Japanese version 日本語版
This month marks the 2d anniversary of the Rocinantes taking to the road. It’s been a wonderful and amazing experience so far.
Somehow, we find ourselves back in Michigan during the coldest part of the year. Fate has an interesting sense of humor. This time around, we were away from the United States, and from Michigan, over 14 months. We traveled in 7 countries (compared to 12 our first year) and stayed in 5 of them for more than a month (compared to 5 our first year). Out of those 5, we stayed in New Zealand and Japan 3 months each, and in Fiji for 2 months. One goal from our first year was to travel slower, and stay longer. Longer stays are more peaceful and we get to know a lot more about a place.
Since our return, we’ve reconnected with a lot of people, and most of them ask, “What’s your favorite place you’ve visited?” This turns out to be a much harder question than you would think. Before turning to the answer, let’s review where we traveled since late January, 2023.
About a year ago, at the very end of January, on my birthday, we flew to New Zealand. We flew into Auckland a couple of days after an unusually strong storm (a tropical atmospheric river) caused record flooding and the closure of the international airport. Fortunately for us, the airport was open the day of our flight, and we arrived without incident. We spent two weeks in Hamilton, NZ, with our good friends Cheryl & Brendan, and visited many other dear friends. While we were there, Cyclone Gabrielle hit NZ - we were safe, but other parts of NZ were badly damaged. After visiting many friends in Hamilton, we took the scenic train to Wellington, where we stayed (mostly) until the end of March. We did take a one-week journey to Christchurch in late February, where we rode the scenic train across the NZ Alps and back up the coast to the Cook Straits where we took the ferry back to Wellington. In Wellington, we stayed in a wonderful studio apartment in a central part of town, near the university areas. We were walking distance to groceries, restaurants, art events, museums, and the port. From Wellington, we took a scenic train north to Auckland where we stayed for most of April. In Auckland, we had a small but centrally located apartment in the Parnell area, which is full of great restaurants, a central bus line, and a train station. We navigated easily from there to museums and an Olympic pool where I swam laps regularly.
Next, we flew to Suva, Fiji, the capital of the country. In Suva, we stayed two months in a spacious, two-story, two-bedroom apartment about a 25-minute walk from the center of the city and an outdoor Olympic pool. We saw beautiful sunsets on the ocean, met interesting people, and had a fabulous visit with our son and his wife.
From there, we flew to Singapore where we enjoyed a wonderful week in this vibrant but expensive city. Although we stayed in a small, but centrally located, hotel room, we learned a lot about the city by taking two tours.
Then, on to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where we stayed in a luxury 3-bedroom apartment on the 26th floor of a centrally located building with two infinity pools. We took memorable daytrips to Malacca and the Genting Highlands, and I bought beautiful fabric in the central market and made a dress. We went to a bird park, tasted durian, and met up with some other nomads.
We had a short stay in Hoi An, Vietnam, near the beach where we took a cooking class and an informative tour of the old town. We saw an ancient Hindu shrine with a glimpse into an old culture.
Our final international destination was Japan. We enjoyed 5 weeks in Osaka, the city of Paul’s birth, where we ate ourselves silly and met a friend of friends from back home.
We had a moving reunion with our former exchange student, Mika, and spent a fun week on Shikoku.
We spent a week in Hokkaido visiting hot springs and enjoying the Japanese northern culture. We learned about the Ainu people. We walked all over Sapporo, and ate delicious ramen there.
We lived for 6 weeks in Tokyo, the vibrant capital of Japan with its wonderful mix of old and new. In Tokyo, we met friends of a friend, who took us to the historic area of Nikko, where we toured a temple, visited a hot spring, had a traditional Japanese lunch, and soaked in a hot spring. We also enjoyed the company of a business partner of our son, a former roommate of our daughter and the owner of a neighborhood izakaya.
From there, we went to Hawaii, meeting up with friends and easing back into U.S. life. The highlight there was on Maui, where we laughed and enjoyed the company of my music teacher and took a walk up the mountain with my cousin’s cousin.
We ended the year with visits to family in California, Michigan, and Kentucky. This month, we've been living in a two bedroom apartment in Lansing, the city where we lived for over 20 years. We have visited so many people we can't keep track. Plus, we've had medical overhauls and consultations.
So what was our favorite place to visit? (drum roll please!)
A place with coffee (seriously, the best coffee we have tasted anywhere in the world, every cup, every time), sunrise, perfect beach, and cost of living of Hoi An, Vietnam.
A place with the space of our apartment, the diversity of the population, and hand-printed batik fabric of Kuala Lumpur. And those Genting Highland dumplings!!!
A place with people as welcoming as the people in Suva, Fiji.
A place as convenient to great restaurants and an Olympic pool as the apartment in Auckland.
A place with an Airbnb host as nice as our host, Hamish, in Wellington, NZ.
A place with the most beautiful green rolling hills and towering landscapes as the Waikato region and the Southern Alps in New Zealand. And the best gardens to visit in the Hamilton Gardens.
A place with the street vendors, air-conditioned malls, and pride in its diversity as Singapore.
A place with the laughter and birdsong of Hawaii.
A place with the food of Osaka.
A place with the hot springs of Noboribetsu and the ramen of Sapporo in Hokkaido.
A place with the innovation of Team Labs in Tokyo.
A place with a reunion as moving as Shikoku.
A place with the magical combination of something different yet completely comfortable, with the organization of service employees, the transportation system, the food and the vibrant people that we found all over Japan.
A place with giant trees, gorgeous ocean sunsets, and fabulous Pinot Noir like Rio Nido, California.
A place with our most treasured loved ones, in California, Michigan, and Kentucky.
In short, we found something to love every place we went. There were also things we didn’t like about every place we went, but compared to what we loved, those things were minor. There was no place we went that we would not happily re-visit.
But - if forced to pick one favorite place, we would pick Japan. There, we found welcoming, interesting people. It has the familiarity of Paul’s maternal culture combined with the stark differences in traditional culture from our upbringing in America. We can easily travel on stellar public transportation which includes subways, light rail, buses, fast trains, Uber/Taxis and so many places within walking distance that we enjoyed spending time in. After three months, we felt we barely scratched the surface of this fascinating country. So this is the destination we plan to return to in 2025, spending 6 months to a year, assuming we can get a long-stay visa.
Our second year of travel has met and exceeded our expectations. As we enter our third year - this time focusing on travel in North America and our daughter’s wedding - we enter it committed to slomad travel. When asked in a travel group what our goal was in travel, I responded, “Our goal is to slow down and savor each place we visit, see people respectfully, and learn as much as we can.” So this year, we’re going to try for even slower travel, to listen and observe, and enjoy this life we are so privileged to have.
In 2023, 1235 people visited this travel blog from 65 different countries. 127 of you had visited us during our first year. We love having you along for the journey. Here’s to another great year!