Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tibet, One Step Closer To EBC


After about an hour roadside stop 5000 kilometers from Shanghai, we are back on the road again one step closer to reaching EBC, Mount Everest Base Camp.


SAM_2745Our lunch stop turns out to be an interesting one as it is the most filthy restaurant that I have ever eaten in (that I know of).

The floor is littered with so much trash that it almost seems as if we are eating at a land fill.




SAM_2748However, as Forrest Gump might say, “.. but the food was decent”.






Past more prayers flags along an amazing landscape, soon from the comfort of a warm van I am glancing at a landmark that tells me we are getting closer to our ultimate destination.



TOEBC D1 048Amazing Landscape


Although the howling wind is cold and bitter I leave my comfort zone and step outside for a better glimpse of Mount Everest in the distance. At over 15,000 above sea level I take in great views without supplemental oxygen.



SAM_2757With bright blue skies accented with white clouds, the weather could not be much better to experience this exhilarating feeling.

I think this is something many dream about but only few get the chance to do. I am one of the lucky ones.




We have one more hotel night stay before we actually reach EBC and we spend the afternoon strolling the town that is the gateway to the highest point on the planet.



TOEBC D1 054As the sun begins to fall for the evening it takes the temperature rapidly down with it.






My hotel room which has no heat becomes like the inside of a freezer. This presents a challenge as I try to go to sleep. Even fully clothed from head to toe, lying on my mattress is like being on a block of ice.

The sun cannot return quick enough and radiate the chilled air as I am not really prepared for life at 15,000 feet.




Friday, November 22, 2013

Finland, Around Helsinki And Suomenlinna



CAN TLL Day 1 004My second day in Finland starts in church but will end like my first day here, on a boat.






This morning I get to experience the inside of Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral and it is just as magnificent as the outside. A few moments of being awed and I descend a small hill to Market Square.



CAN TLL Day 1 001Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral


As if sensing my temporary confusion, a gentleman approaches. In less than five minutes we are sitting together on a ferry and he is drawing me pictures as we sail away to Suomenlinna.

By the time our journey is over I have a better understanding of Finland and Suomenlinna. 

I also now know what that “strange” Finnish fish pastry is, “Kala .. Kukko”.


2005-01-01 02.16.36On Suomenlinna a historical maritime fortress, I initially follow the blue route.

However, I have a planned detour thanks to my fellow ferry passenger who was so kind to give me some island tips.



This island which is one of eight is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and holds an important part of Finland's history. There is a small amount of inhabitants here year round but this place really becomes popular during the summer months.



2013-11-13 12.25.27Russian “Military” Church


Except for an occasional almost freezing wind near portions of elevated coastline it is beautiful and exciting to enjoy this island. The views it gives from the ocean to the mainland are amazing.


CAN TLL Day 1 031At one point I can look across the open seas and see the white towers of Senate Square Church radiating in the distance.





Canons from years gone by still stand guard over the sea routes to the mainland but thankfully their glory days are long over. Although signs of Finland war history remains it is nice to be able to relish the tranquility this island now offers.  



CAN TLL Day 1 025Suomenlinna Fire Power


As I leave Suomenlinna after a few hours of climbing hills and navigating tunnels, I can see how it is so easy to spend a whole summer day here.



2005-01-01 02.23.47Back after my 2 Euro fifteen minute ferry ride, I briefly browse the street vendors ending their day at Market Square.





With souvenir magnets at 5 Euros, I do not see any real bargains here and move on. Amazingly, a block away in a store I find better souvenir deals like three magnets for 12 Euros.

In a few hours I will leave Finland but there is one more site that I am interested in seeing. About a 20 minute walk away I find a few moments to relax as inspirational music fills the otherwise still air.    



CAN TLL Day 1 059Temppeliaukio Church


Sitting inside of Temppeliaukio, a church carved out of rocks with mostly natural lighting, I reflect on how fortunate I am to see another part of the world and to experience another culture from its people to its food and its religion. My hope is always that more will get to do the same.

Estonia, here I come.



Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sweden, Biking Around Stockholm



2013-11-11 01.26.55For me, one of the advantages of staying at budget minded places like hostels is getting reasonable options to enjoy the flavor and culture of the place I'm visiting.





As I check out of City Backpackers Hostel, I make some inquiries about sights I would enjoy seeing in Stockholm and the best way to see them. My original plan was an about 3 hour organized tour “Hop On Hop Off plus Boat Tour” for about 360SEK.



CAN ARN D2 021City Backpackers Bicycle


With nice weather promised for the rest of the day, instead of a 360SEK tour I hop on a rented bike from City Backpackers and save myself 310SEK in the process.


CAN ARN D2 019I set off on my own self guided tour of the city and have an enjoyable time seeing some of the sights of Stockholm on two wheels.







Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Finland, I Am Not Finish With You, Yet


At eight fifteen in the evening I am on the cold and windy sundeck of the Amorella as the lights of Stockholm slowly fades in the distance.


2005-01-01 11.37.24On a moonless night I am making a ten hour journey across the Baltic Sea to Turku, Finland.

For about $70 US dollars, this time of the year I have a cabin all to myself onboard a Viking Line cruise ship.



The Amorella turns out to be more fun than expected with a line up of entertainment from karaoke, to live bands, and casino slots. Sleep comes at a premium and the ten hours pass too quickly.

Within a few hours of arriving in Turku I am in the Finnish capital, Helsinki. A light cold rain is falling as I leave the central bus station but I have an immediate love for this cosmopolitan city that is so alive and vibrant.



2013-11-12 09.47.53Trams and traffic are moving in every direction around me yet their sounds are lost on me as I admire unique structures and awesome buildings.







2013-11-12 12.46.42Senate Square Cathedral



About a 20 minute walk from the city center I arrive at my accommodation for the night and what a surprise. With Hellsten Hotel And Apartments I have booked a single room for the night but at check in I am upgraded to an apartment that is so large “I can play baseball in it”. My bathroom even has a sauna in it. Nice.

This time of the year darkness comes early and the light rain is still falling as I set out to explore some of Helsinki by night. My journey takes me to an unknown part of Finland's history for me.


IMG_2076For 5 Euros, I am freezing as I am standing about 200 feet above the city with the wind howling across the open observation deck of the Olympic Stadium Tower.

Yes, Finland hosted the Olympics in 1952.






Wednesday, November 13, 2013

New York, This Place Is A Zoo, Really A Zoo!


After many times and years of visiting New York, with a little determination and subway patience, I finally head to a part of the “Big Apple” that I have always wanted to visit.


NYC BRONX 003It turns out there are really a lot of animals here although not as many as I expected.








NYC BRONX 019Polar Beer From Coke Commercials


I guess during this time of the year even some New Yorkers need a break from the hustle and bustle of summer.


NYC BRONX 063On a nice fall afternoon I get to see another part of one of my favorite cities and like always it is fun to be here and in the Bronx.







Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sweden, A Taste of Scandinavia


My introduction to Sweden came as a child with a few words that may be familiar to many others, “Bork de Bork, de Bork, it is time to put on make up.. it is time to dress up right.. “.Since then it has been Abba and Ikea.



2004-12-31 19.09.32About two hours after becoming airborne from Frankfurt, I touch down in the Capital of Scandinavia, Stockholm.





A short stop at the Tourist Information booth which is very nice and 99SEK (US$15) later I am on my way to the city center.

At a McDonald's just outside of the main train station with free Wi-Fi available, I book a room for the night at City Backpackers a ten minute walk away.

For about 190SEK (US$35) I will have a bed in a 4 bed dorm room. Not bad considering most regular hotels near the city center are north of US$120.



SAM_4038A stop at House of Kebab for an affordable stomach filling dinner and I am ready for an afternoon nap not too long after checking in at City Backpackers.





On a brisk Sunday evening with a light rain occasionally falling I take my customary night time walk around the city. As I walk back to the Central Station, I am a bit disappointed that most of the cities famous buildings are not well lit for nighttime photography.




2013-11-10 21.52.2517th  Century House Of Nobility


I do get a treat as a set of stomping feet head towards me as I am standing below the entrance to the Royal Apartments at The Royal Castle. I watch as a group of soldiers are performing some type of nighttime routine.

In Old Town I am delighted when I come across, The Liffey, an Irish Pub. A nice selection of beers, a great atmosphere, live entertainment and “The Broncos vs. The Chargers”.


2013-11-11 00.06.21With a tall “Sleepy Bulldog” but unfortunately minus an order of wings, this is still one way to make a “Fantasy Pigskinner” feel right at home.







Monday, November 4, 2013

Arkansas, Fall Foliage


I leave what I still call Little Rock (LIT) Airport and head on 440West to 30East to 40West. My destination, Arkansas Scenic 7 Byway.

As I drive west along the interstate I have a decision to make. I have to be back in Little Rock this evening and I am not sure if I want to circle back from the North or South.

Should I see a part of the Ozarks or the Quachita National Forest. Fortunately, this time of the year I do not think I can go wrong with any choice I make. In the end, I decide to venture in the direction of the Ozarks.



SAM Fall Foliage 009Just off I-40W I make my first stop at CJ's Butcher Boy Burgers.

Although I am not sure if their burgers are “The Best In The State”, I would definitely give their fresh fries high marks.




Charged up with a tasty burger and fries, I am back on N Arkansas Ave (Route 7) headed north. It is not long before I begin to see telltale signs of why this is one of the most scenic roads to drive in the state during this time of the year.


CAN Fall Foliage 007Bright reds, mellow greens, soft yellows and soothing oranges along with falling leaves soon have me pulling off the highway to enjoy some of the things I love about fall. 




The air is fresh and once a car or two disappears in the distance, I take in the delightful sounds and peacefulness of nature.




CAN Fall Foliage 015A Beautiful Swing


At one stop I am taken somewhat back to my childhood as I spot a blue and white swing set surrounded by the greens, reds, purples, orange  and yellows of nature. I resist the temptation to trespass and be a child again encompassed by such beauty.


2013-10-30 16.25.18I do find a few friends along the way that are just as curious about me as I am about them.

However, I am still not sure what is up with the long faces although they seemed genuinely happy to meet me.



At one time Route 7 was a popular North-South road through the “Natural State” and some of the history of those days still remain along the highway.



CAN Fall Foliage 044A Double Decker


It must have been a fun time when a “Double Decker Outhouse” was a key attraction.


2013-10-30 15.57.21If that was not good enough for you could also purchase “Country Cured Hams” nearby.






A highlight of my trip is taking scenic views of the Ozarks at “Rotary Ann Overlook”, a historic rest stop along Scenic 7 Byway. Being here alone on a beautiful afternoon with a gentle breeze blowing is simply amazing.




2013-10-30 16.49.20Fall Foliage Ozark National Forest


With the threat of rain looming, my scenic journey through the “Natural State” begins to wind down as the sun heads west and takes the daylight with it.


CAN Fall Foliage 098I manage to hike a part of the trail towards “Pedestal Rock” but never quite get there.

However, my journey is rewarded by spotting a white tail deer off the trail that is startled by my presence.




As I drive a curving, dark and fun AR-16 back towards Clinton then Little Rock, the promised rain is beginning to fall but it in no way dampens my experience of seeing the wonderful colors of nature in Arkansas.