Port of Kobe: Our First Cable Car Ride

Greetings, from post-Japan! We spent a romping, shivering, five days in Japan, split between Kobe, a beautiful port city in the south, and Tokyo, the great island’s current capital city farther north – more on Tokyo later.

We arrived in Kobe around sunrise, and after the heat from crossing the Pacific for weeks, the brutal cold was a rude awakening. We ventured onto the deck to watch the journey into port in our short sleeves and quickly turned right back around and dug our winter coats out of the suitcases. We got back outside just in time to see the 15-piece (or so) band setting up – to greet us!

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They were so excited and welcoming! And they played “YMCA,” so that was a win.

The conductor was one of the only performers wearing gloves, and in between each song, the poor musicians jumped around and stuffed one hand at a time into pockets while the other froze and held on to the instrument. We watched from the top deck at first, and listened as the students who had assembled yelled “arigato!” (“thank you” in Japanese”) after each number.

After the excitement of the welcome party, we waited for some time after the excitement of the welcome crew for immigration, which was pretty intense – silence required as you wait in line, no cell phones whatsoever (or they requisition them), and be quick in line to step up and present your passport. After a little talk with the immigrant officer, webcam-type photo, and fingerprint scan, you’re all done! So, obviously I don’t have pictures of this. For Americans at least, this was still a pretty painless immigration since we didn’t need to apply for a visa ahead of time, aside from the landing form, like you’d fill out on a plane arriving in Western Europe.

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Outside the brewery!

Once through immigration, we left on our city orientation tour. Our guide, Keemee, was a delightful woman who regaled us with stories of her childhood spent growing up next door to “Mr. Honda” as she called him. As in the super huge massively popular car company, Honda. Apparently her father, who was working for a big power company in a stable job, was offered a position with his neighbor in what was originally a bicycle shop. He declined and, well, Keemee teased that her family didn’t leave next door to Mr. Honda for much longer. Keemee spoke fondly of the short time she lived in New York and assured us of the positive US-Japan relations we would experience. We shortly arrived at our first stop, Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum, where they’ve been brewing sake (rice wine) since 1743. We watched a short film on the history of the area and how the brewery came to be, as well as learned how sake is made. After a brief tasting of six different sakes – don’t worry, the portions were small! – and we tried rice ice cream.

The bus delivered us back to the middle of town, and Keemee shared information about the once small harbor town’s history. She complimented the Western architects who developed the streets and buildings since – as she explained – the Japanese are very good at sake, cars, trains, and food, but not so good at city planning!

We arrived downtown where a group of us wandered for our first taste of Japanese cuisine – Japanese food post coming soon! With success in the form of being ready to waddle out of the restaurant, we rolled our way back to the tour group and ended the tour in Meriken Park at the harbor. Our last views were the intentionally un-fixed earthquake damage from 1995. Parts of poles, metal supports, and rubble are showcased in a roped off area that’s lined with placards describing the event and providing the scary statistics of the damage wrought along the coast. But Japan is resilient! The area has been in a state of development and rebuilding that kept us busy for a few more days.

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So, you can’t see the ground, but the cables above us? That’s what we’re suspended on!

Our second day led us to the equivalent of a big city’s Hop-On-Hop-Off bus, where we trekked to the surrounding hills of the city, far from the coast. To get the rest of the way up, however, we took the cable car! My first thought when I hear “cable car” is a San Francisco type of trolley. This is more like a suspended orb hanging from a cable, and it was awesome.

The cable car delivered you to the Kobe Nunobiki Herb Gardens, a still blooming array of flowers and manicured grounds that sprawled down the mountain side. We wandered through the event hall at the top with shops, stopping for a quick snack. We traipsed back down the hill and admired the changing view as we strolled, taking in the props and Japanese ingenuity of the photo stalls crafted along the way.

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And way down there is where we came from!

Once at the middle, we picked up the cable car to the bottom where we continued our march downhill and into the city. We bounced around looking for food and after not too long of looking, we settled on the same place from the day before, picked up dessert from a bakery, and waddled into Chinatown. Once in Chinatown, the markets were in full swing and merchants were hawking their tasty wares from street stalls and the buyers around them were chowing down, so we munched happily and enjoyed as we strolled the shops and popped out the other end of the shopping district.

Shopping district might not be the best description. These almost open-air malls were large domed tunnels running through what would have otherwise been alleyways. Complete with their own artwork and graffiti, these tunnels house any and everything from brand name clothing and shoes, to housewares and goods, restaurants and tea shops, and national and foreign artisan goods. We, of course, made way for the bookshop – more on this in later posts.

In addition to the shopping stalls and tunnels, there are a great many designer boutiques and department stores. The biggest and most impressive mall we’d been directed to was Daimaru, a 9-floor department store, complete with a marketplace/café in the basement floor, and a Valentine’s Day chocolate tasting on top. But the night wasn’t done. Fat and happy from gorging all day, we began to wander back to the ship. Until we crossed paths with another SASer (pronounced “sass-er”) who invited us to sushi. So of course we accepted!

With that, we concluded our full day of running around logging 15 miles or so worth of steps, the first of many long treks. Having explored Kobe, we were set to board the bullet train (!!!) to Tokyo the next morning to spend the rest of our time in Japan.

To the big city we go,

Kiley

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Til next time, Kobe!

 

11-ish Days Held Captive, or Crossing the Pacific by Ship

What does one do with relatively little work, severely limited space, and a whole lot of sunshine for 10-12 days? Excellent question, you.

First of all, allow me to blow your mind about time. We are working backwards in time, sailing back in time zones, and essentially floating between 24- and 25-hour days. The all-powerful captain, I’ve been told, decides what time it is on the ship, since it really doesn’t matter seeing as we exist in our own bubble of Being. Time zones mean next to nothing, except that it needs to be the same time for you whenever you get where you’re going. The only exception to this is the International Dateline, meaning that this year, January 16 did not exist (in this bubble world, at least).

The clock struck 11:59:59pm on January 15, and we Time-Turner-ed/TARDIS-ed/H. G. Wells-ed our way to 12:00:00am on January 17.

Given this wee phenomenon and our 25-hour days, it’s challenging to say exactly how long you’re on the ship from embarking late on January 12 (Hawai’i time, GMT -10:00) and disembarking in Japan on January 24 (Japan time, GMT +9:00). So, one of the things you do in the above scenario is contemplate time and consequently your increasingly insignificant existence as you float along a seemingly endless expanse of ocean with no land, no other people, and no nothing, across the vast, relentless Pacific Ocean (I think the record was around 20,000 ft? Scary.). If I weren’t so intimidated by it all, I may have had the time and patience to become a great philosopher in that amount of time, but alas I was in fact a bit terrified at the prospect of how tiny I, in fact, am.

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Get it together, Ki– I mean, Ron! 

Since you’re getting a gift in the form of an extra hour every few days, you may vacillate between sleeping extra and drinking extra, which are both excellent options. Sleeping extra means that you get to wake up in time to catch the sunrise pretty often, and sometimes it’s really clear and beautiful but sometimes it’s cloudy, which is also fine, since you know another one is coming the next day. And the next day. And the next day. And then you stop thinking about that, because it’s too daunting of a prospect and when will you ever hit solid land?!

Whew. When you’re not having an existential life crisis, and you’re not seasick from the bobbing and weaving of the tiny ship through big swells (sometimes up to 12 ft. waves, which I don’t know how to put in perspective – we have 9 decks on the ship, and sometimes the waves crashed into deck 5, if that helps? The “Pacific” is one of the greatest misnomers I’ve ever encountered.), you might also catch some stunning sunsets on the way to or from dinner. Students also like to catch these, so there may also be a techno-y dance party at the bow of the ship, which you could jump right into even though you’re staculty and not a student, or you might choose to hang more awkwardly at the back and take photos over the tops of students’ heads since they’re crowding the railing. You don’t mind, because it’s so breath-taking that nothing can bother you or make you any less blissfully happy to be alive.

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We function on “A” and “B” days for class scheduling, picking up wherever we leave off when we hit port. No days of the week needed! Except for fancy-fun drink-naming.

If you’re not sleeping extra, you may be drinking extra in the staculty-only bar. If you’re outside on the roped-off deck area, poor little students will walk by and stare at you open-mouthed because BEER and you smile to yourself and enjoy the cold, refreshing taste that much more because it is delicious. Sometimes, there are parties in the staculty-only bar with “fancy snacks,” as they’re affectionately called. This involves a tasty preview of the food you’re about to come upon (no photos available again because Big Hongries over here scarf down the food too fast). Staculty has also hosted one chocolate tasting and wine pairing party following their class field trip to a chocolate farm in Hawai’i. Sometimes, it’s Margarita Monday, and you remember that days of the week exist, which is a cute remnant from an on-land life from long ago.

This approach, however, leads to less sleep, which  means that you might miss the next sunrise or morning workout. You reason with yourself that this will also be okay, because there will be another one, and another one, and another one, and then you stop that train of thought before it gets scary, too.

To fill the day-time, you read a lot. Sometimes it’s for class and you make yourself an office on the deck and email your parents single-photo attachment selfies since the internet is next to non-existant. Sometimes you take your fun book on-deck, but you forget sunscreen and it’s windy so you don’t feel hot so you still get burned and then you don’t do that again because your skin’s on fire and lotion makes you stick to your clothes so you just retreat inside.

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Not a bad day in the office.

Often, you grab a guidebook for the next place you’re going and take copious notes in your bullet journal, copying down websites to visit when you have Wi-Fi again. You may settle in for the film loop, where faculty can schedule movies/documentaries to run for 24-hours on repeat. Sometimes it’s the same thing, or a disk of episodes that can’t be repeated, but it’s always educational, sometimes different, and usually entertaining. If there’s an open space Will, our handy-dandy librarian, will choose a kid-friendly fun movie to put on, and there’s good nostalgia in that too.

To fill the evenings, you attend different lectures from the talented and all-knowing faculty on their areas of expertise, like Japanese art, theatre around the world, instruments and music styles of Indonesia, or the political climate in North Korea and Ukraine. You may join common-interest groups, like the Black Student Union, or the Writing Group, or Atheists and Agnostics (which was a little by accident but includes riveting and challenging discussions).

Mostly, you run into the same people and smile, or you happen upon people you swear you’ve never seen before but you must have since no one can come or go (or can they?!). You wonder if you’ve lost it or if it’s all a dream, but devise that it must be reality because I remember waking up, which you never know in dreams (usually, unless they’re lucid…sorry, Inception was on the loop so we watched it more than once recently).

Really, you just enjoy the relative ease and calm of a less-than-60-hour work-week, something I haven’t done in years. It’s a nice, leisurely life, but you do start to really, really look forward to that next port. This was our longest stretch of on-ship time, and once we hit port we don’t have more than a few days on ship between ports where we’ll dock for several days, almost a week, at a time.

Ports will be go-go-go, so I imagine we’ll really be looking forward to longer stretches of on-ship time to relax and calm back down.

Until then, here’s to the ship life! Catch you next time from Japan.

Cheers,

Kiley

Hawai’i’s Emerald Valley: Where Humidity Makes Gorgeous Things Happen

Aloha, folks! Forgive us as we go back in time to catch up on our adventures, now that we have more consistent access to WiFi. Though we started in San Diego, we boarded the ship almost immediately and didn’t get to explore the city much – aside from catching up with old friends in new places (hi, Chelsea and Sam!) – we cruised overnight to the Port of Ensenada in Mexico to pick up our 600+ students.

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If you squint and look really hard in the background around the San Diego skyline, you just might find the ship.

Hawai’i is about five days sailing from there, so we arrived at the Port of Honolulu a few weeks ago now. We were scheduled for a quick refueling stop, clocking about 12 hours total in port, before powering on to Kobe, Japan, our second port of call. With the prospect of over two weeks of straight sailing and living our lives on a 573 foot-long ship, our excursion in Hawai’i was one of the first we booked.

Presenting: Emerald Valley on the island of Oahu.

We docked early in the morning and were able to watch the beginnings of the sunrise over the mountainous coast as we cruised into the harbor. It took immigration a few hours (a pretty quick turn around, from what we’re hearing) to clear us, so we had some time on the ship to soak up the last of our data and internet while we had an American signal. Once we disembarked, Will and I assumed our duties as Trip Liaisons and wrangled our groups of 15 students/adults, and we were off!

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Our first stop was a lookout, perched on a Hawai’ian historical cliff side. Since Hawai’i used to be home to several indigenous groups, there were occasionally wars among the Hawai’ian nations. As King Kamehameha fought to unite the groups under one singular ruling kingdom, the losing side was forced to retreat to this cliff. Rather than be taken hostage or killed in battle, the warriors chose an honorable death and jumped over the cliff instead. Now a peaceful and populated tourist lookout, the picturesque location seems a long way from war-torn indigenous battles.

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Tah dah!

A short drive away, we were turned out into Lyon Arboretum, maintained/sponsored by the University of Hawai’i Manoa and home to lots of beautiful birdies, flowers, trees, and bugs, but very few furry wee beasties. With few indigenous mammals, there are no squirrels or chipmunks in Hawai’i. Instead, colorful birds and plant-life thrives in the lush, humid climate. We trekked a short out-and-back trail to a mini waterfall, snapping photos and chatting along the way. Without my own classroom, it was great to get to talk with smaller bunches of students as we went. Though I’d been sitting in on Global Studies, walking around with a microphone and candy during some of the call/response sessions, and monitoring the sign-in sheets, I was most proud to be noticed as “the Harry Potter pen lady” by one of the students, thanks to my Harry Potter wand pen that I’d been offering students to use to sign-in (Christmas present shout-out to Will’s brother and sister-in-law!).

We feasted after this quick hike, chowing down on some local favorites. Our boxed lunch consisted of sticky rice, teriyaki beef, a hunk of fried chicken, a thin pork cutlet, and Spam. We were all offered chopsticks for our fare and tucked into the array of meat without looking back or thinking too hard about our cholesterol consumption, but it was all surprisingly tasty. Spam has been a Hawai’ian staple since the US military days and is a common add-on, so we hear, to fast food burgers and more widely available pretty much everywhere. With as much as we were sweating in the outrageous heat, I convinced myself that I needed every last calorie and happily mowed – which explains why there are no photos available of said delicacy, a pattern you may come to notice as we eat our way around the world.

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Of course, Raph and Bats were invited along for the expedition.

Post lunch led us to our second photo-op, Tantalus Lookout, from the Ko’olau Mountains. From this lookout, several of the infamous volcanoes are visible, including Diamond Head, as well as Waikiki Beach and our very own ship home! …Shome? Yes, I’ll be using that instead now. Shome, sweet shome!

 

 

 

Our last stop of the day took us by a snack stand, so we pitched in to get everyone a flavored ice before making our way to my favorite spot of the tour, Likeke Falls. We sloughed our way up the hills and through the mud, which I imagine is never really dry, given all the humidity. We wound our way through overgrown brush and trees that had either grown or were cut into tunnels. We were minutes from a finely manicured golf course, but the second we got on the trail, we may as well have been hours from civilization. We slipped and slid the last bit of the way to the roar of rushing water and stumbled into a lush little cove where water poured down the side of the mountain, pooling in several places before tumbling over more rocks and farther down the mountain.

We watched, holding our breath, as our more ambitious students basically scaled the rock faces, definitely leaving the designated paths. We’re still figuring out what our role is exactly, as the “grown-ups in charge” since everyone is an adult and we don’t want to mother-hen everyone, but all’s well that ends well since every student made it home in one piece. Our tour guide gave us some time to relax and poke around before we tip-toed our way back down the sludgy trail to the bus, savoring our last steps on land, however unsure they may be.

Our guides tossed in one last bonus stop for us before turning us back onto the ship. We have now visited the only palace in the United States, Iolani Palace. Right in the center of Honolulu, minutes from the docks, are several beautifully constructed state buildings and statues devoted to the last of the royal rulers of Hawai’I, including Queen Lliuokalani who was the last royal before the US seized power, and several of her predecessors, like King Kamehameha III, IV, and V.

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The large group of people, according to Will, were playing Pokemon. Apparently there was a “legendary release,” whatever that means. 

All in all, we had a very excellent go in Hawai’i! Mahalo, Oahu, for everything you offered. We can’t wait to visit again!

Mahalo readers,

Kiley

Welcome Aboard: SAS’s MV World Odyssey

Well, folks, we are currently thousands of miles from where we last checked in. With just a brief stop in Hawaii in these first weeks, allow us to show you where we’ve been spending our time!

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Introducing our living quarters aboard the MV World Odyssey. We boarded just after the New Year, having a few days to get acclimated and go through orientation with faculty and staff (or “staculty” as we’ve been branded, helping reinforce the inclusive teamwork we’re striving for) before picking up students and helping them through their orientation. Now that we’re in the swing of things, I’ve had some downtime to explore and appreciate our beautiful ship, though our cabin feels pretty luxurious after some of these long days at sea we’ve been having. IMG_20180102_142648.jpg

I heard a student declare on Day 1 that this ship has a “Titanic vibe,” and (while that’s a scary comparison as I write this in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it is extraordinarily opulent. This is due in part to its origins as the setting for a German TV show, the equivalent of the American “Love Boat” so it is pretty snazzy. The signs are all still in German, since the ship goes back to a German company during the summer to bounce tourists around Scandinavia, though this is less helpful as an American who doesn’t speak German. The linguist in me is thrilled, since I’m starting to pick apart similarities to English (a Germanic language) and deconstruct the word structures, but it’d be a stretch to say I’ll actually learn much German while aboard.

Ironically, classrooms have presented challenges for faculty, since this is primarily a cruise ship and not a university. Multiple classrooms are set up right in the middle of the restaurants and dining halls, scheduled around meal times of course, but still. Others are tucked in the corners of the same room, or have been converted from the game parlor, the cinema, or sitting areas during the day when classes are held. The library, in fact, is a lounge and it operates with full snack and drink service during the day while Will’s at work. The SAS motto really is “flexibility, flexibility, flexibility” and everyone seems to be adapting really well, all things considered. 26198177_10215985818304706_3414146256227485245_o

The course I’m working with, Global Studies, is the only required course on the ship, and we run it twice a day in back-to-back lectures. These are designed to prepare students how to function in port, given the cultural customs, historical and political influences, and more. I like our fearless and wonderful director’s explanation best: Global Studies explains “how not to be a jackass” when you get to each country. It’s been a wonderful journey already, and he’s put so much time into the course, including the creation of this video here, outlining each of the ports we’ll visit throughout the voyage. We teach in the biggest room, complete with a stage and balcony in all their gilded, lush glory.

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Pretty impressive, right? I kind of get the Titanic references…

In addition to housing close to 600 students and lifelong learners, around 100 faculty/staff/family members, and a few hundred crew, the ship also serves as home to some crazy-ass artwork. Embarking and walking around the first few days, this was the most striking for me. Each hallway, stairwell, nook and cranny has the most beautiful, outlandish, abstract, jarring, insert-adjective-here paintings and sketches. One of the other faculty joked on our first tours about creating a writing group based around these paintings. The fictions you could create, developing backstories and quippy dialogue, would be a super fun and nutty activity, and so entertaining since I doubt anyone would have the same two takes on any of this artwork.

An additional highlight so far was the Bridge tour. Though it’s marked on our ship maps, the Bridge is highly restricted to the crew and officers only. Over the last few days, we got to sign up for tours to see the navigation equipment and learn a little more about how we’re getting where we’re going. Though this was one of the rockier parts of the ship (“sea legs” are totally a thing, and you can check yourself for seasickness by seeing if you bash into the walls and feel drunk, walking in zigzags with a sleepy kind of headache), it was fascinating to hear the Second and Third Officers walk us through the mechanisms by which the propellers turn, how they receive wind and tide updates, as well as how they determine our location. My tour got to see the stash of gigantic paper maps that they keep as a backup in case of power failure. They offered us photo ops with the captain’s hat too – what a novelty, right? – but neither Will nor I accepted this particular opportunity.

To give a little perspective on this adventure, we’ve been sailing for 5.5 days straight with 2 more full days to go (at the time I’m writing not posting, because no WiFi). Land disappeared a long, long time ago. For Will and me, this is the single most anxiety-inducing aspect of this voyage, looking out at how vast these waters are and having absolutely no idea what lies below us. This first stint is our second-longest stretch at sea, following the crossing from Hawaii to Japan, so I’m expecting the cabin fever to start among the students shortly.

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Luckily, we’re closing in on Hawaii and will get to fall to our hands and knees the kiss the land, beautiful land soon! Until then, don’t think of poor Jack or selfish Rose hogging that door all to herself (they both totally could have fit). Instead, enjoy the photos and we’ll talk to you soon after Hawaii!

Cheers,

Kiley

Sneak Peak: Our excursion in Hawai’i took us through the rainforest, the Emerald Valley. We explored the botanical gardens of Lyon Arboretum and set out for Likeke Falls, ending at Tantalus Lookout (within the Pu`u `Uala-ka`a, if you can read Hawaiian) with a view of Waikiki Beach!

 

An Ode to Obie: See you soon, little man

So we’ve been gone for over a week! We started in San Diego on January 1, did our orientation, picked up and oriented students, and got them through their first several days of class! But one thing has been weighing on us.

The beautiful thing about traveling these days is that you get to chat with family and friends across the globe with relative ease. Between phone calls, chatting, and video-calling, the distance between people can feel much smaller than it really is. So it’s not to say we won’t miss our friends and family, but it’s way easier to stay in touch with you people than, say, our pup who can neither read nor communicate well over the phone.

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We’re not so sure if Obie was happy to come home with us that 4th of July weekend — he seemed underwhelmed at first.

Obie is a 3.5 year old rescue of questionable origins, but we know he comes from Texas, that someone took care of him before he was picked up as a stray, and that some day someone will burn in hell for the stupid bbs that you can feel alongside his ribs and his nose. He was billed as a lab mix, but there’s definitely some other stuff too. We’ve been BFFs for about 1.5 years, and his anxiety is getting better, despite what our ripped front door curtain and the accompanying claw marks on the door frame may suggest.

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I’d say he’s warmed up to us. This glamour shot was taken at Devil’s Backbone, between Loveland and Estes Park, CO, during Obie’s first hike.

He was originally named Sampson, but that didn’t seem to fit our little guy. You may notice that he has one blue eye, which we thought was reminiscent of “Ol’ Blue Eyes,” or Frank Sinatra. So we started there, with Frank “One Blue Eye” Sinatra. But that’s a mouthful. “Frank” seemed clunky for the spry, spider-eating, cuddle bug who we fell in love with at the shelter adoption event, and “Frankie” wasn’t much better. “Sinatra” felt weird, and we couldn’t figure a way to shorten it — “Sinny,” “Nati,” and “Atra” were just as odd. We landed on O.B.E. – for One Blue Eye, which sounds like Obi, which led to Obi Wan Kenobi. Being the wee nerdlettes that we are, Star Wars was a welcome homage. So, technically, this guy’s full name is Frank “One Blue Eye” Wan Kenobi Sinatra, but we just call him Obie (and we spell it that way, because by the time we realized that didn’t match OBE or Obi, it was too late).

 

He now owns us, heart and soul. This is a tribute post to him, and a reminder for us to look at while we’re away. He’s sassy, silly, sleepy, and gets the zoomies so hard that it would make you tired. Here are some fun facts about our favorite little weirdo:

Things Obie is great at: catching and eating bugs, posing like the diva he is (see above), naps (or maybe more accurately, long sleeps), vivid dreams that wake you up in the middle of the night, squeaking his toys at inopportune moments like when you’re on the phone having a serious conversation, greeting you at the door and leaning into your knees, taking your seat on the couch the second you vacate it, loving.

Things Obie is awful at: being by himself, family photos (also see above), catching squirrels, meeting other new dogs calmly and not tackling them, eating his food when he’s supposed to, wearing sweaters.

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A rare family photo where Obie’s looking at the camera. This was at the summit of Mt. Margaret outside of Red Feather Lakes, CO

For the next few months, Obie will stay with my parents in Ohio. He has the company of my parents’ dog, Emmy, which makes being at home with no hoomans easier on him, so we’re confident he’ll be happier without us than we are without him. Luckily, these pups get along great, and are downright dashing to boot.

Until next time, pup, have fun with your gram and gramps! Be good, and don’t pick fights with Emmy. Listen when you go outside or are on a walk. Eat your dinner when you’re told, and not so many treats. (Okay, that last one was for Mom and Dad — don’t you fatten him up too much while we’re gone!)

Most importantly, Bobie-Dog, don’t forget about us. We miss you terribly already, even though we haven’t left. We can’t wait to squeeze ya and love on ya.

Snuggles soon,

Dog-Mom and Dog-Dad

Ohio: The Heart of the Heart of It All

Team Wiley originated in Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s my hometown, and was Will’s home for a few years, though he’s from the Athens area, where Ohio University is located. Over the holidays, we bounce back and forth around Ohio, fondly known as “the heart of it all” due to its endearing shape. We’re fiercely proud Ohioans and have made a habit of playing tourist when we come home, hitting all our favorite spots and finding new things that have changed or sprung up, but also making three hour treks from one place to another too.

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One mandatory stop every time we’re home is Jungle Jim’s, the international grocery store around the corner from my parents. It started as a small fruit stand, but it’s since expanded into a foodie haven, complete with it’s own cheese and olive bars, expansive coffee and beer selections, and an array of animatronic figures that sing and dance, because why not? We made two beer runs while we were home, and we left both times with too much cheese (just kidding, there’s no such thing), some local deli meats and sweet treats, and international goodies. We even saw Jim himself! He was dressed as Willy Wonka on this particular pre-Christmas occasion, though our cashier informed us that he has a wide variety of costume options!

For the second year in a row, we also hit up Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens for the Festival of Lights. You know that adorable hippo, Fiona? That little international sensation? This is her home! Unfortunately, Fiona was asleep already, so we missed out on the Fiona viewing. This was extra disappointing since everyone else in the world is all about her, and I personally feel like I had more of a claim on her, being from Cincinnati and all. But that’s just my take on things.

Every year, they do an impressive, award-winning display, so the family went back again this year to visit the reptile and bird houses, since most of the outdoor animals weren’t out and about. But, ethics and zoo protests aside, the lights were beautiful, the hot chocolate was hot and served with “cheer” (aka Schnapps), and the family time was even cozier and much more needed.

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Catching up with my parents, and Will’s brother and sister-in-law at the front gates of the zoo.

 

And all hometown reunions aren’t complete without a good outing with friends. Colorado is known for its beer culture, but Cincinnati is right up there too. This time around, we went to Taft’s Ale House, which I found from Googling “Cincinnati brewery” and finding out that one of my friends lived right near it. I was originally attracted by the logo — a silhouette of President Taft in his infamous bathtub, which he did not get stuck in seeing as it was made precisely to avoid this debacle. One of our more portly leaders, the White House had to order a specially made tub to accommodate Ohio’s finest, and it was this logo that brought some of my closest high school friends back together for a night of catching up, plotting hopeful future reunions and adventures in the months to come. The beer was especially tasty, and my only regret is that we didn’t dig in to the food, which I’ve heard is also superb.

ATHENS and SOUTHEASTERN OHIO

We’ve spent a good amount of time with Will’s family in southeastern Ohio, a little ways outside outside of Athens. We spent our first stint with Will’s parents before Christmas, making our rounds to some of my favorite shops on Court Street, the main thoroughfare near OU’s campus, to finish our Christmas shopping. We paid visits to our favorite coffee shop, Donkey Coffee, and picked up Will’s weekly comic releases from the Wizard’s Guild. (Does a better comic shop name exist??) We made a quick pitstop for a photo op at the College Gate. This gate borders the original OU campus where each graduating class poses in graduation gowns with friends. The trees and green space behind it, Campus Green, is great for lounging though we didn’t stop here considering the below-freezing temperatures we’re experiencing at the moment. Maybe when we get back and the weather in warmer.

One of my favorite places in Athens, however, is The Ridges. Will’s family has a history with the once-upon-a-time asylum, with his grandma having been a nurse from the late 1960s through the 1990s, his mom working in administration before he and his brother were born, and his dad doing maintenance and tending to the current buildings for so many years. The institution was established near the turn of the century, in 1874 as one of the major state institutions and remains perched on top of the hill overlooking campus. Though most of it is no longer used due to need for remodeling — too much asbestos, lead paint, and such, as old buildings go —  parts are a museum and there’s a new observatory too. In its heyday, patients lounged around the nearby lake, mingling with townsfolk along the banks, for those who had the privilege of roaming the grounds and coming back. Will’s showed me these photos, depicting a time when women could be committed with nothing more than their husband’s (or father’s, brother’s, insert-male-relationship-here, etc.) word. So, many of the women were in fact perfectly sane. Still, patients with significant difficulties were committed too, including many patients that Will’s grandma fought. She told us with pride about the ones she broke up and was actively in. Don’t worry — she won most of them, she said!

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The front gates of The Ridges, now leading to the museum and some of the remaining active sites.

Among these real-life horror stories are the many ghost stories that have been circulating for centuries. When you Google “The Ridges,” one of the suggested searches provides “stain” as the next word. Allow me to explain.

Margaret was a patient from long ago who wandered into the attic and was accidentally locked in. With a window overlooking the courtyard, it’s not quite known how she didn’t signal for help. She passed away in that tower, but wasn’t found until much later, with her clothes folded neatly by the window leaving her naked. Since she’d been left so long on her own, her body began to decompose, leaving a relatively well-defined body stain on the floor where she passed, hence the suggestion. Gruesome, sad stuff.

Will regaled me with more tales as we drove, pointing out the different wings and identifying the old TB ward. We walked through the grounds, and Will told me about the many unmarked graves. Most in the yard we walked had only a number, identifying the patient, but with no real identification system aside from the asylum’s records. More recently, the community — or more specifically, Friends of Athens Asylum Cemeteries — has banded together to track down relatives of the unmarked graves to replace the numbered stones with proper headstones, bringing peace and closure to a still-standing monument to some dark bits of our collective past.

COLUMBUS

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This is HALF of the travel section, you guys. Just HALF!

While neither of us are from the state capital, we’ve both managed to spend a good amount of time in Columbus between friends, family, and our sporting events over the years. These days, a few cousins and my sister call the place home so we made a quick pit stop on the way to Cincinnati from Will’s family.

A trip to Ohio isn’t complete without a visit to The Book Loft. This bookstore is THIRTY-TWO rooms! A converted old house, every wall is lined with shelves, and there are more tables and shelves in the center. More impressively, books are affordable, they have Out of Print clothes and book-related gifts, and and and…it’s basically nerd nirvana. Nerd-vana, if you will. Located in German Village, close to downtown, you could spend hours in this glorious maze and spend your life savings, and it would be perfectly justified. But that could be because, aside from travel, this is a brief picture of our spending habits:

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Comic credited to Sarah Anderson for perfectly summarizing my life.

With that, folks, I’ll spare you the rest of the details about primping and priming for our trip — at least until the next post. We leave in a mere four days (*gasp*), and there’s lots to do, including the drive back to Cincinnati, exchanging currency and packing for real, my BFF/cousin’s wedding on Saturday, New Year’s Eve which is also Mom’s birthday on Sunday, and departing on Monday. So you see, we’ve got a few things on the to-do list.

Wish us luck, friends, and have a Happy New Year!!

Cheers,

K

CO –> OH: 18 Hours Down, Over, and Out

Road trips are one of my favorite forms of travel. Driving, however, is not one of my favorite forms of transport. This may seem contradictory, so I’ll try to explain.

Road trips are freedom, open-ended stops, and wonder. With rough destinations in mind, you can take your time coming and going, adding to the agenda at will and ending up wherever you meant, whenever you get there. You make specific playlists for a road trip and get pumped for the days/weeks leading up. It’s wonderful.

Driving is stress, discomfort, and white-knuckling. It’s a means of getting from one place to another, goal-oriented without a lot of room for error. From the time you get in the car, you immediately start the clock and wonder if you can beat it, kind of like the cut-screen shots in 24, except without the cool music. It is (often) awful.

To get from our home in Colorado to our home-home (or parents) in Ohio, with a dog and months worth of things — clothes, my 15 pairs of shoes, Christmas presents, and a specially packed doggie bag of food and toys and Christmas sweaters — going by car just makes the most sense. I try to get into road trip mentality for this, but it inevitably ends up just being the longest drive ever.

On Friday, we loaded up and deemed our adventure home “started” around noon MST. I drove first, stopped at Cane’s for people-fuel for the journey, and tucked Obie into the 1.5 back seats that were available for his use.

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You end up with weird road snacks, like a carton of eggnog, when you clean out your fridge the day you leave home for long periods of time. It’s not that weird,  Will.

With next to zero visibility, thanks to the boatload o’crap in the back, the drive through Denver was hairy, both because of the traffic and because Obie sheds  like a madman and often tries to weasel into the front seats. (That’s his super plush dog bed you see behind my head. It may or may not have rained fur down on me each time I tapped the breaks.) We made good time and had our usual northern Colorado radio stations in range to jam to Christmas music. This was convenient, because that range almost exactly matched Will’s tolerance for the stuff, at which point we whipped out my handy dandy CD case from the mid-2000s. The music has not really been updated since then, so these hours of the drive were largely Fall Out Boy and Panic at the Disco dominated. This is the music of a long drive, and not one of a finely curated road trip. They’re gems for sure, and we jammed our pre-pubescent hearts out, and we did listen to at least some of every FOB album, but this barrage of angst is not consistently the first-choice stuff of road trips.

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Around this time, we said goodbye to the mountains, and I vowed to wash my side mirrors after getting a look at the photos. To this day, I’m pretty  sure my dad’s greatest shame in me is the upkeep of my car, so Dad, please don’t look right. Last year, as we drove through a literal blizzard, we were forced to clean the windshield every time we stopped, which was also more frequently due to said blizzard. Compared to that drive, the blue skies and dry roads made this first day a piece of cake.

Despite how dreadfully flat, uniformly colored, and sparse cities and even houses are through eastern Colorado and Kansas, there were a surprising amount of beautiful views as we carried on east. We watched the sunset behind us, which was all the more appreciated because we weren’t staring directly into the sun as we’ve become accustomed to on such drives. In the running tally of the “which state is the most painful to drive through?” battle, Kansas worked it’s way out of the top spot on this drive. From our experience, Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas are the top three contenders, from having done the CO-OH drive far too many times.

Once the sun went down though, damn. One may say “the night is dark and full of terrors” — there are not many street lamps, exits for gas, or other cars, so the thought of breaking down or having some psycho go all The Strangers on you becomes more and more real the longer you go. If your boyfriend is a budding conspiracy theorist, you pass time by contemplating if the flashing red lights ahead are really UFOs and, if so, what that interaction would be like. You then become disappointed, hours later, when you realize that this is just yet another field of windmills.

The sun was down and it was pitch black out by around 5:00 MST, not long after we got into Kansas. Missouri, our agreed upon goal for the night, felt a long way from there. Our friends at the Wandering Warriors were a few hours ahead of us, so we planned to catch them, giving us a rough goal to make it to 11:00pm, leaving plenty of time for a good night’s sleep. Joke was on us, unfortunately, since Google Maps doesn’t (obviously, at least) show you which time zone it’s talking about…

We carried on, chit-chatting and making plans for our break at home and for the impending Semester at Sea, listening our way through adolescence and after a good long stint, Will switched into the driver’s seat. For about 40 minutes. Will’s been under the weather lately, and his poor body doesn’t take too well to cold meds. These jitters and loopiness were the reason for my original long stint, but I needed to stretch my legs, and Will said he was good to go. Shortly after getting back on the highway, however, a conversation something like this ensued:

W: “Do those lights look funny to you?”

K: “…no? What do you mean ‘funny’?”

W: “Like, huge? Like they have halos?”

K: “I mean my night vision’s not great, but–”

W: “And like they’re moving or dancing and bouncing?”

K: “Okay, I think it’s my turn to drive again.”

No sooner did I take back over, we were on the highway and Will started reading the signs out loud, beginning with “Zoo and Rain Forecast.” I did a double-take at the sign, and kindly asked Will what that would mean. The weather report so you know what it’d be like at the zoo? Negative.

The sign actually said “Rain Forest.”

Shortly after, we came upon “Conversation Areas” which I got Will to repeat, more than once, which he thought was nice for lonely travelers. Except the sign really said “Conservation Areas.”

I then regretted letting Will drive any of the first 11-12 hours that day. But all’s well that ends well.

Several uneventful hours later, we finally rocked up to Columbia, Missouri at 1:00am CST, knowing we’d be up and back at it early the next morning. We crashed pretty immediately.

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We lacked a little of that Day 1 pep by this time.

Luckily, our friends got a hotel with breakfast and after a quick bite, we loaded back up for the last, much shorter stretch home through the tail end of Missouri, all of Illinois, and all of Indiana. It’s not that there are exciting things throughout these states, that keep them off our list of painful drives, but there are a lot more towns and cities, plus several quaint and kitschy “World’s Largest…” type of attractions. We were a little worse for the wear on Day 2, but happy enough to be closer to home, even knowing there were no fun pit stops this time around.

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Window-licking and backseat slobbers, brought to you by yours truly. 

 

Some day, when we make a real road trip of this drive, rather than racing home as fast as possible, we’ll stop and marvel at these obscurities. Maybe we’ll AirBnB it and not Google the closest hotels ahead a few minutes in advance of the exit. We’ll make fun plans, highlighting the atlas as we go. We’ll pull over on the side of the road when the sunset is just the right blend of pink and purple and orange and take proper photos, ones without the dirty mirror and hood of the car.

Until then, we’ll content ourselves with watching Obie sleep through everything in the back — he really does travel like a champ.

For now, we’re happy to be home-home, surrounded by our parents and siblings. We have our favorite local craft beers, friends to visit, home-cooking to enjoy, and so much more that only home can offer.

Here’s to NOT driving hours and hours for a long time, and to making it safely home! See you soon, Ohioan friends!

Love,

K

Introducing Raphael and Batman: Our Complementary Dynamic Duo

Flipping through photos of people cheesing for the camera is fun. Thumbing through scenery pics is cool. Some of those artsy shots looking into the distance are too cliché not to do. But there are days we don’t feel like being in front of the camera, and we need a different kind of pizazz.

Enter: Raphael Poulain (Raph, for short) and Batman (or Bats, for us who know him personally)

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Raph has been with me since 2012. When I took off for study abroad in college, leaving senior year of undergrad, my then-roomie and present-day bestie sent me a care package in France that included the little token you see who is not Batman. He was already named after our collective favorite movie Amélie. In one of the subplots (spoiler?), Amélie’s dad, Raphael, becomes reclusive and only really leaves the house to tend his garden — so she arranges extravagant travels and photo sessions for his garden gnome, fixing it so that photos of these illustrious adventures get mailed back to Raphael to coax him out of his slump. Since Amélie is an adorably conniving mastermind, it works, and Raphael takes off at the end of the movie.

So far, Raph has been to Croatia, Stonehenge, Guinness, and more. The poor old chap has seen some scrapes and bruises in his day, but after a few years on the shelf next to our other trinkets, he’s ready and raring to go!

That leaves Bats. Bats is new to the travel game, not having had a whole lot of free time to leave Gotham. Bats is excited to stand-in for Will, especially considering his smash hit debut at Snowbank Brewing this past weekend.

You may notice that Bats sports the Adam West leotard proudly. (Or, if you haven’t grown up on Batman, know every movie by heart, and/or own and regularly binge the animated series, this detail may also have escaped you, as it did me.) This was a conscious choice, given that there were several other versions available, but Will is a nostalgic one, so classic outfit it was.

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Thanks, Gilded Goat, for a couple cold ones!

To help lessen the inundation of our spry, eager faces, you’ll also be getting a load of these guys, and sometimes our faces will still be with them. They’ll be highly featured on our Instagram too — @teamwileywanders — where we’ll be posting frequently and sharing the links to get you here. The photo to the left may look familiar for this very reason, and you’ll see our Instagram roll from our blog homepage too.

So, here’s to Raph and Bats! May their travels be splendid, may their caretakers be careful, and may they see many a wonder abroad!

Safe travels, buddies,

K

Sneak preview: We start our drive from Colorado to Ohio around noon today. That’s 18-hours of fully packed car travel, including the pup (more on Obie soon, too). To help pass the time, we’ll be logging photos (like Obie’s dopey faces and window-licking because there’s frost, maybe?) as well as events and sights for your (and our) entertainment.

“Adventure is out there!”

So, with about one month to go to the big adventure, we have some exciting news to make public. Will and I are venturing out, starting January 1, with Semester at Sea! (Sidenote — our views are our own and don’t reflect the company.) We’re pretty pumped for the upcoming semester-long endeavor and the 10+ new countries we’ll get to visit. I’ve been brimming to share the news, so without further ado, allow me clear my throat, ahem a little and boldly, with zeal, decree “Adventure is out there!”

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Photo Credit: Up balloons and CaseSwaggerUSA Etsy shop (I almost bought this phone case, but it seemed too cliche.)

We embark for Semester at Sea (SAS) in San Diego, where faculty and staff board the ship to orient and prep before taking on about 600 students. Over the course  of the semester, we’ll make port every 3-10 days-ish around the world, ending in Hamburg, Germany in April. Our route is mapped out below, but roughly goes: Honolulu, HI; Kobe, Japan; Shanghai, China; Hong Kong; Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam; Yangon, Myanmar; Cochin, India; Port Louis, Mauritius; Cape Town, South Africa; Tema then Takoradi, Ghana; Casablanca, Morocco; and Hamburg, Germany. Whew!

We’ve been prepping for almost a year now, since we were both hired last fall. Over the last year, we’ve met some of the other faculty and staff, gotten new jumbo-sized passports, procured three visas — one for China, India, and Ghana (we’ll get Vietnam and Myanmar when we dock) — and begun to pack up our apartment here in Colorado. Our plane tickets are booked, so we’ll depart Cincinnati on New Year’s Day, then fly back from Prague at the end of April. We have a rough plan to do a Germany-Poland-Czech Republic tour as we finish out our stay, but those plans are on the back burner. Instead, we’re focusing on the bigger and more pressing fish to fry, like driving cross-country to in less than two weeks. Documentation to come!

It seems like things are coming so fast, but there’s still so much more to do before we make that trip home! We need to find a sublet for the apartment, pack up said apartment, pack for SAS, and of course actually finish out our current fall semester of teaching/librarian-ing, plus at least make dents in our Christmas shopping. Not to mention the basic travel logistics of arranging cell phone service and shut down, ordering currency (did you know the US commonly doesn’t carry Indian rupees? or Moroccan dirhams? or Ghanaian cedis? did you know those were the words for those currencies?? do you know how to pronounce the word for a person from Ghana?! I’m learning so much already, but I digress), as well as notifying our banks and credit card companies of our travels. My poor finger tips are slipping off the keys because my palms are sweating profusely from just typing about all this. Still, there’s a therapeutic, cathartic effect of writing it all out, which is a bonus of getting to share this crazy good news with you.

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Actual footage of me writing this post. Breathe, Kiley, breathe. (gif credit: VizualBusiness)

The good news is that my bullet journal is on point, complete with each port laid out with handy to-know quick tips for each port — emergency phone numbers for local authorities, how to interact with those authorities, how to say hello and help in each language, time zones, weather forecasts, and more.

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More to come from Raphael (the gnome) and Batman later…

One of the things Will and I have in common is the sense of calm we derive from a good bit of research. We’ve done our fair share of Googling, TripAdvisor stalking, and more, so it’s comforting to have more information — but would you expect anything less from a teacher and a librarian? So, we continue to work diligently through our to-do list, and sometimes it grows but sometimes it gets shorter. We chip away at more research, we peck at our travel guides and tips, peruse our orientation packets and slideshows.

It may go without saying, but we’re getting noticeably more and more excited, and just a little more nervous. We hope you’ll tag along throughout or for part of the adventure, and we’re glad you stopped by to share in this exciting news!

Soon to be adventuring,

K

 

Fall Hikes and Cold Brews

We’ve been in Fort Collins for a little over two years, and it’s been a hectic few years as I (Kiley) finished grad school and Will got settled after moving here. Luckily, there’s been plenty of good weather, beautiful mountains, and tasty beer to help us adjust.


Leaves are dropping pretty fast now, making for crunchy walks with the pup and brisk mornings biking to work. Knowing the snow was coming, we drove up the Poudre (pronounced POO-der, no joke) Canyon to catch the fall foliage for fear it’d all tumble down before we could see it. I was nervous the first year, to move from the Midwest with all of our leafy trees, out to Colorado with all the evergreens, but there’s still a surprising amount of splotchy, brilliant color throughout the mountains from all the aspens. While I drove, Will snapped some photos from the car window.


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Around 10pm that night, we realized that our mini starter garden was still in the ground. We trekked out with a few shopping bags and a trough and went to town on our cherry tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and carrots. Will has a pretty powerful green thumb, but I have a black thumb of death. With the Colorado climate working against us, we’re calling our bitty harvest of tomatoes and haul of stubby carrots a successful first endeavor. We were excited and also…fierce (?) or something.


Since it’s October, we’ve had that one snowfall already, which was a bit more of a doozy than expected. The doggle was pretty excited about the snow and went bounding around the yard, squatting and scooping up snow in his mouth. He alternated between eating it and tossing it up in the air to dance in it, which is a big improvement from the first time he saw snow and refused to leave the damp sidewalk for the powder-covered grass last year.

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The backyard. Less inviting with inches of snow, but welcome to Colorado.

Fast forward to this past weekend, we finally made it out to HIKE.We did around 3 miles at Rattlesnake Gulch outside of Boulder with the pup. It used to be a sky resort, so the ruins of an old kitchen stove and fireplace are still standing. At the lookout a few miles in, you can see the Continental Divide where we tried to take a few family photos, the attempts at which are below. Some day, the dog will face the camera for the photo and it will be great.

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Featured: varying angles of one Obi Wan Kenobi (the furry one) and the Continental Divide.

The remainder of fall up through this week, Fall Break for us, has been spent bouncing around breweries, book stores, and prepping for our overseas adventures. We found a new brewery, Purpose Brewing, which happens to be next door to REI (win) and Barnes and Noble (even bigger win).

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Purpose Brewing, Fort Collins. The beers had something like “squirrel” in the name?

All things considered, it’s been a wild and wonderful fall here. We’re gearing up to have family in town for Thanksgiving, and we’re a few steps closer to getting our things together for our big adventure, which will start January 1. Here’s to a productive next month or so.

Cheers,

K