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As a nation, Malaysia boasts one of the highest numbers of public holidays in the world, so it is no big surprise that our trip to the city of Melaka overlapped with Malaysia Day, a national holiday to commemorate the country’s formation. As usual, we had no idea of this before we arrived. Luckily we had booked a hostel in advance based on the recommendation of a bartender on Tioman Island, so we were all set to battle the crowds when we arrived. And were there ever crowds! Since Melaka is less than a two hour drive south of Kuala Lumpur, many people from KL made the short journey for the holiday weekend. The celebration was in full swing, with live music, fireworks and food filled streets.

Malaysia is a very young country, only celebrating their 55th birthday on this past Malaysia Day. As a port city, Melaka is a good representation of Malaysia’s long history of foreign control and struggle for independence. The city was captured by the Portuguese in the early 1500s, taken by the Dutch in the 1600s, then fell to the British in 1824. All of these nations exploited their military power to seize and utilize the port of Melaka as a major trading station. During WWII, Melaka was even occupied by Japanese before finally be liberated in 1948 to rejoin the current day nation of Malaysia.

These historic factors, including the heavy immigration of Indian and Chinese populations, make the food scene in Melaka a diverse and delicious endeavor. Its been awhile since we made food the main focus of one of our posts, but our passion for it hasn’t gone anywhere. We spent a good amount of time exploring the street food scene and local restaurants. One of our favorite dishes, roti canai, is an Indian style flat bread that is served with curry and/or chickpea dipping sauce. At only 1.60RM (or about 50 cents USD) it cannot be beat.

Based on a recommendation from the owner of our hostel, we headed out one night to try Capitol Satay, a famous restaurant in Melaka where you cook skewers of veggies and meat in a bubbling vat of peanut sauce at your table. We arrived to a “closed” sign, perhaps because of the holiday, and were quite disappointed; luckily, we noticed that the entire street is full of knock-off skewer restaurants imitating their renowned neighbor. We found a suitable alternative and decided to give it a shot. To put it plainly, the meal was cheap, fun and delicious.

The food stalls at the weekend night market on the popular Jonker Street are a good representation of Melaka’s melting pot. Everything from chicken rice, poh piah, potatoes on a stick, grilled seafood, stir-fried radish cakes, sushi, noodle bowls, sweet iced drinks like soya milk and hibiscus tea, dumplings, sago gula Melaka, shaved ice, and so much more are available.

Aside from chowing on food all day long, we managed to get ourselves out for a bit of sightseeing as well. As is evidenced by the multi-cultural food scene, the presence of diverse religions is also clear. In one block you can walk by an ancient Buddhist temple, a mosque, and a Christian church. One day when we were walking through the Dutch Square, we decided why not go inside the Church of Melaka? While the architecture wasn’t particularly impressive, there seemed to be a service about to begin so we grabbed a couple hymn books and sat down to join. After reading through a few pages, Mike looks up and says “Is this a memorial service?” It sure was, and next thing we know a casket is being wheeled in through the front door. It was an awkward moment to say the least, but we managed to squeeze out the side door before anyone could ask us to share a memory about the deceased. Phew, that was a close one.

After celebrating Malaysia Day and grubbing our way through Melaka, we were faced with the choice of how to best fill our two weeks of time before catching our October 2nd flight to Perth. Two weeks is certainly enough time to explore some of Malaysia’s great national parks and the well-known Cameron Highlands, but we realized that after 8 months on the road, we had hit a bit of a wall; we were not tired of traveling, we were tired from traveling. There was only one solution that we could see, so we did what any reasonable person would have done…We found another great island and decided to spend the remainder of our days here basking in the sun.

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Before diving into Shanghai itself, we must talk about how we got there. There are many ways to get from place to place in China; for the budget backpacker, overnight trains are the best option. We opted for “hard-sleeper” beds, which, as the name would suggest, are quite firm and stacked three-high in a car without doors or curtains; basically a moving bunk room with 70+ beds. While it’s not the most private way to travel, it is actually quite fun! Small tables and folding chairs line the corridor, making for a very communal feel. All of the train cars are equipped with steaming hot water taps, and we learned early on that dried noodle bowls are the meal of choice for long train rides. Add a deck of cards, a good book and a flask of whiskey to the mix, and you’re set with all you need to make the most of the 23 hour, 950 mile journey.

I’m on the night train!

Our bunk mates eating the standard Chinese night train fare of cup-o-noodles.

We spent our first day in Shanghai visiting the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Museum. It has to be one of the most oddly located museums in the world. With the address and Chinese name in hand, we arrived at what we thought was the entrance. At first, we weren’t certain we had found the right place as it was just a big apartment complex. The security guard handed us a business card that pointed us around the corner and down a floor to the basement of building #3.

Who would have thought this was home to Shanghai’s Propaganda Poster Museum?

The museum houses a very extensive collection of original Chinese Communist Party propaganda posters. Almost all of these posters were destroyed following Mao’s death, so a collection this size is quite remarkable. The dates of the posters range form 1930-1979; the imagery and verbiage used on the posters are both powerful and thought-provoking. We highly recommend visiting this museum on your next stop in Shanghai.

Viva la revolucion!

“Grandpa Mao” as they refer to him in China.

Possibly Shanghai’s most well know attraction, The Bund, is a historic part of city with predominantly European architecture. It was home to many important residents, businesses, and government offices during the British rule of the city. Today the area is a meeting ground of old and new. Sitting just across the Huangpu River from The Bund are countless ultra-modern skyscrapers that fill Shanghai with neon lights each evening. For us, the view was somewhat reminiscent of Hong Kong, but let there be no mistake about it, Shanghai is mainland China through and through, not an SAR.

The Bund after nightfall

View of the Pudong skyline (East bank of the Huangpu River) from The Bund.

Another remnant of Shanghai’s colonial past is the neighborhood known as The French Concession. Its wide, tree-lined boulevards, well-kept mansions and designer fashion stores transport you far from the chaos of the city center, and can almost convince you that you are in Europe not Asia. We strolled through the area one afternoon and stumbled upon something we had been missing since we left home, a micro-brewery. Yes! Any cold beer goes down easily on a hot, humid day, but the beer in China leaves a lot to be desired. Being from Portland and Denver (the micro-brew hubs of America) we require a good craft beer from time to time; Boxing Cat Brewery in the French Concession fit the bill.

These red and pale ales tasted incredible to our taste buds after months of watery, light beer.

Each region in China boasts its own local flavor. In Shanghai, the regional specialty is dumplings. Every restaurant and street cart sells their own version. We came to love the dumpling vendor on the corner next to our hostel, and stopped by every morning for breakfast. We never quite figured it out, but each day we paid a different price for the same dumplings. It seems that China is one of those places where you can decide what you’re going to pay for a product; hand the person your money with confidence and they will likely accept it with a smile.

Rice dumplings – the real breakfast of champions

Beyond dumplings, we enjoyed many other delicious treats from vendors on the street in Shanghai. Some of our favorites were two well know dishes in the western world, fried noodles (chow mein) and fried rice (chow fahn) prepared on a makeshift, propane-powered stove top that was attached to a bicycle.  Ready in less than two minutes, these dishes were phenomenal late-night snacks.

Tasty chow mein, MSG and all.

Last but not least, KTV. We had heard a lot about it since arriving in China, and were excited to partake in this beloved Chinese pastime. One Friday night in Shanghai we met up with a friend of a friend to see what KTV was all about. Essentially, it is karaoke, but is much different than the karaoke bars found in the US. Forget the dive bar with a large screen where you sing in front of a crowd of strangers. Now, picture walking into the lobby of a high-rise, heading up the elevator, exiting into a fancy corridor of numbered rooms. Behind each door: couches, a flat-screen TV, song selection computer, microphones, bottles of liquor, snacks, dice games and, most importantly, a good group of friends. We stayed at KTV with our new Chinese friends until 4am, and it was truly a night to remember.

The KTV crew

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Upon our arrival in Lisboa (a.k.a. Lisbon), we were excited to find that our “hostel” was more along the lines of a downtown loft. For the first time in nearly a month, we actually felt like we had a home of our own. While there were other rooms, the place was basically empty, and we were given a room with a balcony and an amazing view overlooking Lisboa’s main pedestrian street, Rua Augusta.

Rua Augusta Arch as seen from our room

As difficult as it is to admit, we were feeling our first spell of travel burnout after leaving Porto, and our luck in accommodations couldn’t have come at a better time. We made it to Lisboa exactly one month after beginning the international portion of our RTW trip, and had already stayed in nine different hotels and visited twelve different cities. All that moving around takes a toll, so we spent a good portion of our time being “normal” (making home-cooked meals, reading, playing cards, riding the trams, and just hanging out).

After a few days of recharging our internal batteries, it was time for Carnaval! Parades, parties, concerts, costumes, fun in the sun. What a fantastic event!

Carnaval Lisboa 2012

Carnaval parade in Lisboa

Expensive Soul playing at Rossio Square during Carnaval Lisboa

Another must mention of our visit to Lisboa, was our day trip to Sintra. Just a short train ride from Rossio station, this town sits between tall green mountains and the sea. It is also home to two amazing monuments, the Castelo dos Mouros and Pena National Palace and Gardens.

Castelo dos Mouros, overlooking the town of Sintra, was constructed by the Moors in the 8th century

Mike atop a tower at Castelo dos Mouros

Pena National Palace

View of gardens from the Queen’s Balcony at Pena National Palace

While we are certain that Lisboa could be a great city for a single-destination vacation, our travel burnout and ironic timing with Carnaval turned our visit into something a bit different. It felt more like a “stay-cation” in a not so familiar place.

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We chose to take an early morning train from Granada to Sevilla so that we could check out some of the Andalusian landscape along the way. Much to our surprise, seemingly all we saw from the train windows were endless rolling hills covered with olives trees. We had been offered olives with pretty much every meal since arriving in Spain, but hadn’t really connected the dots. Did you know that Spain is the world’s largest producer of olives?!

After arriving in Sevilla, we met up with some friends who are living there as English teachers. It was fun to connect with people we know after nearly a month of solo traveling. No, we’re not sick of each other, but a familiar face always has a way of making you feel at home.

Our main mode of transport while in Sevilla was bikes, via a bike share program called Sevici (for all you Denver people, it’s similar to B-Cycle). Thanks to Blake and Danielle, we were able to use the bikes for free!

Mike checking out a bike at the Alameda Sevici station

Riding around allowed us to cover much of the city in just a couple of days. A few of our favorite sites were the Plaza de España & Catedral de Sevilla, and we also enjoyed exploring the neighborhoods of Alameda, Santa Cruz and Triana.

La Plaza de España was built in 1928 for a world’s fair. It is surrounded by the beautiful Parque de María Luisa.

Fountain in the center of La Plaza de España

The Giralda Tower, as seen from the orange tree courtyard at La Catedral de Sevilla

View of Sevilla from the top of the Giralda Tower at La Catedral de Sevilla

Our nights in Sevilla were filled with tapas and flamenco. El Ambigú, which was recommended by Amy’s sister, Jennifer, was a casual place filled with locals and serving delicious tapas (you can read our TripAdvisor review here). Another great tapas place we found for a late night snack was El Rinconcillo, founded in 1670, and in operation ever since.

Tapas at El Rinconcillo – we love how chalk is used to keep track of tabs on the bar top!

Flamenco is part of the soul of Sevilla and can be seen everywhere; whether it be a flamenco school, a store selling traditional dresses, posters promoting  upcoming shows, or an actual Tabalo.

Our first flamenco experience was a performance held at La Carboneria, a flamenco venue in the Santa Cruz neighborhood that offers complimentary shows each night. This venue features ample seating, a fun bar and a casual setting. The show had no dancing, but highlighted the classic cante (singing), toque (guitar) and palmas (handclaps). It was very different but equally as impressive as the second, full blown performance that we attended the following night.

Palmas y Toque at La Carboneria

The second flamenco show, held at La Peña Flamenca Torres Macarena, was a much more intimate setting, with a raised stage and a few rows of seating on three sides. We were impressed by the dancer’s intense focus and incredible tranquil speed. Additionally, this show featured two singers which gave the performance a much more robust sound. In hopes of capturing the complex auditory component of flamenco, in addition to photos, we also took a short video which you can watch by clicking on the picture below.

After just under a week in Sevilla, we both agreed to add it to our shortlist of places we would consider living in the future. If you plan on visiting Spain, do not miss this city!

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Last Week in Denver

It’s our last week in Denver. We’re done with work. We’re moving out of our apartment. And we’re enjoying lots of going-away parties.  With all the excitement and anticipation of leaving, we’re beginning to realize how much we’re going to miss this place. People often ask us if we’ll be returning to Colorado after our RTW trip, and the honest answer is we don’t know. A major goal of our trip is to live in the moment, which means making as few future plans as possible.

That being said, Colorado is an awesome place! For those who have never been, get here! For those who live here, appreciate it!  As we get all reminiscent and sappy about our years here, we wanted to share some of our favorites for locals and tourists alike…

While we still have a lot of the world to experience, Colorado has to be one of the coolest places out there.

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