This was a bit of a challenge, as I completely ignored my usual rules of writing notes down as soon as possible. A necessary result of my increasingly decrepit memory! So much was packed into this 4 day, 3 night dash through the easternmost parts of Turkey, and nary a word did I type! Let’s see what I can actually remember. Thank goodness for my incessant clicking, it definitely helped me piece together our explorations.
After a wonderful long weekend in Cappadocia, Christa and I took off for our Eastern Explorations. I have to give a shout-out to Christa here. It was her desire to see Ani that pushed us to fit this in, and I’m so glad we did. Eastern Turkey, at least for the brief visit we had, was just as beautiful as I’d come to expect from the rest of our explorations, but somehow more wild, stark and raw. We were hard-pressed to see any other tourists on our journey, with the exception of a handful at Ani and at the Armenian Cathedral Church in Van. Driving through mostly farmland filled with crops, horses and sheep, back dropped by soaring, snow-covered mountains, with sign posts pointing the way to Georgia and Iran, time seems to have stopped, or at least slowed down here.
After passing through 10 countries and eating our way through each one a little bit at a time, here’s a quick recap of what each country had to offer. Don’t get me wrong, it may not be as exotic as you would hope but seriously this is some of the best and or more interesting tasting food we have experienced along the way.
Lake Navaisha – Fried Tilapia topped with maranara-esque sauce, with wilted spinach and chips
The fish was fried to almost tough but I’ve now realized that this is how most fish will be served from any vendor. Mind you I was surprised enough to see a vegetable included when it came with spinach, let alone the chips. The sauce wasn’t spicy but more tangy and somehow brought it all together.
Lake Bunyoni – Crayfish Massala with rice and sweet potato
After the brief delay at Manila airport, our flight to Palawan Island finally boarded. Palawan Island is in the southwestern part of the Philippines and famous for some of its beautiful beaches, some of which we were lucky enough to experience. It's been a while since I've boarded a flight from the runway, which is always a cool experience. We flew on a small prop plane, maybe 50 people or so, powered by propellers instead of the engines you see on larger flights, and the flying time was only about an hour or so. After the short flight, we touched down on Palawan Island at an airport that was, at best, tiny. It was in the middle of a field, and although the landing strip was paved, there wasn't much room for error. The terminal wasn't much more than a small building, hot, humid, no A/C, and very basic.
Airport in Palawan
Ryan and I grabbed our bags, since we were the only ones making this trip, and headed for the shuttle van that was taking us to our "resort". I use the term lightly because it was fairly simple and cheap. Electricity only runs from 5pm - 9am, so nothing during the day. Minimal A/C in the rooms, wifi was incredibly slow, and facilities were minimal. But, after the hour long flight, a 30 minute shuttle ride, and a 10 minute boat ride, we were at our hotel. This was a first for me, traveling by boat to get to a hotel. Pretty cool, actually. The shuttle ride was an adventure too, traveling through farms, fields, jungle, and roads that were half paved half dirt, and median lines merely a suggestion for how and where to drive.
So on the road to Pokhara we saw some mighty impressive scenery and lovely mountainsides and villages. We stopped to take some pictures and also stopped on the side of the road for some super noodles at a local's house.
We played 'hit the bicycle wheel with the stick to keep it moving'' with the kids and headed onto our hotel in Pokhara. This was to be myself and Lindsey's last stop with the G gang.
Our hotel was named Middle path hotel - named after the Buddha's teachings. He was born into a very rich family and decided this was not going to help him reach enlightenment so he gave it all up and decided to live as a poor pauper. But he soon found out that living as a starving homeless man was no better for reaching enlightenment so he decided to recommend living somewhere in the middle with less stuff - hence the middle path.
We’ve hit a wall. Or at least, I know I have. I’m tired. My brain is tired. And I don’t have much desire to do or see anything.
We’ve been to Fiji, New Zealand, Bali, Thailand, Egypt and Israel – all in 8 weeks. And we visited Bali, Thailand, Egypt and Israel just in 3 weeks. It’s a lot of moving, a lot of thinking, a lot of decision making. You just get tired.
Before we left home, I had so many people tell me, “Enjoy your vacation!” I didn’t care to explain this to these people. They meant well by their wishes. But this isn’t a vacation. It’s a 4-month lifestyle change.
We make more decisions a day than we did at home. Home lends itself to a routine. This is no routine. Every day is different. Every country is different. Every custom, every culture, and every people is different.
We bend, we grow, we adapt. We change our minds and our plans every few minutes or every few hours. We live out of our backpacks and our daypacks. We pack and repack these packs. We search for places to do laundry. Sometimes, we don’t do laundry. We shower on occasion. We sleep in rooms with other people or just in rooms that aren’t ours. We calculate and recalculate our daily and weekly budget and take a deep breath when we’re reminded a new paycheck isn’t coming in.
It’s just not a vacation.
Today was one of the best (if not the best) days of our trip. Thanks to our lovely parents we were able to go to the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour!
The drive there was pretty long, at one and a half hours, so we were all up at 7:30, but the excitement helped keep us moving. On the car ride there my parents asked Hannah and I questions from the books, and had us explain anything they were unsure of. When we got to the building we confirmed our tickets, and because I was a child I even got a "Harry Potter Passport", in which I was able to stamp pictures along the way. The main lobby had large pictures of cast members all around the top, most of them being Dan, Rupert and Emma at different ages.
Our tour started at 10:30, but we didn't have to wait long before we were ushered into a waiting room to await instructions and rules about the tour. It was self-guided, but we had purchased two audio-guides and Hannah and I had agreed to tell my parents anything interesting we heard. We were then able to watch a short film narrated by Dan, Rupert and Emma, about what we would be seeing along the way. My dad kept commenting on how the seats in the theater were probably the most comfortable ones he had ever sat in. After it was over we were led through a set of doors in the first stop, the Great Hall.
There were two of the tables from the actual film here, as well as costumes grouped by Hogwarts houses along either wall. We were told that some of the costumes, such as Cedric Diggory's Triwizard Tournament shirt, Harry Potter's robes, Draco Malfoy's robes, and Neville's cardigan, were originals that had been worn by them during filming. Up near the front of the Hall where the teachers sat, were mannequins wearing the costumes that had actually been worn by the cast, complete with wigs that matched the character.
After we were out of the Great Hall, our self guided tour started. There were many helpful signs with descriptions around the sets, and the audio guides had some interviews with different crew members. And what made the audio-guides even better was that Tom Felton voiced them.
We saw so many sets from the films, as well as different costumes. We were even able to take a look at how they filmed the Quidditch so that it was safe, but believable. I loved seeing the props that had been left on set, like self-stirring cauldrons, and knives, irons and knitting needles that did everything themselves. We were even able to control them from where we stood.
After we finished the interior sets we stepped outside. Here we bought some soup, hotdogs and Butterbeer. The Butterbeer tasted like butterscotch root beer, and I told my mom that if they made it warm and took the carbonation out of it, it would have been perfect.
Outside we were able to look at numbers 3 and 4 of Privet Drive, the Knight Bus, Hogwarts Bridge, and many of the chess pieces from the first film. Back inside we were able to see lots of the creature props that were made, such as masks for the Gringotts goblins, body casts of characters (these were used when the character was stupefied, dead or part of the underwater scenes in the fourth movie), and anything that wasn't put in by CGI. We got to see the giant mechanical spider that they used to play Aragog, which had an 18 foot leg span, as well as the head and neck of the Basilisk they had made so that Dan had something to visualise and stab at while he was acting in the second movie.
After this area we saw all the sketches that artists had made before a final model was chosen. Some of the objects, such as the dragons, were sketched over a hundred different ways before a final one was chosen. There were even paintings of scenes to give inspiration and to bring it to life on canvas.
Nothing much to say in this one. A few brief descriptions, but I'll let the sight and sound lead the way
How are you? As you know, I am having the time of my life - and having seen and lived what I've already seen and lived, one starts to wonder if there could still be something that could surprise and amaze you. That's when Japan comes and knock at your door. Mesmerizing Japan. Every day is different, as different are the faces of Japan. And when I say different, I mean really different. I've never seen things so beautiful yet so simple like in Japan, like a small garden in front of a common residential house, but also such a crazy environment like Akihabara where everything overlaps with everything on multiple layers. It is incredibly easy to use different and sometimes contrasting adjectives for the same thing, as it is the case for this country. I need to say that as for now I have only see a few things around Japan, namely Tokyo and the cities of Kawaguchiko, Kamakura and Nikko, in the same region. So my idea of Japan ia for the moment limited, but the next post based on the second half of my Japanese experience will try to complement this one.
Japan is definitely known for the feeling inspired by simple, yet beautiful lines, be these in its architecture, art or way of life. This is not to call them "minimalist", as this would imply a poorness in the shapes and colors that is absolutely not the case. The reality is a careful choice of the smallest details in complete harmony with the whole. This results in powerful lines, able to move feelings and arouse interest with the smallest gesture. Take this kimono for example - it looks perfect, simple, and harmonious. However, it is composed by many layers and multiple parts, so that it might take 1 hour for novices to wear it and at least 20 minutes for more experts women:
Another example are the roofs of the temples. I know that this might be irrelevant for many, but I am just fascinated by them. The detail in the form of an upward corner makes the whole difference, and create a rooftop worth to look at, instead of a simple plain one:
Look at this sculpture, in the main hall of the hotel Peninsula, a name that I remember since I was a little kid associated to one of the best hotel worldwide, and for sure one of the most luxurious (that is why, dressed up like the backpacker I am, I only dared enter around 2am when I was wandering around the city waiting to get to the fish market early in the morning). Look at the shapes, look at the atmosphere it creates. Even though on the circles stands something that could be described as a big sausage, it perfectly fits the whole and inspire a strong feeling of elegance:
When considering Tokyo, a few blocks away from the things described above, another city appears. The city owned by a new generation, that almost rebelliously has created something that oppose the concept of simplicity. Elegance and order are replaced by an extravaganza of colors, sounds and shapes in neighborhoods like Shibuya or Akihabara. Take Shibuya first, the commercial hub of all teenagers (especially girls), who own the area by dressing up with such fancy and creative clothes that really make you feel you belong some place else. As a side note, I've never met a people that is such a fashionista - when we think we see somebody dressed up originally in Europe, it would pale in front of those guys. Colors, shapes, everything is mixed up in the same outfit, and even though sometimes this goes beyond the limits, in general make me wish I could also pull off something like that! It is also quite cool to be completely surrounded by all kind of people, and this is easily done by standing in the middle of one of the busiest street crossing worlwide - the one in Shibuya. Notice that the red light only stays on for a minute or so, no more, and that's enough for so many people to gather:
When it comes to naming whales, a fairly easy precedent has been set. Blue whales are blue, hump back whales have hump backs, right whales were 'the right whales to hunt' and killer whales... Well they're not actually whales, they're part of the dolphin family but still they 'kill whales' and hence the name.
The story for sperm whales is not as straight forward. Discovered by whalers on a hunt for right whales, they killed the sperm whale and dragged it into shore. Cracking into the front of the whale's head they found 2.5 tonnes of a white, sticky liquid and assumed they'd found the whale's reproductive organ. Why they thought it was at the front of its head I don't think we'll ever know but it was named a sperm whale. Later they caught females and found the same substance at the front of their heads too. By then it was too late the name had stuck.
Unfortunately for the sperm whale they found this liquid very useful as a lubricant, to put in creams, perfumes, oils, candles and Rolls Royce even used it in their gear boxes.
It was later discovered that sperm whales use the liquid to help them dive. When they need to dive they cool the liquid, it gains density and helps them down to depths of 3,000m. Despite having the same lung capacity as a cow, sperm whales store oxygen in their muscles and can stay under water for over 2 hours, though the average dive is 30-60 minutes. An average 16m (though one has been found over 18m) in length these 45 tonne beasts are the largest toothed animal in the world and the third largest species of whale. They have been found with whole Mako sharks or even great whites in their stomachs having swallowed them in one! They can kill their prey by emitting sound up to 230 decibels, the largest sound made by any animal, 180 is enough to cook a humans organs alive!! Now you know, bring your earplugs and let's go find one!
Kaikoura is one of the few places in the world where snow capped mountains meet the ocean. Famous for its whale watching and the extensive local ecosystem, it is honestly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It was my favourite place in NZ last time I visited and I think it may be again this time.
We headed out on the early boat from the whale way station (genius, I know) with Whale Watch Kaikoura and we were in luck, the scout boat had seen a sperm whale dive earlier.
Natalie was loaded with sea sickness pills and we sat nearer the back where the boat is more stable. On the way out to the deep sea ridge we were told about the whales, how to spot them and how long we'd expect to see them for. I enjoyed the talk as looked at seals and albatrosses out the window enjoying my time though the water was a 'little choppy'. When I turned back Natalie was braced in the seat as if she were holding the boat together, the metal arm rests indented with her hand grips. Maybe it was a little rougher than I thought!
It's not a bad life when you can have dinner in Venice, arrive in Vienna for breakfast, have lunch in Bratislava and finish off with dinner in Bergamo. This was how we spent our recent long weekend (yes, the school does have never-ending holidays).
The kids had been desperate to catch an overnight train; so after undertaking some financial investigation Dan discovered that the cheapest overnight train was from Venice to Vienna (the added plus was that it was operated by OBB Austria, not the locals!). Departing after school on Wednesday, we just made the Bologna/Venice train - fortunately arriving at 6pm. The weather was beautiful, and a far cry from the last time we were here with the grannies ('acqua alta' and 6 degree temperatures). A walk through the streets, pizza, beer for me (Dan not drinking due to training - such dedication) and a few photos later and we were ready to board the overnight train.
The kids were giddy with excitement and we soon settled into our little carriage. The beds were narrow and Dan and I were assigned to the top bunks - sleeping in missionary position was a must as one small roll could see one dropping over the edge. The children certainly slept better then us, but it was still a fun experience and waking up to breakfast in Vienna was great fun.
Our accommodation was not available until 2pm, so leaving our bags we filled in the time with a morning coffee, a play in a local park, and walks through Vienna's pristine and beautiful streets (with the song 'Vienna' buzzing in our heads - see below). A visit to the Prater (amusement park) for rides and an excellent Wiener Schnitzel. A little rest after lunch, a clean-up and some free time for Dan, and we were then ready to search out a place for dinner (ending up in the charming pedestrian-only Spittelberggasse).
Vienna Day 1 - Amusement Park, Gardens & Dinner
Home to Rachel the Pig, the very first Starbucks, local artists and lots of fresh produce, Pike Place Market is a fascinating and eclectic place. I enjoyed visiting the various vendors and little shops in the multi-level building, but even more so, I loved the quirky surprises around random corners of the area.
Like the Gum Wall. Yes, I think my stomach turned when I saw it, but at the same time, it was fun to photograph such a colorful display. Part of you wants to avert your eyes, but then you see that someone had stretched pieces of gum to write their name on the wall, and you can't help wondering how and why they take the time to do it. How does a Gum Wall even get started in the first place?
On other walls in the immediate vicinity, I loved looking at the floor-to-ceiling street art with overlapping advertisements, posters and graffiti. You can get a neat perspective of a city by observing what people choose to post in locations like these.
Underneath the famous sign at the entrance to the Market at Pike Place and Pike Street, Rachel the Pig is more than a photo-op. She is a piggy bank, and money that visitors deposit goes to charities. One tip: It is super crowded at the Market entrance, but Rachel the Pig has cousins, which you can find in nearby, less crowded areas of the Market.
If you do get overwhelmed by the crowds and want a quick break, I recommend walking across the street to Alaska Way, the waterfront street where you will find the piers, souvenir shops, quick bites to eat...and oh yeah, there are shrunken heads at the Ye Old Curiosity Shop. I went inside the store because I just had to see for myself. The front part of the store looks like a fairly normal gift shop, but as you walk towards the back, that's where you'll see the, um, artifacts behind glass cases. It might be a little bit scary, but similar to the Gum Wall, you cannot stop glancing back at it. And then you think it is pretty cool to be in a city where you find neat, unique things like these.
Speaking of spooky things, there are evening ghost tours through Pike Place Market, which allegedly gets after-hours visitors, if you know what I mean. I felt very tempted to take the tour. However, due to time constraints and the long walk from Pike Place Market to my hotel in the Queen Anne neighborhood, I decided not to make it happen during this trip. Next time, definitely next time.
I didn’t want to touch but I couldn’t resist. It felt like a scab – dry and rough. She was the temperature of a steaming bowl of soup and had a face only a mother could love…
We had come face to face with our first Peruvian hairless dog and I had gone in for a pat.
--- While not the most handsome of breeds, their hot skin make them useful to sufferers of conditions like arthritis. A bit like a hot water bottle.
We met this strange looking creature at the ruins of Huaca de la Luna, just outside the city of Trujillo on Peru’s north coast. Hairless dogs have been living in the area for thousands of years. In fact, they were the pets of people living long before even the Incas. Now they are the only living, breathing reminder of Peru’s ancient past. They now hang around the amazing ruins of Huaca del Sol y la Luna . Ruins which reveal lots about how their original masters lived.
Exploring this huge Moche civilisation pyramid was so exciting. Despite being at least 1300 years old, the outside is still so colourful. What a spectacle it must have been in its day. Even more thrilling is the fact you get go inside. I felt like an archaeologist, wandering around, peering into a series of little rooms used mostly for religious purposes. We learnt all about the temple’s symbolism, ingenious building techniques and of course the gruesome human sacrifice that went on. The entire complex is in surprisingly good condition. The main damage was actually caused by the Spanish who blew a big bloody hole in its side in the 17th century looking for gold.
--- Check out the hole left by the conquistadors who looted the temple of its gold.
--- The city was built at the foot of at Cerro Blanco (White Mountain).
--- Frescoes inside Huaca de la Luna.
"Ah, yes, those are termites. They help decompose the wood".
Well, this statement would have been perfectly normal if the termites in question hadn't just started pouring out of our boat. Our boat being a wooden canoe about a two-hour ride away from camp in the middle of the pampas. I had a strong feeling that the helpful termites would have been even more appreciated say, in a tree. But that's just a thought.
The second half of our jungle-tour took place in the pampas. Now, how to explain the pampas. I guess you could say they are the flatlands of the jungle, except without very much "land", as everything is covered in water. It is pretty amazing - what is supposedly a river seems more like a gigantic lake turned into a maze by trees and plants that grow straight out of the water. The water itself is filled with pink river dolphins, cayman, anacondas, piranhas, and a wealth of other fish and snakes. The trees are nowhere near the size if those in the jungle and animals and birds sit on branches or fly overhead and just go about their own business in full sight of tourists. It really is like being in the jungle and "filtering off" the jungle-part so you can actually see the animals
The pampas are a three hour extremely bumpy car drive away from Rurre on a dirt road, and we were extremely grateful for the air conditioning in the car even though it was not exactly adequate.
Already on the drive there we saw a sloth up in a tree (our driver spotted it, he must have supernatural sight or something) and a number of birds including the largest bird of the pampas (Greater Rhea, looks like an ostrich), the largest stork of the pampas (Maguari stork, sort of like a black-and-white marabou stork but nowhere near as numerous as those), and a number of different vultures, hawks and herons.
Road weary we stumbled out if the car next to a river bank where a canoe was waiting to take us the five minutes up to the lodges we were staying at. Imagine our surprise and delight when we in those five minutes encountered several pink river dolphins!!
To say that the dolphins are numerous in the pampas would be an understatement. They are everywhere. And I love it. Dolphins have ever since I can remember been one of my absolute favorite animals on earth, and seeing them all around was really one if the highlights of my trip. Not to mention- we got to SWIM WITH THEM!! As they are wild animals, this isn't as "petting zoo" as it might sound (thank god), but rather you (we) got to jump in the river and swim and they would be swimming and diving around us. It was marvelous. AND - one swam up to me and touched my foot when I was sitting in the boat with my feet in the water!! Way cool!!
As far as land-mammals go, we've mostly seen caipivaras (biggest rodent/"guinea pig" on earth, weighs around 45-55 kg) and monkeys. Our tour company is responsible and doesn't feed the animals, but some others do, and the monkeys therefore follow the noise of the boat motor and climb around in the trees and even in the boat for a while until they realize that these humans are boring and leave. Tiny little Herr Nilssons sitting on branches not one meter away eating leaves and looking at us was definitely another highlight
The last night if our stay we went out in the boat after dark with flashlights to search for/look at the eyes if the cayman. They show up as bright red glistening points of light in the beams of the flashlights. Suddenly I couldn't believe my eyes - about a hundred little red dots showed up at once! We drove closer and saw lots and lots of little baby cayman all around in the water, not 15 cm long!! Super cute!!
I've tried to keep a list of all the animals and birds we've seen on this trip, and I'll paste it into this post at the end. Some of the names are correct and weird, some of them are probably wrong (Greek Annie?) but what can you do but try
If you don't like seeing hundreds of pictures of flowers, you might want to skip this post. This weekend we went to the Netherlands. This was the first time for Ethan and I and the second time for Quinn. Ethan has now been to 9 countries, too bad they don't stamp his doggy passport. Yes, he has a passport. It is for traveling around European Union countries to ensure that his vaccinations are up to date.
Anyway, we drove to the Netherlands to check out the Keukenhof flower park. This park boasts the most beautiful and plentiful flower growing area in the Netherlands. The park is in full bloom between March and May. I have heard that it is best to go in Mid March but since it has been so cold here for so long, the flowers bloomed a little late. I think we hit the season perfectly. The drive was less than 4 hours and we brought the bikes along. Here is Quinn with our new bike rack set up! It is pretty sweet to be able to carry them on the car and not have to spend 45 minutes bungee cording them to the back.
There were both indoor and outdoor displays and gardens. Here is a taste of the gardens. Quinn wanted me to add that none of these pictures have been edited to change the saturation. They are really this colorful.
They go to great lengths to ensure that the park is well manicured. There was even a man washing and using a squeegee on the benches.
For those who like chinese culture or just like to see and enjoy those Buddha's images, this is the right place to visit.
The park is situated just 60 km north of Lisbon in Carvalhal, Bombarral, and it takes about a one hour drive to get there from Lisbon using the A8 motorway (exit 12)
The park entrance is very cheap, just 2,5 eur per person and it's worth the visit.
In a large property partially used for vineyards - the well known and wonderfull Quinta de Lorido winee, same owner as Quinta da Bacalhoa - a large set of granite and marble statues are spread around a lake and small hills covered with cork trees and local flora.
Strolling around the pathways and statues is very nice and you need at least 2-3 hours to enjoy the park properly. There's a good self service restaurant in the park and at the exit a wine shop which also needs some time to be explored .....
The park claims to be the largest Buddha park in Europe and it was build in response to the destruction of the Giant Bamyan Buddhas, sculpted in the rocks of the valley of Bamyan in central Afghanistan and which had for centuries been a cultural and spiritual reference.
Check the pictures!
Ah, not too far away from the park there's a magnificent beach.
The Silver Coast reagion is full of nice beaches but I think this Foz do Arelho beach is one of the most scenic places.
Travel blogs from around the world.
My Dream Trip around the World
Study Abroad (Spring 2013)
Motorcycling around Europe 2013
Living the Dream!
The Wheary Travellers
Oversea Trip - Tom and Hope
Around the World
Aimen & Tiff 2013
TEZAS TRAVELS - VANCOUVER NOSUN EDITION
Casey & Grace's European Adventure
USA here I come!
My Career Break Trip around the World
There and Back Again........
UK & EUROPE HOLIDAY 2013
Saint Bride's Sabbatical
Two Aces and the Blue Heeler
Powered by Noodles
Tanzania Volunteer Experience
Adventures of a Vijilante
All YOU CAN SEE ASIAN BUFFET
China - Teaching English and more
Tia's terrific travels
Street foods in Hanoi
Round The Block Again
We Live in Africa
The World Ahead
Seoul time ,by Mee So-Yum
My gelato journey
The 2013 LCJRU U14's tour of NZ
Jill and Joe's Gap Year
Around The World
My Dream Trip Around the World
Australian 4WD Camping Adventure
China Express - Spring 2013
Puerto Plata- Medical Lab Technology
Georgie & Scott in South America
A year or so of Misadventure and fun
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