I'm Jeremy, a Type 1 diabetic who loves to backpack around the world — and inspire others to do the same. What are you waiting for?
Going to the places that most trekkers avoid can yield fascinating treasures and experiences that make you want to scream to the world, "HEY! Everyone look at this! Does anyone else know about this?!" That was our aim as Masayo and I decided to spend our next extended backpacking trip in the "other" Europe. To save money and see something unusual, we decided to avoid Western Europe (Germany, France, Italy, etc) and check out Eastern Europe. We gave ourselves three months, worked out the budget, and began saving every penny. In the end, we actually spent over four months in the area, and still didn't get to all the places we'd planned. In the final analysis, our trip took us to: Sweden, Åland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia (again) and Norway. I blogged every single day here, with photos and descriptions of our experiences. I also included a lot...
We woke up at 9:30 on our first morning in Gdańsk, Poland. My BG was 86 — excellent after the big rice meal and cookies I'd loaded up on last night. In fact, I made it through that whole thick meal ordeal without going over 200. I'm getting good at handling rice! We went across the street to our hostel's common room for the buffet breakfast, which turned out to be two types of cereal with milk, plus some bread with cheese and salami. Simple but good enough. And, of course, coffee. There were two or three other people there but nobody was chatty. They did have a guitar there so I enjoyed playing it a little — I haven't played since I left Osaka almost a month ago and my hands were full of chords. Back in the room we each did some laundry with the Scrubba in the shared shower room. We strung up our clothes line across the room (just in front of the door) and hung everything to dry, though the room was cold. Then it was time for our first walk around Gdańsk together. We found a map standing on a street corner that indicated the only tourist info office was back in the train station. That seemed strange but we set out to find it. Unfortunately, we soon came to a roundabout and set off down what turned out to be the wrong direction. Fortunately, though, it led to a great little park, quiet and full of fallen leaves. The problem was that Masayo was very tired and hungry, especially after all the exertions in Warsaw, and was not in the mood to walk. The park was nice, she said, but she wanted to sit and relax. If only I knew the way back into town... I did manage to check my BG however, and it was 182. A good reading for a betic who is walking around, I thought. I did some guessing and got us back to the station area, where we found the tiny tourist info office. I asked the guy there for a map of Gdańsk and he gruffly tossed one on the counter for me. It wasn't a very nice one but it was better than nothing. Then we went to a big bakery/restaurant
Today was the flight home: our European trip over, it's time to go to the United States for Masayo and I to visit my family for a few weeks before returning to Japan, where we live. After about three hours of sleep after seeing the Northern Lights, we woke up at the Grand Hotel in Bodø, Norway at 4:30 am. I didn't bother checking my BG yet. We checked out of the hotel, and they gave us small wrapped sandwiches to take since we would miss the breakfast buffet. Then we went out into the freezing air and walked through the quiet, snow-covered streets in the winter darkness to the airport. We checked in and the flight took off just as the sun was rising. The view over the early-morning snowy mountains that surround Bodø was great, as was the red sun streaming in the plane's windows. The flight was a short one, to Oslo, where I was perturbed to find that the runway was covered in snow and snow was falling hard. Is this safe? The landing was ok for us, and we taxied through the snow. Inside the Oslo airport, there was evidence of a lot of delayed flights: people sitting in chairs looking more grumbly than usual, and lots of red text on the arrival and departure screens. Our flight to Newark, New Jersey seemed to be on time, however. We got on the plane, and after going through the de-icing procedure, we were ready to take off. The pilot assured us that the staff at the airport were "world class" about de-icing. I hoped so. I also checked my BG: 229. Too high, like I hoped the plane would soon be. I shot up and ate the hotel sandwich. A little later I checked again, and was 196. Plane travel often makes me high, so I was glad it wasn't worse than that. I shot up again and enjoyed the "boeuf bourguignon" meal they gave us. How do you guess how many carbs are in an airline meal? You add up what you think it is, then triple it! Not quite, but after flying over Greenland with its vast snow fields and arresting rock features, I was 192 and it was
My first morning in Split, Croatia began with a dream: I was on stage at the 40 Watt in Athens, Georgia, sitting in with R.E.M. on drums. I was playing the cymbals with two butter knives, and the cymbals started to break apart. Bill Berry was there (I don't know why he wasn't playing drums) and assured me he wasn't mad, and was really cool about it. I think they were the 40 Watt's house drums anyway, actually. But then I woke up, happy to have hung out with R.E.M. at least in my dreams. My BG was 83, a great way to start a day in warm, sunny Split. Our breakfast of cereal cookies and coffee went quickly, and Masayo and I headed out to explore the town a little. I felt slightly queasy — not too bad, but probably a result of that bus station cheeseburger I'd had for dinner. Might explain the dream too. The first thing we came across was a large market, with a few stalls selling handbags and watches and stuff, but mostly selling fruit. Masayo bought a bag of fresh figs that were cheap, then we walked to Old Town. The Roman emperor Diocletian built his palace here in Split, which was how the town started. The walls and many of the old buildings still stand, and that's why Split is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was similar to Piran in Slovenia, but bigger and more stately. And more touristy — throngs of people milled around, kids bought animal balloons, and the hundreds of outdoor chairs in front of the waterside cafes were all occupied with sunglasses-wearing sippers. At 1 pm I checked and was 231. Not good. We each got a slice of cheap pizza for lunch and sat on a wall at the water's edge to eat, where I also took my shot. Then we went to an underground part of Diocletian's palace, which is now a largely-empty and still not fully excavated sort of museum. It was really cool; I liked how it was empty and let the visitor imagine life here 1,700 years ago. Afterwards we wanted to check out the outdoor cafes for ourselves, and
It was time for Masayo and I to do something else after working for four years in Osaka. Time to see new things and break out of our routine. The answer of where to go was obvious: Southeast Asia! Southeast Asia is cheap, fun, and safe, and there is just enough infrastructure to make it a reasonable place to go. It is also close to Japan, which helped the decision. Masayo agreed, and she wanted to quit her job at an international center and try online English to Japanese translating anyway. Why not do it while traveling? Beginning with a three-day layover in Taiwan in January 2008, several weeks were spent each in Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam — basically, as long as each place would let one stay on a tourist visa. The trip ended up lasting 338 days, and only ended so we could return to Osaka, spend New Year's with Masayo's family, and plan a long trip through China. Style of travelSince this was a "wide open" trip — it had no ending date or itinerary...
If Thailand is the "Land of Smiles", then its roots must be in the Kingdom of Sukhothai, whose name (อาณาจักรสุโขทัย) means "The Dawn of Happiness". There is a modern town called New Sukhothai in north-central Thailand, and 12 km away lie the ruins of the ancient kingdom which existed in the 13th and 14th centuries. The countless red brick structures, crumbling but undeniably majestic, are scattered across a large area which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Masayo and I arrived in New Sukhothai on Day 211 of our trip from Loei, and stayed a few days. Our bungalow at Garden House in New Sukhothai was excellent. Very cheap, and the little dark wood huts were set on a small path that extended back in the woods, with star fruit trees right outside our door. Accommodation in Thailand is one of the greatest values on the planet. It was on Day 214 that we rode by tuk-tuk to "Old Sukhothai", bought tickets for the UNESCO ruins, and rented bicycles. Masayo and I pedaled around the large rectangular park for hours, jumping off our steeds to scramble over the wall here, dart through this tunnel there, snap photos of flowers and streams, gaze up at giant benevolent Buddha figures, and walk across rickety wooden bridges. Sukhothai is well-preserved as a World Heritage Site, and there is (of course) no car traffic inside the old city walls that make up the perimeter. When we were there, there were only a few other tourists, and biking around the paths at random we often found ourselves completely isolated, just two wanderers under large, healthy-looking green trees and mysterious, towering red-brick monuments to a glorious and fading history. The detail and architecture that is still quite evident on the buildings, which were created in a variety of styles, are very engrossing, even to casual travelers who aren't history buffs. The tickets we bought for 150 baht (about $4) were good for 30 days, and it was tempting to stay
If someone asked you to name one city in the United States, you'd probably say New York. A city in the UK? London. France? You know which one you'd pick. Thailand? Most would say Bangkok. Capital cities generally get much of the attention, by nature. Flights start and end there, that's where the people and the economy are, and often where the buzz and excitement of culture are headquartered. But what about the places outside the capital cities, the places where the vast majority of people live? Aren't they worth a look too? Having seen Bangkok a few times, I knew it to be a capable, sprawling, technologically advanced city where everything is available, vehicle exhaust is thick, faces are anonymous, and noise is unavoidable. On balance, there's a lot to like about Thailand's capital, and you can't say you've seen the country until you've spent some time there. Masayo and I had seen Bangkok, and after passing a month in small and super-friendly Chumphon in the south, we found ourselves on a train bound right for Bangkok. But we weren't planning on staying there; it's just where the trains go. After some difficulty leaving Chumphon — our night train had been canceled, so we trudged back to Kae's Guesthouse and she generously let us have a room for free; then our early-morning train was delayed and we returned again for a couple more hours sleep, finally being allowed to board a train on our third attempt — we watched the green, dusty Thai countryside roll by all afternoon. (Our tickets were third-class, meaning there were open windows instead of air conditioning, tired, sweaty-looking locals, people selling interesting and suspect things from trays, and the rest of it. Train travel in Thailand is always great fun!) Hello BangkokWe arrived in Bangkok and headed immediately for the ticket counter; a train one hour north to the nearby town of Ayutthaya was leaving soon. We bought more third-class tickets, and waited at a cafe in the station until our
It's the very first day of a long trip. After weeks of planning and increasingly delirious excitement, I've finally reached the first destination of my great Southeast Asia backpacking trip: Taipei, Taiwan. I'm all alone in this big, new city, I don't speak or read the language, and it's dark on a Saturday evening. Although I've traveled many times before, I am still struck by the mild shock of actually doing this — it feels like I'm on a tightrope, without a net. Actually, I have a small net: I've already reserved a room for tonight online, at the Taiwan Hostel Happy Family. Besides the train from the airport into town, this would be my real first dive into the trip. A room in a hostel, how much more backpack-y can you get! I checked in and was shown to my room — it was a private room, but with a community toilet and shower. Tonight was the first night I've been outside of my own apartment in Osaka in a long, long time. And I wasn't going back any time soon. My room here in the hostel was small but cozy enough — functional, at least — with bright red walls and a jumble of wooden furniture. There were bunk beds; I opted for the top. There were no other people in this part of the hostel and I seemed to have the entire building to myself. The shower stall incidentThat evening, something happened. There was a moment as I took my first Taiwanese shower that I was truly hit with the reality of what I was doing with my life for the next several months: a little realization of what I'd begun. And it may seem like a small thing, but it wasn't. The shower facilities at this hostel were a row of four stalls in the hallway, made of cheap white plastic. I got in the last one; I had with me a Ziploc bag with toothbrush, toothpaste, and soap, plus a towel. After taking my clothes off I saw that there were no shelves or handy surfaces — nowhere to put my supplies or my towel and clothes while I bathed. And that was it: the moment I was struck with
As a Type 1 diabetic, I think having good blood sugar is very important and makes one feel much better day to day, not to mention the importance of avoiding unnecessary complications. And I like the place I'm living in: Osaka, Japan. So I made a list of places within Osaka Prefecture from A to Z — one place for each letter. I will go to each location and take a picture of myself, holding my BG machine with a reading on it. Rules of "Osaka A to Z"- The BG reading has to be between 70 and 130 mg/dL. - The BG reading should be current, taken at the spot. What's the point?- To have fun and go to places I wouldn't have gone otherwise. - To remind and inspire other Type 1 diabetics — maintaining good blood glucose is important and makes you feel much better. The photos will all be taken with my iPhone 4. I'm not a camera person, and the quality seems to be good enough, and the phone is very convenient. I have a tripod that I can mount the iPhone on for (hopefully) better photos. The...
Location: Lion Bridge (ライオン橋) BG: 80 mg/dL (4.4 mmol/L) The Naniwa Bridge (難波橋) crosses the Okawa ("Big River") in Kitahama, central Osaka, leading to the south edge of the small river island of Nakanoshima (where I already got photos of the Bara-en Rose Garden and the Chuo Kokaido Hall for "B" and "C"). Because there are four large lion statues, two at each end, locals tend to call it "Lion Bridge" (Lion Bashi). It is somewhat difficult to find a good "L" place for the 70-130 Osaka project, because transliterating Japanese into the English never yields an "L". Even "Lion Bridge" itself would be transliterated back into English as raion-bashi, technically making it an "R". But hey — this is my project, so I get to use my own rules. Plus, it's a cool-looking bridge. In the afternoon this day, I biked about 10 miles around town for fun. In the evening, I had an English class and decided to walk to the Lion Bridge, since my BG was 142 after class. The walk was about 2 miles, and by the time I got there I was 80. Poifect. I had brought my tripod, and set it up to get a video and a photo. Some people were walking around, and I was self-conscious, which you can see in the photo (and the video) — unsmiling and ashen-faced in the yellow street lights. It makes me laugh every time I see it now, trying to look so composed and cool and not quite mustering it. Also, the lion is in focus but the OneTouch isn't. What can I do? All 80s are not created equal, and this one felt like an 80 that was a little too low, so after getting the photo I packed up and drank some juice. My BG was good the rest of the evening and the next morning
Location: Rakugo Theater, Tenma-Tenjin Hanjoutei (天満天神繁昌亭) BG: 94 mg/dL (5.2 mmol/L) For "R", I chose a rakugo theater in central Osaka for the 70-130 project. The name of the theater is actually Tenma-Tenjin Hanjoutei, but I have another idea for "T" so, "R"akugo theater it is. My project, my rules — my cheating is ok. I had to go here twice to get this photo — the first time I was just too high and Humalog wasn't bringing me down. I'd taken four units of insulin, and gone by bicycle to the theater. I set up my shot but when I checked, my BG was 233. Not a totally wasted trip though: I saw a t-shirt worn by an overweight older lady that said, in English, "Slaughter is a tranquilizer with no side effects." Right on, sister. But I had to come back another day. So the next day I tried again. Unfortunately, I'd had two chocolate muffins for breakfast, and despite what I thought was an adequate shot, my BG was over 300 afterwards. I took 7 units of Humalog and hoped for the best; before leaving by bicycle I was 141 so things seemed to be getting better. When I got to the theater, I was 94. Alone, I used the tripod and set up a couple shots. The first was in a comical board where you put your head through to take tourist photos. I tried that but it didn't really work out. A conventional shot in front of the building, despite the sun shining into my face, worked better. People walking by were looking with curiosity at me, and I had to do the shot over a couple times because the machine readout was invisible and/or my framing was poor. Eventually I got a decent shot, with the machine visible (though maybe too bright in the sun). During the video part, two women were walking behind me, staring at me (one wearing a kimono, the other giggling). How Japanese. Nice to have some old-school Japanese culture in 70-130 Osaka after the newer Japanese "culture" of the shopping mall for "Q"
Location: Osaka Castle (大阪城) BG: 105 mg/dL (5.8 mmol/L) There are many, many choices for "O" for my A to Z project, but my first choice is Osaka Castle. I've always liked the castle — it's big and distinctive, it symbolizes the city, and it's built up on a high hill in the middle of the city. At night, Osaka Castle is lit up and it glows bright white. This might make a good photo but might have threatened to overwhelm my iPhone camera. But I had to try, to off I went on a Saturday night. Unfortunately, they were having a big event that night near the castle, a motorcycle jumping show or something, and it was just ending so streams of people were coming out around all sides of the castle and its surrounding park. I couldn't get through them by bicycle. I rode all the way around the castle park to the other side, and made it through the thinner crowds there to the castle. A few stragglers from the motorcycle show were visiting the castle proper, but it wasn't a crowd. Just enough people to make me self-conscious! I set up the shot with the tripod, using the light on my iPhone to illuminate my face, and did the video a couple times, then took some stills. The castle looked pretty good, if a little too overexposed and white, and my face was a little strange (being lit from underneath) but my nervousness about talking to myself, and the people walking by looking at me, made me laugh. The picture turned out ok. The video was ok too, and the best part is that my eyes were glowing red like a devil. Just dramatic enough for "O"saka Castle, and the continuation of 70-130 Osaka