Posted in , Travel

Bangkok and Ayutthaya

We recently spent a few days in Thailand, mostly in Bangkok but also spent one day in Ayutthaya with family. It was mostly a trip down memory lane as I had been to most places, but we still had different experiences.
We started with a personal guided tour of Bangkok – we decided that an experienced guide would help us learn more and see temples and monuments in a new way.
We started with my favorite temple, the temple of dawn or Wat Arun

The shape of the stupas is quite unique and the feel around the place is very special.  It is across the river (Chao Phraya) from the main part of Bangkok, so a little more difficult to get to.  This is where we met our guide for the day.

A view of the main temple with guarding deities – please do not ask me who they are, as I always get them confused.

Inside the temple is a golden Buddha and no matter what time you come, there are always people praying and paying respect.

We took a local ferry across the river (it is the fastest way to move in Bangkok) and went next to the Wat Phra Chetupon, or the temple of the reclining Buddha

It is impossible to get a good picture of the reclining Buddha as the room it is in is actually quite small and full of columns.  These are two views from each end. Continue reading “Bangkok and Ayutthaya”

(21 Page Views)

Posted in Culture

Singapore Lantern Festival

The eighth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar is considered to be mid-autumn and during the full moon of that month everybody celebrated mid-autumn festival.

In many Western cultures, this is known as the Harvest Moon, but it generally signals the end of summer or beginning of fall.

Mid-Autumn is celebrated with Lanterns and the best place to see these in Singapore used to be Chinese Gardens.  They are closed for a major renovation right now and therefore the Lantern Festival was held in Jurong Lake Gardens, which is right next door.  I happened to see the lanterns while I was cycling in the neighborhood and so we decided to go for a closer look one evening.

Along one of the alleys, we noticed that the trees had been covered in crochet-covers, some of which were quite interesting.

We started before sunset to see what the lanterns look like in daylight.  There is a whole section dedicated to different countries.

Italy is well represented with the Tower of Pisa, in front of a man with Pizza, the roman Coliseum and also the Rialto bridge in Venice with a gondola.  The trees did not make it easy to take a decent photo…

Egypt went for their ancient culture

Continue reading “Singapore Lantern Festival”

(21 Page Views)

Posted in , Travel

Auvergne from above

We are slowly starting to travel again, in small steps…

We decided that we did not want to go too far, and not across more than one border.  Our first trip was to Auvergne, right in the center of France, a region that neither of us had visited before.

And in Auvergne, the first thing we did was an early morning flight in a hot air balloon!  How early? See below!

This was the clock in our apartment as we were eating breakfast – cannot go out without some food and a cup of coffee.  The real breakfast will be after the balloon trip.

We had to meet across the street from the apartment (fortunately) at 5:30 AM and discovered that there was quite a crowd already waiting.  That photo is actually quite deceptive as at 5:30 AM, it is still dark! We finalized the formalities and were introduced to Stanislas, our “pilot” for the day and the gentleman on the right.  After introductions with the rest of our crew (we were in a small balloon with only 4 passengers + pilot) we were off to a nearby field in order to prepare the balloon for flight.  You can see our basket in the lower left photo.

Here you can see the various steps in the preparation of a balloon for flight.  The passengers are actually doing quite a bit of the work, under the directions of the pilot and one or more helpers.  On today’s flight, there will be four balloons, which could be quite interesting as we will not be the only ones up in the air.  After unloading the basket, the balloon shell is stretched out and securely attached to the basket.  The balloon is inflated initially with powerful fans and only once it is well inflated, it is heated up with the burners to get lift.  That will be the next step for the crew of “Auvergne Montgolfière”, the red balloon here carrying the name of the company we are flying with.

This is our balloon being inflated with one fan – it is called “Volvic” after a local water.  It is quite noisy actually as the fan is powered by a petrol engine! No power necessarily where you want to start your flight.  The departure point is determined to give us the best possible flight, carried by the dominant wind.  As we saw during the flight, there is a possibility to steer the balloon in flight by changing height, actually, a lot more than I thought but the general direction is still dictated by the wind.

Continue reading “Auvergne from above”

(11 Page Views)

Posted in Travel

The Florida Keys

 

I cannot count the number of times that I have thought about going to visit the Florida Keys in the past.  I always ended up not going as I was not sure what there was to do there and I did not look forward to the drive from Miami all the way to Key West.  These are all the wrong reasons for not going somewhere!

That all changed in 2019 as Bee and I talked about it more and more and I discovered that there were a lot of good reasons for going there.  We did so in January 2020.  We flew to Miami and rented a car from there.  Our first stop was at a Cuban Restaurant in Little Havana where we had an excellent lunch.  After lunch, we drove onto Route 1 and left the mainland USA.

Our first stop for the night was at Marathon Key where we stayed at the Hampton Inn (we are frequent users of Hilton chain hotels as they always treat us really well).  That evening, we had an excellent meal at The Island Fish Company, across the street from the hotel.

We had all day to go from Marathon Key to Key West so we decided to do some sightseeing on the way and stopped at the Curry Hammock State Park where we did a coastal trail on the North side of the Key.  Nice trail but very much in lush greenery all the way and therefore not much to photograph.  Here is an example of the typical trail we followed.

It was a very pleasant walk that only took us about 1 hour and we seemed to be the only people on the trail.

We arrived early at Key West and checked into our B&B called the Old Town Manor (details at the bottom of the post) – I would certainly recommend this B&B as it is beautiful, with very nice rooms and a great location.

The first order of business was to finalize our plans for the next day, when we were scheduled to take the Yankee Freedom to the Dry Tortugas.  This is an all day trip to the very last key, one that cannot be reached by car but only air and boat – we chose the boat.

And it is coming back from the Ferry Docks that we really lucked out!  In the main marina, I saw this boat which I thought was just gorgeous!  This poor picture does not do it justice.

As we got closer, we noticed that it was available for local cruises – a bit more discussion and we found out that the Sunset Cruise will be leaving in 1/2 hour with only 15 passengers on board.  We quickly signed up and almost ran to the B&B to get warmer clothes.

It turns out that this is “America 2.0” a replica of the yacht “America” which beat the Brits around the isle of Wight to win the very first “America’s Cup” on 22 August 1851.  It is not a perfect replica as it is made in modern materials but made to look like the original yacht.

They asked for volunteers to help raise the sails – no modern conveniences, such as electric winches here – it is all done with arm, and leg muscles.  I was only tailing, and trying to help a bit the person actually lifting the sail…

Here she is, almost fully rigged.  The wind was just perfect for a good sail and she sailed very well.

I even got to steer her!  Am I happy or what!

The two photos above with me in them are courtesy of Bee… Continue reading “The Florida Keys”

(13 Page Views)

Posted in Culture, Travel

Big Bend NP – Texas

In a short lull in the Covid19 Pandemic, we decided to go to Big Bend National Park.

We had actually booked the Chisos Mountain Lodge, in the middle of the park, for the first week in June six months earlier as this was a trip we really wanted to do.  However, the lodge was still closed.  We read that the Park would reopen on June 1, 2020 for day-use only so we made preparations and decided to drive there with a short stop in San Antonio on the way.

We rented a house in the Terlingua Ranch district so that we would have cooking facilities and be more independent; we also brought essentially all of own food and drinks as we read that not much was available locally.  We arrived to a wonderful house on Jun 1 around 4PM and settled in.

On 2 June, we drove into the park early in the morning – we quickly found out that this was a good strategy: (1) there was no one to collect our money at the entrance gate and (2) we were ahead of whatever crowd would come in.

One warning – if you do not like photos of wide-open panoramas, you might as well stop right here!  Big Bend is nothing if not wide open country with many different types of views, but always expansive.

As we drove into the park heading for the Santa Elena Canyon I could not resist this shot, just to prove the point above…

I did not drive very fast, we we were able to stop for the odd wild-life on the side of the road – this one was difficult to miss…

As I was photographing, he decided to fly away.

This last one is probably the best … we were so close, I hardly needed to crop this photo to make it look better.

Even early morning (about 9:30) it was already hot as we prepared to explore the Santa Elena Canyon.

Here is the view as we approached the canyon.  The Rio Grande makes the border between Texas (USA) and Mexico.  The left side of the canyon is in Mexico.

Continue reading “Big Bend NP – Texas”

(11 Page Views)

Posted in Travel

Alaska – Part 4

We are completing our wonderful trip after such a wonderful evening.

As we are heading towards Petersburg we run into more wales.

It is impossible to tire of the view of the tail from a diving whale in such scenery – maybe you are tired of these photos, so I will try to be even more creative for this last blog.  We did have a lot to see in the last two days.

We continued to stay away from the larger cruise ships. At a distance, they are not too bad…

Cruising along Storm Islands that lies between Stephens Passage and Frederick Sound.  It has an interesting light house called the Five Finger Light House, unfortunately no longer in use.  It was first lit on a very auspicious date – spring equinox of 1902, the second lighthouse to be lit in Alaska.

The lighthouse appears to be a magnet for breaching whales.  We sat there for quite some time just watching one whale and then another doing this several times in a row.  Not a full breach, but close to 50% of the whale comes out of the water in the sequence above. Continue reading “Alaska – Part 4”

(26 Page Views)

Posted in , Travel

Alaska – Part 3

Our continuing saga on a small ship in a large state…

It is still day 4 of our adventure and we have now moved all the way to the Northern end of the Seymour Canal, not far from where we were on Day 1. We are going to visit Park Creek, a bear sanctuary, not to rehabilitate them, but just an area that provides safety for them.  The rangers have interacted with the local bear population for many years, and quite a few bears have their own name; the bears are left alone as much as possible, but are used to human presence and do not see it as a threat.  We took the dinghy to go ashore and just as we were talking to one of the rangers, this is what we saw coming towards us.  That is when I remembered I forgot my bells!

Mama Bear with two cubs, slowly coming along the shore to where we were.  The rangers did not panic, so I figured we were safe.  They kept on coming very close to us, but then followed the shore to our right, without taking a second look at us.  We will encounter her again.

The cubs just followed Mommy.

Our valiant vessel parked in the sound waiting for us.  She is such a beauty, I have to show more pictures.

After a very short walk, we came to a river where the salmon are running.  Mama bear is now fishing for herself after she provided fish for her two cubs.

She jumped on a salmon and immediately started to eat. Continue reading “Alaska – Part 3”

(33 Page Views)

Posted in , Travel

Alaska – Part 2

Continuing where we left off the first episode at the end of Day 2 we arrived at Ford’s Terror where we were not alone.  As we approached our anchorage for the evening, another boat was already there – crowded!

We went for another walk near narrows on a rising tide.  We had no problems landing from the dingy on a pebble beach – after our walk, and after the tide rose a bit more, we had more problems getting back onto the dingy as there was no beach left.

The walk was very nice – and we did not see bears, maybe because Kristin kept yelling “Hey Bear” – I have already shown you a picture of Kristin fully equipped for our defense, but she took no chances.

We were walking through beautiful scenery – this is a view of Ford’s Terror from land.

Time for portraits!  Behind is the narrow inlet that leads to the rest of the bay.  With the rising tide, the water was violently flowing making a roar, which you cannot really see or hear on this picture.

More spectacular views along the way

I liked this little pond reflecting the mountains and trees.

At the end of the walk, as we were wainting for the dingy to take us back to Catalyst, we saw a few curious harbor seals

Later in the evening, when the tide reached its highest point, we took a dingy ride around the whole bay and into West Arm Anchorage. Unfortunately it was raining the whole time so there are no pictures of that. Continue reading “Alaska – Part 2”

(34 Page Views)

Posted in Travel

Alaska – Part 1

For a long time, I have wanted to go to Alaska and it seemed to me that a cruise would give me a good chance to see some of it.  However, the idea of sharing cramped quarters with 1000-4000 other guests did not thrill me nor Bee.  When we moved back to Houston, an Alaskan Cruise was one of our priorities which became even higher when it became clear that my Dad was interested in coming to visit us and would be interested in a cruise too.

We found the PERFECT way to do this!  On 31 August, we left Houston for Seattle and later Juneau where we arrived in mid-afternoon (there is a three hour time change).

We would board our boat on 1 September around noon and therefore we had a full evening to enjoy and then a morning to ‘kill’.  We had a very nice dinner at a Fish&Chip shop right on the old harbor (In the old Warf right across from the sea plane docks – Alaskan Fish and Chip Co – it was quite good).

In the morning, we went to visit a salmon hatchery which was pointed out to us by the taxi driver who took us from the airport to our hotel.

There are salmon stairs to allow the adult salmons to climb back into the tanks were they will lay or fertilize the eggs.  Unfortunately, we were there at low tide and therefore the salmons could not reach the first step.  We saw a few salmons swimming around looking for the entrance though.  It is amazing that even in this very artificial situation the instincts of the salmon pushed them back to where they were born.

Inside the hatchery there were four tanks which were filled (we were told) with 190,000 young salmons.  You can see a few swimming around where the lights from the windows shine but do not reflect.  The photo below shows two of the four tanks.  The young salmons spend 1-2 years at the hatchery before they are released back into the wild.  After 5-6 years, 1-5 % will return to create the next generation; the rest were food for men and animals throughout the region.

From the hatchery, we had a good look at the Gastineau Inlet, the narrow sea arm in front of Juneau where harbor seals were hunting the salmon waiting to get up the stairs.  Juneau is actually at the end of the inlet which creates a dead-end at low tide due to shallows – one can almost walk across it at very low tides.

A view of Juneau – these are not the boat we took!  The one on the left is one of the Mega-Cruise sips that just pulled into Juneau around 11:30 AM.  It has over 5000 passengers! The one on the right is a lot more modest – it si a National Geographic ship that was also loading as we went by.  Probably holds 200 passengers and that was still a lot more than our boat.

This is not the boat we took either.  It is a private yacht that left just as we were boarding ours.  For a moment, I thought it might be nice to take that one – the I discovered all the great features of the boat we would spend the next 7 days on and did not regret anything anymore.

This is “The Catalyst” – our home for 7 days.  The boat was christened in 1932 (there was only one passenger on board older than the boat) as a research vessel for the University of Washington.  She was a patrol boat in the Aleutian Islands during WWII and changed hands several more times after that.  She is now owned by a couple who take very good care of her and she makes regular voyages between Juneau and Petersburg from May to September.  We are actually making her last trip of the 2019 season.

Catalyst only has 6 cabins, 4 below the main deck, one at the back of the dining area and one (the one where Bee and I stayed) located on the top deck right behind the pilot house.  She has sea kayaks for 14 people, a fast tender and 4 wonderful crew members.  Since there were only 6 gusts on this particular cruise, we quickly became one happy family.

Continue reading “Alaska – Part 1”

(45 Page Views)

Posted in Travel

Costa Rica – Part 4: Tortuguero (1)

After a very short flight from Arenal, we approached the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica and the isolated village of Tortuguero.  We could see some houses and quite a few hotels and resorts as we approached.  It used to be that the only way there was a long drive followed by an even longer boat ride.  Tis is a lot quicker and more comfortable.

The airport that we are approaching, actually just a long asphalted strip is near the breaking surf, towards the top end of the last thin island on the right.

After landing, we needed a very short ferry ride and we arrived just in time to have lunch at our resort located across the water from the airport.

While we were having lunch, we watched amazed as green macaws flew in and out of the trees across the way from us.  Even though they are called Green Macaw, they have a very colorful back that you can only see when they fly, or even better wen they are are about to land on a tree.

Some flew right over us and I was able to get closer shots.

There we also vultures looking for something to eat.  They were rather far, so I was not too worried about me or my food.

Not sure you can still call these Green Macaws!  My list of birds from Costa Rica does not seem to include “Brightly colored blue, yellow and red macaws”.

And the spectacle continued – nice to have entertainment during the meal. Continue reading “Costa Rica – Part 4: Tortuguero (1)”

(40 Page Views)