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Entries about postcards

Sri Lanka: Negombo/Kandy

Madurai is just a short plane away from Colombo, and so we decided to make the jaunt over to this nearby island nation, now peaceful after many years of civil war. At the last minute we had to make other arrangements for a place to stay in Negombo, as we had not heard from our guest house. They surprised us by showing up at the airport, and initially feeling guilty about changing our plans, we went with them. Golden Sands, however, turned out to be a dump, and so we went on to Serendip, which was quite nice, and we returned there for a couple of days of R & R at the end of our stay in Sri Lanka.

Next morning, we took the four hour bus to Kandy, where we are now. Greenhaven is a comfortable guest house about 2k from the main part of the city. It overlooks the mountains and has a pool. It also has a well reviewed guide service, and we had arranged for car and driver to take us around to a number of sites within the cultural triangle. After a dip in the pool followed by a torrential downpour, we met our driver, Lalinda, who speaks English well, and seems quite easy going.

View from Greenhaven
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Later we took a tuk-tuk downtown, and went for dinner with a German couple who are staying here. Although, Kandy initially appeared to be as hectic and chaotic as Indian cities, the main drag turned out to be quite pleasant,and even a bit upscale. Things do seem cleaner here than in India, as we had been told by Hitesh and Ruchi. Although our plan had been to head out to the Knuckles Range for the night, we decided to spend another day in Kandy going to the botanical gardens and a few small Buddhist temples. Although the Temple of the Tooth is the most famous one, the steep admission charge put us off. In fact all of the main cultural sites have high admission charges. It seems the government has decided to gouge foreign tourists for as much as they think they can get. Understandable in a way for a poor country, and yet many of the charges seemed excessive.

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Photo by Nanette
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Posted by jonshapiro 08:04 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged postcards Comments (3)

Danang, Vietnam

My kye Beach

We arrived in Danang by train, which would have been a beautiful ride along the mountainous coastline, were it not for the rain. It was also raining here as well, and fairly dismal in this seaside resort area that is now being massively built up. However, we received a warm welcome from Huan and his family at the rather spartan Eena Hotel. They have gone out of their way to take care of us and make us feel welcome. We also quickly made the acquaintance of two young Japanese, around 20, who are spending a month here. Huan's wife is Japanese, and the place has a number of Japanese touches, including miso soup and an optional Japanese breakfast. Also staying here, is a very bright and articulate young Aussie named Darian, after the Persian emperor of the same name. Darian says he was given this name three weeks after his birth in a rainforest, from his rather eccentric mother, who had a dream that this is what is name should be.

To most Americans of a certain age, (mine to be exact) Danang conjures up images of a huge airbase, full of GI's arriving and departing, and used as a major staging area for the war. There is still a large airport here, now used for commercial flights, and thanks to a relatively uncorrupt mayor, the city is a thriving and growing business center.

The next day brought an improvement in the weather. Han, a friend of Huyen, came to our hotel, and so once again, we had our own private tour guide.



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At first she told us that she didn't think that her English was good enough for such important personages as ourselves, despite that Huyen told her that we were just ordinary people. We tried to reassure her that her English was more than sufficient, and I think she gained confidence as she spent time with us.

The tour began with a taxi ride to a temple at the foot of Monkey Mountain. Recently built, there was an expansive view of the sea from the temple courtyard, as well as an enormous statue of Guan Yin or Guan Am, as they call her here. She looked like the statue of liberty in size and girth.




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Shoreline of Danang from the temple
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From there it was off to the Cham Museum. Cham culture is one of the oldest in Vietnam dating to 400 or 500 AD. There are still some Cham people, but most have been assimilated into Vietnamese culture.




You can see both Chinese and Indian influences on the Cham
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We ate a lunch of various types of local noodle dishes, the names of which elude me, let alone the pronunciation. While we try and say a few words in Vietnamese, with its six tones, it is more or less a continual tongue twister. We then went to a local market,

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followed by a visit to the Big C, (not unlike Big K) but more upscale, with a large US style supermarket. We returned to Eena in the late PM, exhausted but happy. Huan, the hotel owner, prepared a dinner of fresh tuna, veggies, rice, and miso soup.

Han had classes the next day, and with perfect weather, we spent most of it sitting on chaise lounges on the beach. It's interesting to note that we, and the few other white foreigners, were virtually the only people on the beach during mid day. The Vietnamese only come at the end of the day, as the sun is going down. It seems the white people want to get darker, and the Vietnamese, just like the Chinese, want to get lighter.




Beach with Monkey Mountain and faint Guan Am in distance
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In the evening we sat around drinking Mojitos, made with New Zealand vodka that Darian had brought in KL, Malaysia. Tomo and his Japanese friend were there, along with Han, his wife, and their adorable daughter. We listened to old Rolling Stones takes on my phone, which they all seemed to know quite well. I also brought out my Howling Wolf, John Lee Hooker, and other Chicago blues. They, or at least Darian, a music school graduate, knew this stuff quite well. We danced, we talked, we drank. It was quite a night, and a good time was had by all.

Posted by jonshapiro 08:33 Archived in Vietnam Tagged beaches people postcards Comments (6)

London with a brief foray to Dublin

We flew from Antalya to London, dirt cheap as previously mentioned, and were picked up in the middle of the night by our good friends, Michael and EJ.
I took few pictures because the weather for most of the week was dismal, rainy and cold. It was, if anything, worse than Albany weather, which usually starts to improve by the beginning of May.




Left to Right: Michael, Jon, EJ, Nanette (In front of their house).
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Their street in Primrose Hill
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At any rate, we managed to have a great time walking around the city, going to pubs, etc. We were constantly wined and dined by our extraordinarily generous friends, and it was fun meeting Michael's divorced (but still friends) parents, who are our age. A visit to the Tate Modern, and a performance of a Cuban ballet/modern dance troop that had us leaping out of our seats, completed the visit.

From there we went off to Dublin for one night, largely to save on the airport taxes out of London. It just so happened that Katya, the young German woman we hiked with in Morocco, was in town for a new orientation with Oracle. We had dinner with her and a friend, and then home.




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Trinity College
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For all my loyal readers. I am posting this from chaing rai Thailand. We are embarked another trip to southeast asia. We arrive home on April 2 and I look forward to blogging about this new journey. Hope all is well and as our former monk friend., now in chaing mai, would say, may you all be happy and healthy.

Jonathan

Posted by jonshapiro 02:34 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged people postcards air_travel Comments (2)

Ovacik

We have spent four enjoyable days hiking in the Tauros Mountains, high above the intensely developed coastline of southern Turkey. At 1250 meters, the sea is still visible down a long valley, right in front of our terrace at Gul Mountain House.



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At times, we can even see the shoreline opposite Antalya Bay and the high mountains beyond.





Sea and Sky Merge in these pictures
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It is different world up here in the shadow of Tahtali Dag, 2650 meters, still snow covered at the end of April.





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The scenery is quite alpine, despite the relatively low elevation. There are sharp rocky peaks rising above the piney forests that cling to the flatter crevices on the cliffs. In between the mountains, are small villages with red tile roofs that have more goats than people.







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It took the better part of the day to get here from Egirdir. The big bus to Antalya was fine, but the dolmus from the octogar (bus station) was very slow, taking almost 2 hours to go the 50k down the coast to Kemer. From there we contacted our hotel and they came to collect us. Thanks to Omar, the manager and cook, the food is fantastic, perhaps the best we have had in Turkey. Often he gives us a half a dozen mezes, including what is probably the best yoghurt ever, stuffed and smoked eggplant, salad, olives, homemade bread from the wood oven, soup, and then a main course of fish, chicken etc., also cooked in the same oven. Enough food for at least four people, and then a sizable breakfast as well, all included in the price of 130 Lira, a definite bargain.When we first arrived, the hotel was practically empty. Omar told us that summer is their busy time, and despite the heat, a lot of Russians make it up from the beaches in Kemer, including his Russian girlfriend. This time of year, it is mostly Europeans, and sometimes day trippers on a jeep safari, who stop for lunch.

We spent day two hiking a section of the Lycian Way. Luckily two Dutch hikers showed up with good maps and a GPS because the trail markers were few and far between. Kate Clow's descriptions and maps were almost useless, in part because they assumed a starting point in Fethiye, a long way in the opposite direction.



View of Tahtali Dag from Lycian Way
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After about 5 hours of rugged slogging on a trail with many twists and turns, brambles,etc, we arrived in Geldelme, a small village with an overpriced restaurant. But the beer really hit the spot. From there we walked part way back on the road when we were lucky enoubgh to hitch a ride in the back of a truck.

The next day we ignored the Lycian Way altogether, and walked down a couple of clicks back to the tiny village of Ovacik. We then followed a dirt track that a butted up against two large rock faces. After about 7K of relatively flat walking, there was an even smaller road heading up towards Tahtali Dag. We took it up towards the pass, eventually stopping in a subalpine meadow. Small purple, yellow and white flowers dotted the grass. The road continued, but we walked back the way we had come. Altogether it must have been 25K, a long but satisfying day.

Today, a shorter walk up the paved road in a different direction, and then to a village on the right. From there we scrambled close to the top of a nearby, but low mountain, and then back to another dirt road leading up and around the far side of the valley. We stopped for lunch in a field surrounded by old pines, with views looking out at the misty sea. We returned to the hotel for the last night and another huge and scrumptious dinner. There were an interesting mix of people now staying at the Mountain House. Several more Dutch couples, a couple of Brits, and a very friendly young couple from Australia, one of whom was originally from Moscow. After we finished dinner, not long before dark, a group of elderly Germans showed up after hiking all day.





Birds Flying just off hotel deck
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All in all, it was a delightful and relaxing coda (or nearly so) to our time in Turkey.

Posted by jonshapiro 09:21 Archived in Turkey Tagged landscapes mountains postcards Comments (2)

Ourika Valley and Setti Fatma

CHECK OUT BLOG ON MARRAKESH, WHICH ALSO DIDN'T SEND OUT A NOTIFICATION WHEN POSTED

After a rest day, we were ready to tackle a day trip to the mountains. We made our way to Bob er Bab on the outskirts of Marrakesh. Bob means door in Arabic, and apparently at some point there was a door in the old city not far from this point We were hoping to get a share-taxi with other people, but it quickly became evident that no one was headed to Ourika and so after some negotiation we agreed to a price of 400 Dirhams, about $50 US there and back. Not terrible, but then the middle man demanded another 50. It took about an hour to ge there through lovely foothills and villages to Setti Fatma, at the head of the valley.



Baby Camel and Ourika Valley Pots
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The road continues another five to ten Kilometers, but it becomes a four wheel drive dirt track. Imlil, jumping off point for Toubkal, 4167 Meters (almost 14,000 feet), is three days walk through the High Atlas.




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We considered trekking there, but it was still early in the year and there was too much snow. Setti Fatma is a touristy town, full of mostly empty tagine places serving mediocre and expensive food. It would have been better to stop at one of the many restaurants along the way. The surrounding countryside is quite impressive with soaring rocky and snowy peaks, small villages clinging to the sides of the steep mountains. A stream runs through the center of the valley creating good farmland . There are apple, cherry and walnut trees growing nearby. Various faux guides approached us wanting to take us to the cascades, about an hour's walk. Instead we continued on the dirt road out of town where small boys demanded, "d'argent," or "oro." There are few tourists here now. Although the sun was quite hot, it was enjoyable to walk along the narrow road with green pastures next to the river.



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Ibrahim, 17, soon showed up and advised us that one way continued up a trail to another village several hours away, and he then offered to take us to his village by the river and have tea, or he could also take us the the falls. Of course, he too was a faux guide, but less intrusive, and he spoke a bit of English. We asked him what was higher up on the road. "Nothing." "That's good," Nanette answered, and we continued walking up the steepening track. After a bit it became apparent that Ibrahim was still following us, though at a respectful distance. He caught up with us at a bend in the road after taking a short cut straight up. We were at a rocky outcrop with a view overlooking the entire valley.



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By now it was obvious that we weren't going to get rid of him so easily, but as he was informative and interesting, we decided not to try. He told us he was the oldest son and was off to school in a village several kilometers down the road. He was studying to be a teacher whereas the rest of his family were all farmers and lived in a village above the river. We started back down and followed him to the other side of the stream through some villages with high stone and adobe walls. Most people smiled and said "Bonjour." We then headed up to his village to meet his family. In the small cement house, he introduced us to his great grandmother who he said was 110 years old. Possible, but unlikely. We took pictures which they all wanted to see, possibly grannies first pic of herself. They offered us the ubiquitous mint tea which we declined due to time constraints, as we had promised our driver to be back by three. Just as well since the water might not have been boiled.



Great Grandma,Sister, Mother and Brothers,
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We headed back down to the river and across to Setti Fatma. These old villages are a world away despite the satellite tv's and cell phones, although no computers, at least not yet. We eventually caught up with our driver who drove us back in his grand taxi, a beat up old Mercedes. He dropped us off at the Koutoubia, the tall mosque in the center of town, and then demanded an extra 40 Dh for the privilege. An agreement about a price here, doesn't seem to mean all that much as people seem to find a way to add on another 10 or 20% on top of what you had settled on. I would probably opt to refuse, but Nanette doesn't like the tension so I went along despite feeling somewhat cheated. On the ride up, she stopped to purchase some argon, from what we were told was a woman's coop. Argon grows in the south of Morocco and is practically a magic tree. You can make cream, oil, and what has to be the world's most expensive peanut butter, from its fruit and seeds. We later heard from our trekking guide that most of these "cooperatives" are scams that exploit the women working there, but are good at luring in tourists.

We stopped for another tagine in Djamaa El Fna and watched the parade of humanity once again. Around eight, we met our driver who brought us back to Villa Akbar, a long but satisfying day.

The following morning we went back into the kasbah to cash some money. We were able to get some from an ATM machine, no problem, but then we noticed a bank around the corner and decided to cash another $500 worth of travelers checks. The exchange rate was 8.37 dh to the dollar and the female clerk handed Nanette a print out saying 4,137 dh, which was the right amount. She then counted the money in a very big hurry, and then we counted it and realized we were short a few hundred durhams. She then handed us some more money with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. We counted it again, still short 100. She counted it once more, and it was obvious that she was trying to confuse us by counting different denominations at the same time. We counted it a third time and were still short 100. With the greatest reluctance she handed it over with a sneer, as if to say, there, are you happy now. What incredible chutspah. I've ben taken in a number of places in different parts of the world, but never deliberately in a bank, and with no apology. As the Lonely Planet mentions, they must think we are all stupid, certainly fair game to try and cheat us. After all, what's a 100dh to us. About $12 US to be exact, but that's not the point. The Moroccan mentality, at least in Marrakesh, tourist capital of North Africa, seems to be to get what they can, any way they can. They are clearly used to foreigners here, and while they want our money, there is obvious resentment. I will not be sorry to leave the city and hope that Taroudant, our jumping off point for trekking, has a different vibe.

Posted by jonshapiro 06:40 Archived in Morocco Tagged postcards Comments (0)

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