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!

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The Beauty of San Francisco

Big and Small just want to share some photos of various attractions and fun in San Francisco. Click on each individual photo for more info. Please comment and enjoy our photos!

 

PhotoPhiles Volume IV: The Crete Edition

Words by: Stephanie Benson  |  Photos by: JCrew and HandstandSteph

PhotoPhiles is a recurring feature spotlighting some of our favorite photos taken on and off the road. In this fourth edition, we welcome you to the mystical Greek island of Crete, home to Zeus, the Minoans, and yes, even Zach Galifianakis. Greece’s biggest island encapsulates a dichotomy of unspoiled beauty and rugged living. This is the island for beach-bumming (and bum-sunning—lots of nudist beaches for those so inclined). Our favorite beach areas were in and near the small Southern town of Matala, where the secluded Red Beach requires a good 30-minute rocky hike, and where Kommos Beach offers a long stretch of sand and some incredible views for watching the sun melt into the Libyan Sea. For a real adventure, take the long, narrow, switchback-filled road from Kissamos or Chania to the spectacular Elafonisi Beach, where you’ll be transported to French Polynesia with its crystal-clear aquamarine waters lapping serenely against soft, white (sometimes even pinkish) sand. Note: This is a hot tourist spot, so the swarms of people can take away from the postcard-worthy splendor. Continue reading “PhotoPhiles Volume IV: The Crete Edition”

PhotoPhiles Volume III: The Santorini Edition

The beauty of Santorini!
Pristine whites against breathtaking blues on the majestic island of Santorini.

PhotoPhiles is a recurring feature spotlighting some of our favorite photos taken on and off the road. In this third edition, we welcome you to the fantastical Greek island of Santorini, well-known to many as one of the most stunning and romantic places on Earth. Only with divine destruction could such surreal beauty emerge. The small island’s literal earth-shattering origins are a constant reminder as one walks, scoots, or ATVs along the jagged edges of the caldera. No, pictures don’t even come close to doing this land justice, but we’re willing to at least give it a try…

Handstand Steph ventures to the edge of paradise along the Fira-Oia path. We hiked through Firà, Firostefáni and Imerovígli, tracing the caldera and taking in incredible views every step of the way.
Cafe view in Oia had JCrew in disbelief and bliss.
JCrew enjoys a mighty cup of brew, a perfect complement to Oia’s ridiculous views.
This is where the 9km walk really turns into a hike, with near desert-like conditions. Bring water!
A thin slice of land topped with cream and sandwiched between endless serenity.
Red Beach, Santorini Salute!
JCrew shows his respect for the blazing beauty of Santorini’s Red Beach.
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No, this isn’t a funky cottage with amazing style — it’s part of a church near Red Beach in Akrotiri.
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Handstand Steph salutes the windmill and shows off her skills on the steps leading to Amoudi Bay
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Classic Santorini, sunhat and all.
Sanotrini as it is today comes from a volcanic eruption.
A constant reminder of Santorini’s volcanic roots is forever burned into the ground.
The style of Santorini
Little white boxes stacked atop the vibrant town of Fira.
Sanotini Garbage collection!
Garbage collection, Oia-style. The donkey was not as amused as we were…
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Bruiser, aka our ATV rental, posing in front of Aghios Artemios Traditional Houses, a cave hotel showcasing Cycladic architecture. The church, the only on the island with a light blue dome, dates back to the 15th century.

 

Tahiti’s Tantalizing Treasures, Pt. 1

Tahiti is France’s most majestic of mistresses. It only needs to sit there prettily, titillating with its simplicity, its shocking blues, its serene waters, its verdant ground split and dotted along the South Pacific in 118 brilliant pieces. This is a land where even the fish seem to jump so close to the shoreline as to get a glimpse of its beauty. Even the word “Tahiti” sounds wickedly exotic to the English tongue.

The Moorea palm lean above crystal-clear aquamarine waters
The palms bow down to the breathtaking crystal-clear waters of Moorea.

But is there substance behind this breathtaking paramour? Is it all a façade dressed up in little grass shacks and perfectly tilted palms, an ugly reality all wrapped tidily in aquamarine lagoons? Like many precious islands around the globe, there is a dark history here, but while the native Polynesians of Tahiti certainly face an identity crisis — an unfortunate byproduct of any territory fallen victim to colonization — they remain (to our eyes, at least) peaceful and patient, with a puckish sense of humor, too. They’re easy-going but not lazily so. “Sustainable living,” meanwhile, is simply just living in Tahiti — it’s surviving off the land, respecting it, and thriving with it. It’s combining just-caught fish with milk from just-plucked coconuts and turning it into one of the world’s greatest culinary treasures (aka poisson cru).

Fresh "coco" by the beach
Fresh “coco” by the beach

That said, the French influence inevitably looms, not just in the language spoken, but in the tiny details, too — like locals bicycling down a busy street with a half-dozen freshly baked baguettes nimbly placed in hand, or a can of foie gras innocently placed in the refrigerated section of the supermarche. Ask a French person and they will say, “This is France.” To us, it was simply the paradise a postcard has no right trying to sum up.

Tahitian Sunset
Tahitian Sunset

GETTING THERE / ACCOMMODATION:
The flight to Tahiti is really kind of frightening, in an existential sort of way — this is the case when flying over any large body of water, but the Pacific is an especially terrifying beast. It makes you truly want to smack lips with any tiny speck of solid ground you just so happen to land on in the middle of it all. Those who only go so far as Hawaii (from the U.S.) are missing out on another extra three hours of airtime — and, honey, is it worth it. Eight hours after wheels up in L.A., half asleep and tripping down the stairs of the great jumbo-jet, the sun’s rage will quickly slap you right across the face. You are, after all, just south of the equator — the sun’s most favorite residence. A lei made of fresh flowers and herbs soon graces your neck and the buzz of excitement starts to simmer down to an ecstatic calm. Tahiti — she grabs you right from the get-go.

Hangin' Loose in Moorea
Hangin’ Loose in Moorea

Our shuttle took us to Le Meridien — a resort roughly 30 minutes from French Polynesia’s capital city of Papeete — where we would be staying for the next five nights. (Had we not found an amazing Travelzoo deal that included both flight and hotel, we may have opted for one of the pensions that dot the island — a great choice for budget-minded travelers.) We were greeted by the hotel’s lush grounds and expansive lobby, which offers you a sweet peek of what lies ahead — a grand sand-bottomed pool and, even further out, those renowned bungalows sitting so cutely atop a glistening lagoon. Our receptionist was friendly and efficient (Tino, in particular was helpful during our entire stay), and though we were too early to check in to our room, we were welcome to lounge by the pool and reclaim any valuable sleep lost on the flight.

Beach Daze at Le Meridien
Beach Daze at Le Meridien

Our garden-view room was big and spacious, with a large bathroom and a tub fit for a Tahitian king. But it’s Le Meridien’s beachfront location that is its main allure. The beach may be small, but it’s the near 80-degree water you’d rather be sprawled out in anyway.  [PRO TIP: Water shoes are essential for any beach in Tahiti, in order to avoid being stabbed by coral or getting stung by the infamous “stone fish,” which can land you in the hospital.]

Navigating around bungalows, coral, and multi-colored fish
Navigating around bungalows, coral, and multi-colored fish

If you have an exceptionally fat pocketbook, splurge for a bungalow. We only got a tour of one, but milked that as long as we could…

Le Meridien Beach & Bungalows
Le Meridien’s beach & bungalows

Stay tuned for Pt. 2, which will discuss the food (lots of baguettes!, fresh seafood, and the only affordable dinner on the island: the “roulottes,” or food trucks), a day-trip around Tahiti, and a visit to the unspoiled neighboring island of Moorea.

 

Rethinking Ukraine

On the heels of change and rapid-fire revolution in Crimea, I’ve recently been thinking about a trip I took to Ukraine back in 2011. I was mostly in Odessa, located on the Black Sea near Crimea, the spot currently causing frustration among the U.S. government, which is bringing back a sense of “Cold War” tension. The situation there has me looking back at my experience in the country in a different light.

Staring down Lenin at a beautifully adorned park in Arcadia near the Black Sea.
Staring down Lenin at a beautifully adorned park in Arcadia near the Black Sea.
Ukraine — from its architecture to its food to its dialects — was how I imagined Russia to be. Traveling with a friend, who was able to speak conversational Russian to most of the locals probably made this seem even more plausible. Together, we saw Lenin memorials and Soviet-era symbols and met amicable Russians; but even the locals we met spoke Russian, claiming that the Ukrainian and Russian languages were similar enough. With the current political controversy, I wanted to research more about the Ukrainian/Russian connection. The media’s portrayal of Russia’s recent reclamation of Crimea makes the move seem somewhat out of the blue, aggressive, and imperialistic. But looking at this situation objectively, you have to go quite a ways back: Kiev, the modern capital of Ukraine, is often referred to as a mother of Russian Cities, in other words, the founding place of Russian civilization. And while the land has seen many conflicts over the centuries, the country of Ukraine as we know it today has only been independent since 1991. That’s only a little over two decades, and during my visit there, I could definitely see and feel how inextricably linked it still was to Russia.
Odessa Waterfront
Strength in powerful babies at the Odessa seafront.
But as I write this, it’s the Ukrainian people who are stuck in the middle of this crisis, who are being used by each influencing side. There are even rumors that both sides may be funding militias and promoting instability. The Ukrainians I got to know were generally stoic and reserved — well, aside from the night I made the mistake of asking for additional cheese on a pasta dish at Odessa’s Club and got charged almost $25 for it and was escorted to the nearest ATM! Still, overall, I felt safe there, which makes it even harder for me to believe this is the same region where a violent revolution has recently taken place.

My time in Ukraine was filled with fun memories, so I wanted to show a more peaceful side to this wonderful country. Here are a few pictures from the trip:

Pink
More stunning architectural beauty!

The Lada
Posing with the Russian Lada, the mythical and infamous symbol of past Soviet-era cars.
Stern
Stern and stark memorials to yesteryear.
Gothic
Exquisite Gothic architecture decked out with gargoyles.
CCCP
A colorful shirt, glamorizing the Soviet days, boldly on display in another main street store. (Pre-2014)
Fancy cars on a tree lined street in Odessa.
Fancy cars on a tree lined street in Odessa.
Badges galore!
Soviet-era pins and badges near one of the main tourist streets in Odessa.