Caribbean Islands Visa Requirements for Americans

This is information for each country regarding American visa requirements for all countries in the Caribbean. This is current from the State Department as of September 2016.

Bahamas: No visa required.

Turks and Caicos: No visa for less than 90 days. Visas required for longer stays and is renewable once.

Cuba: Visa required. Initial 30 day stay, renewable once for 30 days. Travel is only permitted for 1 of 12 reasons as listed by the US Government. We are looking for legitimate, reasonably priced Cuban travel operators and will update this page when we have found one we would use.

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Cayman Islands: No visa required.

Jamaica: No visa required.

Haiti: No visa for less than 90 days.

Dominican Republic:  No visa required, but a tourist card ($10) must be purchased before or on arrival. Tourist card covers up to 60 days.

British Virgin Islands: No visa required for less than 30 days.

Bonaire St, Eustatius, and Saba: No visa required for less than 90 days.

St Kitts and Nevis: No visa required for less than 90 days.

Anguilla: No visa required if you can show proof of accommodation, onward ticket (for some point in the future), and proof of funds.

Sint Maarten: No visa required for less than 90 days.

Antigua and Barbuda: No visa required if you can show proof of accommodation, onward ticket (for some point in the future), and proof of funds.

Montserrat: No visa required.

Guadeloupe, Barbados, Martinique (Collectively the French West Indies): No visa required for less than 90 days so long as you can show proof of accommodation, onward ticket and proof of funds.

Dominica: No visa required for less than 180 days (6 months).

St Lucia: No visa required if you can show proof of accommodation, onward ticket (for some point in the future), and proof of funds.

St Vincent and the Grenadines: No visa required.

 

 

24 Hours In: Brussels

Disclaimer: Language. Mostly because I’m into my second glass of wine and feeling passionately about this.

Hottest city I’ve ever been in, which is saying a lot coming from someone who’s lived in America’s armpit (Florida) for three years. The average temperature in Brussels in August is allegedly 22C / 72F. There’s so much bullshit in this claim I could fertilize Texas with it.

It wasn’t 22C. It was 36C (97F for the Americans). Intolerable heat. Not enough water in the city’s free water fountains to cool you off heat. Legs sticking to each other, hair matted to your face, sweat beads racing down the small of your back, kind of heat.

Are you feeling this yet? Here’s another layer of heat. The Airbnb we stayed at had “nature’s” aircon: open the windows, get the breeze, y’all be fine.

Except there wasn’t a breeze. And we weren’t fine. We were staying right in the middle of the pedestrian walkway so exploring on foot was easy. We found city hall and marveled at how old everything was, and got a postcard-perfect shot in front of the Godiva store. We did that for about 2 hours, and then found ourselves in the food district.

The food district is a place to go if you want to be aggressively guided into a restaurant. Don’t dare look at a menu because that’s your way of saying you want to eat there. I don’t remember where we wound up eating, but I do remember day drinking.

We got chatting with our servers whom were all from a country other than Belgium. I appreciated that about the city. We learned the drinking age in Belgium is 14, that it was uncharacteristically hot, and most people speak four languages which is absolutely mind-blowing. We day drank outside and people watched.

Day drinking has a way of leading into a 5 hour nap, which we took, because we were feeling a heat-induced buzz. When we woke up, it was dark, and the sheets and the bed were soaked in sweat. Hair was wet. Pillow cases were wet. The window in our room was like a prison window, a narrow horizontal opening about 6 feet up from our bed, unreachable without standing on tip-toes.

I opened it expecting healthy gusts of wind, and got nothing.

Twenty minutes into sizzling we decided it’d be cooler outside than it was in our abode. So we put new clothes on to instantly sweat in and went out night-drinking. Would you believe it, the temperature dropped to 30C/ 86F. What a fucking relief.

The rest of the night is a blur but it basically ends up at a place called ‘Delirium’ which isn’t just one bar but a  whole row of bars and each bar has its own alcoholic theme: vodka, tequila, huge ass beers, whiskey, and more.

Summary of Brussels: 2 days is enough for it, avoid August, and prepare for liver obliteration at Delirium.

Travel Diary: Thanksgiving in Kosovo

It is a big deal in America for families to get together for Thanksgiving. If people don’t have or don’t like their families, they do a “friendsgiving.” Since our hosts in Kosovo had never experienced this, we decided to cook a full Thanksgiving dinner in friendsgiving fashion and tell our holiday story. Typically the dinner is centered around a turkey, but neither Mark nor I like turkey so we decided to go with ham.

We searched the markets and stores in Prishtina for a ham, and found a lonely ham at the bottom of a cooler in a grocery store. We brought it back home, to our hostel, all proud until someone saw it and politely said “I don’t eat ham.” Unfortunately, we had completely forgotten that we were in Muslim-majority country, and many people don’t eat pork products.

Nonetheless, our hosts were very fun about it. They chalked it up to a cultural exchange and said there’s no better way to understand a people than to devour their food. I couldn’t agree more. So in good faith, Mark woke up early in the day and began dinner preparations.

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Mark made a rosemary ham with cinnamon. The spices available were considerably more limited than either of us had experienced until this point, so it was a very simple recipe, but we got lucky with rosemary and that is really what made this ham absolutely fantastic. (Mark’s made it three times since we’ve been home!)

We had originally planned for 7 people as that was about as much as we thought the ham could feed. But because the aroma of the cooking had filled the entire hostel, other people wanted to hang out and eat food with us instead of going out. And I can’t blame them, the food was irresistible.

thanksgiving ham

 I felt like Jesus feeding the 5,000.  Miraculously, we had food for everyone! Hand-mashed potatoes, vegetables, ham, and handmade cinnamon apples. Mark organized it all and it is definitely one of the more memorable Thanksgiving dinners I have had.

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Left to right: Ardi, Mark, me, Arben (owner), Asdren (owner) and his girlfriend, Yll, and Vernon

Everyone pretty much laughed at the story how our forefathers ate “peacefully” with the Native Americans, but the 80c 2L of beer in the center of the table really washed everything down swimmingly.

A big shout out to our friends at Hostel Han in Pristina for keeping us entertained for over a month! And if you ever need a home base in Kosovo, we recommend this hostel as the only place to stay in the city center. You will come as a traveler and leave as a friend.

Mark and Melody

Visa Requirements of Asia and India for US Citizens

This list is for people traveling independently, without a tour group**, as a tour group will file this paperwork on your behalf. In all cases, assume that passports must be valid at least 6 months after your intended stay.

China (Mainland, excluding Hong Kong and Macau):  Visa required. Visa must be presented upon arrival in China. You must specify your exact entry date and exit date, and do not deviate from this at all. The penalties for overstaying are harsh and you do not want to test them. If you are staying at a hostel / hotel / AirBnb, please ensure you are registered with the police within 24 hours to avoid trouble.

Chinese Visa Application Form and the steps for processing are available here. Apply no earlier than 2 months before your departure. The absolute latest you can apply for a visa is 3 weeks. We recommend you go for the 10 year multi-entry visa, as it makes subsequent visits to China much easier.

India: Visa required. Application must be sent and visa received before you enter India.
Exception: 30 day stay or less, an electronic visa (e-TV visa) can be issued no earlier than 4 days before entry.

India’s eTV Application.

India eTV application
India’s eTV Application

 

Japan: No visa for less than 90 days.

  • Be prepared to show an onward / return ticket or proof of funds. If you have neither, Japanese immigration may deny you entry.

Mongolia: No visa for less than 90 days.

Republic of Korea (South Korea): No visa for less than 90 days.

  • If you are planning to teach in Korea, you will need an E2 visa. Send it to the consulate in the US, and you will receive your visa in 3-5 business days

Teach English in Korea (E2) Visa Application.

Taiwan: No visa for less than 90 days.

Nepal: Visa Required. Visa on arrival available at Kathmandu International Airport. Three available visa options: 15 day, 1 month multi-entry, 3 month multi-entry. Maximum stay of 150 days per calendar year.

Nepal Visa Application

**Bhutan: Visa Required. You can only travel to Bhutan with a tour operator who applies for tourist clearance on your behalf. Here is the directory of Bhutan tour operators.

  • There is also a Minimum Daily Package, which covers many things but at a rate of $200-$250 per night. Please review the details carefully. This is a small country with a very, very strict set of laws.

Bangladesh: Visa Required. Visa on Arrival available for stays less than 30 days. If you think you may stay longer, fill out the official visa application and get approved before you arrive in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Visa Application

Myanmar: Visa Required. Myanmar participates in eVisa. When your visa is granted, you will receive an approval letter, which you must have with you when you arrive in Myanmar.

Myanmar eVisa Application

Myanmar eVisa
First Page of Myanmar eVisa Application

 

Thailand: No visa for less than 30 days (for air arrival) or 15 days (for land arrival). You MUST make sure your passport is stamped before you leave the passport control, or you will have a hell of a time when you go to leave. If you do not get your passport stamped, there will be no proof of your entry into the country, and you will be subject to fines and arrest.

Thailand Visa Applications

Laos: Visa Required. Visa on Arrival offered at many points of entry for a 30 day stay. Visa can be extended for up to another 60 days for $2 / day. After that, you have to move to a different country.

Vietnam: Visa Required. Many countries (UK, Germany, Israel, India, Brazil, et al) are exempt from this requirement (full list available here) but US citizens must have a visa. For instructions regarding the information required on the visa, click here.

Vietnam Visa Application

Philippines: No visa for less than 30 days. If you are already in the Philippines and decide you want to stay longer, you can request a 29 day extension from the Philippine Bureau of Immigration and Deportation’s (BI) main office at Magallanes Drive, Intramuros, Manila.

Malaysia: No visa for less than 90 days. Check your stamp before you leave passport control, as some people have been granted less time. Visas can be extended for two months.

Indonesia: No visa for less than 30 days. Requirements for an extended tourist visa are available here.

Indonesia Visa Application

Singapore: No visa for less than 90 days.

Timor-Leste: Visa Required. Visa on Arrival for 30 days is available for $30. Visa can be extended for 30 days for an additional $30, up to 90 days.


We are not posting visa requirements for North Korea considering US citizens have been detained and worse even with proper documents. Americans are unwelcome in bits and pieces of the world, but traveling to North Korea is signing your own death certificate.


If you’re having trouble navigating the world of visas and forms, send us a shout! We are more than happy to help out a fellow traveler.

Salut and cheers.

Mark and Melody

24 Hours In: Barcelona

We had a little over two days in Barcelona, but sometimes travel fatigue gets the better of you and you wind up spending a day hanging out in the hostel and doing a whole lot of nothing.

On day 1, that’s exactly what we did.

Day 2, we ventured out into Barcelona for an afternoon free walking tour and were under the graces of a warm and windy day.

Our first stop was the 14th century Placa del Rei, or the King’s Watchtower, where King Ferdinand and his lovely  wife Isabella welcomed back Christopher Columbus from his voyage. Considering America wasn’t even a thought yet, it’s surreal to stand in front of a building that’s three times as old as your country.

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Our next stop was the Barcelona Cathedral, for which construction was began just a few years ago, in 1298. The architecture speaks for itself, and you could spend days taking in each detail. The building is decorated or constructed so every inch floor to steeple commands attention.

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The next point of interest is even older than the cathedral. We visited the old Roman city walls. Remember, at its height the Roman Empire stretched west into Spain and north nearly into Scotland. Here’s a bit of the Roman ruins, and the fortress, currently used as church space.

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The bottom arches are what remains of the Placa Nova, entrance into the old Roman City.
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Note the different layers of brick over time.

We turned the corner and arrived at Placa Sant Felip Neri, A Romantic Square with a Sad History. During the Fascist regime, children hid in a bomb shelter under the church. Bombs were dropped over this square, sending shrapnel and explosives across the square and into the church. 42 people were killed. This harrowing event in 1938 is commemorated by a small plaque, but the evidence is unmistakable.

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After a few moments of silence, we walked on to a picnic area where we learned about the Catalonia movement for independence. (Catalonia is the region in Spain that includes Barcelona.) In every street in Barcelona, you will see flags hanging over balconies and in store fronts and that signifies support for independence from Spain.

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Long story short, the Catalans have always identified as a group independent from the rest of Spain, and they have been fighting (and losing) independence battles for hundreds of years. Now with the referendum going to Madrid, they have a real chance of breaking off from Spain and becoming the Catalonia they want. There’s a booming sense of patriotism.

We ended the evening in front of the Arc de Triomf, found ourselves some lovely Spanish wine, and cozied up to watch the day fade into night.

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Travel Diary: Getting from Skopje to Pristina

It’s 90 minutes by car, but up to three hours by bus. The Balkans’ definition of bus and our definition were clearly misaligned during this trip. When I think bus, I think of a temperature-controlled bus with WiFi, toilets, and comfortable seats.

This bus did not fit any of this criteria. It was a mini-bus that seats 16, with limited luggage storage, no WiFi, and definitely not any toilets (not that I would use them, anyway).

We shlepped our bags on board and made our way to the back rows, hoping no one would expect us to put our bags in the luggage hold. We found ourselves across the row from an American expat working for the World Bank (called Mark Deux), and a UK train employee named Mike. Too many M’s. Mark, Mike and Mark Deux set the world right talking about finance, startups and international affairs. I attempted to drift in and out of sleep but the roads in the Balkans are not known for their newness or smoothness so sleep became impossible.

A clipboard made its way around the bus where each person has to write down their name and passport/ ID card number. This, in theory, is supposed to make the border crossing much quicker. What actually happens at the border is a Macedonian border official collects the clipboard and takes it back to his little post. Then he comes back and has to collect each passenger’s passport/ ID card and return those to his post. After about ten minutes of hem-hawing, the passports are returned to us. Sometimes we get a stamp; sometimes we are disappointed. The odds are 50/50. Then the exact same process is repeated at the Kosovo border.

The border control is unremarkable, and the bus driver behaves normally by stopping at places that are most assuredly NOT typical bus stops to pick up random people. His homies, I’m guessing. These people pay when they get on, an indiscriminate amount, sometimes 1 euro and sometimes 3 euro. There’s definitely not a system.

We’re about an hour away from Pristina when we pull into a petrol station. I assume it’s to pick up fuel, but then Mark Deux investigates and the Batman driver and his Robin are taking a smoke break! We’re an hour away; honestly, you couldn’t wait? Mark and I run into the “convenience store” and pick up a crisps and chocolate breakfast. Someone runs in and asks us, in very broken English, if we’re with the bus. We say yes and run out to see everyone moving their luggage from our little bus to a large, cushy coach.

What is going on? We grab our bags and head to the coach. Turns out, our bus BROKE DOWN, and this coach has come to rescue us. Stellar. We are waiting in the stairwell of the coach to get onto it and I get frustrated. I snap at the person in front of me to move.

That’s when it becomes abundantly clear that the bus is full. There are no seats. So the 15 or so of us that were on our rinky dink bus are now standing in the aisle of the coach, hovering awkwardly over sitting passengers.  I move my way straight to the front and dig in to my breakfast: a Milke Oreo chocolate bar and tomato pesto crisps.

It’s probably only ten minutes later when people begin disembarking, but it being so awkward for me it felt like 20 hours. Someone moves and I gesture for the person behind me to take a seat, which she refuses. I don’t offer twice so I take the empty seat. One by one, people slowly begin filing out of the coach and the standing room passengers begin finding seats.

The coach enters Pristina and nearly the entire bus empties into the middle of a random intersection. That’s when it occurs to us that there’s a decent chance this coach’s final destination is not Pristina Bus Station. It could be going to Serbia. The coach driver could have had Rakija with his breakfast and forgotten his destination. When we turn away from Pristina city center and toward Mitrovice, my anxiety swells.

Just when I think we’re headed into a different country, the coach veers sharply to the left and off, on the side of the road, is the underwhelming Pristina Bus Station.

Whew. Mark Deux and Train Mike file off of the coach. There’s a running joke that whenever we board the bus to somewhere, it is always raining in our final destination. Pristina is no different. It was raining. A cold, piercing, hair-frizzing rain.

We part ways with Mark Deux and UK Mike, drag our sopping selves and our damp packs into a completely unmarked cab and arrive back to the hostel twenty minutes later for less than $4.

 

Travel Diary: Getting to Barcelona

After a month’s foray in the French Midi-Pyrenees region, we decided to take a coach down to Barcelona. We arrived at the train/ bus station in Toulouse, France way before our 5:30 bus was scheduled to depart. We killed time doing what normal Americans do: eating.

The sun began sinking around 5 and the temperature sank with it. When we left for Europe in July, we had mild autumn temperatures in mind; single degree Celsius was not on the agenda, but that’s what we were experiencing in Toulouse. Minutes passed; 5:30 came and went. I was cold. We had no idea where our bus was. About a dozen people were waiting at the same bus platform, so we knew our location was right.

Nearing 6pm, a portly French man in a neon green vest told no one in particular that there’d been a terrorist threat on the train station down the road from where we were; the police closed the street so the coach couldn’t enter the bus station. Then he left. At this point, I began to get exceptionally impatient. What’s the point of standing somewhere if the coach cannot come and get us?

Another half of an hour passes and this same portly man comes rushing back to us and tells us to follow him. This sounds like the beginning to a horror movie, blindly following someone like this. We leapfrog through the congestion and find the bus literally parked in the middle of a road, letting its British passengers off, a bagman simultaneously unloading the weary travelers’ luggage and loading us impatient travelers’ luggage onto the coach. We file in with great haste and take off.

The British driver announced to us that since the main road had been closed, he has to travel north out of Toulouse (exactly opposite of the direction we should be headed) and circle back around south. Fingers crossed that the traffic will abate by that time. Before we even left the traffic circle, the sun was gone and we were covered in darkness.

Despite multiple coach experiences where there was a complete absence of WiFi or power outlets, we remain foolishly optimistic that coach = WiFi. Color me surprised, this was not the case. We spent two hours on and off connecting to the network only for silly Mac to say the internet was unavailable and all kinds of “you shall not pass” excuses. Final result? Sporadic internet for a five hour journey.

So I read on my Kindle and slept.

Somewhere between Toulouse and the border (which doesn’t exist because, Schengen), it began to rain. When we finally arrived to Barcelona five hours later, our saucy British driver says over the speaker: “Here we are in Barcelona. Enjoy the rain!” Which had actually turned monsoon causing us to become thoroughly soaked the minute we left the coach. We grabbed our bags and ran inside the bus station. Our hostel was booked yet we had no idea how to get there. Taxis waited with bated breath to take us anywhere at extortionate prices. Taxis aren’t really our thing, so we decided to walk.

In the cold.
In the rain.
To the hostel.

Thankfully, the rain let up a bit so we were walking in a kind of heavy drizzle. We reached the hostel, like a pair of wet dogs, like a shivering Mary and Joseph, looking for our cozy beds. The receptionist was a bit surprised to see us so drenched, but we promptly dried off and checked in. We splurged for the private room, which to me is perfect because it’s an excuse to unpack everything and throw things everywhere. Claiming territory.

About 1am, we finally let ourselves succumb to the throes of the sheets and fell into a deep, dry slumber.

24 Hours In: Istanbul!

Our whirlwind of Europe is finally coming to an end – final destination Istanbul, Turkey!

After 22 hours of busses, trains and planes we arrived to Istanbul welcomed by a steep hill and many cobblestones. Note to self: don’t fly into Sabiha Gokcen International Airport in the future.

Connection from Gokcen Airport was achieved through an hour plus ride on a coach (14 Turkish Lira, TL) and two train / tram rides (4TL)…or we could have taken a private transport for ~90TL.

We arrived somewhere near the touristy Taksim Square on a steep hill next to the deepest construction pit I have ever seen. There are buildings under construction everywhere.
Navigating the cobblestones and taxi packed sidewalks, we slowly made our way to Taksim station – tantalizing aromas of sweet, spicy and fragrant combined for an unforgettable combination. This is my first impression of the city, and one I will likely not forget. Melody wanted to sample the wares from every restaurant we passsed. Everywhere we walked we have received a cascade of shouts offering taksi rides or a sampling of foods and drinks. For the easily overwhelmed, this is not the place to visit.

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The metro system in Istanbul is, by and large, efficient and effective. There are your standard metro ‘subway’ type cars, street trams, and even ferries…all of which you can take a ride on for 4 TL. For this purchase price, you receive a little plastic coin about the size of a nickel. There is an option to purchase a metro card, but our pleasure for walking meant we did not go this route.

With our little coins we took a short connector ride underground and then a slightly longer ride on an overground street-car, reaching our hostel in good spirits.

Even at 11pm, there were many shops open and crowds of others milling about. In the short walk we were hailed no fewer than 20 times for dining – did I mention you get shouted at?

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December 7, 2015

 

 

Travel Diary: Copenhagen’s Disappointing Walking Tour

View from the SkyIt all started when we took a train to Copenhagen city center to do one thing: a free walking tour at 3pm.
We found the main square and waited for 20 minutes. It’s an oddly warm day in Denmark, so we’re sitting and sweating. I’m admiring the 2-story Burger King on the corner, and Mark is observing this guy as part of some kind of stag party doing really socially awkward things to embarrass him.

We’re looking for a guide that, per reviews, is wearing a green shirt with a green umbrella. 3pm comes and goes with no mass tour assembling and no green t-shirt tour guide. According to Google Maps, the pickup point for the walking tour was at the entrance of a hotel. We go to the hotel and ask the lovely gent at the desk where the meet point actually is. He tells us to go out of the hotel and turn left, then we would see the meeting point behind the hotel.

We follow his instructions into a narrow pedestrian way that’s filled with the sweet aroma of hookah. Our eyes scan both sides of this walkway, and we don’t see any signage pointing to a walking tour. I’m well past frustrated and teetering on embroiled.

Mark checks the reservation and it says to meet at the steps of town hall. We go to town hall and wait for over 15 minutes. The original tour has long departed. We decide to wait for the next one, at 4. We go get overpriced froyo, sit on town hall steps and wait.

4pm comes and goes. No gathering of tourists. No guy in a green shirt. I go so far as to approach strangers in green shirts and ask them if they’re tour guides. We wander around a narrow street and into a shop with blue and white tourist info sign and ask about the tour. She lets us know that there wasn’t a walking tour today. Color me surprised.

We decide to take the high road and instead of chew this woman’s ear off, to go to Malmö, Sweden instead, since we’re in the business of collecting countries and all.

She shows us the schedule of the coach times to Malmö and transit times. It’s an hour to Sweden and an hour back to Denmark. While we can get to Sweden before day turns to night, the last coach back from Malmö departs 2 hours later, at 6pm. That didn’t work because we had an early am flight from Denmark the next day.

 

Disappointed by the lie that was the free walking tour and the unusable coach to Sweden, we schlepped back to the AC Bella Sky and enjoyed two Scandinavian priced (read: unreasonably expensive) appetizers.

Summary: If you want the walking tour, find the tourist office first and ask if they’re even doing a tour. And if you want to do a day trip to Sweden, leave Copenhagen before 9am. It’s $10 each way.

August 29, 2015

Travel Diary: Milking a Goat

As someone who was raised in the city, I found it incredibly novel to be on a farm in rural Bulgaria. This experience put an entirely new definition onto the word rural. It happened to be mentioned in conversation with our lovely hosts, Joe and Julie, that I had never been on a farm or done any farm-like things. This includes milking a goat. They offered the experience to me, and I promptly added it to my list of must-dos.

One balmy evening, at around 8:00pm, Mark, Joe and I set off in the car to meet their friend with the goats. I shall call him Tony because I forgot his name. We arrive to Tony’s house and he meets us and we start walking up a rocky, dirt road. Joe leaves. Up and up the three of us climb. We have to go pick the goats up from their little goat daycare. All the people in this village in Bulgaria drop their goats off in the morning and then pick them up in the evening. Absolutely adorable.

We arrive to the goat daycare just as they are dismissed for the day. Tony has two goats – a black one and a white one. He quickly locates them and then we begin our walk back down to Tony’s house. It’s not just us and Tony. Children, their parents, and their babas* come to pick up their goats. There’s a dozen people and many more goats all sauntering down this hill. All of the goats have bells wrapped around their neck, creating a symphony of bell tolls and goat noises and baba chatter. I find it hilarious.

Goats are rather stubborn. You probably knew this. I had no idea. So every now and again your goat will decide to just stop to take a pee or it will stop to kick someone or it will stray away and try to nibble some grass. Or it will try to run away from you. So you have to kind of thump them on the noggin to keep them walking the direction you want to walk.

My beloved goat. Not sure if she knows what's up, but I'm about to show her.
My beloved goat. Not sure if she knows what’s up, but I’m about to show her.

I’m growing severely attached to Tony’s white goat that’s loyally walking next to me on this sojourn back to the house. I give it a pet name. We get to Tony’s house and he takes the goats and leads them into their little goat area. I watch him as he takes the goat and he ties the goat’s lead around a post and he secures it. He distracts the goat from what we are about to do – confiscate its milk – by giving it a wholesome snack to munch on.

I squat down in front of the goat and Tony is right behind me. He makes an O with his thumb and his forefinger and, using it as a tourniquet,  wraps it about halfway up the goats “tit.” I say in quotes because I couldn’t help but snicker every time he said “tit.” It was with an English accent and positively delightful.

I digress. So you make an O with your thumb and forefinger, wrap it halfway up the tit, and then close your remaining three fingers around the rest of the tit. And you squeeze. Not a  pansy squeeze. You work every single muscle in your hands to get out just a second’s worth of goat milk.

The tit is warm. The milk is warm. My hands are warm and sweaty and I’m nervous this goat is about to kick me in the face.

Repeat this process for about ten minutes. And you’re in the clear so long as the goat is eating something and is apathetic to your groping and milk stealing. It’s much harder, as a first timer, than it really looks.

We fill up a pail that’s maybe a liter of milk, maybe more. It’s hard to tell. To me it felt like a gallon. Afterward Tony asks me if I want to milk the other one, too.

I can’t. My hand is cramping and I begin to worry I’m going to have a super muscular right hand and a bony left hand.

And now I can officially say, with pleasure, I have tickled a goat’s tit and milked it for all it has.

Mission Statement – Why We Travel

Starting in 2013, we began our journey by driving around the United States of America with the only intention being to gather pictures of ourselves next to each state welcome sign. That trip turned into something much more – it sparked the realization that as large as the United States seemed to be, we were missing out on something by staying within the bounds of our home country – a global perspective.

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There are 24,642,757 square miles of habitable space in the world and 7.2 billion people living within 196 countries. With all of these people within all of these countries it doesn’t seem fair to be speed travelers spending two days in capital cities to make determinations about the world. Such quick stays are unlikely to provide much perspective on the way life is lived.

Scoping out this guy's wagon. We kind of like it.
Scoping out this guy’s wagon. We kind of like it.

We want to experience difficulty communicating, difficulty getting around, and completely surrender of the congested, exhaust filled wide highways that belt the United States.

Over the past 2 1/2 years, we have traded in a life of huge highways for two lane roads that

In Costa Rica we drove on roads with potholes so large they could break axles.

Bulgarian posters in memory of those passed.
Bulgarian posters in memory of those passed.

In Bulgaria we have stayed in villages with less than 500 people and even fewer resources. Where the best internet we could update our blog from was a half lit connection from an iPhone nestled on the top of the roof, traded American standards of plumbing for long drop toilets and experienced what it meant to reuse and repurpose everything you buy and everything you produce.

We wanted the edge – where you’re wondering why you would ever sign up for a cross country bus with no toilets.

We have been robbed of sleep, found like-minded travelers, and met people living on less money than we made in a week in The United States, yet were a great deal happier and more giving.

While our travels have been filled with challenges and difficulties, we have also received some of the warmest welcomes from people in countries that notoriously ‘despise’ Americans. We have experienced first hand how schools in Finland are operated. We have learned of historic figures that have made pretty dramatic changes within countries that we would never have read about in our history books. We have seen landscapes that make you say, “Wow”.

It’s true, we have also participated in some of the touristy bits of travel, but that is just another part of the experience.

If anything, our appetite for travel has grown during the last 2 1/2 years. We have learned as much (if not more) about ourselves as we have about the world. Our desire to see the world has continued on an exponential growth curve as we have more experiences – ultimately filling us with a greater number and complexity of questions.

While we are not always sure where our experiences and journeys will take us, we will continue to eagerly pursue them.

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves. We travel, next, to find ourselves.

Guinness Storehouse Made a Customer out of an Unlikely Guest

If you’re a modest beer fan or with someone who is, the Guinness storehouse is a sensory overload. Six floors of beer and Irish history will fascinate and bewilder you. I wasn’t a fan of Guinness (too dark, too heavy, too bitter) until I took this tour. I’m glad Mark really wanted to go, and in a selfless act of love I went along.

Planning the trip, you’ll do best allowing three hours for it. Stepping into this building is like stepping into a time machine. You’re lost in the process, the maze that is the storehouse, and after enjoying the best Guinness you’ll arguably ever have, you’ll probably not want to leave.

Entry is 10% off if you book online, which we did. I was surprised this isn’t a guided tour. Everything is self guided and at your own pace, which is typically disappointing to me because I remember less if I’m reading it. However, Mark’s wealth of knowledge made it seem like I had one anyway. At one point, he was explaining the process of where the stout goes after its different stages and a small crowd had gathered around him. I was disappointed that an audio tour wasn’t available in English either, but it is for eleven other languages. Complimentary of course.

At the entrance is a piece of paper in the floor with thick glass covering it. That is Arthur Guinness’ 9,000 year lease in the 1750s. Can’t imagine what people are going to make of this note when it expires though.

Barrels of GuinessBarley at GuinessThen the tour begins! There’s a huge area of barley which I could not resist running my hands through and feeling the texture between my fingers. Videos of the barley growing/ collection process play on overhead projectors. There are a LOT of people. I didn’t really grasp why organizations limited the number of visitors to a place until we were in here. The line moves relatively quickly, through the general fermentation process.


Guiness Storehouse

This storehouse, St James’ Gate, is absolutely enormous – 55 acres of dark, beautiful Guinness-brewing sensationalism. The public is allowed through six floors, but they’re not fooling me – I know there’s much more to this enterprise than Guinness lets on. Over three million pints are made here – DAILY. That’s a modest amount of Guinness, right? Nearly 75% of all of Ireland’s barley goes to making this iconic stout – the most popular in the world, in fact.

It could be a little bit of madness, but I swore up and down I would never enjoy a Guinness, and yet here I found myself, next to Mark, enjoying a properly poured Guinness at the ever-impressive yet crowded Skybar.Guiness at Skybar

Expectation v. Reality: Reflections on the UK, Ireland, Belgium and Norway

This four part series is a compilation of something both memorable and shocking for each of the countries we have visited. Alas, the first of an ever evolving set of self-reflective, preparation posts for the questions that I’ll inevitably get when I return home:

“What’s changed?” and “Do you feel any different?”

And I’m reminded of a quote by C.S. Lewis: Day to day, nothing seems different, until one day you look back and find that everything has changed.

This is more a fun, haphazard collection of preconceived ideas, romantic fantasies and expectations of easy living I had before and during the visits to the following countries, along with their earth-shattering thought replacements:

  1. There are absolutely zero downfalls of public transportation! – England

Or so I said, before visiting London, which is really a country in itself. Not only does it get uber smelly on the underground, which is always busy, even at 1pm on a Wednesday, but tube strikes are not uncommon. Have you ever been to London when there’s a tube strike going on? The giant sidewalks aren’t big enough for the throngs of people waiting for the buses that are already full of smelly people nor are the roads able to afford anyone unlucky enough to be driving a car during a tube strike any traveling space. The tube strike that happened in July cost London nearly $500 million.

New thought: Sometimes, public transportation and the throngs of people in your personal space actually really sucks.

  1. Every capital city is worth going to. – Norway

Norway, for at least one year out of the past five, was the most expensive country on the planet. And we were warned that Oslo is perhaps the most underwhelming capital city Europe has to offer (We’ve since found one worse). Go to Norway? Yes. Go to Oslo? Hell no. Save yourself. Go anywhere else in Norway. Don’t go to Oslo.

Pub dinner: $110
Oslo’s version of Chipotle: $38

How can I eat my way through culture when every time I take a bite money actually ejects itself from my wallet and self-destructs?

Please don’t visit Oslo. Seriously.

New thought: After a dozen or so capital cities, they all really look the same. Fly into a capital city, and establish an adventure base elsewhere.

  1. The United Kingdom totally drives in kilometers per hour just like the rest of the continent. – Scotland

One of those situations where I would have bet money that I was right and I would have lost the bet. Funny story, abridged:

We rented a car in Edinburgh and got on the motorway (highway for us Americans) and came to a sign that says 70, so we do 70 kph. We approach signs telling us speed cameras. Other cars flash high-beams and swerve around us. We think all those people are stupid and are all getting speeding tickets. Next day, we confirm Mark’s suspicion. The UK drives in MPH, not KPH. The clincher? Distance is measured in meters, as in, “Hotel, 800 meters ahead.” Way to be confusing, Britain.

New thought: UK (and Ireland) drive on the left. Rest of Europe, on the right.

  1. Ireland is the place to get drunk on the cheap.

With the reputation that Ireland has of being a nation in perpetual drunkenness, I definitely thought that it would be ridiculously cheap to drink here – say 2 or 3 euros for a beer.

Color me surprised, it’s not.

It’s about 5 or 6 euros for a beer, and more in the touristy Temple Bar area, which is definitely not acceptable for drinking on a budget.

The tour of the Guinness Storehouse did shine a bit of light on a Guinness pour: if you get your stout less than two minutes after you requested it, the bartender poured it wrong. There’s mad science behind all of this which Mark is slated to explain.

New thought: Get drunk in Prague. Cheaper and more interesting a crowd.

  1. Living above restaurants is awesome and I want to have the life Marshall & Lily have. – Belgium

Wow, I was dead wrong on this. We stayed at an Airbnb that was up 8 very dark flights of stairs. The building apparently had no lights. The entrance opened up into the street with a restaurant to the left and to the right. I’m not a morning person, and I am very used to a long wake-up period. Not so in Brussels. As soon as we opened the door people were milling about in front of it from dawn to the middle of the night. After our evening meal and drinks, near the wee hours of the morning, we had to push people out of the way to get to the front door. Once we traipsed up eight flights of stairs in total darkness, we thought we’d be in the zone to sleep, but we couldn’t, because it was so dreadfully hot we had to leave the windows open and thus gave us an earful of the drunken commotion happening below.

New Thought: Overhearing yelling, screaming, fighting and crying until 3 or 4 in the morning is definitely not my idea of a good time or a good stay.

Have you been to any of these places? What were your experiences? Send us a shout in the comments below.

Ciao

7 Golden Rules to Surviving the Colosseum

In a universe far, far away, the Colosseum isn’t a hive swarming of tourists without deodorant. It isn’t in an awkward stage of half renovation where one side of the amphitheater looks completely fake and the other is a historic wonder of the world.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in that universe. I’d love to visit the Colosseum in those circumstances. Begrudgingly sometimes I go to such iconic places because it seems to make every life that visits it so. much. better.

The Colosseum is impressive. It is worth visiting. Because I know you’re going to go, here’s seven survival tips to make it much more enjoyable.

7. If you’re going between April and October, go to your Dollar Store/ Poundland and buy handheld fans. 

Otherwise you’ll melt. Honestly. Imagine a human current that takes you to different places and you’re shuffling along (and not in the cool way). There’s no way to not sweat. Bring a handheld fan and not only do you get to keep cool but you also get to accidentally hit stupid people that intentionally block your photo.

6. Toilet before you walk.

Toilets are by the audioguide pickup which is really inconvenient to get to once you’ve started walking around, that is. You have to walk downstairs (or through a hallway) and then you have to shuffle and scoot past the people that are trying to enter and shuffle and scowl at the people crowded around the audioguide pickup because the concept of a queue is lost here.

5. BYOB. Water bottles, that is.

I did mention it gets atrociously hot. Put some water bottles in the freezer and take them with you in your satchel/ man purse/ backpack and by the time you get into the Colosseum you’ll have about half a bottle of water to drink.

4. Buy your tickets here. Don’t be a dimwit and think you want to buy them at the door. Breezing past all of those people makes you feel like:

happy leo

And who doesn’t want to feel like that?

3. Pack a 4-liter bottle of patience. Or maybe just bring a flask to tolerate the very annoying groups.

You know, the kind that everyone loves that amass a group of about 20-30 people and then STOP RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WALKWAY AND DECIDE TO GIVE A TEN MINUTE DISSERTATION ABOUT BRICKS.

2. Go to this restaurant to escape the crowds and the heat. 

Lovely, jovial older Italian gentleman who cracks jokes and has a sweet smile. They have little croissants for 3 euro and some really good espresso and Mark ordered lasagna which was divine and then some. Oh and for all my fellow AC-loving Americans, they have real air conditioning!

1. Get up at 7am and take the first uber there around 8am. 

Thank God Uber is here! The Colosseum is worth losing sleep to get even an hour without the droning and humming of the mid-morning tourists.

If you would like a quick look at the interior, from our perspective while we visited, see below!

Ciao, beautiful people.

It’s Okay! You Can Skip the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel

I can’t believe there’s not more blogs promoting this. I really don’t understand why it’s on so many people’s life goals lists (Please tell me in the comments). It’s like millions of people suddenly become devoutly Roman Catholic and suddenly care about the lineages of the popes, what the popes wore, what they did and didn’t do, who they did and didn’t kill, and an even greater number of people pretend to really, really like art.

If you’re not on a pilgrimage to fulfill a religious preoccupation, you can skip the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel for any of the following reasons:

It’s expensive

16 euro if you dare wait in the queue (are you insane?) or 20 per person if you pay online. It’s a 4 euro convenience fee to pay online. You still have to stand in a line to pickup your tickets from the ticket counter. Then you shuffle.

Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.

And sweat, sweat, sweat. This is Italy which means there’s no AC in this building. It’s very old and AC is new. I’m not sure where the 4 euro fee is going, but it’s not going into cooling the building where the average number of visitors is more than 15,000 a day. This isn’t an area with wide walkways or an air current or even somewhere to stand off to the side. Throughout the entire walk through the museum, shuffle shuffle shuffle, which reminds me, I can remember taking exactly six real steps. There’s nowhere to really admire artwork, so actually,

It’s visual overload. 

Every room is ornately painted or carved from baseboards across the ceiling. EVERY. ROOM. You begin walking and trying to take in the beauty and enormity of the artwork, but you can’t because these IDIOT GUIDES and their flock of 20-30 something tourists walk right in front of people that are clearly trying to take a picture or admire artwork. You ask them, mi scusi, a photo? and you get the most disgusted look and a 15% chance of someone actually moving. Two hours later, by the time you get to the Sistine Chapel, you are so tired of seeing 16th century art that your eyes kind of glaze over and Michelangelo’s famous painting The Creation of Adam, becomes an actual snoozefest. Speaking of Michelangelo…

The Sistine Chapel is last room of the entire museum. 

And you’re supposed to be silent. All the signs before you enter tell you to 1) cover your shoulders, 2) cover up your super cute mini, AND BE QUIET. “Silence” is universal. But thousands and thousands of morons can’t keep their mouths shut and they keep whispering. So the guards shout SHHHHHHH! across the chapel and people think it’s funny so they keep talking. Again, you shuffle, and the museum guards make you shuffle in a particular direction. If you don’t shuffle that way you’ll be forced that way. Shuffle shuffle. All the sitting room will be taken, so you stand in a crowd of people that are smelly and sweaty and you just stare at the ceiling. No point in taking a photo. The ceiling is so tall you can’t zoom in far enough with any camera to get a fair picture of Adam and God. Speaking of which..

Take a picture of the Sistine Chapel and be prepared to get thrown out.

No one ever said #ShamelessSelfie with Michelangelo is a good idea. Signs have a picture of a camera with a line through it. No photo. And what do these idiots do? Hold their camera up above their head and try to take a picture, then act all surprised when they’re approached by a guard. Are you serious? How daft do you have to be?!

After you finish the Sistine Chapel, you’re guided through the histories of each Pope, what they did wrong and what they did right (all in Italian of course). At this point you’re just ready to leave. You came, you saw, you pretended to be Catholic or you pretended to know who Raphael was, and then you leave.

Want to have a good time at the Vatican? Don’t go. Just don’t. 95% of the people who go there are better off somewhere else.

If you insist on going, here’s my sage advice:

  • Buy the ticket online and deal with the 4 euro/pp convenience fee.
  • Enter the “group with reservations” line.
  • Go through security, put your bag on the line, and go straight to the left where it says tickets.
  • Show the wo/man your phone, get your tickets printed out.
  • GO UP THE RAMP. Do you really want to be stuck with a bunch of smellies on the escalator? No, you don’t.
  • Finally, at least pretend to be interested in something other than the Sistine Chapel, and divert if only for a moment to another room. We enjoyed the “Modern” Gallery right before the SC entrance.

Ciao.