June 24, 2013 —
On May 31st, I had a packed backpack, a passport, and a printed boarding pass, all ready to begin 3 flights and about 20 hours of traveling to arrive in my first Eastern Bloc country. I was heading to Budapest, Hungary. I arrived with my friend Dean, meeting my other friend Ben, to a city I knew nothing about. We'd chosen Budapest because it was close to Istanbul, a city we were visiting after, and because I'd heard that Budapest was an interesting city, despite not knowing the details.
Budapest and It's Bridges
Budapest turned out to really surprise me with its beauty and history. The city is located along a bend in the Danube, and is separated into the hilly Buda on the West side, and the flat Pest on the East. Because the river divides the city, there are tons of old bridges that cross the river. And each bridge has its own style and its own history.
During WWII, a large portion of the biggest European cities were bombed, and many old buildings were destroyed. However, Budapest was largely left intact. The bridges were destroyed, and some buildings near the river were also bombed, but away from the river, there is still a ton of very old historic buildings. This made for really great walking as there were lots of great sights.
May 27, 2013 —
In just a few days, I'm taking my first trip of 2013. I'm heading to Budapest, Hungary followed by Istanbul, Turkey. The Budapest part of the trip is going to be complete vacation, and I'm really looking forward to exploring the Hungarian capital.
After Hungary, I'll be heading to Istanbul for tourism and to attend the wedding of some friends. Istanbul has long been on my travel bucket-list, and while the rest of Turkey will go unexplored this trip, I should have plenty of time to see and do all that I want to in Istanbul. I'll just have to come back to see the rest of Turkey.
As I've never been to either country or city, I'm very open to suggestions on things to do, places to make sure I see, and of course, food that I have to eat. So speak up and let me know your thoughts!
December 26, 2012 —
In October of this year, I traveled to Hong Kong and Nepal over a two and a half week period. From the US, there are no direct flights to Nepal; they all connect through other countries first. And from San Francisco, most connect through Hong Kong. When I saw that we'd have long layovers in Hong Kong, I decided that we should just make them into stopovers, of which I've had great success with before. In the end, I spent around 4 days in Hong Kong with my friend Wenzhe and my sister Amy. Since I've taken several trips to India and parts of Asia, I'd been to the Hong Kong airport on multiple occasions, but never did manage to step outside of the airport (or even customs for that matter). So I was excited to finally get to taste the food and see the skyscrapers I'd heard about.
We poured over episodes of No Reservations, reviews on TripAdvisor and tons of other travel blogs and sites we came across. Our plan, arrive, check into our AirBnb place, and get some delicious food. We definitely accomplished that. We ate everything from Roasted Duck (basically Peking Duck, just in Hong Kong), to spicy crab, to a Michelin Star dim sum restaurant (I went back for seconds). We organized our days around what we wanted to eat and where we wanted to eat, then fit in places to see from there.
A visit to Hong Kong is almost never complete without ...
December 01, 2010 —
After Thanksgiving at my parent's house, I took off with some friends to Bishop for 3 days of bouldering and some sport climbing. We arrived just after some storms had passed through the area, leaving a light dusting of snow in some places.
Eastern Sierras Under Shadow
Then, right in the middle of the trip, we got a couple inches of snow in the evening, electing to remain at our site camping in it.
In the end, Bishop was super cold (got down to the mid teens at night) but provided some great climbing in the Buttermilks, Gorge and Happys. Makes me look forward to another climbing trip soon!
November 17, 2010 —
After the Cal game this past weekend, I took off for a quick two night trip to Monterey and Big Sur. I went to the former to see my sister run the Big Sur Half Marathon and to the latter because I had never been there. I figured I'd take my camera and shoot some photos along the way as well.
Bridge at Sunset
October 30, 2010 —
I've been wanting to go to Death Valley National Park for some time. After passing on an opportunity earlier this year during the summer, when the temperature in the park never reaches below 100°, I opted to wait. After my Yosemite Trip, I drove straight to Death Valley where the daily high was a much nicer mid 80's. Here are some of the pictures I took while there.
Sunset Lit Clouds
Soft Lit Mountains
See all the pictures in the Death Valley 2010 set.
October 11, 2010 —
I had the good fortune to be in Ubud during a day when the Hindu holy men read that it was a "good day." Why? Well, on the days deemed good and holy, people can be cremated with Bali Hindu ceremony. And luckily, there were some dead people that needed burnin'.
To the Hindu of Bali (and probably other Hindu, I'm just ignorant of them), the body is a shell for the soul and upon death, must be cremated in an elaborate ceremony befitting the ancestral spirit. The whole community can get involved depending on the significance of the person creating a spectacular event where hundreds or thousands of people are involved.
The body of the deceased is kept in the home until it is to be cremated, on a day that the holy men read is to be holy. Then, the body is carried in a tall, intricately detailed, golden multi-tiered pyre made of bamboo and covered in paper, tinsel, silk, cloth, mirrors and flowers. The pyre is carried by a ton of men (I'd guess at least a hundred in the example I saw) on a bamboo structure to the cemetery in a procession.
Firetruck at the Funeral Procession
Apparently, the procession to the cemetery is designed to confuse the corpse so it cannot find it's way back home. This confusion is done by the men shaking the tower, running it in circles, simulating wars with it, hurling water at it, yelling at it and ...
October 11, 2010 —
The day manager at Khrisna Guesthouse, Nyoman, had recommended that I go to see a traditional Balinese dance while in Ubud. The most popular one, and one that is actually pretty traditional, and the one Nyoman recommended, is the Kecak dance. It takes place in temples, after sunset and involves a group of men and boys who act as the musical instrument and choir during the performance. They sit in a circle around a big candela and make a chak-a-chak-a-chak noise in unison and separately, sometimes quiet and sometimes much louder, supposedly imitating a group of monkeys (monkeys also plays a valuable role in the story).
There are three parts to the dance, with the first part's story being pretty familiar to me. At least one of my sisters (I can't remember if both of them), used to watch the movie A Little Princess all the time when she/they were younger. So I've also seen it more than once, enough times that I can remember most of the story. Well, the girl was in India, and so recounts the famous Hindu epic, Ramayana; the story of how Princess Sita is kidnapped and then Prince Rama must free her with the help of a monkey general and his monkey soldiers (for some reason I'm picturing the people in the story as being blue). Anyways, knowing the story definitely helped for me to know what was going on in the show since there is only dancing and the "choir" making noises.
Kecak Dance ...
October 10, 2010 —
On my second day in Ubud, I actually set an alarm to make sure I woke up early. I wanted to head to the local market early, when the locals were in full force, when they were selling vegetables, fruit and meat, before they switched to Bintang shirts and handicrafts of dubious quality. In other words, get there when no other tourists were there.
I got to the market by 6:15 and it was packed with vendors selling chickens, crates of eggs, vegetables I'd never seen before, all kinds of fruit and raw spices, flowers for offerings as well as fresh and dried fish. In Balinese spice recipes, there are almost always four roots that are used: turmeric (it looks weird in it's root form - kind of like ginger), ginger, lesser galangal and greater galangal. I've never heard of galangal before, but it's a root in the ginger family. The lesser and greater varieties definitely taste different too.
Chilies and Garlic
Once I had wandered around the market enough, I took off for the stereotypical Ubud visitor activity: go to some rice fields at dawn. Many also go at sunset, but it had been raining a lot in the evenings, so I figured dawn would have better luck. I was rewarded with great views.
If you've ever been to Bali, you won't have forgotten ...
October 10, 2010 —
Arriving in Ubud was definitely a surprise. After taking backroads through towns, villages and cities, I was caught off guard when I got to a sign that welcomed me to Ubud. I thought I still had several more kilometers to go. I should have known however, as I kept passing tons of artist and woodcrafter shops. That should have been my first clue I was closer than I thought.
Rain in Ubud
Once there, I sought out a place to stay. Based on someone I know who previously stayed in Ubud, I went first to the Khrisna Guesthouse (sometimes referred to as the Krisna Guesthouse as well). They only had one room (out of six) available for one night. It was more than I'm used to spending, close to $20 USD / night, but I decided to splurge. They did have hot water. I mean, taking a hot shower every once in a while has got to be worth a little extra money, right?
Khrisna Guest House
The extra money was definitely worth it. I had a private balcony overlooking thick palms, banana trees other unknown named trees, bamboo and a small creek I could hear. There was black tea every day between 4 and 5 as well as great breakfasts every morning. The owner was really nice and the day manager was very friendly, accommodating and went out of his way to make sure I was doing what I wanted to do. It turned out that the room available for one night didn ...