4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

The Great New York Apartment Hunt (by Carmen)

We packed our bags yet again but this time it was more than just our backpacks. It was early fall and we were getting ready for the big move from Los Angeles to New York City. While our stuff was piled into a moving pod to be shipped across the country Nathan and I boarded our one-way flight to the East Coast. Upon arriving to the city, we dove headfirst into Craigslist ads with the goal of finding our new home within a week. Thus began the Great Apartment Hunt.

We sought out rentals high and low

We sought out rentals high and low

Finding an apartment can be equal parts exciting and anxiety-inducing. In New York, however, the latter wins out as the city is overrun with brokers who charge nearly 2 months’ rent for the doing the same thing you can do on your own with Craigslist. Given the high price of apartments already, this is an astronomically high sum for the amount of work they’re theoretically saving you. To make matters worse, brokers flood Craigslist and other free listing sites with fake ads so that you will call their company and they can try to get your business. It all makes for an extremely frustrating process for those without a ton of cash to burn. Despite the obstacles, we decided to do our best to sidestep the broker system and find something on our own.

Intricate balcony in the Lower East Side

Intricate balcony we saw during our apartment walk in the Lower East Side

Russ & Daughters to fuel our search.

Russ & Daughters to fuel our search.

Our experience started on a beautiful sunny day walking around the Lower East Side. As we meandered we called every “For Rent” sign phone number we stumbled upon. We would stop for coffee or a bagel at Russ & Daughters and scour Craigslist and other apartment listing sites from our phones. And we got exactly nowhere. No one we called had a one bedroom available and some said they only went through brokers. We felt broken by the broker system.

We broadened our search to include Brooklyn brownstones.

We broadened our search to include Brooklyn brownstones.

We knew we had change up our strategy so we broadened our search area to more neighborhoods and Manhattan and even across the East River to Brooklyn but to no avail. Finally, we gave in and called some brokers. The initial excitement of access to more listings was soon tempered when they showed us places that were extremely small, dark, poorly maintained and/or expensive. Some of the worst things we saw included a floor so uneven you had to walk uphill just to cross the living room, a kitchen with a broken stove that they simply placed a hot plate on top of to “fix,” and an extremely filthy apartment featuring a giant bong in the bathtub. I’m sure that worse exists in NYC but I couldn’t believe the asking prices of these places.  Our dreams of living in Manhattan were looking a little hopeless.

The entrance of a potential rental...home sweet home?

The entrance of a potential rental…home sweet home?

This bedroom might actually fit a bed.

This bedroom might actually fit a bed.

Then the holy grail appeared! After three weeks of couch hopping I was doing my morning Craigslist search when a post came up too good to be true – perfect neighborhood near tons of transit lines, nice light in the living area (as opposed to only in the bedroom like most places we’d seen), an open and spacious (by NYC standards) kitchen, UNDER budget and, best of all, no broker! How could it be? Nathan was suspicious, even after we met with the tenants to discuss the transition. But it actually all worked out…except for one tiny, little catch – we couldn’t move in until Thanksgiving which was still six weeks away. Thus began the Great Sublet Hunt. :)

Sweet success in the form of our cozy apartment

Sweet success in the form of our cozy apartment

We eventually did find a sublet (which was in a great neighborhood I’ll post about soon).  At the end of November we moved all our earthly belongings to our tiny corner of NYC to call home. Over the past four months we’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring our new neighborhood. I really can’t imagine being anywhere else right now.

Quick trip: Portland & Beyond (by Carmen)

Little white church in the Oregon countryside

Little white church in the Oregon countryside

Wedding guests at sunset

Wedding guests at sunset

Towards the end of last summer we had the pleasure of attending a wedding in the verdant hills outside Salem, Oregon. Oregon in the summer is especially beautiful and, honestly, we’d accept any excuse to go. To be there for a family wedding in a cute little chapel surrounded by old oak trees was even more special. Our flight back to California was via Portland so we decided to spend a day and a half enjoying the city.

Voodoo Doughnut

Voodoo Doughnut

Portland is known for its great food but also for its somewhat alternative culture. Both these aspects were reflected in our trip to the famous Voodoo Doughnut. This was our pre-breakfast (hey, our time in Portland was limited!) and we were jarred by the neon pink interior of Voodoo as we walked in. The case contained a mixture of appealing (maple!) and appalling (bubble gum??) options slowly rotating under florescent light. Although I was tempted by the voodoo doll shaped concoction, I kept it simple with an old fashioned while Nathan tried a yeasted and iced doughnut. The old fashioned was definitely the winner and I thoroughly enjoyed it even though I felt the amount of icing tipped this snack more towards dessert than breakfast. By the time we left there was a line forming out the door.

Scandinavian breakfast at Broder (not sure what's going on in the back)

Scandinavian breakfast at Broder (not sure what’s going on in the back)

Actual breakfast was at Broder, a Scandinavian cafe tucked into a quiet strip of retail in Southeast Portland. As we waited for a table (good thing we had the doughnut to hold us over), we peeked at what people were eating. Everything looked so unique and enticing. Ultimately we tried the “Soltice Bord” (a very European mix of cheeses, jams, yogurt, granola, soft boiled egg, ham, bread, pastry) and a smoked trout hash. The restaurant lived up to the hype and it reminded me to enjoy these simple pleasures more often.

Heart Coffee shop

Heart Coffee shop

The in-shop roaster

The in-shop roaster

When in Portland it’s required to have multiple cups of artisanal coffee a day. We obliged at Heart Coffee shop where part of the entertainment is to watch the in-house roaster spew out fragrant coffee beans ready to be ground and brewed.

Bridge over the Willamette River

Bridge over the Willamette River

Public space in downtown Portland

Public space in downtown Portland

Powered with caffeine we made our way west, past the Willamette River to downtown. We took in the wonderful public spaces in this very walkable part of the city. I love bookstores and insisted we spend a solid hour at Powell’s Books where the cooking section alone took up two long aisles. Heaven.

Salt & Straw Ice Cream (sorry for the poor photo quality - this was pre-phone upgrade)

Salt & Straw Ice Cream (sorry for the poor photo quality – this was pre-phone upgrade)

Double fisitng at Salt & Straw

Double fisitng at Salt & Straw

My favorite bite of the whole trip took place later that night at Salt & Straw Ice Cream. I’ve tried plenty of good, quality ice cream in my life but this might be the best I’ve ever had. The creativity of flavors and freshness of ingredients came together so well. It was unbelievable and Nathan and I are going to attempt to recreate it with our new ice cream maker. Yes, even despite the freezing temperatures in NYC right now.

THE way to get around town

THE way to get around town

Our time in Portland would not have been the same without our excellent hosts Tom and Fontaine. They gave us recommendations, lent us their bikes, introduced us to yummy New Orleans food, and took us to local bars with some heavy handed bartenders. Thank you! Another special shout out to Nalat who encouraged us to try Olympic Provisions and Cascade Brewery – both delicious and worthy of checking out. Reminds me that no matter where we find ourselves, we get by with a little help from our friends.

LA Dreaming (by Carmen)

We are in the cold depths of winter here in NYC. I haven’t had to live through a proper, snowy January since I was six so I was curious and a bit anxious to see how I’d handle it. The weather put up a real challenge complete with polar vortices and plenty of single digit days. Now that it’s the very end of January, I know that if this is some of the worst the city has to offer I will survive the coming years just fine.

Typical LA street - palm trees, low-rise buildings, baking sun, nobody walking.

Typical LA street – palm trees, low-rise buildings, baking sun, nobody walking.

That said, I’m still allowed to indulge in a little California dreaming on such a winter’s day. Specifically, I’m thinking back to my past summer spent in Los Angeles. Nathan and I had just got married in Chicago and for our honeymoon we landed in…my parents spare bedroom. At the wedding, everyone’s favorite question was, “After all your travels, where are you going to honeymoon?” What we really wanted, though, wasn’t a honeymoon but a home base from where we could decide on next steps and start the job hunt. In this regard, LA was a great place to set down our backpacks.

Meatball sliders at Bottega Louie

Meatball sliders at Bottega Louie

The dessert case at Bottega Louie

The dessert case at Bottega Louie

 As a lover of urban environments, I’m always attracted to the high rises and historic areas of downtown LA. In fact, this area is becoming so hip it was mentioned in the NY Times article “52 Places to Go in 2014.” A major favorite of mine in downtown LA is Bottega Louie. Somehow, the restaurant manages to make a crisp white and marble setting feel simultaneously glamorous and laid back. And the food is every bit as good as you hope it will be. I ordered a plate of mini meatball sliders which were juicy and rich. After the meal, the case of exquisite desserts and macarons towards the front of the restaurant beckons with a rainbow of colors and flavor choices.
Early gray pie at The Pie Hole

Early gray pie at The Pie Hole

Downtown LA's Art District

Downtown LA’s Art District

If you resisted the sweets at Bottega Louie (or even if you didn’t) head nearby to The Pie Hole. This hipster cafe is located in the LA Arts District which is full of industrial chic restaurants and stores. They serve a mix of sweet and savory pies each day. I really fell for the earl gray cream pie – it was the perfect base for that delicate bergamot flavor. I’m going to have to recreate that one at home. If I get it right, I’ll post the recipe.

The Hollywood Sign family shot

The Hollywood Sign family shot

Garden at the Getty Museum

Garden at the Getty Museum

We were so lucky to have Nathan’s aunt from Germany join us for our wedding. After Chicago, she swung by California and we joined her for a day of LA sightseeing. The Hollywood sign is always a must see for guests and afterwards we drove to the breathtaking Getty Museum. The grounds and views are just as stunning as the art inside.

Dodger Game

Dodger Game

What American summer is complete without a baseball game? We rounded up friends Joey and Michelle to join us on a warm summer evening at Dodger stadium. We sat among the die-hard fans dressed in cobalt blue…and I was reminded how slow the game is. I’m checking out an LA Galaxy game next time.

Nozomi

Nozomi

During our down time we didn’t venture too far from my parents’ neighborhood, a suburb of LA which happens to have a large Japanese community. We scouted out the best ramen joints, izakaya grills and sushi. In the raw fish department, Nozomi stood out for having incredibly fresh and silky uni, or sea urchin. I still dream about the uni I enjoyed at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo many years ago and this was the closest I’ve found so far.

The chefs

The chefs

Tomatoes galore at the farmers market

Tomatoes galore at the farmers market

A tangle of green onions at the farmers market

A tangle of green onions at the farmers market

When we decided to stay in, we took full advantage of my Dad’s large kitchen. It’s nice to have so many foodies in the family. In some households, discord arises regarding who will have to make dinner. We had the opposite problem – we had to agree on who would get the honor of cooking that night. So we made a menu board before our weekend trips to the farmers market. Oh, my beloved farmers markets. The beautiful California produce is a sight to behold and something I’ll always miss.

Key lime pie at Fishing with Dynamite

Key lime pie at Fishing with Dynamite

As we took turns cooking, we still couldn’t resist LA’s excellent restaurant scene. One of the places we enjoyed was Fishing with Dynamite, a cozy seafood themed restaurant from the same owner as the ever popular Manhattan Beach Post. Each small plate that landed on the table was a hit. And the key lime pie dessert rather speaks for itself.

Father's Office

Father’s Office

Burger at Father's Office

Burger at Father’s Office

Stout ribs at Father's Office

Stout ribs at Father’s Office

Another great find was Father’s Office. This is bar food done right. And that was the surprising thing when my family and I entered – this place really did feel like a bar. We got ID’d on the way in! But the food lived up to its stellar reputation. The burger is incredibly rich, as could be expected when it’s covered in cheese, caramelized onions and bacon, and is best for sharing. We also sampled the pork ribs marinated in stout, then covered in a sweet, spicy honey glaze. I understood why the place was packed.

Pupuseria La Flor Blanca

Pupuseria La Flor Blanca

Pupusas with cabbage slaw

Pupusas with cabbage slaw

While Modern American cuisine is gaining a strong foothold in the city, the ethnic enclaves are what I get most excited about. For example, Pupuseria La Flor Blanca. Nathan had been here a number of years ago and we were excited to discover that it was still around. It’s a simple affair with fake brick walls and formica table tops, but as soon as you enter the door you can hear the slap of the pupusas on the griddle. Our pupusa (a bean and cheese stuffed dough patty) combined with the sour tang of the cabbage slaw was exactly what we were looking for.

Bahn beo at Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa

Bahn beo at Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa

Half and Half boba with Kathleen

Half and Half boba with Kathleen

We sought out more hole-in-the wall restaurant recommendations from friends and struck gold again. My friend Kathleen joined us for a wonderful Vietnamese lunch at Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa in Rosemead. She selected the bahn beo which are steamed rice cakes topped with dried shrimp, green onions and crispy pork skin. They were silky, sweet, salty and took us right back to the markets of Vietnam. Next up was a platter with rice paper, various grilled meats, fresh herbs, bean sprouts, tofu – basically all the ingredients you could want to make your own delicious and fresh spring rolls. Though full after all our food we made it over to Half and Half Tea House for some monster cups of boba. Thanks, Kathleen, for the incredible finds!

Our favorite local bar, which we frequented with our awesome friends Michelle and David

Our favorite local bar, which we frequented with our awesome friends Michelle and David

Indeed, it was wonderful to have friends and family around again. Whether it was catching a baseball game, scarfing down Asian treats, sipping a drink at our favorite beach-side bar during happy hour or sitting down to share a home cooked meal, I’d say our “honeymoon” in LA was just what we needed.

Now share some of the good weather already!

New Year, New York (by Carmen)

I heart NY from the Lower East Side

I heart NY from the Lower East Side

We have some catching up to do, but where to start? Our summer in LA? Our quick trip to Portland? Those will come. But for now I’m going to fast forward to today, New Year’s Eve.

For me New Year’s eve is a time of renewal and reflection. Looking back over the past year, Nathan and I took on a lot of “new” – new countries, foods, people, scenery, cultures…even a new marital status! I will forever be grateful for these experiences because I was able to learn more about the world and myself. But this year it was time to set down roots somewhere. While deciding where wasn’t an easy choice we finally did make a decision this past fall – New York!

New York is aptly named as it’s an endless stream of new. New shops and cafes are constantly opening. Little hole in the wall restaurants to expose you to new cultures and cuisines. Snow blanketing the streets and trees every so often making it feel like a new white city, a blank slate on which you can write your own story. It’s our kind of town.

So this is a quick post to say that yes, new posts will be coming ;) We’ve got a lot of exploring to do on the East Coast and, of course, right here in New York.

New York
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothin’ you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York

- Alicia Keys

A bright and shiny New York

A bright and shiny New York

Chicago Living (by Carmen)

Lake Michigan Coast

Lake Michigan Coast

Obligatory Cloudgate (or The Bean) shot

Obligatory Cloudgate (or The Bean) shot

We just couldn’t stay away. Our last visit to Chicago was during a July heat wave. We managed not to melt by visiting the beach and ducking into air conditioned restaurants for our fave regional eats – namely deep dish, hot dogs and anything by Rick Bayless. But it wasn’t enough. So this May, Nathan and I set down our backpacks for a whole month.

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me recording

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me recording

Wait, wait – why were we spending a whole month in the Windy City? Was this an extension of our travels? There was in fact a very specific reason to plop ourselves in this beautiful city by Lake Michigan. Our wedding was to take place at the end of May and we had a lot of planning to do! It was exciting but tiring times. To take a break from all the planning we fit in a few special meals, good beers, and fun shows. Like Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, the excellent NPR Saturday morning show recorded in downtown each week.

Spent a lot of time on our L platform

Spent a lot of time on our L platform

Revolution Brewing

Revolution Brewing

During our month in Chicago we were fortunate enough to stay with a family friend in the excellent Logan Square neighborhood. I thought it fitting that we were next to the California stop on the L (the name for the local train system). It was also fortunate to be very near one of the best breweries in the city – Revolution Brewing. The space has a huge wooden bar in the center of the lively restaurant. My personal favorite was the Rosa beer, which was a beautiful red color thanks to being brewed with hibiscus. It was a truly refreshing beer as the weather began warming up.

Longman & Eagle breakfast

Longman & Eagle breakfast

Lula Cafe cinnamon pasta

Lula Cafe cinnamon pasta

Logan Square has a lot to offer but two of my favorites are Longman & Eagle and Lula Cafe. The former is quite the multi-faceted business with a hotel, full bar and a restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner all on one site. The owners are able to pull it off it with style and as well as delicious food. I find the breakfast menu to be a particularly good deal so Nathan and I walked over one morning to enjoy chicken and waffles as well as a duck hash. Every time I eat there I wonder how they make their food so tasty.

Just across the square (actually more like a large roundabout) is Lula Cafe. The food was also of very high quality but in a comforting way. Like my pasta mixed with feta, cinnamon, garlic and brown butter. Simple, a little unusual, but ultimately delicious.

Kurowski Sausage Shop

Kurowski Sausage Shop

Polish goodies

Polish goodies

Speaking of comforting, Polish food ranks high for me in terms of homey goodness that just makes me happy. We found gold at Kurowski Sausage Shop, a grocery store full of delectable items like sauerkraut, kielbasa, borscht, dill pickle soup, hunter’s stew and, of course, lots and lots of pierogies. We happily stocked up and wondered if we could move in next door.

Urban Belly rice cake soup

Urban Belly rice cake soup

Belly Shack bulgogi

Belly Shack bulgogi

While I love Polish food, my heart will always belong to the cuisines of Asia. So I couldn’t wait to try Urban Belly. I went with a group and we each ordered a different soup. Through the variety of noodles (udon, rice, ramen and round rice discs), broth bases (chicken, pork), and spiciness levels one theme emerged – each bowl was incredibly scrumptious. We had such a good experience that Nathan and I took a group of family to Belly Shack, a sandwich shop from the same chef. I was a little worried that the group might prefer burgers and fries to the eclectic menu offerings at the shack (example: meatball and noodle sandwich) but everyone came away happy. I particularly enjoyed my bulgogi with flatbread and kimchee.

Fat Rice, a new fave

Fat Rice, a new fave

I thought Urban Belly was an unusual name, but then Fat Rice came and blew it out of the water. Turns out the name is a translation from the more elegant sounding arroz gordo, a specialty of Macau. The whole restaurant is dedicated to Macau cuisine which has a mix of influences – mostly Portuguese and Chinese but also a little bit of everywhere else the Portuguese went. I absolutely love when east meets west so this was right up my alley! While I really wanted to order the arroz gordo (a rice dish with a variety of meats and seafoods, chinese sausage, tea eggs, linguiça and sofrito) it is meant to serve 6. We still considered it though :) Instead we settled for Piri Piri Chicken with peanuts and potatoes in tomato sauce, Crazy Squid and large spears of stir-fried asparagus. Tangy, spicy, tingly, nutty, sour – everything melded together perfectly. From the concept to the food to the decor, this has become one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago.

Newlyweds

Newlyweds

Hot Doug’s hot dogs as celebration

Hot Doug’s hot dogs as celebration

And then we got married! Or at least it felt like it happened that fast. All the efforts of not only me and Nathan but our families culminated in what will forever be one of the best days of my life. A smile creeps onto my face anytime I think back to that wonderful weekend full of family, friend and love. And what better way to cement our union than to eat gloriously delicious hot dogs at Hot Doug’s?

Soaking in the modern “Flamingo” sculpture in Chicago downtown with friends

Soaking in the modern “Flamingo” sculpture in Chicago downtown with friends

Filafill

Filafill

Having so many of our family and friends in Chicago at the same time was somewhat surreal. We tried to spend as much time as we could with everyone over the wedding weekend. Most people wanted to check out downtown so we wandered around, admiring architecture together. When we needed refueling we visited Filafill, an excellent falafel and sandwich bar where you fill up your pita with as many sauces, pickles and veggies as you like.

Chicago’s sweet side (clockwise from top left: olive oil cake at Floriole; decadent doughnuts at Glazed & Infused; cookies and hot chocolate at Hot Chocolate, sundae at Margie’s Candies)

Chicago’s sweet side (clockwise from top left: olive oil cake at Floriole; decadent doughnuts at Glazed & Infused; cookies and hot chocolate at Hot Chocolate, sundae at Margie’s Candies)

I will leave this food heavy post off with a sweet ending – dessert! Nathan and I have sweet tooths to be sure. While we revisited Floriole for a moist olive oil cake we were happy to discover Glazed & Infused this time around. They offer some seriously decadent doughnuts in unique flavors like maple bacon. Based on a recommendation from my dad, we also made a trip to Hot Chocolate for (what else) hot chocolate. It was smooth and had perfectly balanced sweetness and richness. Finally, my favorite is Margie’s Candies, an institution since 1921. You walk in and you are transported back in time before artisanal gelato and fancy toppings. There is no salted caramel here. Just simple (but huge) sundaes with lots of hot fudge to drip over it. And you can’t forget the neon maraschino cherry on top!

Thank you, Chicago, for being a sweet setting for us to start a new chapter in our lives.

Road Trip Redwoods (by Nathan)

A good start to any road trip: breakfast at Acme, brunch at Sol Food, and Pinot Noir in Anderson Valley.

A good start to any road trip: breakfast at Acme, brunch at Sol Food, and Pinot Noir in Anderson Valley.

Our blog has been overshadowed by many crazy life events over the the past few months. Obviously returning to the real world after a trip around the world is tough. But…we are bringing the blog back! The next few weeks will be dedicated to bringing our stories to the present.

Every successful road trip requires a few essentials- a supply of snacks, solid tunes, interesting diversions, good company and an end destination. We set out from San Francisco to visit my grandparents 450 miles away in Oregon. The plan was to see some of the beautiful California coastline, hike in the towering redwood forests and enjoy every bit of the landscape along the way. Within the first several hours we were off to a good start with an Acme Bakery apple tart, brunch at the ever delicious Sol Food and wine tasting in Anderson Valley (favorite winery – Husch). Road trip Pacific Coast here we come…

Northern California Coastline

Northern California Coastline

A blooming California poppy

A blooming California poppy

Descending from Anderson valley onto the California coast is a subtle, but exciting experience. The pinot noir vineyards and patchy redwoods pull away to reveal the jagged and tumultuous Mendocino coast. Highway 128 ends and Highway 1/101 is the only route left to meander is way along the coastline.

Carmen celebrating not scraping the mirrors of our rented car!

Carmen celebrating not scraping the mirrors of our rented car!

What! A tree you can dive through? Yeah, we did that! Because every good American road trip requires a visit to a 60′s style tourist trap. Carmen expertly maneuvered our rented Ford Focus through the Chandelier Tree. We had now entered the redwood forests of California. To everyone that has not been to see California redwoods, there are several national, state and local forests that spread throughout California. The Northern California coastline boasts the tallest trees in the world, Kings Canyon in Central California, the fattest, but there are redwood forests all over the place. To name a few of just this trip, we saw Hendy Redwoods, Smithe Woods, Richardson Grove, Humboldt Redwoods, Prairie Creek Redwoods, Redwood National Park and Jedediah Smith Redwoods. Each park or forest is can be enjoyed along the drive, but it is the national and state parks that really take the prize for being spectacularly amazing.

Nathan in Fern Canyon

Nathan in Fern Canyon

Redwoods holding onto the shear bluff

Redwoods holding onto the shear bluff

Early in the road trip we had received a recommendation to visit Fern Canyon. The canyon was formed by a small creek that cuts through the redwood forests, carving a narrow gulley into the hillside. The vegetation is lush, vibrant and dripping with life. It is such an impressive sight that it was used for filming the first Jurassic Park movie. Usually, visiting the canyon has a fee but lucky for us it was free State Park day so we drove right onto the five mile dirt road towards Gold Bluffs beach. The road was in fairly good condition with the exception of a creek that caught us off guard; let’s just say I was happy it was a rented car that jumped that ditch.

Fern Canyon

Fern Canyon

Wild elk near the mouth of Fern Canyon

Wild elk near the mouth of Fern Canyon

One amazing thing about the Redwood National Park is that there are a few wild herds of Elk that migrate through the park. Supposedly they like to go swimming in the ocean! We did not see any elks catching waves, but we did get to see five of them eating shrubs near the beach. This female elk was huge and not at all scared of our presence.

Towers of Redwood National Park

Towers of Redwood National Park

Nudist tree? Open for interpretation.

Nudist tree? Open for interpretation.

The thick redwood forests around Lady Bird Grove

The thick redwood forests around Lady Bird Grove

Within the Redwood National Park, we headed towards an excellent and easy hiking loop in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove. This is probably the third or fourth time I have been here in my life and every time I love it. There are a handful of short or long trails that make it easy to fit in a short or long hike during the road trip. We started with just a small loop, but both Carmen and I got excited and we continued to meander through the forests for a few hours. We did see this rather graphic tree, which we dubbed the nudist tree, that continues to make us laugh.

Tree canopy

Tree canopy

Nathan and one “Big Tree!

Nathan and one “Big Tree!

As we hiked up and down the hillside we heard this faint, yet tremendous crash. Somewhere in the distance a tree branch or maybe an entire tower collided into the ground. It was an amazing rumble that of course sparked the existential debate of a fallen tree in a forest absent of listeners. Walking between, around and through these trees creates a similar feeling to exploring a great city. The height, the culture of the environment are something I enjoy through my core. The majestic height of these trees is inspirational to me to design taller and more beautiful buildings.

Phosphates for 25cents in Oregon!

Phosphates for 25cents in Oregon!

It was tough, but we dragged ourselves back into the car for another five hour stretch of roadway. The end destination of our trip was southern Oregon. It is always exciting to visit my family here. The city where they live has a small-town feel with a very homey downtown. One of my favorite places on the main street is this old pharmacy that sells phosphate sodas for 25 cents. There is a nostalgic charm that continues to welcome us. Oregon boasts an easy-going tranquility that we rarely have seen in all of our travels. To get out of town for a while my aunt took us on a hike along the Rogue River and in the rolling hills.

Fresh beets from the farmer’s market.

Fresh beets from the farmer’s market.

At the time of our visit, the farmer’s market was abundant with local vegetables. We stocked up on several types of beets and made a delicious salad to enjoy on the deck. It was a spectacular road trip that concluded with great food, sunshine and the wonderful warmth of family.

Hanging out with the family on the porch

Hanging out with the family on the porch

Back to the Bay (by Carmen)

The glorious Dolores Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon in San Francisco

The glorious Dolores Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon in San Francisco

Ok, we are a bit behind. And by a bit, I mean a lot. We’re steering away from the trip tips and cost analysis for now to focus back on what we love most: travel stories and food photography. To kick things off I’m going to write about a trip way back in April, shortly after returning from our gastronomical adventures in China. It was a journey that included hyperactive bhangra dancing, hiking, beers, pottery painting, jello shots and non-jello shots, custom made t-shirts, wine and a veiled crown with inappropriate ornaments. Yes, it was our bachelor and bachelorette parties! I can’t reveal any specifics but I was so happy to be surrounded by wonderful friends to celebrate bachelorette-hood. As it happens most of these friends live in the city by the bay, San Francisco.

Manish slaving away at the stove

Manish slaving away at the stove

A wonderful and welcoming vegan meal

A wonderful and welcoming vegan meal

Manish welcomed us back from our round the world journey with open arms and a very tasty meal at his apartment in North Beach. While we regaled him with tales of travels far and wide, he graciously cooked us up a vegan meal of green beans, lentils, rice and stuffed flatbreads – just like his momma taught him (quick shout out to her homemade handvo!). We talked, shared a couple growlers and joined friends in what was a great first night in the city.

Pizza and wine at Preston Winery in Sonoma

Pizza and wine at Preston Winery in Sonoma

Preston Winery tasting area

Preston Winery tasting area

The next day our friend Nalat whisked us away to be her guests at Preston Winery. It is one of the best wineries in the region but has a completely unpretentious atmosphere. You do not have to be a wine snob to enjoy their delicious reds, whites and roses in a classic farmhouse setting. On the day we visited they were serving up some pizza made with local ingredients. Let me tell ya, they take local seriously around here. As in they grew their own wheat on the estate that they then milled into flour for the pizza dough which was baked it in their wood-fired oven. It’s hard to beat that.

Joe’s Sliders

Joe’s Sliders

Over the next week we transitioned from friends in SF to our lovely hosts Kristen and Mark in Berkeley. While we waited for them to return from work, Nathan and I stopped by one of our favorite Berkeley snack shops: Joes’ Sliders. This small cafe does excellent burgers in miniature. It’s such an easy concept, I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before. Sometimes you just want a bite of juicy patty or portobello cap with good quality cheddar, sauce, and sesame seeds bun. This way you get a taste without a full burger commitment.

Vine Street Wine Shop

Vine Street Wine Shop

The vast board of cheeses at Cheese Board

The vast board of cheeses at Cheese Board

While we were in Berkeley, we couldn’t resist a chance to have a final pot luck with our dinner party crew. We had posted about our previous dinner party which honored foods from the Bay Area. But this time we were all pressed for time, so we went with a three ingredient theme, inspired by the cooking show Chopped. To get supplies, we visited three of our fave Berkeley food shops that we dearly miss: Berkeley Bowl (the best grocery store in the world), the Cheese Board (a co-op that has no less than 5 types of feta in addition to pretty much any other type of cheese), and the Vine Street Wine Shop (all wines are well described and under $25…need I say more?).

3 ingredient dinner party

3 ingredient dinner party

My contribution to the three ingredient dinner party was 1) a dish of cantaloupe wrapped in sage in proscuitto and 2) ricotta mixed with herbs and olives on toast. Nathan created a salad of roasted carrots, arugula and avocado (a simplified version of this excellent recipe from Food & Wine). Add in a roast chicken, a cauliflower “risotto”, more greens and a cobbler and we were well fed and happy.

Dim sum at Hong Kong Lounge

Dim sum at Hong Kong Lounge

It was great to be back in the Bay Area yet China was still fresh in our memories. The noodles, and dumplings and tofu…oh yum. I never tire of it and wanted more. Fortunately, our friends were on the same page so six of us gathered round a table for dim sum at Hong Kong Lounge. Our table was soon laden with steamer baskets full of delectable treats on par with the dim sum we had recently enjoyed in HK.

In our visit to the Bay Area we were fortunate enough to spend time with many more people than I have mentioned here. For all those who hosted us, dined with us, drank with us and/or danced with us, we take a bit of you with us wherever we go. And by a bit, I mean a lot.

Eat Where We Ate (by Carmen)

While I was traveling I started to wonder if I would ever be able to find all the eateries I’ve visited if I eventually returned to a particular city or region. I mean, it seemed easy enough now since it was all relatively fresh in my memory. But in a few years? There are some places I know I will return to and others less so. Just to be on the safe side, I figured I would note down as many of the places we mentioned in the blog as I could whether or not I plan to revisit. Turns out, that was A LOT.  The culmination of this effort: The 4feet2mouths Food Map

I adore maps, old and new - in this case of Istanbul (Sources: Duke University, Rifle Paper Co)

I adore maps, old and new – in this case of Istanbul (Sources: Duke University, Rifle Paper Co)

Memory is an amazing thing (and has fascinated me even more since I read Moonwalking with Einstein). Our brains are incredibly adept at spatial memory. I was astounded how much location-specific information I could recall when I really tried. I even started testing myself with restaurants from earlier travels and found that by studying a google map I could find places without the help of google search. It is probably obvious by now that I am a complete map nerd. Seriously, cartography is absolutely beautiful!

Screenshot of 4feet2Mouths Food Map, zoomed in on Istanbul

Screenshot of 4feet2Mouths Food Map, zoomed in on Istanbul

There’s an added bonus to my map memory game – now you can eat where we ate! I am using this as a tool to make recommendations to others about our favorite restaurants and food stalls (and a few sights as well). So if anyone says, “Do you know any good places in Istanbul?” I can send the link and they can zoom in from there. I have to admit, this idea stemmed from a map my friend Andrew shared about his favorite places in New York. It was useful for me so I hope mine will be useful to you.

Datli Maya in Istanbul is one of 150 listings on the 4feet2mouths Food Map!

Datli Maya in Istanbul is one of 150 listings on the 4feet2mouths Food Map!

Food Map Link

The permanent link will be at the top of the page

So from now on the 4feet2mouths Food Map will be housed on the Eat Where We Ate page of this blog (see the link at the top). It was quite the effort and I’m proud of the result. I will update it periodically as our travels progress. In the meantime, I hope you can enjoy some of our recommendations.

The 4feet2mouths Food Map

Picture 5

Costs of Travel #5 – Real Travel for $50 Per Day, a Summary of Asia & the Entire Trip (by Nathan)

Polaroid taken of us at a party in HK

Polaroid taken of us at a party in HK

I present to you the final installment of our “Costs of Travel” series! Quick recap: the last four months of our trip were evenly split between Southeast Asia (including Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos) and China.  Our final city was Hong Kong, a grand finale to our enormous adventure. We travelled for 410 days and were able to do it for $50 per day. This post will look at the last four months as well as the trip as a whole to provide some advice on how you can get started on your own world tour.

4FEET2MOUTHS Costs of Travel - Regions

(You may notice that the entire trip shows up as $61.60 a day, but this will be explained later on.  We found a way to save at least $11 per day)

Our trip as analyzed through the Costs of Travel thus far:

All this travel definitely made a dent on our pocket book.  We toured 18 countries and explored everything from jungles and mountaintops to pristine beaches and without doubt, it was worth it.  We learned some financial budgeting lessons in South America, we got back on track in the United States and we continued our love of travel into Europe and India.

4feet2mouths Travel Costs - Southeast Asia

It is funny, but Southeast Asia would only feel expensive after arriving from a place like India which is what we did. India is incredibly inexpensive; a few dollars and we were eating like kings.  I am still amazed that we were eating dosas and idli every morning for 50 cents! Where else can you travel to a country for less than $35 per day with flights and visas?  We landed in Bangkok feeling a little awkward in the modernity of a city that is so starkly different from New Delhi.   The contrasts between India and Thailand were so vivid that we constantly grappled in our first few days to readjust to Thailand.  What we quickly learned was that everything in Southeast Asia was twice the price of India, but even still everything was very affordable.

Overall, the costs in the various Southeast Asian countries were very similar and our daily budget was pretty stable at $47 per person per day.  Hostels and hotels were pretty standard at $6-$11 per day and food $7-$9.  That means we were getting all of our basic needs met for $16 per person per day on average.  We did find that every Southeast Asian country had some relatively expensive excursion or activity that we couldn’t pass up: scuba diving, Ankor Wat, Halong Bay and jungle trekking were all wonderful and essential experiences, but they bloated the “Fun” category of our budget.  We also noticed that transportation in the region, both between cities (the Get In category) and within cities (Transit) can easily be done for under $5 per day.  We bused everywhere, with many overnight buses, and I recommend that as the most accessible and comfortable method of transportation.

2012.07.24FEET2MOUTHS Costs of Travel - China & Hong Kong

When we arrived in China it somehow felt more expensive to us than SE Asia.  But when finally sitting down and looking at the numbers it was in fact that same cost – $48 per person per day.  It felt like we were constantly being charged park entrance fees, but those costs rarely compared to the “Fun” costs we had in SE Asia.  A big savings was that we were touring China during winter, which meant that many of the boat cruises and beach adventure activities we were doing in SE Asia were not possible.  It was the buses and trains between cities that were roughly twice the price in China and we typically spent $8 each per day on that transportation, whereas transit within cities was excellent at only $1.34 per day.  All in all, China was extremely affordable. The food, sights and adventure were some of our best memories.

Rainbow currencies of Hong Kong

Rainbow currencies of Hong Kong

Excellent meals at Spring Deer and Da Ping Huo

Excellent meals at Spring Deer and Da Ping Huo

Hong Kong is one of our favorite cities.  We wanted to spend some time there, but at the same time not bust our budget that we had worked so hard to tame.  Hong Kong is one of those cities that must be balanced with one of the more affordable ones.   Planning a trip like ours requires a balance of the “India’s” and the “UK’s;” longer periods of time in the cheap countries provides for a few days in the expensive ones.  After three and a half months SE Asia and China we were ready for a world-class city.   Everything in Hong Kong is about twice the price of China and lodging is quadruple.  We did some pre-planning and found a few friends to host us on Couchsurfing.  It is possible to eat in Hong Kong for under $10 per day, but Hong Kong has one of the most eclectic restaurant scenes in the world so it is worth it to splurge a little.  And as many of you know, food was a quintessential reason for our travel adventures.  Even with succulent visits to Spring Deer and Da Ping Huo we were still able to reach our budget goals.

4FEET2MOUTHS Travel Costs - Every Country

South America was an eye-opener for us; $96 per person per day was not sustainable for a year of travel.  We re-assessed, adjusted and planned a seven month around-the-world trip (Europe to Asia) that successfully only cost $50.5 per day.  We learned that South America is inherently expensive because flights are costly, reciprocity visa fees are prevalent and food and lodging is just not that cheap.  Our revised plan did in fact find a balance of activities, sights and awesome food for an affordable cost.  One reality that we have not addressed was that investing our travel money actually funded major portions of our trip.

4FEET2MOUTHS Costs of Travel - Hypothetical Investments

One of the main advice points of Trip Tip #4 was to in invest your savings before embarking on your around-the-world trip.  I have created a little scenario to prove my point. Suppose I set aside $25,000 each for Carmen and me about one year before we embarked on our trip.  This money would be spent in increments during the trip so would have to be accessible. In this scheme we invested in one of the big Dow companies or in the S&P 500 (an index of the top 500 US companies) that is likely to slowly grow, but not sink.  I ran a scenario where $5,000 was withdrawn at the start of the trip and every three months during the trip.  I chose a selection of companies that everyone has heard of: Disney, Verizon, Exxon Mobile and CocaCola.  If you have a resistance to buying stock, then you are missing out on all the companies that are profiting off of you.  Truth: you are not off the grid. I like to think that I am taking advantage of globalization and the world reach of corporate America by allowing these companies to fund my travel of the globe.  I take my portion of their profits and reinvest it in the local communities I visit by buying food at a street cart or staying in a family-owned hotel.  

My investment scenario shows some amazing findings: two years after deciding to travel and investing the money resulted in thousands of dollars in free money.  Suppose in our investing scenario we did not invest in Disney, but we did earn $4,500 over the course of two years; over 410 days of travel we would have saved $11 per day! Carmen and I did not invest in any of these companies, and I must remind you that there is risks involved in investing, so please research every company thoroughly before you float your life savings on stocks.

Costs of Travel - Everything

So we did it!  Even though we were spending $96 a day in South America, we balanced our trip with some more inexpensive places like the Camino de Santiago, India and SE Asia.  We invested our travel money along the way and pulled it out as we needed it.  Therefore, the $61.60 a day we spent minus the $11 in investment earnings brought us to our goal.  The end result, 410 days, 4 continents, 18 countries at $50.6 per day. 

Check out all of our nerdy fun pie charts here:

Trip Tip #6: Bargaining Like a Pro (by Carmen)

As I’ve mentioned before, Nathan and I love to visit the market in every town and city we go to. Each one has it’s own unique flavor and vitality. But there is one common theme to all the markets we have ever seen – the art of bargaining.

Market in Arequipa

Market in Arequipa

Markets around the world - (clockwise: La Paz, Saigon, Bangalore & Zhongdian)

Markets around the world – (clockwise: La Paz, Saigon, Bangalore & Zhongdian)

Bargaining is huge part of the culture in many places throughout the world. This can take some getting used to for people from fixed price countries of the West. There are feelings of guilt associated with bargaining in the US. It’s as if by counteroffering with a lower price we are telling the person that the price they put forth is exorbitant, or even deceitful. Bring this uneasiness to a developing country, when you know you are relatively wealthy compared to the local population, and these feelings are amplified.

Souvenir fabrics from  haggled for in the markets of Bolivia

Souvenir fabrics from haggled for in the markets of Bolivia

But it doesn’t have to be that way. What if we can reimagine bargaining to be an exciting activity, even a way to asimilate with the culture, instead of something to be apprehensive about. For some people this comes more naturally than others. Nathan, for example, sincerely enjoys the bargaining dance. He briefly touched upon this at the end of his post on New Delhi, specifically noting the use of the head waggle to agree on a deal. India was our head-first dive into bargaining, especially with the rickshaw drivers. They are relentless and will spend plenty of time trying to wear you down to agree to their price.  It was good practice for the months of negotiation to come in Asia. Nathan took care of all the rickshaw haggling and became an expert bargainer, utilizing a no holds barred approach. I would occasionally try my hand at the bargaining dance in the markets. Truth was it still made me more nervous than excited. However, the most compelling reason for me to continue trying was that it is inherently part of the local culture.  To get the most authentic experience of a place I strive to do as the locals do. In the end, by bargaining you are participating in an important local ritual.

Souvenir dolls for negotiation in China

Souvenir dolls for negotiation in China

How hard you bargain is a personal choice and is also dependent on the item you are purchasing and the local context. For example, food generally has a set price. You get a bowl of pho not just in that market but on the next street and pretty much anywhere in all of Vietnam for around the same price. Therefore, vendors are not likely to quote an excessive price. Even tourists will have a sense of the costs of food. But this also depends on context. Souvenirs, local handicraft and clothing all tend to have a sliding scale and thus require a little bargaining. Anywhere considered to be a tourist center will jack up prices and it’s definitely worth bargaining in these situations. Prices will come down fast because, without fail, there will be another shop nearby selling the same thing.

Chinese hand gestures for numbers, essential for market bargaining. Note that ten can also be represented by a closed fist, palm facing forward (Image credit: Cognition, Volume 116, Aug 2010)

Chinese hand gestures for numbers, essential for market bargaining. Note that ten can also be represented by a closed fist, palm facing forward (Image credit: Cognition, Volume 116, Aug 2010)

If you can point to one country being known for its skillful bargainers, it would be China. The Chinese treat it as sport and they are top bargaining athletes. It is not uncommon for people to ask what you paid for your belongings and offer their opinion on whether that was a good price. When a good bargaining match goes down at the market, people gather to watch who “wins.”

Nathan knows how to go for gold as a bargaining athlete

Nathan knows how to go for gold as a bargaining athlete

Nathan, of the no holds barred bargaining camp, has taken to the Chinese model like white on rice. Through much practice, he has become a haggling pro. I decided to do a little interview with him so that we can all learn some hard bargaining tips.

*********

You’ve seen something at the market you like. What now?
There is much to be done before you even make your first contact with the vendor. First, scope the market to see how many stalls are selling the same thing (often times, it’s quite a few). Try to eavesdrop to hear what they tell others the price is. If this doesn’t work, casually ask a few vendors what the price is without getting into the bargaining, just to get a sense. After you’ve selected a vendor to bargain with, make an assessment of how hungry they are for a sale. Are they calling out to you? Following you? They may be more willing to go down in price than someone who acts disinterested. After doing this homework, there are three questions you should ask yourself before going in: 1) How much am I willing to pay for that item? 2) How much do I expect them to quote as a price? and 3) What price would I consider it to be a steal?

How do you begin the bargaining dance?
Learning how to say “how much?” is extremely useful. If you don’t even have that, it is a good idea to carry a pocket calculator around to type in prices. Most vendors will also have a calculator to help the process. The key thing is to insist that they give the first price. They might ask what you’re willing to pay but don’t let them get away with that. They know the value better than you. When they do give you an offer, refuse this price as too much. This is true even if the price is lower than expected or even lower than you’re willing to pay. My personal strategy at this point is to wince at his or her offer as if I was just kicked in the stomach. Remember – it’s all a game to play!

How much do I counteroffer?
Don’t counteroffer – at least not right away. That would be showing them your cards. Instead, tell them to lower the price for you. If they insist that you give a counteroffer you can start with 30% of their asking price (though read up on this as it can vary slightly country to country).

He or she seems annoyed or offended!
As soon as you show interest in a particular item you are signalling that they are selling something of value. That’s a compliment. They will not be offended by the bargaining process.  They are professionals that do it everyday so they will be sure to make a profit. If they do seem annoyed, it’s part of their act to make you feel like you are getting a ridiculously good deal. Do not feel awkward, instead get used to drawing out the process, ask the cost of a few things that you don’t even want, talk to the vendor next door, then return. Sometimes they’ll even call their “boss” to check if the price is okay, making you feel even further validated. In the end, they are under no obligation to sell to you if they don’t like the money you are offering.

When do you stop?
If the price isn’t to your liking, simply walk away. Many times this is enough for them to chase after you with a lower price. You can always return to resume bargaining from the price point you left off at. If you’ve followed these steps you will eventually get a sense of their lower limit. And if that price jives with yours, it’s a deal.

Anything else we should know?
Getting a good deal takes time and patience. Sometimes, even taking a day to think about it and returning the next day or at the end of the day is helpful to get a better price. Also, when bargaining, consider getting multiple items for a lower unit cost. This is particularly useful for small gifts.

*********

Thank you, Nathan, for the excellent advice! Not everyone is ready for this advanced level of bargaining. And each person has their own style (I will never be able to do the wince like I got kicked strategy with a straight face). But that’s why Nathan is a good travel partner for me. I determine what to buy and he gets me a deal. Win-win!

Have fun on your own bargain adventures!

Our excellent hotel stay in Naxos, Greece, where we paid half the initial offer.

Our excellent hotel stay in Naxos, Greece, where we paid half the initial offer.

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