about We are Akila and Patrick. Our minds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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four years! + what's next

What I've been doing for the last year

Four years ago, on September 19, 2009, Patrick and I hopped on a plane to Australia .  For three years, we thought about now .  Where are we now?  What are we doing now?  What should we eat now?

In year one , we traveled through Australia, New Zealand, and Asia.  In year two, we explored Africa, North America, and crossed over the Atlantic Ocean with the pups to explore England.  In year three , we roadtripped from England to Turkey and back, with something like thirty border crossings with Chewy and Abby.

There is beauty --- often overlooked beauty, at that --- in the immediacy of now .  When we were traveling, we didn't have the time to think about where we would go next because we knew so little about the now.  Take, for example, the week that we arrived in Istanbul.  We arrived, put our stuff down, and immediately had to learn everything: where is the grocery store? where can we buy bottled water? what are the good restaurants? what is the easiest way to get to the European side versus the Asian side? what should we see?  And so on.

Because we knew nothing of our surroundings and were constantly confronted by new places and new experiences, we lived in the now .  We didn't have to think too much about what was happening next .  We had blinders on to our future.

And, then, in Greece, the future came roaring.

I think I first suspected that I might be pregnant in Santorini , when on the boattrip there, I was so nauseous that I couldn't leave the cabin.  Our friend traveling with us said, "It must be tough for you to travel so much since you seem to be motion sick all the time."  And, I thought to myself, no, that's not right.  I'm not usually so nauseous.  Days later, I stood in the bathroom in Naxos, trying to decipher the Greek birth control test instructions, but a + is a + in all languages.  Patrick and I celebrated that night at a restaurant that faced the ocean, gorging on eggplant and feta, cucumber salad, and giant capers.

We arrived in Athens a week later.  Graffiti streaked every single building, even the beautiful Hilton in which we stayed with the pups, and the sun forced itself upon us so that every movement we made, every second we walked, sent sweat streaming down our bodies.  It was a horrible, horrible week.  The worst week of my life.

It was the week that I learned the word chemical pregnancy.  I was pregnant one day and not pregnant the next.  It wasn't even a real pregnancy, the Internet said: 70% of pregnancies end in an early miscarriage, before most people even know they're pregnant.  But, it felt real.  We had dreamt up a little baby who would live with us in the next .

And, so we traveled, living in the now, dreading the next.  In Venice, a doctor confirmed --- him in halting English and me in halting Italian --- that there was no baby.  I drank wine, we ate bruschetta, and roamed the canals.  We went to Vienna and explored music and architecture.  And, then, we were in Prague.

Worried about my health, I scheduled an appointment with a Czech ob/gyn who promised on her website that she was fluent in both English and Czech.  I told Patrick that I would go alone.  He didn't need to be there for an appointment with her.  But, Patrick insisted.  We sat in a waiting room full of women with round plump bellies, and Patrick held my hand, as he has held my hands so many times over our sixteen years together.

We walked in and the doctor said, "We'll use a sonogram.  Yes, that will be best."  She led me over to the machine and let the wand linger over my stomach.  "Well," she said, "you're definitely pregnant."

"No," Patrick said, both of us thinking we didn't understand her thick accent.  "You mean, she's not pregnant."

"No, she's pregnant."

"You mean not pregnant."

"Pregnant," the doctor said, laughing at our shocked faces.

"But, but . . . the doctor in Venice told us that there was no baby."

"She's pregnant.  You want to hear?"  The doctor turned up the monitor and we heard a sound: thumpa-thump thumpa-thump thumpa-thump.  It was a beautiful, beautiful sound.  Thumpa-thump.  Thumpa-thump.  Thumpa-thump.

"Do you hear that?"  Patrick asked me, his eyes glittering with happy tears.

I nodded.  Coherent words weren't coming out of my mouth.  My brain couldn't process what my ears were hearing.  Finally, I stuttered, my hands gripping Patrick's.  "But, but, are you sure?"

She pointed to the screen.  "What do you think that sound is?"

It was the sound of next .

On September 21, 2012, a year ago, Patrick and I returned back to the United States with Chewy, Abby, and our little stowaway.  Year four was the year of being still.

Before remodel
After remodel
House before Kitchen after
Before kitchen After kitchen
Before living room After living room
Glenbriar old Dining/living
Before study After study
Before bathroom After remodel bathroom
Before nursery Amara nursery

Before and after shots of the house remodel

We bought a house, renovated it, moved in, and discovered that back in 2009, when we packed all our belongings into a storage facility, we had thoughtfully kept:

  • a VCR
  • a VHS camcorder
  • a fax machine
  • a desktop monitor, circa 2001
  • and over a thousand books, most of which we have now repurchased on our Kindles

We sorted and purged and sorted and purged and wondered how we had accumulated all of this stuff, when for three years, we lived out of two suitcases and two backpacks.

My belly expanded as a visual, tangible expression of next.  Patrick went back to work full-time.  I freelanced a bit.  I wrote some.  I thought a lot.  And, in March, Amara arrived.


Amara at four months

For me, motherhood has been a natural extension of our travels.  Though we haven't ventured further than Florida in the last six months, we're living very much in the now .  When we traveled, every day was distinct and nothing blended together: we were seeing new things and doing new things constantly.

It's the same with Amara.  Last week, she wobbled, barely able to hold her body upright.  And, now, she sits like a miniature Buddha, her legs spread before her and her back straight and stiff.  In another month, she'll be crawling.  Now is so fascinating because now is constantly changing with her.

But, we find ourselves aching to travel, still.  Though we've lived here a year, sometimes, America feels completely and totally foreign.  The other day, I stood in Target and took pictures of the candy corn related novelties: candy corn M&Ms, candy corn coated pretzels, S'mores candy corn, and, of course, regular old candy corn.  Only in America, I thought to myself.

We miss fresh food markets where the prices aren't jacked up because "farm fresh" is an anomaly rather than a normality.  We miss scenery that took our breath away.  And, we miss the rush of waking up somewhere and not knowing exactly where it is we are.

We're traveling to India in November for three weeks so that Amara can meet her great-grandparents and my grandparents can meet their great-granddaughter.  We'll be going somewhere --- possibly Goa or Kerala --- so that we can explore another area of India.  We know that we want to go back to Africa sometime soon and we're talking about a Great American Road Trip.

But, we wouldn't trade what we have now either.  Now is good.  Now is really, really good.

And, we're still trying to figure out what's next.

bulgaria: the low-down

Abby, Chewy, and me in Bulgaria

Us in the Bulgarian/Greek hills

What we did: One month in Bulgaria, with a few days at the beginning in Sofia and the remainder of the time based in Ivailovgrad, near the Greek and Turkish borders

Would we do it the same way? Probably not.  We had a hard time finding pet-friendly accommodations in Bulgaria.  Originally, we wanted to spend a few weeks in the popular resort towns of Borovets or the Black Sea area but we weren't able to find pet-friendly options in that area.  We also were sad that we missed out on Plovdiv.  So, if we had to do it again and we were without the dogs, we would spend a day or so in Sofia, then head to Plovdiv, Borovets, the Black Sea area, before winding up with a few days in southeastern Bulgaria.

Schopska salad Grilled bread
Meatballs Cheese in a claypot
Cheese in clay pot Bulgarian salads
Ayran Crepe

A sampling of common Bulgarian dishes, including the famous shopska salad at the top and ayran at the bottom

Best food: The homecooked fare served to us by Elena , including ridiculously sweet roasted red peppers and preserved figs and peaches.

Best food, runner up: We really enjoyed the meal at Manastirska Magernitsa, in Sofia, which offers traditional regional cuisine with a large buffet of Bulgarian salads.

Worst food: Ayran.  Food anthropologists believe that yogurt originated in Bulgaria and the region is justly proud of its creamy, thick, and flavorful yogurt.  However, we hated ayran, the most popular drink in Bulgaria, which is yogurt thinned with water and mixed with shredded cucumber and salt.  Though reminiscent of Indian raita, we found ayran to be executed poorly and usually bland.

Vineyard workers

Vineyard workers

Our favorite part of Bulgaria: The people. These are some of the most hospitable people in the world.  On our very first night in Ivailovgrad, we went to the local restaurant and a family at the other end of the restaurant noticed that we were strange tourists there and they bought us dessert.  When we got up to thank them, they waved us off in Bulgarian.  Everywhere we went, we encountered the same kind of hospitality, from farmers who offered to share their ouzo .

Our least favorite part of Bulgaria: Driving.  Between potholes the size of whole cars and drivers attempting to mimic the Fast and the Furious conditions on crowded single lane highways with the aforementioned potholes the size of whole cars, Bulgaria won the award for worst European driving conditions.

Indispensable item/gear: Good hiking shoes.  Roads are dusty and hikes are usually unmarked or with poor trails.  Hiking shoes are a necessity!

Cows in Bulgaria

Calves by the side of the road

Best deal: Everything.  Bulgaria is a welcome break from the super expensive EU.  We maybe spent about $200 USD for an entire month's worth of groceries, restaurants, entertainment, and gas (excluding costs for housing).

Biggest rip off: Hotels with pet-friendly accommodations.  Bulgaria isn't very pet-friendly in terms of travel so we ended up staying at premium accommodations, such as the Hilton in Sofia (which had probably the best Hilton breakfast ever.)

Sheep with sheepherders

Bulgarian traffic jam

Best new experience: Waking up to the sounds of the sheepherders with their flocks walking up the mountains . . . yes, there are real, honest to goodness sheepherders with tinkling bells on their wooden staffs who walk up the hills with their flocks of woolly sheep.  Totally romantic.

Worst new experience: Getting our car stuck on the way up to Lyutitsu .  I'm going to have to do a full post on car troubles/driving in Europe but the road to Lyutitsu was HORRIBLE, with deep trenches in the mud nearly the size of our whole wheel, but Patrick (of course) thought he could keep driving up and up the hill.  I freaked out and made him reverse the car which turned out to be for the best because it was partially stuck in the mud.

The must see attraction: Villa Armira .  This simply stunning Roman era villa is tucked away in the unlikeliest of places, down a dirt road in between two rural villages.

Most overhyped attraction: Sofia, in general. Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, is kind of meh.  It's graffiti laden, rubbish strewn, and not particularly inspiring.  All of the guidebooks said we needed to see it but we weren't all that impressed.

Flowers in Bulgaria

Flowering trees

Best surprise: The super, super fast Internet.  Seriously, the Internet in Bulgaria rivaled South Korea and was miles faster than what we got anywhere else in Europe.  This year it was ranked as having the 8th fastest internet in the world but I don't know how much I trust that ranking since it placed the UK which had seriously abysmal Internet as #11.

Biggest disappointment: How run down most of the tourist attractions are.  It's sad because this area is rich with history but most of the historic sites are little more than rubble or not maintained well.

Language lesson: Dobar den = good day; dobre = good/okay; blagodarja = thank you; smetkata molja = the bill, please; lev = Bulgarian money.

The big test, would we go back? Yes, but I think we'd first go back to Turkey and we want to visit Romania, too.  We really loved Bulgaria and it's a wonderful cheap, off-the-beaten track destination in Europe.

And, next on the itinerary: After Bulgaria, we headed on to Turkey and then to Greece (which I'll be writing about shortly.)

chewy and abby do europe

2012 was a banner year in our household.  We traveled across Europe with Chewy and Abby , found out we were having a baby , came back to the United States, bought and remodeled a house (and, yes, I'm going to post pictures at some point soon), and finished out the year by moving in.  Patrick started working full time again and I've been interviewing for new jobs, working, and doing a lot of growing:

Me from 10 to 30 weeks pregnant

In fact, that's the reason that things have been so quiet over here: my real life has overtaken all the time I used to spend on my virtual life.  But, I'm hoping that will change in 2013.  (Though, of course, I'm saying that and we're already halfway in to the month of January.)

So, let's start this new year off right with a photo recap of all that our pups did in Europe.  I give you Europe Chewy-and-Abby-style:

Chewy and Abby in Brooklyn

Chewy and Patrick in Brooklyn

Chewy at Prospect Park

United States : Roadtripping to New York and enjoying the Manhattan skyline from our hotel and the Brooklyn promenade

Chewy looking at the Statue of Liberty from the QM2
Chewy and Abby on the QM2 Chewy and Abby on the QM2
Queen Mary 2: Crossing the Atlantic on our seven day voyage from Brooklyn to Southampton on the Queen Mary 2

Abby at the Cotswolds Wildlife Park

Chewy and Abby in the Cornish coast

Playing in the snow in the Peak District
Chewy with London skyline in the background Abby in London
England : Touring around the super pet-friendly Cotswolds (and seeing rhinos and zebras at the Cotswolds Wildlife Park ), romping through the ocean on the Cornish coast , playing in the snow in the Peak District , and enjoying the Greenbelt in London .

Abby in Bilbao

Chewy and Abby at Parc Guell

Chewy and Abby at Madrid park

Spain: Discovering the Guggenheim in Bilbao and Spain's many beautiful parks, including Madrid's Parque del Oeste , and Barcelona's Parc Guell .

Forte dei Marmi

Chewy in Tuscany Roberto park
Chewy at the Leaning Tower of Pisa Chewy at Pisa

Chewy in Rome

Abby in Tuscany

Chewy and Abby in Venice

Abby in Venice

Italy : Loving the fields and vineyards of Tuscany (and the best dog kennel in all of Europe in Forte dei Marmi), visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa , relaxing in Rome's beautiful Villa Doria Pamphilj , romping in Sorrento, and taking in the canals of Venice .

Abby in Switzerland

Chewy in Switzerland

Chewy in Switzerland
Switzerland: Running through the snow among high peaks and turquoise lakes .

Abby in Pula, Croatia

Chewy at the Pula Amphitheatre

Abby at Pula Amphitheatre
Abby and Chewy in Zagreb
Croatia: Surviving the frigid bura on the Croatian coast, visiting the Pula Roman Amphitheatre, and playing in the deep drifts of snow in Zagreb .

Chewy at Parliament

Hungary : Running through our far too short stay in Budapest by exploring Budapest's great dog parks and the ornate Hungarian Parliament.

Bulgaria: Relaxing and barking at sheep in the rural southern parts of Bulgaria.

Abby in Istanbul Chewy and Abby in Cappadocia
Chewy in Cappadocia Chewy and Abby in Cappadocia

Turkey: Seeing the big city sights of Istanbul, exploring the many walks and wonders of surreal Cappadocia, and relaxing in gorgeous coastal Bodrum.

Abby in Santorini

Abby in black sand beach
Chewy in Greece Chewy and Abby in Greece
Greece: Beaching it up in the picturesque islands of Kos, Rhodes, Santorini, and Naxos (the dogs' favorite), and then hopping over to the big city of Athens for a few days.

Chewy and Abby in sunflowers

Austria: Visiting the ornate grandeur of Vienna and the beautiful sunflower fields outside the city.

Chewy  in Prague
Czech Republic:
Walking the streets of beautiful ornate Prague.

Abby with Cannes in the background

Chewy in Paris

France: Meandering through the parks of Cannes and visiting the sights (including the Eiffel Tower) in Paris.

Queen Mary 2 and Chewy

England and the Queen Mary 2 : And, then, we hopped back over to England for a short stint before heading on to the Queen Mary 2 and made our way back to the United States.

When it all boils down to it, by the numbers, Chewy and Abby:

- traveled for 14 months nonstop
- extensively in 13 countries
- drove through an additional 5 countries in which we only spent a few days each
- and lived in 10 of the great European capitals

They've visited more parks than we can count and stood in front of the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Hungarian Parliament, and much much more.  They've encountered hedgehogs and rabbits in France, sheep in England and Bulgaria, donkeys in Greece, and deer in Italy.  They've romped through vineyards and castles, all with gigantic grins on their faces.  Yes, there were some challenges --- like the day we had to pick eighty ticks off them in Cappadocia or the day when Abby peed in the house in England (the first time ever in her life, due we think to an excessively long stressful travel day) --- but, for the most part, we had an incredibly successful trip with two of the best travelers we know: our dogs.

three years!

Three years! A little over 1,100 days ago, we left our jobs, stuff, and friends and family behind to travel the world.  This third year has been one of our favorite years traveling as we've had the opportunity to explore Europe with Chewy and Abby .  So, what have we done this year?


England: We began our third year of travel by taking the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship from New York to England with Chewy and Abby in the kennels .  In our first month in England, we wandered around the pastoral beauty of the Cotswolds and Cornwall , reveling in gardens , moors , and lots and lots of yummy clotted cream .  The highlight of our stay in that region was walking inside the stone circle at Stonehenge .

In December, after touring around the Continent, we jaunted back up to England . . . which, in retrospect, might have been a mistake because it was gloomy and miserable the entire two months we were there.  Despite the weather, we loved the scenic Peak District and eating and cooking international cuisine in London.  We especially loved being in London for the Christmas season because we were able to experience Harrod's majestic window displays , London lit up at night , and frequent changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace .  Best of all, the dreary weather forced us indoors where we experienced London's phenomenal museums , which are well worth a visit any time of the year.

Spain banner

Spain : I last visited Spain in college, so I was shocked and surprised to realize (a) how much of my college Spanish I remembered and (b) how much more I enjoyed Madrid in my thirties than in my twenties.   Besides wandering through the city, we spent our time noshing --- frequently --- because that's just how those Spaniards eat .  After Madrid, we headed on to Barcelona, possibly the most photogenic city of all time , where we ogled all things great and small designed by Antoni Gaudi .  In the spring, I came back to visit the Catalunya region with the Catalunya Tourism Board where I ate far far too much (as usual) of Catalunya's diverse cuisine and adventured in Barcelona .


Italy: Aahhhh, Italy.  We love everything about this country and it's the one place that will always be on my MUST GO BACK list.  This time around, we spent one month based in sleepy Radicondoli where Abby and Chewy roamed among vineyards and olive trees, and took day trips to enchanting San Gimignano , Siena, Florence, Pisa , and other Tuscan hot spots .  One of the highlights of our Tuscany stay was truffle hunting with Giulio and Edda the dog and eating a truffle feast.  We left Tuscany and headed down to Sorrento for a week, where we enjoyed sunshine, blue waters, and amazing Pompeii.  Then, we visited Rome with Patrick's mom (who was traveling abroad for the first time in her life) and did all of the must see things: the Vatican, the ruins, food touring, and more.  In the spring, I ate way more than I should have at the Travel Bloggers Unite conference in Umbria and we finished off our summer in Venice with the fine folks at Go With Oh . More posts to come.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica: While Patrick and the pups stayed in Tuscany, I went on a one week trip through amazing Costa Rica, where I explored Costa Rica's rainforests , coffee plantations , wildlife, and burgeoning food scene .  One of the highlights of my trip was a few days spent in unexpectedly awesome San Jose .


Croatia: After Italy and wintering in England, we drove down to Croatia, stopping along the way in Switzerland for some sledding fun .  Despite the frigid bura which kept us shivering , we loved the quaint Istrian peninsula and jaw-dropping Plitvice National Park , and then settled in to Zagreb, which felt very American .  Though we were continually confused by Croatia's cuisine (look at that alliteration there), we couldn't help but fall in love with the gorgeous Dolac market .


Hungary: We had only one very short week to explore Budapest and, let me tell you, it was not enough time to indulge in its surprising wines and superb soups and goulashes .  We loved every single thing about this city , from the opulent Opera House to the stark Great Market Hall to how cheap everything ended up being.  Budapest and Hungary: MUST GO BACK!

Bulgaria banner

Bulgaria: Our one month in Bulgaria was a surprise.  We woke in the mornings to the tinkling bells of the shepherds walking up the hills with their flock of sheep and discovered the small attractions in this rural area.  As the poorest country in the European, Bulgarians trudge along with cars brought in by the Russians in the mid-1980s or stolen vehicles fenced from Germany and France.  Donkey carts are the most common mode of transportation in rural Bulgaria and our landlord told us that "Communism was better here" because, though they had less options of commercial goods, they had more money.  "Now, we have cars and electronics from every country in the world but no money to buy those things."  And, if you're intrigued by this often forgotten corner of Europe, don't worry: I've got plenty of posts planned. Posts to come.


Turkey: I hate picking favorites and saying that we like X more than Y, but the truth is . . . Turkey has become one of our favorite European countries, second only to Italy.  We spent two months in this East-meets-West place , consuming platter after platter of meats , veggies , and ridiculous baklava that make our mouths water even now.  We explored the varying neighborhoods of Istanbul , soaked in the sunshine on the Aegean Coast , marveled at the Mars-like Cappadocian scenery from hot air balloons , climbed through ancient wonders , and generally photographed every little thing in this incredible country. Turkey will always make our must go back list and we can't wait to be welcomed by its warm and inviting citizens again.


Greece: Greece was a bit of a hit-and-miss for us.  We loved Santorini and Naxos but were less enthused with Rhodes and disliked Athens (though we did go on an amazing food tour that helped change some of our misperceptions of Athens.)  One of the major problems was that we went to Greece after going to Turkey --- a country we adore --- and we didn't LOVE the food, architecture, and ancient ruins in the same way that we had loved those in Turkey.  At the same time, we thought Santorini was one of the most stunning places we have seen in Europe and we couldn't get enough of the laid back Naxos attitude. If we go back to Greece, I think we will do it very differently and focus more on the Peloponnese region rather than the islands. Posts to come soon.


Austria: We visited Vienna for a week with Go With Oh and found a lot of charm in this beautiful city, especially at the stunning Schonbrunn Palace, which we found to be more impressive than Versailles and many of the other famous European palaces.  We were also pleasantly surprised by the food in this very pet-friendly city. Posts to come very soon.

Czech Republic

Czech Republic: Folks told us that Prague was similar to Budapest . . . and we agree, in a way.  The architecture and location on the river definitely reminded us of Budapest --- but Prague's architecture blew us away.  This is one beautiful city and holds a special place in our hearts because it was where we learned that we would be welcoming Baby M into our family. We would love to go back and explore more of the Czech Republic. Posts to come.

France banner

France :  In September, toward the beginning of our trip, we spent two weeks in southern France, based in Cannes.  We gorged on goat cheese, brie, and wine, while wandering the picturesque Provencal towns and the beaches of the French Riviera.  In August, we came back to France and settled down in Paris where I had a very different experience: because I was pregnant, goat cheese, brie, wine, and salads (yes, salads) were prohibited so I struggled to find good food to eat.  I made the most of it by eating macarons instead and, though we had a hard time getting into the Parisian vibe, we loved the big attractions in the city and especially the majestic Louvre.  All in all, though we enjoyed the time we spent in France, like Greece, this wasn't at the top of our must-go-back places. Posts to come.

2012 destinations

And, that was our third year on the road!  We're now back in the United States, preparing for Baby M's arrival.  We are trading our permanent nomadic lives for partially nomadic lives instead.  We're working on buying a house in Atlanta near our families and friends (free babysitting!) but our travels definitely have not ended.  In this coming year, we'll be writing about the rest of our European trip, the loads of recipes I've been collecting while on the road, and about our next travels while pregnant and with baby and dogs.  Our fourth year traveling might just be the most challenging yet.

September 2012

turkey: the low-down
a wrap up
September 7, 2012

because the world is a good place
September 4, 2012

April 2012

budapest: the low-down
a wrap up
April 13, 2012

March 2012

croatia: the low-down
a wrap up
March 30, 2012

spain: the low-down
a wrap up
March 6, 2012

February 2012

the unvarnished truth on travel with pets
February 21, 2012

england: the low-down
a wrap up
February 10, 2012

September 2011

the taste of two years
September 30, 2011

two years of dog toys
September 22, 2011

two years!
September 19, 2011

August 2011

moving on
south africa in video
August 23, 2011

south africa: the low-down
a wrap up
August 17, 2011

January 2011

africa-in-focus overland: the low-down
a wrap up
January 31, 2011

December 2010

china: the low-down
a wrap up
December 8, 2010

September 2010

99 lessons learned traveling
September 24, 2010

one year!
September 20, 2010

August 2010

japan: the low-down
a wrap up
August 6, 2010

May 2010

cambodia: the low-down
a wrap up
May 24, 2010

March 2010

thailand: the low-down
a wrap up
March 23, 2010

January 2010

the low-down
a wrap up
January 11, 2010

November 2009

the low-down
a wrap up
November 15, 2009

September 2009

the low-down
a wrap up
September 11, 2009

August 2009

the low-down
a wrap up
August 21, 2009