Sights

Road trip Canada: Vancouver Day 2, 23 January 2016

Vancouver 0600 – Why am I up so early??? I didn’t want to disturb the sleeping mister, so I headed over to the Sheraton Club Lounge, and proceeded to grade 40+ papers on Nazi Germany. Complimentary latte was nice.

0930 – I made reservations at Kirin the day before for a 10 am sitting. We head out. The mister knows he’ll be dead if we miss the reservation.

0950 – Line builds before Kirin opens. Reservations are a good idea.

1000 – Kirin Richmond is decent, but not as good as the one at Kirin Vancouver. Mister’s first experience at the Cantonese restaurant. He’s the only non-Chinese at the restaurant. And the only person who ordered a Sprite. 😀

1100 – We survey the hotel grounds. Pretty impressive for an airport hotel!

1245 – Time to circle round Yaletown in Vancouver. Finding a parking meter that takes credit cards wasn’t easy (they have some on Hornby Street!)

Vancouver

1300 – Long walk across the bridge to Granville Public Market. Why aren’t there stairs that lead directly to it? I bet I can make a fortune with a repelling business. Or bungee jumping to the market.

Vancouver

1330 – Mister now agrees with me that my decision to park at Yaletown was inspired. There was quite a line of cars trying to drive into Granville Public Market. We also found out that we can take a ferry back to Yaletown (3.50 CAD one way, 5 CAD return. Prices might be higher if you go to further parts of downtown Vancouver) The Aquabus leaves every 15 min or so.

Vancouver

1400 – Magicians, buskers, crazy mishmash of goods, kiddie exits at the Kid’s Market, and lots of glorious fresh produce. Mister finally got a crepe – he was happy. I was slightly annoyed that if you paid in USD, they will charge you as if it was at parity with the CAD, i.e. if something is 7 CAD, and you gave them a 20 USD, you will get back 13 CAD. We did need change for our ferry ride, though.

Vancouver

1445 – We got on the Aquabus. We then headed to a cafe on Granville Street for me to get some work done.

Vancouver

1545 – Time to drive to Langley for the game. I messed up – I paid for our lacrosse tickets with my credit card, and we were supposed to take up the tickets at Will Call. I sock-drawered that credit card after meeting minimum spend, and so, it was not in my wallet. (the dangers of this game – there’s a limit to wallet space for credit cards) We’re going early to rectify the situation.

1650 – Guy at Will Call never asked for my credit card. Whew!

1700 – I nap in the car because it’s just 1 hr before the doors at Langley Events Center open, which doesn’t give us enough time to go anywhere. Also, it’s bobblehead night, and mister really wants one.

1900 – First lacrosse game. Where is the ball????? That’s some mad skills right there. Lacrosse is like street soccer with sticks, and some of the violence of ice hockey thrown in. Pity – nobody got into a fight. The Vancouver Stealth got massacred by Colorado Mammoth.

Vancouver Stealth at Langley Events Center

2045 – Sushi restaurants are all closed. We get some Wendy’s, head to our hotel, and that was it for the night.

Wallet Damage?

Food + drinks: 35 USD

Transport: ~5 USD

Game tickets: 25 USD

Accommodation: 64 USD (but I get 11550 IHG points) I could have actually made another redemption to make this night free, but 64 USD for 11550 IHG points is a good value to me.

Total: 129 USD

 

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Categories: Canada, Miles&Points, Road Trip, Sights, Sports | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Peru – Machu Picchu, 05 June 2011

Today was the big trip to Machu Picchu, the biggest highlight of our Peru trip (of course, there are other awesome things to see). We took the Vistadome from Poroy (about 40 mins from Machu Picchu by car) to Aguas Calientes, which is about half hour from Machu Picchu. One thing that the train really had? Windows. Lots of them. Apart from the usual windows by the sides to allow you views of the passing scenery, they also had windows to the top. Another thing I didn’t expect – breakfast! It was a fancy-looking breakfast, served in what looked like a bento box. That was a nice surprise. The one-way ticket to Machu Picchu costs about 75 USD.

Despite all the warnings about the long lines, and our craziness to try and prep everything in advance, it was surprisingly not as busy as it was made out to be. So if you are going sometime in June, and doing the train way (I heard the hiking part is still booked up), you might not need to go too crazy with the prep, and just take your chances a little. Btw, all that Lonely Planet talk about checks on bags for water and food – never happened. While you might not want to be packing a picnic, some snacks and a small bottle of water probably would slip through the games undetected.

I’m not sure if expectations is a good or bad thing. If you were just walking around the mountains, you’d never guess there’s a whole city in those mountains amidst the clouds. But I guess since we knew what we were looking for, that takes some of the fun out of that. Anyway, it is pretty hidden. As we were walking, we pretty much never had a clue when the next turn will bring us to Machu Picchu. But when it did appear, well, it looks like the postcard pictures!

I think my main impression of Machu Picchu was how small it was. When we first booked the trains, we were afraid that doing this as a day trip might not be that great an idea, and that we might not have enough time for everything. Turns out the train timings were there for a reason, anyway. It was pretty small, and as long as you are not trying to explore every nook and cranny, a day trip was enough. While Petra was massive, and definitely required multi-day trips, the same can’t be said for Machu Picchu.

I don’t have any real guide to write about the Machu Picchu. It is pretty much a city whereby there are ceremonial quarters, living quarters, which are segregated, and some terraces for planting stuff. It is hard to tell which is which without a guide. But, one thing to do – do climb higher up on the terraces, so you can get a bird’s eye view, and a good shot of the city.

After about 4 hours, we were beat, and we made our way back to Aguas Calientes for lunch. I had a cream trout – apparently, I can’t tell the difference between salmon and trout. It was pretty expensive, at about 16 USD. But we were paying for the view at the restaurant (can’t remember the name).

Despite all the writing about there being nothing in Aguas Calientes, I am not about to jump on the bandwagon. It is what it is – a stop for those on the way to Machu Picchu. While things are overpriced, it’s not a seedy or horrible town, and you could do a lot worse when you are hungry and tired. They have plenty of restaurants and cafes that serve up decent food, and when you are want to send that postcard you just wrote, they have a post office for you, too.

Finally, time for us to go back. Instead of the Vistadome, we took the Expedition, which was slightly cheaper at around ~50 USD. It really wasn’t much of a downgrade, and they served us snacks and a drink. Some pleasant things did happen. In our cabin, the lights apparently shorted, and so, it went out a couple of times. While everyone else was scrambling for light, confused by the sudden darkness upon us, I looked up at those large windows, and enjoyed the stars, which I hardly ever get. It was worth it.

Dinner was a cheap roast chicken place, and we had some delightful roast chicken for about 3 USD.

Vistadome to Machu Picchu

Fancy breakfast on Vistadome

Machu Picchu

Area around Machu Picchu

Our cheap chicken dinner

Categories: Peru, Rail, Sights, UNESCO | Tags: | Leave a comment

Yikes, and a New Trip – Peru! (1-13 June 2011)

So, once again, I have forgotten to update all my older trips, have gone on a few more since then, and am embarking on another adventure. Tsk tsk me!

Anyways, what’s up? Peru!

It is going to involve an Amazon river cruise, an overnight bus ride, domestic airplanes, and two epic rail journeys.

01 June: Getting ourselves to Peru!

02 June: Lima, Peru

03 June: Lima – Cuzco

04 June: Cuzco

05 June: Cuzco – Machu Picchu – Cuzco (scenic train journey)

06 June: Cuzco – Lima (surfing!!!)

07 June: Lima – Iquitos

08 June: Iquitos

09 June: Iquitos – Lima

10 June: Lima – Huancayo (epic rail journey on the second highest railway in the world)

11 June: Huancayo – Lima

12 June: Lime (surfing? paragliding?)

13 June: back to Seattle

Categories: Activities, Itinerary, Peru, Rail, Sights | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

USA – Death Valley National Park, 21 March 2011

For a trip to Vegas, we certainly did not spend a lot of time Vegas. We actually chose Vegas due to its proximity to numerous National Parks, and after Grand Canyon, next in line on our itinerary was Death Valley National Park.

I think I picked this one. I think the only reason why I picked it was because I thought it has such a cool name! Well, unless of course, I become a reason why it is called what it is called. The Death Valley National Park spans the states of California and Nevada. California mainly, really. At its lowest point, it is actually below sea level. For some reason or other, that makes it quite a dangerous place. After some googling, I figured out a route that will bring us through a ghost town or two, and given my fascination with what nature does to places after humans abandon settlements, obviously, it was a must see.

Anyways, after the ‘training’ of the Grand Canyon trip, driving to Death Valley was a breeze by comparison. The landscape on the way was actually very breathtaking. The road was surrounded by mountains in the distance, and an expanse of desert. And of course, the mirage.

Our first stop in Death Valley National Park was Rhyolite Ghost Town. Not quite sure why it was abandoned, but the sight of semi-decrepit structures against blue skies and desert made for great pictures. It did seem to be quite a developed town. There was even a Rhyolite Casino.

Next, we kinda just followed the driving trail, and stopped by some structure that we thought was fascinating (my research is awesome … not). Turns out it was pretty fascinating. The Death Valley used to be mined for some material nicknamed white gold by Chinese. To cut costs of purifying them, they were done on site, so there were pretty big settlements of Chinese. Looking out from the look out point, you can still see some remnants of buildings. It was quite a desolate landscape.

There were, however, some pretty out-of-place spots in this landscape. For instance, there was a golf course, and some really garish-looking resorts. I am not quite sure why, but the tale of immigrant labor and abandonment of settlements seems to be detracted by these new features that capitalize on tourism.

Endless Road in Nevada

Rhyolite Ghost Casino, Death Valley National Park

Former residence of migrant workers in Death Valley National Park

Categories: Nature, Sights, USA | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

USA – Las Vegas/Boulder City, Nevada to Grand Canyon/Flagstaff, Arizona, 19 March 2011

Long driving day, and we had a late start, as I needed to finish my assignment, oops! 😛

The main attraction of today’s trip was actually the Grand Canyon, but it involved quite a long trip, as I persuaded the other two to do a detour to the Hoover Dam, and we were spending the night at Flagstaff.

The drive to Hoover Dam was actually took quite a while. There was traffic going there, and getting parking there was tough (well, free parking anyway). But I think this piece of engineering marvel was not to be missed. If I don’t remember wrongly, this is a legacy of the Great Depression, whereby there were many mega construction projects to try and pump money into the US economy. It is also the raison d’etre of Las Vegas. Without irrigation, many of the places in desert Nevada would not have come into being. For popular culture reference, I think I was enraptured by it being featured in Transformers. It was definitely worth the detour.

After our brief stop at Hoover Dam, we pretty much drove straight for Grand Canyon. With my lead foot, we managed to arrive about 1.5 hours before closing. Thankfully, we were able to ditch the car, and take the shuttle buses that run around the Grand Canyon. The main thing I remember us doing (I kinda napped for most of the shuttle bus ride due to exhaustion) was us getting off at a look out point, and seeing the Canyon, which was made of many multi-coloured layered rocks. I guess it is some sort of geological feature. I thought it’d be interesting to see it from the bottom, but that was basically my only encounter with it – a grand total of 1.5 hrs (on my priorities in life, later).

Following the brief tour of the Grand Canyon, I drove for another 1.5 hours for the place we were going to room for the night – Flagstaff. I chose the spot, because it was nearish to the Grand Canyon and also near Peoria, my next destination. Also, I was attracted to its old-school charm, and its location on historic route 66. Sorry there were no pictures, as we arrived pretty late. But it had some old-school charm. Perhaps I’ll return some other day.

Hoover Dam – Powering the Area

My only photo of the Grand Canyon

Categories: Nature, Sights, UNESCO, USA | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

USA – Leavenworth WA, 01 January 2011

Our first trip was out to Leavenworth, which was a town about 1-2 hr drive from Stevens Pass, and about 2-3 hr drive from Seattle. Formerly, it used to be one of those town that was turning into a ghost town, but somebody decided to turn the whole town into a Bavaria theme to attract tourists. They started various festivals like October fest, and guess what? It worked. Now, tourists pour into the town, and stay for a night or two, and buy into the whole pseudo-Bavaria-ness of it all, and eat up their sausages and wash them down with beer.

Anyhoo, we were there for a more fun purpose apart from marketing genius. Apart from architecture, they also had some season specific activities: in this case, it was winter sports. We came here specifically for their snow-tubing. I think it costs like $15 for four hours, and while it looked mild, it was actually pretty quick, and gave some adrenaline rush. The winter sports park in Leavenworth also has some ski hills, though they are mostly of the bunny variant, which would be perfect for beginners.

Somehow, the day whizzed by (that’s what happens with short winter days) and we just retired to the cabin for dinner, movies and games.

Snowtubing at Leavenworth Winter Sports Park

Leavenworth in the early evening lighted up for Christmas/New Year

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Goodbye 2010, Hello 2011 Trip in Washington State: Stevens Pass, Leavenworth, WA, 31 December 2010 – 03 January 2011

Thanks to the kind invite of R, I was able to go skiing for the first time, and also visited the Bavarian town of Leavenworth, that was somewhat to the east of Washington State:

31 December 2010: Seattle, WA to Stevens Pass, WA

01 January 2011: Leavenworth, WA

02 January 2011: Stevens Pass, WA

03 January 2011: Stevens Pass, WA – Seattle, WA

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Syria – Krak, Maaloula, Saydnaya, 27 December 2010

The way Damascus Hostel works, they have a board with a list of available tours with cost. If you want to do something, just put your name down and see if there are other people wanting to go along with you. There were a couple of realistic options for me – Bosra, the place about 1-2 hours away with Roman remains, or Krak, where they have a Crusader castle. I decided that I had quite enough of Roman remains through my other travels in Europe, so Crusader castle it is. But, the people who signed up for Krak also wanted to go to Maaloula and Saydnaya. I have absolutely no clue where those places are, what’s there. But whatever. Randomness rules! After all, it would actually make the stuff I studied in Christianity in World History come alive.

The Crusader castle in Krak was pretty cool. It was set atop a hill, so you had great views of everything around. In the distance, lies the mountains of Lebanon. Evidently, it was designed for horses, because the pathways leading into the castle were just so wide and high! They also had some pretty cool secret passages, jails, and other more mundane but interesting things like toilets! I thought that was pretty cool! Climbing up and down the various parts of the castle was actually kinda scary. They didn’t have many handrails, and there were definitely gaps here and there. People back then must have been more sure-footed than I am.

We took an hour’s lunch break, and then, we started the drive back to Maaloula, which was actually pretty close to Damascus. According to our driver, Maaloula is actually a more Christian town, so it’s famous for its churches. We visited one of them, and saw some icons. Another attraction of Maaloula is best described as the Syrian-version of the Jordanian Siq, but without the tourists. He dropped us off at the entrance, and we did a short trek through it. We saw some caves, whereby there were signs of former human habitation. And with my kind of luck, snow follows me everywhere. So we saw some snow that was leftover from the snow storm a week ago. We then went to another church, where we saw a spectacular sunset.

After Maaloula, we headed towards Saydnaya. Saydnaya is supposed to be the second most important pilgrimage site for Christians after Israel. Approaching the Church of Lady Saydnaya was just amazing. My best description? It was basically the Christian version of Germany’s Neuschwanstein. It had such a castle look about it. We went in, and because the driver knew them well, they opened the chamber which contained their icons. The Italians on the trip were thrilled, and said their prayers. Perched atop a high hill, it was nice to be able to see the town of Saydnaya from the church. I could spot many crosses, and even a huge Christmas tree in a roundabout. I’m really thankful that I just simply tagged along, and ended up seeing all these awesome sights.

All in all, a great day!

Crusader Castle

Crusader Castle from Afar

Secret Passage

Secret Passage in Crusader Castle

Crusader Castle

View from Crusader Castle

The Syrian version of the Petra Siq

Syrian version of the Petra Siq in Maaloula

Church of Lady Saydnaya

Church of the Lady Saydnaya

Categories: Sights, Syria, UNESCO | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Jordan – Mount Nebo, Bethany beyond Jordan, Dead Sea, 22 December 2010

Breakfast at Mariam Hotel was decent. I was kinda bored of eating, so I spent my time enjoying the view from the breakfast room at the top floor – they actually furnished it with panorama windows, so that was totally awesome. I could get glimpses of Madaba town. Be sure to check that out!

We hired a car from Mariam Hotel to take us on a tour of Mount Nebo, Bethany Beyond Jordan and the Dead Sea; a very Bible-themed day trip. First stop – Mount Nebo. Mount Nebo was the site from which God reportedly showed Moses the Promised Land. They have a small display of some artefacts found on the site, but mainly, you just go to the point whereby Moses was reportedly shown the Promised Land. If you are trying to spot it, basically, you’ll see this black-ish looking river. Beyond that river is Israel. It doesn’t take a very long time.

Our next stop was Bethany Beyond Jordan, which is the river that separates Jordan and Israel today, for political interest. But more importantly, it was also supposed to be the river that Jesus got baptized by John the Baptist. Getting into it was quite interesting. You have to park the vehicle you got there on at the lot, then wait for the shuttle bus that comes every half hour or so, and is included in your entrance fee. The controls are there, because this is actually the border area between Jordan and Israel. There were so many barbed wire fences as the shuttle bus drove us towards the river.

It seems that climate change has done its thing to the river. A more apt description of the river is perhaps a stream. As we took the short walk from the point where we were dropped off by the shuttle bus to various sites, it was a really small body of water that divided Jordan and Israel. Let me put it this way – you did not have to be particularly athletic to jump over that little river without getting yourself wet.

Before going to THE river, the guide brought us to a site, whereby former churches used to be. It seems that they basically just built different types of churches on top of each other, and they all had access to the holy river.

Finally, the main highlight – the river where Jesus was baptized. It is quite apparent that everyone wanted a piece of the religious mojo. There were quite a number of religious buildings, the most prominent one is actually a Russian orthodox church, which was located about 50 m from the site where Jesus was baptized. The site is definitely one of the strangest things on earth. Both Jordan and Israel erected structures to give one access to the river, due to its importance. At the same time, due to the sensitive political situation in the Middle East caused by the existence of Israel, while we were trying to soak in some of the religiosity of the site, we were also highly aware of soldiers from both Israel and Jordan watching us, with big guns slinging across their bodies. Anyways, that did not stop me from dipping my feet in!

Last stop for the day – the Dead Sea. After enduring some cold over the last few days, the Dead Sea area was surprisingly warm. It was basically not very different from going to some famous beach town. Well, except this is the Dead Sea. Due to the Dead Sea being the Dead Sea, you either had to stay in one of the fancy hotel/spas to gain access to the Dead Sea, or you pay the some US 10 entrance fee at one of the public beach clubs. We ended up doing the latter. I just kinda dipped my feet into the water, and boy, it was definitely salty (no, I didn’t lick my feet) – my feet were crusted with salt not long after that. E and H tried to float, and although they did float, they did look kinda funny. 😛 H also bought some of the Dead Sea mud from the big block of mud they had near the beach, due to rumours of the cleansing properties of Dead Sea mud.

All in all, a good day. We didn’t head back to town, opting to have dinner in Mariam Hotel instead. In the process, we continued to discover its charms. Turns out, there is a rather substantially-sized swimming pool in Mariam Hotel. The dining room was also pretty classy. It has very high ceilings, and a fireplace, along with a TV. It was more like a sitting lounge more than anything. I did something uncharacteristic – I just had an excellent lentil soup for dinner.

Mount Nebo

Israeli side of Bethany beyond Jordan

People floating in the Dead Sea

Dead Sea is real salty!

Categories: Beach, Jordan, Sights | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Jordan – Amman to Petra, 19 December 2010

We left Amman before sunrise on a Jett bus, which was a luxury bus service that serves mainly tourists in Jordan. The trip from Amman to Petra took maybe about two to three hours, and costs around 10 JD (~15 USD). We checked into our guesthouse, Cleopatra Hotel which was located slightly further away from Petra in Wadi Musa as compared to the other hotels. It was cheap at 42 JD for a triple room, and they also offered free one way service to Petra. It was a clean, albeit slightly noisy option, and had no elevators for those with heavy luggage. But nothing major to complain about.

After leaving our stuff in Cleopatra, we requested for a ride down to Petra. We arrived around noon, and got a 2-day pass for 55JD. Apparently, if you’re not staying overnight (the implication being, you came from Israel), it costs 90JD for a day pass. Yikes! Walking through the Siq (the valley cut into rocks) was really quite an experience. We didn’t know what to expect, nor did we know how long did we have to walk, nor did we really know what we would get to see. So that was quite an experience. There were some carvings along the way, which were pretty cool. Without some signage, however, it is sometimes a little hard for us to figure things out! We were looking at a carving that was supposed to be a camel caravan, and we thought we saw a camel, but we only realized we were seeing the wrong things. 😛

Walking out of the Siq finally, and seeing the Treasury building for the first time is really quite an experience. Although it was not dark, it really felt like walking out of a long, and dark cave and into the light after the journey. As the most photographed sight in Petra/Jordan, we stopped for the shot, and well, had to share the shot with a thousand other tourists. Thankfully, we did not go during the high season, so it didn’t feel that crowded.

The treasury is but a small part of Petra city (though I suspect way too many people just stop there), so after many photos, we decided to move on, and see other sights that Petra had to offer. After a quick lunch where we could see the Roman Colisseum and tombs, we decided to hike up to the High Place of Sacrifice. Although it was not exactly far, it did feel like forever, given my disinclination towards scaling up stairs. After approximately 45 min, we managed to reach the top. The view from the top was certainly spectacular, although getting to the edge was slightly scary.

We proceeded to try and descend in another way that was not exactly path. That was quite a journey. Although we saw a lot of other rock carvings, it was slightly disconcerting, as the sun began to set, and there were no other tourists around. When we finally reached the bottom, we were quite lost, as a plain spread before us, and there were no distinct marked paths which indicated the way back to Petra city center. Thankfully, we saw some local kids, and asked for directions. (mucho pressure to take donkey ride! :() We eventually got back, and hastened to the exit as Petra was closing up.

Dead beat from our adventurous trek, we just ended up eating dinner in Cleopatra. Every other day, the staff at Cleopatra hotel will serve dinner for 6 JD. Tonight, it was a dish called Maqlooba, otherwise known as upside down. I guess it is a chicken cooked upside down? The lentil soup was great, but I thought the chicken was a little dry. The portion was massive, so we went to bed real full.

Call to Prayer in Petra

Looking up from within the Siq

Seeing the Treasury after going through the Siq

Categories: Jordan, Sights, UNESCO | Tags: | Leave a comment

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