Skiing and Après-Skiing in Lech, Austria

Lech, Vorarlberg, ski, skiing, Austria, lift, slope, snow, blue sky

h, summertime… perfect time to reminisce about, what else?  Winter!  Yes, the warm, humid days of the Atlanta summer make me long for winter…  (Well, I have to say that it is not like we are in the midst of a heat wave (we are under 90F still) but a little drama doesn’t hurt when writing the intro for this post, right?)

So, in this post, I want to share of my time this past February skiing in Lech, in the Vorarlberg region of Austria – its westernmost region.  I have skied in Utah, Colorado, the Chilean Andes but had not skied in the Alps – an item in my bucket list.  I needed that to change and the opportunity arose to ski in Austria with a college friend.  After some research and word-of-mouth feedback, Lech seemed a great spot to check out, on the high-end of skiing towns in western Austria.

Driving to Lech

Driving into Lech from tiny Liechtenstein (where we had stopped on the way from Munich – a slight detour), the scenery along the S16 highway was amazing – trees and slopes covered with fresh snow.  The drive was not too long (2-3 hrs perhaps?) and soon enough we left the highway to get to Lech via Stuben and Zürs.  We hit some cool through-mountain and mountain-side “tunnels” and, eventually, approached Lech, all covered in fresh snow at around the time where the early “quitters” were leaving the slopes.drive, driving, Austria, Lech, Vorarlberg, winter, snow, road

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Tunnel through the mountains

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The “tunnels” to keep roads passable – and protected

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Entering Lech

Lodging in Lech

It took us a bit to find our destination for the first night in Zug, just a couple of kilometers off the main part of Lech.  We had a slight incident whereby our original pension (Stierfall) had overbooked itself and they got us booked in the place next door but that was not all a bad thing as the second place was nicer anyway (Stäfeli, Hotel-Garni).

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View from the hotel

Staying in Zug seemed less than ideal since we could not just walk to Lech (well, we could but the road was narrow, no sidewalks, potentially icy, etc.).  However, either we could drive down/up OR take advantage of the great shuttle buses that operate taking people in and out of Lech to neighboring villages.  We had a shuttle stop just down the small hill from our hotel which was cool and made it all easier.

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Tiny church right by the shuttle stop in Zug

Due to being high season that week we went (“spring break” in Austria and some other European countries), we were unable to find accommodations for two nights in a row.  So we checked out of the hotel the next day and later that day checked in to our second hotel in Lech.  This time, we were very lucky with the switch-a-roo.  Yes, we had another incident with overbooked places.  But, this time, not only was the place better but it was in PRIME location, pretty much at the end of the slopes that deposit skiers right in the heart of Lech.  All we had to do, was cross the main street and we were at our hotel, the Hotel Tannbergerhof.  It was not only a phenomenal location but the second story suite we were assigned to looked right at the end of the slopes and the street below.  Wow.  How I wished I had stayed there a whole week!

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View of the end of the slopes from my hotel window (notice the end is a mogul run)

Another option that I would recommend considering is staying in Oberlech, a series of hotels/inns in the midst of the slopes above the town of Lech (hence the area’s name).  It sure makes it easy to ski when you do not have to deal with shuttle buses and the like (not that I had to from my second hotel intown!).  Plus, easy to go for a quick re-charge nap and keep skiing later in the afternoon!  Oberlech offers plenty of places for refreshments in the middle of the skiing day which was very much to my liking!

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Oberlech area

Eating in Lech

Now, one thing we did not realize is that most people have their dinner at the hotel they stay at and those restaurants have just the tables needed for their guests. It felt like most or all restaurants we found were part of a hotel. If you don’t make reservations ahead of time for any possible open table, you find yourself (like we did) unable to just walk in to a restaurant and get a table. We lucked out eventually as one of the restaurants we walked into had just had a table cancel so we were able to eat a real meal.  At least, hunting for a restaurant allowed us to enjoy exploring the town at night – it was a winter wonderland indeed.

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Lech at night

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In the heart of the town by the Lech River

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The meal was worth trekking around town!

For the second night, we made reservations ahead of time. The hotel staff at Tannbergerhof had recommended a couple of places in Oberlech so we followed their advice. It was an adventure… We took the gondola up to the area and then walked trails (sometimes covered in ice at that time of night) roaming around a little lost until we finally found our place. We did a poor job of either listening to OR following the directions several people gave us and, apparently, got very close to the place without realizing it. It was dark and much colder than I expected (we were in higher altitude than in Lech and I was not prepared for that) and I was hungry! Anyway, we found the place eventually to my great relief. The meal, as anywhere else, was simply delicious.  The cool thing is that the staff was not just seasonal workers coming into the area. These were local folks, working the local restaurant near the farms that their family had owned for generations – pretty cool.

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This warmed me up after the cold hike to the restaurant!

During the day, having lunch was easy as people are out skiing and there are plenty of tables available.  We chose to have lunch in one of the hotels in Oberlech where I enjoyed a phenomenal schnitzel with a glass of wine.  The sun was bright and it was a good break from the skiing.

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Mmm!!!

And now, skiing Lech!

During that lunch, we met a couple from Munich who has an apartment in a nearby village and they come all the time since it is so close.  They explained how Lech and neighboring villages connect through ski runs/paths and the occasional lift/gondola (to eliminate the need for loading up in a shuttle).  They shared how they spend the whole day traversing the area from place to place skiing without ever walking or taking a shuttle.  Sounds phenomenal to me – wish I had had much more time there to do just that!

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Up towards the first run of the trip!

I had not skied in a few years but found my skiing legs, as usual, pretty quickly.  Blue runs quickly stopped being intimidating.  We went up high for our first run and ended up going slightly off track downhill on a slope between two runs, crossing a long pile of snow.  Don’t know how we got confused and got off the run but it was fun (after I was done with it).

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The side slope that I accidentally skied through – apparently not the only one to do so

It was not to be the only ‘confusion’… At the end of the slopes in Lech, one can take a sharp right turn down a normal run to end up across from my hotel OR one goes straight down a mogul course which is a shorter distance (see earlier photo taken from my hotel room). I had no idea it was a mogul run (blessed ignorance…) and went through it. At first I thought it was just a couple of bumps until I realized where I was. I decided to just go for it as if I knew how to tackle moguls (which, of course, I know because I have watched winter olympics on and off – and I have stayed in Holiday Inns).  I have to say, that I did actually quite well navigating the moguls.  Perhaps some unknown instinct within me?  I am glad I did it – it was fun!

The slopes were usually quite broad and the skiers not typically as rude or aggressive as they can be back home…  OK, some went REALLY fast but you could tell they knew what they were doing and not endangering others.  I will say, though, that most people there seemed to be seasoned skiers vs. the casual once-a-year or once-every-few-years skiers we have at home *myself included* which made me feel safer in my underskilled skier status.  They would know how to navigate around me should I stagger or fall and were not doing non-sensical things.  I had one epic fall and a minor one.  Nothing untoward happened to limbs or bones, thankfully – all good fun!

Après-ski and “during”-ski in Lech

But the best part of this are the stops to refresh oneself.  The first morning, we happened upon a small watering hole up high where a waitress had to help me with a stubborn jacket zipper that would not open (or would it??…).  There I discovered that a beverage of choice is seltzer water with white wine.  I took one of those as I figured the lower alcohol content was better since we were just starting the skiing.

Oberlech, Lech, Austria, ski, skiing, slopes, apres ski

My first stop!

Later on, in Oberlech, we ran into a few places that were hopping with the lucky souls who get to ski there.  One had pumping music and great views so we plopped ourselves down at the bar for a beverage.

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View of Lech from Oberlech (my 2nd hotel in the middle of it all)

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Incredible setting for a beverage in Oberlech!

When we finished skiing, we ended up at the bar area in front of our hotel, right by the street.  A happening spot, it was right under our suite’s windows.  Being that it is right at the exit of the slopes across the street, the spot was teeming  with folks who had wrapped up their day.  An Aperol spritz was in order as was people-watching.  Ahh… I love skiing and I love doing it somewhere where there is a scene to take in!  Hope to return someday!!

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My Aperol beverage

 

Photos of the Week – Sights of Amsterdam

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

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Right outside of the train station

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Train station

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Royal Palace

Day Photos of Amsterdam

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By the train station – a bunch of bikes!

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Red doorways – cool

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

Uppsala – Worth the Drive from Stockholm

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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.

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The cathedral of Saint Erik

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Cathedral at night

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Saint Erik’s tomb

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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!

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

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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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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!

Siem Reap – Cool Place in the Tropics

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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.

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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.)

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Welcome!

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The main lobby

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Looking up from the pool

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The pool…

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

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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!

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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.

 

Touring Chile’s Glaciers by Boat

Serrano, Glacier, Chile, Puerto Natales,Patagonia, ice, boat tour, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

One of the highlights of visiting Patagonia is visiting the many glaciers in the area.  Some you can hike (like Grey) and some you can admire from a distance from the water (besides Grey, Serrano and Balmaceda) and are quite accessible from Puerto Natales by a boat tour).  I got to tour these beautiful glaciers by boat and it was very enjoyable.  But there was even more than the glaciers to enjoy!

On the way to the glaciers from Puerto Natales

The boat left from Puerto Natales and the route over was beautiful.  Even if that had been the purpose of the trip, that would have been worth it.  But, of course it wasn’t and that the glaciers would be even better.  Nevertheless, the way over offered many great sights!

Chile, Patagonia, glacier, Puerto Natales, outdoors, nature, tourism, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Country home indeed!

Chile, Patagonia, glacier, Puerto Natales, outdoors, nature, tourism, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Right after leaving Puerto Natales

Chile, Patagonia, glacier, Puerto Natales, outdoors, nature, tourism, travel, Canon EOS Rebel, seal, wildlife

Seals have many good resting places

Chile, Patagonia, glacier, Puerto Natales, outdoors, nature, tourism, travel, Canon EOS Rebel, wildlife

I believe these are corcorans (not penguins), covering all the cliffs

Chile, Patagonia, glacier, Puerto Natales, outdoors, nature, tourism, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Beautiful rock formations

Chile, Patagonia, glacier, Puerto Natales, outdoors, nature, tourism, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

More of the rock formations

Chile, Patagonia, glacier, Puerto Natales, outdoors, nature, tourism, travel, Canon EOS Rebel, Torres del Paine

A view of the Torres del Paine from afar – awesome!

Grey Glacier

I hiked Grey in my trek in Patagonia earlier this year (see here for that story).  But in 2010 I saw it from a distance when I traveled around Patagonia when I sailed on a boat tour around the glaciers near Puerto Natales.  It was a neat place to visit as we got to walk to an area on the opposite side of Lake Grey from the glacier and face the glacier and watch the ice floes.Grey, glacier, Chile, Patagonia, tourism, travel, photo Grey, glacier, Chile, Patagonia, tourism, travel, photo Grey, glacier, Chile, Patagonia, tourism, travel, photo Grey, glacier, Chile, Patagonia, tourism, travel, photo Grey, glacier, Chile, Patagonia, tourism, travel, photo

Grey, glacier, Chile, Patagonia, tourism, travel, photo

Strolling around…

Before I go on to the other two glaciers… a couple of images that I like from this boat trip.

Handrail, Serrano glacier, Chile, Patagonia

Handrail on the path to visit the Serrano glacier

Boat, ride, ladder

Wooden ladder on the boat – colorful

Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers

We also visited the Serrano and Balmaceda glaciers.  These glaciers kiss the water like Grey glacier does but in what seemed a narrow and steeper “face” as it hits the water.  We were able to get off the boat in one of them (the Serrano glacier) and hike around the shoreline near the glacier.

Balmaceda, Glacier, Chile, Patagonia, ice, boat tour, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Balmaceda Glacier

Balmaceda, Glacier, Chile, Patagonia, ice, boat tour, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Balmaceda Glacier

Balmaceda, Glacier, Chile, Patagonia, ice, boat tour, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Balmaceda Glacier

Balmaceda, Glacier, Chile, Patagonia, ice, boat tour, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Balmaceda Glacier

Serrano, Glacier, Chile, Puerto Natales,Patagonia, ice, boat tour, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Serrano Glacier

Serrano, Glacier, Chile, Puerto Natales,Patagonia, ice, boat tour, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Serrano Glacier

And more beauty

Seeing the glaciers so close was nothing short of spectacular.  These “things” are magical and I expected they would be.  But I also saw some beautiful sights that had nothing to do with the glacier:  the unique flora in the immediacy of the glaciers and that was unexpected.Flora, Patagonia, Serrano glacier, Chile, photo, vegetation, Canon EOS Rebel Flora, Patagonia, Serrano glacier, Chile, photo, vegetation, Canon EOS Rebel, fernFlora, Patagonia, Serrano glacier, Chile, photo, vegetation, Canon EOS Rebel, greenFlora, Patagonia, Serrano glacier, Chile, photo, vegetation, Canon EOS Rebel, bush, treeFlora, Patagonia, Serrano glacier, Chile, photo, vegetation, Canon EOS Rebel, bush, tree

Flora, Patagonia, Serrano glacier, Chile, photo, vegetation, Canon EOS Rebel, orange

No idea what this is but it is beautiful

Flora, Patagonia, Serrano glacier, Chile, photo, vegetation, Canon EOS Rebel, pink, purple

Great Drive Series – A Switzerland Sampler

Interlaken, Switzerland, travel, tourism, Alps, ice cold blue, Canon EOS Rebel

When I worked in Paris many moons ago for 6 months, one of the neat weekend trips I took was a rather rushed visit to Switzerland.  More than anything, we just wanted to leave France.  Having visited Heidelberg and worked in The Netherlands during that period, we opted to go south:  Switzerland (or Schweiz or Suisse, depending on which language you prefer).

We left work, grabbed our backpacks, and rode to the car rental offices in Paris to get our car.  We decided all this within i a day or two from leaving so had no big plans nor hotel reservations anywhere.  All we had identified was some target cities based on the easiest drive-around route.  This was when the Internet was not yet matured so even if we had had the time we would  not have gotten too much info on what to see and do.  So drive we did.

That Friday night, we overnighted in a French town named Besançon, a town of about 200,000+ residents, somewhat east of Dijon, and not far from the Swiss border for all practical purposes.  The town had an old casino which we thought we’d check out except it was all very smoky and we pretty  much just walked right back out, opting for dinner at some non-descript café before going to our small hotel to rest for the night.

The next morning we crossed the Swiss border where we had to buy a permit to drive in Switzerland.  I am not sure if that is still needed but make sure you find out before driving into the country.  We felt that to aim for Geneva would put us to far west and that we would have to backtrack on the same road to head eastward so we opted for passing on Geneva (much as it is definitely worth the visit).  We drove straight into Lausanne as our first stop though we made it a quick one to get info on the roads (i.e., get maps).  We spied the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee facing Lake Geneva, no doubt paid for by money the sponsors of the Olympics pay the IOC for their monopoly.  It looked like quite a pleasant city to live in, I must say.

Lausanne, switzerland, city, lake Geneva, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Sitting on the northern shores of Lake Geneva is Lausanne

Since we learned that Bern (Berne) and Interlaken were really the must-sees in the western half of Switzerland (we were not going to have enough time to explore the other half in one weekend AND return to Paris on time to show up at work Monday AM), we decided to not spend more time in Lausanne. The map below highlights in yellow the route we decided out which would take us close to Zurich but with no time to spend there, and would have us exit Switzerland at Basel, thereby minimizing backtracking in our route.

Switzerland, map, route, driving, Bern, Lausanne, Interlaken, travel, tourism

Instead we took off and decided the best route was along Lake Geneva (instead of heading back north of Lausanne and along Lake Neuchatel) where we were rewarded with views of the lake on one side and views of vineyards on the other (who knew!) before turning inland to head to Switzerland’s capital, Bern.  The weather, as you may notice, was not the best for awe-inspiring photography (as you can tell) but the sights were still beautiful.

Swiss, vineyards, Switzerland, Alps, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Some of the many vineyards we drove by along Lake Geneva

Swiss architecture, Switzerland, Alps, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

THE narrowest steps I have seen, right by the road and NO handrail!

clock tower, Switzerland, Swiss architecture, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Clock tower

Swiss architecture, Switzerland, Alps, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Typical Swiss home along the shores of Lake Geneva

We arrived in Bern and sought the tourist information office – which you could count to be well-organized being a Swiss operation.  And it was!  The young woman helped us find a place to stay in the center of town – nothing fancy needed, just a clean bed and bathroom.  We checked in but immediately took off to our main target:  Interlaken.

The drive to Interlaken (“between lakes”), as the name alludes, requires you to drive along a lake.  The road was curvy and fun to drive.  We arrived at Interlaken and walked around, admiring the beautiful town and setting, with the ice blue waters flowing between Lake Thun (Thunersee) and Lake Brienz (Brienxersee) going right through town.  We found a neat spot to eat at and enjoyed a great late lunch admiring the view.

Interlaken, Switzerland, travel, tourism, Alps, ice cold blue, Canon EOS Rebel

Beautiful part of Interlaken

After some more walking, we headed back to Bern (wishing we had not found a hotel yet in Bern so we could stay at Interlaken instead… ) to have dinner and see some of the town.

Bern, Berne, Switzerland, view, vista, photo, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Looking back towards Bern on the road towards Interlaken

The next morning we continued our drive (which took us back past Interlaken; the dreaded re-tracing of a route…) on our way to Lucerne, another Swiss town on the shores of the same-named lake.  We parked, walked around town, had lunch and started the long drive back to Paris.

One thing about driving in Switzerland is that there are never ending things to admire whether they be structures, lake, our mountains. You could say we barely scratched the surface on this beautiful country – clearly there are other great driving routes awaiting but for one weekend’s worth of sampling, I am pretty pleased!

 

Boarding Pass Stories: Constantinople! OK, Istanbul

boarding pass, Istanbul, Air France, trip, travel, explore, adventure, exotic, airplane, flight, Turkey, Charles de Gaulle, airport

boarding pass, Istanbul, Air France, trip, travel, explore, adventure, exotic, airplane, flight, Turkey, Charles de Gaulle, airport

The destination, the when(s), and the reason(s)

My knack for taking one trip idea and expanding its scope is not a recent event.  That’s how I ended last year exploring a country I may have never visited otherwise:  Moldova.  It pre-dates my travel blogging days by a bit.  As I joined a group of friends last-minute on a trip to Egypt (literally, like two weeks before the trip), I wondered what else could I do as I had plenty of vacation time at work.  I contacted a former co-worker who had moved back to his hometown of Istanbul and asked him if I could visit and he said yes, of course.  I got a free ticket to/from Istanbul with Delta and then bought a separate ticket between Istanbul and Cairo so I had to fly through Istanbul to head to Egypt first and then I would come back and stop in Istanbul from where I would fly through Paris again (as the boarding pass above shows).  This was in 1998, eons ago, it feels.

The airline

Air France offered great service as usual in those days for many airlines.  I flew business class since I had plenty o’ miles and it was going to be a LONG trip.  Class…

What fascinated me about this experience

I returned from Cairo to Istanbul to visit my friend and explore this “epically historic” city for the first time.  I wait for my friend and nothing.  An hour passes and I begin to get a little antsy (these days, cellphones were not what they are today and I believe you still couldn’t use a U.S. in Europe, had I brought mine along).

So I nervously wondered if my friend confused the day or time of my arrival.  I realized I should call him at work and see.  Since these were the days you could still find payphones, this would not be a problem.  Except I first had to exchange money, hope for coins, figure out how much to pay for the call, etc.  I called and it rang and rang.  I kept trying and no answer.  I was beginning to worry more now.  I decided that surely someone was sitting around his desk or office so maybe I just had to keep calling until someone, in exasperation, decided to walk over and answer the darned phone.  Someone sure did.

They plugged me through to my friend’s secretary and she told me she had been expecting my call (!) as my friend had unexpectedly and last minute been asked to make a trip abroad.  So he left instructions with her to connect me to his girlfriend so she could let me in his apartment, etc.  I rang her but in talking to her I realized his apartment was not near the city center which was the area I was going to be exploring and since my friend was not around, no point in staying far out.

I pulled out my travel book and found a hotel, the Pierre Lotti, which had availability and ended up working perfectly due to its proximity to all the places I wanted to see!  What was great about this experience was that I explored Istanbul for 5 awesome days, met other travelers with whom I then did more social/less-touristy things, and had a great time!  I did meet my friend’s girlfriend for lunch which was neat and which led to me getting lost on the way back to the hotel.  But that, my dear reader, will be food for another post!

Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom, Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantiu, church. mosque, museum, architecture, history, photo, mosaic, art

One of the mosaics uncovered in the Hagia Sophia – beautiful

 

Podcast about Visit to Krakow, Poland

A few weeks ago, through my Twitter account (ilivetotravel), a friend connected me with the Amateur Traveler Travel Podcast ( http://amateurtraveler.com/ ).  Chris Christensen runs this website and he interviewed me a couple of weeks ago to share my experience visiting Krakow and the neighboring region.  Being interviewed is not necessarily a daunting thing in and of itself but being recorded for playback did feel more daunting!

The podcast was published this past weekend (episode 185) and you can hear it by going to his site and either clicking the play button above the picture or downloading the mp3 or the enhanced iTunes version.  The iTunes version will play different pictures of what is being spoken about, some are my pictures and some other not.

Overall, it was a great experience and a great way to continue the work of spreading the word about the rewards of travel and specifically about Krakow and its vicinity!  Check out my podcast and check out all the podcasts Chris has developed.  It is an impressive list of destinations for which he has podcasts!

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