Big & Small’s 2018 Year in Review

Italy, the Middle East, SE Asia, USA and the Balkans

Taking in one of Italy’s most glamorous views in Positano.

Big & Small did slightly less traveling in 2018. Still, we managed to do a complete trip around the globe—starting in Italy, we headed east, only to end up back in Italy for the close of the year. We slept in a total of 41 beds, and visited 8 new countries. Through it all, we made use of planes, trains, automobiles, trams, buses, tuk-tuks, scooters, and our own two feet to get across vast oceans and mountain ranges, charming old towns and coastal villages, and sprawling metropolises.

Here are our top 12 highlights—and all of our YouTube videos!—from Italy to the Balkans, the Middle East to SE Asia, and the USA to a few hidden treasures in between. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for regular updates on our adventures!

1. Puglia, Italy

Big & Small skipped the car and decided to rent scooters to explore the charming towns of Puglia, Italy, including the magical home of the fairytale-like trulli—Alberobello! Other towns we visited include: Ostuni, Cisternino, Locorotondo, Martina Franca, Carovigno, Costa Merlata, Torre Canne, San Vito dei Normanni, Monopoli, and Polignano a Mare. We had a few scooter problems along the way, but enjoyed the beauty of the countryside and the stunning coastline of one of Italy’s most underrated regions. Follow our journey!

2. Valbona to Theth Hike, Albania

We made it to the top of Albania!

After a quick change in travel plans, we decided to head into Albania from Montenegro. We had heard about the Valbona to Theth hike, a roughly 10-km trek that takes you between two tiny villages nestled deep in the heart of the Albanian Alps. This is the first time Big & Small hiked with everything on our backs, navigating rocky terrain as we made our way to the peak from Valbona before walking through dense forest on the knee-buckling descent to Theth. We managed to do this hike at the tail-end of the season in October, which meant we were rewarded with spectacular fall colors—swaths of bright reds and oranges blanketing the rugged mountain edges. We relished the fresh air, local food, and lack of WiFi. Just getting to this area of Albania is a journey in itself (including a ferry and some harrowing bus rides). But that means it remains rather unspoiled, and we sure hope it stays that way. We’ll have a video of our adventures in Albania up soon, so stay tuned!

3. Sarajevo, Bosnia

Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a city where wars began and olympics were held. You’ll see stunning landscapes, sweeping mountains, and remnants of tragedy. Here are 10 things to do in Sarajevo, including taking the new cable car up Trebevic Mountain, walking along the abandoned Olympic bobsled track, trying local food and coffee, and learning about the city’s most harrowing moments under siege.

4. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai was Big & Small’s introduction to the Middle East, and it did not disappoint. We spent a whirlwind two days in this luxe desert city, hopping between glamorous malls, a 7-star hotel, faux beaches, and the tallest building in the world. But the best part was getting a taste of the much more modest Old Dubai.

5. The Amalfi Coast, Italy

Discover southern Italy’s Campania region and the jaw-dropping Amalfi Coast! This is the land of colorful, cliffside villages; narrow, nail-biting roads; stunning hidden beaches; and pure luxury living. But this doesn’t mean budget travelers can’t experience all the fun and fabulousness. Here are our tips on doing the Amalfi Coast on a budget.

6. Galle, Sri Lanka

A visit to this pearl of the Indian Ocean was an unexpected surprise. The island of Sri Lanka is a must-see, thanks to the kind and generous people, fresh and vibrant foods, beautiful beaches, calm waters, and the chance to meet sea turtles and a monkey in stylish pants! Our journey to the southern coast town of Galle began with a rickety but scenic train ride and took us to hidden beaches, a sea turtle hatchery, and the locals’ best breakfast spot.

7. Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia, is a mix of grit, decay, hipness, and luxury, and its dynamic energy is like no other European capital we’ve explored. Once the heart of the former Yugoslavia, the Balkans’ grandest city has a fascinating history—plenty of it dark—which can be found in everything from its scenic fortress overlooking the Sava and Danube Rivers to the shocking ruins of the NATO bombings of 1999. But Belgrade is just as much a bustling metropolis for the young at heart, with its great restaurants, sleek cafes, renowned nightclubs, newly renovated waterfront, and one of the coolest museums devoted to Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla.

8. Sofia & Seven Rila Lakes, Bulgaria

Looking out over Bulgaria’s pristine Seven Rila Lakes.

The capital city of Bulgaria has a fascinating history interwoven with its diverse mix of influence from the Romans, Ottomans, and Greeks. Throughout the city center, you’ll walk through old Roman ruins; catch a full view of a mosque, Catholic cathedral, orthodox church, and synagogue all at once (the Square of Tolerance); and pass by dilapidated, Communist-era buildings sitting alongside hip new cafes and restaurants. In Sofia, we visited the Museum of Socialist Art, took a free food tour, drank some “miracle” mineral waters, and explored the nearby Vitosha Mountain. But our most memorable moment in Bulgaria was hiking the Seven Rila Lakes trail (part of the highest mountain range in the Balkans), one of the most breathtaking and rewarding hikes we’ve ever done. Stay tuned for a video on that hike, coming soon!

9. Liguria, Italy

If you’ve already battled the crowds of Cinque Terre and are looking for a more tranquil side to the seaside region of Liguria, Italy, we’ve got your itinerary. Big & Small based ourselves in the larger town of La Spezia, and traveled by bus and train to six other nearby coastal villages that rival the five towns of Cinque Terre for their spectacular views, colorful houses, and fresh seafood. Join us as we walk through Porto Venere, Lerici, San Terenzo, Levanto, Bonassola, and Framura. This is our “alternative” Cinque Terre—or more like our “Sei Terre” (Six Lands)!

10. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Big & Small spent a month in Malaysia’s gleaming, bustling capital of Kuala Lumpur. Our intention here was not only to take in the city’s spicy food and melting-pot culture, but to be true “digital nomads,” i.e. save money and focus on our online work. But we found plenty of time to sit by the pool and explore the city as well. We visited the Petronas Towers and the national mosque, checked out traditional Malay dance, dodged monkeys at the Batu Caves, and caught plenty of whiffs of the world’s stinkiest fruit.

11. Montenegro

Montenegro boasts fewer than 700,000 residents, but welcomes more than 1 million tourists every year. This is because this small Balkan country has quite a lot to offer, from its rugged mountains to its narrow strip of beaches along the Adriatic coastline. Big & Small traveled through the country via bus and train. We walked the boardwalk of Bar, meandered our way through the old towns of Kotor and Budva, enjoyed fresh seafood and pomegranate juice, and visited the largest lake in the Balkans. But we also had a few disappointments along the way…

12. San Francisco, California, USA

This was our home base for several years, so we enjoyed being reintroduced to San Francisco’s many charms (even with its growing ills, too). The City by the Bay is now infamous for its outrageous prices, but it’s still a place full of things to see and do that require nothing but your curiosity.

Top 7 Digital Nomad Cafes in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Big & Small spent a month in Malaysia’s gleaming, bustling capital of Kuala Lumpur. Our intention here was not only to take in the city’s spicy food and melting-pot culture, but to be true “digital nomads,” i.e. save money and focus on our online work.

Before arriving, we’d heard a lot of bad reviews about internet in Malaysia.

Continue reading “Top 7 Digital Nomad Cafes in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia”

A Journey Through Vietnam’s True Food Capital: Hue

Big & Small are excited to introduce Jazlyn Trent, a dear friend and our first guest writer! Below she gives her mouthwatering account of the food of Hue, an historical city that she believes is Vietnam’s True Food Capital. See more from Vietnam on our YouTube.

There is something almost therapeutic about eating hot noodle soup in 100-degree (F) weather at 90% humidity. Maybe it’s because as soon as that steaming bowl is placed in front of you, all vanity vanishes as your senses immediately take over. Your nose starts running like mad; beads of salty sweat drip out from every crevice, matting your hair and soaking your shirt. But none of this matters when that soup hits the tongue. If you’ve never experienced this sort of indulgence, you’ve probably never been to Vietnam, and definitely not to the city of Hue.

Continue reading “A Journey Through Vietnam’s True Food Capital: Hue”

7 Travel Tips for Hoi An, Vietnam

Watch our video above for more detailed and colorful explanations of everything to know before visiting Hoi An, Vietnam.

The historic town of Hoi An may just be the most charming city in Asia. Located in central Vietnam, just south of the country’s third largest city Danang, Hoi An is a growing tourist destination. The Ancient Town is a UNESCO Heritage Site and it’s a stunning place in which various cultures collide—see lasting remnants of the strong Chinese history and influence, the Japanese Bridge and merchant houses, and French colonial architecture. And don’t forget the incredible Vietnamese cuisine. It’s a wonderful destination to eat, relax, and soak up traditional Vietnamese culture. If you’re planning to visit, here are 7 quick tips to enjoy Hoi An to the fullest.

Continue reading “7 Travel Tips for Hoi An, Vietnam”

Updates: Videos, Vietnam, and Photos!

We are going through a lot of photos and videos now. So, take a look at some of our Vietnam pictures from Hoi An in Central Vietnam. Also, we have included a few videos from Asia, Europe and the USA. Enjoy!

Watch some Big and Small Videos below and subscribe:

Made in Taiwan: Big & Small Travel in Taipei

Big & Small Travel visited Taipei, Taiwan earlier this year. Check out our video showcasing the highlights of our time in this overlooked part of Asia:

And here are a few more photos from our trip, where we explored the Taipei 101, Wulai Waterfall, Four Beast Mountain Hike, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Park, Taipei Confucius Temple, and more!

 

VIDEO: Big & Small Explore Hong Kong

The never-ending skyline is the first thing you’ll notice when landing in Hong Kong (along with a heavy layer of smog!). But in between the skyscrapers are a ton of attractions to see in this great metropolis, including Victoria Peak (the highest point on Hong Kong Island), the lively Tsim Sha Tsui and Temple Street Night Market, the historical Man Mo Temple, and the longest escalator in the world. Here’s a recap of our brief stop in Hong Kong.

Big and Small in Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong.
Big and Small in Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong.

Now, watch the video showing all the Hong Kong attractions:

Video Update: Beppu and Wakayama, Japan

After the hectic pace of Tokyo, Big and Small made our way down to the southern island of Kyushu to enjoy the relaxing onsen life in the hot spring town of Beppu. Here’s a quick recap of our time exploring the hells and hot springs:

From Beppu, we headed back north to the island of Honshu to take in the quiet and stunning coastline of Gobo and Shirasaki in Wakayama Prefecture. We spent over two weeks in the area, running, biking, walking along the untamed black sand beach, touring Gobo’s Dodo-ji Temple, and getting our fill of an excellent Italian-style ramen at Ramen Birdman. Here’s a short video of our adventures in Wakayama:

16 Things You Must Do on Any Trip to Tokyo

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Within our first few hours in Tokyo, Big hit his head on the doorway to our tiny pod apartment. Small later felt a little rumbling in the bed—just a minor earthquake off the coast. Yep, we’re officially in Japan. Though jetlagged for most of our week in Tokyo, we eventually got a hang of exploring this huge, wonderfully quirky metropolis—and wanted to share our discoveries. Sure, you can see the sumo wrestlers, walk across Shibuya Crossing (one of the busiest intersections in the world), or catch a Kabuki show, but we think these 16 things—both obvious and obscure—are essential to any trip to Tokyo.

1. Gawk at the Lights
This is nearly impossible not to do. Step off the train in major commercial centers like Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Akihabara and you’ll be immediately slapped in the face with bright, flashing lights and video-game-like bleeps, bloops, and jingles luring you in all directions. It’s a feast for eyes and ears, meaning too much of it may cause dizziness and nausea.

The Lights of Akihabara
The Lights of Akihabara

2. Shop, Then Eat Your Way Through a Department Store Food Hall
Aside from gawking at the lights, it’s nearly impossible not to shop in Tokyo. In fact, there’s almost always a mall or department store attached to the train station, meaning you never even need to step outside to freshen up your wardrobe. Go to Ginza for the luxury brands; Harajuku for wild fashions and vintage gear; and the heart of Shinjuku for shops of all stripes, colors, and price ranges. After a good quality splurge, head to the basement food hall of a department store and discover some of the most delicious and diverse delicacies in the city.

3. Order Ramen from a Vending Machine, Slurp, Enjoy
Waiters are pretty passé in Tokyo, so be prepared to order much of your food from a vending machine. You’ll likely need to rely on pictures (and often plastic displays of the food) to get a vague idea of what you’re ordering. For ramen, we were directed to the popular chain Ichiran, known for its pork bone broth tonkotsu. And since this is the only soup they offer, the vending machine process wasn’t nearly as intimidating. After receiving your ramen, get right into that bowl and slurp up. It ain’t pretty, but it’s the most effective (and respected) way to enjoy the rich noodle soup.

Enjoying Ramen at Ichiran
Enjoying Ramen at Ichiran

Classic Ramen in Tokyo
Classic Ramen in Tokyo

4. Push Your Way onto a Train During Rush Hour
You haven’t lived and breathed Tokyo until you’ve stuffed yourself onto a train at the same time all 13.6 million residents are heading home for dinner. When you think they couldn’t possible squeeze one more limb in, there’s inevitably the guy who will sneak in at the last minute to make sure every inch of breathing room is obliterated. With so many bodies holding you up, this situation makes falling asleep while standing possible (a sight you will likely witness).

5. Purify Yourself at a Temple
When in Tokyo, you’ll inevitably end up at a temple or shrine. Here, Big explains the purifying process before entering a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine.

6. Explore Ueno Park and the Tokyo National Museum
Any concrete-lined urban center requires a nice, big green space to ensure its citizens remain somewhat sane. This is Ueno Park in Tokyo. Walk the trails, check out the cherry blossoms (when in season), see the pagoda of Ken’ei-ji, and visit the Tokyo National Museum (if you’re going to go to one museum in Japan, this one’s it).

7. Take a Day Trip to the Seaside Town of Kamakura and Visit the Great Buddha

Just a one-hour train ride south of Tokyo, Kamakura provides a great little respite from the big city. Once the political center of Japan, it’s chockfull of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, along with cute boutiques, hip cafes, and farm-to-table restaurants. But you can’t come here without trekking out to see the Great Buddha, one of the largest bronze Buddha statues in Japan. Pay just 20 yen (about $0.18) to go inside the statue as well.

The Great Buddha of Kamakura
The Great Buddha of Kamakura

Surf's Up in Kamakura
Surf’s Up in Kamakura

8. Fill Up on Matcha and Mochi
I have a problem with wanting to press my finger down on all of the packaged Japanese sweets and treats we come across, because many of them are made from mochi (a sort of chewy rice cake), making them all delightfully squishy. I sampled a few of these treats to varying satisfaction, though I’ve grown fond of the taste of matcha with and without my mochi. Matcha is everywhere, and is typically free when you sit down at even the cheapest sushi spot (see #9). Bonus: matcha powdered green tea is loaded with vital nutrients and antioxidants, helping to balance out any sugar indulgence.

Matcha and a Sweet Made of Sugar, Agar, and Yuzu
Matcha and a Sweet Made of Sugar, Agar, and Yuzu

9. Pick Your Sushi from a Conveyor Belt
Forget the fancy sushi joints that have you dropping some serious cash. For a quick, easy, satisfying meal of sushi, head to the nearest conveyor belt sushi joint, where you can grab whatever looks good as it passes by your eyes. Plates are as cheap as 100 yen a pop and then added up for your final bill. You can also make special orders, too. It helps if you make friends with a local so they can order for you!

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Sushi on the Cheap

10. Take Pictures with at Least One Cute Character
The Japanese turn everything—I mean everything—into a “kawaii” (i.e. cute) character. The front of a bus. A cup for water. A pill container. A no-smoking-and-walking sign on the sidewalk. Everything comes to life by adding a smiley face and some limbs. And, if you’re lucky, you may just run into a real-life character! These guys were representing the JR trains and we couldn’t resist a photo with them.

11. Brush Up on Your Nintendo Skills
Yes, you can relive childhood with a killer game of Super Mario Bros. in various vintage game stores throughout Akihabara, aka video-game-geek heaven.

Retro Video Gaming in Akihabara, Tokyo
Retro Video Gaming in Akihabara, Tokyo

12. Indulge in Handcrafted Bean-to-Bar Chocolate
As a chocolate fan I had to stop by my favorite San Francisco-based shop Dandelion Chocolate, who recently opened a Tokyo outlet. They offer the same two-ingredient, single-origin bars (the fruity Madagascar is my favorite), along with a few 85% variations that are exclusive to the Tokyo shop. There’s also Minimal, which is the best bean-to-bar chocolate in Japan according to the barista at Fab Cafe, as well as Green Bean to Bar Chocolate, which, along with their elegantly wrapped bars and bonbons, serves up decadent desserts like bean-to-bar pudding and a house hot chocolate.

13. Stock Up at Lawson’s 100
You’ll get to love your local Lawson’s Station, but when you find a 100 version of the convenience store, prepare to stock up. This is basically Japan’s interpretation of a $1 store, and you can get everything from fruit and veggies to batteries to a newly pressed shirt, even when you’re on a tight budget.

14. Scarf Down a Wagyu Beef Burger
Some have claimed Blacows, a burger joint in Ebisu, may be the world’s best burger. We wouldn’t totally agree with that, however the wagyu beef patty was a nice change of pace from ramen and rice.

Wagyu Burger at Blacow's
Wagyu Burger at Blacow’s

15. Put on a Face Pack
We’re not totally sure what exactly is on these face packs (apparently some sort of skin moisturizer that feels especially slimy), but trying them on is a guaranteed good time. We got to try these on for free at the Design Face Pack shop in the Tokyo Plaza Building in Harajuku. (Note: We somehow got serious for this photo even though we were laughing hysterically just seconds before.)

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16. Get Lost!
While I love playing navigator, I did have some trouble figuring out the streets of Tokyo. Street names can be tough when you don’t know Japanese, or are just nonexistent all together, especially in the small back streets and alleys that make some parts of the city feel like a bustling village. But it’s always comforting to know that you’re never too far from a train station to orient you back to where you need to go. Just follow the yellow brick road.

Videos from Tokyo and Kamakura, Japan

Big & Small Travel are in Japan! Here’s what you’ll see in our first few videos shot in Tokyo and the nearby coastal town of Kamakura:

  1. Big purifies his hands and mouth at Kaneiji Temple in Ueno Park in Tokyo.
  2. Small samples matcha treats at Senso-Ji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo.
  3. Spectacular images of the Great Buddha in Kamakura, a breathtaking bronze statue that’s even survived an earthquake and tsunami!
  4. The madness and glitz of Shinjuku and Shibuya in the heart of Tokyo.
  5. Some of the silliness and cuteness that we love about Tokyo.

Check out our videos so far: This first one has us sampling squishy treats, visiting historical temples, and meeting the Great Buddha of Kamakura. The second video is the busiest pedestrian crossing in Tokyo! Catch more updates at Big & Small Instagram and Big & Small Twitter.