Small European Countries – One Left to Go!

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

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

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

I am heeere!

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

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

Customs into Switzerland

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

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Castle perched right above Vaduz

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

View of the castle from afar

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

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

Houses near the caste location

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

Approaching the castle

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

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

Passport stamp

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

Pedestrian shopping street at the feet of the castle

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

Around Vaduz, Liechtenstein

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

Church and Vaduz City Hall (on the right)

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

Around Vaduz

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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…

Stockholm’s City Hall – Great Vantage Point

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

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

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

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

Angkor Thom’s Main Temple: Bayon

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.

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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

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.

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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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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 🙂

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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!

Visiting Temples in Bangkok – Wat Pho?

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One of the neatest things for me about visiting Bangkok was seeing Buddhist temples everywhere.  I am no student of their faith and much less of all the specifics of the architecture of these temples but they are impressive and that’s why I am glad I made the time for a stop -however brief- in Bangkok as I traveled between Bali  and Cambodia.  Time was short so we had to keep it only to the main temples in Bangkok (plus the one we visited during our bike tour of the countryside).

Once we finished our bike ride outside of Bangkok after lunch that day, we headed into the heart of Bangkok to visit Wat Arun and Wat Pho. (Be careful with this latter one as asking about it may lead your fellow traveler to think you are messing with him and almost earn you a fist to your face!  Remember “Who is on first?“, etc.  Yea, that.)

I will not try to tell you the story of these two places as there are plenty of resources out there for that. These temples are very colorful thanks to what seem to be porcelain tiles and mosaics everywhere.  It is great to admire from a distance but getting up close allows one to see the details of the decorated exteriors.  Also, know that these are the very abbreviated names for these temples (which are really each a temple complex on its own) – names there can be quite long!

Wat Arun, Bangkok, Thailand, temple, Asia, travel, photo, explore, Samsung Galaxy

Ferry on the Chao Phraya River

Wat Arun – Temple of the Dawn

Wat Arun dates from the 17th century but the main towers one sees are much more recent.  We started our temple visits by arriving here but crossing it quickly to get to the ferry to first visit Wat Pho on the other side of the river.  Once we finished with Wat Pho, where we spent most of our time, we crossed the river back to check out Wat Arun.

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Wat Arun temple complex

Wat Arun, Bangkok, Thailand, temple, Asia, travel, photo, explore, Samsung Galaxy

Greeted at the entrance by some warrior

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Sitting Buddhas

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Mosaic details

Wat Arun, Bangkok, Thailand, temple, Asia, travel, photo, explore, Samsung Galaxy

Around Wat Arun

Wat Arun, Bangkok, Thailand, temple, Asia, travel, photo, explore, Samsung Galaxy

Around Wat Arun

The highlight for me happened rather unexpectedly.  We walked into one of the temples.  There was a monk sitting near a box where one could drop a coin and he would pray over you.  Not certain how this all worked, I walked away to a donation box not close to him.  As I walked back to the back of the temple, the monk called me over to him and signaled for me to sit on the floor.  He proceeded to give me a blessing.  Unbeknownst to me, my friend Phil started video’ing the whole thing and I ended up with a neat ‘souvenir’ from this random event!

Wat Arun, Bangkok, Thailand, temple, Asia, travel, photo, explore, Samsung Galaxy

The main temple

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Being blessed by a monk

Wat Pho – Where the Reclining Buddha is

The Reclining Buddha may be what makes this temple complex most famous but it is quite an impressive site.  But first, the Reclining Buddha is not just napping – he has reached the ideal state and the posture signifies that (vs. a sitting Buddha or a standing Buddha).  The Reclining Buddha is very long (46 m; 150 ft) and based on how it is housed within a building, one can’t just stand in front of it and capture it head to toes in a nice, clean photo.  Which is kind of cool, come to think of it.  This unique piece was built close to 200 years ago and it impresses.

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No easy way to photograph

Wat Pho, reclining Buddha, Bangkok, temple, Buddishm, tourism, travel, adventure, Samsung Galaxy, photo, S7, Asia

Rather large feet

Wat Pho, reclining Buddha, Bangkok, temple, Buddishm, tourism, travel, adventure, Samsung Galaxy, photo, S7, Asia

Good angle from the headrest down

But Wat Pho is much more than its famous resident statue.  Pagodas (towers) built by different kings which house their own Buddhas and other parts related to the monastic complex are worth exploring (there are well laid out signs to explain to the visitor the complex and its contents).  The ceramic tile-work on the roofs are different depending on the king or period in which the structures were built.

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What to know

  • You can go way more off-the-beaten path than what we got to see.  But these two are a must!
  • You can use ferries/boats up and down the river in Bangkok to move between the temples.  No need to just suffer city traffic.  Plus, at some point or another, you WILL need to cross the river!
  • Temples do close earlier than a tourist may expect.  Know the times or use a local guide.  We went for the latter as we didn’t have to think about anything plus he knew a few other things (like best photo spot at a given temple, etc.).
  • Temples are about someone’s faith.  They ask that you do not wear shorts or sleeveless shirts.  It was sad to see how many people showed either ignorance or disrespect.  One doesn’t have to subscribe to the beliefs of the locals, but one should respect them.  Yes, it is hot and humid.  Wear a wicking t-shirt and some hiking pants that convert to shorts and one will be alright in that weather!

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A Unique Railroad Market in Thailand

Maeklong, railroad, train, market, Thailand, Bangkok, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7,

As I was researching all that there was to do in Bangkok so I could narrow down the options to fit our time there, a friend who had spent a few weeks in Bangkok recently gave me an excellent pair of recommendations on what to do off-the-beaten path.  Liz, my friend, suggested that she put me in touch with a local guide that had taken her outside of Bangkok for a day trip exploring the countryside and a peculiar market.  We did not have a whole day to spare so I asked the local guide, Al, if it were possible to shrink the trip to half a day.  Thankfully, it was doable despite the 1.5 hr ride each from and to the city.  My fellow traveler, Phil, also thought it would be cool to get out of the city so I confirmed with Al that it was a go.

Both of Liz’ recommendations would take us to the Samut Songkhram province, just about southwest of Bangkok towards the sea.  And the first of the two items on the agenda was to see the unique railroad market there by the Maeklong train station.  We had to be there by a certain time to catch the train passing through the market but it looked like we were going to miss it by like 5-10 minutes; I was bummed but was accepting that it was just going to have to be this way.  But, we got lucky!  The train actually passed through like 5-10 minutes AFTER we arrived at the market.

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The Maeklong train station at the end of the market

Maeklong, railroad, train, market, Thailand, Bangkok, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, vegetables

The railroad tracks

Space is at a premium in this market and, as you can see in the pictures, the goods spill over just about to the railroad tracks.  Shoppers -and tourists- walk within the railroad tracks to cross the market.  The market in this part is a food market:  vegetables, fruit, chicken, fish, crabs, etc. abound – and all look pretty darn fresh.

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Keep at eye out on the baskets on the right when you watch the video below

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Lots of chicken

Maeklong, railroad, train, market, Thailand, Bangkok, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7, crab, seafood

Fresh crab

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Fresh squid

Announcements are made over loudspeakers (in Thai) to warn folks ahead of time that the train is approaching.  I was wondering how these folks would clear out quickly; they barely seemed to be moving or noticing that the train was coming except for the folks closing the canopies that provide shade to the market.  A couple of items on the ground were moved but most stayed put.  I was unclear how well the train would clear the goods, especially the two baskets left between the tracks (you can see what happened in the video clip).

Maeklong, railroad, train, market, Thailand, Bangkok, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7,

Clearing the way for the train!

Then the train came.  It was crawling as it crossed the market which made sense given the tight quarters around it (also, unbeknownst to me, the train station was at the far end of the market).

Maeklong, railroad, train, market, Thailand, Bangkok, photo, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy S7,

The train goes through the market

The slow speed allowed us to enjoy the moment.  As soon as the train passed, canopies were opened again and things returned to normal!   It was fascinating to see this place – here is a very amateur video showing the scene:

Bangkok, railroad market, Thailand, Mae Klong, travel, photo, train, market

Yep, it came that close! (Photo courtesy of my fellow traveler Phil I. – I crouched low taking video, he stayed standing for photos!)

What to Know

  • The train does not come through all the time.  We aimed for the 9AM passing of the train; the next train that day was to be sometime around 11AM.  I did not have to look up the timetable as we were being taken to see it but be sure you know that day when it will come through.
  • I would have, with more time, walked around more outside of the part of the market on the tracks.  The area looked interesting.
  • If you plan well, combine doing the railroad market with visiting the Amphawa floating market which only opens certain days of the week.  It is one of the more famous floating markets near Bangkok and, from everything I heard, well worth the visit.  Unfortunately, we only had a full day to go see the railroad market and it happened to be on a day when the floating market was closed.

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A Trip around Southeast Asia Is Born

travel, Bali, resort, beach, relax, W hotel, Seminyak, photo, sunset, clouds, sky, Samsung Galaxy S7, makestic

This month I was able to spend two weeks on vacation traveling to Southeast Asia.  Clearly, two weeks far from enough time in an area as diverse and rich in experiences as Southeast Asia but if I waited until I had ALL the time it merits, I may never get started.  An opportunity arose a few months ago to travel there in November with a good friend, anchored on a wedding that was to take place in Bali.  I had not taken a real vacation this year yet so I had the needed time off from work to go do it.  It also happened to be a good moment at work to take the time off.  As I discussed the possibility with my friend, it became clear we had similar interests whether it be in the things to explore, the way to travel (hotels, flights, etc.), and what we were hoping to get out of a vacation like this (R and R!).

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This is the picture of R&R!!

As usual, I opened a map to envision all the possible destinations outside of Bali.  We opted to spend the bulk of the vacation in Bali since there were going to be pre- and post- wedding events but then the balance of the vacation had to be solved.  I figured that if I never got to go back, there were two places I had to see:  the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia, and Bangkok (made famous by Murray Head with his one hit wonder in the 1980s!).  We ended up doing those and adding Phnom Penh (Cambodia’s capital) and Singapore (our Asian entry/exit point in our travels) to the trip.  We were flying around a bit so Phnom Penh we chose because we could just take a car and avoid a plane; but then also seeing the infamous killing fields of Pol Pot and the Genocide Museum were a strong draw as we felt they were memorials that we had to see to grasp better Cambodia’s past.

Thanks to websites like TripAdvisor and Kayak, doing research and planning was not too hard (this is not a sponsored post, lol!).  The information in TripAdvisor was key in choosing hotels that fit what we were looking for (for example, a great property in Bali by the beach with a cool pool area).  Kayak I find easiest to use to compare and contrast not just airfares but routes – I had to solve the sequence of our destinations by ensuring I could find direct flights at the time of the day we wanted to leave or arrive at a given destination.  It all seems to have worked out well though at least one morning the departure was earlier than I really would have wanted – hindsight is 20-20, isn’t it?

The itinerary:

  • Bali:  5 days
  • Bangkok:  2 nights, 1 day (a FULL day!)
  • Cambodia: 3 nights, 3 days
  • Singapore:  2 nights, 1 day, and a few hours overnight at the airport
  • Delta airplane seat:  tons of hours!

So, in the next few weeks, I will be writing about each of these destinations and my favorite things.  A lot may have been on-the-beaten-path but there was some off-the-beaten-path that was spectacular and I can’t wait to write about it!

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Great Drive Series – 17-Mile Drive in California

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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?

Pebble Beach, 17 Mile Drive, California, Pacific, Cypress Point, ocean, sea, algae, travel, drive, scenic, photo

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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Evita’s “Permanent” Home: The Recoleta Cemetery

Argentina, tomb, Recoleta, cemetery, plaque, photo, travel, mausoleum, Buenos Aires

In my visit to Buenos Aires last year, our hotel was directly across one of BB.AA.’s most famous sites:  the Recoleta Cemetery.  Why is it famous?  Well, that crazy woman, Evita, is buried there.  Hence, tons of tourists and Evita lovers (domestic or international) flock to the cemetery to see her tomb.  I am one of those tourists.  (Admitting one has a problem is the first step to recovery…)  In any case, I first visited that cemetery as a young pup in 1991 and returned last year, not because I had to see it, but because, well, it was there… right across my hotel room window!

Buenos Aires, Recoleta, cemetery, Argentina, photo, travel, South America, church, architecture, history, Evita, Olympus

The Recoleta Cemetery with the church to the right

The Recoleta Cemetery is next to the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar and its history is tied to the church back when it had a convent associated with it.  The church dates from 1732 but the cemetery is a century younger.  Evita is not the only notable buried there but, likely, the most famous of them; others include Presidents, poets, Nobel laureates, etc.  Now, if you want to look for Evita’s tomb in the cemetery ‘guide,’ do not look under Perón (her married last name) – look for Duarte, her maiden name…

Evita, Eva, Peron, Argentina, Buenos Aires, Duarte, Recoleta, cemetery, travel, photo, Olympus

SPOILER ALERT:  The family mausoleum where Evita’s remains rest

Evita, Argentina, tomb, Recoleta, cemetery, plaque, photo, travel

I’d recommend walking around aimlessly and absorbing the different mausoleum styles.  It is artwork for sure.

Argentina, Buenos Aires, Duarte, Recoleta, cemetery, travel, photo, Olympus

Typical scene at the Recoleta cemetery

Argentina, tomb, Recoleta, cemetery, plaque, photo, travel, mausoleum Argentina, tomb, Recoleta, cemetery, plaque, photo, travel, mausoleum Argentina, tomb, Recoleta, cemetery, plaque, photo, travel, mausoleumArgentina, tomb, Recoleta, cemetery, plaque, photo, travel, mausoleum

One thing I will say is that staying so close to it allowed me to see the area at different times and what seemed just like a cemetery with star power became a part of town with a healthy dose of local life.  Of course, I may be swayed by the Freddo‘s located a few storefronts down from my hotel but their gelato is just so good that I can’t have just one (my fellow trekkers quickly realized how crazy I was about Freddo’s gelato!).

Freddo, ice cream, gelato, Buenos Aires, Argentina, foodie, food, foodporn

Freddo’s – I could not wait to take a bite…

 

Puerto Natales, Chile: A Southern Town

Puerto Natales is an outpost town in Chile that is entry point to the Torres del Paine National Park.  It is about 150 miles northwest of Punta Arenas and serves also as an entry point to the glaciers that kiss the water in this part of Patagonia (Grey, Serrano, Balmaceda, etc.).  It is a small town by our standards (it was founded in 1911) but I venture say that it is impressively big given where it is in this planet!  So far south, in such tough climate, and hard to reach (to continue by road up to the rest of Chile, one must cross over east to Argentina, then north, and then head back west into Chile!).

I first visited this town of 18,500 inhabitants in December 2010, at the start of summer.  I got to return earlier this year when I went hiking in Patagonia in February towards the end of summer and I was delighted to walk around town again, but with friends this time.  I noticed some improvements like the main square across from the church and a little better tourism infrastructure.  I also got to go to two restaurants that I greatly enjoyed back in 2010:  La Burbuja and La Picada de Carlitos.

I realize that the idea may be crazy but I would enjoy experiencing this town in the middle of winter (which I know means perhaps living there a few months!) just to see what life in a southern town is!

I leave you with images of this Patagonian town in Chile.  Click on a photo to enlarge!

 

Trekking the W Circuit at the Torres del Paine: Day 5

hiking, Mirador Las Torres, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel

After the fun of day 4 with all the wind and beautiful views of the lakes and the Torres del Paine, the big day finally arrived:  no, not because it was the last day of hiking but because it was the day we were trekking up to the lagoon to see the peaks close and personal.  But it would all depend on the weather as there could be rain or cloud coverage over the iconic conical (alliteration!) peaks.  The morning light showed everything looked good – and majestic!

Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Samsung Galaxy, photo, trekking, travel, Refugio Chileno

View of the top of the range

About an hour later, the light had changed and a rainbow appeared.

Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Samsung Galaxy, photo, trekking, travel, rainbow

Rainbow nicely framing the massif

The Refugio Chileno

Trekking from the Refugio Chileno, where we had stayed overnight, back to our exit point at Hotel Las Torres would be about 9 kms.  But before starting on that, we would go up to the Mirador Las Torres, about 4 kms away and mostly going up about 380 m to reach the lagoon at around 875 m above sea level.  So, in total, this day would be 17 kms worth of distance covered.

Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel, Refugio Chileno

The main lodge at the refugio (nearest to us, the dining room)

Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel, Refugio Chileno

The refugio also offers space for camping, if that’s your thing!

I have not mentioned how the refugios work.  They usually have rooms with several bunk beds (stacks of 2 or 3), shared bathroom facilities (with private showers), and communal dining (usually scheduled as not everyone fits at once).  I am not saying they are super clean but they were generally better than expected.  The meals were acceptable if not good and wine and beer were always available.  I gained weight in this 5-day hike!

Getting to the Mirador Las Torres

Alright, back to the hike.  The route up was not always a nice path, there were a couple of spots with makeshift wooden bridges to cross small streams.  But that all added to the fun of the climb.

bridge, creek, Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel,

Rickety bridge…

bridge, creek, Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel,

Another bridge

bridge, creek, Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel,

Enjoyed all these bridges!

Of course, going up was more fun due to the expectation of arriving to the top mirador (viewing point), of getting as close to the Torres as possible.  Returning to the Refugio Chileno, by comparison, was slightly less exciting but probably more tranquil.

hiking, Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel,

Peaceful trails

creek, hiking, Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel,

Roaring waters

tree, hiking, Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel,

A very unique tree

So, while the weather had been iffy in the morning, it improved as the climb up happened.  Sadly, we did have some cloud coverage at the top of the towers as you can see in the photos.  We heard that they cleared up later – just the nature of the weather down in Patagonia:  you never know!  Though mildly disappointed, it was still a great feeling to make it up there.

hiking, Mirador Las Torres, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel

For those who may need coordinates…

hiking, Mirador Las Torres, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel

The beautiful lagoon and cloud-covered peaks of the Torres del Paines

hiking, Mirador Las Torres, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel

My roommate Dave and I – ’til the next trek!

And then leaving the Torres del Paine National Park…

Once we returned to the refugio, we did the usual (pit stop, eat something, etc.) and then picked up our stuff and started to make our way out of the park and our phenomenal 5-day hike of the W circuit of the Torres del Paine.  The vistas continued to be breathtaking all the way until the end of the hike, pretty much.

Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel, Refugio Chileno

Looking along the creek/gorge near the Refugio Chileno

Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel, Refugio Chileno

Just beautiful!

Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel

Leaving the gorge area

Torres del Paine, mountains, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel

One final bridge and it is over… 🙁

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile, sunlight, morning light, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel

Looking back before the final short stretch…

I was on the front group and I ran into the Hotel Las Torres, where the bus was picking us up, to make a pit stop when I spotted the bar.  And that’s when I remembered how, upon finishing descent from Mt. Kilimanjaro, one of my fellow trekkers, Len Stanmore, and I grabbed a beer (I wish I could have added “cold” as an adjective but it wasn’t…) to celebrate.  So I ordered a beer for me and fellow trekker Paula who was there with me and we celebrated completing the W circuit in proper form!

trekker, beer, hiking, Mirador Las Torres, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel

Done and cheers!

With this, I end the series of the hike in the Torres del Paine National Park.  It is as beautiful a landscape as there exists in this planet:  the Chilean Patagonia.  I have been blessed with seeing it once as more of a tourist (in 2010) and again, fulfilling a wish I had since 2010, of returning to trek the W circuit so I could see everything further up close than in 2010.  I am lucky guy indeed.

lagoon, hiking, Mirador Las Torres, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile, Olympus, photo, trekking, travel

A happy trekker

 

Go back to day 4 of this Patagonia trek!

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Trekking the W Circuit at the Torres del Paine: Day 4

rainbow, Refugio Chileno, lodging, Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

A windy night at Refugio Los Cuernos

I woke up around 7 AM on day 4 after a night thinking the place we were staying at was going to blow away at any moment.  On top of that, something right outside our window kept hitting the window on and off throughout the night (we discovered in the morning that the window was perfectly shut and it was making the noise).  I am told the gusts we experienced overnight were between 80-100 km/hr!  I wanted to go outside to look at the lake as the wind was howling to perhaps take video or a photo – I did but ran back inside!  A little later, the skies cleared a little and we were rewarded with a view of the cuernos (towers) of the Torres del Paine graced by a rainbow!

rainbow, Refugio Chileno, lodging, Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Rainbow over los cuernos

It was still very windy…

The wind along Lake Nordenskjold howled

But, it wasn’t just the refugio!  We started our hike and it was windy for a good bit of the first half of the hike along Lake Nordenskjold!  We could see white top waves on the surface of the lake.

Lake Nordenskjold,Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Olympus

The white tops of the lake’s waves

Lake Nordenskjold,Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Olympus

The wind created some beautiful sights

Lake Nordenskjold,Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Olympus

And with a rainbow to boot!

Until we turned a corner around a small peninsula.  Then that part of the lake was flat as it could be!

Lake Nordenskjold,Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Olympus

On the top and right of the lake in this photo, you see the wind’s effect. The rest is flat!

Lake Nordenskjold,Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

From then on, nice and flat!

The winds and gusts along the way were so strong that they would throw you off balance.  We learned to crouch quickly at the first hint of a gust (or after it hit others first!).  I believe one of our guys was lifted up an inch even with his backpack!  It was surreal.

Refugio Chileno, lodging, Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Not even the wind can stop my friend Bridgit!

Maybe a tiny bit scary but, actually, more thrilling than scary (except when it threw me sideways once…).  Don’t believe me?

Check out this one minute video I took at the refugio and along the way!  (turn down the volume as it is noisy but don’t mute your speakers!)

Despite the winds (constant at around 40-50 km/hr with gusts exceeding that), hiking along the lake was quite a neat experience.  It was just beautiful! Lunch was shredded chicken sandwich on bread that was actually “stamped” with the name of the refugio we had left, “Los Cuernos“!

sandwich, bread, Los Cuernos, Torres del Paine, Chile, food, photo

An authentic “Los Cuernos” sandwich!

Past the wind and on to the Campamento Chileno!

The hike (about 15km / 9mi) took us about six hours counting our stops and towards the end got away from the lake and went through some private lands.

Refugio Chileno, lodging, Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Two of my fellow Morocco/Camino trekkers: Always good to see friends!

Refugio Chileno, Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Olympus

I guess we have to be careful, Mick Jagger may be around!

Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Olympus

The massif

Lake Nordenskjold,Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Olympus

Plenty of photo opps along the way!

Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Olympus

Cool bridge – right before our lunch stop!

The final stretch of the trail heading to the Campamento Chileno was gorgeous, along what I would call a sort of canyon or gorge (but maybe not as narrow as a gorge?) but it had some very steep hills toward the end!  I will end this post with photos after we left the shores of the lake and heading inland to our refugio for the night!

Refugio Chileno, Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Olympus

Leaving the lake behind

Refugio Chileno, Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Olympus

Neat landscape

Refugio Chileno, Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Olympus

The canyon or gorge looking towards the Campamento

Refugio Chileno, Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Olympus

The canyon or gorge looking towards the lake

Refugio Chileno, Torres del Paine, national park, Chile, Patagonia, nature, outdoors, photo, Olympus

The canyon or gorge looking towards the lake

——————  More about this trek!  ——————

Back to day 3.

And on to the last day:  day 5!

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Exploring Old Philadelphia – Liberty and Independence

Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

This past January I traveled to Philadelphia to visit family.  It was BITTERLY cold but that did not stop my uncle from taking me around.  It had been a couple of decades since I had last seen Liberty Bell and my uncle told me the whole place had been re-done so off we went, from the Broomall area east towards the city.

Philadelphia grabs a hold of my imagination for two very important reasons:

  1. The history of this country is anchored to this city.  Just thinking of all the important conversations and events that happened leading into our independence and afterwards is mind-boggling.  The downtown retains some key spots that are just as they were but, of course, progress also has erased some of it.
  2. My family ended up in Philadelphia for a few years after leaving Cuba in the early 1960s.  I was born after they left Philly but the city plays a key role in my family’s history so, though I didn’t live there and have only visited a few times, it is close to my heart.  Just thinking all that my family must have gone through as recent immigrants moves me to no end.

Liberty Bell

The entire “mall” area around Independence Hall has been re-worked with the construction of a new visitor center and the National Constitution Center.

Independence Hall, snow, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Independence Hall and its more modern neighbors

Constitution Center, snow, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The National Constitution Center

But the belle of the ball is still Liberty Bell.

Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Here she is with Independence Hall behind it

It is housed at the visitor center as opposed to its former home – originally the Pennsylvania State House which is now known as Independence Hall (thanks in no small part to the fact that Philly is no longer the capital of Pennsylvania!).  The visitor center is not overwhelming, in fact, it is very well designed and very informative.  It is not the type of place you speed through the space to just get to the star of the show (well, maybe some do it…).

Independence Hall, visitor center,Liberty Bell,, snow, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The latest home of Liberty Bell

Independence Hall, visitor center,Liberty Bell,, snow, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Well laid out and open space at the center

Independence Hall, visitor center,Liberty Bell,, snow, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Many informative displays

The bell, which weighs slightly more than 2,000 pounds, dates from the 1750s and is famous not only for being a key symbol of the United States’ nationhood but also for its crack.  It earned it first crack when it first was rung after arriving in Philly… not an auspicious start but goes to show that you can’t go by first impressions!  Anyway, the bell was recast to try to fix it but it cracked again in the 1800s and kept cracking over the years.  We sure hope that crack is stable by now!

Independence Hall

This building has had quite a life.  Built between the 1730s and the 1750s to serve as the colony of Pennsylvania’s legislature, it hosted the Second Continental Congress during which the Declaration of Independence was adopted.  Later it is where the constitution was drafted and signed.  Both documents were signed in the Assembly Hall which is set up as it was back then.   The building certainly has a special place in the history of the United States.

Assembly Hall, Independence Hall, Independence Mall, Constitution Center, American history, U.S. independence, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, museum

Assembly Hall

Court room, Congress Hall, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, US history, travel, museum, photo

Court Room in Congress Hall

House of Representative, Chamber, Congress Hall, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, US history, travel, museum, photo

House of Representatives Chamber at Congress Hall

Senate Chamber, Congress Hall, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, US history, travel, museum, photo

Senate Chamber in Congress Hall

Senate Chamber, Congress Hall, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, US history, travel, museum, photo

Senate Chamber in Congress Hall

Today, a good bit of what is there are reconstructions.  The central part of the building is original but the steeple and side wings are not.  The wings were last re-built in 1898 – a little disappointing that it is not the original space but inevitable in many ways.

There are many more sites in downtown Philly to review our past and celebrate our nation.  Make sure you make the time to explore one this birthplace of the United States’ birth!  Happy 4th of July!

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