Sunset over Tonlé Sap Lake in Cambodia

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!

 

Great Drive Series – 17-Mile Drive in California

I have been to San Francisco once or twice for very short visits but have not gone further south than the airport.  That last year when I went to visit friends in San Jose, California. Even though the visit was only a few days, I wanted to see the famous coast in the area.  Additionally, I was hoping to see legendary Silicon Valley and just to get a sense for how this part of California feels.

Leaving San Fran – Caltrain!

I left San Fran on a Wed afternoon by taking the Caltrain down for the hour ride to San Jose for $9.25!  Note that the hour ride is for the “express” train that makes less than half a dozen stops between the two cities.  The express only runs at peak times which in the afternoon means from 4 PM until the end of rush hour.  I killed some time at the station to avoid taking the non-express with all the annoyance that that would bring with all the stops.  The 4PM was not packed but was pretty well “attended” with commuters from school-aged kids going home to worker bees heading back home.  The train is a double-decker so plenty of space.  Except I did not find a spot for suitcases so I had to place it on the seat next to me.  Maybe that was better as it was with me the whole time?

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The only photo I have related to the train… sorry! And the shades were given to me at the conference.

17-Mile Drive and Pebble Beach

I am not a golfer but I knew, of course, about Pebble Beach.  To be honest, I really did not know where it was.  At least I had heard of it.  But I had never heard of 17-Mile Drive.  We left San Jose and drove through eucalyptus forests and passed by sand dunes as we approached Monterey.  Monterey has an awesome aquarium but I preferred to add Carmel to the itinerary so the aquarium will be for another time.

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The drive through the eucalyptus forest

Starting on 17-Mile Drive

Upon entering Monterey (or its outskirts), we took a left hand turn to enter the route that would take us to 17-Mile Drive.  We hit a gate where we paid $10 for the right to enter “The Drive”.  The drive seems to be in private property, hence they get to charge for driving through it.  It is not a park but the setup looked like one.

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The route of 17-Mile Drive

There are quite a few stops along the way by the ocean which is quite nice.  You can get out of the car, eat something, walk on the beach, or watch the sea otters (or perhaps a whale?).

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The Pacific Ocean roaring against the rocks; we saw some seals

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Instead of boring you with the actual shot, how about 2 of me getting ready for it??

The water is frigid so there will not be any swimming but I had to dip my toes just to feel it!

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Into the cold!

Cypress Point

The most spectacular stops were Cypress Point Lookout and Pescadero Point.  The place was first spotted (that we know of) by a European as far back as 1542.  Over 200 years later, a missionary gave Cypress Point its current name.  Supposedly the cypress tree growing on the rocky point is like 250 years old – they are trying to get it to stay alive until 300 (according to the sign).  Wonder what they plan to do if it gets to 300.  Chop it?  It sure makes for a beautiful sight.

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The Lone Cypress

During the drive we ran into Cypress Point Club and latter the Pebble Beach courses.  What a setting for golf!  Not that I play but if I did…

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Cypress forest native to the area

I did not get to snap any good shots of these so I will leave you with some “sea art” from the Pacific coast:   no one does it better than nature!  From here we went on to Carmel and visited its famous Mission – you can read about that part here!

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Marine vegetation imitates art?

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My favorite shot

It is neat when travel unexpectedly shows you something you had no real understanding of – or perhaps even knowledge of.  This visit qualifies under both – an unexpected enjoyable side trip!

 

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Great Drives Series – Around Bordeaux

I have done a couple of trips into Bordeaux where I have explored the region by car.  There really is no better way to explore the diversity of the region (and its wines!), which may seem at first to be more homogenous than it actually is.  To venture inland, near where Bordeaux runs into the Dordogne is to see a totally different Bordeaux than you may see in the Médoc.  To drive around Sauternes is definitely different than going to Saint-Émilion.

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Beautiful countryside in Bordeaux

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Fields of sunflowers dot the landscape in parts of Bordeaux

Both times I went were in the pre-GPS era but that did not make it difficult to drive around.  A good map (and a good map reader somewhere in the vehicle) is all you need to be able to explore this area without too much trouble.

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Plenty of markers/signs help the visitor find their way around!

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With helpful markers like this one, you know you are in wine country!

One of our stops was the Château Ducru-Beaucaillou where we were taken on a private tour of this grand winemaker (through which I would run the next day when I ran in the Bordeaux marathon!).

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Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou (I would run right past this spot the next day!)

If you are somewhat interested in wine, there will be plenty for you to do and explore. The town of Saint-Émilion is one of the gems of the region.  Walk around but climb up to the top of the town.  There are cafés up there too and nowhere better to be when the sun sets, glass of wine in hand – of course!

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The way to Saint-Émilion!

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Always remember where you parked in a new town! In this case, a nice map at the town entrance helped!

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View from the upper part of Saint-Émilion down to its main square

We enjoyed some of the big (and seemingly more commercial) chateaux but we also loved to more “rural” areas on roads less traveled and discovering the smaller vineyards and winemakers.  Some of the information offices and hotels had displays full of cards of the many chateaux in the area such as the one below.

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It was one of these cards that led us to discover a gem of a château in SauternesChâteau Sahuc Les Tours.

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The beautiful Château Sahuc Les Tours

The owners even sat down with us to share a bottle of their Sauternes and spent a good hour chatting with us about every topic that could concern French and American alike (they spoke excellent English).  Sauternes (in the Graves area), if you are not familiar, produces a sweet white wine bearing the same name made from sémillon, sauvignon blanc, and muscadelle grapes that have Botrytis cinerea (or “noble rot”) which concentrates the sugars.  We got to see the grapes up front as they began to look like raisins.  But don’t let the thought of rot keep you from drinking this wine!

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Before and after…

That was such a good experience that I returned 7 years later to that chateau – and to my delight, one of the owners was there and, though she clearly could not remember me, realized I really had been there before as I recounted some of the things they had told us the first visit.  Connecting with locals in a real way is one of the rewards of venturing out and exploring this world!

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The friendly owner of Sahuc Les Tours with a delicious bottle in hand

So while this post is about great drives, let’s not forget that this drive is about wine!  Cheers!

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A beautiful wine in Bordeaux

 

Great Drive Series – Frankfurt to Maastricht

Among the many ways to travel and explore, few things beat driving around yourself, whether it be Tuscany, New Zealand or across the U.S., there is a freedom that comes with being on your own, able to stop at will for a photo, to rest or… to relief yourself (yes, I said it …).

I have done some great drives and I thought I’d start a short series on these drives and, hopefully, hear back from you on your own favorite drives along the way.

Today, I share my drive to/from Maastricht, The Netherlands and Frankfurt, Germany over a dozen years ago.  I was in Frankfurt for business for a few weeks and decided to visit a college friend who was an ex-pat in Maastricht.  I rented my car in Frankfurt and made my way, in about 3 hrs, to Maastricht on the famous autobahn.  The autobahn between some cities in Germany fails to meet the wild expectations we have in the U.S. about fast speeds as there is too much vehicular traffic on some of the routes.  But some parts of the route I took where free and clear just for me.  That and along the Mercedes-Benz upgrade they gave me were the perfect pairing for a FUN drive.  On the outbound leg of the trip, I drove northwest towards Bonn and Cologne (Köln) on the A3 and then west on the A4 past Aachen straight into Maastricht.  I wish I had had time to explore Aachen, having been a residence of Charlemagne and where many Holy Roman Emperors were crowned back in the day.  For that matter also Cologne and Bonn.  So much too see and so little time…

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The outbound route I took

On the way back I took a different route based on my friend’s suggestion as the landscape would be much more rewarding.  It was indeed!  I don’t recall the details of the route (which cut at some point across the incredible Mosel River) but maybe someone will recognize some of the locales from the photos and let me know more precisely where I went through!

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I highly recommend taking the “road less traveled”.  In this case, not the A3!   Western Germany, near the border with Luxembourg and France, is simply a beautiful place to visit, explore and drive.  Get lost, take your time, and sample this area!

 

A Quick Switzerland Sampler Trip

Back in the times when I lived in Paris, a fellow expat and I decided it would be a great idea to leave Paris a Friday afternoon and head down to Switzerland by car for the weekend.  It was actually crazy and last minute but most definitely worthwhile, even if rushed.  We realized we would only be scratching the surface of what western Switzerland has to offer but we kept talking about it as a “research trip” to see how Switzerland was.  A sampler trip if you will.

We departed Paris in the late afternoon and drove a few hours to our planned overnight stop at Besançon.  We stayed at a small hotel close to the casino.  We mistakenly thought it may be interesting to enter the casino but it was way too smoky so we just walked around town and grabbed dinner at a run-of-the-mill cafè.  What struck us was that Besançon itself could have been a destination as the city looked like it had areas to explore.  A visit for some other time…

Besançon was close to the Swiss border so Saturday morning it did not take us long to make it to Switzerland proper.  At the border we had to buy a sticker to allow us to drive a foreign car on Swiss roads – something we were not aware of until we got to the border.  We drove in the Jura region which had beautiful scenery (not an uncommon thing in Switzerland!) until we made it to Lausanne.  We were not planning on exploring it on this trip so we it was strictly a drive-by.  It looked like a town worth checking out but our goal was to get to Bern where we had planned to stay overnight and visit Interlaken that afternoon.

We wanted to see Interlaken that afternoon but since we had no hotel reservations for Saturday night, we drove into Bern first, went to the tourist info office, and got a hotel room.  I have to say the tourist info office was fantastic and efficient in helping us secure accommodations.  Why am I not surprised or am I stereotyping? 🙂   The small hotel was in the town center and we had fun driving to get to that part of town.  Bern is set in an enclave surrounded by the Aar River on 3 sides.  One of the best views of the town is actually from the opposite site of the river where you can take in the town’s setting and charming architecture.

After checking in, we quickly departed Bern to hit Interlaken before it was too late in the day.  The drive south to Interlaken was very short and, again, beautiful.  I remember listening to Billy Joel during the drive but don’t ask me what that has to do with anything; the memory just came up as I typed…  Interlaken is, as the name suggests, between lakes and the setting could not be more spectacular.  Of course, the tourist shops take away from the scenery a little bit so we walked away from that part of the town (after having a beer!) to find a place to eat that would not be at the heart of the tourist zone (yet, we were tourists – the irony, huh?).  We found a nice place and had a great meal.  Highlight of the meal was these two young women who were tourists who after the meal ordered what they thought was a dessert and it turned out to be this massive bowl of some sort of soup.  They kept giggling and since they were speaking English we asked them what was up.  They were embarrassed but we all laughed together at this example of the fun experiences one can have when one explores.

That night in Bern we went out to check out some of the night scene.  We ended up sitting outdoors in some bar that seemed happening.  We enjoyed sitting out there soaking in the scene before calling it a night.

Sunday came too fast (what did we expect?) and time to head back to Paris.  We decided to make our way back via Lucerne where we stopped to have lunch lakeside before the long road ahead.  We left Switzerland near Basel and made it “home” safely.

Though the trip was way too short, we enjoyed sampling some of what Switzerland has to offer.  And the research trip clearly yielded a desire to go back and spend more time.

Does anyone have recommendations on unique things in Lausanne, Bern, Interlaken or Lucerne to see or do?  How about any small towns in that part of the country that are picturesque/worth seeing?

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