Help Me, I’ve Eaten and I Can’t Get Up

Hello Dear Readers!

Honestly, I really only spent four days in Baku. It just felt like so much longer since I ate…like…5 meals a day. To that end, for day two we had a cuisine tour scheduled. That wasn’t until the late afternoon though, so obviously we ended up eating a few meals first.

I accidentally woke up late enough that I missed breakfast, which was too bad (I hate losing out on free things), so off we went for more Azerbaijani food and also ice cream. Because why not?

Afterwards, we wandered over to the metro and just…hopped on.

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What am I doing with my life?

Have you guys ever done that? I mean, I can’t read Azerbaijani, and nor can Harrison, so we just climbed aboard and hoped for the best. It worked out pretty well, and we hopped off at some random point later down the line, where we found all the old soviet buildings and the multitudes of people gawked openly at us. Good stuff. Real stuff.

It’s a far cry from the Flame Towers and the Lamborghini dealership, I’ll tell you that. I feel like it was a part of town we (as tourists) weren’t meant to see, which made it all the cooler. Finally, late afternoon fell and we went to find our tour guide.

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Pictures from around the city

He was…something. He had a lot of *qualities*. That’s the polite way of saying he was a total crackpot, which Harrison found hilarious and which I uncomfortably endured, right down to the time he started detailing all the different ways aliens had come and spliced their DNA into ours.

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But the man did know his tea.

No, he wasn’t kidding. But he was sexist, and every time he and I were left alone, we awkwardly stared at each other over the gaping void of silence between us.

He also took us past a series of shops, one of which sold Azerbaijani honey. Now, I like honey and all, but the sign for it was written in Arabic, so obviously I had to go in. Inside was a surly looking dude, really huge and buff and kind of weird to be selling honey. The guide tells the guy that I can speak Arabic (in Azerbaijani) and the guy’s eyebrows shoot up as he looks at me.

So I address him in Arabic, right? How are you, blah, blah. Whatever. And this guys go. “Ok.”

And then every other time I tried to speak to him, he cut me off to speak in English.

Fine. Maybe he didn’t speak Arabic. But then who wrote the sign??

Alas, it is a mystery for the ages. But the honey was good.

OH! OH! I almost forgot the best part! So, he took us to a restaurant (on a food tour? Who would have thought?) and after we finished eating I got up to use the restroom. I had just seen Harrison return from it, so headed over and opened the door…right into a very surprised man using the urinal in it. He excused himself quickly and waved me inside…which I did, despite the fact that there was no toilet. I guess he thought I wanted to use the urinal?? I then quickly exited and made my way back to my table, telling the guide (and Harrison) that I’d just hold it.

It was at this point that the guide yells out across the restaurant (in Azerbaijani) something along the lines of “Yo, this girl needs to pee and ya’ll ain’t got no toilets!”

So that was how I ended up with an honor guard from the restaurant escorting me down the road to a bar, where he bade me wait outside until he could clear my pee-able status with the bar owner.

Yes, he waited for me to finish.

And then I found out he was going to be our tour guide for the next day too!

-Carissa “Honor Guard” Rawson

But What’s In Azerbaijan?

Hello Dear Readers!

It’s finally time for a new country! Are you guys ready for this? Drumroll, please…..

Azerbaijan! Now, I know a lot of you are probably thinking “what is that and why did you go there?” Well, the answer to that is simple. Azerbaijan is a former Soviet country with some pretty intense development and a relatively low amount of tourism. Since my University gave us a week long holiday (to…um…study), I decided to head on over there and see what was up.

I will tell you guys, when I returned and told my professor where I had been, she goes “Azerbaijan?” with a blank look on her face, and then after a long pause “….Borat?” (I actually spit out my drink laughing).

Now, flights to Azerbaijan are scarce, at best. And I’m sorry to inform you guys, but this time I truly could not find a decent flight using points to get there. Most flights connected either through Moscow or Istanbul and took upwards of 15 hours. However, every third day, Azerbaijan Airlines has a flight from London (and a return every 3rd day to Paris), so that’s what I ended up doing.

I spent a total of five nights, and Baku, the capital, happens to be home to some really spectacular hotels at really cheap prices (both points and dollar-wise). The J.W. Marriott Baku is one of only a few J.W. Marriotts (their flagship brand) in the world at a category 2 level, meaning it cost me just 40,000 Marriott points for my entire five night stay (Marriott gives 5th night free on award stays). In contrast, the total cost were I to pay to stay there would be just over $1,000.

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For reference, the Chase Marriott rewards card comes with a 80,000 point sign up bonus after 3k spend in the first 3 months.

Since I’m an American Express Platinum Card member, I have gold status at Marriott, which meant that I received both a room upgrade and free executive lounge access for the duration of my stay. This was excellent, since breakfast and some excellent evening tapas and drinks were available on the daily. (As if I weren’t otherwise stuffing myself).

Ok!

I’ve just got to tell you guys, I had an awesome time in Baku. As I said before, there are relatively low levels of tourism, which meant that most of the time I was delighted to find that I *wasn’t* paying the tourist tax I’ve found in nearly every other country I’ve been to. A cab across the city cost 5 bucks, regardless of the destination, so obviously I splurged just a bit.

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I was actually meeting Harrison in Baku, and for the first time in my life I trusted someone else to plan the trip. Yes, I know, it was terrifying. But I’ll give credit where it’s due, I had a lot of fun and traveling is 1000% less stressful when you don’t have to do it yourself.

Now since I was meeting him, not arriving with him, I had to figure out how to get to the hotel from the airport at 5am.

Do you guys know where this story is going?

I feel like you do.

Enter me, disheveled and angry after an overnight flight from London to Baku (6 hours too long), with my trusty backpack on and absolutely no idea how to navigate a Russian speaking country. I did, however, manage to take out some manat (their currency) in order to grab a cab, which promptly fell out of my pocket and no one told me about. Thanks, guys.

Just outside of the airport were dozens of cab drivers milling about, and I quickly found one who offered to take me to my hotel. I usually prefer to use Uber, since there’s a literal GPS track of where you’re going, but since that wasn’t an option I settled for the sketchy looking dude who came nearest to me first.

Um.

Ummmmmm.

My first hint came when we walked out to his car, which was technically a taxi but also pretty run down and janky. Ok, fine, this is Azerbaijan.

So then I got into his car and off we went, me trying desperately to look at my phone in order to avoid talking and him chatting with just about…15 words of English. (Don’t you guys do that? Stare at your phone so you look really involved and unapproachable?)

Well, it didn’t work. Five minutes into what should have been a 30 minute drive, he pulls off the side of the freeway and insists that I move up front.

No thanks, I told him politely. He insisted again and no thanks I insisted back. Then I realized he wasn’t gonna move until I did, so into the front seat I went.

At this point he decides he’s a tour guide, so he’s driving 30mph on the freeway, weaving to and fro as he points out buildings. Ok, sure.

But then he pulls off again, asking for my phone number so he can give me a tour later. He then invites me back to his house.

And yes, I know, I could have given him a fake number. But then he called me! In the car! To make sure it worked! So thank goodness I didn’t.

Off he goes again, more pointing, more invites, etc etc. Then he turns to me and goes “you are a good girl, Carissa, you know that?”

….sure.

And once more he pulls over. It’s now bright outside, since we are 45 minutes into our 30 minute journey. He wants to take a photo of me, you know, for the contact in his phone. I politely decline, and the same scenario plays out.

Ok. Fine. Take my damn photo and let’s go.

No, wait, it gets better. He then grabs my hand and shakes it, informing me once again that I am a good girl. We’re nearing the city center now, and I can almost see my hotel. Slower, slower, he drives, and he grabs my hand again.

He then declares that he loves me.

I ignore that bit and look very fixedly out the window, so he tries again, grabbing for my hand. He snags it and fucking kisses it, telling me he loves me again.

“What was that called?” He asks, mimicking the kiss he just did.

“It’s a kiss,” I tell him. I can see my hotel, just a couple hundred feet ahead, brightly lit and welcoming and full of no creepy men.

Finally, he stops, pulls up, and says,

“Can I kiss you?” while he reaches for my face.

I DON’T THINK SO, PAL.

I literally put my hand in front of his gross, creeping lips, and shoved him away. I then paid him (he tried to charge me extra!) and ran out of the cab.

Welcome to Baku!

– Carissa “At Least It Wasn’t a Proposal” Rawson

Kata Tjuta- The Many Headed Mountain

Hello Dear Readers!

Are you ready to be done with Australia? Me too. It’s been an exhaustive series of posts and I’ve done so many other things these last few months- I can’t wait to share them all with you.

But first! One final post.

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My final days in the outback consisted of hiking Kata Tjuta, which is a series of small mountains (way cooler than Uluru, in my opinion), and watching the sunrise over Uluru and Kata Tjuta both.

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Enjoy the photos!

-Carissa “I Swear I’ve Traveled Elsewhere” Rawson

Alice Springs- Outpost to the Outback

Hello Dear Readers!

So we’ve just left off with Cairns and one of the highlights of my trip- where I successfully managed to SCUBA dive not once, but twice. Unfortunately, this also happened to be the part of the trip where Katie, Shuaib, and I had to split up. They were staying on longer in Cairns, while I was due to head to Alice Springs and the Outback for a chance to visit Uluru.

Does anyone remember when I talked about my trip to Naples, where I found out after arriving that Naples was generally considered to be an unsavory and unsafe place to be? And how maybe a little bit of Googling could have saved me from that realization?

Yeah.

My first clue here was when half the people appeared to be homeless. My second clue was when everyone shut at 5pm and rolled steel cages down in front of their storefronts.

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At least there was a Target.

I had originally planned on staying 4 nights in Alice Springs, and thank God I did not, because I completed (essentially) the city’s sole attraction on day one, which is a hill that is slightly higher than the rest of the city.

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Such hill. Slight elevate.

I stayed in a hostel here too, one of the best as recommended by tons of internet sites and even Lonely Planet. It calls itself quirky- and that’s true. I slept in a shipping container.

Anyway, Alice Springs is most famous for being known as the final outpost before the Outback, and that’s true. I left early the next morning, eager to finally get into the “bush” and be wowed by the Australian landscape.

You’ll see.

Carissa “No Really Hobos Sleep in Shipping Containers” Rawson

Airlie Beach and The Whitsundays

Hello Dear Readers!

Having become fast friends with Katie and Shuaib, I decided to hop into their car in lieu of taking the train on the way up to Airlie Beach.

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Stranger danger!

However, first, we headed down to Tin Can Bay to see some dolphins, on the advice of Katie and Cassi.

So, we woke up at 5am and headed the hour and a half out of the way in order to go hang out with some river dolphins at 7am.

Long story short, the dolphins, which were due to arrive at 7, in fact did not turn up until 9:30. So we sat, and waited, and waited, and waited some more.

We waited for so long that we took photos of the laminated action shots of the dolphins and pretended they were ours.

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Finally! Two dolphins arrived and we got to spend a brief few minutes hanging out with them in the water before making the 13 hour trek to our hostels.

We were super authentic along the way, eating at Macca’s and (in my case) ordering only ice cream and french fries.

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“Authentic”

We didn’t get in until about 10pm, at which point we headed to our separate hostels. (We had already prebooked everything).

Mine was a little less than…great.

I was awoken bright and early by the sounds of my bunkmake noisily leaving, which I extra appreciated because she had kept me up with her snoring the night before.

So! Along the way to Airlie Beach, we five had decided to book a two night Whitsundays cruise together. Kati and Cassi met us separately, having driven their camper van up to Airlie Beach, so the next day we all met up and headed out to the boat.

Our first day started late, so we only had time for a bit of a swim before settling down to dinner and continuing on our way. We found out later that our swimming spot was a favorite hangout for sharks, but luckily none of us managed to get eaten.

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Oh! I almost forgot to mention the best part.

Look, I know space is tight on a boat.

But why did I have to sleep in a coffin?

Above the engine room?

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Pictured: My coffin

At least we were all smushed in together, so we all got to suffer equally. That’s true friendship, you guys.

Anyway, coffin bunk aside, there’s something so unspeakably cool about having a (nearly) private boat sailing you amongst some of the nicest islands in the world.

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Feels a bit yacht-y, ya know?

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-Carissa “Bish I’m Famous” Rawson

Fraser Island: Part 2

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m going to let the pictures do themselves justice today. Enjoy!

The champagne pools were incredible(y freezing)

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Fraser Island is chock full of weird wonders

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Katie took some incredible photos with her fancy camera

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Including some very…er…friendly…turtles.

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And here she is perfectly replicating a person who can almost do a handstand

-Carissa

Amazing Australia- A Backpacker’s Life for Me

Hello Dear Readers!

Now, you guys know I’m not a snob, right?

Right?

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Ok, listen, I know that perhaps I spend a little too much time in really nice hotels, and maybe I brag about having elite status all the time (you should get it too), but this trip I was utterly determined to live that hostel life.

Which is how I found myself in a ten bed dorm at the Blue Parrot Sydney, which I had splurged an extra $2 on in order to have a private toilet (shared with only 10 others!). Actually, in all reality, this place was pretty nice. Yes, it was a 10 bed dorm, but there was only one other girl staying there, and we made friends pretty quickly, even spending my last day together.

See, it’s currently winter in Australia right now (what? Shocker!), so the travel season down south is pretty slow. This suited me just fine, and I spent all my days in Sydney happily bundled up and gloating about the extreme heat in California.

They even have a Chinese friendship garden!

No but seriously, my last two days in Sydney were really great. I explored Bondi beach, rode the ferry over to Manly Beach, and generally decided that Australia is one of my new favorite countries.

Next up- Brisbane. Oh god, Brisbane.

Carissa “The Backpacker” Rawson

Amazing Australia- Sydney Bridgeclimb

Hello Dear Readers!

My second day dawned bright and early, with me squinting angrily through blurry contacts at the shining sun outside. I’d only booked the Intercontinental for one night, (I’ll write a post about why later), so packed up my things and dropped them off at luggage storage before heading out for the day.

Has anyone ever planned anything that they then regretted and dreaded?

Yeah, that was me with the Sydney Bridgeclimb. I’d planned it literally the day earlier and was not looking forward to it in the slightest. In theory, it’s this super climb hike up to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, where you can overlook the city and then have bragging rights over all your friends. In actuality, however, I was feeling super jet-lagged and not in the slightest ready to climb some 1600 steps.

So it was with a feeling of trepidation that I dragged myself to the Bridgeclimb office, inwardly moping and all set to have a miserable time.

Joke was on me! It was super awesome. I mean, they make you take off everything from bobby pins to Fitbits (did my climb even count?), and you had to wear super doofy Bridgeclimb jumpsuits, but this is seriously one of the coolest things I did.

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I immediately met the only Australian on the tour and befriended her, which is a good thing because everyone is strapped into a single line and you’re stuck next to your partner for a good four hours.

The climb itself wasn’t too strenuous, and I had chosen the sunset climb, which meant I got to watch the sun go down over the city, which was incredible.

It also happened to be couple’s night, so a guitarist strummed love songs at the top while couples gazed lovingly into everyone’s eyes and a few different people proposed. It was very romantic, and if you look carefully, you can see me squeezed uncomfortably in the back of all their celebration photos. Win!

Since they don’t let you bring your cameras to the top, (something about terminal velocity), they have a photographer come up, which means they can charge exorbitant prices for your precious memories. Seriously, it was $20 for one photo, $40 for two, or $60 for ten. Obviously I chose all ten, but I’m a genius and had them put it on a USB (I don’t bring my laptop with me), so I waited three long weeks to view them in all their glory.

To that end, you guys are welcome:

I am literally the most awkward person ever.

-Carissa “Da Monkey” Rawson

Amazing Australia: Strolling Through Sydney

Hello Dear Readers!

Ok, it’s time to delve into this Australia thing. It’s been a long, crazy trip, and I’m so excited to share it all with you!

I landed in Sydney super early on the 4th, which meant plenty of time to hang out, attempt to avoid jet lag (which failed) and begin to explore the city.

First stop? The Intercontinental Sydney, which (due to my elite status) let me check in at 7am and drop my things before heading out to the Sydney Opera House.

Now, I know we’ve all sent the Opera House a thousand times in photos, but it’s one of those buildings that is truly awe-inspiring. It was recently awarded the Pritzker Prize for Architecture, because, as they said, it is a building that has “changed the image of a nation.” And that is so true:

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After my tour, I wandered the Botanic Gardens, which were gorgeous, and headed up to the Rocks, a neat little neighborhood home to quirky shops and a weekend market, which I found myself returning to daily during my stay in Sydney.

One of the stalls in the market, named Natalia Ness Jewelry, looked especially enticing, and I stopped to hang out with the owner, having her make me my own little necklace.

That’s right, handmade! She even added a little plane charm to the end, since I’m a travel blogger and all. Very cool.

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I’m now going to shamefully admit that, despite my efforts, my first day in Sydney ended at 7pm, when I turned on Netflix in my room, attempted to drink the bottle of wine they’d given me as a welcome gift (I finished half a glass), and fell asleep fully clothed in bed.

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Which prepared me for my Bridgeclimb the next day!

-Carissa “The Snooze” Rawson

Amazing Australia

Hello Dear Readers!

It’s been a furious few weeks here for me, as I’m roughly three quarters of the way through a trip to Australia. It’s been an an incredible journey so far, and I’m more than a little excited to share it with you all.

First things first- figuring out my itinerary for Australia was pretty overwhelming. I originally booked my ticket for ten days, figuring, what the hey, that should be a good amount of time to tour the country. However, upon beginning to try and figure out where I was going to go, I realized that Australia is simply massive. I know, I know I should look at a map more often.

Anyways, it’s nearly the size of the U.S., so once I realized this, I decided to go ahead and change my dates from August 2nd-14th to August 2nd-24th, giving me just over three weeks in the country. (Though not really, since you lose two days on the way over.) I then decided to do the classic journey from Sydney up the East Coast, stopping over in Brisbane, Hervey Bay, Airlie Beach, and Cairns before hopping a flight to Alice Springs for a quick jaunt through the outback. Now this may seem like a lot, and it is, but it doesn’t begin to touch the amount of things to see and do in Australia.

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So, with my itinerary decided, it was time to figure out where to stay. As an aside here, I booked my ticket to Australia during a price war between the major US domestic airlines, meaning my nonstop flight from Los Angeles to Sydney clocked in at just over $700 on Delta. I then paid for the flight using 35,000 American Express points. (To see what I’m talking about with these points, click here).

Australia doesn’t happen to be a cheap country to travel, especially when you’re booking hotels. I could use points, but it would burn much of my stash, so that’s not really ideal. And I’ve always wanted to meet great people while traveling, which is a bit difficult when you’re isolated in a hotel room.

All of this is a lead up to say that I booked most of my nights in hostels. And not just like, private rooms in hostels. I mean 10 bed dorms with creaky metal bunks and the dulcet sounds of snoring to keep me awake all night. Do I sound bitter? Maybe a bit.

So this has basically been an intro to the reallly long saga of my trip that I’ll be posting over the next few weeks. Are you guys excited? I am!

First up- Sydney!

-Carissa “Almost an Aussie” Rawson