Tuesday, March 24, 2015

11 Early Observations

I have been in Japan almost 2 months! Although really, I feel like I've only actually been living in Japan for one of those two, since the first month was spent living in a hotel on base. I mean, it's located directly next to a Chili's, so it hardly seems fair to count that time as part of the Japanese experience. 

Portrait of a girl who is really effing over living in a hotel room. 

Life in Japan still seems really new and despite having a house, I'm not feeling settled. Our household goods aren't due to arrive until almost June which is definitely a contributing factor. And certainly language and cultural barriers abound. Sometimes I feel like I just arrived. Other times, I feel like I should have gotten more done in two months, seen more, traveled farther. But then I remember that in the span of a month we contracted cell phones, got driver's licenses, bought a car, and rented a house. Throw in the stress of having the pups in quarantine during that time and frankly, it all left me a bit stressed and exhausted.

So no, I haven't been to Tokyo yet. Or planned any big trips. I didn't see the Great Buddha in Kamakura (which is shamefully just one train stop away) until last weekend. I kept telling myself if it had survived since 1252, it would still be there, and it was. Right now, almost every day brings some sort of unique experience even if it's not an exciting adventure. 

Japan is brand new to me. I had never been in the country until the day we stepped off the plane in late January, and had spent very little time in Asia (less than a week in Dubai). So, I might not have any dazzling trip photographs at this point, but I do have the collected experiences and observations of the completely inexperienced. 

I became illiterate. Yes, all it took was a trans-Pacific flight and I lost my ability to read. On top of that, I was also practically deaf and mute. There is really nothing more challenging than not being able to understand or interact with the environment around you. It was immediately obvious that we were going to need to make a concerted effort to learn some Japanese.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How to survive a cross-country roadtrip

Really, I have no idea. I think it was mostly luck combined with a little bit of planning. The idea to drive from Maryland to Seattle was born primarily out of necessity - we needed to get 2 humans, 2 dogs, and 300 pounds of luggage from point A to point B and for some crazy reason, this seemed like the best plan. Part of it was wanting to avoid a monstrous day of flying for the dogs and the other was the allure of seeing some new parts of the US, after galavanting around Europe for more than 3 years. I mean, it's a bit shameful as an American when Spaniards have seen more of your country. 

Let's be clear, this was no wind in the hair, convertible cruise filled with quirky roadside attractions and back road shenanigans. We needed to travel over 4000 miles in less than a week and there was no room for error, or else we would miss our flight to Japan. No pressure. 

Our route:

This was dictated by a few factors. The typical northern route was out since it was January and we worried about winter weather slowing us down. (Irony alert: There was a giant snow storm in Oklahoma that almost forced us to bypass it by driving north.) The southernmost route, along I-10, wasn't appealing either, because we had done long sections of that in the past and I absolutely refused to drive the entire width of Texas, which is a brutal 12 hour haul. We also needed to see Graham's family in the Outer Banks of North Carolina before heading west. Final piece of the puzzle - my one request was to see the Grand Canyon. I mean, what's a cross-country drive without it?

Grand Canyon kisses.

But how did Graham and I survive (we even still like each other!) all the boring 10-hour plus driving days that made this trip possible? I'm not quite sure, but here's what helped:

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Leaving Spain

I want to talk a little bit about my emotions upon leaving Spain. I know that I left nearly a month ago and that I'm already in Japan, but right now my life here is just a jumble of jet lag, hotel living, and general confusion (if you want photographic evidence of that, check out my instagram @meghannbg). But my feelings about Spain are very fresh. When I think of my very recent home, there's a pain there that varies between dull ache and intense longing. I find myself reciting overused platitudes. It's better to have loved and lost. All good things must come to an end.

First day in Spain! The love affair begins!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Anchors Aweigh

Ten and a half years ago at McGarvey's in Annapolis, I met a Naval Academy midshipman who was 3 days away from being commissioned as an officer in the Navy. At the time, I had no idea that was the beginning of a relationship that would ultimately lead to becoming one of the things that I swore I would never be - a military spouse. Last night, in the same place, I had beers with my husband as we celebrated his first day out of the active duty Navy. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

We're moving to...

Did you ever play that game as a kid where you spun a globe around and stopped it with your finger to see where you were going to live or go on vacation? I know I'm a map nerd, but this can't just be me. It was fun to imagine ending up in those far-away places, while singing a little chorus of "round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows!" as the globe turned.

(Completely unrelated, but I traded my last office an old microwave for this globe, straight up. I'd say I got the better deal.)

When Graham and I discussed his transition to civilian life, we both agreed that our top priority would be to stay overseas, ideally in Europe. But applying for jobs is a bit like a grown-up version of spinning the globe and as various positions became available, we decided to get adventurous and widen our scope.

Which is how our metaphorical fingers came to land on our next home...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Carvoeiro, Portugal

How do you go about deciding where to pick up with blogging again when you have a backlog of over a year of travel? You could create a detailed posting schedule or...you could just open up your photos folder and see what pops out at you. Let's go with that. 

And that haphazard approach is appropriate here, because this long-weekend trip to Portugal came about in the same under-planned way.

Labor Day for Graham was a four-day weekend (a "96" in milspeak) and as it was approaching, we casually decided we would go somewhere in the Algarve, the southern region of Portugal, along the coast. It's only a few hours by car, we'd been before, it's generally affordable, the beaches are pretty, the food is a nice change from Spanish cuisine, and we could take the dogs with us. We let that non-specific decision hang until two days before the weekend started when we realized that we'd probably need, you know, a place to stay. Cue furious searching on booking.com.

I set my sights on popular Lagos and came up short. Expanding the search to surrounding towns, a room in I-have-never-heard-of-this-place-before Carvoeiro popped up that seemed like a steal. Click, click, booked.

Off to Carvoeiro we went! And we were happy to find that our procrastination hadn't cost us a great weekend. Our hastily booked accommodation overlooked the beach as promised and we had a giant terrace that dwarfed our somewhat tiny, but typically-sized European room. The town was charming and to top it off was celebrating their patron saint that weekend. Bustling holiday atmosphere, concerts in the town square, religious processions, quirky traditions, and fireworks commence!

We spent the majority of our time hanging out on the beach, relaxing on the terrace, walking the dogs around the little town, and seeking out delicious Portuguese food and wine - whether that was at a nice restaurant or the grocery store. 

Our first afternoon we caught these "beach games". One involved retrieving a flag from the end of a beam extended from a small boat and the other was a swimming race to see who could catch a pair of ducks. The winner of the duck chase was treated like no less than a returning hero, surrounded by kids and being photographed by a crowd. Can't make this stuff up. 

The long line of people is the religious procession that took place.

7€ grocery store lunch for two - olives, cheese, and fish soup. 

Late night party and fireworks, which went off right over our room. We loved it, but the dogs were less than excited. 

Besides general holiday lazing and leisuring and taking in Carvoeiro's celebration, we also made time to check out the end of the world. Also known as Cabo de San Vicente in Sagres, the westernmost point in Portugal. The lighthouse marks the point between the calmer waters to the south and the windswept coast to the north, which generates the waves that attract countless surfers, with the seemingly endless Atlantic stretching out to the horizon. 

Even though we didn't end up staying in Lagos, we still made the quick drive over one day to check out the grottoes and coves that shape the rocky coast. Many of the formations are named after animals or rooms in a house - like the gorilla, the chimney, and the garage. 

I also spent a good amount of time admiring and taking pictures of the stunning tilework and pottery. Even the smallest towns in Portugal have the most gorgeous ceramics, and I really love the use of blue and the incorporation of animals, especially birds and fish. 

Details, tips, and recommendations:

-If Portuguese pottery is your thing, there are plenty of shops that can be found throughout the Algarve, without even looking. I really enjoyed visiting Porches Pottery and watching the pieces being painted by hand. There are some really lovely items (including the plates pictured above), but keep in mind - they are priced appropriately for handmade, handpainted work that is done on-site. If you can overlook a few flaws, they have an interesting section of seconds that offers deep discounts. Porches Pottery also completes custom orders, in case you have something really special or personalized in mind. 

-Avoid the ubiquitous and lackluster pub food that is being served as a result of the high number of British tourists. (Seriously Brits, what is with the cheeseless burgers and sad sandwiches? I know you can do better than that!) For a tasty dinner accompanied by interesting Portuguese wines and served by knowledgeable waitstaff, head to Terroir. You can even pick up bottles of your favorite wines to take home while you are there. Win, win. (Sorry, no pics here because I was too distracted by food and wine, but you can check my instagram for a quick collage I snapped.) 

-Drive to Lagos and do a tour of the coastal grottoes in a fisherman's skiff. We parked as close as we could to Praia Dona Ana, walked down to the beach, and at the bottom of the steps was a man organizing and directing which boat you would get in. Make sure you have cash (I think we paid 15€ per person, without negotiating) and your camera! You can also schedule a kayak tour with a company, which looked like a lot of fun, too. 

-We stayed at the O Castelo Guest House, which I reserved through booking.com. Excellent location, amazing views, small but adequate double room, great terrace, pet-friendly. There is a also a shared kitchen, which was perfect for making lunches or keeping beverages cold and ready for happy hour or post-dinner drinks on our terrace. Highly recommend. 

So essentially, procrastination won out and we ended up serendipitously celebrating a small Portuguese beach town's patron saint. Ever had a last minute trip work out more perfectly than your original plan?