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...
Since Kosovo seemed to be full of angry citizens, tense policemen, and tear gas, we decided we would leave early after spending three days mostly in our hotel in Prishtina. Our original plan upon leaving Kosovo was to go to Montenegro, which makes more sense geographically for our itinerary. But it's hard to find a good bus there at the time we want, so we opted to go south into Macedonia today. My BG at 9:00 was 172, still a little high after the 389 last night before bed. Our last breakfast at Hotel Prima was delicious and filling as usual. I'll miss this about Kosovo. We checked out and asked the hotel lady to call a taxi for us — Masayo wanted to breathe as little of the tear-gas-filled air in town as possible. The taxi came and drove us right to the bus station — less than €3 and no BS. We bought tickets to Skopje, Macedonia's capital city (called Shkup in Albanian). The bus left on time. Someone started passing around a clipboard with a paper on it that we all had to write our names and passport numbers on. The scenery of Kosovo was rather uninspiring. It was flat and dull, and every single business on the road side seemed to be either a junkyard full of decaying old vehicles, or a dealership for brand-new construction equipment. "Where is all this construction happening?" Masayo and I wondered. The border was the usual deal — our passports were collected and handed back twice as we left Kosovo and then entered Macedonia. Right away Macedonia was nicer, with less trash everywhere. We arrived, two hours after leaving Prishtina, at the bus station in Skopje (pronounced "scope yeh"). The lady who owns the apartment we'd rented, Irena, met us as she promised. She was really nice, and we all started walking towards the apartment, about a 15-minute walk. One of the first things she said was that the air in Skopje was the worst in this part of Europe. I looked at poor Masayo, who gritted her teeth and bore it. We checked into
My blood sugar was almost perfect for the last few days, and I was hoping that last night's pizza and subsequent too-low-for-comfort would not present any problems. No such luck: I woke up at 6 am this morning and felt high — sure enough, I was 392. Second-highest reading of this entire trip. I took four big Humalog units and went back to sleep. At 9 am I was still 232, and when we sat down for breakfast I figured the 6 am shot might still have some life in it, so I tried to go easy on a new one. The breakfast they had kindly provided us (for a fee, but out of season) was excellent — much bigger than I was expecting. Coffee, juice, all kinds of bread, meat, cheese, jam, honey... too much for us. We ate what we could and then Masayo made sandwiches for lunch. Genius. Oma did some laundry with the Scrubba and hung it around the room. I would like to do laundry too but am waiting until we go to Ljubljana; we are planning on being there several days, unusually, and I want to wash my cotton shirts that take forever to dry. We then headed out to walk around Ptuj some. First we walked to a large shopping mall called Qlandia because Masayo had left her Japan/Europe AC adapter in the wall socket in the last town in Hungary. There was an electronics store there, which had a large and expensive but universal adapter she bought for €10. My BG a little bit later was 71, so I had some chocolate. Glad I had pulled myself back down from the ultra-highness in short time. Crazy quichy pizza. Back in town we walked up the hill to the castle, which has a great lookout over the town and the Drava River. We ate our breakfast sandwiches and some water we bought at a little cafe in the castle, and ate while looking out over the town. We didn't actually go into the castle, preferring to save our money and walk around the town more. We found a bridge that crossed the Drava River for pedestrians and bicycles, and it was really nice. The river looks pure and
After adding a night to the apartment we are renting in Višegrad, Bosnia, Masayo and I had an extra day. The plan was to hang around in the apartment and work online. I wanted to catch up on some work on 70-130.com. My day began a lot like yesterday did: I woke up early because I was low. This time, I was 43 at 6:30. I had a Mars bar and went back to sleep. This time I didn't wake up later high; I was 134 at 9:30. We had a nice breakfast: muesli and yogurt, plus eggs and bacon made by Masayo in our full kitchen. A nice day was shaping up already! Masayo did some laundry while I worked. We had heard from the husband of the couple that owned the apartment, and who lived upstairs, about a meal at 3 pm today, but we were unclear if we were invited, or what it was. So we went out about 1 pm to buy some cheese and crackers to tide us over until then; if we were wrong and there was no meal upstairs for us, we'd have a nice dinner somewhere. Although it was New Year's Day for the Orthodox Church, things seemed to be open. While walking around town I checked, and was 88. Excellent. Around 3:30 in the room, we figured there would be no meal upstairs; I checked again, having had crackers and cheese for a snack, and I was 161. Not too bad. Just then, we heard a knock on the door! It was the husband, saying "it's time!" We got our shoes on, grabbed the chocolate sampler plate we'd bought as a present for them a couple hours earlier, and went upstairs. They let us in and we met the wife for the first time, and we all sat down at their table, just the four of us. The meal began with a shot of plum brandy, from a plain, unlabeled bottle; Masayo, who can not drink much at all, sipped hers. Then came the food: organic broccoli and potato soup, freshly cooked local mountain lamb, bread slices, a Russian egg salad, paprika sauce, and cooked potato and vegetables, and slices of cheese. Also, the husband, who hails from Macedonia, poured us all some Macedonian wine
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...
I was an American guy walking through Chinatown in the capital of Malaysia with my new Japanese friends past Indian street stalls and Arab mosques to eat at my favorite authentic Burmese restaurant. That's what my life had become only a couple days after landing at the airport in Kuala Lumpur. After whetting my long-dormant travel skills with a three-day stop in Taipei, my long Southeast Asian backpacking adventure proper had begun. On my very first night, I opened the window in my small second-floor room at the Winsin Hotel to take in the atmosphere: it was dusk and the city lights were popping to life as the sky faded away; restless drivers beeped their horns at each other; the tropical heat (in January!) rose from the asphalt and blasted me in the face; and I could smell that spicy Southeast Asian cuisine smell that seems to always hang, tantalizingly, in the air in this part of the world. All of that was a superb introduction to my time here (the immigration officer gave my passport Malaysia's customary 90-day tourist stamp, and I intended to use all of those days). But over the next few days, as I really started venturing out into the wondrous ethnic mix of Malaysia's largest city, I realized just what a different world I had entered. After that first night, I'd been bouncing back and forth between two hostels, Backpackers Travellers Inn and Red Dragon, both in the Chinatown section of KL. (Everyone, even the locals, calls Kuala Lumpur "KL".) At Backpackers Travellers Inn I befriended some Japanese travelers that were staying there — I'd just flown here from Osaka after four years of teaching English, so it was pretty natural that I'd fall in with them. We'd get together for lunch or dinner sometimes, or hang out chatting in the lobby. It kind of eased the transition to Malaysia for me. Travel gods watch out for you. The ethnic groups in MalaysiaMalaysia is made up, broadly, of three ethnic groups: Malays, Chinese, and Indians. All of these were readily
The month Masayo and I spent apart, during which I'd planned to spend bouncing all around the cities and towns of Thailand's northeast Isaan region, had been passed entirely in the town of Surin, where life was very cheap and I settled into a comfy little routine. Masayo, who had returned to Osaka for family reasons, was now coming back, and it was time to meet her in Bangkok. Despite having passed through Bangkok without stopping a few weeks ago, this time we decided to stay and see the sites a little more. Debs' placeMasayo's friend Debs, who was teaching English in Bangkok, was nice enough to let us use an extra room in her apartment for a couple days. Debs' digs were top-notch, very new and very clean with all the amenities. The building even had its own giant swimming pool we could use! I was impressed. My English companies never gave me a place like this in Japan. We eventually moved to a guesthouse in Lumphini though, which had free breakfast consisting of coffee, bread and butter. There, Masayo and I met a lone Japanese traveler named Atsushi, who was living as cheaply as possible: each morning he'd eat like 10 slices of toast, presumably skipping lunch. Backpackers are a creative, hardy lot. Teeny local marketOne day we strolled around and ended up on an obscure little back alley; I don't know what pulled us here but it didn't seem particularly inviting or touristy. But when we got to the end, we found it opened onto a dirt field containing a little local market. A few vendors sold food and other things, and we decided to get some noodles and sit down with everyone ourselves. They accepted us, of course, as Thai people always do. They gave you a bowl of noodles, and then you took from the buffet-style bowls of ingredients as you liked: bean sprouts, leafy vegetables, et cetera. It was a great way to spend the afternoon, eating tasty and super-cheap food with a bunch of unassuming locals. Bangkok by river boat and shoe solesOur biggest excursion
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: Zuiko 4-chome subway station (瑞光四丁目駅) BG: 115 mg/dL (6.4 mmol/L) There aren't too many choices for "Z" 'round these parts, although "Z" does exist in transliterated Japanese (the word zen is Japanese, after all). Most of the Z's I found were names of stores, which I tried to avoid. But I finally found what is apparently Osaka's one and only train station that starts with Z: Zuiko 4-chome, on the new Imazato subway line in northeast Osaka. Google Street View showed it to have some interesting orange gates at the street-level entrance, and I thought it would be an interesting photo. My BG was good when I woke up, but after a breakfast of yogurt with blueberries and bran cereal, two small toasted croissants, and coffee (and 6 units of Humalog) I ended up with a BG of 220. I took 4 units to try and get it back down. Before my photographer, The 御マ, and I left, my BG was 115, though I felt a little weak and lightheaded; by the time we got to Zuiko 4-chome and set up a shot with the iPhone tripod, I was 64. I drank some juice and we walked around and set up a different shot. I checked again, and was only 65. Neither of us had much time, so I decided to cheat a little and use the 115 reading from earlier. The still photo worked out fine and the video clip was funny: not only was there a school across the street where a brass band was tuning up, permeating the air with weird, atonal sounds, but just as I said my line, a couple on a bicycle rode behind me, regarding me with a mixture of curiosity and disinterest. And so, 70-130 Osaka is finished! I think it makes for a good collection of photos (and video clips). I'm glad to have gotten 26 instances of in-range BGs at all these various places. Many thanks to The 御マ and to everyone following my Twitter account at @70_130. Looking forward to the next 70-130 project ;)
Location: Kaiyukan aquarium (海遊館) BG: 75 mg/dL (4.2 mmol/L) There is a large and famous aquarium in western Osaka city called "Kaiyukan", and it is an obvious choice for "K" for the 70-130 Osaka blood glucose photo project. It is an embarrassment of riches, the aquarium, with regard to getting an interesting photograph: the place is full of big blue aquamarine tanks with all sorts of interesting sea creatures and fish. It is also dispiritingly difficult — the lighting was such that although I tried several times, it was hard to get a really good-looking photo and video. At each place I tried, I checked my BG anew too, so my fingers were full of holes by the end. It was a rainy day when my official photographer, The 御マ, and I headed out to the aquarium. My BGs were pretty good all day. The first shot was with the tripod, out front, with the building behind me. It was difficult in the rain, and I was too front and center and covering the building design up, but it was good practice. BG was 78, too. One of the best shots was in front of a tank with schools of smaller fish all swimming around behind me; my BG, unfortunately, was 132. After a lunch of Korean bibinba and a beer, we went back into the aquarium and did some more videos, all handheld. My BG was in the 70-130 range for all of them. In the end I chose a video of a BG 75 in front of the penguin tank, with a couple beasts swimming around behind me. The coloring is good in the shot, and the penguins made bubbles behind me. It may actually not be as interesting as some of the other shots, like the one in front of the main tank with many types of fish behind me. But, the iPhone camera is what it is, and any shot looks decent enough I suppose. The photo here is actually a still from the video, at the precise moment some penguins were visible behind me. At that moment, my eyes were half open, but what can you do? Penguins trump handsomeness. Outside the aquarium, the tripod fell and a plastic piece
Location: Genshouji-zaka (源聖寺坂) BG: 85 mg/dL (4.7 mmol/L) Genshouji-zaka was a pretty simple photo to get for 70-130 Osaka — my BG was 189 when I left my house, I took three units of Humalog, and was 85 when I got to the place. In fact, after the photos there, My BG was pretty good the rest of the day, after dinner until bed. It was even good the next morning. Genshouji-zaka, i.e., the slope near Genshou Temple, is in the heart of Osaka near Tennoji but not many people know about it. It's an old part of town, and the there is an old walkway through it, up a hill with steps, made of stone. Good place to get a picture for "G". The lighting was perfect for the iPhone, and I got video and some stills. I tried the shot in two different places: one from a road at the bottom of the slope looking along the Genshouji-zaka path, and one up the path on the steps looking back towards the street (the bottom picture here)