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...
It was our first full day in the mountain town of Višegrad in the Srpska region of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we were anxious to see the big old Ottoman bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also turned out to be New Year's Day in the Serbian Orthodox Church, thirteen days after December 31. I woke up at 5 am to begin the day, with a BG of 57. I had a package of Twix and went back to sleep (eventually). At 9 am I woke up for real, and got a rude surprise: I was now 202. How did a Twix do that? It was only 30g of carbs, my usual low snack lately. I could see maybe 150, but not 202. I don't mind bad BGs, it's the unexplained ones that get to me. Anyway Masayo and I had coffee for breakfast, and some of the sweets that the apartment owners had left out for us last night for our arrival. We also turned on the TV, quite a rarity for us; any video we watch is always online. But we found a channel called EuroNews, and watched news about Charlie Hebdo and its first issue after the shooting in Paris. After a while we went out to walk around Višegrad, which is easy because it's a very small town. We went up a hill to the Orthodox Church, which is next to the Serbian Military Cemetery. We looked around at the gravestones, all for people who died in 1992-5 during the war. Many of them had engraved photos of the people — some in casual sweatpants and tennis shoes, some in military gear holding guns. There was still snow everywhere, and the quietness of the location up on the hillside, the only noise being some kids sledding down a hill next to it, made it very striking. We walked down the hill and found a tourist info office, a small little hut at the back of the bus parking lot. We got a nice Republic of Srpska map (I've been collecting maps of every area we go to and have an incredible array already), and got some info about buses out of town into Serbia, our next destination. Then we planned on the big site: the UNESCO-inscribed Mehmed Paša Sokolović
Today Masayo and I did our laundry, and walked along the top of the Old Town walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia. My BGs in the evening were almost exactly what they were in the morning but in reverse order. It began late, at 10:30 am, and my BG was 208. A tad high. For breakfast Masayo cooked some eggs and sausage, and we had pastries I bought yesterday. After breakfast we walked to the tourist office near Pile Gate to see about transport to the airport tomorrow; our flight to London (on the way to Trondheim, Norway ultimately) leaves in the afternoon, and a bus could take us from Old Town's cable car station around 10:30 am. Perfect. We then took our laundry to Sanja and Rosie's Launderette, a popular spot near Ploce Gate with several new, working washing machines and dryers. The walls are covered with colored sticky notes that customers leave drawing and messages of thanks on. We put our clothes into a single machine and added coins to turn it on. We had about 45 minutes to wait, which wasn't enough time to walk along the wall tops. So we went to scope out the cable car station so we wouldn't get lost tomorrow morning on the way to the airport with our big bags. It's up some steep stairs but is not too far from our room. Great! I checked and was 161. Good, for just before some mild exercise. We stopped by the room so I could drop off my blue jacket — it was too warm today. We went back to the launderette to move our clothes to a dryer, and then went to the Old Town walls. We paid our admission — 100 kuna, about $13 each — and walked up the stairs to begin the walk. The views are very nice, often taking in the entire town with the sea and/or islands behind it. Stairs go up and down, and there are round lookouts and narrow walkways here and there. It's very angular and irregular, but a fun hike. Almost nobody else was there, besides another couple and, later, a tour group. Down in town, a stage had been set up (it's been there
My blood sugar was a low 64 when I woke up in the Rīga, Lithuania hostel today. Fair enough — I'd been high late last night and had taken some corrective Humalog. Four units, if I recall correctly. One too many I guess. We had some breakfast at the hostel for the second day in a row — I just had cereal, no bread and meat this time. Trying to keep it simple. My BGs have been so high for several days that I am willing to try new things to fix it. I felt we hadn't really seen Rīga properly; what we had seen was nice but there was so much more. But we had to press on: budget and time dictate the trip, not pure desire. So, this morning (last minute!) we decided to go down to Daugavpils, a large town in the Latgale section of Latvia that is said to be Latvia's most Russian town. More Russian than Latvian is spoken there. We checked out of the hostel (i.e., gave our key to the girl) and walked to the main station, not too far from the hostel. We were a little early, so we strolled around the big market behind the station. It was cool, with themed sections — fruit, shoes, hats, bags — and I looked at some small daypacks because the straps on my fake North Face bag we bought in Vietnam are stretched to their breaking points. Plus I don't really like it in general. But the bags I saw at the market were too big and not quite what I need. I'll keep looking. Our tickets for the bus, which I bought online, said we needed paper printouts (which we didn't have) and that we had to show our IDs to the driver. None of this was true; we just showed the tickets PDF on a phone screen and he waved us on. And soon we were off — to Daugavpils! Dogpawville, as it sounded to me, is about four hours from Rīga by bus, which follows the Daugava River all the way (it's often visible from the road). For the first half of the journey, there was a big guy in the seat behind me, with a woman. I realized after about 20 minutes that he was just mumbling/babbling
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...
There was a tense and grave atmosphere at Backpackers Travellers Inn, my hostel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when my new traveler friends and I returned from dinner. A new traveler had checked in, and she was acting highly agitated. Since my friends were Japanese, and I'd been living in Japan, and the woman only spoke Japanese, the guy working the hostel desk asked us to go up to her room and check on her. It turns out that the woman, traveling alone until her husband joined her in a few days, had been scammed out of some money by a guy she met on the sidewalk, on the very day she arrived in Kuala Lumpur. One Japanese woman and I went up to her room. Shame-faced, she told us the story from earlier that afternoon. How the scam went downWalking along the street between Chinatown and Little India, the woman was approached by a local guy who spoke Japanese. He said his friend was visiting Japan and would love to meet her; she agreed to get in the guy's car and go to his house. Already I was dumbfounded: who gets into a stranger's car in a strange new city?! I know Japan is very safe and people there can have an overdeveloped sense of trust, but getting into a stranger's car would be bizarre even in Japan; things do happen. It gets worse though. At the guy's house was another guy and a woman; the supposed Japan-visiting friend would be coming later. After some small talk someone suggested they play a card game. Betting money on the games, the Japanese tourist was winning at first, but soon started losing. She had handed over quite a lot of cash, but still owed them hundreds of dollars. She and the gang all went to an ATM together so she could get the rest of "their" money, and finally (finally!) at this point she started to get suspicious. Feigning trouble with her card, she told them where she was staying and said they could come by later for the remainder of their winnings. They left and she came to the hostel. By now it was 11:00 pm and the people hadn't come
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
When you lose your way or really need help badly, you'll often encounter a kind of real magic when traveling: the kindness of strangers who are eager to help. After almost a month in the capital Kuala Lumpur, Masayo and I decided it was time to see more of Malaysia and had got bus tickets to the nearby town of Kuala Selangor. But we missed the stop — you're supposed to tell the driver when you want to get off, but we didn't know that, and as far as we could tell just shot by the town. The friendly driverAfter a few miles, during which Masayo and I tried to figure out if we had indeed done so, I asked the driver "Kuala Selangor?" and he pulled over to the side of the road, stepping off the bus with us. We tried to communicate with him, though he spoke no English: from what we could understand, we had missed the town; he couldn't turn around; but there was a bus station up ahead we could try. Then he actually started walking down the road with us — his other passengers still sitting in the idling bus! Eventually he passed us off to an older woman with a headscarf who had also gotten off the bus; she said she'd show us the way. We thanked the driver and he returned to his vehicle and pulled away. The friendly ladyThe woman spoke a little English, enough to invite us to stay at her place if necessary. But as we neared a busier-looking area, a middle-aged guy in a white car pulled up. He and the woman spoke a couple minutes, and then it was decided that he would drive us back to Kuala Selangor. Masayo and I and our bags got in. We smiled and thanked the older lady, who walked off down the sidewalk. The friendly boxer (well, sorta)His name was Muhammad Ali — he was a government worker and had just finished work, showing us the ID badge he was still wearing. (I wondered if he was showing it to us to assuage fears we might have, or if he was confirming he really did share the name of a famous boxer.) He said he had seen us gesticulating with the bus
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: 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
Location: Palace of Naniwa site (浪速宮) BG: 76 mg/dL (4.2 mmol/L) There are a few choices around Osaka Prefecture for "P" for the 70-130 BG project but I really like the ruins of the Palace of Naniwa — it's properly called "Naniwa Palace" (Naniwa-miya) but I already liked my choice for "N" (the 1,000-year-old tree called Noma no Okeyaki) so I fudged the name a little to shoehorn it in. I knew of this place, which is just south of Osaka Castle, but I saw that the Google Street View van had been there in what looked like early morning, and the slanting sun was really nice. So I decided to go as early as I could to get the misty early morning feel of it. This required some luck with BG and the initiative to wake up very early when I didn't actually have to. So, on this day I happened to wake up at 5:30 am — quite low at 52. I had some Calorie Mate and juice, and realized this would be a good chance to get my photo and video for "P". Checking my BG again around 6am, I was 76 and decided I would head to the site and use that reading. (I was running low on strips so I didn't want to use another one at the site; I figured using a reading from a few minutes prior wasn't too bad of a fake.) I went to the site, and was surprised that even at that early hour the sun was pretty high in the sky already, and it was very warm. But I tried the video and photos, alone with my tripod, at three locations with my sleepy, squinting but triumphant face and my reasonably visible OneTouch UltraMini machine. I ended up choosing the first one for the main photo above; on the video, a guy walking a large dog across the palace site passed behind me. How videogenic. I got back home, planning to sleep and then wake up at a normal human hour, but ended up just having coffee and watching a Norm MacDonald podcast instead. After that I was tired and slept until about 11:00 am. Good day, and good entry for "P"
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