Back to Europe after one whole year of travels… head full of memories that put the widest smile on our faces! When we get asked what was the most memorable, it’s very hard to choose – a place, an encounter, an experience?
In general, the best and most intense experiences from the trip were from the helpx stays: in exchange for food and accommodation, we helped in a geisha house in Tokyo, rice and oyster farms in Japan, llama/sheep farms/vineyard in New Zealand… It was all about becoming part of a local family for a few weeks, making friends, discovering the country from the inside and learning various life skills. But there were many other amazing things as well, so here goes – our TOP 10 experiences of the year 🙂
Riding through the Mongolian steppes on horseback
Endless steppe, fresh wind in the hair, horse breaking into a gentle gallop, passing herd of wild horses, stop at a yurt to drink yak milk tea, wild strawberries in the woods, wash in the cold mountain river, a cup of yogurt vodka shared with locals right there on the grass, camping under an incredible infinity of stars… All that with not a city, village or car in sight for days! It’s basically just incredible that there are still places like this on this planet, especially that accessible and easy to enjoy. More pictures and a video here.
Exotic oriental atmosphere in Beijing and around
You know those martial arts hero movies set in ancient China? Well, it’s actually still possible to feel like in a film, whether in the little streets of traditional hutong neighborhoods, on the Great Wall, in the Beijing parks or in the little city of Pingyao just a few hours away. We also loved observing people enjoying their daily lives in the public spaces: singing Chinese opera, joining a group fitness class, or couples dancing to rhythmic pop music (of course we joined them!). Everything just felt so exotically Chinese! More pictures here.
Onsens (hot springs) in Japan
There are thousands of natural hot springs in volcanic Japan, some just a wild stream in the forest, others more like a luxury spa, and everything in between. We visited over 30 of them, all with their own little surprises. Especially when the weather is cool, nothing is more amazing than sliding into a 40 C thermal water, relaxing, treating yourself to a nice scrub or mask, and taking some time to reconnect with your inner god(dess). More about our obsession for onsens here.
White nights in imperial Saint Petersburg
This city blew us away with the impressive, often over-the-top imperial architecture, world-class museums and simply how European it feels. But the best part was the white nights, when the sun never really sets. It gave us so much energy to walk around, watch the summer festivals, see the lifting of the bridges at 1am, and also dancing forro until 5am as we were there during a forro festival 💃🏼💃🏼 More pics here.
Eating in Japan
Ah, the land ofうま味 : umami!.. The tickle of miso and the caress of thick udon noodles on the tongue, the crackle of nori seaweed, the light crispiness of squid tempura, the sensual gooey texture of mochi, the leak of the raw egg on the ramen, the tanginess of pickled daikon radish, all always accompanied by the flavoursome simplicity of rice. We miss it all… Becoming poetic just remembering it 😛 We were very surprised to discover that in their homes, Japanese families eat dishes rarely found in restaurants, but all tasting utterly Japanese: sauteed veggies, cooked meat or fish, pickles, always prepared with some touch of umami-ness that makes it so special. Being a temporary member of a Japanese family definitely made this experience even more special.
Trekking through native bush and pristine seaside in New Zealand
I was simply obsessed with the fern trees (and took way too many pictures!), they look like they come straight from the Jurassic dinosaur times! The native forest in NZ is called “the bush”, and is a low, dense, temperate jungle with fern trees, spiky-leafed palms, leafy trees with vines and lots of moss. I honestly think it’s the weirdest and most fascinating forest I have ever seen (and I am rarely so excited about, erm… trees).
Walking in the empty beaches and harvesting huge wild oysters and mussels for dinner also has to be one of the most incredible experiences of this trip.
Sardine run of Moalboal, Philippines
A moving cloud of small fish, that get away in mesmerising geometrical patterns as you swim into it… As far as I know, there are only a couple of places like this in the whole world. The other one is in South Africa, is seasonal, doesn’t happen every year, and must be observed from boats. Whereas the one in Moalboal can be accessed by snorkelling, 10m from the beach, and there are not even many tourists yet! Simply unbelievable. You can see our little video here.
One of the top objectives of this trip was to experience working life outside of an office. We got to wake up before 6am, get out there in the cold and shear sheep, cut vines, screw metal pipes full of wine, collect rice, clean oyster boxes, fix tractors, clean under-kimonos… quite different from those powerpoint presentations and emails 😛 We loved it, and even if we are not planning huge life change, we are not in a hurry to go back to the office…
Living in Tokyo (a little bit) like a local
Living for 2 weeks in a traditional house in the centre of Tokyo (and also having to work a little bit!) allowed us to feel part of the city. Each afternoon we unhurriedly explored a different neighbourhood, cycling across the city and coming back to the places that we liked the most. Like a symbol of Japan, with modernity and tradition side by side, it is a fascinating city and we often find ourselves missing it. More about Tokyo and geishas.
Snorkelling in Komodo national park, Indonesia
These days it’s harder and harder to find intact coral reefs, but this place is still beautiful. Just a few meters from a beach with pink sand (due to red coral), we snorkelled above an incredible submarine landscape, with 4 huge squids that were changing colour to hide among the corals, a little manta ray, some calamaris, and countless colourful fish. We were happy like kids 😀 More about Indonesia here.
So, after all this, no wonder we want MORE! We are going to Malaysia and then Australia from mid-September, and then… well, we’ll see where else life will take us. 🙂