Stacey for the link and stainedglasscollage for the platform to make them) and short recap of the highlights and lowlights of each of the cities I had a chance to visit, starting with leaving India and arriving in Bangkok, Thailand.

Bangkok

Snapshot: Inexpensive, great street vendor food stands, best knockoffs and Buddha ++!!

Bangkok

I arrived in Bangkok from India and felt like I had entered a new world; A western world. Possibly in part because I was staying at a Holiday Inn Express near the Embassies and the shopping, but regardless, it felt great. The City has major cheap shopping (MBK Center Rocks), it has to be the knock of capital of the world, which I loved. It had great street food vendors and – Cheap hotels, cheap beers (sorry, by cheap I mean inexpensive) – Some very cool Temples (Wats) and markets, and an old town area near the river. All great! – Some serious city traffic, but that was the only downside – otherwise a perfect stop over on travels and a great place to get recharged and stocked up for the Islands!

Hanoi

Socialist Republic, War, Peace, Religion, Crazy Traffic, Great Food and Cheap Beer!

Hanoi

It was wild going to Vietnam. I guess because of the war and the unknown. So many stories and books and movies. The craziest thing did happen when I arrived, nothing of any concern, just a major scam by the taxi driver and the hotels. I had a place booked on booking.com that sounded nice in the Old Town Area of Hanoi, which my taxi driver said he knew were it was. He took me to a hotel, where someone came out and said my room was not available, so they were going to take me to one of their other property. Since my place was called the Hanoi Boutique Hotel I, I assumed HBH II would be just fine as well. – Well, I arrived  and it was a complete hole in the wall, it was a different name (clue one) but I decided since it sounded like my place was not available, I would check in and go for a jog and not get too caught up about it. On my jog I noticed I was a block from the hotel I was supposed to be in, so I stopped in to check out what the issue was there, and they said, no, no issue, they had my reservation and my room was ready and waiting… – The whole thing was a scam…. –  The other hotel had someone waiting outside my hotel to divert me to their hotel… – oh well – I had not paid the other place any money, so I went back for my back and got the heck out of the scam place and in to my place which was very nice! – Other than the scam, the thing that stood out for me in Hanoi the most was the Traffic, which was seriously crazy – It was busy like Bangkok and other places, but here they decided to do it all with out stop signs or lights or walk/don’t walk signs… – traffic just weaved in and out of each other at every intersection – and to get across the street, you just did the same – walk between scooters and cars and all – it was crazy – I am glad I was not driving. Otherwise the place had an amazing history and it was so cool to see and experience it all – They good and cheap food as well and the people were great! Very religious and very comfortable overall and very glad I made to Hanoi – scam and all!

Phnom Penh

Great place to meet up with good friends from Austin, Royalty, Religion, President Obama & good cold beer!

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh as you know from other posts is where I had the chance to connect with some old friends from Austin, which was too, too nice. – It was kind of cool that the President was coming there a couple of days after we were there as well, so everyone was very positive Obama and the US, which was nice! – Over all a very nice manageable city, with great food, great beer and good place to meet up with friends from the States!!

Singapore

Super Expensive, clean and nice City – Great Architecture, amazing high-end shopping!

Singapore

OK, I have been to some expensive cities before, but this one is ridiculous. – I paid $17 USD for a beer – It was a good Guinness, which was nice, but the local beer was only a $1 cheaper. – Crazy! – I think they just raise the prices for a shock factor or something.

This place truly is an Island City, and Country for that matter. – Over all it was pretty cool. Nice skyline and saw some cool architecture. They had tons of shopping, and things in the stores were not that out of line expensive – just bars, restaurants and hotels (the three things I need most in a City) as I far as I could tell. Got to see a couple of my brother Dan’s companies buildings, which was cool – All and all a positive, but maybe I should have only stayed for one day and not two, which would have been a little easier on my wallet. Oh well, cool experience and city to see!

Kuala Lumpur

Amazing twin towers and KL Tower, good prices, serious monsoon season in November!

Kuala Lumpur

Way cool city – A low price Singapore and kind of  like a Bangkok of Malaysia – Nice shopping, great food, nice people, reasonable prices, … – I liked it! – The twin towers were amazing and the rest of the city was cool – but it was rainy season – monsoons apparently in November in Kuala Lumpur, so be careful on your timing to visit.

Phuket

Crazy Party town of Patong and Bangla Road, City Island and Beaches

Phuket

Most people probably would not list Phuket as a Big City, but if you have been there, you know it is an Island City in its own right – Especially if you go to other Islands in Thailand, this is definitely a different kind of Island. So, for this post, in honor of Patong Beach and Bangla Road, I am listing in the Big Cities of SE Asia!

That’s it! – I am in Bali now, and don’t ever want to leave. It is amazing here. Relaxing, rejuvenating, beautiful, inexpensive, welcoming, …a place of big smiles! – All though I am excited to continued my travels on to Sydney (tomorrow) and through Australia and New Zealand, and mostly excited to be getting home for Christmas, this truly is the hardest place I have had to leave. The whole Island is like being at a spa! Come when you can!

Looking forward to seeing you all soon!!

Joe

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People Rock!

I love people; friends, family, friends of friends, friends of family, family of friends, and friends I have not had a chance to meet yet. New and old acquaintances from work, travel, and life. People I see on a regular basis and those that it has been way too long since I have had a chance to see. Strangers, which I hope won’t be stranger for long. Restaurant, hotel and airline staff, fellow travelers and those native to where ever I happen to be. All and all, I love people!

Most recently I was reminding of this fact when I had a chance to meet up with an old friend from Austin who was traveling in Cambodia, his birth country, that he had not been back to since leaving in 1975 when all hell had broken out there. He was on travel with his wife and family and friends from Austin and Cambodia who had come to kick off a new “Friendship City” between Austin and Siem Reap, the home of Angkor Wat.

I was in Phuket and had to make a decision to continue my travels south on a cheap direct flight to Kuala Lumpur and on to Singapore or divert my plans and fly up to see Channy while he and his entourage were still in Cambodia. Having a chance to see a good friend on travel, while following the advice of another good friend Julie, who had recommended seeing Cambodia, it made my decision an easy one. Adding to it, having a chance to visit a new Country, that has such a history overall and particularly for my friend, it was a no brainer. And as payback, not that I needed one, was the diversion has giving me more positive feelings and good energy than I can began to describe.

I flew in to Phnom Penh Tuesday afternoon and I am writing this in the van (Channy’s travel van) on the way back to the airport on Wednesday afternoon, so almost exactly an 24-hour side trip, that has added so much to my travels. Many, many thanks to Channy, his wife Laura, the rest of the entourage and all the good, good friends and amazing people overall, all of you, for making this life so damn good!

Good Austin Friends in Phnom Pehn Cambodia

Channy’s story and those of his friends are amazing, all who had been in the Cambodian Navy before the genocide happened here with the Khmer Rouge Regime. One of the gentleman told the story, somewhat in the way that, ‘it happens’, that he had lost all thirteen of his siblings to the killing fields under the rule of Pol Pot. I guess when nearly 2.5 million people had been killed and another 1.5 million displaces from the Country, cutting the population in half after the Civil war, everyone knows someone who was lost or lost someone themselves, in this case many of his own family. I am so glad this group was here to tell the story, and I was there to hear it.

Growing up in Antigo, Wisconsin, there was a family from Cambodia that my Mom and a number of families from my home town helped to start a new life in the States. At the time I sadly did not know or understand the full impact and happenings of the story in Cambodia or the importance of what was being done to help this family establish a life in Antigo. I fear I probably was more concerned about having to share my Easter basket candy at the time! – …but now having a chance to visit their home country and getting a chance to meet others that were effect so greatly by this tragic part of our worlds history, I am so glad my mom and the other families of Antigo had the good sense to help, past my naive self!

As I am leaving Cambodia, I am also leaving the last two plus weeks I spent in Thailand, getting into this new relaxed mode of travel and where my sentiment of loving people has proven itself time and time again with new connections. I don’t know, maybe I have become more open?!? – or maybe there are just a lot more people traveling and to meet in Thailand – maybe just more of a party atmosphere, …but whatever it is, since I have arrived, I have had the chance to meet some of the coolest and fun people. Every place I have been and every time I pack up and head to a new place, it seems I meet another set of new, cool, fun and interesting people.

The Crowds leaving Ko Pha Ngan on the ferry from the Full Moon Party in route to Ko Tao

I flew through Bangkok as I arrived in Thailand and transferred to a different airport to fly down south to the islands. I ended up on a bus and later on to a ferry to get out to the Full Moon Party on Ko Pha Ngan by about 9:00 PM that night of the full moon (Oct 30th) and on the way I met this coolest couple, Natasha and …I think Steve, who apparently were no longer a couple, but still traveling together, from Calgary, – and arriving, like me, for a the all night party with only a few hours to spare. On the ferry we had a chance to talk about their travels through Bali and KL and the Philippines. I learned tons and loved talking with them. I missed seeing them at the party on the beach, but I know they were having fun, along with me and 20k other people!

The following morning, the hotel, that I sort of stayed in, told me that it was a three-day wait to get a ferry to Ko Tao, but I went to the ferry and was able to get on, what I am sure was a well overloaded boat, no problem. While waiting in line I met two girls, Brittney and Monica, again from Canada, this time from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island – Again the coolest people – I was thinking about taking diving lessons on Ko Tao and ended up being approached by a guy from Ban’s on the ferry about checking out their hotel (Stay for free if you take the lessons there) – I had no place to stay and no plan, so I thought I would check it out – when I arrived, Monica and Brittney were there as well and planning the same thing; to check it out. – Three days later, we were all open water certified and celebrating with our dive instructor at the local bar at Bans. – Just good, good people!

Bans Open Water Certification Celebration with Monica and our instructors Steve and Mike (thanks to Britney for taking this shot)

As travels continued, so did my meeting more people and partying with them and or talking and learning about their travels and lives and happenings and all. A couple in Ko Samui, another new couple on the bus to Phuket, another couple in route to Ko Phi Phi, all the people at Adventure Club Diving, where I got my Advanced Open Water Diving Certificate, people at the beach, people back in Phuket, this time on Patong Beach… everywhere – all new people, but all people just great to meet and have added so much to my travels and experiences. – I love people!

Diving Crew on Boat in Ko Phi Phi

I am off now to do a little City touring; Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, before heading to Bali for a week, but before I start that leg and hopefully meet some more good people, new and old friends, let me share some pictures from my time on the Islands of Thailand; Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Tao, Ko Samui , Phuket (Kata Beach), Ko Phi Phi and back to Phuket (Patong Beach):

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I Love Travel

I love travel; air travel in particular. I have loved it ever since my first flight when I was 11 years old and I flew, by myself, back from Billings, Montana to Central Wisconsin Airport (CWA) with a transfer in Minneapolis. I have my Uncle Don and Aunt Margaret to thank for that trip. They had come out to visit our family that summer and my Uncle Don asked if I wanted to drive back, camping on the way, to spend a week in Cody, Wyoming with he and my cousin Lynn. Yes, please, was of course my answer!! – It was my first trip away from home, not being with my Mom and family, and it was an amazing experience. I am sure it has had a big impact on why I like to travel so much today! Thank you for that Uncle Don, Aunt Margaret and Lynn (and Mom for letting me go!).

I continued developing this love for air travel while I lived in different places around the Country and with having chances to get on planes to get back home to see family and friends or meet them in other locations around the country! Also to get to my new home to meet new friends there. I love airports enough that while living in Chicago, when I landed at O’Hara a number of times I would just stop at the airport bar to have a beer to ease into being home and a chance to see all the other travelers, getting home or heading out for the weekend, while I was safely at my home destination. Similarly when I moved to Austin, flying back into town was like a party, where at Austin-Bergtrom they would have a band playing and beers being poured, giving you that same warm welcome being back home again feeling!

Airports have been a meeting place over the years, with picking friends up as they flew in to visit, or just going to meet them at the airport as they flew through town. With a lot of good friends being fellow travelers for work and play, I have also had many times when I have bumped into friends at different airports while we were both on the road and traveling through Memphis, Detroit, New York, Dallas or LA. Bottom line, I live travel!

This positive feeling obviously has continued and this weekend as I arrived in Thailand and with this new philosophy for my last two months of this journey to relax and enjoy, I learned how easy and inexpensive it was to get to Vietnam, so I followed the recommendations of two good friends from Austin, Erin and Paul, and caught a flight to Hanoi and then took a couple of day boat trip out in to HaLong Bay, apparently one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and a regular on the Travel and Leisure Mag’s Annual top five destinations in the world. Unlike when I was 11, this time I did not have a flight attendant getting me from gate to gate and no big plastic ticket holder around my neck, but it was again, an amazing experience. I as I arrived at the Bangkok airport it still had all the excitement of the planes and the people going to so many different places around the world and me going to discover a new land myself. Still happy to be on the road, or in the air, to discover a new Country and have a new adventure. I love meeting new people, learning about new cultures and histories, trying new foods and beers and wines as well. Here is a quick photo log of the sights I saw on my long weekend in Vietnam; Hanoi and HaLong Bay:

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