Category Archives: Around the World Trips

2011: A Year in Review

When I think back on 2011 it will undoubtedly go down as the year where I did more in 12 months than most people do in a lifetime.  If I didn’t personally already defend a thesis, become a published author, move to a different country, and explore 20 countries on 4 continents along the way I would accuse myself of lying because I’m tired just thinking about it.  But I apparently did because I lived through all of it! Continue reading

I Visited the Blarney Castle (but didn’t kiss the stone!)

When I visited Ireland two years ago, I shocked and confused all idle questioners by not visiting Blarney Castle. As there are only so many things to do in Ireland I did finally visit the castle, but had no interest whatsoever in kissing the stone. Why? Well firstly I already talk too much if anything, secondly if there was a place where hundreds of tourists from around the entire world put their saliva to the point where there is a damp spot on the wall would you kiss it?  Exactly.

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Kilkenny: The Perfect Irish Town

I spent an unexpected few days in Ireland on my way home to the United States from Europe, but as everyone knows this is no great hardship.  I’d visited the country two years ago so I was determined to explore a few places I missed the last time around, which is how I ended up spending a few days in Kilkenny, about 90 km southeast of Dublin.  And I am so glad I did because it turns out Kilkenny is the perfect Irish town! Continue reading

A Weekend in Berlin

Posted from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA- yes, I made it home after four months, but there’s always more to write about!

Firstly, in order to explain just what I was doing in Berlin I’d need to introduce you to my friend Katherine-

Katherine and I are best friends who first met when we were 11 years old at the 6th grade Labor Day pool party where she noticed me because I was the only one not going into the water and instead reading a book. (I don’t remember the details of this, actually, because apparently I had my nose in a book.  I was “that” kid in middle school.) Katherine’s been working in London this past year, so when I suddenly found myself on the same continent we arranged to travel for a weekend together and ended up choosing Berlin. Continue reading

Fall Preview: An American Astronomer in Amsterdam

This post is primarily supposed to be a statement that I will be moving to Amsterdam in September to start an Astronomy PhD, but because I can’t just make a statement when there’s a good story to be had I will instead begin in Beijing, China about two months ago. Continue reading

Canyoning at The Last Resort

I had a few days in Kathmandu to kill before my flight out, but I soon decided to get out of the city for a night because even if I like Kathmandu a general strike was called. Nepal is in the middle of writing a new constitution and various political parties organize strikes among the general population in order to assert their authority, or something- enforced by thugs going around who will smash your windows with rocks if you’re open- and while you won’t starve there are no taxis or shops or anything much going on during one. (Really. The day I was going to Kathmandu from Pokhara I had to fly because the buses weren’t running, and had to walk to the airport because there was no way to get a taxi.) So running off into the mountains to do canyoning the day of the strike sounded like a good plan to me! Continue reading

Enjoying Kathmandu

I suppose I am a rather strange traveler because I can’t think of many I’ve met who had a nice thing to say about Nepal’s capital, and unlike them I actually liked Kathmandu. “But it’s so crowded and noisy!” the argument goes, to which my response is yeah, it’s a city, and have you ever been to a city of 3.5 million that wasn’t these things?

No really, I enjoyed Kathmandu because I spent almost two weeks there altogether between waiting for onward transport, either mine or Patrick’s, and preparing for an interview I’ll discuss more later. If you have time to kill and things to review there are quite a few good haunts in Kathmandu to do this in, and I had the sweetest guesthouse (Kathmandu Peace Guesthouse) a girl could ask for- sunny corner room with balcony right net to the wifi router and $3 room service meals!- so there we are.

I spent a decent chunk of my time in the backpacker area of town known as Thamel, which as the picture above indicates is one of those places where you can find pretty much anything you might need as a traveler.  I wouldn’t recommend actually staying in Thamel as it’s noisy, but there was always something interesting to spot when wandering around here…

You could also buy pretty much anything you could imagine in Thamel from wood-fired pizza at an Italian restaurant to pashmina scarves (so many in fact that entertaining signs were part of the ploy at many a store) to freshly pirated DVDs of the latest blockbuster.  I’m not going to pretend Thamel is exactly an authentic slice of what this part of the world is like (though plenty of the people in the bars and restaurants are more affluent locals), but when you want a break after Tibet it’s a nice enough slice to come across.

Moving on, though, there are some more authentic slices of Kathmandu to explore once the tourist strip gets boring-

Swayambhu, a lovely hillside temple overlooking Kathmandu, also known as the “monkey temple” because of these guys-Buddhist temples are always more fun when they’re overrun by a bunch of monkeys who are smart enough to steal juice boxes from tourists and skull them like college students do beer, aren’t they?  Don’t get too close, these guys are actually rather vicious despite looking cute!

But another important spot to see in Kathmandu is its heart, a place called Durbar Square-

Durbar Square is home to the temple that gave Kathmandu its name plus about a dozen other temples, plus the old king’s palace and the palace of a special little girl known as the kumari-Some windows in the kumari’s palace courtyard- it may be a palace, but there is no glass in the windows.  For those who have never heard of her before, the kumari is a little girl chosen at the age of four years old to be a living goddess reincarnate and she serves in this role until she reaches puberty. (There are stories of her having to go through a gruesome frightful selection involving adozens of freshly slaughtered animals, but this apparently doesn’t really happen.) Traditionally she never left her palace except on 13 feast days and even then her feet were never supposed to touch the ground and was vitally important for the yearly blessing she gave the king, but times change and the kumari now goes to school.  (She also blesses the prime minister nowadays as a decade or so ago the crown prince assassinated the king along with the rest of the royal family before killing himself in a shooting spree because they didn’t like the woman he loved. Really, it’s the greatest political tragedy of the decade you’ve never heard of.)

I am honestly rather fascinated by the kumari because c’mon, could you imagine living a childhood where no one was allowed to contradict you and then being forced back to normal personhood just when you became a teenager?  You certainly couldn’t say you led a boring life, though certainly it would be a complicated one.

So hey, I like Kathmandu because it’s the only city I know of that has a living goddess and monkeys and Everest beer and a myriad of other things.  I reckon people fall in love with exotic places over far less.

Pokhara Paragliding

Paragliding is a surprisingly popular thing to do in Pokhara, partly because the nearby Himalayas give the area a constant light wind and partly also because if you make it to this corner of the world odds are you’re the adventurous type who’d give it a go.  And since I’ve done far crazier things in my life, signing up for a half hour of paragliding sounded like fun! Continue reading

Poking around Pokhara, Nepal

Pokhara is about 70 miles as the crow flies or about eight hour as the bus goes from Kathmandu, which tells you an awful lot about both how hilly Nepal is and the quality of the roads. It’s the start of a lot of various adventure activities in the region from treks to rafting trips, meaning there’s a fair amount of marks of tourism around… Continue reading

Whitewater Kayaking the Seti River

It’s rather impossible to come to Nepal and not engage in some sort of crazy adventurous outdoor activity, and after some consultation with the weather and my mood I decided to go for whitewater kayaking school instead of trekking. The pre-monsoon weather showed up early in Nepal this year, and frankly to me the thought of hiking up steps for 4 hours combined with minimal views and potentially doing it in the rain was just not appealing.
Plus hey, I’d tried whitewater kayaking before so knew I’d like it and that I’d be wet all day anyway, so monsoon season didn’t matter. And so we set out to master the Seti River, whose hardest thing now is not writing it in all caps a la the alien searchers… Continue reading