Uluwatu – Bali, Indonesia

Today we woke up fairly early (6am), since we had gone to bed so early the night before. We got ready and walked to a nearby coffee shop called Refresh. I had a breakfast wrap and a chai latte, and Julie had an oatmeal bowl and a chai latte. The coffee shop had a cute dog named Coco, who constantly wanted to be played with.

After breakfast we rented a scooter from our hotel , a Honda Scoopy for $7/day, to go exploring for the day. We made our way towards Karang Boma Cliff, but had to stop and get some gasoline before continuing on our way. Gasoline on the island isn’t typically obtained at gas stations, but rather from 750ml booze bottles from people’s houses, since they are few and far between. The gas is green / blue in colour and smells distinctly different than it does at home, since it is much less refined. At home gasoline can’t contain more than 10 ppm of sulphur, and minimal amounts of benzene, but in Indonesia it contains 500 ppm of sulphur, and very high percentages of benzene. It gives it a very sweet smell, but the exhaust fumes are pretty overwhelming when stuck in traffic.

After obtaining gas we drove to Karang Boma Cliff, which involved a few kilometres of driving on a very rocky and bumpy gravel road. When we arrived a local lady showed up about 30 seconds later on her scooter and charged us about $1 to park our scooter there. She also had a wide variety of drinks for sale, so we purchased a Coke Zero for about $0.80. Karang Boma Cliff was absolutely stunning, and I even threw up my drone for a bit, but it was fairly windy, and I was exceeding the maximum winds it could handle for the majority of the time. At the cliff we met this lovely young lady from California, and her photographer friend who lives in Malaysia. We chatted for a bit before continuing on with our adventures.

Next stop was Uluwatu Temple, a Hindu temple sitting on top of a 70 metre (230 foot) cliff overlooking the ocean. The temple was established in the 11th Century, and has been expanded a few times since. The temple is inhabited by over 500 Macaque monkeys, who are notorious for stealing visitor belongings. In fact, while we were there someone’s cellphone got stolen 30 seconds before we arrived. A fun fact is that Scientist and experts on primate behavior have conducted studies on the Macaque monkeys in the area and have concluded that these monkeys are quick to learn bartering behavior, and pass it down to their young offspring.

Upon leaving the temple I noticed that the front tire on the scooter that we rented was quite flat, so I asked some locals where the nearest spot was to get it fixed. It was about 3km away, so I drove there slowly to get it topped up with air for $0.10. Apparently this Honda Scoopy scooters use innertubes inside of the tire, and the bouncing around on the bumpy gravel road early on this morning let the majority of the air go. After topping it up, it didn’t give us any grief for the rest of the day.

After topping the tire up with air we went for lunch at Nourish Cafe & Pizzeria. I had a Truffle Cheese Pizza, and Julie had a Falafel Bowl. Following lunch we picked up our laundry that we had dropped off yesterday, and went back to the hotel to relax for a bit.

In the evening we rode to Suluban Beach to watch the sunset. There was roughly 200 steps down to the beach, which wasn’t a problem on the way down, but gosh it was brutal walking back up in the sweltering head. Afterwards we went back to Uluwatu Temple, and watched a traditional Balinese Fire Dance, which lasted about an hour.

Following the Fire Dance we stopped in at Loca Warung for dinner. I had a salad, and Julie had some crispy vegetable rolls. After dinner we went back to the hotel, dropped off the scooter, and crawled in for the night.

Portugal – Day 6 – Sintra & Cascais

Today I explored the beautiful areas of Sintra and Cascais. I had a delicious breakfast at the buffet at my Myriad hotel. It was one of the best buffet breakfasts I’ve ever had. After having breakfast I checked out of the hotel, and took the metro to pickup my rental car, Citroen 308. I quite enjoyed driving it, because I love driving manual transmission, and it had a square steering wheel, which was super comfortable to drive. I wish more cars took real world ergonomics into consideration. Most people drive with a hand at the 12 o’clock position, so having a square steering wheel is nice.

I set off towards Sintra area, with a quick stop at a gas station for a coffee. The drive took about 30 minutes, and had a bit of congestion for 5 minutes or so. First stop was the Palace of Sintra. The Palace of Sintra, also known was the Town Palace is one of the best preserved medieval royal residences in Portgual. It was utilized as a royal residence from the 15th to 19th century, before becoming a museum. It is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace is a blend of Gothic, Manueline, Moorish, and Mudejar architecture styles, due to the extensive time period the building was built over. The oldest surviving part of the palace is the chapel, which was built during the reign of King Dinis I around 1281. The palace chapel has a tiled floor with tiles in the apse laid to resemble a carpel. The walls are painting in patterned square that look like tiles, and depict the Holy Ghost descending in the form of a dove. The ceiling is constructed of wood and is decorated in geometrically patterned latticework. In the late 14th century, Portugal was conquering strategic areas in North Africa, and the Iberian Peninsula, and established central trade routes. With this massive infusion of wealth, King John I ordered the large-scale Palace of Sintra project to be built. Most of the current day palace dates back to the era when King John I ruled. The most noticeable features are the twin chimney towers, that can be seen from miles away. The rooms surround the central courtyard are also from this period. The Arab Room is covered in elaborate motifs and blue ceramic tile work. The Swans Room’s ceiling is covered in painted swans. The Magpies room has 136 painted magpies holding a rose and scroll with the words Por Bem (For the good). 100 years passed, and King Manuel I made some additions to the palace, which included the Coat of Arms Room, a room with a hexagonal roof with paints of deer and the coats of arms of 72 noble families. This also saw the transition from Gothic to Renaissance art styles. In 1755 the palace suffered damage during the Lisbon Earthquake, however was quickly restored. The Palace of Sintra remained in use by the royal family until 1880. In 1910 the palace became a national monument. In the 1940’s the palace underwent major restoration.

After exploring the Palace of Sintra I walked about 45 minutes uphill to the Castle of the Moors. The Castle of the Moors is a hilltop medieval castle located in Sintra, about 25 km Northwest of Lisbon. It was built by the Moors in the 8th and 9th centuries. It is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle was constructed on an exposed rocky outcrop, which provided the Moors a strategic view along the coastline and surrounding lands. In 1147 Christian Crusaders stormed the castle and became rulers. The castle was left for ruins and was eventually overtaken by dense forests. In the 1800’s King Ferdinand II was mesmerized by the natural and serene setting of the castle ruins, and ordered the site to be restored. It was partially restored.

Further along the uphill path is the Palace of Pena. After another 30 minutes of walking I arrived at the Palace. Park and National Palace of Pena. The Pena Palace is a Romanticist castle located on the top of a hill in the Sintra mountains above Sintra. It was completed in 1854, and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 1995. The castle’s history starts back in the middle ages when a chapel dedicated to “Our Lady of Pena” was built on top of the hill above Sintra. In the 18th century the monastery was severely damage by lightning, and the following Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 essentially reduced the monastery to ruins. The chapel somehow escaped significant damage. The ruins remained untouched until King Ferdinand II decided to acquire the old monastery, and surround lings, including the Castle of the Moors. He transformed the monastery into a palace that would serve as a summer residence of the Portuguese Royal Family. The current Romanesque style building was constructed between 1842 and 1854. It would have been completed sooner, however King Ferdinand and his wife Queen Mari II decided to make some extensive changes in 1847. After the death of Ferdinand the palace was passed onto his second wife Elisa Hensler, Countess of Edla, who then sold the palace to King Luis. In 1889 it was purchased by the Portuguese State, and after the Republican Revolution of 1910 it was classified as a national monument and transformed into a museum.

After a 1.25 hour walk back to the car I drove towards the coast and checked out a few areas, including a few beaches, a lighthouse, and an abandoned hotel.

Last stop before returning the rental car was Cascais. This is a beautiful small city on the coast.

The Condes de Castro Guimarães Museum, originally known was Sebastian’s Tower, was built in 1900 for Jorge O’ Neil, an aristocrat who owned many businesses. It became a museum in 1931. This beautiful building has neo-gothic and Revivalist architecture styles.

Palacio Seixas is a small two-storey neoclassical palace that was built in 1900 on behalf of Carmen Graziella Castilla da Rocha. In 1907 Carlos Seixas, an industrialist, purchased the house. In 1997 Instituto Camões purchased the house.

Casa das Historias Paula Rego is a very unique museum in Cascais. The building was designed by Souto De Moura, who was chosen by Paula Rego. The building consists of two pyramid-shaped towers, and red-cloured concrete. The building consists of four wings of different heights and sizes, a large exhibition space, a 200 seat auditorium, a shop, and a café.

The Citadel of Cascais is a set of fortifications that were built between the 15th and 17th centuries to defend the Cascais coastline against attacks on Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. The citadel consists of Santo António de Cascais, the Fortress of Our Lady of Light (Nossa Senhora da Luz de Cascais), and the former Royal Palace area. In 1488 a fort, known as the Torre de Santo António de Cascais, was built to provide resistance on possible military attacks on Lisbon. In 1594 the fort of Nossa Senhora da Luz de Cascais, designed by Italian Captain Fratino, was ordered to be built by Philip I. The fortress continued to undergo upgrades until 1755, when it was significantly damaged by the Lisbon Earthquake.

Casa de Santa Maria was a luxury private residence in Cascais. It was built in 1902 for Jorge O’ Neil, an aristocrat who owned many businesses. He originally built what is now the Condes de Castro Guimarães Museum, and later on commissioned this building as a wedding present for his daughter. Raul Lino designed the building, which was built by materials only found within Portugal. In 1914 the building was sold to engineer Jose Lino Junior, who was the older brother of Raul Lino. He expanded the building by adding parts at each end, with the architecture being designed by Raul Lino. In 1934 the house was acquired by the Espirito Santo family. In 2004 the building was acquired by the Cascais Municipality.

Santa Marta Beach is a beautiful small cove with a sandy beach located behind the Marina in Cascais. The views here are simply incredible!

The Santa Marta Lighthouse was built in 1868 on the site of Santa Marta to provide light for navigation of ships. It originally had a fixed red light, given by a dioptric lens. It was later replaced by a fixed-light catadioptric system in 1908. In 1936 the tower height was increased by 8 metres, due to new buildings in the area that were impeding existing light. In 1949 a foghorn was installed. In 1953 the lamp was electrified, and even included a backup system. In 1964 a generator was installed. In 1981 the lighthouse was modified. Further upgrades occurred in 2000.

Be sure to check back tomorrow, as I explore more of Lisbon.

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Portugal – Day 2 – Porto

Today I slept in until about 9:30am. I had a delicious breakfast waiting for me downstairs, which was also very nicely presented. It had everything you could possibly want ranging from yogurt, granola, pancakes, fruit, cheese, buns. a croissant, orange juice, milk (which I didn’t drink), and coffee. After breakfast I started out on my adventures for the day

Hotel Vincci Porto is an absolutely stunning Art Deco (Modernist) hotel built in 1933. It was designed by Januario Godinho and Jose Carlos Cruz. The hotel features 91 rooms, including 4 suites, and a 4-storey restaurant. I will be staying here in a few days, just for one night.

The Porto Tram Museum, which is located right next door to Hotel Vincci Porto, opened in 1992. It is located at a former Massarelos Power Plant along the Douro River. The collection contains 16 electric cars, 5 trailers, two maintenance vehicles, and the former equipment of the power plant. The power plant was opened in 1915, and served the city of Porto for 45 years. From 1915 until the 1440s the power station produced enough electricity to power Porto’s tram network, however due to the increase in the number of trams the power supply was insufficient and became partially dependent on the city’s power supply, and in the 1960’s energy production ceased, although it remained a substation for three tram lines until the tram museum was opened in 1992. Later on in the day I got to ride on one of the history tram cars.

Arrábida Bridge is a 500 metres long reinforced concrete arch bridge spanning across the Douro River between Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. It was constructed between 1957 and 1963. At the time of its construction, its main 270 metre span was the largest of any concrete-arch bridge in the world. The building is now a protected historical item, and must be maintained. In 2016 some modifications were done to the bridge to allow pedestrians to walk across the archway, dubbed the Porto Bridge Climb.

Farolim de Felgueiras is a 19th century hexagonal lighthouse located on the Douro River. It is 10 metres tall and is constructed of granite. The views of the waves splashing again the walls is beautiful.

The Fort of São Francisco do Queijo, also known as the Castle of Cheese, is a fortification sitting on the coast. It was built in the 15th century, and is a fairly simplistic design. It was built on top of a structure that likely dated back to the 6th century. It’s suggested that the reason that it was built was to defend against the Armada of Galicia.

The Vodafone Headquarters is a unique modern building that has some brutalism components conveyed in its design. Designed by Barbosa & Guimaraes, and built in 2008, this beautiful concrete building has a dynamic modern twist to it. The concrete building has a bunch of free-form unique shapes. Internally the building is quite unique as it is essentially a shell of concrete with only three central pillars and two stairwells.

The Serralves Contemporary Art Museum is a great example of contemporary architecture, Modernism, and Art Deco architecture. The museum, built in 1999, was designed by Alvaro Siza Vieira. It is the second most visited museum in Portugal, with over 1 million visitors annually. There was a lot of audible art there, and it was fun to listen to. On site is Casa de Serralves, a beautiful Art Deco villa that was built between 1925 and 1944. The building is actually three different styles combined; neoclassical, romantic, and art deco. While I was here I had a smoked salmon wrap at the cafeteria.

Casa da Musica is a 1300-seat concert hall that was opened in 2005. The building, designed by Rem Koolhaas, is nine-storeys high and is constructed of concrete, marble and glass. It is the only concert hall in the world with two walls constructed entirely of glass.

The Super Bock Arena is a unique arena built between 1951 and 1952. This Avant Garde style arena  Designed by Jose Carlos Loureiro, it was finally opened in 1954. Between 2018 and 2019 it was fully renovated, bringing its capacity to 8000 people.

Museu Da Cicade (Casa Guerra Junqueiro) is a museum / residence of Guerra Junqueiro. This beautiful baroque style building was built between 1730 and 1746 for Domingos Barbosa, a magisterial deacon of the Se Cathedral of Porto. After his death, the house became the property was passed along numerous times to other family members before the home was donated in 1940 to the city of Porto, alongside the collection of over 600 works of art of Guerra Jungqueiro.

The Clerics complex consists of a Tower, Museum, and a Church. The church and tower are part of a baroque style building that was built between 1754 and 1763. It was designed by Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni. The tower is 75 metres tall, and after climbing 225 steps you are presented with a beautiful view of the city below. The museum is located in the House of the Brotherhood, which was built between 1754 and 1758. The museum allows you to explore the private spaces that were once part of the daily life of the Brotherhood of the Clerics. There’s a Dispatch Room, Safe Room, Registry, Infirmary, and a large collection of historical paintings, furniture, and jewelry.

The Livraria Lello Book Store is an absolutely beautiful bookstore that has been open since 1906. The building was designed by Francisco Xavier Esteves. This bookstore became one of the leading importers and exporters of literature in Portugal during 1920 to 1950. In 1993 the bookstore was renovated and restored. There’s a beautiful staircase going up to the second floor, that splits into two in the middle. It’s adorned by beautiful red steps. This was actually a mistake, because the original steps were brown, but during the restoration it was painted red. It was decided that it would stay that way, and all I can say is that it looks simply stunning. In 2013 the building received its designation as a heritage site. The building once again underwent restoration in 2018. This bookstore was featured as Harry Potter’s library in Hogwarts. Did you know that J.K. Rowling lived in Porto teaching English in the early 1990’s?

The Cunhas Warehouses are housed in a stunning Art Deco style building that was designed by Manuel Marques, Amoroso Lopes, and Coelho Freitas. Technically this building consists of three buildings with a single Art Deco facade. The main feature of the facade is the open feathered peacock displyed prominently in the middle. The building was finished in 1917.

Igreja do Carmo, also known as the Church of Our Lady of Carmo, is a Baroque style catholic church that was was opened in 1768.

Eurostars Aliados is a five-star 149 room hotel that occupies an old Art Deco style building on Avenida dos Aliados.

Farmacia Vitalia is a pharmacy located in a stunning Beaux Arts (Arc Deco) style building that was built in 1933. The building features a very distinctive facade, and was designed by architects Amoroso Lops and Manuel Lopes.

For dinner I had Francesinha at a restaurant called O Bacalhau Em Prato. Francesinha is a Portuguese sandwich that originated from Porto. The name translates into “Little French Girl”. The sandwich usually contains beef and chorizo, and then its covered in cheese and sauce. While it was tasty, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting texture wise, and of course it was quite rich.

Be sure to check back soon, when I explore more of Porto tomorrow.

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Alaska – Part 1 of 2

This week I had the privilege of being able to travel to the wonderful state of Alaska. It’s currently off-season so prices were fairly reasonable. Before I dive into my trip lets explore a brief history of Alaska.

Alaska was occupied by various indigenous people for thousands of years before the Russians arrived in the 18th century, eventually establishing the Russian America. In 1867 the United States purchased the land for $7.2 million. It was officially admitted as the 49th U.S. State in 1959. Over two dozen native languages are spoken in Alaska. Another fun fact is that Alaska’s per capita income is one of the highest in the entirety of the United States, due to its diversified economy, which includes fishing, natural gas, oil, and tourism.

Tuesday September 28th 2021

My trip started out in Calgary on Tuesday September 28th 2021 at 2pm. I flew with Delta Airlines on an Airbus A319 to Minneapolis, had a 40 minute layover, and then flew on a Boeing 757-200 to Anchorage.

After arriving at Anchorage airport I went and picked up my rental vehicle from Budget Rental Cars. I was given a 2021 Dodge Ram Bighorn. When I was exiting the parking lot I noticed a sign that said “No Liability for Damage Incurred Beyond This Point”, which I have not noticed before at a rental car facilities, although I may just not have been that observant in the past. Within 10 seconds I realized why that sign was there, as the exit was 3 floors below a very tight curved ramp, that I had to make multiple 3 point turns on just to get around the bend due to the long turning radius of the truck. You could see scrapes all up and down the walls of the ramp from others; hence the need for the sign.

The drive to my hotel, the Best Western Lake Lucille Inn, was about an hours drive away. On my way I stopped at Walmart to try to find Bear Spray, however they were out. While I was at the Walmart I picked up some cheese, pepperoni, and crackers for lunch for the following day.

Upon arriving at the hotel there was nobody there to give me a keycard. I searched all around the hotel, however couldn’t find a staff member. About 15 minutes later she emerged from a hotel room, all hot and bothered, so god knows what was going on in there. She gave me the keys to my room, and I went and quickly showered before heading to bed, as it was quite late.

Wednesday September 29th 2021

The next day I woke up around 7am, got dressed, and went downstairs for a hot complimentary breakfast, which included sausages, potatoe wedges, and an omelet. It was acceptable for a hotel breakfast.

After having breakfast I had an hour phone call with a customer before checking out. After checking out I walked out on the dock and took a view across the lake. The lake was very calm, and the sky was beautiful. You could see the mountains in the background. What a peaceful place to stay; it’s too bad I didn’t have more time to enjoy it.

I hopped in the truck and headed towards my first stop; Hatcher Pass. It’s a long windy steep road to the top. At the top it was blocked off for the season already, as it had already snowed a fair amount just a few miles ahead. I stopped the truck and took a few photos. What a neat area!

Next stop was Matanuska Glacier View, although I made a few stops along the way to take pictures of the scenery along the Matanuska River.

Matanuska Glacier is the largest glacier in the United States that is accessible by car; spanning 27 miles (43 kilometres) long and 4 miles (6.4 kilometres) wide. The glacier moves over 1 foot per day, and feeds the Matanuska River.

I continued to drive east towards Glennallen, where I filled up with fuel, and purchased a coffee, before turning North towards Castner Glacier Ice Cave. On the drive North I took a couple of really pretty shots of the Wrangell Mountains to the east.

After a couple hours driving North I arrived at the Castner Glacier Ice Cave trailhead. The last 10 minutes of the drive was quite slippery, so I had to slow my pace a fair amount.

The hike to the cave was about 25 minutes. The trail had about 4 inchs of snow off to the side, but the trail itself was quick packed. It was mostly flat, with a few hills, one which I accidentally slipped and fell on my back, which caused me to wind myself for a bit. I heard a crack when I feel, but I felt okay besides being winded.

The cave was certainly stunning. I would say the cave is atleast 200 metres deep. Inside you’re surrounded by 360 degree views of turquoise blue ice with rocks and air bubbles embedded inside.

After enjoying some time at the cave taking pictures I head back towards the truck, and was much more careful on the hilly sections, as I didn’t want to fall again.

Next stop was my cabin located near Cantwell, about a 3 hour drive away. This involved a very unique journey along the Old Denali Highway (Highway 8). The highway was first opened in 1957, and was teh first road to offer access to Denali National Park. The Denali Highway is 135 miles (217 kilometres) in length, and is mostly unpaved, and has a lot of washboarded. The recommended speed limit is only 30 mph (48 km/h), however I was honestly able to do about 45 mph (72 kp/h) because a foot of snow had recently fell along the majority of the highway, which helped fill in the washboarding. The first 21 miles (34km) are paved, and I was able to maintain 65 mph (105 kph), however when I started running into the snow I slowed down to 45 mph (72 kp/h). The views along the road were simply stunning, and I had it all to myself. There was only one other person I ran into along the highway. I’m extremely glad that I had my truck for this trip, as I don’t even think an SUV would have been able to make it through with the wintery conditions. During the summer I think a mid-size SUV could make it, however I would be hesitant to take a car on it, although I know of someone with a 1967 Mustang who completed the journey, albeit at less than 20 mph (30 kp/h). Winter travel is severly discouraged, and many people have lost their lives on this road in winter.

Before checking into my cabin I stopped at a nearby truck stop to fuel up, and have a quick shower. I was quite impressed with the quality of the facilities, and the shower was only $5!

My cabin was a cozy 8 foot by 10 foot wood structure that featured a small kitchen, propane stove, wood stove, and a shower. There was an outhouse outside. I should have had access to the shower and electricity, however the previous tenant made a mistake and had left early, as well as shut off the propane stove, so the water pipes burst, which also took out the power supply. It was okay, as my host offered me a 10% refund of what I paid, and I survived just fine. While at the cabin I had quite a bit of work to catch up on, so I tethered my phone to my laptop and worked for a few hours, before calling it a night.

Thursday September 30th 2021

I slept very well, and found the bed quite comfortable. Today I had a lazy start to my day, as it was a much more relaxed day, with less driving. I woke up around 830am, made some coffee and oatmeal, which were both provided at the cabin. I left the cabin at around 9am.

First stop was Hurricane Gulch Bridge, a steel arch bridge spanning nearly 500 feet long, and 254 feet anove Hurricane Creek. There’s also an identically named railroad bridge that is more than 900 feet long, and 296 feet above Hurricane Creek. That particular bridge is the longest and tallest on the entire Alaska Railroad, and for 8 years was the largest bridge in the United States, before being surpassed.

Next stop was the North Denali Overlook, where I took a few pictures, and had a 1 hour work meeting over MS Teams.

After my meeting I drove to South Denali Overlook. All I can say is WOW! This spot offers spectacular views of the three tallest peaks in Denali, and today was such a stunningly clear day.

After taking in the views of South Denali Overlook I drove to West Rib Pub & Grill in Talkeetna. I had a delicious caribou burger and battered fried, as well as a few beers. During my lunch I chatted with a young couple named Kim and Sean, both of whom are pilots and had just moved here from Maine. They were a really kind couple and we chatted for probably over an hour.

Next up was the primary reason why i came to Alaska; a flight over Denali National Park. I chose to fly with K2 Aviation on a DHC-3T Turbo Otter, that was retrofitted with a PT6 gas-turbine. Our plane was built in 1961 and had 18913 flight hours. These planes are the workhorses of the North!

The flight lasted 2 hours, flying over the Talkeetna River, around the Denali’s, and featured a landing on Ruth Glacier.

Following the amazing scenic flight I grabbed a bite to eat from Denali Brewpub. My server Matty recommended that i have a pretzel ribeye sandwich with provelone. Oh my gosh was it amazing. I chased it with a really nice sour beer, which I’m becoming more of a fan of these days.

Following dinner it was time to start the 2.5 hour trip back to the cabin. During my drive I chatted on the phone with a few people, which helped make the trip go by faster. I arrived back at the cabin around 830pm.

Tonight was forecasted to have an Aurora, and Lady Aurora certainly didn’t disappoint. She showed herself in her full glory, peaking at a KP5. I watched her for a few hours before heading to bed at around midnight.

Be sure to check soon, as part 2 of this series will release soon!

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Vietnam – Day 11 – Ha Long Bay

Today I woke up at 6:00am. I showered and got ready to start the day. Breakfast was at 6:45am and was a delicious buffet with a large variety of food, including hot cooked eggs, omelets, etc. After breakfast we took a smaller boat to Sung Sot cave, which can hold over 1000 people in it at the same time. It was absolutely breathtaking, even bigger than the caves that I’ve seen in New Zealand, and the United States.

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After visiting the caves everyone gathered around for some cooking lessons, but I found them mediocre compared to the cooking class that I took a few days ago in Ha Noi. I was given a few hours to relax before the ship docked at noon.

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Checkout was noon and the tour bus took everyone back the same way we came, again stopping at a similar expensive touristy spot half way back to Hanoi. I was dropped off at my hotel at around 4:30pm. I was again staying in a different hotel in Hanoi, this one was called La Belle Vie Hotel, a rather luxurious hotel which I received for free from hotels.com. Every 10 hotels I stay at I end up getting one free for the blended average price of the last 10. You can also get sponsored by hotels to review them and leave a good opinion if you are crafty enough with your social media skills on Instagram.

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I relaxed by the pool for the rest of the afternoon before taking a 30000 Dong (1.85 CDN) GRAB back to the to the very famous Bun Cha Huong Lien Obama, where former US President Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate on May 23rd 2016, where I ate a few nights ago when I was in Hanoi.

After eating I decided to walk back to my hotel which took about 45 minutes or so. I stayed up and edited photos before heading to bed at 10:00pm.

Check back tomorrow when I relax and spend time in Hanoi before taking a flight to Siam Reap, Cambodia.

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Vietnam – Day 10 – Ha Long Bay

Today I woke up at 6:00am. Breakfast was a rather mediocre buffet, and a few hot dishes. I had an omelet. The tour bus for Ha Long Bay picked me up at 8:30am. I choose a semi luxury 2 day option operated by A Class Cruises for about $160 USD ($210 CDN). About half way through the 4 hour drive we stopped for a bathroom break at a very overpriced tourist stop. They put a chain around your neck with a number and record how much you spend and then the workers get a kickback. I found that really annoying. The bus finally arrived in Ha Long Bay at around noon. Throughout the bus ride I was talking with a really nice couple named Danny and Sara, who are both photographers that live part time in Australia and part time in Canada. They’re absolutely adorable together.

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We immediately boarded our boat; Stellar and were greeted with a welcome drink before heading upstairs to the dining room to be briefed on the next two days, discuss safety items, and to get room keys. After obtaining my room key I went to my room to drop off my bags and clean up a bit. The room was small and smelled a bit musty, but the bed was comfortable. The bathroom even had a nice rainfall shower.

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First activity for the day was Kayaking through Luon Tunnel and spending an hour chilling out in the Kayak. This was very peaceful and relaxing. I even saw some monkeys!

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Then the tour guide took us over to an island where we all went to an outlook that you could gaze into Ha Long Bay, and then we went swimming in the ocean and hung out on the beach for an hour or so.

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It was now dinner time so we were taken back to our boat and had dinner. I called it family dinner because it was Sara and Danny, myself, and a French couple that hit it off together and hung out for the rest of the trip.

After dinner many people went upstairs to the sundeck to watch the sunset, myself included. After sunset people Sara and Danny decided to go squid fishing, but didn’t have much luck. I had a drink and talked with them while watching them for a bit before heading to bed, as I was exhausted from waking up early the entire trip.

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Check back tomorrow when I continue on my Ha Long Bay boat tour and explore a massive cave that can hold over 1000 people inside of it at the same time!

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August 30th 2016 – New Zealand Day 10

Today I had a lazy start to my day. I woke up at around 8:00am. I made myself a home made egg McMuffin style sandwich, and a coffee before hitting the road. My first stop was Pukaha Mount Bruce, a wildlife and bird sanctuary that help to reintroduce and repopulate endangered species, such as the Kiwi, into a protected environment. I saw over two dozen birds, as well as Kiwi’s, including a rare white Kiwi. Their day’s are reversed so that we can see them (sort of), but my camera was unable to capture them very well. They are under an infrared light so I had to convert the images to black and white, and it was nearly pitch black and flash photography was not allowed.

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I spent a few hours walking around the wildlife sanctuary before heading on to my next stop, Castlepoint Lighthouse. The cast iron lighthouse was built in 1913, and originally used oil and a wick and needed to be manned continuously. As technology evolved the lighthouse was converted to run a 1000 watt bulb off of a diesel generator in 1954, and subsequently converted to run off mains in 1961, with the diesel generator as a backup. The facility was fully automated in 1988. The views at Castlepoint were amazing!

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I was pretty hungry after climbing up to Castlepoint so I decided to have some lunch, some leftover spaghetti and meat sauce from last night. It was now about a two and a half hour drive towards Wellington, but I decided to break it up by stopping in Carleton to see more Art Deco, and Greytown to admire Victorian style architecture, as well as some Art Deco.

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I arrived in Wellington during rush hour, but surprisingly traffic wasn’t that bad. That’s thanks to their proper planning and use of public transportation. They have the highest usage rates of public transportation in all of New Zealand. I visited a camper dump station to drain and refill my water before finding a parking spot overlooking the beautiful southern coast. The night sky was perfectly clear so I even had the opportunity to do a long exposure shot of the milky way!

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August 8th 2016 – The Great Ocean Road

Today I woke up early again so that I could get ready in time for my tour of The Great Ocean Road. I took the train into the CBD and waited at the Immigration Museum for pickup at 7:45am. The tour was a medium sized tour with 22 people. I deliberately picked a smaller tour, because I felt it would be a bit more personalized, and I’m glad I did because it was fantastic. Steve, the tour guide, was exceptionally knowledgeable about the grand history of Melbourne and told us all fascinating facts about Melbourne, and various things along the way.

As we were passing over West Gate bridge Steve pointed out that two years into the construction of the bridge that a portion of the bridge actually collapsed, killing 35 workers. It was the worst industrial accident in Australia’s history. He said the bridge has numerous problems and they are working on it nearly every day. The bridge was opened in 1978.

During our commute to our first stop steve pointed out that Melbourne is actually a fairly young town, around a 150 years old, and the gold rush caused expansive growth, with a lot of Italian and Greek immigrants. The gold was about 100km south of Melbourne. The settlers actually had an opportunity to settle closer in Geelong, but the British actually messed up drawing the map and made it seem as if Melbourne was closer, so most people settled there. Steve also pointed out that Avalon airport, the airport I landed at a few days ago, is owned by Lindsay Fox, who is a multi-billionaire. He started his first business (Linfox) as a truck driver delivering lemonade during the summer, and firewood during the winter.

We were almost at our first stop when Steve pointed out the famous Pole House, which stands many metres above the bush. It’s a posh place to stay if you want a romantic weekend for a few hundred dollars. This house survived the great bush fire on 1983 because it was so high above the bushes.

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Our first stop was for tea, coffee, and biscuits. Our second stop was the Archway commemorating the workers who built The Great Ocean Road. Originally there was a toll booth to collect toll fares for using The Great Ocean Road, but it is now free. Three archways have been built on this site. The first was knocked down in 1970 by a truck that was too tall, the second burned down in the 1983 bush fire. The road originally was started in 1919 after World War 1, and opened three years later in 1922. Picks, shovels, and Dynamite were used to clear the way for the road. The second phase of the road was built in the Great Depression, to stimulate the economy.

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On our way to the third stop we oversaw the Grand Pacific Hotel, which Steve pointed out was named incorrectly, as it should have been the Grand Atlantic Hotel. The third stop was Cumberland River. The Fourth stop was Kennett River, where we saw Koala’s and four types of birds. There was a red bird called Crimson Rosella, a green bird which is some kind of Parrot, a white bird called a Cockatoo, and a black bird which was some sort of raven.

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Our fifth stop was Apollo Bay, which was a whaling station. It received its name from a whaling ship that frequently ported there. Right before arriving in Apollo Bay we passed a waterfall on the right side of the bus that belonged to Wild Dog Creek. In Apollo bay a complimentary lunch of pizza was served. I had a Hawaiian pizza, which was actually quite delicious!

The sixth stop was a “cool” rain forest. Most rain forest that we are used to are the ones that we think of in South America which are “hot” rain forests, but this one is a “cool” rain forest. It doesn’t get too hot here all year round, but it does get fairly wet, and rains over 2 metres of rain per year. This rain forest has world’s tallest and oldest eucalyptus trees, with some reaching over 80 metres tall, and some are over 400 years old. There also was some beautiful ferns here!

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The seventh stop was Loch and Gorge, which was just amazing!

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The eight stop was the 12 Apostles, which Steve told us makes no sense because there was only ever 8, and now they are down to 7.

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The ninth and final stop before heading home was Gibson Steps, which we walked down to see two famous rocks called Gog and Magog.

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The tour ended at 8:45pm back where I was picked up in Melbourne. I thanked Steve for the great day, gave him a tip, and boarded the train back towards my hotel. I then went to bed at around 11:00pm.

Tomorrow I will be exploring more of Melbourne, before I board a 9:30pm flight to Darwin. Check back soon for my latest blog!

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August 4th 2016 – First Day In Sydney

After arriving at Sydney I was greeted by a very long customs lineup. It took about an hour to get through and then you have to wait in another lineup after the baggage collection area, even if you only have carry on like I did. This lineup was to check randomly to see if you are bringing anything into the country you shouldn’t be, such as food.
After that I went to purchase an OPAL card and boarded a train to Sydney Central Station. The train was nice, clean, and looked fairly new. When I got off the train at Central Station it had started to rain a bit so I put on my rain jacket. I had some time to kill before I could check into my hotel, so I went and walked through Hyde Park, to the Quay area, and The Rocks District. I saw the Sidney Opera House, the Harbor Bridge, tons of beautiful buildings, and lots of beautiful art.
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At 10:30am I was getting fairly hungry so I walked to a mall near the Quay. I was in search of a sandwich, but the first place that caught my eye was of course Vietnamese, which is my favorite food. The Pho soup was okay, but far from my favorite. At $7.50 AUD it was a good deal considering how expensive it is in Australia.
After lunch I went and walked on the Harbor bridge and took a beautiful photo of the Opera House. This was such a spectacular view.
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After walking across the bridge I decided I would start making my way towards my hotel and see if my room was ready. During my walk it started to downpour. An off duty bus pulled up next to me and a woman named Jenny asked where I was going. I told her I was going to the Devere Hotel in Potts Point. She said “come on in. I’ll take you”. The bus ride was a short ten minute ride. She told me all about the harbor area, and where I was staying. I learned a bit about her and her family and how expensive housing here is. She dropped me right off at the front door to my hotel. I couldn’t thank her enough!
It was noon but my room was ready. I settled in and had a shower and relaxed for a bit. In a matter of only fourty minutes the weather cleared up and the sun was shining again. I decided I wanted to go to Bondi Beach. I walked to Kings Cross station and took the train two stops to Bondi station, where I caught the 333 bus right to the beach. This is a very beautiful and long beach that stretches in a nice arc around a little bay.
I took some photos and then started to do the Bondi Beach Pathway but a lot of the pathway was destroyed a few weeks earlier due to a pretty substantial storm. There was a detour through a posh neighbourhood. 8 caught a glimpse of some very nice multi million dollar flats before being returned to the pathway. The views from the pathway were spectacular.
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I took the 333 bus back to Bondi station, and then took the train back to Kings Cross Station. Outside of Kings Cross station there is a liquor store where I picked up a half dozen Australian beers to try. I walked back to my hotel, and began to write my blog, while enjoying two of the beers. I had a Victoria Bitters (bold and a bit bitter) and XXXX Gold (similar to Kokanee gold).
I was feeling a bit tired and was fighting a cold I’ve had for the past few days so I decided to have a nap. I set an alarm for 5:00pm so I could do a night walk tour, but I shut it off. I woke up at 1:00am. I guess I needed some sleep…
I checked my Apple Watch and noticed I had walked more than 25km and 240 minutes today! I went and grabbed some McDonalds because I was starving. The Big Mac’s here don’t taste as good as home. There really is a difference when it comes to Alberta beef. Nothing really compares in my opinion.
My next adventure is the Blue Mountains, but you’ll have to check back for the next blog post for that one.
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April 8th 2016 –Hanakapi’ai Trail

Today I woke up at 8:30am, partially because I was tired, and partially because I had too much to drink the night before. I made myself some coffee, and had breakfast and drove towards the trailhead, which was about a half hour away.

The trailhead taunts you with what is going to be a pretty difficult hike, but well worth it in the end. The hike is brutal in some parts, but easy in others. Here’s an elevation profile so you can see what I’m talking about.

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The views are spectacular all along the way. You basically run alongside the ocean for the first 2.0 miles (3.2 km).

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After the 2.0 miles you reach a beach called Hanakapi`ai beach. The beach doesn’t have much sand at all, but it has a lot of amazing rock formations that people have placed.

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After the beach you continue inland another 2.0 miles (3.2 km) to Hanakapi’ai Falls. You cross over the river multiple times to get there, and I’ll be honest I fell in once and it wasn’t pretty. At least I got a good laugh, as well as others. I could hear the falls getting louder and louder as I approached. Even the photo from a far was quite beautiful.

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When I arrived at the falls there was a ton of people there, some even swimming in the little lake at the bottom. I quickly noticed that someone was sitting on the rocks enjoying herself, and thought it would be a neat photo to take a picture of.

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I then gazed my eyes up and down the falls and was quite overwhelmed by how beautiful they were.

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Oh yeah and there was a random kitten just hanging out by the waterfalls… Nobody knew why it was there or how it got there. Poor kitty, but it looks like many people were feeding it.

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It took 2.5 hours to hike to the falls, and 1.5 hours to hike back to the car. 22000 steps later, and I’m exhausted. I drove back to the condo, showered, and then got some beer, chicken, and mashed potatoes from the grocery store. I talked with Kirsty for a bit, downloaded my photos, went for a swim in the pool, and now I’m just going to relax for the rest of the day.

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