Small European Countries – One Left to Go!

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

I admit it, I am not ashamed to share it.  It is frivolous and perhaps not terribly inspiring.  Hopefully, not embarrassing.  Or so I tell myself…  (Is there a support group, perhaps?)  Here it is…  I do want to finish the little ones in Europe; the little countries, I mean.  I don’t mean “finish them” as in “destroy them” or have them absorbed by a big neighbor (ahem, Germany…).  I mean just to see them all.  Monaco.  San Marino.  Andorra.  Luxembourg (OK, not as small, don’t want to hurt its feelings).  Vatican City.  Liechtenstein.

Before February this year, I had two of those left.  And now there is one…  Before I reveal the one left behind (you must be DYING to know), in February I visited tiny Liechtenstein.  It is as hard to get to it as it is to spell it as it has no major airport.  That means, no direct flight from JFK or Hartsfield.  For me, it was a flight into Munich, Germany and a 3 hr (or so) drive (an easy one, at that).

Liechtenstein is known for… OK, not much.  But perhaps more than anything is because they print beautiful postage stamps.  Oh, oh, has someone told them about “email”?  “Texting”?  “Whatsapp”?  Hmm… rough times ahead?  Perhaps not.  I am sure lots of money is put away there by foreigners and perhaps there are some other reputable industries…

But I surely digress.  (Do I?  Maybe someone can comment and share the wonderful economic engine in the heart of Europe called Liechtenstein.)  Anyway…

We drove in from Germany, trampling into Austria for a little bit before entering Switzerland for an even “littler” bit until we realized we had to pay like $30-40 to get a highway permit to drive in Switzerland (RIP-OFF!).  We quickly turned around and drove the two miles back to the Austrian border and (thanks to a smartphone and GPS) found a free route through Austria to Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein for the cost of a handful of extra miles of driving.  So, THERE, Switzerland.  The oddities of socialist Europe’s highways…

We entered Luxembourg, er, Liechtenstein (who can keep them straight??) after passing through customs (run by Switzerland, actually… another oddity) and made our way to the tiny capital driving through even tinier towns (not really sure if they count as towns or just urban sprawl from Vaduz?).

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

I am heeere!

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Customs into Switzerland

Not too rural really but not densely populated either.  As we got into Vaduz, we saw the castle atop the hill overlooking the town.  The high perch location of that castle may help explain why Liechtenstein has survived as its own entity.  Or not, but I didn’t really read up on it…  I just needed to check it off, you know?

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Castle perched right above Vaduz

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

View of the castle from afar

Anyway, the castle’s vantage point was impressive.  We found a road up and there were some nice neighborhoods on the way up – great spot to live with a view of Liechtenstein and Switzerland in the distance (I think Switzerland charges if you even look at their highways; mercifully for Liechtensteiners, I believe there are no highways in sight from the hill where the castle is.)Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje, palace, castle

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Houses near the caste location

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje, palace, castle

Approaching the castle

We stopped intown and walked around the pedestrian commercial street (got our passport stamped at the tourist office) and ended up at a local restaurant.  Unfortunately, it was past regular lunch hours so we had to settle for a limited menu.  But I had a bowl of goulash that was delicious so I was not complaining!  After that, we said our fond goodbyes to Liechtenstein (auf wiedersehen!) and made our way back to Austria for our next and most phenomenal stop of the trip:  the Alpine ski town of Lech!

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Passport stamp

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Pedestrian shopping street at the feet of the castle

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Around Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Church and Vaduz City Hall (on the right)

Liechtenstein, travel, Vaduz, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, foto, viaje

Around Vaduz

———————————————-

P.S. – Oh, and which is the lil one I have left to visit?  ANDORRA!  Mental note:  I need to check in with my Spanish friends Mariano and Isabel so I can tag along their next New Year’s ski trip from Madrid to Andorra…

Photos of the Week – Sights of Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Netherlands, architecture, Holanda, Holland, fotos, photos, travel, viaje, Samsung Galaxy S7

Amsterdam is such a unique city.  It is like Venice meets… meets… I am not sure what!  It is a charm typical of old cities, of cities by the water, of cities with architecture seen nowhere else, and of cities with a one-of-a-kind type of energy (and I don’t mean that in terms of the red light district!).

I first went to Amsterdam in 1999 when I had business there (most of my time in The Netherlands, though, was actually in The Hague, or Den Haag).  I had not returned to Amsterdam since then (except connecting through its wonderful airport) until earlier this year when I overnighted there on my way back home after skiing in Austria.

I took advantage of the limited time to walk out and about at night, and then do a quick morning walk before heading to the airport.  Though a short visit, it took me back to 1999 and it made me re-discover why I like the city so much.  I wish I had had time to visit the museums I have never gotten to explore (back in 1999, I wasn’t touristing – had no time for that!), and be a little more aimless in the walking around.  But, hopefully, I will have another chance!  In the meantime, here are some photos from my short visit!

 Night photos of Amsterdam

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Amsterdam, night, Netherlands, Holanda, Holland, fotos, photos, travel, viaje, Samsung Galaxy S7

Notice the not-straight door and windows on the right!

Amsterdam, night, Netherlands, Holanda, Holland, fotos, photos, travel, viaje, Samsung Galaxy S7

Right outside of the train station

Amsterdam, night, Netherlands, Holanda, Holland, fotos, photos, travel, viaje, Samsung Galaxy S7

Train station

Amsterdam, night, Netherlands, Holanda, Holland, fotos, photos, travel, viaje, Samsung Galaxy S7

Royal Palace

Day Photos of Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Netherlands, architecture, Holanda, Holland, fotos, photos, travel, viaje, Samsung Galaxy S7 Amsterdam, Netherlands, architecture, Holanda, Holland, fotos, photos, travel, viaje, Samsung Galaxy S7 Amsterdam, Netherlands, architecture, Holanda, Holland, fotos, photos, travel, viaje, Samsung Galaxy S7 Amsterdam, Netherlands, architecture, Holanda, Holland, fotos, photos, travel, viaje, Samsung Galaxy S7Amsterdam, Netherlands, architecture, Holanda, Holland, fotos, photos, travel, viaje, Samsung Galaxy S7

Amsterdam, Netherlands, architecture, Holanda, Holland, fotos, photos, travel, viaje, Samsung Galaxy S7, bike, train station

By the train station – a bunch of bikes!

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Red doorways – cool

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ilivetotravel, photo, champagne, business class, KLM

OK, not a photo of Amsterdam but of me leaving it in style!

Uppsala – Worth the Drive from Stockholm

Sweden, Uppsala, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo, travel, explore

A long weekend in Stockholm sounded like fun.  And off I went last October with a college friend, John.  While Stockholm was the focus, I have always wanted to see something of ‘rural’ Sweden:  lakes, charming homes, and lots of green.  At least, that is how I envisioned it.  So, once in Sweden, I was eager to get on the road at least for a day of driving around.  As I looked at the map, Uppsala caught my eye:  I knew it was a university town AND it was approximately 1.5 hrs away from Stockholm so not a stretch for a day trip.

The streets of Uppsala

After veering west and exploring, the day ended in Uppsala.  It was getting dark but we got to walk around the pedestrian friendly town center where we saw the university grounds, the cathedral, and the shopping district.  Being fall made the streets by the main cathedral and university a lot more charming with all the fallen leaves.  It was beautiful.

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Around the commercial area

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Charming architecture

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Around the university

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Canal lined by yellowing trees

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Beautiful cobblestone street covered in leaves

Uppsala’s Cathedral

Erik the Holy -or Saint Erik-, patron saint of Sweden, is buried at the cathedral, the site where he was killed a long time ago (12th century if you want to know!).  The cathedral itself was finished in the 15th century and it claims to be the largest church building in the Nordic countries.

Sweden, Uppsala, Domkyrka, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo, travel, explore, cathedral

The cathedral of Saint Erik

Sweden, Uppsala, Domkyrka, cathedral, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo, travel, explore,

Cathedral at night

Sweden, Uppsala, Domkyrka, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo, travel, explore, Erik the Holy, Saint Erik, cathedral

Saint Erik’s tomb

Sweden, Uppsala, Domkyrka, cathedral, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo, travel, explore,

We happened upon a recital rehearsal when we visited

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Drink, please!

We were a tad surprised that a university town did not have an obvious ‘bar scene.’  Perhaps tainted by the U.S. college town experience?  Probably.  But we were wondering where to go hang out and grab a bite to eat; a place with personality.

And an online app suggested what turned out to be the perfect spot:  the Churchill Arms gastropub.  We sat at the small bar where I ended up teaching the young bartender how to make a Manhattan.  Then the loungey chairs (just two of them) by the bar freed up and we decided to grab them instead of going to one of the regular tables in one of the wood-paneled eating rooms.  There, we could see everyone coming in and out.  I enjoyed some mussels (moules marinieres) in a white wine sauce – mmm!!

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Nice collection

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The bar

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My moules marinieres and French fries!

Once again, going off the beaten path proved rewarding.  If you ever go to Stockholm, hop over to quiet but charming Uppsala.  It was beautiful in the fall, I can only imagine how it would be in the summer and spring.  After dinner, we headed out back to Stockholm to wrap up a day of semi-aimless driving around and seeing what we came upon.  Another post will share more of what else we saw that day!

I Used to Not Know How to Spell Phnom Penh

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace, gold, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, ilivetotravel

Early last fall, when I was planning my itinerary for the SE Asia trip, there was an extra day to spare.  With 5 days already in Bali and Singapore (and the phenomenal 57th story infinity pool) awaiting, the options became extending Siem Reap by one day, jumping from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, or stopping in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital.  As you may be aware due to my post about the Killing Fields, the choice was “PP” simply to avoid crossing another border (much as I wanted to “hit” Vietnam for the first time!).

It was a good choice.  The sites related to the Pol Pot genocide of the 1970s were important to see.  But it was also interesting to see this capital which seems to be booming (I suppose “booming” can be a relative term…) out its past as capital of a Communist regime.  I wish I had gotten to see the “before” Phnom Penh so I could better grasp how far it has come.

Needless to say, the modern building boom is probably good for the economy but some of it is just more of the same glass buildings one sees everywhere.  I seemed to have stayed in a good area (right by the Independence Monument) as main streets and side streets around the hotel felt much better than in other developing countries.  The park by the Independence Monument and the park towards the Royal Palace were very pleasant spaces near the Mekong River.  Lots of families walking the area and hanging out!

Though only 24 hours intown, I feel I did a good bit for such a limited visit – including a massage at the hotel I stayed (La Rose Hotel & Spa).  Phnom Penh was pleasant and relaxed, and it was a good stop as the trip began to wrap up.  And now I can spell Phnom Penh!

Here some of the scenes from Phnom Penh.

Around Cambodia’s Royal Palace

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace, park, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, gold

Botumvatey Pagoda

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Dragon keeping an eye out on things…

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Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace, gold, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7

Around the Royal Palace

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Caught cross-walking! (Thanks Phil!)

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace, gold, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7

The Royal Palace entrance facing the Mekong

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace, gold, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, ilivetotravel

I mean, check that Palace OUT!

Independence Monument Park

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, travel, adventure, explore, Independence Monument, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7

The Independence Monument

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, travel, adventure, explore, Independence Monument, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7

The Independence Monument at night

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, travel, adventure, explore, Independence Monument, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, ilivetotravel

Gotta have a photo…

By the Mekong

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Mekong River, fishermen, black and white, photo, travel, adventure, Samsung Galaxy S7

Looking down the Mekong from the Royal Palace Park

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Mekong River, fishermen, black and white, photo, travel, adventure, Samsung Galaxy S7

Fishermen on the Mekong River

And real life happening in the smaller streets of Phnom Penh…

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, street life

Street scene

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, street life, child

Curiously looking at the tourists walking by

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, architecture, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7

Beautiful colonial style architecture

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, street life, old woman, sowing

When it is too hot inside, bring the sowing machine outside!

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, child, boy, Royal Palace, street life, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo, travel

This kid’s parents smiled when I asked if I could take their son’s pic – my favorite!

One Spectacular Pool in Singapore

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

As someone who likes to read about travel and far-away places, I come across many places around this planet which I hope to see someday (and some perhaps that are not as interesting to me…).  Sometimes I think I will never get to see places that catch my eye because my imagination fails me:  I fail to picture the how and why of me getting to those places.

One such place for me was an iconic hotel structure in Singapore:  the Marina Bay Sands.  You may have seen this hotel in a magazine or a travel show on TV.  You know, the one with three tall towers holding up what looks like a surfboard.Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoWhile Singapore seems an interesting place, it is certainly too far from my home to go on a whim just because this hotel caught my eye.  But, as things sometimes unfold, what seems a random window of opportunity opened up for me to go to Singapore.  If you have been following my recent writings, going with a friend to a wedding in Bali took me to -what to me is- a far corner of the world.  The happy couple actually lives in Singapore so the chance to see the Marina Bay Sands Hotel came up.Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoBut just seeing it was not enough – I had to stay there:  I wanted to enjoy the 57th floor infinity pool!  And so I did.  Sadly, my visit to Singapore was only over two nights and one day (Bangkok and Angkor Wat were also on the itinerary) so I only got to relax poolside one long afternoon.  But it was WAY cool and well worth it.

We arrived at the hotel at night and we learned the pool was already closed but that certainly was not going to keep me from going up there to see the view!  The gentleman had just closed the pool area but was kind enough to let us walk in.  Check out the amazing night view!Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

The next day, when we got to the pool in the early afternoon, the skies were incredibly dark.  I expected the storm to come our way and the pool summarily closed.  So with no time to waste, I urged my friend Phil to jump in quickly so I could snap his photo and then we would swap places and at least we each would have “the” picture of the city behind the edge of the infinity pool.

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, storm, photo

Dark skies! (Me on the right… thanks Phil I. for the photo)

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, storm, photo

My quick jump in the pool (thanks again Felipe!)

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photoGod smiled upon us.  Not only did lightning NOT strike while we were in the pool for the prize-winning photos, but the storms stayed away and we got to enjoy a whole afternoon poolside, even if under a cloud cover.  Lunch and drinks were part of the picture as was people watching – and some pretend-jumps off the pool into infinity.

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

Great seating all around

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

Chill time!

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Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

Great place to teach a kid to swim!

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

One of the many “great” jump-off photos (because no one else thought to take one before)

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

He was never seen again after this jump-off…

I have to say that those few hours may have been short and the day may not have been picture perfect but I would not trade a minute of enjoying that pool and those views!

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

Spectacular view of the city

Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

Look at all those ships!

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View of old Singapore

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View towards the financial district

What to know about the hotel

  • The hotel is conveniently located across casinos and a luxurious shopping mall, if you are interested in those things.
  • A neat pedestrian bridge can be accessed from the shopping center to get to town.  It offers great views back towards the hotel.
  • Only hotel guests can enter the pool area; they control access which makes sense as space is limited.
  • There are a few different seating areas poolside.  I enjoyed the pool chairs right at the edge of the pool but you can be further removed from the water action (yea, we got splashed a couple of times by kids playing in the pool but no big deal).
  • There is a kids’ pool.
  • There are restaurants and bars up at the top of the hotel and those are accessible to non-guests.  It is enjoyable up there!
  • You can choose city-viewing rooms or sea-viewing rooms (where you can see all the ships going through the straits or going to port).
Marina Bay Sands, hotel, luxury, Singapore, Asia, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy S7, photo

One happy puppy!

I paid for every penny of my stay (no discount or freebie or anything else from the hotel) – I just wanted to share this amazing place!

 

The Killing Fields of Cambodia

Tuol Sleng, genocide, prison, torture, Cambodia, Khmer Rouge, Phnm Penh, Pol Pot, Samsung Galaxy S7

Travel is supposed to be an experience to be enjoyed:  leaving our day-to-day behind, seeing new places, trying new foods, exploring, relaxing, etc.  However, travel sometimes is an opportunity that we get to understand other places, other peoples, and perhaps the past.  There are places like Auschwitz that one can visit to gain some of this understanding but it does come with a price:  what one sees defies comprehension when one is confronted with the places where brutality happened.

When Cambodia made it into the itinerary for my trip to Southeast Asia last fall, I realized one of the things to learn more about was the terrible regime of Pol Pot, a brutal Communist dictator who ruled the country for a few years in the 1970s.  I knew just a little of the history and I knew there was a movie from 1980s about it (The Killing Fields; I had no seen it).   Visiting Cambodia was of interest mainly because of Angkor Wat but when we realized we had a day to spare, we added Phnom Penh.  This stop would provide the opportunity to learn about Pol Pot’s crimes by visiting a couple of key places:  the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (one of the hundreds of killing fields around the country) and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (a former prison and torture center).  (It is no fun to write a post like this but it is important to share what I saw and learned for those who may not get to see these places in person…)

The trip up to that point had been rest and relaxation coupled with exploring amazing sites (like all the temple complexes in Siem Reap).  We planned our visit to these terrible sites for the afternoon of our arrival in Phnom Penh.  Those visits would affect the tone of our trip but it was important to us to see these places firsthand.

Choeung Ek Genocidal Center

Our first visit was to the Genocidal Center which served as one of the many killing fields spread throughout the country.  The story of Pol Pot and the madness that ensued after he took power is best and more fully told in other sites or books; I will not even attempt to explain it here.  People were trucked into places like this to be exterminated either because they were supporters of the prior regime, because they were educated (vs. peasants), or because the regime and its minions just felt like eliminating them.

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Entrance to Choeung Ek

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Excavated ditches dot the grounds (photo courtesy of Phil I.)

The center has done a good job of signage explaining the different aspects of how the center was run.  The center also has audioguides available for those who do not have a guide to take them around.  I recommend one or the other to properly grasp the place (we used the audioguides which allowed for self-pacing).

Choeung Ek, Genocidal Center, killing field, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, extermination, travel, Samsung Galaxy S7

Typical stand explaining the site

Choeung Ek, Genocidal Center, killing field, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, extermination, travel, Samsung Galaxy S7

Close-up of one of the signs explaining the center’s operation

It is a difficult place to be at.  There are reminders everywhere what happened there especially signs that warn of the bones and pieces of clothes that can still surface, especially after it rains…  The signs provide a stark reminder of what happened there.

Choeung Ek, Genocidal Center, killing field, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, extermination, travel, Samsung Galaxy S7

Pieces of clothing that surface have been placed in this box

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Mass grave

Bones retrieved from mass graves or that surface are placed in a tower built for the purpose of providing the remains of the many victims a respectful place to reside for decades to come – a poignant and very visible reminder of the many lives cut short by a madman and his zealots…

Choeung Ek, Genocidal Center, killing field, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, extermination, travel, Samsung Galaxy S7

The tower housing bones found

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

After visiting Choeung Ek, we headed to the Genocide Museum, the former prison used to torture those persecuted by Pol Pot’s regime.  It had been a school in former days and it got converted into hell-on-earth for those unfortunate souls who were taken there…Tuol Sleng, genocide, prison, torture, Cambodia, Khmer Rouge, Phnm Penh, Pol Pot, Samsung Galaxy S7

Tuol Sleng, genocide, prison, torture, Cambodia, Khmer Rouge, Phnm Penh, Pol Pot, Samsung Galaxy S7

Former school building (one of several)

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Hallway

Prisoners were tortured in former classrooms and any opening to the outside from those rooms was covered to keep the noise in the room and not heard outside since the former school was in the middle of an urban area.  The museum displays the many devices used to torture the victims.

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Outdoor torture spot

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Typical torture room

Photos of many victims are displayed.  It was painful to look at them but I made myself scan the boards full of the photos – it was the least I could do to honor the victims who suffered so greatly there.  The approach of the dictatorship was to execute entire families to avoid any “roots” of those families being left behind.  So, there were pictures of children among all the adult pictures…

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Some of the many photos on display to remember the victims

The site is somber, as can be imagined and the grey skies that day added to that feeling.

May the souls of the victims of this brutal Communist dictatorship (aren’t they all brutal?…) rest in peace.

Tuol Sleng, genocide, prison, torture, Cambodia, Khmer Rouge, Phnm Penh, Pol Pot, Samsung Galaxy S7

Memorial

Trees Take over a Temple: Ta Prohm, Cambodia

Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Before my trip to Cambodia, I knew about Angkor Wat (of course!).  But, I did not know about Ta Prohm.  I had seen pictures of it but did not know that it was a specific temple close to Angkor Wat and, much less, its name or extent of the wonders it contains.  I did hear about it more concretely from someone who had been to Siem Reap before right before I got there so it got on the “itinerary” of the temples to visit while in Siem Reap.  It is hard to say that it is my favorite over Angkor Wat or Bayon.  In fact, it is hard to pick any of those over the others; each has something that feels unique enough to lift it in my “estimation.”

Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Amazing place

Ta Prohm’s claim to fame, if you will, is how trees have taken over the ruins of this former temple complex from the 12th/13th century.  We are able to see this because the temple has been left in the same condition it was found (for the most part; some work has been done to stabilize structures, make it safe for visiting, and enabling access).  This uniqueness earned it a spot in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and rightly so!

Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, temple

Entrance

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Chatting with our guide

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The most famous trees growing through the structures are Tetrameles nudiflora, which is like a mouthful for a non-botanical person like me (so I had to look it up!).  They create surreal images – and surely, if the trees were cut, many of the structures would collapse!  These trees grow super tall and the roots look like the buttresses of pre-Renaissance European cathedrals and can be quite gigantic as one of my pictures shows.  Banyan trees can also be found.  These trees grow their roots downward from where the see landed (not directly on the ground but, say, on a tree or building) and they end up enveloping the “host” tree or structure, eventually seemingly strangling the host.Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, banyan Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, banyan

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Yea, these trees are HUGE!

What to Know

  • It will be hot and humid as the day progresses so starting with sunrise is ideal though it makes for a short sleep night…
  • Visiting Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom, and a couple of other smaller sites, starting at sunrise, took us until noon/1 PM at our speed of walking, stopping to take photos, etc.  That is quite a long day already considering hotel pick-up (for us anyway) was at 4:45 AM.
  • Bring water, snack and sunblock!

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Around Katarina Church in Stockholm

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While I like seeing the main sights of any city I visit, I also enjoy walking around aimlessly and seeing what I discover.  Katarina Church (Katarina Kyrka) in Stockholm (Södermalm) was one of those discoveries.  Perhaps if I had done my research ahead of time, the church and its neighborhood would have ended on a ‘must-see’ list.  But it was a lot neater to run into this neighborhood by sheer luck and wanderlust!

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Church as seen from Gamla Stan

Katarina Church

The church grounds were pretty in the fall colors and in the gray weather I experienced pretty much the entire weekend I was in Stockholm.Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

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The church was undergoing renovations

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Cornelisparken – good views of Stockholm

I then walked off a side sidestreet on the opposite side of the square from where I had entered it, Mäster Mikaels gata, with quaint homes that ended with a park, Cornelisparken, that offered a great viewpoint that overlooked Gamla Stan and other parts of Stockholm.  I seemed to be on a roll discovering great spots with great views in Stockholm (another was from City Hall)!Mäster Mikaels gata, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

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View towards Gamla Stan

This part of my longer walk was probably my favorite of the whole weekend and I think yielded some of my favorite photos from the trip!

 

Angkor Wat: Finally!

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It is pretty daunting to write a post about Angkor Wat.  Not only how to do the place justice but there are probably a million write-ups out there about it.  All I can do is share (words and photos) how I saw it and perhaps it will help those who have not been there visualize it, and those who have been there remember their visit…

We were told by a few people to not miss sunrise at Angkor Wat.  Considering all the travels away from home at that point (ATL to Chicago, Chicago to Bali (via ATL!), and then Bali to Bangkok to Siem Reap), waking up at an absurd time in the morning did not seem as absurd as it would at any other point in my life.  So, arrangements were made for a 4:45 AM pick-up at the hotel to go to see our local star rise behind Angkor Wat…

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Yea, looking a little rough after the 4AM wake-up (thanks, Phil, for capturing this winner!) – but happy to be there!

First stop:  Get the darn ticket.  One can get a day pass or a multi-day pass.  I was sorta scratching my head as to why the people taking us had not gotten the tickets ahead of time.  I found out why soon enough:  they take your photo and print it on your permit to enter the temple ‘zone.’  Since we were packing it all in into one day, the pass cost us $20US.  Not bad really, especially considering the scale of the area ‘littered’ with temple complexes.  All that has got to be kept up, etc.

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My pass to enter Angkor Wat; skillfully photo bombed by my friend Phil

After getting our ticket, our  guide took us to the main vantage point from which one can ooh-and-aah one’s way through sunrise.  There were clouds in the distance so we did not see a beautiful orange-yellow disk rise from the horizon.  But seeing the temple with the sky around it changing colors from dark blues, to mid-blues, to purples, to orange-ish, etc. was pretty neat.

Angkor Wat, temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, Camboya, travel, explore, viajes, Asia, photo, sunrise, sky, Samsung Galaxy

Sunrise

I decided to take a fast-pace video over a 15-minute stretch to see what that would look like.  No, it did not result in a magical show but it still was worth the effort to hold the smartphone as still as possible in my hands for that long.  Since I was half asleep anyway, I barely noticed the 15 minutes had elapsed.  (The 15 minutes are compressed into a one minute video below. Let me know if you think it was worth my 15 minutes!)

After snapping a couple of pix of each other, my friend and I moved on from that spot to get to the causeway that would lead us to the main temple we all know as Angkor Wat.  It still was not full light so the pictures were either brilliant or so-so, depending on how demanding a viewer of photos you may be – I will let you reach your own conclusions :)  We were also advised to not go back to the hotel after sunrise, as many do to nap and have breakfast, but -instead- to have the hotel pack us a breakfast and just eat it on-site so we could then explore the complex before it got crowded later in the  morning (it was also a good idea since it only gets hotter as the day goes by so the earlier the visit, the less suffering!).

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About to enter the causeway

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STILL looking rough but with a great backdrop! (thanks again, Phil!)

On the way to the main temple, I especially liked ‘the library’ ruins on the left-hand side of the causeway – mainly because it gave me a good way to frame the main temple!  (Always looking -not always successfully- for a good photo spot!)

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Here the library…

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… and what I did with the library! I kinda like this shot!

Angkor Wat, temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, Camboya, travel, explore, viajes, Asia, photo, sunrise, sky, Samsung Galaxy

Getting closer to the main temple – this is a great photo spot

We entered the main temple area from a side entrance by climbing some stairs and our guide explained some of the carvings as we headed to the inner courtyard.  From there we walked along the side of the central ‘structure’ (I struggle with what to call the different parts of the complex), and observed a couple of places where the stuff under the exterior stone was exposed.

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Amazing carvings – could spend hours there!

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Our entry point into Angkor Wat

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A look at what’s under the outer stones… more stones! (though different looking)

After turning the corner, we saw the staircase that would lead us up to the top terrace of the main temple.  The staircase to be used was not the original steps; rather, a staircase was built on top so that our visitor feet would not destroy the ancient stonework – and probably to keep us safe too.  It was a very steep climb but going up was not as scary as going down.  I am not scared of a steep climb or descent, but I also do not want to suffer a bad fall!

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After getting up

Once we got upstairs, it was REALLY cool.  From up there you see above the tree tops and can easily see how the jungle took over complexes like Angkor War once abandoned.

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View down to the upper terrace and the jungle beyond

There were four inner courtyards atop the temple and it was neat walking the outer hallway looking out in every direction in the compass while then turning inward and seeing the various temples or altars with Buddhas.  I do not recall how much time we spent up there but I enjoyed admiring it all.

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One of the inner courtyards

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Looking upwards from the terrace level

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First, a standing Buddha…

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… and then sitting Buddhas…

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… and finally, a reclining Buddha!

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Father and son (I assume) in prayer – nice to see it is an active faith site

So, Angkor Wat delivered on my expectation on seeing something quite unique in my experience and, clearly, from the experience of many as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (not one of the token ones, mind you, but a real one!).  Seeing the father and son praying made it even better as it is not just an archaeology site, but a site of living faith – very cool to see.

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I am dumb as doorknob when it comes to selfies – I could not get out of the way of the tower much as I was being instructed to do!

Angkor Wat had been on my ‘hope-to-see-someday’ list and definitely the top spot for me to see in Southeast Asia.  I am grateful for the opportunity to see it in person and explore it – photo bomb on my credential or not :)  Now I need to decide what will go in its former spot in my ‘hope-to-see-someday’ list…  nice problem to have!

Stockholm’s City Hall – Great Vantage Point

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Before my recent trip to Southeast Asia, I took advantage of a cheap airfare to spend a long weekend in Stockholm. I had been there a while back on a day stop from a cruise with my family. It was summer time and it allowed us to get a flavor of this city by walking around Old Town, visiting the Vasa Museum, and enjoying a nice lunch. Of course, Stockholm was charming and I hoped for a return visit someday. And that materialized when a college friend found the special fare and asked if I’d be game for a slightly mad short trip there. Having not used vacation time in the year, I thought “why the heck not!”

The plan for the trip was to just go with the flow. I had already seen key sights so that was good with me. Serendipity can yield interesting experiences!

One place I discovered on this trip was Stockholm’s City Hall. My hotel was maybe 2.5 kms / 30 mins’ walk away and we were making our way from our hotel in Kungsholmen towards Old Town. We ran into the the City Hall and wondered what it was. It faces the water with great views of Gamla Stan (Old Town) and Sodermalm across the water – excellent photo opp spot!

Here are some of the images of the building and the views from its unique spot in the city.  If you find yourself in Stockholm, go the extra distance outside of Gamla Stan to get to this spot!  (Click on the images to enlarge.)

Angkor Thom’s Main Temple: Bayon

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While Angkor Wat is the better known of all the temple complexes in Cambodia, there are others that are a must.  Bayon is one of those.  It is imposing and a veritable maze, making it fun to explore.  Bayon (built in the 12th-13th century period) sits in the middle of Angkor Thom which was the capital of the Khmer Empire back when (it is said between 80-150K people lived there at its peak back then).  Bayon was at the center of that capital city as its most important temple.  If you look at a map, the moat around Angkor Thom is much larger than the one around Angkor Wat.  (All these sites got “lost” in the early 1600s for a few centuries.)  Movies like Lara Croft:  Tomb Raider have had scenes shot at Angkor Thom.

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Bayon (Angkor Thom is the larger square around it) in relation to Angkor Wat

We approached Angkor Thom and had a great view of the wall around Angkor Thom and a bridge (or causeway) decorated on either side with sitting statues.  One drives through a gate that towers at the end of the bridge with each side of the tower carved with the face of a divinity.  I believe we went through the south gate.

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Causeway entering Angkor Thom from the south

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View across the causeway of the south gate

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Statues on the causeway

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The south gate

In any case, one approaches the main temple at Angkor Thom, Bayon, among a green field with palm trees.  Having first seen Angkor Wat with its dramatic towers and monumentality, Bayon felt a little less imposing yet so different it looked magnificent.

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Approaching Bayon – majestic!

From then we walked around different former hallways and around many towers and carvings.   It is said Bayon is more baroque while Angkor Wat is more classical Khmer style.  I am not an expert but certainly can tell that Bayon was much more loaded with carvings and more elaborate.  Bayon is certainly striking due to the many towers carved on four sides with faces of deities or other figures but it lacked the big open spaces within it that Angkor Wat had.

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Imposing

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The explorers look diminutive as our guide tried to capture it all

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Interesting things no matter where you look

As in many places, it is fun to watch other tourists engage with the site – and take their photo while they do so :)

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Strike a pose!

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One of the many tourists :) (thanks, Phil I. for snapping this winner!)

While Angkor Wat is overall more imposing, Bayon is definitely different enough to warrant the time to explore it – hope you get to do so!

Sunset over Tonlé Sap Lake in Cambodia

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As I mentioned in an earlier post about arriving in and exploring Siem Reap, we had asked the hotel to organize a drive that took us out of the town and into the countryside.  The hotel arranged for a car to take us to see the the sun set over the Tonlé Sap lake.  That was a great suggestion.

I don’t know how long it took us to drive out far enough to the part of the lake that looked west.  Was it 45 minutes?  Can’t recall.  In any case, there were small boats on the lake, I assume for tourists but not sure.  However, we had a private car take us around because we just felt like taking it very easy.

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Driving past the local market intown

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Beginning to leave the town

Having our own transport allowed us to go into areas that I would guess tourists do not visit – our driver did really well (I thought he had said his name was Seagull – we found out a little too late it was Sygold – lol).  Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

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A real tuk tuk: cart attached to motorcycle

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We got to walk around the humble homes of folks who live by the lake which not only afforded us great opportunities for sunset photos but also to see more of local life, even if for too short an experience.Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, kids, soccer Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

And the combination of the setting sun with the lake, the vegetation, and the local homes certainly made for a beautiful sunset.

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My poor attempt at a subtle photo of a family picnicking…

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It was a great first day in Cambodia to see the sunset and a different reality than ours at home and even folks in the town of Siem Reap – if you have the chance to do this while visiting Angkor Wat, I recommend it!

What to Know

  • Going to the lake is pretty easy and does not take too long.
  • As it is sunset, when mosquitoes get more active, put on some bug spray; I have to say I did not feel mosquitoes and I forgot to put on bug spray but Cambodia has malaria risk so I was glad I was on anti-malarial.
  • Bring water.  And there were no nearby facilities that I could see – but plenty of bushes!
  • Be ready to kick a football/soccer ball if the opportunity arises!

 

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