This our trip report to the Black Forest Germany, Route du Vin France and a taste of Switzerland. Some general tips for the entire trip.
Australia – beaches, rainforests, snowy mountains, desert, towns and villages, marsupials of different kinds and lots of crazy people. We were just two people trying to get back home safe, sound.
This post is based on a diary that we wrote during our trip. Here, you will find a series of pictures accompanied by the memories from our 4 months in Australia. We saw a lot, experienced a ton, and missed home a little. For those of you who are interested in planning a trip to Australia, I have also included relevant links.
There were many places we didn’t have a chance to visit, which is a shame. However, we had to make compromises. Our most important conclusion from the trip was: when you start seeing through the places and not the places for themselves, it’s time to go back home.
The first time Hemingway visited Paris was during WWI, on his way to the Italian front, in the beginning of 1918. Hemingway and a friend came from America on a ship named "Chicago" while the city was under heavy German bombardment. Hemingway's friend wanted the two to drive straight to the safe hotel, but Hemingway asked the taxi driver to take them as close to the place where the bombs were falling as he could. One of the bombs landed dangerously close to the taxi, chipping away a piece of the facade of Madeleine Church.
Mid September, in the best Italian restaurant this city has to offer.
Ever since we got back from Kerpathos, my boyfriend and I started dreaming of our next trip. For years, I had the dream of reaching Perugia, a small and romantic city in Umbria, in the center of Italy, on which I got hooked on after reading a National Magazine piece about it. For days we would eat jars of pasta, day dreaming of how wonderful it would be - a week in Italy, the two of us and a car.
"Is it really happening?" he asks.
And in that moment I was sure. Yes, it's happening.
We decided to travel in the beginning of October. So we ordered a package of a flight and a car (the simplest) for eight days.
Surprised people: "So, where did you fly to?
Surprised people: "Morocco??!!! Wow... Who did you go with?"
Me: "With my dad"...
Surprised people: "No way man...Cool... And how were the rest of the people in the group?"
Me: "Actually we flew alone... No group..."
Surprised people: "Is it dangerous...? Scary...? Is it even possible?"
For me, Morocco was a destination I longed to travel to... When the company I worked for was shut down, I decided there would never again be a better opportunity. So how do you start? I found a partner (my dad...) and continued my plan by buying a plane ticket, beause from there, there's no way back! Job interviews can wait...
While staying at the Bayoke Sky Hotel ($60USD a night) in Bangkok I was able to find a cheap tour guide for my cousin and I for around $100USD for a day trip to Ayutthaya. This included our tour guide, Chris, who picked us up from our hotel and drove the roughly 2.5 hour round trip, provided some historical insight for all of the sites we visited, showed us around one of the local markets for lunch and capped the tour off with an elephant ride.
Our first stop was at the Wat Yai Chai Mongkol (built in 1357). The Wat is located in the southeast, outside the old city wall near the Pasak River. When we climbed the stairs we were were able to look around and there was also an area that lead into a secret crypt! Also, while we were there we saw one of the main attractions, the large "Reclining Buddha" which many worship and meditate near. It was pretty massive and the locals would cover parts of the statue with gold flakes while saying a prayer.
Next we saw: Phra Mongkhon Bophit (one of the largest bronze Buddhas in Thailand), Wat Mahathat and the Buddha head in the tree, which I believe was too hyped up. It was a pretty cool thing to see, but not a main attraction for us because the ruins with burn marks and decapitated Buddha statues from the Burmese invasion were more interesting.
We then explored the markets and ate lunch which consisted of: Tom Yum soup, a rice dish with chicken and vegetables with coconut to drink. For dessert we had "Roti Sai Mai", which have hair-like strands of sugar wrapped into crepes that have been prepared on the grill and the sweet, pleasant smell spread throughout the market. Roti is similar to cotton candy, but not as sticky wrapped in a warm crepe. Just talking about it makes me hungry!
Chris then took us to the elephant sanctuary (what I looked forward to the most) and we paid $16USD for a 30 minute ride. Getting onto the elephant seemed a bit risky, but we managed to wedge ourselves on the seat and with a rusty metal bar used as a safety rail (seemed legit/safe..) we were ready to go! The person who controlled the beast and sat on the head was dressed as an old Thai warrior and he kept yelling in Thai and hitting the elephant with a large stick, but that didn't seem to phase him. We had bought small bananas to feed the elephant along the way and seeing a wrinkly trunk in front of your face as if asking "give me more!", nomnomnom, repeat, was a pretty awkward-funny sight! Along the way the Thai warrior would periodically hop off and take our picture, but as we approached the end of our ride that's when the unexpected haggling began for the pictures taken (not that much $). Just expect it if you plan on going.
Exhausted from the day we headed back and as we approached this school bus one of the girls yells out, "Hai! Wat awr yo names!" I replied, "I am Joe and this is Brian!" Without missing a beat the entire bus erupts, "WE LOVE YOU JOE AND BRIAN!!" the bus starts to rock back and forth and all the school children start to chant and scream our names. "JOE! AND BRIAN!, JOE! AND BRIAN!, JOE! AND BRIAN! as we majestically rode in. Brian turns and says, "wow, I guess this is what it felt like to be the Beatles!" We couldn't stop laughing and I thought to myself. Thailand truly is the Land of :)'s.
The Venetians, during the 13th century, bought Crete from the Marquis of Montferrat, Who led the Fourth Crusade, which ended with the fall of Constantinople. But after a short time the army of Genoa, with the help of local Cretans, conquered Chania and took control of the city. It took the Venetians 20 years to get the city back, and after that episode they ruled the city with a tighter feast. The Venetian harbor was built between 1320 and 1356, and was used for commerce and to secure the control of the Sea.
We went on our trip in the end of August, and traveled through most of September. Everyone will tell you not to go to Alaska in these months, everyone – except the locals. The people we met told us that the autumn is the best season to visit central Alaska – and they were absolutely right. The air is drier, the sky are clear (the end of august monsoon season), it’s less crowded with tourists and the autumn leaves are a sight to behold. During the whole trip we had only 3 days of rain.
The Visit to the Buchman and toga tribes is A must. Without it one can't comprehend why Africa is so poor and faltering. Its a 3 and half hour drive in a rough and bumpy roads (each way). It is a surrealistic visit - visiting a tribe who lives in the bushes (Bushman's) joining them in their hunt. Make sure you come with high shoes and a lot of energy, these guys sure knows how to run bare foot. After 2 hours of running and zero catch we got tiered and asked to return. fortunately they finally caught a dove ,built up a fire , cooked it and ate the dove right there and then. They offered us a bite but we kindly refused.
The next tribe we visited was the Toga – went inside their mud hats, watched them dancing for us. In every visit you'll be joined by a local guide, who knows their language and whereabouts. You are expected to give something to the people which can be old cloths or shoes, food, candies etc. Children were fascinated with pens. We just gave some money. Insist on giving it to them people directly and not to the local guide. I saw him dividing the money in 2 pockets so I am not sure what they got in the end.
Dinner, after a long day...
In Tangerine Park you mostly see elephants. It can be a nice attraction for a first day safari trip but when it's on your last day it simply not interesting any more. We traveled at the end of June; the flora was too high so even if there were other interesting animals it would have been really hard to track them down. At the end we did managed to see two lionesses watching after a buffalo body that they probably killed a day before, and we also saw their cubs from a distance. In retrospect we could have given up that day and end the Safari a day earlier or add another day at Serengeti which is a huge park with unexpected surprises.
There are the eastern beaches and there are the northern beaches and they are totally different. The hotel manager in Kendwa explained us that there are also east coast people and north coast People. So what’s the difference? Well, the eastern beaches are secluded. The water is clear and unbelievable turquoise colored. There are palm trees, coconut trees, and there is almost nothing on the beach strips, hardly any hotels and no crowd. you’ll probably be all by yourselves. Besides reading a book, watching the water and the local fishermen, eating in the the hotel restaurant there's nothing much to do. Still you can rent a bike and paddle on the beach, get your hair braided or enjoy a relaxing massage. When the tide is low you can’t go inside the water but you can see some crabs, sea urchin etc.
In the northern beaches you can bath all day long, but they are not as beautiful as the easterns and they are packed with tourists. The hotels are close to one another, there are pubs and restaurants, and the beaches are more crowded (in Zanzibar terms, which mean that the closest person will probably be about 50 meters away). For a group of friends I recommend renting some motorbikes and drive to the east coasts just to check it out, but I think they will find it a bit boring. For couples, well, it’s up to you. If you feel like spending some time alone, start with the north and move on east. If you want to mingle a bit, start with the east and then make your way up north.
Bars - Near Puerta del Sol, there are 3 streets that form a triangle. When the bear in Puerta del Sol is at your back, you turn left at Calle Carera de San Jeronimo. It is paralel to Calle Alcala and go up 7 mins until you hit Plaza Canalejas. 2 streets on your right: Principe and Calle de la Cruz. Take Principe until you hit Plaza Santa Anna, and just circle it and go down and the other side to form that triangle. You'll see.
Palacio Gaviria (club) - Calle Arenal 9, very close to Puerta del Sol. It used to be a palace that was transformed to a club. Thursdays and Fridays are great. On Thursdays they have student parties which are fun. Don't come too late since there are lines across the block (around 11pm I think should be ok).
Please note that in Madrid they don't allow torn jeans or sneakers in clubs.
Our basic plan, based in the instructions we got from the guest house owner, was as follows:
First Day (a 7 hours walk):
Second Day (a 7.5 hours walk):
Third Day (a 9.5 hours walk - mostly climbing a hill):
Well, this was our plan. But as usual in Burma (did I say Alice in wonderland?) what really happened was a little different...
Namshan is a Palaung village north of Hsipaw. It's located in the height of around 2100 meters, and is surrounded by green hills covered with tea plantations.
My partner decided to go there with a motorbike (5 hours drive on a very bumpy road). I wanted to do a 3-4 days trek from Namshan back to Hsipaw, so we decided to split for few days. (Later I learned that he had a motorcycle accident and went to some local hospital). I met two girls who wanted to come along on the trek, and we met another person in Namshan who joined us.
The way to Namshan took us about 7 hours with a local pickup. We arrived before the sunset to a nice village with very friendly people. It had one main road, and at the end of it you can climb to a promenade that offers a great view of the area.
We tried to get a local map and information about the trek we were planning. In Namshan there's only one guest house, and the owner tried to convince us to take a local guide. When he realized that we're going to make the trek on our own, he agreed to give us some maps with local information about the path back to Hsipaw. He told us about the distances from one village to another, and recommended us where to look for a place to sleep and how to pronounce the local villages names.
You can download the map below to have a better resolution of the path details and location names.
We arrived in Bangkok with Turkish airlines. We had a four hour wait at the Bangkok Airways lounge, this way the kids had some time to refresh (and a place to destroy).
The kids dictated the usage of internal flights opposed to cheaper options (bus, fairy). We had three internal flights: Bangkok-Phuket, Phuket-Samui, and Samui-Bangkok with Bangkok airways. They had very nice service - nothing to complaint about.
It takes about 20 mins to reach Phuket from Kata Beach. We did this twice on our own during our stay and used taxis. There are cheaper options (Tuk Tuk), we avoided them along out trip because of our little ones.
On a clear day with blue sky you might like to take a boat tour on the Bosphorus, a cruise which gives another splendid view of Istanbul. There are 2 main options: you can take a cruise for the entire day from the city to the black sea (6 hours for the round trip), and see some very nice spots along the way, both in the European bank of the river and in the Asian one. The trip cost 25 TL with a company called IDO, and it departure from the pier near the south-east part of Galata bridge. There are 3 daily cruises, and if you take the early one you could get off the boat twice along the way and continue with the boats of the next tours. On the second cruise you could get off once, and in the last time you’ll have to stay on the boat through the entire cruise.
The other option is to take a shorter cruise along the banks of the Bosphorus – up until Rumelihisarı (Rumelian Castle) on the north and back. This cruise is about an hour and a half, it costs 12 TL with a Turyol company, and it departures every hour on the hour for a pier located south-west of Galata bridge. Besides these 2 companies – IDO and Turyol – you can find a lot of ticket scalpers south of the bridge who will offer you private cruises, but I don’t recommend using their services. In the summer there are more option, the cruises are more frequent and you can also take an evening cruise.
A view of Bosphorus strait
You can buy a ticket for 72 TL (around 40$) which includes a pass to most of the important site, such as Hagia Sophia (Ayasofia), Topkapi palace, Topkapi harem (different entrance), the museum of archeology, the mosaic museum, the Turkish and Islamic arts museum and the church of Chora museum. The ticket is valid for 72 hours, and you can enter each site only one time. It doesn’t include audio guides, which cost an extra 10-15 TL, depending on the site. You won’t find any maps or printed guides on most of the places, so you might like to get yourself a guide (like EyeWitness) if you don’t want to miss the important features of the big and crowded sites.
Inside Hagia Sophia
The Siloam inscription in the Archaeology museum
Istanbul has a long and magnificent history, and the city is full of interesting sites and places to visit. You’ll be wise to plan your days in advance. Remember that during the winter the days are shorter and most of the museums close around 16:30-17:00. Mosques are open until the evening, except during praying hours, when the tourists are asked to exit. Most of the popular site are closed one day of the week, so don’t forget to check which day it is before leaving the hotel.
Whether you like it or not, you'll probably end up spending at least one night in Murghab. Despite rumors of possible guesthouses or hotels, the only actual option that I've encountered was to stay at one of the local home stays. Some of them are more 'official' and some of them less. Ask around to find one. I can recommend the place located here: http://goo.gl/maps/P4Uqt
They will provide you basic accommodation and some food - nothing fancy of course - but they are really nice people over there. Don't get your hopes too high on electricity and if you're looking for a hot shower - keep in mind that they actually need to boil the water on a wooden-run stove, so if you can afford to smell a little bit funky for a little while, take it into consideration.
The Chinese truck that gave me my ride to town was slowly pulling into town, long after the sun had already set. Me and my travelling partners were tired and hungry, and so we set about to find a bed to rest ourselves. We headed out for the most obvious option for backpackers in Khorog - the Pamir Lodge. If Tajikistan has anything that might be defined as a 'backpackers mecca' - this would be it. This guesthouse gathers most of the budget travelers in Khorog - trekkers & cyclists altogether. It offers some invaluable opportunity to socialize with some other people. The place itself is OK at most, so don't expect to feel like you're at home - but it is mostly quiet and there is a nice yard where you can hang out. The toilet over there looks like you worst nightmare most of the time, and this is probably due to the fact that at least 30% of all guests there were experiencing some sort of 'gastrointestinal issues' (endemic to almost all travelers in Tajikistan). Sharing stories and laughs with fellow travelers is one thing, but sharing a toilet with them... That's a different story.
If you're willing to part from a little extra cash (about 15$), you can indulge yourself and head out for any of the handful home stays around town. In order to find them, get directions and information from the local PECTA (Pamir Eco Tourism Association), on which I will elaborate in the following tip. I can highly recommend the home stay located just across from the Pamir Lodge and next to the local school (here: http://goo.gl/maps/8mxl0). Lalmo, the lovely owner and her family seem to very experienced with hosting travelers and they will take very good care of you - as evident by the notes past visitors hadleft in their guestbook. For extra payment you will be treated with dinner & breakfast as well. Lalmo has already gained herself quite a reputation, so you might find her house literally full with backpackers when you arrive, but if you arrive at September or October, you'll likely to be alone in a room to yourself.