Saturday, May 9, 2009

Terrible – and terrific – day in Boston

First, terrible – because after trekking all across the world, encountering every bacteria and germ known to man, and staying healthy as a horse - Rainey got deathly ill today on American soil. He has not been out of bed since breakfast, has fever and chills, headache, upset stomach – basically you name it and it is not working right on him. He is so sick that it breaks my heart. He made me go out and scavenged all day with Ben and Nanny – so I have great adventures to relate – but it was a beautiful day in Boston and Rainey missed out on all of the fun. Plus, you do not get any points unless both team members are present at every event - so, we ended up with ZERO points for the Boston rally.

Luckily, we did not need the points - because - on the terrific side – I am SOOOO proud to announce that the Littlepage Booth Penchas teams did a clean sweep of first and second place. Rainey and I won FIRST place and received the “World’s Best Traveler: 2009” medals and trophy this afternoon (he got his in abstention – but it still counts). In addition to the awesome medals, winning also means that we get to come back again next year – FOR FREE!!!! I can’t wait…only 364 days to go…!!!! Be ready for more blogs.

And, in SECOND place (surprising everyone with their travel skills, stamina and drive), came the Something Old, Something New team of Nanny and Ben. It was a great evening. For a recording of all of the scores for every team for each leg, go to:

Now – on to Boston. We started off with a Ride the Ducks tour of the city (100 bonus points) which was a great start as it gave us a good overview of the city and some landmarks for the rest of the scavenges. Then we video-taped Ben reciting a Longfellow poem while on the Longfellow bridge (which first required a trip to Borders to copy out a Longfellow poem as, for sure, none of us knew any by heart). Next on to Fanueil Hall and Quincy market for a food scavenge and where Mom “got in the act with a local street performer” and danced with a street musician (35 points). We got side-tracked watching a contortionist performer who literally fit his body through a squash racket (not an easy talent to describe on a resume). No points for that one but the train-wreck draw of his show kept us back almost half an hour

Our favorite other scavenges from today (like all days in this event, we do so many things each day that I can only choose a few to talk about or this blog would go on and on):

Scavenge # 1: At Boston City Hall, you will find a large outdoor Tea Kettle. What sits under it.
First, the kettle actually puts out smoke or steam all day (just like it is boiling) and second, can you believe it? Below it is a Starbucks… (they really are EVERYWHERE... except Cambodia and Tunisia as we learned on this trip).

Scavenge # 2: Near Paul Revere’s house, visit a triangle that is a square. What two things meet but don’t cause an eclipse?
Cute riddle. Right in front of Paul Revere’s house is a small town square that is actually shaped like a triangle. Two of the intersecting streets that make up the triangle are called “Moon” and “Sun”.

Scavenge # 3: Visit Widener Library.. what was the main condition of the benefactor?
This is Harvard’s library and the benefactor required that “no brick on the building ever be changed”. So, as times have passed and the university needed to expand the library, they could not change the structure, so they have had to dig down below it and expand downwards. Ben got a kick out of seeing the Harvard campus.
And so ends this second year of Great Escape Global Scavenger Hunt. With great sadness, we leave tomorrow for 12 months without the high pace and drama of traveling around the world ay a break-neck . We cannot wait to start again... next year. Thank you all, once again, for supporting us and following us on our adventures. It has been ANOTHER trip of a lifetime !!!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Copenhagen to Cold, Cold Iceland

We arrived in Copehagen the night before our check in for this leg and hit the town running...trying to get as much done as quickly as possible.

Scavenge: Do a blind taste test between Carlsburg and Tuborg
We blindfolded Rainey – and then poor Ben (because Mom does not drink) - with my scarf and they took on the challenge. Rainey said that he could not really differentiate any difference between the two beers but Ben liked Tuborg better (not that he has much of a developed palette).
Scavenge: Find out what LEGO means and buy a small one.
Bit of trivia that you probably cannot imagine how you lived without knowing: The name for LEGO (the interlocking toys) comes from a merger of two Danish words: Leg Godt which means “Play Well”
Scavenge: Locate and visit the Black Diamond
The Black Diamond is this super-modern, high tech library in Copenhagen made totally from black glass. Against the backdrop of antique buildings and the canal, it is quite a nod to the 21st century.

Scavenge: Take in a session of Folketing at Christianborg Palace
The Christianborg Palace is the parliament house and “Folketing” is the Danish word for giving speeches on the parliament floor. There is a viewing gallery and we went this morning to see the politicians at their best. Very interesting. We watched both a woman and then a man give speeches on some issue (we had no idea since we don’t speak a word of Danish) while not a single person on the floor listened. It was exactly like you see on CSpan: While the speaker delivered his or her presentation, the other politicians milled around and talked to each other and hung out – paying little or no attention to the speech. (It felt a lot like when the jury falls asleep while you’re making some brilliant point)
We then set off for Iceland and, the answer to your logical question, is” “No, I did not pack appropriately for artic weather”. I packed for India. We arrived in Iceland about 4 PM and checked into our hotel in Rekjavik. The sun does not set until 11 PM (which is very disorienting because when it is 9 PM it feels like 4 PM with bright sunshine) so we had hours for scavenges last night. Although the tourist books say that Iceland’s weather is “milder than expected” that is clearly true only for people who did not pack for Southeast Asia. It is FREEZING here – especially when the wind blows.

Iceland is our last international scavenge leg - and we are all so sad that this unbelievable 3 weeks is almost over - that we are grumpy and irritable. It seems unthinkable that in just 2 days we will be back in our normal life with this adventure behind us. I so wish that we were now starting – instead of ending. I miss Jordan terribly and wish that he could have come with us as Ben has had one of the best, hardest and most educational experiences of his life.

Like Tunisia, I knew little or nothing about Iceland and had no reference point for whether I would like it here. Not surprisingly, Bill made us see the very best of this place and I was totally charmed (even though frozen) by Iceland.

Scavenge # 1: Take a dip by visiting one of the city’s public outdoor geothermal swimming pools
What seems like the most ridiculous idea when you are cold? Going swimming. But there were points involved so off we went with swimsuit in hand. And it was great! There are 11 public geothermal pools in Revjavik. The one we chose was big and had several swimming / lounging areas including large Jacuzzis and lay-down wading pools that are all warm and heated from the underground springs. It was so soothing and relaxing.

Scavenge # 2: Visit Perlan – for the view and the food
We ate dinner at the Pearl (or Perlan) which is a restaurant built up on the hill overlooking the city. Its architecture is similar to an observatory in that the entire roof of the restaurant (which also revolves for maximum effect) is glass. It has the most magnificient view that I have ever seen at a restaurant – and its 360 degrees. The food was average to not-great but the atmosphere rocked.

For this leg – in a very unusual and unexpected move – Bill let us rent cars and navigate Iceland for ourselves. It felt so liberating to not have to find a tuk-tuk or a train or a bus, but to just be able to get in a car and drive away on our own timetable. Day 2 found us up at 5 AM to do some bonus travel. We had no idea what we would find but ended up with two back-to-back WOW experiences.

Scavenge: Take a team photo next to the mighty Gulfoss. Be careful!
After a long ride, we discovered that Gulfoss is a breathtaking waterfall and – unlike Niagara Falls – there is no security, barriers or safeguards. You can climb right up to the top of it and look down (while standing on slippery rocks covered with moss and being sprayed with mist from the power of the waterfall). Despite the cold, Ben, Rainey and I spent almost an hour climbing all over Gulfoss and I took dozens of photos. To be so close to something so powerful.
Scavenge: Visit Blaalonio and get covered in silica
This is a true WOW – the Blue Lagoon – and I am humiliated to admit that I had never even heard of it. It is a gigantic neck-deep pool carved out of the natural rock that is lined with a layer of smooth silica. The water is perfectly warm, opaque (almost white in color) with natural chemicals and a thick fog rises from the pool to where it is sometimes hard to even see around you. The drill is that you lather on this thick silica mud mask (that you get from wooden pots situated all around the pool), lay back in the warm water while it dries and exfoliates your face naturally and hang out in this cocoon of natural beauty and warmth. I had been cold since I set foot in Iceland (chilled to the bone) so the Blue Lagoon was like heaven. I felt every muscle warm up. We stayed for almost 2 hours and by the time we came out I wanted to just fall into a coma. It was our last scavenge before going to the airport (check in for this leg was at the airport) and I intend to sleep the entire way to Boston.

Tomorrow – in Boston – is our last scavenge leg and we go home on Sunday.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Nordic Europe: Viking Adventures

WHAT AN AMAZING FEW DAYS. This leg is the best example of what is brilliant about this entire trip: it forces you to: (a) plot your way through multiple countries (without being able to ask any hotel concierge for help or jump on google); (b) strategize on the best (and most point-filled) way to navigate an entire section of Europe and (c) requires you to basically inhale entire cities within hours. We got dropped off in Frankfurt two days ago and were told to check-in with Bill and Pamela today at 11 AM in Copenhagen. We had literally hundreds of potential scavenges to choose along the way which gave us multiple options for seeing Germany, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. We took off running as soon as the dinner was over, did our mandatory Frankfurt challenges and headed out of town on a very late night – early morning train in Berlin. The course we choose was to go from Frankfurt – to – Berlin – to – Hamburg – to – Kiel (all Germany) – to – Gotteborg (Sweden) – to – Malmo (Sweden) – to – Copenhagen (Denmark). And all in less than 40 hours…Yes, the answer to your first question is – we have not slept very much for the past few days.

PLUS – for this leg – we have to carry all of our stuff with us (into trains, ferries, taxis) and through every city. I bitterly regretted every extra pair of socks on this leg as my suitcase got heavier and heavier by the hour as I hauled it up and down stairs in train stations. Just the luggage alone makes this trip so much harder than the others.

We have done SOOO much stuff over the past few days that I could write an entire book just on this leg. I have tried to pick out a few fun ones…

Bonus Scavenge: Visit the former site of Check Point Charlie in Berlin.
We schedule a 1 ½ hour lay over between trains in Berlin so we could rush to see the old Berlin Wall (they have preserved a section of it right where it used to be – graffiti and all) as well as Checkpoint Charlie (the transition check point area between East and West Berlin). It was so interesting to think that just a few decades ago this modern city was divided down the middle with fundamental differences in culture, socioeconomics and lifestyle between two sides.

Scavenge: Ride a balloon in Hamburg

There is this very awesome tethered balloon ride in Hamburg that takes you up above all of the buildings for a full view of the city. It does not sail away but it still seemed like a great idea. Unfortunately, bad weather grounded it so the best we could do was a photo in front of it. SO sad, I have never been on a balloon and I would have loved to at least "pretend".

Scavenge: Stop a local on a bridge and ask them how many bridges there are in Hamburg.
We interviewed an 84 year old woman who said that there were more than 2000 bridges in the city (the guide book says 2500) but both of these numbers seem unbelievable. She was very sweet and her English was excellent.

Scavenge: Interview two tourists along the Binnenalster: ask where they are from and tell them about your adventures so far.
The Binnenalster is this pretty lake in the middle of town which has cafes and shops aong the edge. We stopped two women who thought that we were trying to either sell them something or scam them until we did the full explanation. Then they warmed us and told us all about what they had been doing in Hamburg. Again, an example of something that you would never normally do (unless there are points involved) and which ends up being a highlight of your day.

Bonus Scavenge: Take a ferry from Germany to Sweden
Not having any clue about these things, we envisioned that a ferry in this part of the world would be one step above a shrimp trawler and that we’d be lucky if we ended up with a wooden upright seat for the 14 hour crossing. What a surprise when we showed u pat the Kiel pier to find that “ferry” means cruise liner type ship with beds, clean sheets, a porthole, a fancy restaurant, gambling and even a man with a guitar singing Abba songs… This is me doing the “happy dance” when we realized that our night travel to Gotteborg was going to be GREAT instead of miserable.

Scavenge: Take a stroll in the Gotteborg Botanical Gardens for one hour.
It was cold. It was raining. It was windy. But we had just come 14 hours to get the Gotteborg points so by golly we were going to “stroll” in the gardens if it killed us. Ben took a photo of his watch as we entered the gardens and we counted down the cold, wet minutes until we could leave. But – as with everything about this trip – just when you feel like grumbling, you turn a corner and see a patch of beautiful tulips that take your breath away and it makes the whole trek across 2 countries worthwhile.

Bonus Scavenge: Take a swim in the Baltic Sea

When we got to the beach in Malmo (a small town on the South tip of Sweden – right across the bridge from Copenhagen) the wind was blowing so hard that you could barely stand up. But Rainey had set his mind to getting the bonus 100 points for getting into the Baltic – so in he went – freezing water and all. Ben refused because it was so cold and windy but then regretted it. So Rainey went back in again with him (to keep Ben’s company) as Ben dipped down into artic temperature Baltic sea. Our two brave men!!!! (Because, to be honest, this might have been 100 points that I left on the table – that’s how much I HATE cold water). Ben said that it was so cold that you went numb as soon as you stepped in.

We have now reached Copehagen... We did TONS of great things there ... stay tuned for my next blog.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Memories… like the corners of my mind

We are now past our halfway mark in terms of countries with 6 of the 10 completed. Nanny got sick in Turkey (bad flu) and had a tough day or two. Then yesterday Ben got sick (bad headache from not drinking enough water) but he's better today. Fingers crossed that it not Rainey or my turn next as we are entering the hardest leg of the trip. We just arrived in Frankfurt and are having a big dinner party with everyone together tonight before we get our scavenge booklets. We all think that we are going to have to head out to other countries pretty quick - the real question is whether that will be tonight or tomorrow. Which begs the really important question: to wash clothes or not? Carrying dirty clothes is bad but hauling around wet clothes is even worse.

A quick walk down memory lane from the trip so far (at least a few of the countries - I don't have time for all before dinner - but the high speed internet connection here is awesome (thank you Germany) so wanted to upload some pics quickly):

The whole group
A group photo of all of the teams as we set off from Seattle. We all look a bit different now – and lot like we have been rode hard and put up wet.
Ben and I on the metro train in Seattle – on our way to the Space Needle

Ben and Nanny have tea at the old Kamikaze Pilot’s Club teahouse outside of Tapei.

Ben feeding the elephant in Ayutthaya

Wat Po Temple’s amazing reclining Buddha. As much as I liked the face – I was really intrigued with the sheer size of the toes
Tiger Temple: Rainey with the tigers at Tiger Temple (this is just because April bet that Rainey did not go near the tigers…). But I have photo proof.

Having a cold drink that this very unusual restaurant in Siem Reap called Butterflies – which is an outdoor place where you sit in these pagodas and the entire place is inside a large net and is filled with butterflies. They fly and land all around you as you eat and drink. All colors and sizes.

A food scavenge – thus Rainey is having NONE of it

Ben rings the bell to send his prayer to heaven in the Monkey Temple in Jaipur – a long trek up a very steep cobbled path in the blistering heat (ah yes, the heat of India – something that you never forget) – to be rewarded by an amazing view of all of Jaipur.

Funny Taj photo of Nanny:

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Surprising Tunisia

OK - here is a VERY well kept secret - Tunisia is awesome - who knew??? I arrived with LOW expectations and discovered that Tunis is a mini-Paris with sidewalk cafes, open markets and lots of beautiful people speaking in French. I was so pleasantly surprised that I am almost without words.
We got in about midday yesterday and received scavenges for yesterday and today. For this leg, we can scavenge for the entire time with another team (if we want) – which makes planning much easier. We set out immediately to take a train to Carthage (yes, of Hannibal fame) which was only a short, standing-room only, mildly smelly train ride away. The ruins were really cool. We had to go to Tophet (an area that was used for human sacrifices – mainly children sacrifices). The stone on the left marks the sacrifice of a boy child (awful even to think about).
From Carthage, we went on to a truly captivating little town called Sidi Bou Said – which I have never heard of – and is one of the coolest place I have ever been. It is built on a hill by the sea and is a smaller- but equally romantic - version of Mikanos. Every building is white with blue trim – and the tradition is to do decorative and creative things with your door. The weather was cool and crisp and we drank mint tea (with pine nuts floating on the top – don’t ask me why, but that is the tradition here) at sunset at a restaurant that over-looked the sea.

Today we were up at dawn to get the first train out to Sousse to see an old fort (not that impressive) and then on to El Jem to explore the roman coliseum that was used to film the movie Gladiator. Talk about impressive. And, unlike the coliseum in Rome, you can climb all over this one – and I mean all over - like down in the catacombs and up to the rafters. We stood in the middle of the coliseum and visualized what it would have been like to walk out there as a gladiator into a duel to the death.

Since today was Sunday, we also had to go to the Sunday Market – which we discovered was a locals market that sells housewares, clothes etc. (as opposed to the typical tourist trap souvenirs). My favorite was the cloth sellers who were selling head-scarf material by the yard (as Tunisia is a Muslim country, many of the women are scarfed).

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Turkish Delight

I was so sad to leave India. Clearly India is a place that either grabs your heart and stays with your forever - or you dislike every aspect of its poverty, heat and harsh conditions. I am clearly an India lover. Several of the teams could not wait to get out of there but I missed India as soon as we took off. It is a country that gets into your soul and humbles you with its needs. It has been an amazing experience for Ben to see the reality of that world first-hand: from the woman begging beside the road with a hard-dead, horribly mangled child in her arms to the woman in a aquamarine sari who stopped and gave a passing cow some of her lunch (a simple offering to her god). It is so hard to describe India – you have to really have to see it (and live it) to believe it.

We arrived in Constantinople (Istanbul) to 72 degree weather – perfect blue skies – and modern public restrooms…. Heaven!! I am hoping that I’ve seen the last of the hole-in-the-ground toilets for a while (but we still have not been to the continent of Africa --- so that may be optimistic).

Istanbul is like a trendy European city on par with Paris or Madrid. Lots of history and amazing sights but also hip and exotic. We went straight out to the Blue Mosque so that we got there before the nightly prayer session shuts it down from non-Muslims. Amazing mosaics.

Scavenge #1: Visit Erenler Nargile ve Cay Bahcesi and try some chichi.
A difficult scavenge because this is a very specific “tobacco cafĂ©” in the middle of 1,430 other tobacco cafes in an area close to Istanbul University. It took us several false starts before we found the right place – a funky place behind a cemetery – where we drank apple tea and smoked a water pipe with another team (the Slayers) – two great guys from Seattle.


Scavenge #2: Walk through the Passage of Flowers
Another highlight - walking home down Cicek Pasaji (Flower Walk or Passage) – a pedestrian-only street of restaurants, shops and bars that was bustling with people. Lots of energy and laughter. We stopped and ate odd tasting (and textured) ice-cream which is more like taffy than ice-cream.

Today is May Day – a public holiday for all workers – which has (in the past) been a day of protests, violence, arrests and even deaths. It also means that a lot of stuff was closed or working on a different-than-usual schedule. Bill had warned us of areas in the city that we should not go (because the government was expecting union marches in those places) but as soon as we left the hotel we found tanks in the streets and thousands upon thousands of police: at every corner, in every place. So we decided to spend the day out of Istanbul on one of the nearby islands. In the end, we saw no protests or issues at all.

Scavenge #1: Take the ferry to Buyukada, then a carriage to Luna Park, then walk up the hill to the monastery of St. George.
We took the 10:30AM ferry out the island (arriving just before noon) and hopped on a horse-drawn carriage that took us up a steep hill to a beautiful park. Because of the holiday, the park was filled with Turkish people having picnics and enjoying the great weather. From there it was a STEEP climb to the monastery – but the view was worth it – out across the bay and back to Istanbul. It was a longer than expected ferry ride so it ended up taking most of the day – but we were due a calmer, quieter, more peaceful day and we enjoyed every minute.

Ben lit a candle and got a blessing at the St. George’s Greek Orthodox monastery at the top of the hill.

Scavenger # 4: Enjoy a traditional public Hammam
Yes, that is a Turkish bath – with all of the expected ornate, 300 year old hot marble platform in the middle of a domed steam room that you sprawl on virtually naked, large burly Turkish women who lather you up and scrub you down with a vigor and buckets of warm and cool water that you pour over yourself. A fresh experience for us all – and Ben had a great attitude ab0ut it all.

Scavenge # 5: Locate and visit the historical monument where a significant part of a recent James Bond movie was filmed.
We totally blew this one as we thought it was the Haga Sophia that was in a James Bond movie from 1999 or 2000. So we trecked up there only to find out later that the answer was really the Maiden’s Tower island that sits in the middle of the straits between Istanbul Europe and Istanbul Asia (the city actually straddles the two continents). That island was where the bad guys imprisoned Em in the last Pierce Brosnan James Bond. Shoot. We lost a bunch of points on that one.

Observation # 1: Food: Obviously we had to eat Doner Kebabs and Turkish delight – but nothing yucky or gross. In fact, the food was really great everywhere.

Observation # 2: Markets: Istanbul is full of markets including the Grand Bazaar but my favorite was the Spice Bazaar – a smaller covered market with stalls filled with spices, scents, hundreds of different kinds of sweets (the Turks really like dessert stuff) – so colorful and fragrant.

We just found out that we are off to Tunisia tomorrow.. a country that I admit to not even know where it was (the answer is Northern Africa if you are as ignorant as I am). We fly into Tunis and most of the people on the trip have never been there so it should be fun. Ben did a unit in school on Carthage so he actually knows the most of all of us about the area. Stay tuned for news on Tunisia…

Thank God, Rainey and I won the India leg - and got the 500 bonus points - so now we have a little bit of a cushion in case one of us gets sick or has to take a day off. It also allows us more flexibility to choose to do only the stuff we really want to do (even if those scavenges have lower points). The rules are that you can only do 5 scavenges a day with another team, so to spend more time with Ben and Nanny, we are choosing a lot of the bonus scavenges (which take longer to do but have bigger points and count as only one scavenge). We have also discovered that the bonus scavenges are often the biggest WOWs – even though they are often a real pain in the ass to get to.

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