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Saturday, May 29, 2021

Myanmar, But Without the Military Coup Part

We're still celebrating AAPI Heritage Month and this has been an interesting month for learning things. We have previously "traveled" to Japan, China, Thailand, and Mongolia just a few weeks ago. Funnily, we've never actually made it to Asia, though we have plans to visit Japan in the somewhat near future and we've just made plans to visit Sri Lanka and the Maldives in 2023. 

We're still celebrating AAPI Heritage Month with a destination date night to Myanmar (or Burma) in order to try a new local restaurant.

Our neighborhood just got a new Burmese restaurant that I wanted to try, so I decided to do a whole staycation around it. The only things we know about Burma/Myanmar* are not great, so I thought we'd learn what makes the country awesome, besides the food, which is pretty wonderful. Top Burmese opened during the pandemic and immediately figured out how to stand out and stay open. 

They have a nice outdoor seating area and when indoor seating came back, they introduced robot wait staff. They still have regular wait staff, but many of the dishes and takeout orders are brought by robot to limit contact between people. They also have a robot at their bar that picks up glasses and helps the human bartender. 

We both went in to pick up food and had to wait a few minutes for our order to be ready. We took a seat and watched these awesome robots do their jobs really flawlessly. They are limited to food inside, as they can't make it over the threshold to serve outside and humans deliver any alcoholic beverages and also take orders and interact with guests as they normally would (just a bit less frequently asking if you need anything). In short, they are doing things efficiently and keeping staff and patrons as safe as possible. I'm excited to eat there in person when I feel more comfortable doing so.

before we get to food, let's talk about the decor at home. I ordered two backdrops, but I either misplaced the second one or it disappeared somewhere in the month I received it and did this destination date night. But let's not talk about my problems and instead focus on the good backdrop I had that overlooks the city and has gorgeous temples in the distance, really showcasing what is most important to the people of Burma. 

I know the country has beautiful beaches, so I pulled out my beach backdrop with bright blue waters, white sand, and palm trees, all of which can be found in abundance on the coast, even near Yangon, the country's capital. There's such an interesting juxtaposition between poor-looking cities, gorgeous beaches, and decadent temples. I can see why so many travelers love this place. 

I brought in some tropical leaves for our table, a hand painted parasol (one of Burma's must-buy souvenirs) and a flag. I brought back my leaf bowls for small foods and my pale yellow plates to add color to this wonderful meal. I really wanted the food to stand out and it did, though it didn't really need my help.

Cheers! We have takeout drinks, so bars can continue to function and many restaurants are allowing alcohol to go home in pick-up food orders. For this reason, I ordered something called the Yangon City Pass. It's sugar cane juice with lemongrass-infused rum and it was light and refreshing and you could easily drink 3 more before realizing what a terrible idea it was. I ordered Eric a mocktail called the Pagoda Spritzer. It was a bit sweet and a bit tart, which is everything he likes: lemon balm, pear juice, raw apple cider, and mint. 

There were so many good things on the menu, we opted to try a little bit more than usual by ordering 3 appetizers and just one entrée. Here's what we have: tamarind spicy wings, vegetable samosas, and garlic quail eggs. Tamarind is a common spice in southeast Asia and is used quite often in street food. These wings were delightfully spicy, but not hot. I could have eaten quite a few more. If you've not eaten a samosa, you have to. We get these quite often when we have Indian, but these tasted so fresh, despite being fried, and the dipping sauce wasn't overpowering. 

The quail eggs were...something entirely else. They are called Burmese Land Pearls and they are boiled and deep fried whole and marinated lime, black beans, garlic oil and chili. I will say these are different than anything I've ever eaten. I'm still not sure if I liked them or not. They were crunchy on the outside, but like an unseasoned deviled egg inside. We did eat them all though, so they weren't bad. I suspect it was a case of wondering what we actually thought of them.

For our main, I chose chicken paratha. A mild chicken curry is served with toasted Burmese soft flatbread. It's sort of like a cross between a tortilla and a naan and I am here for eating baskets and baskets of it. It's there to use as a utensil of sorts for your chicken and was served with pickled cucumbers (not pickles) and jalapeños. I could eat this frequently and not get sick of it. It's so good. I am also excited to try any of their gigantic salads that are super colorful and fresh. 

We watched a few walking tours while we ate, because that's what you do when street food is on the menu. One was a walking tour of Yangon, another was a tour of Yangon's street foods and the markets they sell them in, and then we took a temple tour, because how can you not?

After our meal we, of course, had dessert. I ordered two, because I wanted a variety and also because I wasn't sure that one would be that good. The Burmese Dessert Cake looked interesting, but could have gone either way. It has a squishy texture, if you're into that, and isn't overly sweet. It's made with suji wheat and butter, and then topped with sesame seeds. If you like a more savory dessert, this is for you. The second dessert was sweet paratha. It's a pan-toasted paratha that is served with sugar cane whipped topping. It tasted a lot like a crepe this way, but I thought the difference between both desserts was interesting and really delicious. 

(We've since gone to eat outside at Top Burmese to try more foods. We had the ginger salad, mango wings, chicken and vegan samosas, beef coconut curry, kneaded fish rice, strawberry falooda, and coconut ice cream. I tried the Pegu Club drink, that I really enjoyed. You can see their menu here.)

This was a fun and unique destination date which I would definitely be happy to repeat with different food and activities. You could use this as a learning opportunity for the civil unrest* in the country or really just enjoy the beauty the country has to offer in different places.

Here are some things we used to make our Myanmar staycation unique:

I hope you use this time to learn about a new travel destination. Even if you can't travel right now, you can still do some armchair traveling like we're doing. It gives you something fun to plan and allows you to immerse yourself in a new culture without leaving home, making it the ultimate in budget travel and a way to get away while you're saving for your next big trip.

Have you ever traveled to Southeast Asia?

*If you haven't been following the military coup in Myanmar, this is a very significant thing happening. Long story short, the country had an election, but the person who won was instead overthrown by the military (which has a very long and terrible history and why many women are fleeing to become refugees in other countries and risking everything to walk hundreds or thousands of miles with little to no belongings and children they may have) and they are indiscriminately murdering and kidnapping citizens who are protesting, and even those that aren't. Because of the terrifying situation, many have started protesting by not going to work, as the military has been snatching people off the street for going about daily life. If you're on Twitter, search #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar. For the record, I stand with the people of Myanmar. This is unacceptable and shows exactly what could have happened in America if our former president was able to get his way. Luckily, our military doesn't work for the president and they have integrity.

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I may be compensated should you choose to make any purchases through them. This allows me to keep this blog running for you. Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

10 Free Things to Do In Amsterdam

Amsterdam is an amazing city full of beautiful buildings and museums and artwork, but with so much stuff to do, it can be difficult to stay on budget if you don't plan some free and cheap activities during your trip. Here are 10 of my picks for freebies to plan a trip around when we're not just enjoying an Amsterdam staycation at home.

Here are 10 of my picks for freebies to plan a trip around when we're not just enjoying an Amsterdam staycation at home.
Photo credit: Nancy Jennings*

1. Amsterdam Street Art

By now you know that I love street art. It's free and it can really give you a feel for the city you're in, since many large cities work with local artists to make bare walls more interesting and beautiful. Amsterdam is known for its street art and is building a museum specifically to celebrate it.

2. Amsterdam Gallery at Amsterdam Museum

This small passageway between galleries is full of Dutch Master portraits, more modern additions and even temporary exhibits.

Photo credit: Nancy Jennings*

3. GVB Amsterdam Ferries

I love a boat ride and a ferry is always a fun experience. If you want to take a free ride down the river and also get places faster for free, this is the perfect way to do it. It might take you a little longer than expected, but that's the fun of travel, slowing down and just soaking in your destination.

4. Rijksmuseum Garden

Though the Rijksmuseum costs admission, and perhaps you want to visit there too, the gardens are open to the public and a great place to stroll and enjoy the nice weather. Plus there is a temporary sculpture exhibit added each year by a noted artist from June to October.

5. VU Botanical Gardens

Bontanical gardens are always a nice break from the chaos of the city. Everything slows down for a while. Used for education and research at VU University, it is now mostly for visitors and includes over 6,000 plant species, including a cactus garden and a miniature Chinese landscape garden.

Photo credit: Nancy Jennings*

6. NEMO Roof Terrace

On top of the NEMO Science Museum, is a panoramic terrace that looks over the city, has interactive exhibits, and has a café for you to purchase something to eat or drink while you sit and admire the view. Though it is currently closed to the public, when reopened, it may or may not require admission to NEMO to access.

7. Albert Cuyp Market

With over 250 stalls, this is the largest outdoor market in the Netherlands, and also the biggest market in Europe. Locals go to Albert Cuyp to buy groceries, and you might also do this if you plan to stay in a place with a kitchen, or even if you just want to pick up some local foods to eat while you're out sightseeing. Markets are one of my favorite ways to find new foods and interact with locals. It's also great for people watching.

8. Vondelbunker & Vondelpark

Vondelpark is a large green space with cafés, playgrounds, art sculptures, a rose garden, and more. In the summer, there are free concerts on the weekends at the open-air theater, and it is home to the Vondelbunker. Vondelbunker is an old bomb shelter that is now a culture center with an entrance hidden under a bridge. All the events are free, though it is strictly volunteer-run, so any donations are appreciated.

9. Flevopark & Graffiti Bridge

You probably have figured out (even before this list) that I adore a public park, especially those with interesting activities/landmarks. Flevopark is home to a Jewish cemetery, gin distillery, tennis courts, and a lake with bird habitat zones. Not only that, but if you like street art and graffiti art, then Zuiderzeeweg bridge is a must-visit for you.

10. Amsterdam Schiphol Panorama Terrace & Rijksmuseum Schiphol at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

When you arrive or before you leave, explore a bit of the airport. There's a great museum inside, which is open 24/7 and showcases Dutch artists. There's an airport library, a meditation room, an indoor park, and a NEMO outpost for the kids. Schiphol has a large terrace where you can see the airport runways, but also has a full-size Fokker 100 KLM aircraft on display. You can see what it feels like to be inside a plane when not being confined to your seat and even check out the cockpit and other normally off-limits sections. 

While not an exhaustive list of free things to see and do in Amsterdam, this will give you a sense of things to look forward to being able to add to your itinerary. There's way more to this city than tulips and windmills.

What things do you look for whenever you travel? 

*Thanks to my friend Nancy, for the use of her vacation photos for this post. 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Now that we've not been traveling for a while and the travel industry is trying to bounce back, we can see the impact our past trips have had on the environment, and we can look at ways we can change what we do and how we do it to reduce our carbon footprint. While travel doesn't always feel like it's great for the environment, especially when you're getting to your destination on a a huge plane that burns a ton of fuel, there are many things you can do to offset your travel carbon footprint. 

We can see the impact our past trips have had on the environment, and we can look at ways we can change what we do and how we do it to reduce our carbon footprint.

Pack Light

The less "cargo" that a plane carries, the less fuel it has to use. It might be negligible in relation to the weight of the plane itself, but every little bit helps, plus you'll feel like a rock star for being able to go straight from the plane to your hotel, because you don't have to wait at the baggage carousel like all those other suckers. Boom! You saved time and you saved money. If you need ideas on how to pack strategically, check out this post.

Bring a reusable water bottle

Stay hydrated, while also being environmentally conscious and not buying a bunch of bottled waters on your trips. I have a favorite. I will fill it half with ice and the other half with water at the beginning of the day and my water stays cold all day long and I usually even have ice long after my bottle is empty and I need to refill it. It's great, because it also saves you money too.

Skip the straw

So many places now are banning plastic straws, because they aren't recyclable and mostly just end up in the ocean, aspiring to become a part of that plastic island. If you travel  internationally, you'll notice that you don't even get offered a straw in many places. If you must have a straw, travel with a reusable one. I have several stainless steel and copper straws that I put in my purse to use when I'm out. If you hate the feel of metal, try bamboo instead or a silicone top for your metal straw.

Bring your own utensils

With the same idea about straws, I generally travel with a set of bamboo utensils. Why? Because I love eating at food trucks, but I hate plastic utensils...and there's never anyplace to recycle them (if they even are recyclable). There's also the fact that sometimes those plastic forks and knives are just not sturdy enough for the food you're eating. Have you ever had a fork just snap in half while trying to eat something heartier? Well, bamboo forks will never do that, plus, you can wash them and reuse them without worrying about BPA and degradation. 

If you don't care if you have a whole range of utensils, then check out these awesome travel utensils from Humangear. They're made for camping, but no one's going to bat an eye if you whip these out at the food trucks, especially in Portland.

Shop at farmers’ markets

Support local farmers, butchers, florists and artisans by shopping at open-air markets. Not only will you be putting money back into a community to help it thrive, you’re also keeping small businesses alive. By purchasing fresh ingredients that you can eat right away or do a little preparation with back at your lodging, you’re saving money over a traditional sit-down meal.

Eat at food carts

Another way to save on meals is to eat at food carts. They are the ultimate in budget dining, because they are basically a mobile kitchen. With their low overhead, (no seating, waiters, busboys, etc.) those savings are passed on to you. You also get to try local cuisine for less, and normally where there is one food cart, there are many. If your kids are picky, there is bound to be something they find appetizing within reasonable walking distance from your current cart.

Find sustainable restaurants

While not always budget-friendly, I try to look for restaurants who use local and seasonal foods. This means that your food doesn't have to travel far to get to you, plus you're getting the freshest dishes possible, so it's a win-win. There are lots of sustainable restaurants that pass their savings on to you, so not only are you getting awesome food, but you aren't paying more for it either. Locally-sourced food is a great way to really feel your destination as well.

Ebooks and apps

Guidebooks are awesome, but not only do they take up room in your luggage, what do you do with them when your vacation is over? Probably you recycle them, but what if you didn’t have to? You can pretty much get any book you want in digital format for your e-reader or smartphone. You can even “bookmark” important pages you know you’ll need. And there are a lot of apps that can give you directions, city tours, maps and even help you find attractions nearby. Many are even free! Going paperless can really make you feel lighter on your trips and allow you to feel better about all the information you’re toting around.

Walk or take public transportation

A big percentage of  travelers rely on renting cars or taking cabs when on vacation, but that’s not always economical. In most big cities, taxis are really expensive and just a few trips could add up to hundreds of dollars. Why waste all that money (and gas!) when you can just as easily walk to your desired destinations or take public transportation? If either of these options are feasible, then take the time to slow down and smell the roses. 

You never know what you’re missing until you get out and see things from the point of view of a local. You’ll get some fresh air, exercise and even find a hidden shop or café that you can come back to. This is also a great time to let your kids take the reins and learn to navigate the subway map or figure out the best walking route from your hotel to wherever it is you planned on going. And if you tend to get swollen ankles from tons of walking, then get yourself a pair of good compression socks for sightseeing or to wear when you get back to your room.

Stay in an eco-lodge

If you’re looking for alternative accommodations from your typical hotel, consider staying in an eco-lodge. They come in many different types, but strive to do their best to impact the environment as little as possible, with low-flow toilets, use of sustainable materials, farm-to-table programs and more. You will find that many are a lot more luxurious than expected and even more affordable. Be careful, though, as some offer electricity, while others do not. If lights after sundown are important to you, then make sure you confirm that it is included before you book.

Stay in an Airbnb

While this isn't necessarily eco-friendly all on its own, it comes with benefits built-in that you don't think about: there's no housekeeping, so unless you're washing all your linens and towels everyday, you're saving water. You can also opt to put your Do Not Disturb sign on your door instead, so you skip cleaning days that are unnecessary when you're staying in a hotel. Reuse things, save them from having to replace your half-used soap or shampoo. In the meantime, turn off as many lights as you can while you're in the room, and all of them when you leave for the day. These things still help in the long run.


Not all places recycling receptacles, which is disheartening, but I always have a second garbage bag that I use strictly for my recyclables and then I ask where I can take that at the end of my stay. I've been known to break things down and pack them home if I can't find a proper place to dispose of them. I'm not willing to toss things in the garbage unless there's absolutely no other choice. If you cruise, I have been told that everything goes into garbage cans and then there are crew members who sort out garbage from recycling. 

As a budget traveler that tries to do my part for the environment as much as possible, I’m always looking for new ways to save on my whole vacation. By just making the effort to get out and see your destination from a new perspective, you find different ways to experience your trips and change up your travel style a bit to make it more affordable and green at the same time. 

How do you travel green?

Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate posts. Thanks in advance for shopping through them. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Celebrating in Amsterdam at Home

A few weeks ago, we decided to "travel" to Amsterdam on our Destination Date Night in order to celebrate King's Day, the day when the Dutch throw a big party for their king's birthday. People wear a ton of orange and cram onto boats and the waterfront and drink a lot, because that's how most of the world parties. I also wanted an excuse to eat a lot of waffles.

We decided to "travel" to Amsterdam on our Destination Date Night in order to celebrate King's Day, the day when the Dutch throw a party for the king.

If you want to know more about King's Day, you can see my post here, but we learned as we ate and had a two-person dance party to enjoy our own little celebration. My table was set with a yellow tablecloth, because I don't have an orange one (even though I thought I did) and adding extra orange may have been a bit much. I also used this watering can as a vase and added the must-have tulips that Holland is known for. It has been a bit that I included our sticker passport books, but we've been utilizing them. I also know that The Netherlands sound like a great place to just go and walk and enjoy the city, which is the perfect vacation destination for us. As such, I snagged a Monocle Guide to plan a future trip.

It's been a bit since I had a cocktail with my dinner, but I found a recipe for a version of a drink I like (French 75) called the Dutch 75. It uses vodka, champagne, and lemon, which I garnished with some fresh mint. It was a nice, refreshing cocktail, which would also pair well with a brunch menu.

Cheers! Eric went with a color theme and enjoyed a nice Bundaberg ginger beer. Other traditional Dutch beverages focus on gin, beer, and coffee (which we also had with our dessert waffles). 

Look at this great waterside view. We did our part to put on as much orange as we own, which was not a lot, but we did our best.

And now for the waffles. Yes, we could have gone really traditional, but #1 I didn't want to have the same thing we had for Norway, #2 I didn't want to go all the way across town to get it, and #3 I didn't want to figure out how to make a bunch of new, weird foods. Also, there's a Dutch waffle food cart nearby, so I decided to just go for all of it. 

Here you have the Chicken BLT with sriracha aioli, I chose the Black Forest which had ham, bacon, gouda, maple butter, plus I added spinach for some greens.

While we ate, we talked about Amsterdam and had on videos of past King's Day celebrations in the background. This was a fun way to feel like we were in the middle of the action and also gave us a wonderful view up and down the river front. 

This last year was a weird one for places that are known for big festivals and parties, but they try to make do. I found a video of 2021 that was a party mix by DJ Martin Garrix done on the top of A'dam Tower. You got awesome skyline views and excellent party music. In normal years, you would be able to see lots of these music events with thousands of other people. 

While we bopped to jams, we stuffed our faces with our dessert waffles and had some coffee...in orange mugs! On the left is the Smaaken waffle: brie, spiced apples, bacon, and maple butter. On the right is The Elvis: bacon, peanut butter, bacon, and honey. 

Obligatory visit to a windmill and a field of tulips. We actually were going to go to the Wooden Tulip Festival this year near us, but because of the timed tickets, the price for two people didn't really make sense. It wasn't much less than for an entire family pass, so I decided this was a good compromise.

Don't forget to get your passport stamped!

Party down, guys!

You may not want to throw a King's Day celebration at home, or maybe you do, but that doesn't mean you can't also enjoy an Amsterdam staycation. Here are some things you do to make it special:
There are so many ways you can make this staycation fun and special, whether you go for beer tasting or virtually strolling through some tulip fields, or even go for a "walking" tour from your couch. You can view more of my staycation vids and photos when they happen on my Instagram. All of my staycation stories are in my Covid Travel highlight. They have music!

Have you ever wanted to go to a big festival?

Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I may be compensated should you choose to make any purchases through them. This allows me to keep this blog running for you. Thanks in advance!

Saturday, May 15, 2021

My Mongolia Wish List

I know Mongolia is a large country. At roughly a quarter of the size of the continental U.S., it may be difficult to see everything you want in one trip, but maybe not, if you plan strategically. The country doesn't really have a good tourism network yet, which means you'll likely be one of very few tourists wherever you go, you may have to wait until you arrive to arrange tours and tickets.

I know Mongolia is a large country. At roughly a 25% the size of the continental U.S., it may be difficult to see everything you want in one trip.
Photo by Batgerel Batkhurel on Unsplash

Yes, I enjoyed learning more about Mongolia at home, but nothing beats actually traveling and engaging with local people, eating local food, and learning your way across a city or country. Here's my wish list of things I want to do when I finally plan my trip. 

Photo by Amit Gupta on Unsplash

Yak tour

This is actually the number one thing I'm excited for in Mongolia. The Yak Trek is basically you following yaks pulling wagons carrying supplies. you can walk or ride a horse, and you make camp each night, eat outdoors, and meet nomads along the way. Knowing that I hate hiking and camping, this 3-day walk across the wilderness sounds pretty amazing. 

There are also yak-riding tours, which I'm also 100% in for, despite probably having major allergies by being so close to them. I'm willing to suffer for this amazing experience though, so maybe I'll just hope for the best, where I'm not allergic to horses or farm animals, and carry a lot of hand sanitizer and extra meds to be safe.

Photo by Tuguldur Baatar on Unsplash

National Museum of Mongolia

Located in Ulaanbaatar, the largest museum in Mongolia will walk you through the entire history of the country and everything else you need to know. Discover how Mongolians live in daily life and how they have evolved over time through permanent exhibits and rotating, temporary exhibits like Mongolian Traditional Dishes, which focuses on utensils and textiles and household items, including furniture, luggage, and serving trays.

Photo by Jéan Béller on Unsplash

Ghengis Khan Statue Complex

Found approximately 30 miles from Ulaanbaatar, this complex is actually topped by the world's largest statue of Ghengis Khan. Say what you will about him in regards to his grisly and dictatorial methods, but he was all for freedom of religion and created the largest contiguous empire in history. He also united many nomadic tribes across the area. He solidified Mongolia's space regarding politics and culture and created quite a far-reaching lineage of his bloodline. 

At the complex, you can learn more about Khan, try on traditional Mongol costumes, and even eat at the restaurant upstairs. The museum is also in an area that has fantastic birdwatching, plus you can meet a golden eagle or vulture, which you know I'm all about.

Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash

Stay in a Ger

Gers, or yurts, are the traditional nomadic dwelling. You can find these all over, including near the large cities, because people want to live in the traditional way, but still have the convenience of city living. You can rent one near Ulaanbaatar, with internet access, for under $60/night.

Photo by Usukhbayar Gankhuyag on Unsplash

Visit the Gobi Desert

Honestly, I never knew where the Gobi was, but the photos are beautiful and I'd love to visit for the day to see what it's like. You can ride camels here, which may or may not be for me, so I'll see when I get there. 

There's a great less-desert-y area called Yolyn Am in a gorge of the Gobi where you can just enjoy the views and yaks grazing.

Photo by Lightscape on Unsplash

Try Airag

While I'm not one to drink that much alcohol when I travel, I always look for unusual foods and drinks and want to try everything at least once. Airag is one of those things. So, what is it exactly? It's fermented mare's milk. Yeah, maybe it'll be gross, but I'll never know if I don't try it. Maybe it's one of those things I like that other people aren't a fan of, like haggis. 

Photo by Lightscape on Unsplash

Visit during the Bayan-Ölgii Eagle Festival

Falconing is one of my favorite things and I greatly enjoyed when we did it in Scotland. If you ever get the chance to do it, I highly recommend it. Eagles and other raptors are amazing birds, who are smart, and have great relationships with their handlers. This festival happens in late September or early October every year and includes different events. There are even opportunities to meet eagles up close and personal. 


The original capital of the Mongolian Empire, Kharakhorum was founded by Genghis Kahn in 1220. This once cosmopolitan city is no longer thriving, but it is home to a great museum, the first Buddhist monastery in the country, and a handful of temples. 

I think there are plenty of other awesome things to do in Mongolia, but I feel like many of those things may be found while traveling around the country, which will be part of my travel plan. That'll be interesting, since I almost never go anywhere without a full plan, but I look forward to getting in a car and exploring as much as possible. 

Have you ever wanted to visit Mongolia?

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Traveling Tips for Mongolia

We're looking a bit more at Mongolia today, with an infographic that gives us all the necessities, including were to go, what you need, useful phrases and important cultural norms. As I mentioned in my post for our staycation, Mongolia is pretty different from anywhere we've ever traveled, but those differences are what make it so interesting and special.

We're looking at a Mongolia infographic that gives us all the necessities, including were to go, what you need, useful phrases, and cultural norms.

Have you ever wanted to visit Mongolia? If not, do you have a non-traditional travel destination on your list? What makes it so appealing to you?

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Exploring Mongolia at Home

I know I'm behind on my last few staycations, but that means you're getting a double dose back-to-back. A few weeks ago we traveled to Mongolia, which has always been a destination on my travel list. I know it's weird pick, especially for someone who doesn't really love outdoorsy activities, but for me, the outdoor part of Mongolia is the whole point. 

A few weeks ago we traveled to Mongolia, which has always been on my travel list. Places like Mongolia aren't glamorous, but unique on their own.

I'll be following up with a wish list, but for now, let's talk about our first actual outdoor (like in the yard, not just the covered porch) staycation of 2021. I apologize in advance for the wavy backgrounds, as it was super windy when we decided to do this and there was no way to take a perfectly flat photo.

I went a bit crazy when I saw some new melamine serving ware at Target and bought most of it, including a great tablecloth that looked similar to one on my list for Mongolia. Since much of the country outside of the cities is very plain-like. I wanted to bring some of that, and included a bit basket of wildflowers as a centerpiece, but also included a camel (as those are pretty prevalent) and a cow skull to represent the large yaks and similar animals found there. 

I had two backgrounds customized, because Mongolia isn't a big sought-after destination for such things. The bad things about that is that they only come in a limited range of sizes (the biggest being 7'x5') and they take a long time to receive. The plus side, though, is that I can use any photo I upload. So, I chose an iconic photo of Mongolian falconers for one and then one with the traditional yurt and animals found where the country's nomads live.

Now, there is a distinct lack of Mongolian restaurants that aren't buffets like Changs Mongolian Grill or Asian hot pot places, and I wasn't going to spend all my time in the kitchen, so I looked at Asian restaurants that had items I was interested in eating and were close enough to authentic dishes, and also where I wouldn't have to go to multiple restaurants. I ended up, believe it or not, ordering and picking up from P.F. Changs and was pleasantly surprised by the price and the food.

Almost all Mongolian food is meat, cheese, bread and lard-based. It gets quite cold there and the added layer of fat is helpful to keep warm. Stew seems like that would fit in that mold, so I opted for a family meal which started with wonton soup, then got chicken fried rice and Mongolian beef (this also came with lettuce wraps, but we saved those for lunch the next day). Mongolia has their own thicker, spicier dumplings, but I couldn't find any anywhere, so I ordered shrimp dumplings with chili sauce.

For dessert, I actually made a traditional cheesecake-like dessert called pashka that is rooted in Russian and Polish culture. It's made with dried fruit, cottage cheese, cream cheese and honey. Since I sort of went off script by combining two recipes and not using a regular mold, I wasn't sure it was going to be edible (spoiler: it was and it was delicious!). As a backup, I ordered bao doughnuts as a dessert that is as close as possible to boortsog, dough fried in animal fat. 

The only drinks I could find that were strictly Mongolian were vodka-based and fermented horse milk, neither of which sounded all that appealing, so I decided that tea was a universal beverage. I steeped an Earl Grey, added ice, sugar and crushed blueberries, and we found it really refreshing with our meal.

I found a new favorite music genre while we were eating. I put on Tuvan throat singing, which is also known as khoomei and the Mongolian band The HU came up. Not only do they have awesome music videos, but the music is really upbeat and makes you want to dance. I'm in the process of finding other bands like them that I enjoy. 

We sat and ate and talked about what we thought was the most appealing parts of Mongolia were. We learned some interesting facts about the country and its people. We learned that the capital, Ulaanbaatar, is actually the most polluted capital city in the world, and most of the nomads are younger people under 30. I can see why this would be preferable to living where the air actually makes you sick to breathe. Also, there are more horses than people in Mongolia, so you're more likely to get to hang out with animals if you aren't living in the city, and I'm into that. 

Their takhi horse is the only wild horses still in existence. Thought to be extinct in the 60s, some captive takhis were carefully bred and reintroduced to the wild in the 90s. Though they were kept in captivity, they are the only horses that have never been domesticated. They look different than regular horses and are still on the endangered species list.

Maybe this staycation doesn't seem as exciting as some of my others, because it's not a normal or very desirable destination, but that doesn't make it less interesting and there's a lot you can learn and activities you can do with your family. Here are some of the things I used to bring Mongolia to life in our house:

I like learning about less well-known destinations, because it's like you're discovering something special. Not that places like Paris and Munich aren't special, but they are also popular and hard to have a super unique visit. Places like Mongolia aren't glamorous, but there's a different sort of charm to it and I can't wait to visit for real someday.

What's the weird, but wonderful, travel destination you have on your wish list?

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