Friday, 27 August 2010

So it's Inverness

At least that's where we were headed that day, but the journey in the morning continued around Skye. Next stop Dunvegan castle.

This castle belongs to the McLeod clan, probably a very nice one, but of course me being me, i arrive there during renovation, the castle was suffering from a serious humidity hitting its walls and was being mostly covered in scaffolding and white protective sheets. It's got pretty nice gardens though, that was nice to go around, got some good photos out there.

What amazed me in all those castles is the size of the bedrooms and generally private rooms, these were tiny! All the clans just used to show off their lavish extravagant rooms where they received guests and stuff, and in the process took away all the space from a nice wide bedroom for themselves, i guess back then how people saw you was what mattered...I'm glad we care more about our own comfort these days :D

The drive from there to the bridge of Skye was uneventful, albeit full of Skye scenery, now the next stop was really cool! Eilean Dunan! A lot of movies have been shot here, and although the most recently rebuilt, it was by far the most impressive we've seen. It was built a few centuries back, can't remember the exact history but it's quite old :) Wings and towers have been added and removed throughout the years, until it got it's final shape in the 16th century. That though got totally destroyed until a McRae-Gilstrap bought the little island containing the castle in 1911 and started restoring it till he brought it to its original (16th century) shape in the 1930s.

So the exterior is awesome, very special, done in stone and looks like how you imagine a castle should, the interior on the other hand is very simple and practical, small rooms, modest furniture, etc...But still a very impressive castle, my favorite so far :)

After a nice lunch at the castle's restaurant, the journey was resumed passing the famous Loch Ness (no, didn't spot the monster) and heading to Inverness.

Inverness is pretty nice, a relatively small city, just guessing i would say the size of Bedford maybe, a river runs through the city and it's a very pleasant walk there around the city center, added to it the view of the Inverness castle (which contains a history museum) on top of a hill right in the heart of the city overlooking the river Ness. There's also a mini-Notre Dame de Paris cathedral in there that's worth a look :) St. John? Oh! St. Andrews!

It was cosy.

The morning after was the end of our journey. But just before heading back to Aberdeen, we decided to go back to Loch Ness, check their visitor centre and have a boat ride in it. Simple as that visitor centre was, i enjoyed it a lot, it describes the myths that surrounded that mysterious lake for ages and reveals some interesting facts about people faking them for publicity :) Followed by a beautiful boat ride. It's always different seeing the place from a boat, the different angle maybe...

Now back to Aberdeen, getting ready to jump from helicopters and survive in water.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

So it's Isle of Skye

There's a song by Aerosmith that has the line: Life's a journey, not a destination.
Well, this totally applies on (no, apart from my life) this 4 day trip we're doing. Ok, the Highlands are simply beautiful, really beautiful! And the road to Skye was really pleasant.

But it wasn't only a matter of getting to Skye, just enjoying the scenery was half the purpose of the trip, maybe 75% even, so that's what we did, aided by yesterday's taxi driver's advice and a mistake either by the GPS or the GPS user...can't say which for sure :p but we ended up driving along small inner roads, between fields, mountains, lakes and what not! Even ended up crossing a lock that was operating when we arrived, it was cool, i have to admit it's the first time i see one like this, a small bridge hinged at one end, that rotates from the "across the canal" position (Caledonian canal by the way) to the "parallel to the bank" position to let the boats pass, then back to let the cars pass.

Passing Braemar I remembered the driver mentioning the place, so we decided to turn into there, then on the way saw the sign for Blair castle on Atholl estates and headed over there instead. The castle (and estates) belong to the Dukes and Earls of Atholl as the name implies, what was nice about it is the little wood they had there, huge trees and silence, nice! Also the animals they kept around, they had deer, horses, peacocks and highland cows, plus gardens, etc. You don't know what a highland cow is? shaggy, red haired, big cows? Ok, you'll see it when i go back to bragging about the animals i photographed :p

After that we had continued the journey north to Mallaig to take the ferry to Skye, almost missed it, got there like 3 minutes before it went, and of course it was the last one of the day.

Isle of Skye has rough terrain, loads of rock, in all possible shapes and heights, and it wasn't a long drive to get to Portree where we were booked into a nice little inn called Marmalade inn, so small that in the morning they noticed that we didn't come down for breakfast and give us cereal bars for the road :)

Portree is like the capital of Skye, well, the main city, the drive from the ferry which pulls on at Armadale is along the east coast of the island, but what lies on the west coast is for the blog of day 3 :)

So it's Edinburgh once again

First of all, i would like to thank Scotland for having such amazing intercity roads, it's been a pleasure to drive them :)

I've been in Edinburgh before, and somewhere in this blog, there is an entry about it, probably in 2007. This time i was living on the Royal Mile, that's pretty much the city center and where things are happening, it's a pretty lively place, this is the street going from the Scottish parliament all the way to Edinburgh castle, and it's full of shops, restaurants, hotels and cafes and even more full of tourists, but hey, nice place.

Edinburgh welcomed us this time with amazing sunny and warm weather, and the day we spent there was used for doing what i didn't get the chance to do last time i was here, and the thing i promised to come back for: following the water down to Leath.

It's a pretty long walk, a bit longer than i expected, i think around 4 miles? i might be wrong but it was one proper walk. It starts by the Dean's bridge following a canal/river called "surprisingly" the Water of Leath all the way down to the actual Leath. If you ever read Glue by Irvine Welsh, that was all about that place. He might be from there...

These days Leath is considered a fancy part of Edinburgh, and there's a reason for it i understand, it stands by the sea, and is very cosy to be in, and having lunch in a little bar/cafe thingy by the sea was comforting for the mood as well as for the hunger from the long walk :)

Obviously the way back was in a taxi, with a very friendly driver who gave us tips about nice places to pass and nice road to take on our next journey, and i can't help smiling every time i hear the Scottish accent :) Sweet...

The rest of the day was spent climbing up to Arthur's chair, you probably get a great view of the city from there, but it was fogged over when we made it up and made the city look a bit gloomy, still it was a good exercise :) Tomorrow the journey continues heading north west and I am looking forward to that.

So it's Scotland once again

And particularly Aberdeen, as usual courses bring me here, i have two this time, both in Aberdeen, but the cool part is: There are four free days in between. What do you think i'm doing during those days? That's right, traveling around. I'm actually going on a road trip around Scotland.

The first interesting day (or rather evening) was during a course, me and Erik drove north by the coast in search of the awesome cliffs Scotland has in that area. I was left pretty disappointed, they weren't what i expected them to be :( But i got some nice photos of various animals, but I'll brag about that later :)

The drive itself was pretty cool though, tiny roads, the sea, tiny fishing villages along the way and some (albeit non-impressive) cliffs almost all the way to Peterhead.

Peterhead itself is a small typical UK town, i heard the accent up there is pretty rough, but the McDonald's boy i ordered my meal from was totally intelligible :D But by then it was too late (the reason why it was a Mac rather than a nice Scottish restaurant) and we had to head back to Aberdeen, had to get up early the next day.

But after the course was finished the real fun began! I drove down to Edinburgh, first time driving a "mirror" car, well... one with the steering on the other side etc... but that's to be continued in my next entry :)

Friday, 23 April 2010

Deutschland. Tag 2

The second day in Berlin took me to West Berlin, started the day walking from Potzdam Platz through Tiergarten to the presidential palace called Schloss Bellevue, from there to the victory column Siegelssaule, continued the walk till I got to a subway station, discovered on my way that Berlin has a branch of Hooters :) then rode my way to Charlottenburg palace and gardens.

It's beautiful and def. great efforts have been made to restore it after the war, this used to be the summer house of the first Prussian queen Sophie Charlotte, who was basically living there full time in the old palace, later on a new wing was added by her grandson (I think) as well as an orangerie making the place huge! The gardens are very nice as well, the first in Prussia to be designed in Baroque style. These gardens contained a tea house, which now acts as a porcelain museum, and a mausoleum for a number of the royal family members.

I thought this would be the "sight of the day" until I got to Keiser Wilhelm's Gedachtniskirche, a beautiful church (although pretty small) that's been bombarded in the 2nd world war, the ruins are still standing and a huge modern church is built around it, I love churches and this one was really nice with a pretty dramatic story to tell.

Finished my west Berlin itinerary and took the subway back to the east, specifically to the East side gallery which is really just the old Berlin wall left for artists to paint on it, seems as well that paintings remain for a period of time then new painters get the space, a looooooooong walk took me to alexander platz, where I sat down, took some photos of the TV tower, red city hall and fountain, then just got myself a Mac and went to relax my feet in my hotel room :) (Written on 26Sep09)

Deutschland. Tag 1

First day was spent in Eastern Berlin (where my hotel is as well), had a long itinerary that I hardly covered half of, before my camera's battery died, my feet almost dies & my stomach's dinosaurs started their symphony.
Managed to do the Reichstag, which is the "parliament house" of Germany, nice view of Berlin from the top :) Then Berlin's most famous Branderburger Tor, the gate that was originallt part of the wall has become the symbol of Berlin (together with the bear :)). From there a walk down Unter Den Lined street and Friedrich strasse, where check point Charlie is located, a lot of reading on the walls, didn't read all but what I have read and the photos are enough to really make me feel how bad it was with two Germanies and separating walls.

Started feeling really tired and hungry there, but still walked around and got to Gendarmenmarkt, took a look at the concert house and the two almost identical cathedrals standing on both sides of it, the German Deutscher Dom to the left and the French Franzosischer Dom on the right, the three buildings looking pretty grand together, you can get inside the German cathedral which contains pretty much the full German history, but beware! Everything is only in German! Grab that free audio guide at the entrance. You can also enter the French cathedral which has a Ballustrade open from where you can get a great view of Berlin as well.

Up there my camera died, and I decided to call it a day, now just dinner, tea, and general relaxation :) (written on 25sep2009)

Deutschland. Tag 0

Out on the road again, more new places, new faces, etc... This time it's Berlin, never thought I'll actually visit Germany. Was never on my list really. What's so interesting about Germany? Nothing much.

Now I'm spending 3 days there, and until this moment i have no clue what i want to see but where the wall separating east and west Berlin once stood. Internet just left me more confused, it's just s***-loads to see over there, I guess I'll trust the professionals and go with the 3 day tour plan I found on visitberlin.de.

So far I'm sitting onboard a Lauda Air plane taking me from Sharm el Sheikh to Vienna, first leg on my way, and can't stop wondering about the Egyptian fly i just shooed away that is going to Austria right now, without a visa! You think it'll follow me to Berlin? :D

See you when i get there. (written on 24Sep09)

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

I've been to China!!!...to BeiJing

YEAAAHH!!! I'm in BeiJing!
was how i felt although i arrived very late, had like 2 hours of sleep only and couldn't keep the hotel room till the evening to have a shower before i leave :(

The start was not very encouraging, taking into account the lack of a proper map, and the limited english of the average chinese.

Stop1 was the Summer palace, which we reached after a detour thanks to the guy that took us to the wrong place, but we got there eventually and as a lot of Imperial things in China the place was huge, we probably didn't cover half of it, it was very nice though, it's these palaces and pagodas built around and on a lake, some small islands connected with bridges etc... It was really sweet, romantic even, all in lush green, and colorful architecture. Had to cut the visit though if we had any plans to get to the next destination.

Since stop2 was the Great wall at MuTianYu. That was a good 40 minute drive out of the city, and it IS amazing, the moment it comes into view, your heart skips a beat, on the top of a green beautiful mountain, this section is really special, it's also one of the most preserved ones, with the further advantages of less people on it and no hand rails and stuff, looks more ancient and has more space for photographs that way :) (without strangers in your background). You go up and down on a cable car, but there's a more fun down option, a little kart down a half tube, don't remember what they called it but it was loads of fun! :D

A warning though, this thing is very tiring, steps up and down all over the walls, nobody followed the architectural rules for staircase building there, it's very steep and the way back up is not easy...But still, this was the highlight of my trip to China, I've seen the Great wall, one more addition to my 7 wonders of the world list :) (one of them).

Back into the city stop3 was TianAnMan square and the forbidden city. I have to say that BeiJing seriously exceeded my expectations, although China is considered a 3rd world country, it's heading straight to the top, the city is clean, organized, well connected, easy to get around and really beautiful and welcoming. Now the Forbidden city used to be where the Emperor stayed, it has different main buildings or halls, each has a specific purpose at a specific time, the place is again very big, with a lot of rooms around those main halls, and the main palace. The chinese did a great job preserving and restoring the place, it looks like new. But to my opinion, that's exactly what takes away from the glory of the place, i didn't feel the history, it was like something built yesterday.

Stop4 was for food, extremely tired and pretty hungry, we had to stop for a good meal, it was about time, after which i headed to the Temple of Heaven but i reached too late and didn't make it into it, took a couple of photos from the outside, walked in the gardens but that was it.

And that was also the end of my day in BeiJing, i managed to get a shower after all in the hotel's gym :) Then all fresh and happy headed for the airport to fly home...sweet home :)

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

I've been to China!!!...to Xi'An

This should have been posted about 5 months ago, but me and constant blogging don't come together as you've probably noticed by now :) But here's what i wrote on the spot, there...at the time :)

"Phew!!! That was close!! Just made it to Haikou airport where my journey in China starts. After an “interesting” crew change day with a change in plans followed by a lot of changes in the schedule of the new plan, we finally got off the boat in SanYa, the only problem was … It was too late! Too late for me to catch the bus that’ll take me to Haikou because if I did, I would have never caught the plane.

But thanks to a great shore representative and a great agent, and thanks to the drivers I got, I was driven in a car to Haikou airport and arrived there quite ahead of what I was expecting, and here I am sitting by the gate writing this waiting for my plane to Xian to start boarding. I’m so looking forward to see those warriors …


*********************************************

Landed in Xian with no clue how to get to my hotel, but that turned out to be a very easy thing, took 2 walks down the street to find the building but all was good, and the hotel turned out to be nice as well.

Next day my tour began at 8 in the morning, and I saw them! The warriors! Cool! Can’t stop thinking how much work that must have been and can’t stop thanking God I wasn’t Chinese living in the Qin dynasty (or the Ming dynasty for that matter, who wants to build a great wall?!) They’re very impressive, all different faces, and there’s loads of them! The site consists of 3 pits, basically building erected on top of the excavation sites. Pit 1 contains the infantry soldiers, pit 2 has the cavalry and archers, and pit 3 contains the headquarters, you can notice the difference in clothes, armoring, and even age as the rank of the person grows. The rest of the museum is a hall containing two bronze chariots with decorations and details of gold and silver, these were made in half real size (unlike the warriors who are in real life size), the 2 are different, it is believed that the first was protecting the second, it’s a standing chariot with loads if built-in weapons, the most impressive of them is the umbrella (yes, you got that right!), it has 2 locking mechanisms, if you open one, you can tilt it around to protect yourself from the sun but if you open both, you can take it out and use it as a spear!"


At this point something stopped me writing about the rest of the day, i can't remember what it was, but the rest follows nevertheless...

The visit included a lot of walking and lasting till noon was therefore followed by lunch, although the restaurant was a bit europeanized to suit the tourists, the food wasn't bad at all, i actually enjoyed it. On the way back into the city we passed by a jade stone factory and i bought myself some very nice silver/jade jewelery and a great looking dragon! Was very happy with it, one of my top 10 souvenirs of all times, and i also got to drink chinese tea in the factory, i love chinese tea :)

Next stop (of course) was the Big wild goose pagoda, and as the name suggests, there is actually a small wild goose pagoda... Not as impressive anyway. It's the biggest and most famous pagoda in the city, built in 6 stories with windows on each side, so you could face north, south, east or west from any floor, nice view of the city from there. The story of the place i can't remember but it was a nice visit nonetheless. One thing i learned though, every city in China has a Bell tower and a Drum tower, normally closely located (this pagoda had them too), you may already know this. But! What they're used for is the news, they were actually built to indicate time, one of them is used to announce midday, the other midnight. Which is sad given the fact this was so long ago, people probably went early to bed anyway since there was no electricity and hardly anything to do. On the other hand, you never know, maybe Chinese liked partying till late...
The next stop is my favorite, the Great mosque, the reason being how different it looks from a normal worldwide used design of a mosque. This one (as many other in China) is actually built in the architectural style of the Ming dynasty (which most of us simply refer to as Chinese, the curved up edges of the roof, etc...), and apart from the mosque itself, it's got rooms for workers there, probably some classes among those, gardens, and it looks very serene and calming, you feel it's a worship place. The only place that looks typical is the prayer hall itself, saying so, I was really impressed by the wood work on the walls, it was like WOW! They have 30 tall boards of wood around the walls, each is carrying one part of the Quran's 30, beautifully carved in that wood, awesome!

The muslim quarter where the mosque lays is not very impressive though, tight streets, street markets, crowded...well...And the mosque was only for men, so i couldn't even pray there.

My day at Xi'An was drawing to an end, i was taken to the airport to catch my flight to Beijing (which was delayed like for 5 hours or so!), i enjoyed it and haven't regretted a bit that i decided to come here after everyone else pulled out, it was well worth it.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Amman, memories and feelings

As has been the case lately, this was another necessity. Passport renewal.

This happenned last December, it was getting cold (proved by my upset stomach later on the day of my arrival) but still sun was warmly and brightly shining (which explains why i didn't put my jacket on). In short, a beautiful day!

I managed to convince my aunt who lives in the capital that she doesn't need to pick me up as i've rented a car at the airport and started my drive into the city center looking for the passport office so i don't have to waste time next day doing that.

Now Amman is a city with quite a topology, a lot of hills and ups and downs...I was driving peacefully in the old streets (in the north-east direction) going up...up...up, until suddenly down started, AND THAT WAS ONE HELL OF A SIGHT!!! Steeply going down was the street i'm on, and ahead of me a view of all Amman suddenly opened that took by breath away. That city is beautiful, it really is. And the more i drove through its streets looking around me, the more i realized that.

I don't remember the last time i actually had the time and mood to look around me, I'm not from Amman but a small city in the north of Jordan called Irbid, so i drove to Amman from the other side normally and always on an errand or a visit or shopping etc...But now that i had pretty much the whole day with nothing to do, i took it all in, i should have done that earlier, i should have looked and realized what a beautiful capital my country actually has,i should have taken it in and enjoyed every moment there, i should have recommended it to people going there rather than going indefferent about it when they asked. But now i know, and now i want to go back again, i want to befriend that city and see it more often.

Amman...I love you.

P.S. This photo is not taken by me, i found it on the internet, had to show you something :)

Monday, 25 January 2010

Siberia! Yes, that same one :)

If you've read my previous post, you already know how i ended up here, so i'll skip that part. I have to mention two points though:
1- The Shock: i got when i received the mail about moving the course from Moscow to Tyumen.
2- The Courage: it took me not to cancel it.
What comes into your mind when Siberia is mentioned really? Prisoner camps, severe weather conditions, small towns and not much to see or do. A pretty depressing picture therefore gets drawn in that same mind of yours (and mine).

But...days went by and i made peace with the thought of Tyumen and actually started looking forward to it. Being in Siberia! Tough! Then came the joining instructions proudly telling us that the center is 28Km away from Tyumen, the accommodation is on the territory of the center and there's hardly any transportation to the city...nice!

For people who think it snows severely all the time in Siberia, let me correct that piece of info: Actually due to the geographical location: North and inland, it actually gets below -40 during the winter and above 40 in the summer, nice, huh? But that's the fact.

Then the course began, started making friends from the group, going out, enjoying the great weather at that time (~30C), and discovered that although Tyumen is a small city, a town pretty much, it's not bad at all, it's nice to go around, there's all you need, nice restaurants, entertainment, shopping malls, book shops (which for me is crucial) and so on, i actually enjoyed my week there.

The best part was the river (Tobol i think) and its banks, you had some nice looking russian style cathedrals you can see far ahead of you, and the bridge of lovers where people getting married come and hang a lock on the bridge, write their names on it and throw away the key (a symbol for together for ever). We were wondering: What if they get devorsed later on? :s

And i have to say at this point that the accommodation we got at the training center was really nice too, a room with a bathroom, cleaned for you every day, like a hotel room pretty much (we even had a TV!), there was a common kitchen and dayroom, and it was 5 minutes walk from the classroom and diner :)

So if you end up in a position where Tyumen is one of the only options you can choose, don't worry, it's not as bad as it sounds, actually far better :) And the Russians are nice once you get to know them.