One Spectacular Pool in Singapore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Great seating all around

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

Chill time!

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

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

Great place to teach a kid to swim!

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

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

He was never seen again after this jump-off…

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

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Spectacular view of the city

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

Look at all those ships!

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

View of old Singapore

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

View towards the financial district

What to know about the hotel

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

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

 

Around Katarina Church in Stockholm

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

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

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Church as seen from Gamla Stan

Katarina Church

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

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

The church was undergoing renovations

Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Katarina kyrka, Catherine church, Stockholm, Sweden, fall, color, Sodermalm, travel, tourism, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7

Cornelisparken – good views of Stockholm

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

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View towards Gamla Stan

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

 

Angkor Wat: Finally!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunrise

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

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

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About to enter the causeway

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

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

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

Here the library…

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

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

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

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

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

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Amazing carvings – could spend hours there!

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Our entry point into Angkor Wat

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

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

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

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After getting up

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

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

View down to the upper terrace and the jungle beyond

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

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

One of the inner courtyards

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Looking upwards from the terrace level

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First, a standing Buddha…

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

… and then sitting Buddhas…

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

… and finally, a reclining Buddha!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

Causeway entering Angkor Thom from the south

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

View across the causeway of the south gate

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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.

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

Imposing

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

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

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

Interesting things no matter where you look

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

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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!

In-and-Out: The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7

I headed to Denver to see friends and as luck would have it, an afternoon in Estes Park was in the books for me.  I would have about 3 hours to spend in Estes Park so I checked TripAdvisor for some quick ideas on what to see while there.  I had driven through Estes Park multiple times a couple of decades ago when I spent two summers in Boulder, Colorado to get to the Rocky Mountain National Park but I had never stopped in Estes Park.  I had no memory of it.

So, The Stanley Hotel came up in the search and it offered a 1.5 hour tour.  My local friends briefly shared about the hotel so I made up my mind and bought my ticket ($23 since I was not a guest at the hotel) for the 11 AM tour.

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Grand hotel indeed!

I made it with barely a second to spare before the tour began.  Scary Mary saw me walk in and asked if I was Mr. Pino.  I said yes and immediately asked her if I could run to the restroom – I could not fathom an 1.5 hours waiting to go…  (did I share too much?)  She allowed the extra minute and I was glad.

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Scary Mary introduces us to the tour

Scary Mary, her self-proclaimed name, was funny and quirky and made for a great tour guide mixing deep knowledge about the place with humor and the dramatic touch when it came time to talk about ghosts and other supernatural stories.

The Shining and The Stanley Hotel

The hotel is more famous not for the quaint story of its birth but because of its ties to the movie “The Shining” with Jack Nicholson.

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, facade, architecture, photo, tour, The Shining

Art based on The Shining

It seems the hotel was the inspiration Stephen King needed when he stayed at The Stanley back in 1974.  The hotel was about to close for the season but King convinced the staff to let him and his wife stay overnight.  Maybe they pranked him when they placed him in the haunted room 217… (We also hear Jim Carrey should be asked about his stay in this room…)

Room 217, Estes Park, Colorado, Stanley Park, The Shining

Haunted Room 217

While the hotel was the inspiration for the movie, it was not the actual location where that movie was filmed.  Most was filmed in a studio set and exterior shots were done at a lodge near Mt. Hood.  Of lesser fame than The Shining, perhaps, is that the hotel was featured in “Dumb and Dumber” – especially a run up its main staircase by the two principal characters of the movie!

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, architecture, photo, Dumb and Dumber

The main staircase

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, staircase

Looking down the main staircase

A little of the history of the place

The tour begins with the story with how Freelan Oscar “F.O.” Stanley and his wife Flora got to settle there.  The Stanleys were an East Coast couple who had taken a trip to Colorado to help F.O. recover his health.  He was pretty much almost at the brink of death as he left Denver for a time in the mountains at Estes Park.  He made an incredible recovery and proceeded to build the hotel there as a way to have something comparable to the East coast life they were used to when they came out West, a place they had grown to love.

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Registration counter in the lobby with photos of F.O. and Flora (I presume…)

There are a few stories about supernatural events but those are best heard from Scary Mary, not me :)  But I will say there is a special force right smack in the middle of this staircase on the 217-side of the building…  Some kind of vortex if I understood right.

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, architecture, photo, vortex, supernatural

The vortex staircase

The Stanley Hotel today

The lobby clearly retains a feel for the past with the heavy woods and furniture arrangements.  While the setting of the hotel is spectacular, and the lobby and its spaces feel special, the main guest room floors do feel a bit drab.

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, lobby

Lobby

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7

Guest room floor

The maze in front of the hotel was an ‘add’ to the grounds after throngs of visitors kept asking about the maze that shows in The Shining.  The hotel owners, I suppose, decided to play along and installed one (in its early stages of vegetation growth at the moment…).

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, maze, architecture, photo, tour, The Shining

The maze at the front of the hotel

Back to the interior, the hotel has good touches in the decoration using vintage artifacts from an automobile to mirrors, large and small.  Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, mirror Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, lamp, light fixture Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, piano Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, automobile, vintage car

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, hose fixture

Old fixture for fire hose

The views from the front porch – and I presume, the rooms – are pretty spectacular with the town below and the mountains beyond.  A key selling point to the hotel, I am sure!

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Views of the Rockies from the front porch

The bar is pretty cool in its design, decor and feel.  There is an outdoor restaurant in the back.  I did not get to try neither the food nor the drinks so that may be left to a future visit!  I would love to stay there in the dead of winter sometime!

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, bar Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, bar Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, bar Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, bar

I leave you with some other photos of the main building and the second guest room building.Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7 Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7

 

 

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Kathmandu’s Great Boudha Stupa

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One of the most beautiful sites in Kathmandu, Nepal is the Great Boudha Stupa (or Boudhanath Stupa).  First and foremost, it is a beautiful statement of faith, the largest such Buddhist structure in Nepal and the largest outside of any in Tibet.  That the Great Boudha Stupa is pleasing to my eyes is a far second from that but still, for this first time visitor to areas with a strong Buddhist influence, its physical beauty is indeed powerful.  Sadly, I only got to see if after the earthquake of April 2015 so I missed seeing the stupa tower, the lotus, and the umbrella portions of the stupa which came tumbling down with the quake.

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The Great Boudha Stupa

The stupa:  a place for faith

The stupa is very large in diameter.  The faithful, and those of us who respect them, walk around in a clockwise direction turning the prayers wheels with their prayers and stopping at different points for prayer.  The faithful believe one of the earlier Buddhas is buried under the dome of the structure.

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People stopping for prayers along the way

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Marigolds everywhere add color

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The prayer wheels

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Turning the wheel while saying the prayer

There are some monasteries around it but the buildings around it also house shops and workshops where local artists create their pieces.

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The district around the stupa

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Lhakhang Monastery

Lhakhang, monastery, Great Boudha Stupa, stupa, Buddhist, Buddhism, Kathmandu, Nepal, Samsung Galaxy, travel, tourism

Entrance to the Lhakhang Monastery

My favorite visit was to a shop with its associated workshop on the second story.  We got a nice explanation of the “emblematic” paintings we laymen just associate with Tibet and saw a few of the artists at work, painstakingly working on their creation.

Tibetan art, painting, Great Boudha Stupa, stupa, Buddhist, Buddhism, Kathmandu, Nepal, Samsung Galaxy, travel, tourism

Artist at work

The stupa:  a place of beauty

Halfway around our walk, we got up and a little closer to the dome which still remains unapproachable due to damage for the quake and on-going repairs to the site.  From there, one gets to higher ground to look around and get closer to the items near the dome.  I leave you with some final photos that are evocative of the beauty of the entire site!

Great Boudha Stupa, stupa, dome, Buddhist, Buddhism, Kathmandu, Nepal, Samsung Galaxy, travel, tourism, color

The damage to the dome is evident

Great Boudha Stupa, stupa, dome, Buddhist, Buddhism, Kathmandu, Nepal, Samsung Galaxy, travel, tourism, color Great Boudha Stupa, stupa, dome, Buddhist, Buddhism, Kathmandu, Nepal, Samsung Galaxy, travel, tourism, colorGreat Boudha Stupa, stupa, dome, Buddhist, Buddhism, Kathmandu, Nepal, Samsung Galaxy, travel, tourism, color

 

Images of Another Northern Town – Husavik

church, Husavik, Iceland, travel, tourism, Samsung Galaxy, photo

Husavik is certainly not the most visited spot in Iceland as many tourists tend to stick to Reykjavik, the South Shore and the Golden Circle and Husavik lies well in the north.  But, when I visited Iceland last year, we had opted to spend three days in Akureyri, much closer to Husavik.  That was such a great call!  The north was beautiful (Godafoss was awesome) and also a great launching point for some whale watching, which we greatly enjoyed.  We picked a whale watching tour out of Husavik which afforded us the opportunity to, even briefly, see this charming northern town.  Here are some images from our brief time there.

Click on the photo to see it bigger!


 

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

Puerto Natales, Chile: A Southern Town

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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!

 

The Art Institute of Chicago – A New Favorite

Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, sculpture, Charles Ray, Samsung Galaxy, Hancock Tower

Chicago is many things but dull it isn’t.  This city is rich in culture, architecture, outdoors fun (in the summer, at least!), food and many other things.  I love coming to this city but have rarely been here on my own to explore.  I have greatly enjoyed coming to Chicago with friends, whether to party in the early 1990s, or to get to know the best of the city in the last few years via local friends who know it well.  I wrote a couple of years ago about the architecture of the city.

When a business trip to Minnesota arose, I thought it may give me another opportunity to head to the Windy City on my way home and see more of it.  One of the things that I have NEVER done in Chicago is go to a museum so I decided my weekend would be anchored around at least on a museum visit.

And so it was.  After reading a little bit, and being quite torn on which one to attack, I decided for The Art Institute of Chicago.  It is one of people’s favorites (or so I read!) and it was close to my hotel.  Also, while I had studied about the Chicago History Museum and was curious to see it in person, I was not feeling historical this weekend.  I was more in the mood for art.  And, finally, The Art Institute featured in one of my favorite movies:  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off!Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, architecture, Samsung Galaxy

The museum has an old wing and a newer one with a cleverly built hallway/gallery that was built to bridge over the railroad lines separating the old building (right on Michigan Avenue) from the new building, behind the old building towards the lake.  The new building has an entrance on Monroe whereas the old building has its entrance on Michigan Avenue.

Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, architecture, Samsung Galaxy

The modern wing from Monroe St.

Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, architecture, Samsung Galaxy

To the right, the bridge connecting the new gallery (shown here) to the old

Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, architecture, Samsung Galaxy

And the bridge connecting to the old building over the rail lines

I like the newer building because it just feels “light” both in the sense of illumination but also on the sense of weight or heaviness of the architecture and the interiors.  Well done, whoever was/were the architect(s)!

Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, architecture, Samsung Galaxy

Lightness in space and materials

The museum has art from ancient Greece and China to the most modern sculptures (Charles Ray was a special exhibit).  I started at the Charles Ray exhibit mainly because it was right there after I entered.  The space was huge and the sculptures were distributed over the entire space creating what felt like vast spaces between the pieces.  I don’t know much about art (it’s been a while since I stayed at a Holiday Inn…) but I definitely felt the openness and emptiness of the galleries only added to the sculptures by truly making them stand out.  I also feel that it also made the people walking around almost part of the exhibit itself.  I took some photos that, now when I look at them, I am almost as interested in the people walking the space as in the sculptures themselves.  I wonder if that was the intent of the curators…

Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, sculpture, Charles Ray, Samsung Galaxy

Boy holding a frog seemingly holding a statue in the back…

Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, sculpture, Charles Ray, Samsung Galaxy, Hancock Tower

A crashed Grand Am sculpture with the Hancock Tower in the background

My favorites were the impressionist artists, as usual:  Pisarro, Cézanne, Monet, etc..  But I also was pleased to see several El Greco and more modern favorites like Miró, Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, and Roy Lichtenstein (am I a name-thrower or what?!).

Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, architecture, Samsung Galaxy, Van Gogh

Van Gogh’s selfie (at least one ear is still there!)

Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, architecture, Samsung Galaxy, Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein’s almost comic book-like imagery

Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, architecture, Samsung Galaxy, Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock

Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, architecture, Samsung Galaxy, Monet

Monet’s foggy London

Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, architecture, Samsung Galaxy, Cezanne

Cézanne’s wife on yellow chair

I also enjoyed seeing American Gothic in person.  It truly is a brilliant piece, not because I know about art itself but because I certainly feel the emotion (or lack thereof) in the two characters!

Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, architecture, Samsung Galaxy, American Gothic

American Gothic

Oh, and here is the charmer that Ferris and his bud and girlfriend admired while on their escapade!

Art Institute, Chicago, art, travel, architecture, Samsung Galaxy

You don’t have to be an art connoisseur or lover even – just have an open mind and go explore this incredible institution on the shores of Lake Michigan!

Þingvellir: Where History and Nature Meet in Iceland!

Þingvellir, Parliament, Iceland, Golden Circle, history, signficant, travel, photo, nature

One of the key stops along the Golden Circle in Iceland (a nice day trip from Reykjavik) is Þingvellir (or “Thingvellir”, as the first letter is a “th”-ish sound), in the Þingvellir National Park.  It is a site of great importance both because of historic and geological reasons.  It was here than in the 10th century, Iceland’s parliament was set up less than 100 years after the island was populated by settlers from what is Norway today  And it stayed there until the very end of the 18th century!  Setting up this parliament was key in creating a unique Icelandic sense of nation.

The park is also the home of the largest lake in Iceland and it contains the crest of the rift valley in the mid-Atlantic.  As you walk in down a paved path, a large cliff wall on your left frames the scene.  It is an imposing wall!

Þingvellir, Parliament, Iceland, Golden Circle, history, signficant, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

As you walk down on it, you are shown to the spot where parliament was founded.  It is barely noticeable except for the flag pole and the framing put in place on the actual site – oh, and all the tourists!

Þingvellir, Parliament, Iceland, Golden Circle, history, signficant, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

See the flagpole in the distance?

Standing on the spot gives one a great view down to the valley.  But walk down to the water, perhaps the church and admire the cliff walls from below.

Þingvellir, Parliament, Iceland, Golden Circle, history, signficant, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Looking up to the site of the first parliament!

Þingvellir, Parliament, Iceland, Golden Circle, history, signficant, travel, photo, church

Church below the parliament site

But stop and admire the natural beauty of the site!Þingvellir, Parliament, Iceland, Golden Circle, history, signficant, travel, photo, nature

Þingvellir, Parliament, Iceland, Golden Circle, history, signficant, travel, photo, nature

Awesome land!

Þingvellir, Parliament, Iceland, Golden Circle, history, signficant, travel, photo, nature

Beautiful!

Þingvellir, Parliament, Iceland, Golden Circle, history, signficant, travel, photo, nature, lava, rocks

The strata of lava point to the incredible geological uniqueness of Iceland

It was one of the first “sights” I visited in Iceland (after the Blue Lagoon) and it definitely help frame the country for me by marrying its history with its incredible landscapes!

——– More on Iceland ——–

My itinerary for my week visit to Iceland

A stroll around Reykjavik

Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik

Postcards from Iceland:  Dalvík

The Blue Lagoon

Goðafoss:  The Waterfalls of the Gods

A Northern Town:  Akureyri

Whale Watching

Iceland’s South Shore:  The Dyrhólaey Peninsula and Vik

 

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!

 

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