“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, July 31, 2006

Pictures from the Orkneys

Here are a selection of pictures from the Orkney islands--they're from both dad's and mine, and between us we've clocked up a huge amount!!

Here we are having arrived at the airport. We're still wearing shorts and t-shirts, but those disappeared at the first opportunity. It was so cold after the heat in the rest of Europe. Apparently, they'd had sunny days until we arrived! Oh, well!

This is us in front of the B&B we stayed in. A lovely old parish house--very cosy!

The church in Kirkwall, St. Magnus Cathedral. The changes in rock colors were superb, and it was massive considering the population of the Orkneys.

Here we are climbing amongst the Earl's Palace ruins, just across the street from St. Magnus's. This was a pretty neat castle house, but the guy who built it was a typical rich jerk!

This is the charming little Italian chapel, built by prisoners of war who also built the causeways connecting the islands during World War II. The artists have since returned to do a touch up job of the magnificent paintings inside.

Evidence of the talent of the artists--everything looks 3D but is actually just painted on the inside of the barrack type walls.

Andre and I beside one of the massive megaliths of one smaller stone circle.

Mum and Dad at the Stenness Rock Circle.

A nice family photo, also at the Stenness Rock Circle.

Okay... I have another 11 still to post, but the computer's being a jerk and rejecting half of them and I've been sitting here almost 200 minutes and have heaps to do before I fly to Yangon tonight. I will try and post them from Myanmar, but if I can't, then you'll just have to wait.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Bratislava to Bangkok to Burma

Well, am only my last legs of this trip. I arrived in Bratislava tonight and fly to Bangkok on Sunday (hopefully not minus the $200 that Austrian Airlines wants to scam out of me for simply not using a portion of my ticket that I've already paid for). I miss London's brashness, the English language, the British people's loud public displays of thoughts, and the wonderful consumerism and advertising already. I had to pay 11 pounds excess baggage on Ryanair , but was expecting that (won't fly them again, they were awful, and not just because of the bags... the lines, the crowds, the poor management and harrassed people, the filthy lounges!).

Haven't seen much of Bratislava except the bus and the sweat pouring down into my eyes from lugging my enormous pile of luggage. Everyone I meet is most impressed that I walk everywhere with it. I think I will have big (and sore) shoulder muscles from my handcarry bag alone! Tomorrow I will whine and beg in Austrian Airlines ears for a while then go for a walk. I'm waiting for Bratislava to impress me and show me there's more than the only one day's visit's worth that everyone tells me there is.

New Passport

So I finally got that new passport. I look quite silly as I was sweltering hot in London's summer and my carefully planned shot was, of course, vetoed. NZ govt's gotten greedy. They cost more and they're only valid 5 years these days. Oh well!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Orkney Islands

Just spent the past weekend up north of Scotland in the Orkney islands. Simply fantastic! Such a mystically windswept and beautiful landscape with amazing stone circles and burial chambers and gorgeous culture and community.

Mum had wanted to go there for ages, and never thought she'd make it, but for various reasons, we all had time to go, so this was the first family trip in a long time. It was a bit of a mission to get there (Heathrow to Aberdeen, wait 2 hours, then on to Kirkwall in a dinky wee plane). Despite an unusually long heat wave in London, it began to rain soon after our arrival, but somehow seemed appropriate considering where the islands are located.

We based ourselves in Kirkwall at a friendly B&B, rented a car and drove everywhere. The first evening we drove across the various causeways (built by Italian prisoners of war during World War II) to the islands to the south, and watched the sun set over the Kirkwall harbor after a delicious meal of fresh fish and Orkney beef steaks (yum!).

The next day we managed to tour the entire "mainland". We began with mum's favorite, Mae's Howe, which is the most intact burial chamber of any neolithic group in all of Europe. Then we saw the Stromness Stone Circle (at least I think that's what it was called), and other relics of stone circles--we even passed farm houses with huge megaliths among their petunia gardens! What a showpiece.

We spent the afternoon walking across to this island at low tide. There were the remnants of a Viking village there (they also grafitied a lot of the ancient megalithic sculptures as well, but because they're the only ones out of Norway, they're still special). Being Britain, they were lovely and manicured and the grass was cut and all the walls were maintained, mapped and fully explained. What an orderly place. I wandered off onto the cliffs which were spectacular. I now know exactly what a gloup is (I've seen them before, but honestly couldn't have named it--do YOU know what it means?!?). I wished I'd brought my new 200 mm zoom lens (yes I have a fancy new camera now!) to take pictures of the bird life, but alas, it was back in London. I chased a particular bird all over the cliffs, thinking it was a puffin, but it turned out to be an oystercatcher or something else with a red beak. When I lay down in the grass trying to be unobtrusive, it circled me calling to its babies, telling them not to cheep I guess, so I walked away. I think that island was probably my favorite part of the trip, though all the rest was great. Mum loved the neolithic ruins of course, dad loved the fishing boats (and we now have a million pictures between us).

The next day we took the ferry across to Hoy--what an amazing island! It had one of the most beautiful hills/mountains that I've seen in a long time. We drove across this tiny little road to a gorgeous beach. Unfortunately The Old Man of Hoy was 3 hours walk away, which we didn't have time for, but I could've camped there despite the wind and freezing water.

We missed the museum, unfortunately, but saw some of the old buildings in town (Magnus Cathedral and the Earls Palace--now he seemed like a nasty guy!). More delicious food and another spectacular sunset!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Entering the forbidden

Here's someone who had a similar experience to mine, but I must say, at least I got in.

And if you're curious about more: READ THIS: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/journeys/photo_feature/west_bank/image_gallery_static.cfm

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Transfagarasan and Dracula's real castle

My parents finally arrived in Romania, and after tripping around to show them my life in Romania so far (the dig, the Mosna church, the fantastic restaurant at Biertan, Sibiu, etc), we drove off across the Transfagarasan Road. This amazing road curved up and over a superb mountain pass (the Fagaras mountains). It was built by Ceaucescu and cost 40 + workers--disgusting dictators again! After passing the gondola/cabena, we twisted and turned up a snaking road to the beautiful mountain lake (surrounded by snow!) at the top. There my mother and father dismantled my detachable jacket and we all shivered in the chilled wind at the top while we ate a typical Romanian lunch (more on the predictable food at another time!). What an amazing road... certainly closed in winter, and an amazing journey in summer, I will have to show you pictures later to really impress you.

On the other side, after winding down a hydro lake and passing it's huge dam, we came to Poienari Citadel (I hope that's its name... I didn't bring my map to check). It's perched on top of a super steep cliff overlooking an equally precipitous valley. Mum and I climbed to the top in the rain and were very impressed by the legs (in our imagination of course) of the family that lives at the top and collects the entrance fee. Their house was stashed under a ledge and hidden among the trees but what a place to live your days! The man was painting, for example. What else to you do in a place where tourists come along perhaps once an hour or so (and yes, it really was un-visited considering how many were at the fake Dracula castle at Bran)? No dangling Dracula key chains and haunted houses here!

The castle itself wasn't much... just a few walls and a nice empty tower. Its stone and brick mix was interesting though! The most amazing thing was our wonder at the utter genius (or stupidity) of Vlad Tepes to build his castle there in the first place. It was just so amazingly high and up such a steep hill that no doubt getting down to get supplies was a great mission. Apparently, the turks laid seige anyway, and some cute little village helped him escape into the surrounding hills (feasible, considering them!). His wife was distraught and disbelieving, however, and threw herself from the battlements. Half the castle has now fallen down the steep cliff as well, so you can imagine her no doubt beautiful but mangled body at the bottom.

Did I mention dad got a ticket? Hee hee... for not seeing a red light (we didn't see any light at all, which amused the policeman incredibly). It's been a mission to pay for it though--supposed to be done at the post office (but only one with a computer, and of course it has to be open, which most aren't when we look for them!), and then taken to a police station (but they keep refusing to take it--I guess we'll have to go back to Sibiu, then, what a pain!).

World Heritage Site Quiz

Here's a great quiz I found... I was frustrated by what I didn't know and wanted to go study up. Don't check the comments till you're sure of your answers!!

Quiz: In which countries are the following World Heritage sites located?

(Each answer is the name of a country playing in the World Cup, and the answers are below some unrelated-to-the-World-Cup travel-book musing.)

  1. Galapagos Islands
  2. Bauhaus and its Sites in Weimar and Dessau
  3. Cocos Island National Park
  4. Iguazu National Park
  5. Alto Douro Wine Region
  6. Historic Centre of Oaxaca and Archaeological Site of Monte Albán
  7. Persepolis
  8. Historic Centre of San Gimignano
  9. Chaco Culture National Historical Park
  10. Kakadu National Park
  11. Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara
  12. Pont du Gard (Roman Aqueduct)
  13. Altamira Cave
  14. Site of Carthage
  15. Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Lonely Planet Blue List

Best Rude & Unusual City Names By: lisavitaris - 26 Jan 2006
Condom, France (France)
Since the French word for 'condom' is 'preservatif', no wonder some of these residents have no qualms at all living in a city called 'Condom'. They might have a problem with putting preservatives in jam or other foods though.....

Ass, Ukraine (Ukraine)
You would feel like one everytime an English-speaking person asked you where you come from. Or you could lie.

Sexmoan, Philippines (Pacific)
Sexmoan is located in the province of Pampanga on Luzon, the biggest island of the Philippines. Audio tape to get the tourists rolling in is in the making.....

Rooty Hill, Australia (Sydney)
Shack up with someone at the Rooty Hill RSL and see if the suburb is true to its name.

Wankendorf, Germany (Germany)
Not sure if I would like to admit to living here either.....P.S. This list is so far from complete. There were too many great places to choose from including Intercourse, Humpy Creek, Bald Knob, Kissimmee, Hooker Point, Beaver, etc....

Posted by: Buxz - 29 Jun 2006 Have a look in Southern Germany/Austria, apart from the small towns of Kissing and Petting- there is one other which these two often lead to...

Posted by: hockey19 - 24 Jun 2006 I had a good laugh when driving through the town of Dildo in the Canadian province of Newfoundland.

Fantastic Blog!!

An Ode to Night Buses

Bussed Up
by Steve James
from www.yearinthelife.org
Saigon, Vietnam, 2nd June 2005

On the face of it, night buses seem like a good idea. They're dirt cheap - I'd paid US $20 for my whole open ticket from Hanoi to Saigon, including stops - plus you save on a night's accommodation each time. But in reality, they originate from the same place as Michael Bolton: the very depths of hell itself.

Firstly, the seats recline. A nice touch. Yours, of course, won't. On the other hand, the seat of the person in front definitely will, and they will enjoy pushing the boundaries of international seat technology by forcing it back as far as possible, leaving you with so little leg room that even Christopher Reeve would have complained.

Next, the driver, who by his erratic driving has presumably taken a course of caffeine laced with amphetamine in order to keep him up, will hurtle the bus violently around corners, thwarting any foolish thoughts you had of sleep.

The air conditioning commonly doesn't work very well if at all, and even more commonly has (unbenownst to the valiumed up travellers around you sleeping like babies) been turned off either to save petrol or to give more power to the engine on the driver's speed-fuelled journey into hell (via Michael Bolton's house).

Then there's the entertainment: if you're lucky, you'll be piped loud, dire Europop through a speaker inches from your ear, which in terms of musical worth ranks slightly below that of a flatulent hamster. If you're lucky.You'll get Vietnamese pop music if you're really unlucky.

Finally, even though you sneakily grabbed a free double seat in that quintessentially English "I claim this seat for England, and no bugger's gonna sit next to me" colonising fashion, it will be filled by a Vietnamese man at a later stage. Even though this man is not a shade over 5'2", he will doubtless invade the demilitarized zone between the seats with selected parts of his body, causing you to fold like a human deckchair.

This bile flows from my journey last night and today: twenty hours of seat, window and curtain, and not enough iPod to fill it...
A Year in the Life: a day-by-day journal of travels through Asia, Australia, New Zealand and North America

Memories of Dig 2006

Just for those who were on the dig this year, here's a list of memories from our time in Mosna and Romania.

Remember the Blue Demon, the Yellow Peril, and the Tank. Remember the songs: Wiggle it, California Dreamin, Twist Again, Coconut.