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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bahamas, I Coming Right Back

 

Twice a year I have the opportunity to relive some of my fondness memories growing up in Nassau.

 

Picture 632No, I do not get to have an “Afro” again or devour slice after slice of a delicious twelve eggs traditional “Bahamian Birthday” cake.

However, what I do get to do is celebrate and participate in “Junkanoo” on Boxing Day or New Years Eve.

Junkanoo is a celebration similar to Carnival in other Caribbean countries. 

 

 

If you are ever in Nassau during this time of the year then around two in the morning head to the west of the Hilton Hotel in the downtown area and find the group “Sting” to join in the fun.

 

 

Sony 058After a real Junkanoo experience, like me I think you will also be saying, “I coming right back”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SAM DEC28 299Bahamian Junkanoo Costume

 

 

 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Iceland, Natural Wonders

 

 

Geyser watchersWe are standing only a few feet from water that is boiling at about one hundred degrees celsius.

Within a few minutes it shoots about thirty feet up in the air then crashes back into earth leaving a refreshing steam mist behind.

 

 

We are at Strokkur an active geyser that erupts about every five to ten minutes.

 

 

 

Exploding GeyserA Very Cool But Hot Erupting Geyser

 

 

Circling the rim of Blue Keio I hope it has no plans of erupting soon. With a hollowing wind blowing I enjoy more of Iceland's natural wonders as I peer hundreds of feet down into the almost perfect circular shape of this inactive volcano.  

 

   

CANAUG29 017Blue Keio Volcano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling more confident it will stay inactive, we descend into the crater and spend a few minutes relaxing by its tranquil waters. For us, it is almost like spending an afternoon at the beach.

 

 

CANAUG29 040Inside  Blue Keio Crater

 

More driving along the Golden Circle route and our next stop is at an important place in Iceland's history. In 930 AD this is where the first parliament met and the laws of the country were established.

 

 

CANAUG29 087The beauty here is awesome but it hides some of Iceland’s sad history that occurred here.

 

 

 

 

At Thingveillir many men were beheaded for murder or hanged for stealing.

 

 

SAMSLA 027Eighteen women were drowned in this pool for having children out of wedlock.

At the time this was considered as having “loose morals”.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Iceland, An Intriguing Destination

 

CANAUG28 107Leaving the airport it is not long before it seems like we are on Mars or the Moon. Within minutes we are staring at a landscape that has me thinking, “Houston, we have a problem”.

 

 

The earth in front of us is barren with what seems like multiple mini craters created no doubt by volcanic activity which is a part of Iceland's history. I have always believed that it is impossible to be in two places at the same time but here I discover that this is not necessarily true.

 

 

SAM AUG28 015In The Footsteps Of The Gods

 

 

With our feet spread wide apart we are technically on the North American and European Continent at the same time as we stand “In The Footsteps Of The Gods” at Midlina.

 

Blue  Lagoon LavaA stop at Blue Lagoon and we get more sensations that we are on another planet as we walk between sparkling blue pools of water with bright white and dark black jagged rock formation protruding out of the water, amazingly very cool.

 

 

Back of the road we make a slight detour and we come across an awesome waterfall that leaves me almost speechless and in awe of the beauty of mother nature here.

 

 

CANAUG28 156

 

A short hike and it is an amazing experience standing behind the towering watery mist as it makes a dancing descent from hundreds of feet above the ground.

 

Black Beach White SurfA stop at one of Iceland’s “Lava Beaches” then it is on to our next site, the largest waterfall in Europe, Gullfoss Falls.

 

 

 

Simply a spectacular sight that is the one spot you should definitely visit if you ever make it to this intriguing destination that is called Iceland.

 

 

 

SAM AUG28 043Gullfoss Falls

 

 

 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bermuda, A Morning Walk

 

With the New Year properly welcomed in, we are up at a reasonable hour and start our day by taking a stroll around St George.

 

2014-01-01 10.29.44From Somer's Wharf, Bermuda's oldest town (1612)  to Tobacco Bay and Fort St Catherine the weather is beautiful but a bit cool.

On a nice leisurely walk we learn and experience a little more about this British Territory that is almost a hidden gem in the North Atlantic.

 

 

 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Bermuda, The Onion Drop

 

One more invite to join the holiday celebration at St George and we now think at least we should stop in and share some of the New Year spirit before heading into the town center. A bit to our surprise the restaurant manager has arranged a table for us where we sit and enjoy the easy listening sounds of a three piece local band.

 

2013-12-31 13.34.40Into the evening a gentlemen comes over and invites us to join his table filled with local guests.

How could we refuse?

Our new host is more than willing to share some real holiday “spirits” and Bermudan hospitality with us.

 

These are the type of experiences that make traveling this time of the year extra special.

As the midnight hour approaches we say our goodbyes and head for the town center. A crowd has gathered in anticipation of celebrating the new year as a solo performer entertains us.

 

2013-12-31 22.48.16With food vendors and other fun activities around the decorated town center there is a somewhat muted festive mood in the air.

However, we meet at least one Bermudan who’s ready to party.

 

 

     

 

2013-12-31 22.36.15St George Town Hall

 

Ten, nine, eight, seven... the countdown begins and a huge lighted onion is lowered from the Town Hall with a jerking motion as we welcome 2014 in St George, Bermuda.

 

2013-12-31 23.02.33Celebrating 2014 with a Bermudan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bermuda, Hello 2014

 

In keeping with what has become our end of the year tradition to visit somewhere new, we head to St George, Bermuda to ring in 2014.

 

2013-12-31 13.02.38A very friendly welcome by immigration officials and after picking up a bottle of “Rum Swizzle”, once made in a washing machine, we are in a taxi and on our way to the St. George's Club.

 

 

 

We are delighted that strong tropical winds have kept the forecast rain away and we enjoy a colorful introduction to Bermuda under nice clear skies.

 

2013-12-31 13.41.01St George Club Room View

 

Stepping into the lobby of St George we are made to feel right at home with friendly conversation and big smiles as inquiries are made about our visit to Bermuda and our plans for the night. We consider an offer to have dinner at the hotel but with the afternoon free we decide to venture into Hamilton and will see how the day and night develops.  

So much for the sunny skies as a light drizzle begins to fall as we wait for the local bus to take us into Hamilton, the modern day capital of Bermuda. Along our drive we encounter heavy down pours that have me quickly regretting wearing “Bermuda Shorts” and flip-flops.

About an hour journey and we exit the bus in Hamilton near the ferry terminal. Although a light rain is still falling I get a sense that the weather will be improving as the day goes on.

 

2013-12-31 15.28.06

Just outside of the ferry terminal I get my first sampling of local cuisine at Dangelinis Cafe And Bakery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2013-12-31 15.13.14The fish cake sandwich which is made with cod fish and potato is pretty tasty and the coconut pound cake is irresistible.

 

 

 

 

A stroll around Hamilton and we not only experience some of Bermuda's colorful beauty in it's bright pink and yellow buildings but we also learn some things about its not so proud history like many other places.

 

 

2013-12-31 15.23.59Hamilton Waterfront Street

 

Local lore holds that it was an extremely hot day when Sally Bassett an elderly slave was burned at the stake in 1730. It is said that even today Sally Bassett haunts the Bermudian psyche and scorching hot days here are sometimes referred to as “A Real Sally Bassett Day”.

 

 

BDA 2013 010Sally Bassett

 

On a full No.10 bus we make our way back to St. George. We are glad that we got the opportunity to learn about and experience just a small part of Bermuda and look forward to being here to bring in 2014.

 

 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Latvia, Sightseeing Around Riga

 

 

Under cloudy skies with a dampness in the air, I take a stroll to do some sightseeing around Riga.

 

2013-11-16 12.10.10Near my hotel is a monstrous building as in “Frankenstein” monstrous that I find interesting especially when I discover it has a science connection to it.

Just makes me wonder what type of experiments have gone on or are still occurring there.

 

 

There is no wondering what is going at the Central Market which is buzzing with activity from all types on sellers and buyers.

 

2013-11-15 14.37.52

 

The fresh fruits and vegetables are amazing although I find the prices a little steep. A small snack will do as I am planning a nice meal at a local restaurant that comes highly recommended by the hotel front desk clerk.

 

CAN RGA Day 1 007Walking this city is amazing with so many things to see that you can easily be pulled in all directions.

 

 

 

 

 

I take a hike along the river towards Riga Castle and Our Lady Of Sorrow, the first Catholic church in the city. Next it is in and out of narrow streets and alleys checking out all of the other cool buildings and churches.

 

 

CAN RGA Day 1 013The architecture and history of many of these buildings is just simply astonishing.

 

 

 

 

 

One such building is the impressive House Of Blackheads built in the 14th century but severely damaged and pillaged in World War II. Rebuilt to its former glory in 1999, it now serves as a temporary home for use by the President of Latvia.

 

 

CAN RGA Day 1 036The 14th Century House Of Blackhead

 

Eventually my stomach leads me to Lido Vermanitis but not before taking in a few more sights around the city. I sure am happy about the earlier tip to eat here and I do my best to not let my eyes become bigger than my stomach.

Because the restaurant is so pack I have the good fortune to have a mother and daughter ask to sit at my table. Their joining me makes my meal an even more pleasant experience as we fumble our way through a dinner conversation. The starting point of which is the shirt the daughter is wearing. It is embroidered with the name of a place I once called home, The City Of Angels.

 

 

2013-11-15 17.03.45Bon Appetit! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Latvia, Rocking Riga

 

2013-11-15 17.54.18It is late in the evening when I arrive in Riga after a comfortable bus ride from Tallinn, Estonia. Checking in at Hanza Hotel I am told this is a good time to visit as Latvia is about to being celebrating its independence with a “Festival Of Lights” around the city.

 

 

I take my customary late night walk around Riga and discover that it not only has something in common with my adopted homeland but I also end up hanging out with a “Funny Fox”.

 

 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Tibet, An Awesome Destination

 

 

TOEBC D1 051After almost freezing to death in a brutally cold hotel room without a heater, we set off on the final leg for what will become one of the most awesome places that I have ever visited.

 

 

 

Just before 8am in the morning we are back in what has been our almost uncomfortable “mobile home” for another days worth of driving but one we are all looking forward to.

A stop at another military check point and it seems all of our paperwork including the required permits for EBC are in order. Back in our vehicle we are approached by a guard who has what at first seems like an unusual request. Apparently, it is a novelty but he wants to exchange some foreign currency with us. I think it is a nice gesture which sends all of us scrambling to see if we have the currencies he is looking for.

 

LAST DAY EBC CAN 002A few hours into our journey we leave a paved main highway for a dirt one.

My confidence in our van navigating this new path falls a little when we all have to bail out because we just got stuck in sand.

 

 

With a shovel and some wood from a nearby construction crew we are soon back on the road again.

From this point it is about a 100 mile mountainous journey along a mostly gravel path to our final destination for the night. The scenery here is unbelievable although the ride leaves much to be desired. This is really not suited for those that can easily get car or motion sickness.

 

 

LAST DAY EBC CAN 003Final Drive To EBC

 

Around one hairpin curve to another we are soon thousands of feet from were we started. With one mistake we could easily return there although it would not be pretty.

The real first highlights of my trip is when we make a stop at a popular scenic lookout point. The weather is so beautiful that I can clearly see our destination although it is still about sixty miles away.

 

 

LAST DAY EBC CAN 017Another cool thing about this stop is that I actually get to meet and talk with truly local Tibetans.

 

 

 

 

Although they are here to sell tourist merchandise I still get the opportunity to interact and laugh with them as if we were just old friends hanging out. For me, this is the joy of traveling even if the experience is only a passing moment.

 

 

 

LAST DAY EBC CAN 020Mount Everest From Sixty Miles Away

 

 

More driving and we make a lunch stop that becomes another of those wonderful traveling experiences for me. This time I actually get to be in the kitchen as our meal is being freshly prepared.

 

LAST DAY EBC CAN 026Since leaving Lhasa this turns out to be one of the better meals that I have had.

 

 

 

 

 

In the early afternoon we reach our destination, Mt Everest Base Camp, one of the main reason I have made this journey. Standing at over 17,000 feet, it is a breathless view of the highest point on the planet although I am a bit disappointed that the camp itself is littered with trash.

 

 

LAST DAY EBC CAN 050Mount Everest Base Camp

 

After settling into our “Yak” tent home for the night, we pay an extra fee and take a bus to a point that will give us a more spectacular view than the ones we have already been fortunate to witness. As we exit the bus for a short climb to this scenic point we are given a few rules courtesy of the nearby military guards. We can take pictures but interestingly they must not include any national flags.

 

 

LAST DAY EBC CAN 043About a 100 feet climb and I am truly breathless, literally.

No doubt we could not have asked for nicer weather as our group of five capture the moment of a dream that has come true for all of us.

 

 

 

As we make our way back to the bus stop I begin having shortness of breathe my first experience of altitude sickness. Back at camp I begin a search for our driver who has our supply of oxygen locked up in the van. He is nowhere to be found.

Fortunately, my experience is not an uncommon one here at 17,000 plus feet so portable oxygen in a can is available for sale.

 

LAST DAY EBC CAN 038Inside our tent I find a spot in the corner and continue drawing on the support of my new best friend.

As night falls a yak dung fire is lit in a stove in the middle of the room.

 

 

 

Dinner is prepared using this fire then more dung is used to heat our open air room. However, it is still beginning to get colder as I now have from the van a pillow filled with oxygen.

I am still not sure how I made it through the night although I knew I had to keep drawing on my pillow oxygen. Some time during the night I remember seeing flashlight beams dancing around inside our tent and hearing voices. In the morning I learned that for some reason a military guard or two had come into our tent and there was some discussion with the tent owner. I am glad I slept through all of it.

 

 

LAST DAY EBC CAN 073Sunrise Over Mount Everest

 

The dawn of the rising sun is a welcome sight as a few of us stumble out of our tent in the freezing morning air to experience the sunrise over Mount Everest. On this particular morning words could hardly describe the magnificent and awesome feeling as we stood there watching the night sky disappear.

Truly, a dream come true.