Pilgrimage to Lourdes, France

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Lourdes, France is a one-of-a-kind kind of place.  For me, that is for two good reasons:

  1. It is the site where the Virgin Mary appeared to young Bernadette, a country girl with no education but a lot of faith.
  2. My mother and sister are both named after that site, where the “Virgin of Lourdes” appeared to Bernadette.

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    The lower and upper basilicas from the Information Center

I suspect both my mom and sister have always wondered if they would ever go to that town in the foothills of the French Pyrenees.  Wouldn’t you want to go to the town where your name came from or is related to?  In their case, maybe more than just for the curiosity of being namesakes with the town but also on account of what happened there in the mid 19th century.

The apparition happened multiple times and the local clergy had initially been skeptical but, over time, became convinced of the validity of what Bernadette shared.  I will leave to other sources to explain the whole story but the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette on a grotto near the river.  Out of these events, water sprung from the site and waters of Lourdes are, to believers, holy waters.  People from all over the world come seeking healing or just a spiritual encounter.  Many drink the waters from the spring, bottle some to take home, or even immerse themselves in special pools set up near the grotto (we did all three).

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The grotto

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Fountains where bottles can be filled

When we first arrived in Lourdes from San Sebastian via Biarritz and Bayonne, I was expecting the narrow streets, crowded and me driving this larger vehicle through it all.  I knew I was near the hotel, the Grand Hotel Gallia & Londres, which I had picked due to its proximity to the Sanctuary of Lourdes to make all the walking to and fro easier for everyone, when all of a sudden I saw a parking sign for it, not where the GPS was indicating I needed to go.  Miraculously (pardon the pun), I caught a passing glimpse of the sign before I would have hit the heart of the crowded part of town!

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The back of our hotel

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Right outside of the Sanctuary – tourist shop chaos

The hotel was in the old style of a grand hotel.  It was nice enough but, unfortunately, the A/C was not working on our floor.  Hard to tell with French hotels whether they are just being stingy or whether it was true.  Certainly, at night the air cooled enough to be comfortable in the room but the noise from the street did not subside until the very wee hours of the morning – not the faithful partying, I am sure.  So that made the hotel not perfect.  But other than that, it did the job nicely enough.

We had dinner before heading in the early evening to the Sanctuary, the site with the grotto and several churches/basilicas, almost across the street from the hotel.  We knew there would be a torchlight procession at 9PM where the Holy Rosary is recited but we did not quite know the ‘mechanics’ of it.  So we sat on a bench to wait and what we missed was that we were supposed to walk towards the grotto and join the procession line.  But we witnessed the procession which brought a statue of the Virgin to the front steps of the Rosary Basilica (the lower one; the upper one that one sees more evidently is the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, or the Upper Basilica).  In the meantime, we did walk to the grotto for our first visit to the spot where the apparition took place.  The line was very short and it was always moving so it did not take long before we got to visit and say our prayers and intentions…

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The front of the lower basilica during the torchlight procession

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Grotto at night

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Statue of the Virgin carried during the torchlight procession

The next day, we had found out at the information center (located by one of the entrances to the complex) that there would be a Spanish Mass at 11 AM down the Esplanade at St. Joseph’s Chapel.  After attending that Mass we went into the underground Basilica of St. Pius X, a massive modern space completed in 1958 (it can hold 25,000 folk!).  I am not sure it is the type of church I feel most spiritual in but I suppose there is a need for it in this site?

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Information Center

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The Basilica of St. Pius X

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The lower and upper basilicas from across the Esplanade

We finished our exploring by visiting the Rosary Basilica and the Upper Basilica.  After that we went to the baths (or piscines) where one can immerse him- or herself in the holy spring waters.  The water was absolutely frigid so the miracle may be that my legs regained normal body temperature!  All joking aside, it was a very moving experience and we are grateful to the kind and helpful volunteers who give of themselves to help pilgrims…

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Detail of the facade of the lower basilica

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The inside of the lower basilica

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Looking towards the Esplanade from the Upper Basilica

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Entrance to the baths or piscines

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Amazing to see all the people helping the sick, or malade, move around

Witnessing so many people wearing their faith ‘on their sleeve’ was powerful.  Our trip was actually not just due to curiosity, or even strictly to see a place where an important event in our faith took place.  Our trip was a real pilgrimage of thanksgiving and prayer for continued health in my family after a year-and-a-half of dealing with cancer…  The grotto and the holy waters of Lourdes carry a very special meaning for us, even more now that we have been so fortunate to visit this place…

 


 

Andorra: The Last of the Tiny Ones

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I wrote earlier this year about my visit to tiny Liechtenstein, second to last of the small European countries left for me to step foot on.  Nestled between Switzerland and Austria, it is protected by mountains which helps explain perhaps why it survived as an entity over the centuries.  Well, 2017 was the year to close the book of the small European countries for me:  I got to visit Andorra in September!

Andorra is a strange political entity – technically, a principality.  And oddly, without a royal family…  As Liechtenstein, it is nestled in mountains between two other countries.  In Andorra’s case, Spain and France.  It is an old place – first chartered over 1,000 years ago and the current version of it (i.e., the principality) created in 1278.  Back then, there were two co-princes:  a count from Spain and a count from France.  Well, the French side of things changed over time to just be the President of France whereas the Spanish side evolved to be the Bishop of Urgell, a Spanish town not far from the border with Andorra.  [An interesting factoid:  Andorra declared war against Imperial Germany in World War I but, somehow, it was left off the peace treaty ending that war so it remained at a state of war until 1958 (well past even World War II!) – awkward…]

In any case, we drove into Andorra on our way from Lourdes, France to Barcelona, Spain.  The approach through the Pyrenees from the French side was a beautiful, long ride through small rural towns and mountains.  We entered Andorra without a good spot to stop and get a picture with a “Welcome to Andorra” sign (or the equivalent…) – unlike Liechtenstein where I got to take that obligatory, cheesy pic.

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Typical French tiny (and pretty lifeless) town near the border with Andorra

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Pretty cool tunneling

In any case, the roads were really good and we noticed that while on mountains, one could see long, gradual slopes on some of the mountains around us.  I learned later there are a lot of lakes and trails in the 181 square miles that make up this country making it a great place to hike and enjoy the outdoors.  Or ski in the winter; ski tourism being a key income earner for the tiny country.

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Beautiful mountain landscapes

We approached Andorra’s capital, Andorra la Vella after passing a couple of smaller towns.  (Andorra la Vella has about 24,000 inhabitants to give you a sense of scale).  It felt very modern and it sits right by a river valley between mountains.  Great spot!

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In Andorra, near Andorra la Vella

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You kind of see where the capital lays in this photo (OK, almost…)

We stayed close to the oldest part of Andorra la Vella, at the Andorra Center Hotel.  I figured at least we could walk easily to the old buildings while being close to the main shopping streets and good restaurants (that I found in TripAdvisor).  We were very close to St. Stephen’s Church (finished in the 12th century) and to Casa de la Vall (a home from the 1580s that is now home to the General Council of Andorra). We meandered the older small side streets (not a large area) and then also walked the shopping streets in the area.  Except…

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My Mom, sister and I posing near St. Stephen’s church

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Water fountain

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Casa de la Vall

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Federal government offices next to Casa de la Vall

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Mom and uncle posing for me by Casa de la Vall

Except…  We noticed the streets were largely lifeless, empty.  Everything was closed.  We assumed it was siesta time and, hence, why everything was closed.  We learned when we got back to the hotel that it was Andorra’s national day and EVERYTHING was closed.  I mean, even the hotel’s little store!  Those restaurants which I had researched ahead of time were all closed.  These folks take their national day seriously but, yet, there were no festivities to be witnessed, no people just hanging outdoors either – very odd…

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Curious bridge (empty road)

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Around Andorra la Vella’s commercial district (empty)

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“Skyscraper” (empty?)

So, after walking around the old part of town, we ended up back at the hotel’s buffet restaurant since there were no other options.  We were going to leave the next morning early to head to Montserrat, Spain and then Barcelona so we had no time to spare in this tiny country.  While I was glad to check off Andorra from my list and now have a good visual of what it looks like (topographically and architecturally), I am bummed at the sheer bad luck (what are the odds??!!) and the lack of anything going on on a national holiday (at least seeing some local celebrations would have been cool).

Perhaps I need to return in winter to enjoy skiing with a bunch of visiting skiers?

Out and About (and Eating!) in San Sebastian, Spain

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As I mentioned in my earlier post, one of the goals of our trip to Spain was to visit the lands from which some of my Mom’s ancestors came to Cuba.  San Sebastian (or “Donostia” in the local language – Basque), in Spain’s Basque country, was perfectly situated to serve as our base to explore before heading out to Lourdes, France.  But San Sebastian itself was a destination!

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San Sebastian!

I had always heard about the great cuisine coming out of San Sebastian so it became a key stop at the onset of our trip.  We would stay there two nights, with the day in between being our day to explore the towns and hamlets from which the ancestors came.  That gave us one full afternoon to explore the heart of San Sebastian – and two nights!

It seems it was peak vacation time in early September, which was a bit unexpected, so there were no good hotels close to the famous La Concha Beach or near the Old Town.  However, I was not disappointed with the hotel I found, not even a mile from the old town:  Hotel Astoria.  The hotel’s theme revolved around famous movie actors and directors and had a very modern design.  It was located on a quiet street and had both a full restaurant and a cafe in the lobby.  We did not try the restaurant but did enjoy the cafe for our breakfasts.

Luckily not only were we close to Old Town but it was not hard to find (underground) parking right by the Hotel Maria Cristina or across the river by the Kursaal Center.   Old Town (or Casco Viejo) is the second oldest neighborhood in the city and it is full of bars and eateries – clearly the teeming social center of this great city!

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The Kursaal Center (has underground public parking)

When we first visited Old Town, we headed first to the waterfront to check out the beautiful waters of the Mar Cantábrico, or Bay of Biscay after a quick snack and trying a “carajillo,” coffee with liquor (rum, brandy or anything of the sort!).

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Beautiful waters surround San Sebastian

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Must be some good fish in those waters!

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Carajillo

Back in Old Town, we meandered through narrow streets.  Kalea (Calle) 31 de Agosto had many eateries offering the famous “pintxos” (like tapas).  We tried pintxos here and there as we kept exploring this part of town which is full of character.  We made it to the other side from which we had a glimpse of La Concha Beach and the rest of the same-named bay.

A distinguished gent (my uncle!) waiting to order while a distinguished lady (my sister) awaits

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Pintxos

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La Concha Beach in the background

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Bikes a great way to move around

We saw some neat churches (San Vicente, which was closed, and the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus, which charged for entrance so we skipped it).  Lots of neat structures and charming narrow streets all around.

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Narrow street in Old Town

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Entering Old Town from the river

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Buildings in Old Town

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Lots of character in this balcony

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Streets of Old Town

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At Plaza Constitucion

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Neat sights – walking “aimlessly” is the best way to explore!

And, as we meandered through the old town, we ran into the restaurant we had made reservations for for the following evening.  As I researched San Sebastian, one of my areas of focus was food.  I wanted to find one of the restaurants that make San Sebastian’s cuisine so well regarded.  After looking at a few places, I settled on Bodegón Alejandro.  Coincidentally, my uncle had done research and had read an article on the newspaper that also mentioned Bodegón Alejandro.  So, that was the place and, luckily, making reservations was super easy:  their website allowed for making them online!

Part of Bodegón Alejandro’s menu

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Delicious croquetas were one of our starters

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Dessert – phenomenal chocolate soufflé

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Another dessert – torrija with ice cream

The charm of San Sebastian did not only reside in its waters or in the old town – it was a beautiful and livable town all around.  I would love to spend a few months residing there and enjoying this northern Basque city – and maybe with my wonderful travel companions!

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Sister, Mom, and Uncle!

 

In-and-Out: Vermont

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As part of my “In-and-Out” series (where I write about very short visits to places due to business trips), I am going to share about my visit to my 40th state.  This week, I got an opportunity to visit one of my employer’s offices in Burlington, Vermont, a state I had never set foot on before.  I heard the town was charming and that it was a relaxed kind of place.  It was.  In my short visit, besides the work aspect (which went well!), I managed to do just a small bit of exploring thanks to our local colleagues.  What did this small of exploring include?

1.  Walking around Burlington along the lake and in the heart of the town.  We had dinner at Farmhouse where I ate a delicious burger topped only by the amazing onion rings.  A couple of Brooklyns (rye whiskey based cocktail) also helped.  Interesting sidewalk-side bike and doggie stations…

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Doggie parking!

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Bike parking meter!

2.  Drive through the charming town of Bristol (pop. 4,000-5,000) and stop for ice cream at Lulu’s.

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3.  Hike in the Green Mountain National Forest along the Long Trail to watch the sun set above the Adirondacks.

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4.  Go for a short sailboat cruise on Lake Champlain on a phenomenal late spring day with highs in the low 70s and beautiful blue skies.

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Our ride

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Captain ilivetotravel

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Looking back towards the Community Sailing Center in Burlington

As a parenthetical, I got to enjoy Ben & Jerry‘s ice cream scooped by Jerry Greenfield himself!

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There is Jerry!

I do not know whether work will take me up there again sometime but I sure plan to go back some day to enjoy nature be it skiing or hiking!

Small European Countries – One Left to Go!

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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.  Malta.  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?).

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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?

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Castle perched right above Vaduz

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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

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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!

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Passport stamp

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Pedestrian shopping street at the feet of the castle

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Around Vaduz, Liechtenstein

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Church and Vaduz City Hall (on the right)

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Around Vaduz

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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…

Trees Take over a Temple: Ta Prohm, Cambodia

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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.”

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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!

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Entrance

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Chatting with our guide

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

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

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

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

Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

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!

Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

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

Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

The church was undergoing renovations

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, S7

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

Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, Gamla Stan, Cornelisparken

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!

 

Stockholm’s City Hall – Great Vantage Point

Stockholm, Sweden, City Hall, views, vistas, Gamla Stan, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, travel, tourism, Stadshuset

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

Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7

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.

Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat, temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, Camboya, templo, budismo, Buddhist, travel, explore, photo

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.

Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7, moat

Causeway entering Angkor Thom from the south

Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7, moat

View across the causeway of the south gate

Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7

Statues on the causeway

Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7, gate

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.

Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7

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.

Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7

Imposing

Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7

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

Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7 Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7, carving Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7, Buddha

Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7

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 🙂

Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7

Strike a pose!

Angkor Thom, Bayon, temple, Khmer, Cambodia, Camboya, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, tourism, photo, samsung Galaxy, S7, ilivetotravel

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

Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

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.

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, sunset, Tonle Sap, drive, countryside, Samsung Galaxy, S7, photo, travel, Asia, explore

Driving past the local market intown

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Cambodge, sunset, Tonle Sap, drive, countryside, Samsung Galaxy, S7, photo, travel, Asia, explore

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

Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, tuk tuk

A real tuk tuk: cart attached to motorcycle

Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

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.

Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

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

Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Siem 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, S7Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Siem Reap, Tonle Sap, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, adventure, outdoors, sunset, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

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!

 

2016 – A Year in Review

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, independence monument, plaza, travel, explore, Asia, photo, Samsung Galaxy

To say 2016 was a strange year is understating it.  It started right off the bat with a scary family health issue (which, mercifully, is much much better by now) that took us all quite by surprise.  The year also had other small ‘hiccups,’ which is just life on any given year.  Nevertheless, and as is often the case, God certainly brings good out of the bad, and provides other great things to keep us balanced (or, sane!).

I want to share some of those great things, at least the ones that related to travel, exploring, hiking, relaxing, or enjoying food/wine to wrap up this year.  While I did not get to write as much this year as I normally do, I certainly never stopped dreaming of travel or of sharing the experiences.  Here is to a great 2017 for all!

Elton, Sir Elton

A work trip in early January resulted in getting invited to a private concert with Sir Elton John.  I got to stand close to the stage and enjoyed his music and showmanship (and the complimentary drinks with two great co-workers)!  While the year started with Elton John’s music, I can say that the song of the year (in my head, anyway) is “One Night in Bangkok,” if nothing else because I heard it too many times in anticipation of a trip that happened much later in the year.

Elton John, concert, CES, music, icon, travel, Las Vegas, photo, red piano

Brunswick in coastal Georgia

A brief work trip in February took me to coastal Georgia, to the sleepy-ish town of Brunswick.  I took some time to drive around the old part of town and caught a great sunset as I hunted for a place to sit down and eat.  Not bad!Brunswick, Georgia, sunset, sun, cloud, silhouette, golden, sky, photo

Oldest church in Atlanta

The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Atlanta is the oldest church in Atlanta.  I got to work at the homeless shelter in the basement overnight a night in winter.  I loved the reflection of the church on the modern building across from it…

Shrine, Immaculate Conception, downtown, Atlanta, reflection, glass, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – or its reflection

Hiking in north Georgia

Spring brought many opportunities to go hiking around and north of Atlanta.  Whether with my regular hiking buddy, Phil; or with my friend Troy and his two oldest children, Rehm and Caitlyn; or with a group from church that included my friends Chris and Wendy, springtime was full of hiking.  Here are photos from my hikes around Vickery Creek, up Pine Mountain, up to the top of Stone Mountain, or to and back from the awesome Hike Inn in north Georgia!

Vickery Creek, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Around the Vickery Creek trails

Vickery Creek, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Around the Vickery Creek trails – the dam

Pine Mountain, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Trails around Pine Mountain

Pine Mountain, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Trails around Pine Mountain

Hike Inn, sunrise, mountains, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

View of sunrise from the Hike Inn

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The group at the starting point to get to the Hike Inn

Stone Mountain, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

No kids were harmed in this photo on the rail line in Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Around Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Again, no kids were harmed… really…

Colorado spring!

In June, I got to visit my friends Annette, Kent and Austin to celebrate two great events in their lives.  It also gave me the opportunity to tour the Stanley Hotel which inspired Stephen King, and to finally hike around the table mountain right west of Arvada.  Oh, and I got to see a few other friends that I had not seen in a few years!

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park,  flower, Stephen King, Colorado, table mountain, explore, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The Stanley Hotel

hiking, Colorado, table mountain, outdoors, nature, photo, Samsung Galaxy hiking, Colorado, table mountain, outdoors, nature, photo, Samsung Galaxy, flower

Celebrating with my Mom and sister

In July, my Mom, sister and I made a long weekend getaway to the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota.  We got to relax, laugh, and -of course- eat a lot of delicious food!

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With my Mom and sister!

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Great colors as the sun sets west of Sarasota

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Mmm!!!!

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Creme brulee

Wine in California

I was fortunate to be able to go to California for work which allowed me to visit ex-Atlanta residents Jenny, Jason, Phoebe and Zoe.  While the kids were in school, my hostess and I escaped for a wine tasting at Testarossa – great locale and great wine!  Among the best things to do in Cali – wine tasting!

Testarossa, California, winery, wine tasting, fun

Entrance to the tasting room

Testarossa, California, winery, wine tasting, fun

Awesome setting for a winery!

Cheap fare to Stockholm

John, a college friend who knows how to find a good airfare, suggested a long weekend ‘jump’ to Stockholm.  A little bit mad, perhaps, but I could not say no to have another opportunity to explore this great city.  And then we drove away from the city to see what we’d run into.  Good stuff for another post!

Stamla Gan, Stockholm, Sweden, travel, explore, tourism, Samsung Galaxy

Great view of the heart of Stockholm

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Sweden’s countryside

food, mussels, Stockholm, Sweden, travel, explore

A great dinner on the first night in Stockholm

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Beautiful Stockholm!

My travel capstone in 2016 – Asia

Great stuff up to this point but my trip to Southeast Asia certainly took the cake – not just for the long distance to get there (37 hours!).  I got to explore and sample Bali, Singapore, Bangkok and the countryside near it, and amazing Cambodia.  Wish I had had two more weeks to include Laos and Vietnam – and/or just for more time in these places.  Leaving something unseen for a future trip hopefully and grateful for the opportunity to see what I saw!

Bali, Indonesia, Asia, Seminyak, pool, W Resort, W hotel, awesome, Samsung Galaxy S7

The view from my room included a great view of the pool area

Our Lady Help, Mae Klong, church, Catholic ,Bangkok, Thailand

Cycling around the countryside outside of Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand, tuk tuk, ilivetotravel, travel, adventure, explore

Tuk tuk adventures…

Bangkok, Thailand, temple, reclining Buddha, ilivetotravel, travel, adventure, explore

Standing Buddha with the reclining Buddha

Cambodia, Cambodge, sunset, lake, travel, explore, adventure, Samsung Galaxy

Sunset in Cambodia

Angkor Wat, temple, ilivetotravel, sunrise, ruins, explore, travel, Asia, Cambodia, Cambodge

Looking haggard after an early early wake-up to see Angkor Wat at sunrise

Ta Phrom, Cambodia, Cambodge, Angkor Wat, temple, ruins, banyan tree, travel, explore, adventure

Ta Phrom and its banyan trees!

Singapore, ilivetotravel, Marina Bay Sands, infinity pool, up high, travel, explore

Atop the Marina Bay Sands! (Thanks Phil I. for the photo!)

 Have a happy and blessed 2017, everyone!!!

Siem Reap – Cool Place in the Tropics

local market, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

The plans for my visit to Cambodia were anchored, as you may well imagine, in seeing world-famous Angkor Wat.  For that, we planned to spend 1.5 days and 2 nights in the town of Siem Reap which is just less than a few handful of miles from the historical sites.  There are many many more temples to go explore and one can certainly spend 2-3 days just focused on that.  I felt I was more on a sampler visit due to the overall travel plans (anchored on a wedding in Bali) and the limited time off work.

Paradise in Siem Reap

We arrived right in Siem Reap (very nice and modern small airport) from Bangkok after noon and headed to our hotel, the Borei Angkor Resort right in the town.

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, landing, flight

Final approach (thanks to my bud Phil I. for the photo – he had the window seat!)

The hotel was a phenomenal spot as may be others.  The spaces were very open.  The pool was big enough and had a section with jets which were great after a lot of walking around the next day.  And it helped that I stayed at the Privilege Floor 🙂  (Disclosure:  No freebies, discounts, etc. were given to me for me to write about the place – I paid for it all myself and I write about it because I really enjoyed it.)

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Borei Angkor, resort, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Welcome!

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Borei Angkor, resort, Samsung Galaxy, S7

The main lobby

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Borei Angkor, resort, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Looking up from the pool

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Borei Angkor, resort, Samsung Galaxy, S7

The pool…

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Borei Angkor, resort, pool, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Not the fanciest of photos but it sure takes me back there!

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Borei Angkor, resort, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Looking out from the front lobby to the hotel entrance

The staff was super eager to help and no one more so than our hostess, Judy, who ensured all the logistics of our sightseeing and the hotel stay were in order (everything was perfect!).  We also enjoyed a server at the lounge who had a peculiar way of laughing and who called everyone “fabulous” though I could swear he called me “father” instead…  He definitely made the place very lively!

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Borei Angkor, resort, Samsung Galaxy, S7

With Judy, the hostess, and Chicago Phil

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Borei Angkor, resort, Samsung Galaxy, S7

View of the town from the room at sunset

In any case, we had decided not to hit the temples that first afternoon for a couple of reasons:  one, it would be peak heat and ‘suffering’ wasn’t high on the list of priorities…; two, people had said it was best to hit the sites at sunrise and then stay on-site through the morning, when some or many tourists would return to their hotels for breakfasts and/or extra sleep.  (More on the visit to the temples in a future post.)  We quickly dropped our bags, changed and headed to lounge by the pool for some nice R&R with some Angkor Wat beer 🙂  I think I ordered a sandwich or a pizza poolside for lunch – scary that I can’t fully recall! (Phil, ayúdame!)

The local market in Siem Reap

We had planned to do a drive in the countryside later that first day – more about that in another post – but after that drive, as we were passing the local market, we decided to jump out and do a quick walk-around of the market and that area of the town.  I have to say it was definitely a chill place.  While there were certainly tourist-oriented market stands and eateries (goodness, there was even a Hard Rock Café – yikes…), the market also served locals and it was neat to just meander through it.

local market, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Not the type of ‘meat market’ I’d hoped for 🙂

local market, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

“Vienna Calling”, perhaps?

local market, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

All sorts of goods from food & spices to textiles

Colorful town

The town felt lively and the colorful lighting on the bridges certainly contributed.  Overall, I felt very safe and maybe I should have explored more and sat down somewhere to watch life go by.  But I don’t always enjoy full clarity every moment of every trip – in hindsight!  No worries, I still can say it was a neat place.

local market, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Around town – market on the left

local market, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Around town –  maybe I should do that to the bridge in my backyard…

local market, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Asia, travel, explore, adventure, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Around town – the fast lane!

What to Know

  • The town is very walkable and felt safe.
  • There are good eateries around the market – get a good recommendation from a trusted source, be it your hotel or an online review!
  • If you are looking for souvenirs, what you find in the market will be the same touristy stuff you will find elsewhere in the country – and at a slightly higher price since it is, after all, a very tourist-centric town.

 

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