3 weeks, 6 countries and counting

21 03 2010

So far so good. 6 countries, 3 weeks and only one rip off taxi driver.

6 countries? Korea, Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece and now Macedonia. And tomorrow brings Serbia.

To be truthful, Greece was only for a few hours while transiting from Bulgaria into macedonia. Thessalonika actually and it was 3 hours.

Bulgaria has been the real surprise. It’s fantastic. I think we spent close to 2 weeks there across 4 different places. Veliko Turnovo was beautiful, covered in fresh snow. Plovdiv was a strange biz of communist concrete and a beautiful old city. Sofia, the grey communist capital was surprisingly fun with some great places and Melnik, tiny though it may be, was my highlight of Bulgaria.

Now we are in Skopje, Macedonia. Really, don’t bother. It’s nice but there are nicer places in each direction. I’m sure macedonia is a stunning country, but Skopje isn’t. Dirty, crumbling infrastructure mixed in with new modernity. Give it a few years and it should be better, but a combination of history and earthquakes has left it without too many tourist highlights, at least things that you can’t find anywhere else.

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1 week, 4 countries

9 03 2010

You know, when you travel it’s hard to keep things like blogs updated. However all the walking and doing stuff tends to lead to exhaustion and demotivation with blogs.

So, where are we and what are we doing? Let’s work backwards from now covering the past week.

2 hours ago we arrived in Veliko Tarnovo by train. Where? Basically it’s central Bulgaria. We took the overnight train from istanbul which leads up into Bucharest, but decided to head on to Bucharest in a few days time. The trip itself was a bit odd. Getting woken at 3 am to jump off the train for immigration was odd. The fresh snow on the ground was nice but sooooo cold at 3am. A bit of time getting a passport stamp leaving turkey then onto the duty free store to buy the conductor 2 cartons of cigarettes. He isn’t. Allowed to buy them himself but since he was nice and helpful and I was not exactly awake I agreed.

Next was the Bulgarian immigration. At least this time they did this on the train. Still it was an hour or so after the Turkish version. All finished at about 4.30am. About the time the train heaters stopped working. It was snowing out and felt cold enough in for the same.

Awaking about 10am from a fitfull sleep I was given a large brandy by the guy in the cabin next to us, and a horrendous instant coffee by the conductor. Arriving in Veliko Tarnovo our promised lift didn’t materialize, but a quick call to the hostel and we were in a cab.

Before Veliko Tarnovo we spent 3 nights in Istanbul. Wonderful city. Possibly my favourite out of all those I’ve visited. Nowhere else is there that much mindblowingly cool stuff to see and do. The blue mosque, the hagia sofya, hippodrome, bosporus etc. Added to that, we caught up with ex-taebaekian Rebecca who is living and working in Istanbul. It was so nice to just relax for a few days and not have to do all of the touristy stuff as we did most things while we were here last time around. That’s not to say we sat in the hotel and watched tv. Anything but. Rebecca took us out to a few places that were much more local. Local to the point of getting stuck in hours of traffic. Of well, it was great fun.

Before Istanbul we spent a few days in Frankfurt. Why did we fly all the way to frankfurt and then back to Istanbul? Simple. We used frequent flyer points for the tickets and Asiana don’t fly to Istanbul.

Frankfurt was a bit odd. It felt like quite a large city except seemed to be lacking big city people numbers. It was a fun place but isn’t a massive tourist city.

Hopefully soon I’ll have a bit of time to go thru the pics so far and post a few of them up.





Jeombagee and his photo collection

5 02 2010

Jeombagee. You know Jeombagee right?

No? Thats terrible.

This is Jeombagee

Snow Leopard

He is our little Leopard / Cheetah that we travel with. Our students have got attached to him, so we travel with him, take photo’s and use them in class as part of activities.

He was so popular we ended up having to acquire extra backup Jeombagee’s.

What does the name Jeombagee mean? Its a Korean word, meaning “spot”, as in spots on an animal. He was thusly named by a group of elementary students at a camp we taught at, and has been famous in schools in Taebaek ever since.

I’ve got a few pics queued up for posting on flickr from all over the place. He’s visited Korea, China, Japan, Fiji, Hong Kong, Australia, India, Turkey, Taiwan and probably a few others I can’t think of right now.

Check my flickr page out for more pics. I’ll try to post a new one every day or so.

Hungry Jeombagee
Jeombagee and the Kangaroo Pizza
Inflight Jeombagee
Jeombagee in the sun
Kitty Kong and Jeombagee

He is starting to show his age. Not bad for a BOGOF (Buy one get one free) special at our local Home Plus supermarket.





Hill Forts at Kumbalgarh, Day 5 begins

23 10 2009

Oh India, why must you be such a contrasting place? You have both the best and the worst of travel. Really you do.

Located 80km North of Udaipur is the formidable hilltop fort of Kumbalgarh. Built during the 15th century by Rana Kumbha, this fort has some of the most impressive fortifications I’ve ever seen. Its huge walls stretch 36km and are still intact. Supposedly this makes them the 2nd longest continuous walls in the world, after China’s Great Wall.

Kumbalgarh Mountaintop Fort

These walls meant that during its entire history, the fort was only defeated once, by the Emperor Akbar, and that was aided by the poisoning of the water supply. Put simply, this is one of the most secure forts around.

Defenses of Kumbalgarh

Kumbalgarh Defenses

Kumbalgarh Defenses

We were in for a bit of a surprise when we arrived, as there was a French film crew filming part of a travel documentary, using a pair of old American mustangs to travel to various forts and around India. More impressive was their use of a camera mounted on a remote control helicopter. A toy that looked very difficult to use, but loads of fun.

Filming at Kumbalgarh

The fort itself used to have a temple at the top of the hill. Unfortunately now the temple is just a bare shell

Kumbalgarh Fort

We spent a good few hours exploring the remains of the old fort and temple complex. Unfortunately much of it is ruins now, but still it remains highly impressive.

Within the vast 36km walls are other settlements and temples. Obviously at 36km long we couldn’t walk the whole walls, in fact we barely had time to do a few hundred meters. There was plenty to be seen in and around the main area. Numerous temples are right there, mostly allowing entry.

Temple at Kumbalgarh

One of my favourite views was through the main entrance/exit doorway of the final set of defences, the entry into the main fort. It opens out and shows the vastness of Rajasthan and the defences of the fort.

Grand Exit

And of course, how could I forget the monkeys? These cheeky buggers were hanging around the entrance, where the restaurants were. They obviously want nothing better than to steal food from tourists.

Monkey at the Fort

After the fort, we endured the next few hour onwards and into Udaipur, our home of the next few days, and the goal of the next post.





Of Durry’s, Moustaches and Temples. India Day 4

29 06 2009

A truly memorable day. Not for the never-ending hours of travel of course, but for the people and places.

The day began typically. Early start, average breakfast buffet, and straight onto the bus.

First stop? Data Durry (rug) weavers in a small village just South of Jodhpur.

Data Durry Weaver

Here we met the most amazing character. An old guy who’d been weaving his entire life. Very friendly, very amazing, and what an amazing look. He was very proud of his life, and especially his moustache.

Actually I think this is one of my favourite (if not the favourite) picture of the whole trip.

The Master

Susie and The Master

We watched him at work, talked, photographed and then waited while he began his sales pitch. Eventually it was back onto the bus and we were on the way again.

The scenery was certainly looking different. Large plains, with mountains in the distance. Stunning looking, but not a place I’d want to live, especially in 3rd world conditions and without running water or electricity.

Typical Rajastani Landscape

A further few hours down the road, after many games of cards, and ATM stop, drinks, snacks etc we finally arrived at the Jain Temples in Ranakpur.

Building started in 1439 and is built around the number of 72. 72 yards square, 1440 (72 x 20) pillars, 72 shrines, 72 inch tall statues etc etc.

A central pillar holds an inscription commanding the building of the temples.

Inscription of construction

Everything is elaborately carved, columns, ceilings, statues etc.

The Family of Gods?

Temple Ceiling, Ranakpur

Holding up the World

Some statues are rubbed for good luck and decorated with flowers and gold leaf.

Rub me for luck

Ganesh, temple style

Around the sides are the 72 shrines. While you can’t get to close to the statues, you can certainly see them.

Buddha behind bars

Amazingly enough, the temple complex is still under construcion. Workers clambering over it building, cleaning or repairing.

Temple labourers

Following our (too brief) stay at the temple, we headed down into and beyond the villages to our hotel. Not quite what we expected, but a stunning eco resort, consisting of large 2 floor cottages with great views out over the valley. We didn’t see any but they claim that leopards sometimes cone down to drink in the stream.

After getting acquainted with the accommodation for the night we went on a walk into the local village to have a look around. It was much more rural that any of us expected. Just a small collection of houses and a few families.

The girls seemed to be the ones who had to carry all the water from the ancient round water wells with their mechanical water lifts.

Ancient Water Well

Water Girl

Of course, being a bunch of foreigners, the local kids flocked to us, to joke around and ask for money. Very cute.

Yes Capitan II

Yes Capitan!

Eventually, with the sun setting, we arrived back at the hotel for the nights entertainment. What can be better than fire, music and beer?

Indian Bonfire

Musicians





Day 3 continued. Textiles and “downtown Jodhpur”

25 06 2009

After the photographic ramblings of the previous post, I felt the need to trim and compose the latter half of the day. I promise, short and sweet. No, really.

Previously we had been to the Meherangarh Fort, and the Jaswant Thanda. Now it was time to head into town. Being an old town our bus couldn’t fit, so we abandoned it on the outskirts and tuktuk’d it in.

We almost died only a few times in the traffic, Indian drivers have this amazing ability to know exactly what is going on around them all the time (something Korean drivers really need to learn).

Still, we arrived at a (very famous they say) textile shop. 4 or 5 floors of mountains of fabrics. They claim to have had many famous people buy from their store as well as selling lots of “overruns” of things they make for high end western fashion houses. How true is it all? No idea, but all the girls got excited and shopping commenced.

Ignoring the textiles, it was time for a brief wander into town. The old town is a maze of tiny narrow streets, bustling with all forms of commerce.

Delivery drivers are not quite the same here as back home, more of the pedal powered vareity.

Delivery Driver

Also nice to see are the locals just going about their daily business. This lady was just having a laugh with her friend in the house over the road.

Stopping for a chat

Not everything was bright and cheerful. Being an ancient place, the water supply was not what we expect in a city. Many people are still serviced by pump well’s in the town squares, sending their kids down to collect water for the family whenever it is needed.

The Water Boy

Getting late, so we headed back to the textile shop. Girls still shopping (another central theme of any Indian trip). Lucky for us the owners took us up onto the roof, gave us delicious chai and let us take sunset pictures. A perfect end to a day.

A Jodhpurian sunset

The next day is a big travel day, so back to the hotel for dinner and bed. Delicious food, shame about the 90 minute wait for it 😦

Next, the amazing moustache, Jain temples and cute village kids.





Day 3, Jodhpur, Forts and Mausoleums

24 06 2009

Picture this. You are asleep on a train (yeah, as if). Your bed is next to the door to the carriage, so every time the door opens you know about it.

Even better, every time you wake up expecting the train to actually move its stopped dead, waiting.

Just when you get to sleep, real nice deep sleep, the door bangs open and you hear “chai chai chai” in a loud nasal voice. Chai ? The hot sweet spiced tea that India is rightly so famous for. Perfect after a night of limited sleep.

Still, adventuring on. Our 8am arrival to Jodhpur turned into a 10am arrival, something perfectly normal and acceptable in this part of the world.

Upon arrival at our hotel, we had a quick breakfast and went out to explore in the “waiting” time we had until the next step of our tour began.

The hotel was right next door to an Army base. Walk out the door and you are confronted with :

Want to Join the Army?

Further up the road a great tractor that was used by locals for hauling vegetables. Many vehicles in India have chilly and lime hung from the front, in an attempt for good luck. They certainly need it seeing how crazy the driving is in India.

Good luck Truck

The first real stop in Jodhpur was the amazing Mehrangarh Fort, a 600 year old sandstone fort perched on top of a hill.

Meherengarh Fort

Imposing walls of Meherangarh Fort

Walking in through the gates was imposing, the walls rising like a vertical cliff up into the sky. Giant gates, twisty roads and vast walls make this a fort that would have been terrifying to attack, if you could get close enough.

Just inside the main gate was a small door up some handy steps.

The doorway to ?

Continuing thought the places was amazing. You could really appreciate the wonders of India. From the canons on the roof overlooking the town

Canon of Meherangarh Fort looking out over Jodhpur

to the guards having a break up against the ancient walls

Break Time

The squirrels were cute too, playing all over the walls and cannons.

Squirrel war?

After all to brief a visit to Meharangarh Fort, it was time to move on, just down the road in fact to the Jaswant Thanda. A memorial to popular local ruler Jaswant Singh II (1878-95), members of his family are also buried here.

Jaswant Thanda

Up close it was beautiful, made of white marble.

Jaswant Thanda

Jaswant Thanda

At a few places along the walk to the mausoleum, there were young kids playing instruments, then demanding money, the usual "hey mister, one dollar one dollar". Very cute, but also irritating.

Money please?

Within the mausoleum it was wonderfully cool. Definite elements similar to the Taj Mahal, and a nice taste of what is to come.

Inside Jaswant Thanda

Looking out one of the stone windows screens, down the main stairs

Jaswant Thanda, inside out