Tag Archives: UNESCO

Part 1 – On the road to Northern Spain….Madrid to Infiesto

When I asked Riki to get together pictures from our trip to Spain this summer, he gave me a thumb drive per usual with some selected photos.  But since this thumb drive contained over 1300 photos from just the first week of our trip, it has taken me awhile to get this blog together.  That, and I’ve been busy learning German.  Our 17 day road trip around Spain with my parents began and ended in Madrid, and so will this blog.  However, it will be in 3 parts due to the enormous amount of pictures.

This part will cover our first week, up until the wedding in Infiesto.  The next will cover from Bilbao to Barcelona and the last will be the south; Granada, Cordoba and then back to Madrid, via Toledo.  The photos are organized in mosaics for space reasons – just click on a picture to make it larger.

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17 days, about 1800 miles/3000 kms give or take a few.

We met up with my parents at the Madrid airport, having flown from Zurich and they having flown from the US.  From there, we took the train to Atocha Train Station and walked to our rented apartment, which turned out to be tiny and  not air-conditioned, but very well located.

A master of all things free, I had researched the free hours of the Madrid art museums and we were able to visit the Reina Sophia, Thyssen Bornemisza and the Prado all for nothing.  As the master of good views, Riki had researched the Belles Artes building and we were able to get great views of downtown Madrid from the top, though not for free.

Our trip coincided with Gay Pride week so the city was decorated with rainbows and we witnessed a festive parade in one of the squares.  The rest of our two days in Madrid were spent enjoying the heat, wandering the lively streets, and eating.

Though we really enjoyed Madrid, I was anxious to get on the road and see the rest of the country.  We picked up our rental car, packed it to the gills with our luggage and headed about an hour outside of Madrid to Segovia, a UNESCO site and home to a 2nd century Roman aqueduct.  It also has an incredible Alcazar (fortress) that we climbed for nice views (another Riki find).  It was here that we first witnessed the huge white storks, which nest on the tops of trees and buildings.

After lunch, we got back in the car and headed to Ávila, another UNESCO site, about an hour away.  Ávila is known for its 12th c. walls and we walked over a kilometer of them and through the small city before getting back in the car.

From there, we drove about another hour to Salamanca, another UNESCO site, where we would spend two nights.  Salamanca is a university town and full of small walking streets, and the mandatory Plaza Mayor.  It is an incredibly beautiful city and we were lucky enough to have two charming friends here.  We ate delicious food and even bought 2 kilos of jamón ibérico, the maximum allowed to export to Switzerland.  If only we were allowed to take the whole leg.

Our next stop was León, which is known for its Gothic cathedral with incredible stained glass.  Since Riki didn’t actually go in the cathedral, I don’t have pictures, but I have an abundance of street art and graffiti shots he took while my mom and I toured the church.  We had lunch here and then continued onto our main destination, Infiesto, the wedding location.

So the whole point of this trip was to see my Spaniard get married in Infiesto, Asturias.  But Riki doesn’t have a single photo on his camera from the town or the event.  So I had to steal some from the phone.  Infiesto is a tiny place, set in an amazing location.  The wedding was great fun, with a great view, amazing food and definitely a worthy cause.

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Progress Art from our Asia Trip

So maybe you’ve been wondering what we’ve been up to.  Maybe not.

There were some setbacks for Riki as its not possible to buy many things in Switzerland that he uses for his art.  However, after much trial and error, and some importing thanks to family and friends in the States, he has found a combination that he likes enough and is now able to finish some of his pieces.  All are on wood that we found or were given, which was also a tough task, as there is no abundance of dumpsters here as there is in New Orleans.

Here are some of the latest pieces, mostly by Riki.  Most are incomplete, either lacking the final coat, or completely in progress.  Enjoy!

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An inverted bowl

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Coffee ground background

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Vietnamese propaganda

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Ink drawings – sorry for the low resolution
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The very beginnings of Thailand and Vietnam pieces

A melting pot….Malacca, Malaysia

It took us way more than the 7 hours we were told to get from Penang to Malacca. More like 10. But the seats were big and we had plenty of NPR podcasts. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the bus station, the last local bus had already left and we had to take a taxi to our hostel. We encountered one of the best run hostels on our trip. They thought of everything – library, large kitchen, lots of information provided, and even light breakfast (see Hotels List page for info). Such a contrast to the last few months.

Although it was late, we had been sitting all day on a bus and decided to check out the night market on Jonker St. It was completely packed with people and even had a stage set up for karaoke – a big draw apparently.

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Tea Time
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Really love their flashing lights here
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Karaoke stage
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Jonker St Weekend Night Market
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Crazy Frozen pedicabs
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….And at night. (Hello Kitty and any number of other kids character also made appearances)

Malacca, or Melaka is a UNESCO site with loads of historic buildings and diverse cuisine. So on our first day, we went to the movies. I know, classy, but it was raining. Pouring really. And first we stopped at the free Customs Museum – which was really just a collection of illegal items collected over the years – including bottles of ordinary alcohol and “pornographic” Bali statues (prudently clothed in scarves). Avengers 2 was showing, in English and we sat in a giant auditorium for a few hours waiting for the weather to clear. Much cheaper than the States, though the concessions selection was limited to caramel popcorn.

After, we walked in the stifling post-rain humidity up to St. Paul’s Hill, a Portuguese church with a Dutch graveyard. One thing that makes Malaysia so interesting is the combination of so many influences. There is a large number of Chinese descendents, as well as Indian, and even a smaller Portuguese population. Most importantly, of course, that means great food. We haven’t eaten so well in ages (besides Penang). Fried rice has been far too long our staple of choice. Now its naan and noodles.

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Finger food, and lots of it
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Contrast between giant shopping malls and old gate
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For some reason they painted a whole section of town brick red to “preserve it”
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St Pauls on the Hill
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On the hill
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St Pauls
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This photo is crooked, but so is this church.  It leans way right.

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We spent a lot of time just wandering around the small, colonial streets. The buildings have loads of character, which makes for great photos (and lots of them). We even visited a free architecture museum, which had wonderful models of different building styles and way more text than we could bring ourselves to absorb.

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Incense is probably my least favorite part of Asia, and these are massive!

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Big monitor lizard basking in a sliver of shade under the boardwalk

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Set back from the street but in rough shape
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Set back as well, but restored.  There were a few of these along tiny streets, which made for a cool contrast from the buildings that practically take over the sidewalk.

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Nice riverwalk
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Sound/Look familiar Texas people? Riki was messing with photo settings this night.

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We probably spent more time here than most people, but as I like to say, “all we have is time.” Though, it’s no longer true. We have a flight booked at the end of June to return to Europe, so our Asia trip is coming to an end.

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Cool floor patterns

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We then booked another bus across the country to Mersing, the gateway of Tioman Island, to meet up with some friends and spend a few days in the sun (or shade).

For the love of naan….George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Malaysia has figured out buses. Three seats across, almost fully reclining, AND no people sitting in the aisle. Yes, they are a bit more expensive. So that was our 6 hour journey from Kuala Lumpur to George Town, Malaysia. We listened to NPR podcasts and even managed to doze off. Did I mention the highways are smooth and not windy? Amazing.

George Town is located in Penang, on an island on the west coast of Malaysia. It is the second largest city in Malaysia and is a UNESCO World heritage site. And it has amazing food. It was founded in 1786 by a trader for the British East India Company and grew as a prominent trading post. Its historic center has small streets, many museums, and great architecture.

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Cool roofs
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Nice juxtaposition of buildings
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Remains of the old fort
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City Hall
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National Museum

Our first day, we ventured out in the rain and toured the National Museum, where we saw comparisons between the different cultures inhabiting the island. It is incredible how this country became mixture of Malays, Indians, Chinese and even Europeans. And they seem to get along pretty well, relatively.

We immediately discovered great food, not that it is hard in George Town. Tons of little stalls form around clusters of tables, for a variety of cheap eats all in one spot. We feasted mostly on Indian food, as their naan was really good, but also tried a fishy soup and pork dumplings.

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Street art
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More street art

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Chinese temple
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Making friends
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Steam buns proofing? on the sidewalk
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Making more friends

We took the public bus out to the Botanical Gardens one day. While it was great that the gardens were free, it was obvious why. None of the plant houses were open and the rainforest walk we did was a bit run down. We did see some monkeys and came across a startled monitor lizard. Having been told the bus would run every 45 minutes back to town, we were surprised to see it leaving 15 minutes ahead of when it should have, according to our first bus driver. Which meant we had to walk to another bus stop. And this is where Malaysia is steps ahead of the countries we have visited. We pulled out the smart phone, found the bus’s website, complete with map, and walked 20 minutes to another bus route. Like I said in the last post, its like being back in civilization. You don’t get the local interaction though, pantomiming with some nice guy to figure out another way home (which is something we’ve gotten good at).

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Iguanadon / Monitor Lizard
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Orchid
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Monkey walking upright
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Hold me!

We made it back fine, and ate at our new favorite Indian place – we went every day and I got the same thing, despite trying to order something else. Except the last day, when they miraculously had the Tikka Masala I had been asking for all week.

BAG UPDATE: Christmas hit again, and I retired my $20 Saigon knockoff backpack for a slightly smaller, higher quality $60 no-name one. My former bag had lost some buckles and the attachments for the back straps were slowly but surely breaking one by one. I removed my New Orleans patch and emptied the various pockets, finding a few forgotten items in the process. Riki’s 30 year old bag still presses on. Lowe Alpine should hire us for a commercial.

On our last day, we took the public bus about an hour out to Penang National Park. It was muggy and extremely hot, but we trekked about 2 hours across the park to see the turtle sanctuary. There were loads of newborn turtles and three older, white skinned ones. It was cool to see them so close, but a bit strange as they were captive. Not at all like seeing them while diving in the wild. But knowing they would be released when large enough helped. Only about 1 in 1,000 baby turtles here make it to maturity, which is anywhere from 20-50 years. Many don’t even make it off the shore. So helping them out until they are a bit bigger seems like a good alternative. Even though they have to live in a blue plastic wading pool for awhile.

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White skinned turtle
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Couple days old turtle

We trekked back and came across a couple of monkeys and a few monitor lizards (formerly known as Iguanadons). We took the air-conditioned bus back to town, which felt good to start, but we were so sweaty that we were shivering by the time we reached George Town.

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Beach monkey
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Bigger iguanadon / monitor lizard

Riki was able to get some night shots in George Town, despite the erratic rain. Its a very picturesque place, so if it hadn’t rained so much, there would be more than the 500+ pictures we now have.

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Prayer flags & Temples…Kathmandu (again)

Back to Kathmandu to meet up with my parents and friends.  Nepal wasn’t on our original itinerary, but we are very glad we came and have had a great time with my parents – at least I did – and Riki would never say otherwise 🙂

The old folks (permission granted for use of this term) arrived a bit late due to some craziness in Doha, but we waited patiently at the hotel with some Gorkhas, our new favorite Nepali beer. We were then invited to an excellent dinner with an American/Irish family who has lived in Nepal for almost 30 years. They gave us a nice run down of how things work and the itinerary for the rest of the days in Nepal. The first morning in Kathmandu, we walked for about two hours, ending up in Thamel, the main tourist area. It isn’t terribly far from where we stayed, but there are no sidewalks and the roads are mostly dirt and not labeled on maps or signs. The taxis are pretty cheap, but you have to haggle, because the starting price is never what it should cost, like all things here. I don’t enjoy haggling, but I have been put in charge of arranging taxis because apparently I am good at it. I have no problem arguing over the rupee equivalent of $1, mostly because I know a Nepali would still be charged half as much as I am charged. And you can’t trust the meters because many of them have been altered to charge more than they should. Its a bizarre system. Everything is negotiable, except when its not.

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We spent the afternoon in Patan’s Durbar Square, one of the oldest known Buddhist cities.  Lots of brick buildings with cool wood windows. It is a UNESCO site and has many small streets and alleys. We ate a rooftop dinner with fried crunchy sizzling mo:mos (yes that is properly spelled). They are usually just like steamed dumplings and come in veg, chicken or buff (the menus verbatim).

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The next day we went to Baktipur, a large old capital from the 1700s mostly. It is also a UNESCO site, but cars are not allowed on many streets, so it is a nice change from the chaos of the rest of the city. They also have a Durbar Square.  It is rice harvesting time and the women have loads of rice spread out on tarps on every available flat space. They constantly rake it flat and then pile it up in order to dry it, all day. Then they pile it back up, cover it and do the same the next day.

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Our third day, we went shopping. My parents are taking a suitcase back home for us, so for the first time, we are able to buy things! But we didn’t this day. We just looked. We went to a Tibetan handicraft center and watched women sit in dingy rooms knotting rugs on giant looms. There were some great patterns, but it did not look like fun. That afternoon, we took a short tour of a school and an intro to Nepali class. We can now say thank you, left, right, straight and water pretty well. Oh, and tasty. Luckily, many people speak English. We also met with two contacts of Riki’s family, one in a development organization and one who is a former ambassador. Both offered great insight on their country. Feeling adventurous, we stopped at the New Orleans Cafe for dinner. My dad ordered the New Orleans Chicken Basket (fried chicken with french fries) and another travel companion ordered Jambalaya (I didn’t try it, but it looked like rice with chicken in a reddish-brown sauce). Those were the only New Orleans referenced dishes, not counting the New Orleans cocktail (vodka with some type of juice). Riki had the Mongolian BBQ. I think I had curry. No Abita, and no discount for New Orleanians. We even tried to show them Riki’s driver’s license. No luck.

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The next three days we had free while the old folks helped at a local school with activities and then painting. We wandered back to Patan on foot and did a little shopping. We managed to find our way back, despite there being no road signs and the maps are generally terrible. We had dinner in Thamel at a lively place called Friends Restaurant where we were entertained by some local instruments. Our third and final Durbar Square trip was in the center of Kathmandu. It was not as impressive as Baktipur, but had a lot more people (and pigeons). There is a great courtyard where the “living goddess” stays (and sometimes appears). She doesn’t walk outside of her quarters. She is carried by others. Once she reaches puberty, she is replaced by a younger girl. On our way to Thamel we stopped in a secluded Stupa square, surrounded by little art shops and some crafts stores. Riki disappeared for awhile to look at Thanka paintings and I was granted use of the camera to stalk an adorable small girl.

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Best picture of the day, in my opinion. Having been in about a hundred stores selling Thanka (a form of art very common here that shows the path to nirvana mostly and lots of Buddhas), I was glad Riki had finally found one he liked enough to buy that day. We then walked to the Garden of Dreams. It is a tranquil walled space in the midst of loads of traffic and honking.

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Waiting patiently while Riki takes pictures (of pigeons)

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Saturday we met up with another Nepali connection, this time an artist from a remote area in the mountains. He showed us his gallery set right next to a large stupa, Boudhanath (another UNESCO site). He was then gracious enough to take us 10 minutes walking to his studio so we could see some work in progress. His work is unlike anything else we have seen in Nepal, full of movement and expression. Most paintings we’ve seen are sedentary Buddhas. We learned alot about his village and his personal goals to educate its people. It takes over a week to reach his village, it is so remote. From there we walked about 30 minutes to Pashupatinath. This is another UNESCO site, where many cremations occur on the ghats. We came in from above and could smell the burning very well. It was a bit disconcerting to see the ashes flying all around and think about what was burning below. It is all done out in the open and then the ashes are scattered in the river. We saw tons of monkeys on our way here and all over the buildings.

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Waiting patiently while Riki takes pictures

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Our last day before flying to Pokhara was spent painting at a local school just outside Kathmandu. We joined the old folks and rolled walls all day. The school is for very young children of migrant workers, who would otherwise have no one to watch them or have to go to work with their parents. The building is a large house, so the classrooms are just the bedrooms and must be very crowded when filled with a dozen 6 year olds. There was a bit of drama as the quality of the materials was not exactly up to par with what we are used to (wobbly ladders, deteriorating brushes, watered down paint – all brand new), but we made do with what we could buy and were able to get most of the house painted.