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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Around Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia, Around Kuala Lumpur

 

After an enjoyable flight on Malaysia Airlines, our welcome to Malaysia by Immigration and Customs officials is a fast, efficient and friendly one.

 

Snapshot 5 (11-21-2015 1-53 AM)This warm welcome continues as we get to enjoy a friendly match of table tennis before picking up our rental car from Avis.

 

 

 

A check in at Sri Enstek Hotel for a three night stay and it is time for dinner before we venture off for one of the main reasons we are here. Like in South Korea we quickly discover that the Malaysians like their food “Hot & Spicy”.

 

Snapshot 7 (11-21-2015 1-54 AM)Thankfully it does not take too long to get another order of Malaysian Fried Rice which is really delicious minus the hot peppers.

 

 

 

As we leave Sri Enstek we are assured that the traffic conditions for our night time drive will be much more manageable than had we left a few hours earlier. With help from an offline GPS app, in about an hour we are standing beneath one of the most impressive sights in Malaysia if not the world.

Standing at 1483 feet, The Petronas Towers were once the tallest buildings on the planet. Even though they have now lost that prominence they are still an awesome sight to see especially at night.

 

 

IMG_0007Petronas Towers

 

 

A late morning start and we are on the road again this time headed for Kuala Selangor Nature Park. Our drive along numerous toll roads is rewarded with views of a lush green landscape covered with an abundance of palm trees.

A stop at a roadside venue for lunch and we get to eat like the locals. We are offered a Malaysian porridge that is served cold along with “Cucuk” which seemed to be a type of “jerky” that is grilled inside of palm leaves.

 

 

Snapshot 2 (11-21-2015 12-59 AM) A noodle soup, freshly fried chicken and a huge coconut as a beverage are also in the mix.

 

 

 

 

Kuala Selangor Nature Park is a bit of a disappointment but it has a natural beauty of it's own. This time of the year the park is filled with baby monkeys and we really enjoyed watching their playful curiosity.

 

 

IMG_0025On our walk through the park we also get to see salamanders maneuvering around an almost dried up muddy stream along with a brown eagle perched high up in a tree probably looking for its next meal.

 

 

 

 

 

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Our next stop is a little more exciting but for completely different reasons. At Jalan Petaling we get to experience another “Chinatown Market”. Reasonable bargaining prices for all sorts of goods along with cheap prices for local foods and fresh fruits makes this a fun and exciting place for us.

 

 

Snapshot 8 (11-21-2015 2-06 AM)Just outside the boundary of Jalan Petaling we stumble across a beautiful Indian Temple where we are given another warm Malaysian welcome. We watch a ceremonial mass of sort take place then we are offered a meal which we enjoy on the outside of the temple.

 

 

A later return to Jalan Petaling and this time we stock up on pastries and fresh fruit before our last Chinatown culinary sampling of 'Street-side Kabobs”.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Seoul Time

Korea, Some Seoul Time

 

After 12 hours and 41 minutes of flight we touch down at Incheon International Airport for another trip to Southeast Asia and our first visit to South Korea. Our late afternoon arrival leaves us a bit exhausted from a 14 hour time change but even so with a light rain falling we still manage to venture out around our hotel neighborhood.

 

 

Korean DinnerA few stares at posted picture menus and we settle on a “Mom & Pop” restaurant for our first authentic South Korean meal. Two large bowls of a beef noodle soup with rice and all the trimmings including a”spicy” serving of kimchi. For about US$14 we are filled.

 

 

Feeling well rested and twelve hours later we are paralleling the Incheon Airport Expressway racing towards Seoul at 60 mph. Leaving Exit 8 at the Gwanghwamun Metro station we ascend into a cold and rainy afternoon.

Seizing the opportunity to stay dry and somewhat comfortable we board a tour bus for a 2 hour journey around the city. Besides learning more about Seoul from an on board audio program a highlight of the tour is seeing the city from the hillside area around the Seoul Tower.

 

 

Kimchi FestivalMaking Kimchi

 

 

We are fortunate that we happen to be in town while two popular cultural events are going on. For the Second Annual Kimchi Festival vendors line a popular street area and we get to sample some of South Korea's culinary delights.

At a museum we learn about some of Korea's significant historical achievements including its early Navy battles with Japan. We also learned about the development of Hangul by King Sejong. Hangul which was created in the 1300's is considered by some to be one of the most efficient alphabets in the world.

 

IMG_20151108_163305At one point we get to use it as we write our names in Korean.

As night falls around the city we head to Cheonggyecheon Plaza to enjoy the Seoul Lantern Festival where colorful Korean artworks display a part of it's history on a “River Walk that is below street level.

 

 

 

 

Some more time walking around the city and soon we return to Line 5 for about a one hour journey back to our hotel.

 

 

 

Lantern Festival 2015Seoul Lantern Festival

 

Our day ends with another neat Korean style dinner. This time we are cooking our own meal at a table side grill that turns out to be a cool experience.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Beautiful Sky Country Montana

Beautiful Sky Country, Montana

 

After a “Good Paddling” I am off to a unique recommended destination. It is a scenic adventure along rolling green hills and curving mountainous roads.

 

WP_20150627_003Along the way I make a brief stop at one of Montana's sad but historic site.

 

 

 

At the Smith Mine in 1943, 74 men lost their lives in Montana worst underground coal mine disaster. Decaying buildings against a green landscape stands as a memorial.

I am now minutes away from another “Big Sky Country” fun experience.

A Good Paddling Where Pigs Fly, Montana

 

An afternoon spent just outside of Billings, Montana and I get to once again be reminded how nice it is “Out West”. The American Western states offer an adventure and beauty that is all their own.

 

SAM_0158I start a part of this awesome experience with a “Good Paddling”.

On the Stillwater River we site a huge American Bald Eagle before taking a refreshing plunge.

A Good Paddling Montana

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Kayaking Suriname River

Suriname, An Eco-Adventure

 

 

Snapshot 3 (7-1-2015 12-03 PM)After a communication mix up, forty five minutes later than planned I am picked up by an employee van to be driven to Bergen Dal Resort.

 

 

 

Like most places nowadays Paramaribo has it's early morning rush hour traffic but it is handled the old-fashioned way.

 

 

Snapshot 5 (7-1-2015 12-09 PM)Policeman with white gloves and whistles do their best to keep the hectic floor of traffic going.

 

 

 

 

A few stops to pick up employees and soon we are in the lush green open countryside of Suriname. In about two hours we leave the main paved road and begin a short journey on a gravel one through a dense forest. In less than ten minutes we arrive at our destination for the day.

 

Snapshot 7 (7-1-2015 12-10 PM)A friendly welcome and my activities for the day are arranged. I relax a bit then it is a motorized boat ride along the Suriname River towards the resort's adventure center.

 

 

 

 

 

Snapshot 6 (7-1-2015 12-09 PM)

 

Here I find refuge from the blazing morning sun and doze off under a nice large shade tree. I am awaken from a relaxing dream as it is time to go kayaking.

 

Snapshot 8 (7-1-2015 12-10 PM)It is a lazy outing as we paddle upstream then let the river erase all of our progress. This is fine as I am more about enjoying the scenery than kayaking.

 

 

 

We are told that along this part of the river there are piranhas but they are not the aggressive ones that are further upstream.

 

 

Snapshot 13 (7-1-2015 12-13 PM) 

 

It takes a moment for me to accept and process this information but soon my feet are dangling in the refreshing water hoping that our guide is 100% correct. Apparently this area has the larger black piranhas which are not as worrisome as the smaller red ones. Another aggressive fish in the area is the “Wolf Fish” but today they all seem to be on their best behavior. Knowing this we eventually find a sandbar along the river and take a full swim.

 

Snapshot 14 (7-1-2015 12-14 PM)My swim is not without a bit of adventure.

 

 

 

 

I manage to take my “waterproof” camcorder with me only to discover it was not really “waterproof”. However, the most disappointing part about this was not being able to capture my next adventure, zip lining.

After a brief safety demo we then set off for what would be one of my best zip lining adventures. A 600 foot line across the Suriname River then zip lining 600 feet upside down across a rainforest is just going to be hard to beat. It is going to be an experience I will never forget.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Around Paramaribo Suriname

Suriname, Walking Around Paramaribo

 

Leaving Eco-Resort I cross the street and stop at a nearby gas station. Here, I again make a failed attempt to get local currency from an ATM. Fortunately they do accept “Greenbacks” and give me change back in SRD after I purchased a 1.5 liter of water.

 

IMG_0175 (640x480)It is a somewhat warm afternoon with the sun blazing down so strong that even men are walking around with huge umbrellas for protection.

I am to cool for that and decide to stick with my baseball cap although I end up paying the price later.

 

 

Looking to arrange a tour I drop in at All Suriname Tours located inside The Queen hotel. Again it is a challenge to do business with a credit card. In the end I reluctantly part with my dollars after getting a good price for a tour to Bergendal.

Next I make a stop at the local “Tourist Information” center where I get a wealth of information about Suriname and the local happenings. Just outside of the center is Fort Zeelandia claimed as one of the oldest spots in Paramaribo.

 

WP_20150609_011Unfortunately Fort Zeelandia is only opened until 2pm so I have to save my visit there for another day.

 

 

 

A walk along the Suriname River takes me to Waterkant but not before a brief stop at a war memorial. For me, this is always an honor to show some level of respect for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

At Waterkant a local hangout for food and drinks I have a recommended Suriname “spicy” dish that along with the afternoon heat has my head sweating like a “oink, oink”.

 

 

WP_20150609_018Telo Trie

 

However, the cassava dish (Telo Trie) topped with salted small dry fish drizzled with a pepper sauce along with sliced cucumbers and a banana is not only unique but full of flavor.

With my head sweating somewhat under control I continue my walk around town to see some of the city's highlights. At one stop I city and watch locals board water taxi's that remind me of being in Mumbai.

 

IMG_0003I doubt any of these boats would pass a Coast Guard inspection but they are very much a big part of the local transportation system.

 

 

 

 

The most interesting sight in the city is seeing one of the many mosques in Paramaribo peacefully existing right next to a synagogue.

 

WP_20150612_010If only this somewhat ironic situation could be duplicate elsewhere maybe many area of the world would be more peaceful too.

 

 

 

On Heck Arronstraat I find another site that is worth a return visit when it is open from 6am-1pm. St Peter and Paul Cathedral is one of the largest wooden buildings in the Americas.

 

 

IMG_0171St Peter and Paul Cathedral 

 

 

IMG_0176I finish up my walk in the Palm Garden enjoying the beautiful sound of singing birds as much as the hundred plus towering palm trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Video:https://youtu.be/NlIOEn5s8Sw

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Suriname, Arriving Paramaribo

 

Just before we begin our descent for Paramaribo I switch seats after taking a bathroom break. Now sitting in an otherwise empty “Emergency Exit” row I am surprised that I am told I have to stop reading my book as we make our final approach for landing.

On Insel Air it is a requirement that you give your full attention to your possible duties during takeoff and landing if you are sitting in the “Emergency Exit” row. Maybe this is the way it should be with every airline.

At just pass midnight we touchdown in Paramaribo. It is a quick entry process and at this time of the night it is comforting to easily discover that my pre-arranged transportation is waiting for me. What is not so comforting is that the airport ATM is slow and rejects my attempts to get local currency.

It's over an hour ride into the city and a taxi is about a US$50 fare. Through Eco-Resort I have arranged a US$15 airport shuttle and I am glad I did. It is not too often that I check into a hotel after one in the morning but I guess a long day of traveling makes for a good night of rest.

 

WP_20150609_005I am up for a delicious breakfast where no doubt I over stuff myself with freshly made crepes, bacon and a local hot shrimp dish.

At least I am now charged up for a walk around the city.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Yohan, Why Not Suriname

 

 

WP_20150608_001At an Insel Air transfer stop in Aruba I strike up a conversation with a fellow passenger who questions why I am visiting Suriname. I answer his curiosity with a question, why not Suriname.

 

 

 

WP_20150608_002Satisfied with my response, Yohan proceeds to share with me some information about his country.

I am sure his insights will make my next five days enjoyable.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Adios New Orleans, Hello FUN

 

Although I have crossed “The Mighty Mississippi” many times by land and by air, at just pass 4pm on a beautiful Sunday afternoon this will the first time I have sailed it's muddy waters.

 

CCL Dream Mississippi ViewWith the safety drill quickly over with the Carnival Dream begins what I am told  will be an almost eight hour journey down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

 

 

 

Our “Sail Away Party” is FUN but what is even more exciting is enjoying the views along the river as we snake our way downstream.

 

 

Mississippi Badging

Mississippi Badging

 

 

Adios New OrleansAdios New Orleans, Hello Key West.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Megabus, Lowes And A Dream

 

Just before 1am we are standing on Tennessee Street waiting for a bus but this is no ordinary bus, this is “The Megabus” that is going to take us from here to New Orleans for less than $17 per person. It has not been since my college days that I have ridden a long haul bus in the US so I am sort of looking forward to reliving the experience.

As we leave the bus stop we are given a stern warning about drinking and smoking on the bus but it is difficult to take it serious when it is done with a “Southern Twang”. A 15 minute stop somewhere near Pensacola for other chance at “Southern” exposure then we are on the road again.

I vaguely remember hearing “Mobile” in my sleep before dawn's early light is giving me a morning view of the New Orleans skyline. Around 7am we come to a stop on the streets of New Orleans not too far from the outskirts of the French Quarter.

 

20150503_071902Although our parental plan calls for us to take taxi's from here to the cruise terminal, we are trumped by our group of new graduates mostly from the business school who would rather save us the money and walk. I vote to give them all jobs at the Congressional Budget Office.

Our walk begins with a near miss of being hit by nothing less than a taxi. It is a beautiful morning as we make our way along the streets of New Orleans. A few of the first timers to the city are surprised that bars are open at 7am but hey, this is New Orleans.

 

 

We lose a luggage wheel along the way but this problem is quickly solved with a new set of wheels thanks in part to Lowes. I see the potential that most of our cruise expenses can be subsidized before we even set sail.

For a “Big Easy” first timer no trip to the city would be complete with a stop at the world famous Cafe du Monde. We beat the early morning lines and enjoy eight orders of the good stuff on the outside patio.

Another attempt to get a taxi at only $7 per person is thwarted so we continue our walk along the New Orleans Riverfront.

Through a shopping mall our destination is now within easy striking distance. At the top of a steep set of stairs we say good bye to our friend from Lowes but hope he'll be there when we return. Our Dream adventure is about to begin.

 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Milano By Day

Italy, Milano Highlights

 

 

After a seven hour and forty one minute flight we touch down in Milan about ten minutes ahead of schedule, one of us fully rested, one not so lucky.

 


2015-04-03 02.37.48“Buongiorno” from a smiling Immigration Officer, an easy walk through Customs and just like that we are officially in Milano.

 

 

 

 

I always wonder why other countries immigration and customs airport entry procedures are not as easy and nice as in most cases all across Europe.
A stop at Hertz and less than thirty minutes later, “The Blue Panda” is headed to “The Duomo”.

The Milano morning traffic is a bit more hectic than expected but eventually we end up navigating our way to a parking spot within eyesight of the main train station.

 

 

2015-04-03 15.39.34Stazione Centrale

 

 

At a parking rate of 1.20 euro per hour we think we have found a good deal and set off for about a 3 hour self guided walking tour.

We could not have asked for better weather as we head towards the Milan Cathedral (Duomo). Along the way we are entertained by the sights of the city including a traffic stop juggler. Shop windows are decorated in brilliant colors, some of them with designs that celebrate the upcoming Easter holidays.

 

IMG_0004In one area Peruvian street performers woo the crowd with soothing music and a walking street is filled with pedestrians.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0010The talents of street performers are sometimes amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

At one point we watch an artist at work using vegetables as his sole medium. A rose made out of carrots is astonishing.

 

 

 

2015-04-03 12.15.37Piazzo Castello

 

 

It is just so gorgeous as we sit at Piazzo Castello and relax by the water fountain. A walk down Via Dante and the majestic Duomo comes into view. Although I have visited the Duomo before it still is and will probably always be impressive to me.

 

 

2015-04-03 12.53.22Milan Duomo

 

 

Our travel budget and Swiss bank account is way too small to do any shopping at Galleria Vittorio but it is still nice to dream of one day having a complete Italian wardrobe makeover.

 

2015-04-03 13.38.33We love the soft blue that seems to be the in color this season and I now regret not taking out a small loan to be a part of the current fashion trend.

 

 

 

 

 

2015-04-03 14.31.11A fresh and affordable lunch at Mr Zuppa then it is a brief visit to the main train station before we are on the road to Verona.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Transnistria, A Day Tour Of Tiraspol

 

My tour of Tiraspol sort of officially begins but then it is quickly interrupted by a gentleman who approaches my guide as we are walking away from the train station. An engaging conversation takes place and I am impressed that my guide who is American is holding his own communicating in Russian. Tim gives me a quick insight into the conversation which is interesting to me.

 

2015-01-21 14.24.39The other man is a taxicab driver who Tim used during the New Year holiday celebration when he had a run in with the local police.

 

 

 

 

Surprisingly, the taxicab recognized him as we were strolling by. As is the norm here, so I am told, at the time of Tim’s run in with the police they took a laptop computer from him as a part of the items he had in his personal possession. In trying to retrieve his personal items at a later date, Tim was told it was this taxicab driver that stole it from him. In reality the story was just the opposite. Here there is no real crime just corruption and this is one example of it. Fortunately this gentleman has promised to help Tim get his computer back.

 

 

 

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An unusual introduction to Transnistria but it demonstrates how it's citizens have little trust for government officials. Here I am told there is also little interest in the political system because of the way the government works. Similarly, I read that in Chisinau it took three attempts to elect the Prime Minister because voter turnout was below that required for the election process.

From the train station it is a short walk into town and I need to lighten my load so we hop on the No.2 bus for a ride to my apartment for the night. Although on the outside many apartment buildings look dilapidated on the inside can be a completely different story.

 

2015-01-22 00.28.17My apartment is in the process of being renovated and although a bit colorful it is still more than adequate for me for one night.

I enjoy the experience of being accommodated like a local.

 

 

 

 

Back on another bus and we hop off at one of the famous parks in the city. Mostly deserted this time of the year, however, over fifty years of Soviet amusement park history is still here.

 

 

 

2015-01-21 15.22.02

 

 

With rides made of mostly cast iron they will probably still be here for another thousand and fifty years. Famous among the rides here is a Ferris wheel similar to the one at Chernobyl although this one does not have a glow to it.

 

 

IMG_0001From the park we take a stroll towards Transnistria University which was founded by a Ukrainian poet.

Even today there is still a close bond between Transnistrians and Ukrainians.

 

 

 

 

 

Near the university we stop at a bakery/cafe that is popular with students because of it's cheap quart size beers. We both have hot tea while I sample a local pastry filled with potatoes.

 

 

2015-01-21 15.51.11

 

 

A stop at a souvenir shop then we pause a few minutes in front of the Transnistria Central Bank where they print “Monopoly Money”. The currency here is very controlled and can be pretty much only used and exchanged here.

To my surprise some of the best Cognac in the world is produced here. A bottle that would cost you about 40 euros elsewhere can be purchased here for about 2 euros.

 

 

2015-01-21 16.52.21Not knowing much about the Orthodox faith, I find it a very cool learning experience when we visit the Christmas Church.

Built in 1999 this church is a part of the Moldovan Orthodox Diocese.

 

 

 

Taking in the works of art which I am told was painted by Transnistria University students is amazing as I listen to a beautiful and harmonic sound that echos from a hidden choir.

 

 

 

2015-01-21 17.13.09

 

 

From the Christmas Church we take a short walk to visit a few on Tiraspol more notable monuments which are less than a ten minute walk away.

For me, the most sobering one of these monuments is a memorial similar to Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. Just a few feet from an old Soviet tank an “Eternal Flame” burns for about one thousand soldiers who lost their lives during a 1990's war with Moldova.

Just across the street from this memorial is one of the largest remaining statues in the world of Vladimir Lenin former Soviet Union communist leader. For some perceived security reasons pictures of this statue can only be taken from across street as the Parliament Building is in the background. Although some believe close up pictures cannot be taken because they might capture government workers doing nothing.