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Entries about rain

Utah’s spectacular (& crowded) national parks

Quail Creek State Park, Zion NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Torrey

semi-overcast 32 °C
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Quite frankly, even at the risk of being very unfair to the state of Nevada, there’s nothing else we did there beyond visiting Las Vegas. And interestingly enough, the nice and interesting landscapes started just after we passed the borderline to Arizona (just for a couple of miles) and then shortly after to Utah.
We had a base plan in regards to where to stay overnight. Freecampsites.net features a nice place just before the entrance to Zion National Park and that’s where we wanted to go. After all, it was Saturday in the middle of vacation season and consequently all reservation campgrounds in the National Park were full and the recommendation for getting a first come – first serve campground was to be there between 5 and 6am: so clearly not an option for us.
As usual, we took opportunities as they came along and wanted to try our luck at a KOA campground close to St. George. On the way there, we passed a Quail Creek State Park and realized that it was beautifully located next to a lake and had nice shaded tables at all campsites. So we tried our luck and could hardly believe it that a) there were still spaces available and b) the single electrical hook up site was still available as well. Great – this way we’d be able to have our air-con running in the can tonight such that temperatures will be bearable.

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After a dip in the lake, Sam impressed me with some great car fixing. He installed the pieces for the doors we had ordered to the KOA in Las Vegas using his small, but flexible tool kit. And now our side door works again – hooray!

The next day, we were quite positively surprised that we still got a campsite at Zion National Park’s South campground. Lucky us… So we immediately reserved for two nights, set up camp and then headed off to explore the Visitor Center and the Pa’rus Trail. Given the heat we eventually took a right turn down to the Virgin River where we spent the rest of the day hanging out in and around the water.
In the evening we invited Ralf, a German motorbiker who moved to the US already years ago after winning a green-card in the lottery. It proved to be an excellent decision to invite him to join us on our site – he has travelled pretty much all of the western states of the US and Canada and was happy to share lots of tips and recommendations with us. So with his help, we were able to get a feeling what to see and visit specifically on our way from Moab to Yellowstone and then onwards from there to Seattle / Vancouver.
The next day was dedicated to exploring the Zion valley. The views of the sheer rock faces to both sides of the valley were really impressive. But less impressive were the masses of people being shuttled by bus from one viewpoint to the next. We chose the Riverside Walk that is leading to the Narrows – a walk that I had hiked already some 23 years ago. And either my memory was playing tricks on me or something about it was different this time. But while I clearly recall other people taking the hike and then continuing onwards through the river (which back then impressed me very, very much), this time it felt that we were walking the streets of a busy city – that’s how crowded it was. Unfortunately not much fun. And even though we might have found a bit more solitude on some other walks, by the time we got back to the shuttle bus, we rather wanted to just get out of the masses and back to our nice campground and eventually to a spot in the river to cool off.

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On our way out of the park in the next morning we got to see some nice vistas of the valley from above. And while very different from the valley floor, we really liked the landscape up there very much. We would have loved to go for the Valley Overview Trail, but due to lack of parking spots and enormous traffic in that location, there was simply no chance at all to do it.

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Thus we continued our journey through some absolutely nice landscapes towards Bryce Canyon. On our way we could not resist the temptation to stop at a German Bakery to get a loaf of ‘real’ German bread – the price was outrageous by German standards, but the taste was absolutely worth it.
Eventually we passed Red Canyon which featured stunning colors even in the midday sun. Soon after we reached Bryce Canyon and once again were lucky to still get a campground in early afternoon. But as soon as the spot was secured, it was time to explore the sights of the national park.

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Unfortunately, some clouds had formed, bringing not only a bit of rain, but also thunderstorms.
Before heading to the main and most popular viewpoints, we took the scenic route to the southern end of the park at Rainbow Point. All of us were freezing and were simply not used to not seeing the sun and getting wet – after all had seen our last 30 min episode of trickly rain in La Paz, Mexico and the last real rain back at Mesa Verde in mid-May.

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By the time we worked our way up again towards Inspiration Point, on the of the main viewpoints in the park, the sun was out again and we got to the probably the best view the park has to offer in perfect light and at pleasant temperatures again.

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Given that our campground was very close to Inspiration Point, we took another hike there later towards sunset and were there just in time for perfect light.

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The other big asset of Bryce Canyon next to its spectacular ‘hoodoos’ – that’s how the columns in the park are called – is the clear and dark nightly sky. Sam took a shot at trying to get some shots of the milky way to match the ones he had taken back in Mexico. He was very pleased with the results and to his big pride even managed to catch a shooting star in one of the pictures.

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The next morning was dedicated to driving along the Scenic Byway 12. And yes, it was very scenic giving lots of reasons to stop and take pictures. We specifically liked the views of the Staircase Escalante – a very remote wilderness.
We had planned to go all the way to Capitol Reef National Park and therefore did not take any of the many detours the Scenic Byway had on offer. And given all the switchbacks and curves along the way we did not nearly progress as fast as we had anticipated. So eventually after a stop in Bicknell to get a car part exchanged and our parking brake adjusted on the van, we resorted to stay in Torrey for the night. After a couple of days in national park campgrounds it was time again for a proper shower and we looked forward to having some wifi (which was in vain, as it did not really work). Still, the facilities with pool, basketball court and a large area for kids to play ballgames was worth the investment.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:49 Archived in USA Tagged rain lake valley wilderness crowd zion thunder bryce escalante viewpoint Comments (1)

Some last days in the US before heading to Canada

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

semi-overcast 20 °C
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After a quiet night - without any vampire sightings - in Forks we headed for the Mora beach. We planned to have a hike along the beach and as it was raining by far more than just a mere drizzle, for the first time since early May we had to wear our rain jackets.
The so-called sea stacks and the significant amounts of gigantic driftwood along the stony beach created a somewhat mysterious atmosphere. And even though we’re usually preferring bright sunshine and heat vs. rain and cold, the weather somehow matched the landscape. As Janis rightfully said: this is the classical Pacific Northwest how one imagines it.

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After lots of stone collecting, stone skipping, stone stacking and stone castle building we longed for a hot tea and cake in our cozy van.

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A bit later we had found a nice spot at the Bear Creek Campground. The only challenge was the fact that while it was in principle free of charge, it required every vehicle to have a Discovery Pass. We had one, but Janis did not. After lots of research, we eventually found out that the online system was down and that there was no place close-by to buy one. So after a bit of thinking, we pitched Janis’ tent and parked her car outside the campground in front of the Bear Creek Café – a somewhat classical place to eat and drink in the middle of nowhere.
In exchange for the parking spot, Janis and I planned to get some French Fries to take away. After sitting at the counter and seeing the pies in the fridge, we ordered two bumbleberry pies as well, which as we learned consist of blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. And to give Sam a chance to see the place as well, Janis offered to join him for a beer there while Max and I got to play Lego and eat the French Fries in the van.
As we passed Lake Crescent the next day, Sam came up with the great idea to rent kayaks. We enjoyed our trip on the lake very much. Max did an excellent job in helping Sam move their kayak while Janis and I trailed them and tried to keep up.

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As we took a break on a quiet beach along the shore, Sam discovered a large swing. It just did not seem to reach far enough out such that it would have been safe to swing into the lake. Still: it was lots of fun just to swing there. Both Sam and Max enjoyed that portion of the trip almost as much as the kayaking itself.

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After a dip into the lake and picnic, we continued towards Fort Townsend. After setting up camp, we explored a bit of the town and the Fort Worden state park. We liked the town a lot. With its hilly setting on the coast, old Victorian buildings and grazing deer, it was a very pleasant place to be. And the state park with the lighthouse and it's beach was very pleasant as well.

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So after exploring until it got dark, we ended up having a very late dinner back at our place and some final rounds of playing our new and favourite dice game with Janis – which she once again won. What a pity that it will take a couple of weeks before we’ll be able to ask for another round to finally manage to beat her.
The next morning, Janis was treated by Sam to Kaiserschmarrn (Austrian ‘scrambled pancakes’) before she had to head off towards the ferry and ultimately to her flight back to Chicago.
We took it easy and left a bit later to reach the Port Townsend ferry just before departure. The ferry ride was smooth and short and we had a déjà vu – after all we had been at the Coupeville ferry terminal and Fort Casey just two weeks ago already.

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This time we arrived there around noon and consequently had a bit more time to spend at Whidbey Island. Thus this time stops at Fort Ebey and later at Deception Pass Bridge were easily possible. Once again Sam and Max were happy about the F18s circling above the Naval Air Base and Deception Pass State Park.

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I guess both of them would have loved to stay there again. But I gave a clear enough veto such that eventually we continued our journey towards Canada - the next destination of our journey.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 09:27 Archived in USA Tagged rain beach kayak lighthouse wet ferry driftwood swing Comments (0)

Welcome to Canada

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

rain 18 °C
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Heading north from Whidbey Island it did not take too long to reach the Canadian border. The signs along the interstate had advised us already that the wait would be less than 5 minutes. That sounded much better vs. the more than one hour we had spent at our last border crossing from Mexico into the USA.
And it was so easy: The Canadian immigration officer had lots of sympathy for our travel plans and admitted that she had taken off a year for travelling herself already. So we were admitted without any further questioning.
A bit further the ladies at the visitor information center advised us to rather stay closer to the border vs. going all the way Vancouver as we might be stuck in traffic otherwise. So that’s what we did and soon were pleasantly surprised by the nice landscaping and gardening at Peace Arch RV Park. And despite the fact that lots of people had warned us about the high prices in Canada, it was much cheaper than expected and what we were used to.
The only downside was the weather: in the night it started raining heavily and after a bit of thinking what to do, we decided to just take it easy and to stay for another night.
Max was delighted to play LEGO, Sam used the opportunity to repair also the back door of our van which involved the de- and reinstallation of the air-conditioning unit and I finally managed to publish three long overdue blog posts. As a reward for a relaxing and still productive day, we had food delivered and enjoyed Greek food which we had not had since we had left Germany.

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Luckily enough, the next day the weather was much better. Lots of clouds, but at least no rain. So we headed into Vancouver, were a bit surprised about the heavy traffic even at midday and soon enough found ourselves at one of the many bicycle rental places.
Sam suggested renting a tandem and even though I was a bit reserved about not being able to steer nor brake in the back seat, I agreed. Admittedly, it did take a bit of getting used to in the beginning. But eventually I was able to relax and we had lots of fun doing the 10km stretch along the seawall surrounding Stanley Park.
Visiting the park on a bike was an excellent choice. We were able to stop multiple times, enjoyed nice vistas and got some exercise in the fresh air. Great!

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Leaving Vancouver during rush hour was quicker than expected and we easily reached the Eagle Wind RV Park, where I had made a reservation for the night. We had spotted the RV park in one of the camping brochures we had picked up at the information center. And while we could have also gone to multiple other places, this one had mentioned in the text that it was close to a drive-in theater. It seems there are only three such drive-ins remaining in British Columbia, so we keen to use this opportunity.
The Twilight Drive-In in Langley was just a couple of minutes away from camp and our plan worked perfectly: while we were enjoying ‘Pete’s Dragon’ and a bit later ‘The BFG’, Max was sleeping deeply in the back of the van. Still, Sam and I were quite amazed to see in the intermission between the two movies how many (young) kids were still up and had obviously watched the movie. We preferred Max sleeping in the back vs. us having to explain to him why things are happening and what each scene really means. Especially the BFG I could not have seen him watching at all. That would have been a guarantee for lots of bad dreams. Still, it was an excellent idea of Sam’s to go to the movies.
As we had gotten home to our RV park long after midnight, we did take it easy the next morning before heading east. We wanted to stop at the Chilliwack Walmart in an attempt to stock up on groceries again. Unfortunately, we were turned away due to a bomb threat. And quite frankly, with lots of police around and the employees all standing in the parking lot, it felt better to leave and shop at Safeway instead.
As we headed on towards the mountains, it started raining more and more heavily. In retrospect we could have saved ourselves the scenic but longer drive through Manning Provincial Park and taken the larger highway instead. After all, there was no real view to enjoy anyhow and it certainly would not have made any sense to make the detour to the Cascades viewpoint in the downpour we were in.
Admittedly, after passing Manning Park, we did have a stretch of road without rain and did get to see the enormous Copper Mountain. But soon enough we got into the next rain shower that lasted until our next campground at the South Shore of Penticton and long into the night.
Luckily enough, most of the clouds were gone by the next morning and we got to see a bit of our surroundings driving up along the lakes of the Okanagan Valley. The area is said to resemble a bit the Garda Lake region in Italy. And with the hilly surroundings, the vineries and orchards around we really liked it there.
Max liked it as well: he could have spent hours in the Kelowna skate park. At the same time, we enjoyed watching him and hoped that he’d wear himself out enough such that he’d be fine with us going for wine tasting – which is clearly not the most fun activity for kids. What should I say: specifically, as now the sun was out as well, so far all of us were quite happy to be in Canada.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:55 Archived in Canada Tagged rain valley bike movie lego seawall tandem drivein Comments (0)

Rain and snow – hey, that was not the plan!

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

rain 5 °C
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That last night at Jasper NP we did get awfully cold. Lucky us that our van has a heating system, but as we somehow don’t want it running all night, it did eventually get just too chilly for my taste. Hadn’t we planned our tour route such that we’d be skipping winter this year?
After warming up a bit over breakfast with hot tea and hot chocolate, we headed off towards the Edith Cavell mountain and its Angel glacier. Due to recent rock fall resulting in a sudden flood and mudslide we were not allowed to get close to the lake, so we had to content ourselves with the view from the distance. It was pretty cold up at the glacier and as it had snowed in the night before, we did get to see quite a couple of small avalanches.

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As we were heading south along the Icefields Parkway, which is often dubbed to be one of the most beautiful mountain roads in the world, the Athabasca Falls were our next destination. We were lucky to stay dry during our stop there. Despite the lack of sunlight, it was surprising how intense the colors looked.

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And in regards to the scenery, we were impressed by the beautiful mountains on both sides of the huge glacier valley we were driving through. Most likely (certainly) the views would have been even more impressive if there would have been a bit more sunshine. We consoled ourselves with the fact that the nice white snowcaps of the mountains around us were a very pretty sight as well which we would have missed in warmer or nicer weather.

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As we reached the Columbia Icefield, we briefly stopped at the local visitor center, only in order to realize that it is extremely catered to everyone being willing to spend lots of money on commercial tours driving onto the Athabasca glacier and spending a couple of minutes there such they can justify buying T-Shirts and other paraphernalia saying ‘I stood on a glacier’. We skipped the questionable pleasure of doing so and rather hiked to the toe of the glacier in the next morning.

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It was actually a quite scary experience even just to drive down to the parking lot from the visitor center. Every couple of hundred meters there were signs with the year when the glacier’s toe was at that location. Quite frankly, I had not realized that the glacier had started retreating already massively since 1885 when it still reached all the way up to where today the visitor center is located.
But even more impressive was the hike up towards the glacier realizing how much the retreat of the glacier speed up in the more recent past. It was quite a hike from the 1985 sign up to the actual glacier. We hiked over large slabs of stone engraved by the glacial ice. And due to the severe winds and cold rain, I must admit that Max and I did not even complete all of the hike, but headed down again once we had reached an intermediate overlook. Sam continued and was lucky enough to catch a quick episode of sunshine on the bright glacial ice.

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As we moved on the weather got a bit more pleasant again. At least it stopped raining and we got to see a bit of the landscape around us.

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Also at the trail to the Mistaya Canyon we were lucky to have no rain. The canyon reminded us much of the Antelope Canyon in the sense that we saw how the forces of water formed a slot canyon just like there. But other than in Arizona, as long as there are glaciers around in the Canadian mountains, there’s no likelihood that in the near future anyone will be able to wander into these slot canyons without being washed away by the forces of the Athabasca River – one of the three river systems starting in the Columbia Icefield and ending in the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic Ocean.

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Next on our list of destinations was a hike to Peyto Lake, that Ralf had praised already back in Zion when we talked about the Canadian National Parks. Unfortunately, when we got there it was pouring rain and there was no view whatsoever. That was quite a pity and we once again realized at that stage how lucky we had been with the weather so far during our trip. With hardly any days of rain and lots of sunshine, we had been blessed with picture perfect photo opportunities so far. And being spoiled as such, it was a bit hard to accept that we’d simply not get to see one of the highlights of the Icefields Parkway. We did get a look at bow lake though, which was pretty nice as well!

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Luckily enough, our night at Mosquito Creek Campground was absolutely free of mosquitoes. In pouring rain at temperatures just above freezing, they would have had a hard life. We did have it a bit warmer in our van, but we would not have complained about a couple of degrees more.
The next day, we realize how low the snowline had come down during the night. A pretty, but also very cold sight!

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A bit later we did get to see a very still Lake Herbert before heading to Lake Louise.

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Our guidebook claims that Lake Louise is the most visited mountain lake worldwide. Even though I’m doubting the truth of the statement, we were simply amazed about the masses of people we saw there. The massive ‘The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’ did not help either to restore a sense of romance of being at a very beautiful glacial lake. Neither did the weather: it started snowing lightly out of very low hanging clouds.
After a brief look at the lake, we gave up all sightseeing activities and headed to Banff in search of a nice and warm café. We were very happy with that choice. Being in a pleasant place having a hot tea felt much more heart-warming than continuing to be out in the cold.
But our luck was soon to turn: after grocery shopping in Canmore and checking out one of the local skate parks, we headed to our place for the night. We were invited at Carola, Uwe and Aiyana’s who we had met a week earlier in Lake Country.

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We had pizza for dinner, lots of pleasant conversations and Max enjoyed playing with Aiyana until late in the night. It was simply great. And all of us were so happy to spend the night inside in a warm and comfy bed vs. staying outside in temperatures below freezing.
Life is beautiful! Thanks, Uwe, Carola and Aiyana!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 13:56 Archived in Canada Tagged snow rain canyon lake glacier castle icefields freezing Comments (1)

Back to the starting point and lots of good byes

In Milwaukee, Glenview, Oak Lawn, Los Angeles

rain 17 °C
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We loved our time at the lake in the cabin and could have spent much more time there. Especially as it was perfect fall weather and the leaves just started to turn colors and it would have been just another week or so for being even more colorful.
Eventually we headed off and drove south into Wisconsin. It was a beautiful drive, passing through colourful forests and alongside of a couple of lakes. As we approached Lake Michigan, the sun was covered by heavy clouds and the interstate was not nearly as nice as the smaller backroads had been.
As we plotted out where to stop along the way, Sam realized that we’d be passing through Milwaukee, the home of Harley Davidson. And anyone who knows Sam a bit, suspects already that we would not pass this perfect opportunity to stop at the Harley Davidson museum.
Upstairs all the history of HD was on display starting with the first motorcycle created in 1903 and subsequent developments including some army versions produced for both world wars and racing bikes that set long distance speed records.

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Max enjoyed the collection of fuel tanks in all different colors, the kids’ corner and the movie scenes featuring Harley Davidsons. That left enough time for Sam to stroll around and take pictures of the rather unusual models on display. Last but not least, all of us got to try out and sit on the newest 2017 models such that we could imagine owning and riding them around the world.

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With the stop in Milwaukee, it got late and dark already as we headed into Glenview, where we had headed off for our big journey in early May. About a mile before parking the van the last time, we almost got into an accident – what a shock, just shortly before arriving.
It was good to be ‘home’ and Janis had dinner waiting for us already. So life was good again.
The next morning, we had to get our van ready for potential buyers to have a look. It was the worst possible weather for cleaning the van. By the time the outsides of the van were shining, Sam was soaking wet from the torrential rain and I was the lucky one to finish the insides of the van. At noon, the first couple of interested people had a look at the van and we spent the afternoon talking with some more interested people on the phone.
After that much effort, we went bowling together with Janis. We had lots of fun and also Max enjoyed his first ever game of bowline. With the special slide for the ball and the bumpers up, Max managed to even come in second place behind Sam.

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The next day we were invited at Carol’s birthday party. After great (and too much!) Mexican food, we could not resist to eat large amounts of angel food cake with chocolate cream and berries – yummy! But eventually we had to leave and say good bye to Carol, Pete and the kids. Let’s hope it’s not too long until we’ll see each other again!
That evening we watched ‘Easy Rider’ – the Harley museum in Milwaukee had inspired us. The popcorn was great, some of the pictures of the American west reminded us of our trip, but overall we were a bit overwhelmed. Crazy times.
Our last full day in the US was pretty much dedicated to packing and getting paperwork sorted. These rather tedious tasks were only interrupted by long walks in the park and excellent lunch. My mom had brought all the ingredients for making my favourite food: plum dumplings (Zwetschgenknödel). As she was unable to find the usual kind of plums we use in the stores, we used what was available and it was great. Thanks, mom!
While we had contemplated five months back that it would be nice to spend another day in Chicago towards the end of our trip, by now our interests had shifted. We enjoyed being around our and Janis’ family and had not the slightest interest in doing any sightseeing.
The next morning, we tried to stay as much outside as possible. We’d be spending anyhow lots of time inside of airports and planes. Janis treated us to Mexican food for lunch – including my favourite refried beans. It was great and once more tempted us to eat much more than needed. Both Sam and I agree, that the last two weeks of our stay in the US, we both gained a bit of weight. It was just too good!
After lunch Janis made already the first tour to the airport and we had to say good bye to my parents. It was great that they had come. And while we (ab-)used the opportunity to get rid of many things we did not need on our further trip anymore, I do feel sorry that they had to take baggage home at the absolute upper limit of what’s allowed.
Until Janis came back for the second trip to the airport with us, we enjoyed one last hour at home. We hugged the van good bye one last time and exchanged hopes with Phil, Sam and Janis that we’d hopefully see each other again before too long. One last wave back and off we went to the airport.
In a certain way this was a déjà vu, going back to the starting point. It felt not too different from going to the airport in Munich those five months ago. Once again, we’d have new adventures, and a new continent waiting for us.
At the airport we were a bit disappointed that American Airlines had recently implemented a practice of not checking bags through whenever flights have not been purchased at the same time. So in retrospect it did not help us to book with them, even though they are affiliated with Air Tahiti Nui in the Oneworld Alliance.
So once we arrived in Los Angeles, we had to retrieve our bags and the car seat, haul them into the next terminal and check them in again. But as we had enough time to do so, this did only represent an inconvenience and no real issue. And we even found a kind employee of Air Tahiti Nui who offered to post our postcards for us (since 9/11 there seem to be no mailboxes at US airports anymore) - written last minute like in every vacation.
We have travelled via plane very often with Max before and visited lots of countries. At practically all airports so far he had been our super joker: we were usually allowed to skip waiting lines and to board first. Not so in the USA: it's first the people who booked first class, then those with senator status, then those with other miles status, then the holder of certain credit cards - you get the message.
As our flight only left LAX at 11:40pm but despite the two-hour time difference vs. Chicago, Max had managed well to stay up as long. But by the time of boarding he was really tired. So it took a bit of convincing to be allowed to board in wave 1 of the non-priority economy passengers instead of wave 2. And it was good that we did that: Max fell asleep pretty much as soon as we had found our seats in the plane and slept until breakfast was served.
One last wave back towards the continent that hosted us so nicely during more than five months and off we go...

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 09:42 Archived in USA Tagged rain airport museum leaving harley birthday van bowling sale bye Comments (1)

Taking it easy in laid back Huahine

Fare, Huahine

semi-overcast 29 °C
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The sun was just setting when we reached Huahine airport. What an atmosphere: no clouds and a golden glow with the silhouettes of Raiatea, Taha’a and Bora Bora in the distance.

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We were picked up at the airport by Jocelyne. After a quick stop at the local supermarket, she had lots of recommendations for us on where to eat and what to do. As we turned into the private unpaved road leading to their house, she listed the uncles, cousins and other relatives living in the houses along the road as we went by.
We stayed at Franky’s Fare, a small house right next to their house. Jocelyne’s husband Smith greeted us and both showed us around. We had a kitchen, living room, bathroom and under the roof a nice and cozy bedroom. In addition, there was the large fenced yard with a table, the hammock and an outside shower. What a nice place!

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For quick dinner – as it was already quite late – we simply stayed inside. But the next morning, we went outside for having breakfast. That way we could also see what happened along the road: cars and bikes passing by, the mailman on his scooter dressed in a muscle shirt featuring the logo of the local postal service and the garbage truck.
Once we had packed our picnic for lunch, we headed off towards the beach with the bikes we were allowed to use. Max sat behind Sam, holding on tightly to his seat.

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After a stroll along the beach we got into the water to snorkel and let the current take us back to where we started. We saw lots of fish. There schools of a couple of hundred yellow fish, schools of fifty or more grey fish and smaller groups of fish of lots of different kinds: tiny blue ones, trumpet fish various kinds of butterfly fish and many more. In addition, there were lots of different corals, a sea horse, green blue and purple clams and sea cucumbers. A nice snorkeling experience, also for Max who took advantage of having a body board to lay on without having to worry about staying above the water.

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After almost an hour in the water, it was time to relax and eat. Even though all of the beaches seem to be public, we did not to stay directly at the beach of the hotel, but preferred to have a spot for our own a bit further looking out to the water and observing life at the beach.

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That evening we took advantage of the fact that we had a TV in our living room. We watched one of the videos Jocelyne had given to us ‘Mr. Right’. It was a funny, sometimes a bit silly comedy mixed with a few action scenes. Nice and easy.
The next day was dominated by tropical rain showers. There were several episodes of heavy downpours followed by light rain and short dry periods in between. So we stayed mostly at home, did some writing, photo editing, talked details for the Australia portion of our trip and played with Max – puzzle and dice when it rained, baseball whenever it did not rain.

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It rained during the night as well, but at least the next day we had some longer dry periods between the rain showers. At least Sam and Max made it dry to the supermarket and back. In the mean time I booked flights and Airbnb apartments and confirmed for Rarotonga. I had to take advantage of having wifi – we’d be without one for the next couple of days.
For lunch, we went into town with Max pedaling Sam’s bike – a funny sight!

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And then it was already time for saying good bye to Jocelyne and Smith. What a pity, as we really enjoyed our time in their nice little house and had been so happy to have the bikes to be able to easily move around.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 03:16 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged rain house bike snorkel Comments (0)

From classical outback to the coast

Tom Price to Exmouth

sunny 32 °C
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Contrary to most other people in the campground, we took it easy and had a relaxed swim in the pool before heading off. The plan for the day allowed to take it very easy: we went shopping, had lunch in town and Max got to ride the local skate park. Just like in our campground, there were lots of galahs around.

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After that we headed off in the direction of Exmouth and the coast. As Exmouth is over 600km away, we planned to break the journey in two parts and would only start with the smaller portion for today.

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Our stop for the night was Cheela Station where Pauline greeted us nicely. She explained that the station consists of half a million acres of land on which 5000 cattle / stock are grazing. The cattle is only there on a temporary basis to feed them up before returning to their home stations. Wow – these dimensions seem incredible. And we had thought that Bill from Arizona (who we met in Loreto, Mexico) with his 10,000 acres of land and 1000 cattle had an unbelievable huge area of land. And compared to German standards, this is really hard to imagine.

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We were the only guests for the night and had all facilities for ourselves. While Max enjoyed running through the sprinkler, I did our laundry and Sam cooked dinner. Everyone using the washing machine is asked to make a small gold coin (i.e. 1AUD) donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Considering the remoteness of these stations and small towns, most have an airstrip which are used e.g. for medical emergencies. And that’s one of those topics I try not to think about too much – given the huge distances you just don’t want to imagine requiring urgent medical help. So avoiding accidents and trying not to cross the path of any venomous snake (or other animal for that matter) is key. In some way, we are spoiled in that respect growing up in densely populated Western Europe with excellent medical assistance everywhere.
We were all ready just in time to hike up to sunset hill for the perfect viewpoint. The sunset was great, enhanced by lots of clouds and rain that does not hit at the ground, but evaporates before.

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The next morning Max and I saw a huge goanna – at least a meter, if not two meters long – sticking its tongue out. We were really impressed and kept our distance. By the time Sam headed over to take a picture, it was unfortunately gone. But with birds, old cars and station equipment such as the branding irons, he had enough other objects to take nice pictures of.

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The rather boring six-hour drive to Exmouth was interrupted with the excitement of Nanutarra roadhouse. Well, not too much happening there, but at least it was sometime. I was intrigued by the large monument for the late Lionel Logue – seemingly someone bearing the same name as the speech therapist made famous by ‘The King’s Speech’, who also came from Western Australia, but died in London.
By the time we finally arrived in Exmouth we were all ready for a jump into the pool. Max and I headed off right away, while Sam realized that our Swiss acquaintances Doris and Eric were at the same campground as well. After Broome, 80-Mile beach and Karijini, this marked the 4th time we met them and what should I say – we had a fun and entertaining evening with them. There were so many topics to talk. Traveling for one, but also sailing the oceans of the world and found lots of reasons to laugh. Great – let’s hope we’ll meet up again on our way south…
We spent the next day at the pool without venturing out to other places. At least Sam was curious enough to hike to the beach. And while he was excited to see footprints of many animals including snakes, I would not have been too excited by that. I was already shocked enough when the lady at the campground had explained to me that we should watch out for snakes, as with the start of summer they are now coming out of hibernation into the mating season.
Even without the snakes, we were happy with what the caravan park had to offer in regards to wildlife. There were quite a couple of emus wandering the park and they did get quite close. In fact, the emus seem to love bread and it was cool to see how they were following some people around and even ventured into the camp kitchen in their quest to get some.

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That evening Sam and I stayed up late. We used the opportunity of having free wifi to upload pictures and updating the blog. After all, eventually we felt it was time for the blog to leave the Cook Islands and getting updated to arrive in Australia… Still, there’s just too much going on and too much to be enjoyed such that updating the blog is definitively not our first priority. There’s much nicer things to occupy ourselves with than worrying about the blog being updated with a three week ‘jetlag’.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 11:13 Archived in Australia Tagged rain sunset coast hill station goanna emu Comments (2)

Mountains and the sea

Banks Peninsula: Little River, Akaroa, Pidgeon Bay, Motukarara; Timaru, Pleasant Point

semi-overcast 23 °C
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After learning from Simone about the heavy rain down south, we were easily convinced to rather spend a couple of days on the Banks peninsula before heading south ourselves. When picking the route to our planned campground for the night, I chose a scenic route along the northern coast of the peninsula. When picking the route, I had not realized how mountainous the area would be and how steep the roads were. On the last climb up towards Pidgeon Bay, the road eventually turned to gravel and got even steeper than what we had driven on so far.
When deciding upon the route, I was not quite aware of how hilly Ends in gravel road – too steep vs. what our campervan can manage. And most likely I was still spoiled from the luxury we had in Australia with a 4WD that would take us almost anywhere. Contrary to that our cripple campervan was definitively not laid out for that and before too long started smelling funny. Given the age of the motor and knowing that on a gravel road we’re actually not insured, we turned around. Before heading down though we took some time to enjoy the scenery and the countless sheep in the hills surrounding us. The rain was falling quite heavily by then and even though we could still see down into the bay below us, we could only guess how nice the view might have been on a bright day.
Turning around meant going all the way back along the twists and turns we had come on and sixty kilometers later we found ourselves at the campground in Little River. As it started raining soon after we arrived, we were thankful that we have a camper and not just a tent. And one more thanks was uttered the next morning when the next episode of rain showered us.
At least the rain did not stay for the remainder of the day. Later that morning we were able to explore the nature reserve surrounding the campground. We explored the big swing, the giant mudslide (which is only in operation after heavy rains) and the boardwalks including the movie set for ‘The Stolen’, a 2016 film.

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From there we headed to Akaroa. By the time, we got to see the Akaroa harbor below us, the sun was shining brightly and we were treated to a breathtaking scenery. We probably had seen similarly nice views the day before, but the cloudy and dark day did its best to hide the wow effects. We soon spotted a cruise ship in the bay. Since the damages to the Lyttleton harbor in the most recent earthquake, Akaroa is new port of call for cruise ships. And there are lots of good reasons for people to visit Akaroa. For one it’s beautifully located in a bay surrounded by mountains and its French heritage makes for great what if scenarios. What if the French had arrived just a bit earlier before the treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6th, 1840. Even though the French settlers arrived just a couple of months too late to buy the peninsula or even all of the South Island, they stayed and that’s how Akaroa got the charming French influence from.

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As pre-warned by our guidebook, the small town was simply overrun by the cruise passengers. As we neared the jetty, we realized that the ship lying out there was the Celebrity Solstice, which we had seen a couple of days earlier in Sydney Harbor – what a small world!
As the center of town was so crowded, we headed to the outskirts of town to the local skatepark. Located right next to the bay, it was quiet, nice and pretty there. While Max got his exercise needs fixed for the day, we prepared lunch and lazed in the sun.

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From Akaroa, we took the scenic drive along Summit Road winding its way along the top of the former volcano that created the peninsula. We had alternating views into the Bay of Akaroa and the Eastern bays along the outside coast of the peninsula. After our failed attempt of yesterday, today we managed to reach the campground at Pidgeon Bay. We got a spot right next to the water, enjoyed the nice weather and the fact that our great spot cost only 10 NZD.

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The next day we had to get our old camper all the way back up the hill again. We noted that with two cruiseships lying in the harbour, probably Akaroa was even more crowded today than yesterday. Then we headed down towards Little River. Already two days earlier we had noticed signs advertising the ‘A&P show’ to take place that Saturday. While we had no clue what that meant, we were sure intrigued to find out.

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It turned out that ‘A&P’ stands for ‘agriculture and pasture’ – a classical local show for anything related to farming. At first a display of old steam engines caught our eye along with some big construction equipment that fascinated Max. But much more importantly, there were all kind of local competitions taking place: there was horseback riding, dog agility, sheep dogs rounding up sheep, timber sports, and even sheep shearing. In addition the fire brigade offered a demonstration on how to extinguish burning oil including how not to do it, there was a free food tasting and lots of street vendors.

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We did not get bored a single minute, as there was continually something going on. And best of all: the locals were simply having fun, betting against each other and showing off what they love doing. Sam even got asked if he was willing to participate in the sheep shearing, as a group of guys needed one more person on their team in order not to lose a bet. Sam kindly declined and watched with the same amusement as us.
Luckily the sun did not burn down as brightly as the day before and even better: it only started raining in the evening once we had arrived at our campsite at the Motukarara racetrack.
Also the next morning was simply wet and consequently we skipped going into Christchurch for the World Buskers Festival as originally planned. We rather rang up Simone and pre-warned her that we’d be heading down to meet them this afternoon.
Driving through the Canterbury Plains to Timaru was a rather boring experience. The heavy rain blocked out the view to the mountains completely and the endless fields lined by tree-high hedges were not able to compensate.

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In the afternoon, we arrived in Timaru and we were greeted already outside by Leo and his sister Lilou. Max and Leo disappeared upstairs as soon as we arrived and were not seen for the next two hours. In the meantime, the rest of us enjoyed afternoon tea, had pleasant conversations, played dice and enjoyed the view of the sea. Simone and I even took a walk outside despite the drizzling rain. We were sad to leave that evening, but who knows: maybe we’ll manage to meet in Germany when they’ll visit in 2018.

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It was only a short drive to Pleasant Point where we stayed for the night. Despite the rain, Max headed off with some boys to go biking. Sam and I agreed once more that we were happy to have our campervan and being able to sit inside, well protected and comfortable.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 18:54 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rain horses volcano sheep cruise dogs bay harbor timber steep shearing Comments (0)

East coast towns

Oamaru, Hampden, Moeraki, Dunedin

semi-overcast 20 °C
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We had heard nice things about the town of Oamaru and soon realized ourselves that everything we had heard was true: there were nice buildings, a very positive atmosphere and a bit of funk. After all, Oamaru is also the location of the ‘Steampunk HQ’, a gallery dedicated to all kinds of fun metal exhibits.

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From there it was just a couple of steps to get into the old town featuring the first buildings of the settlement dating back almost 150 years. We were thrilled to find a good bakery and browsed through some of the galleries, workshops and stores. Eventually we ended at our usual destination of choice: the local skatepark.

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When trying to extend our parking ticket, Sam realized that we had gotten fined for parking in the wrong area of the carpark, where it is permit parking only. Given the two equally unsuitable choices of paying by check (something I have ever used a single time in my life) or NZ internet banking, I headed to the office to get the fine sorted right away. After paying the fine, I also wrote an appeal explaining that our mistake had been a misunderstanding. Carols, the helpful lady at the desk, referred me to the head of the respective department. I explained to him that I would have parked correctly if it had been clear about the difference between ‘permit only’ and ‘pay and display’. And he agreed that this might be difficult from someone with a different mother tongue coming from a different background. I was pleased to get my 40 NZD fine refunded and very happy – life is fair after all.
As we left Oamaru a bit later, we took the scenic drive along the coast instead of just following the highway. A good choice, as we got to see long empty beaches and a very nice coastline.

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Once we had secured the last powered campsite at Moeraki Boulders Campground, we followed the recommendation of the friendly Swiss owner to go to Katiki Lighthouse. And we were in fact lucky to see four of the very rare yellow eyed penguins up close. They were on their way from the beach to their hides along the steep coast. Underneath them were a couple of New Zealand fur seals lazing in the last rays of sun. And there were even a couple of little pups around as well. We loved our excursion and were happy that we had gone.

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After a couple of unsuccessful trials in trying to locate the Southern Cross, we finally succeeded that evening. It was the first real clear night since we had arrived in New Zealand and we just had to look up to see the signature constellation that is also featured on the flag.
The next morning, we hiked from our campsite along the beach to the Moeraki Boulders. While the beach was deserted, the boulders were crowded with tourists making pictures with and on the boulders from all possible angles. And indeed, the boulders make for a great photo motive. Still, we did not mind heading back and having the beach for ourselves again after a hundred meters. And anyhow, we did not want to linger too long to avoid getting trapped by the tide coming in.

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Lucky us that we returned early enough. Otherwise we would have been hiking back in the rain. We enjoyed a quiet afternoon, reading and writing in the campervan while Max was playing outside with his new friend Basili.
The weather forecast for the next day did not foresee much better weather, but at least it was dry until we left our first stop at Shag point where we got to see seals again. From then on it was raining heavily.

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At least that way it was easy to decide what to do in Dunedin: we headed to the Otago Museum and had a relaxed and dry afternoon discovering the many exhibits and watching a show in the planetarium called ‘We are stars’.
A short spell without rain tempted us to head into town to sit in a café and do some shopping. As expected, we got wet on the way back to the car, but at least we were well fed and had new stuff to wear. Even though we passed lots of beautiful buildings, the weather was too miserable to take pictures of the otherwise very beautiful town. That evening we stayed in a suburb of Dunedin at the Wingatui racecourse - essentially a parking lot with an adjacent amenities block located next to the race track.

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Surprisingly enough, we woke up to a beautiful day the next morning. After some grocery shopping and lunch at the local skatepark, we headed into Dunedin once more.

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And what a difference vs. yesterday: we got to see the beautiful railstation, the churches and Victorian buildings around the main square Octogon and were blissfully soaking in the afternoon sun. Given the Scottish heritage of Dunedin, a young bagpipe player provided the perfect ambience.

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A pair of Chinese dragons reminded us of Chinese New Year with the Year of the Rooster starting. That made us realize that the Chinese holidays might be the reason for so many Chinese people traveling. Initially we had assumed that the Chinese just prefer New Zealand vs. Australia, but it might in fact rather be linked to the period of the year.

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Eventually we headed to the Beachlands Speedway. Intrigued by a sign entering Dunedin ‘Races every Saturday, we had found out that there was a stockcar race with following demolition derby going to be taking place. That sounded like a lot of fun. After all, we had tried already in the US to see if we could see a stockcar race, so this was the perfect opportunity.
We were there early enough to be able to take a tour of the pit area where the teams were getting their cars ready. Some of them looked nice and polished, whereas others had obviously been part of a number of crashes already.
We picked front row seats and were anxious for the races to start. At first we only got to see trucks making round after round to prepare the track. But after an introductory grand parade of all race cars, the first race started with the 'streetcars'. It did not take long for us to realize that our front row seats might not have been the smartest choice. As of the first round, we were bombarded by pieces of dirt flying at us. And despite the strong fences between us and the track, we thought it might be a good idea to get a bit more distance to the track. After all, the racecars tended to get into battles. Looking at the cars, this was pretty obvious that this would be happening. And as expected, some of the cars ended up slamming the concrete wall lining the track. That was very loud and we definitively did not want to be in the trajectory of any parts flying around.

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At the end of the first race for the streetcars, we also realized that those cars that are not able to leave the track anymore, do not necessarily need a tow car to tow them out: usually there's just another one of the racers pushing them out. The tow trucks were busy enough with the more severe cases anyhow. As next classes started their races, we soon learned to distinguish the stockcars, mini stockcars or saloon cars. In total, there were seven classes. Each of them got to go for three races, such that by the second and third round we already knew what to expect.

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There was always something going on. In some classes like the saloon cars, it was exciting to follow who's leading the race and how the second and third were battling to lead of the race. In other classes, like the streetcars, it pretty much did not matter who's leading and who not. There all was about the crashes. And sometimes it was a mix of both, like in the mini stockcar class.

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At the end of those 21 races came the demolition derby in which five blue cars fought five red cars to the point when only a single blue car was functional and able to take the checkered flag on a winner’s tour around the track.

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Even though it got pretty late by the time we left, we all agreed that it had been an awesome day and something we would have had a hard time to see back home. Long after all other campers, we arrived in Wingatui. But as we had been there already, we knew our way around and soon fell into a deep night’s sleep.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 15:31 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rain penguin town museum race seal rail boulders stockcar Comments (0)

Westland or should we rather say Wetland?

Haast Pass, Jacobs River, Fox Glacier, Hokitika, Greymouth

rain 20 °C
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From the northern end of Lake Hawea where we had stayed for the night, it was only a short drive over to Lake Wanaka. After a nice drive along its shore, we started heading up towards the mountains.

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After having talked to an English traveler the night before, Sam had all of our excursions for the day planned out. The first stop was at the Blue Pools. We hiked 15 minutes through pristine forest to reach a swingbridge. After hiking along a bit further, we got to a second swingbridge spanning the Blue Pools. Their color was amazingly blue and the water crystal clear. Still, the main attraction proved to be something else: we got to watch a whole group of youngsters jumping from the swingbridge into the water underneath. It was not nearly as high of a jump as the bungy jump we had observed the day before, but this time without a rope. And surprisingly enough, there seemed to be much more hesitation and thrill involved in doing the jump into the holes. Quite a crowd had gathered around the swing bridge to applaud and it was great fun.

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Hiking up towards the car park, we came across a busload of German tourists. Looking at the age group and their immaculate trekking outfits, I told Sam that I’d take a bet that up in the carpark there’d be a Rotel bus (the German travel company that is famous for having their travelers stay overnight in rather small sleeping compartments in the back of the bus or in a bus trailer). Up at the carpark, I was disappointed to see only a ‘normal’ bus, but Sam pointed out the ‘Rotel’ sign to me quickly enough. And later that day in Haast we saw the sleeper unit of the group: a full-size truck trailer converted into the usual sleeping setup. We were happy to travel independently!
Eventually we reached the Haast pass. It’s named after Austrian explorer Julius von Haast who made the crossing back in 1863. Up there we were greeted by the sign ‘Welcome to Westland’. Sam rightfully pointed out that it might as well be more suitably named ‘Wetland’, given its infamous amounts of rain of about 5m annually.
Thanks to the rain in the last couple of days, we were rewarded with waterfalls showing off the full force. After a first stop at the Thunder Creek Falls, the valley started opening up and the narrow valley with its steep sheer-sided walls gave way to a rather wide valley with the road gently snaking along the riverside.

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The Roaring Billy Falls were our next excursion. While the falls were nice, the actual highlight was the walk there. We passed through a wonderful forest of large fern trees and felt like dinosaurs might be lurking just behind the next curve. Down at the river we spent some time skipping the perfect flat stones on the river. It had been a good decision to do this part of the journey on a nice day!

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All along the road we saw lots of vintage cars. After wondering for quite a bit what was going on, we talked to a couple and found out that it was the Timaru vintage car club having an outing doing a tour of the South Island for a week. It looked like a lot of fun. Probably it would be not nearly as much fun when it’s raining – after all many of the cars had no real rain cover!

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In Haast we were lucky to fill our tank before the next stretch of almost 170km without a gas station, but were surprised to find out that there was no mobile reception. For the first time in years I did buy a phone card and used it to call our campground for the night to reserve the last powered site. Sam was so surprised. He checked twice why I had bought a new SIM card, before realizing that this was a really old fashioned phone card like the ones I used when I was still studying in Munich.
Having our campsite secured for the night, we could take a leisurely stroll at Ship Creek. We got to see and touch our first Westcoast beach with its round pebbles and rough sea. We did both walks, starting with the Dune Lake Walk which led us through sand dunes and stunted forest to a nice viewpoint of the beach. The Swamp Forest Walk was as swampy as expected and featured enormous trees. Once more, a great stop on our way.

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At Knights Point we appreciated the nice view of the coast before the road headed inland for a bit. Still, we continued to make only slow progress, as the road continued to feature more curves than straight stretches. Heading north, we did get glimpses of Aoraki / Mt. Cook and it felt much longer than just those two weeks when we stayed just on the other side of it.

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Later than expected we arrived in Jacob’s River at the Pine Grove Motel. Two weeks ago, we had stayed just on the other side of Aoraki / Mt. Cook.
There are two ways how we could get back there. By car the shortest route would lead us via the Haast Pass and would take 439 km. The direct route would be just around 40km by hiking up the Copland Valley Track to Welcome Flat Hut and from there crossing the flanks of Mt Cook an effort which should only be undertaken by serious mountaineers.
We only realized later that in fact the Copland Valley track was temporarily closed that day due to the projected heavy rains of up to 150mm. And we can confirm: indeed, it was raining heavily.
As we arrived in Fox Glacier, we did get a nice view of the top of glacier from the viewpoint south of the bridge before heading to the glacier itself.

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Despite the rain, we also hiked up to the viewpoint above the glacier to see its lower end. Despite the 450m distance to where the glacier currently ends, it still looked very impressive. And it is - together with its twin glacier Franz Josef a bit further north – the only glacier in these latitudes coming down so close to the ocean, surrounded by rainforest.

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When hiking down again, a ranger passed us and upon reaching the carpark we realized why: he had closed the hike due to the heavy rains and subsequent risk of flash floods.
A bit further on, after passing through Franz Josef Glacier we left the Westland Tai Poutini National Park and simultaneously also the Te Wahipounamu Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area which encompasses 2.6 million hectares of wilderness.
We drove to Hokitika in pouring rain. The rain was atrocious. Once we had reached the dry heaven of the camp kitchen, none of us was keen to run back to the camper van to get something. Max played with the toys he found in the camp kitchen while Sam and I took turns on the laptop and read. And we were also there just in time to watch the final part of the Superbowl. What an exciting game and an unbelievable catch up of the New England Patriots winning 34-28 after the Atlanta Falcons had been leading already 0-21.
It rained until we went to bed that night. Our weather app recorded 49mm of rain for the day. After all the wettest place in NZ and one of the top 10 in the world is just a couple of kilometers away from Hokitika. Cropp River – a tributary to the Hokitika River - gets over 11m rainfall in an average year, with records of 18m in a single year and over 1m within 48h. Just for reference: the wettest place in Austria gets 2,5m of rainfall per year.

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The next morning we could hardly believe our luck: it had stopped raining! So we could finally go into town. Hokitika is mainly known for its jade carvings and we checked out one of the local workshops and galleries. We did check out how comfortable one can sit on a jade bench costing 220,000 NZD, but decided against it. We rather opted for a nicely painted stone featuring a kiwi for 3 NZD. Chatting with the artist, we found out that the stone is actually called ‘Grauwacke’ and might similarly be found in the German Harz. We immediately suspected that we might be talking with an emigrated German, but in fact he was South African.
A couple of doors further, we visited a glass blowing workshop and got to watch how the cute penguins on sale are made. It was great fun to watch and we admired how quickly and nicely the artist was creating the penguins.
Down at the beach we got to admire lots of driftwood sculptures which had been created as part of the annual driftwood festival just a couple of days earlier. It was fun checking out the various sculptures and deciding which one of them we liked best (every one of us had another favorite).

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Even though Max had been interested in seeing the workshops and the beach, clearly this kind of sightseeing is not his favorite pastime. So we made sure to provide him with some sights that are sure to please him. We stopped at the skateparks of Hokitika and Greymouth. In the latter, he managed to his big delight to trade his bike for a skateboard (at least for a couple of minutes) and really enjoyed trying out the skateboard.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 01:54 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sea rain beach lake river glass waterfall pool swamp forest dune jump drive pass Comments (0)

Saying good bye to Middle Earth

Paihia, Waipoua Kauri Forest, Orewa, Auckland

semi-overcast 24 °C
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We arrived just in time at the Bay of Islands to get a glimpse of its beauty at sunset. We were so keen to finally arrive at our campground that we did not even stop to take a picture. It had been a long day after all.
The campground was really nice, probably one of the best we had been to in New Zealand. Max was happy about the playground, we liked the setting just next to the bay and also appreciated having a reliable wifi connection for a change.
We quickly agreed to stay not just one, but two nights in that nice spot. The next morning, we headed out into the bay in a kayak. Our first destination was just the other side of the bay, where we discovered a small cave and even paddled under a small natural bridge. After that, we headed towards one of the many small islands dotting the bay. That was a perfect place for a break and we enjoyed the quiet place and marveled at the many holiday homes along the hills opposite of our small islands.

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The paddling back towards the campground was fun and hot. Even though the waters of the bay looked much more inviting in their turquoise colors, we were glad that the burning sun only came out then and not earlier.
The rest of the day passed very quickly between playing, exploring the bay at low tide, editing and uploading pictures and the blog. And we felt the ‘usual’ effect coming into play: already the last couple of times our activity level decreased significantly in the last couple of days before leaving a country / continent.
There was one more thing we definitively wanted to see before leaving Northland: the big kauri forests. Therefore, we did not take the direct route back south, but headed towards the west coast.
On our way, we stopped at a viewpoint. Not expecting too much, we were very pleasantly surprised about the stunning views of the Tasman Sea, the Hokianga Harbor and the massive sand dunes on the opposite side.

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From there it was just a very short (but windy) drive to Waipoua Forest, the home of Tane Mahuta, the largest living kauri tree in the world. It is estimated to be somewhere between 1250 and 2000 years old. Even though kauris don’t get very tall compared to other species of trees (Tane Mahuta is ‘only 51m high’), they grow very big in diameter.

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A bit further, we saw some more examples of big kauris, the ‘Four Sisters’ and the ‘Te Matua Ngahere’ which is not as high as Tane Mahuta, but with more than 5 meters diameter even thicker. We love big trees, so the detour to see these massive examples was definitively worth the effort.

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We had toyed with the thought to spend our last two nights at a beach on the west coast. In light of the bleak weather forecast which projected two very rainy days, we rather went for a place along the road into Auckland. Even though it was located along our way, that left quite a long drive to get to the northern outskirts of Auckland.
By the time we arrived, it was fairly late and consequently we slept until late the next morning. Luckily, the rain only started in the afternoon, such that Max and Sam were able to enjoy a nice morning at the beach. They were even able to find a buyer for Max’ bike. It’s always great to know there will be a happy next user.
I used the quiet time while they were gone to pack all of our stuff. Considering that we’d now be changing our style of traveling from road tripping in a van to backpacking Asia, there’s a lot of stuff we were able to discard. Given the closeness to Auckland, the campground featured a big ‘for free’ box for people to leave things they don’t need any more and for newcomers to take. And in fact, already by the time we left the next morning, some things like our picnic blanket seemingly had found new owners.
With everything packed up, we were ready to hit the road again. As our plane would be leaving only very late, we had a full day to spend. After running some errands (such as donating some of our not needed stuff at a local hospice shop), we spent some time in downtown Auckland. Given the wet weather, we did not explore too much, but rather spent our time in a nice an cosy café.

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While Max got to work off some energy at a playground, we got the van in shape and eventually returned it at the rental agency. We were quite happy that the van had survived the over 6000 km we drove without any incidents, accidents or breakdowns. But still, we could not resist to give the company a full list of defects on the vehicle. Even though the 50 NZD discount we received, seems like a very small token, it shows at least that our complaints were heard.
Their shuttle bus took us swiftly to the airport and before too long we were standing in line at the AirAsia counter to get our boarding passes. With those in our hands, we had a couple of hours to kill before our plane left. As we know Auckland Airport quite well thanks to Jetstar messing up our flights from Rarotonga to Sydney exactly 4 months earlier, we knew our way round very well. We spent our time in the café with the nice view and contemplated on how quickly time is passing.

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And then it was time to say good bye to New Zealand and to brace ourselves for the fun awaiting us in South East Asia. As much as we liked our travels so far, we had done enough road tripping. We were very much looking forward to a more adventurous style of traveling and exciting cultures and foods awaiting us.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 17:33 Archived in New Zealand Tagged sea rain beach tree bay kayak kauri Comments (1)

Trekking in the Himalayas

Phedi, Dhampus, Landruk, Ghandruk, Naya Pul

semi-overcast 23 °C
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Max’s birthday marked our first day of trekking. After singing him ‘Happy birthday’, he got to open his present and wear his birthday crown with a big ‘5’ on it for breakfast.
And then it was time to head into the mountains. We were excited. As we left Pokhara, we got to see the outlines of some snowy mountains. They were a bit hard to distinguish from the clouds, but here they were, the peaks of the Himalaya that we had been waiting to see for so long! Not sure if we’d ever see more than that, we took some pictures from the moving van.

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As we reached Phedi, it was time to shoulder our daypacks and to head up the mountain towards the town of Dhampus. We were a group of six: In addition to our guide Prakash, Hom and Bir joined us as porters.
It was 9:20 am when we headed off. We were off for a tough start: the trail consisted of steps that led us up along the steep hillside. And the blazing sun did not help to cool us down. I was relieved when after half an hour we reached a first settlement and got to see down into the valley where we came from. We had already covered quite some distance and altitude.

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Next was an easy bit: we got to hike through some terraced rice plantations dotted with small little houses. People were working in and around their houses or in the fields with their buffaloes. Compared to the start, it felt like we were able to stroll through level terrain – even though we consistently headed upwards.

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The steep steps started soon enough again and before we knew it, we had climbed the 600 m of altitude to reach Dhampus (1770m) where we’d be spending the night. From the saddle, we had to still head along the hillside to the other end of the settlement, where our Eco-Lodge was located.

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Max had walked everything on his own – supported by Sam who kept telling him stories and kept him motivated. At 11:40am, we made it – way quicker than what we had assumed given that we had been planning on three hours walking time.
We sat in the sun, enjoyed the view down into the valley below us, used the wifi to receive some birthday messages for Max and eventually had lunch.
We only realized when a heavy thunderstorm started how lucky we had been that we arrived so early at our lodge. The clouds were thick, there was constant lightening and thunder all around us and lots of rain. On the corrugated sheet roof, the rain was really loud. I mean really loud. The rain also marked the end of the internet connection and unfortunately also the end of the warm water supply. Prakash had been smart enough to shower right away while there was still enough solar water available. We learned a lesson and promised to ourselves not to make the mistake of waiting too long anymore.

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At dinner time, there was a big surprise: Max got a birthday cake decorated with a 5, ‘happy birthday Max’ and two sparklers. He was thrilled and we were happy that he seemingly enjoyed his birthday. And best of all: contrary to many cakes we’ve eaten abroad, this one tasted excellent!
We had an excellent night’s sleep. The rain had cleared the air, there were no dogs around and the exercise probably helped as well. As I had gone to bed quite early, all of the above helped that I woke up before sunrise and could not resist to wake also Sam to be part of the spectacle.
It was a fabulous sunrise! With the air crisp and clear, we were treated to a panorama that is hard to be matched: with Machapuchare (also called Fishtail Mountain) dominating the scene, flanked at both sides by various peaks of the Annapurna Range. At 6,993m it has never been climbed, as it is considered sacred by the local population.

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As the sun came up, the hues of red and pink emphasized peak by peak as the sun came up high enough to illuminate them. While there was no wind where we were, it obviously blew mightily further above and created snow banners which were really nice to look at.

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We had a typical breakfast in Gurung style – the Gurung being the major ethnic group in the region. And then it was time to head out into this marvellous landscape around us. What a pity that yesterday we had not even realized how beautiful it was.
The path was very nicely laid out. We hiked through a small settlement and once more we heard a welcoming ‘Namaste!’ from all sides.

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As we headed in the shade towards a small stream, I was startled by one of our porters: I had a leech wandering on my left hiking shoe. He quickly helped me to get rid of it before it could start sucking my blood and I was very alert from there on. In the next couple of minutes, I got rid of another three little fellows who found their way onto my shoe. Luckily enough, the spell was over then and we did not see a single leech for the remainder of our trip.
But there was also bad news: seemingly we had managed to wander off the path that we were supposed to take. Prakash decided to head on and after inquiring with some local farmers we started heading straight up the hill. I was devastated. For one thing, I would clearly prefer a slight incline vs. a straight line up the hill. And the other thing I need to have is a regular pace – which does not work when your guide and porters don’t know the way themselves and have to ask around here and there.
After what felt like 200m of altitude on narrow paths up the hill, we finally reached the official trail again, which was wide, laid out with stones and was ascending only slightly. What a relief. Five minutes later, we reached the settlement of Pothana, where an official checked our trekking permits.
The view from there was stunning and with it my mood was right back where it should be. All along the next stretch we got to see alternating views of Machapuchare, Hiuchuli (7441m) and Annapurna South (7219m).

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After some nice up and down we reached the highest point of our trekking round at the little village of Deurali (2150m).

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As the view suddenly expanded to the West, we got to see one of the top 10 mountains in the world: Dhaulagiri at 8167m is the seventh highest mountain. So far in the distance, it did not seem nearly as tall and without knowing, I would have never guessed that I’m looking up at a peak that is more than 6000m of altitude above us.

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We also got to look back towards Dhampus where we had stayed last night and Pokhara with Phewa Lake in the background. Just that morning with the sunrise above Dhampus and this view from Deurali was worth all the effort of coming to Nepal and hiking all the way up here.
From there on we headed down a steep descent towards Tolka where we had a great and relaxing lunch. By then we had walked already more than 7km and had 4km more ahead of us. But at least most of the 670m ascent and 790m descent we had done already and the rest was an undulating path along the steep hillside.

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By the time we reach the Tibet Guesthouse in Landruk (1640m) in the early afternoon Max was really tired, but he continued to refuse being carried by one of our porters. We were proud and celebrated our great day and achievement with a warm shower and a beer. And then it was time to play Uno – an easy card game that we also introduced our porters to.

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The guest house was beautifully located with a view straight up towards Annapurna South – well in theory that is. Soon after we left our great outlook in Deurali, clouds had started forming around the highest peaks and by the time we reached Landruk, we could only guess that there were high peaks surrounding us. The downside to the guest house was that it was not really clean. It seems that the floors had been swept, but fresh linen seemed to be an overrated luxury. I was delighted to be able to sleep in my cozy sleeping bag and just tried to avoid touching anything. Still, the beauty of the location and the nice outside areas of the guest house with its many butterflies were just superb. And it is absolutely surprising what delicious meals can be prepared on a simple wood fire!

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By the next morning, the clouds had vanished again and we got to see Annapurna South in its full beauty. On the other side of the valley, Ghandruk – our destination for today - was already lit by the first rays of sunshine. If it would not have been for the steep descent into the valley before being able to start the climb into Ghandruk, the walk would have been almost too easy.

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This morning we took it easy and had a leisurely breakfast. We left at 8:40 am, hiking through Landruk and down the steep steps towards the river. Only 40 minutes later we reached the lowest part of today’s journey, the river Modi Khola (1320m) and had 730m of ascent laying ahead of us.

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Making our way slowly upward, we were passed by many porters loaded with the bags of trekkers or with all kinds of wares. At that stage, we realized that there was no need to feel bad about the loads our own porters were carrying. With one of them carrying our 20kg backpack and the other one a bag in addition to their own packs, they must have felt like in heaven compared with their usual job. And given that Max had up to now blatantly refused being carried, we could have done the trek with a single porter up to now. Still, it was great to know that they were there.

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Two hours later we had made it all the way up. We passed a donkey / mule caravan that had brought supplies either to Ghandruk or potentially as far back as the Annapurna Base Camp. The animals seemed delighted to head down without any loads and their bells were jingling cheerfully.

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Once we reached the Annapurna Guest House, we had the whole rest of the day for ourselves. Sam used the opportunity to recover some sleep, while Max and I played extensive rounds of Uno with Prakash, Hom and Bir.

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Time has passed so quickly and we had a hard time to believe that this evening was already the last one of our trekking tour. We celebrated extensively and not only played Uno, but even introduced our team to Farkle. Like all other good acquaintances (well, except those where we forgot about it) we met on our journey, they got to write into our traveling guest book which proved to be a bit of a challenge but was successfully completed with the help of Prakash.
That night we were kept awake for long: the six dogs we had seen already all afternoon around the guest house did not believe in the advantages of night time sleep and made an effort to enforce that believe also with the hikers.
The hike down from Ghandruk was beautiful, but crowded. Contrary to the last couple of days, today we found ourselves in the middle of big groups of people. The stretch from Ghandruk to Naya Pul is not only the final stretch for the round we had done, but is also done by all people who either target the ABC (Annapurna Base Camp), the Poon Hill Trek or who are doing the Annapurna Circuit – one of the most popular treks in Nepal.
It was a long and nice hike down the hill to the settlement of Birethanti. We saw another couple of caravans, passed though many small settlements, mostly on stone-paved steps.

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After more than 10 km, Max finally gave in and allowed our porter Bir to carry him for the last remaining kilometer. Still, it had been a brave achievement that he had made it so far without using any help.

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We had lunch at the fishtail restaurant which probably boasts an excellent view of the mountain of the same name. But after our four days of experience in the mountains, we were not surprised that by noon time it was hiding in the clouds. We had a last lunch together with our porters Bir and Hom. After lunch, we had to walk only another 20 minutes until we reached Naya Pul, which marked the end of our hike.

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There our taxi waited for us. We were not pleased at all with our taxi driver. He drove like a maniac, was constantly distracted by his mobile phone despite the heavy traffic on a narrow road (which was deteriorated to the point that it seemed more like a one-way road than a two-way major highway). After five anxious minutes of observing what was going on, we asked our driver to stop talking on his phone while driving. Two minutes later we had to specify that that rule included writing text messages. He was less than amused when he realized he had to stop while talking on the phone. But that did not stop him from accepting more than ten calls and having to see how others were passing him in the meantime.
While we headed down in to the valley of Phedi, we got to see the full path we had taken on day one of our trek. It had been a really nice hike – probably one of the highlights of our journey.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:17 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains rain view trekking river sunrise clouds valley hill hike birthday lightning Comments (0)

A -stan within Russia

Kazan und Nizhny Novgorod

semi-overcast 14 °C
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When we woke up on our train from Yekaterinburg to Kazan, we had already covered most of the way to our destination. We had left Asia behind and were now solidly in Europe. And we had covered two time zones along the way and consequently were only one time zone away from home. Admittedly, still being in Russia, it did not feel very different to us.
This impression was confirmed when we reached Kazan. Already at the train station we were greeted by announcements which were made not only in Russian, but also in Tartar. We were in the capital of Tartarstan – one of the 21 or 22 (depending if you count Crimea as Russian or Ukrainian) Autonomous Regions in Russia. Tartar is a Turkic language and most Tartars are Sunni Muslims. So while having reached Europe, we were now immersed in a culture that was significantly more different to home vs. all of Asian Russia we had been to so far.
Before checking out the culture, we had a more pressing need: the heavy rain clouds above the beautiful railway station indicated already that we did not have much time left if we wanted to reach our hostel dry. We headed off at a brisk pace to cover the ~800m to our hostel. We made it to the right building just in time, but were then facing a backyard with dozens of entries. Just barely before the rain started, we spotted the tiny sign next to the last entrance and made it in safely. Even though we were a bit early, the lady at the reception told us that our room was ready. Well, to be precise: she showed us her mobile phone and we were able to read that information from Google Translate.
As we were very hungry and had no intention of getting very wet, we headed to a café just across the street to get lunch. The typical Tartar food was great and the big jug of lemonade even better.
As it was pouring rain outside and quite cold, we resorted to not doing too much that day. Max was happy to have an excuse to play Lego, while Sam and I took turns on the laptop writing the blog and getting the pictures edited and uploaded. In the process, we also realized that something strange was going on with our latest blog entry. We had uploaded ‚No roadsigns in the steppe‘ just a couple of days earlier and it had already over 3000 page views – thanks to being featured on travellerspoint.
After such a lazy day, we did start the next morning full of energy. We had breakfast and headed through the pedestrian area along Baumann Street towards the Kremlin. The area of the Kremlin is huge. Within its walls, all key buildings of town can be found: there’s the presidential palace, the impressive Qol Sharif Mosque and the Russian-Orthodox Annunciation Cathedral. With the combination of elements of the Christian-orthodox and Islamic architecture, the Kazan Kremlin has been named a UNESCO world heritage site.

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The mosque was built from 1999 to 2005 and is a modern, light filled building. While we were there, it was the first full day of Ramadan and no worshipers were in the building. It would be intriguing to see the building at some stage during prayer time, as the mosque can hold up to 6000 people. The original mosque had been destroyed in the 16th century by Ivan the Terrible.

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The Tsar celebrated his victory over Tartastan by building new churches. One of them is the Annunciation Cathedral which survived the centuries until now. After having survived the Soviet time, it had been given back to the church and since been renovated.

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We were impressed seeing the monuments of the two key religions of the region standing side by side. How nice to see that both religions seem to get along here. And that’s also the impression we had all across town: everything felt laid back and very low-stress. In the restaurants there were women with hijab working next to others without and in the stores we noticed a couple of ‘halal’ signs. Nice.

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After lunch at a Chak Chak, we headed down Baumann Street. Just when Sam was commenting that there were hardly any tourists around, we suddenly recognized some known faces: there were Rob and Gay, the Australians who had stayed at the Zaya Hostel in Ulaanbaatar while we were there. What a coincidence. Just as we talked together, a group of Russian youngsters approached us, requesting to take a picture together. And of course, we agreed.

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They just came from the Museum of Soviet Life and confirmed that it was worth seeing. And that’s where we were headed anyhow. We truly enjoyed our experience at the museum. Contrary to classical museums, this was hands on, fun and very interactive. Visitors were able to try on all the costumes, glasses, wigs, toys etc. We had a fabulous time.

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After a break in a café, we shopped in a classical mom-and-pop store. Not having worked out in advance the full list of what exactly we need, made the experience rather stressful. The lady behind the counter was seemingly not used to people not knowing what they need. As other customers came in, we let them go first such that we had a bit more time to figure out what else we might need. We only realized when these customers were served, that many things on sale were not visible, but available upon request. Not being able to speak Russian, we rather stuck to everything we could see and point to. That’s when we realized that being used to browse in supermarkets and being able to physically see and inspect everything is a big luxury.

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We enjoyed a quiet dinner at home in our apartment. The night before, we had been the only guests in the three rooms and had the kitchen and bathroom for ourselves. Tonight, it was full house. In the room next to us, there were two moms: Natasha with her daughter Sasha (13) and Natasha with her son Timo (7). Within just a couple of minutes, they invited us to join them at the kitchen table. Luckily one of the Natashas spoke excellent English and all others did understand quite a lot. We all drank whisky-cola (that is the adults). Natasha’s amusing recommendation was not to use too much coke in the mix as it’s not very healthy.

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Once their whisky was gone, we realized that we should take up the offer to have some of their dinner as well. After all, alcohol consumption requires a base. After all, we were able to make sure that the reserves were replenished: with our supplies of vodka and beer we were able to continue the party. We had lots of fun and laughed a lot. We invited them to come to Germany and to visit us there. Unfortunately, one of the Natashas works for the Russian army as an accountant and consequently is not allowed to leave the country. What a pity! At midnight, we finally ran out of alcohol and went to bed. Once more, we had had a great evening – we love Russia and its people!
The next morning, we had a relaxed breakfast before having to pack our stuff and leave. Unfortunately, we were not able to stay longer in our room than 11am and our train was only leaving at 10pm that evening.
We walked below the Kremlin Hill to the Volga River. At the embankment, everything seemed to be ready for the Soccer World Championship in 2018 already now. The modern, clean, well-signposted (in both Russian and English) quarter with its many restaurants, bike rentals and miniature train was perfectly set up to receive masses of tourists. While practical and purpose built, it lacked all references to the local country and culture. A newly built area like this would not have looked much different in other parts of the world.

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As we walked back towards the center of town, it soon became obvious again in which country we are. The massive soviet style Agriculture Palace was impressive and had all the features to excite visitors like us. We were less impressed by the weather though. Heavy rain clouds had moved in and it started to drizzle. While a summer rain might have been pleasant, at an outside temperature of merely 12 °C, it was just awful.

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So we headed into a restaurant for lunch. It was an extended lunch until the afternoon – after all we did not have a room or home base to retreat to. Admittedly, it was not much fun trying to kill the hours. Eventually, we moved from the restaurant to a café, where we spent the remainder of the time until our taxi picked us up at 8:30 pm.
Our train left from another train station than the one we had arrived in. We were surprised that all of our bags were screened. That had not happened at a single train station so far. Once the train arrived, we were greeted by a very well organized conductor who even spoke excellent English. Once more we were surprised: contrary to the last times we boarded the train, she ignored the print outs of our boarding passes, but rather wanted to see our passports. We concluded that we’re obviously nearing Moscow and that the laid-back atmosphere of the outposts in Siberia is starting to be replaced efficiency and structure.
When planning our train journey, we had no clue how reliable trains would be. And as there are no direct connections from Kazan to St. Petersburg, we went for a safe alternative: we’d spend a full day in Nizhny Novgorod and be able to reach our connection even in case of a long delay. In retrospect, this was an unnecessary move: all trains had been perfectly on time so for. And having had already yesterday a day without a home base, doing this once more today, seemed less tempting than when we made the plan.
We shared our compartment in the night with Elgar who went to work from Kazan to Nizhniy. The conductor brought us three cups of tea. That was not really needed, as Max fell right asleep as soon as we had his bed set up. And we were not keen on drinking black tea right before going to sleep.
It was barely 7am when we reached Nizhny Novgorod and had to leave our train. On our way from the platform to the exit, we had to pass through the station building and had to get our baggage screened. That seemed unnecessary to us, but confirmed our theory that things were getting more and more strict as we neared Moscow.
We deposited our baggage at the station and headed for breakfast at the Макдоналдс just across the street (in case you’re not reading Cyrillic, you would have recognized the branding easily anyhow: we went to a McDonalds). After a relaxed breakfast, we took metro and headed into town to see the main sights. We walked along the main pedestrian zone of town downwards towards the Kremlin. It was cool Tuesday morning and the sun just came out sporadically, so there were not too many other people around.

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Once we reached the medieval fortress, we were able to see some similarities to the Kremlin in Kazan, but also some significant differences. Both Kremlins are built on hills next to the Volga river. They are dating back to medieval times and continue to contain the administrative centers of their respective towns / regions. But as Nizhny’s Kremlin is built on a very steep hill, its wall fortifications seem much more impressive. And there was a different focus on the inside: in Nizhny we were greeted by an exhibition of WWII tanks, vehicles, planes and artillery. And in addition, there were a couple of monuments and an eternal flame honoring fallen soldiers in WWII.

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Only one of the previously many churches of the Kremlin precinct remains to this day. Contrary to Kazan, there is obviously no Islamic heritage in Nizhny and consequently no mosque.

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We enjoyed the beautiful view from one of the platforms down to the Volga River. That’s also where we headed next. It was fun to observe the many river cruise ships pass by.

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From the Volga, we then walked up the impressive Chkalov Staircase with its almost 500 stairs. Up at the monument of Mr. Chkalov (who was the first man to fly directly from Europe to North America via the North Pole), we noticed many renovation and infrastructure works going on. Similar to what we had seen already in Ekaterinburg and Kazan, also Nizhny will be hosting the next soccer world cup. And we assume that some of the improvements are directly connected with this big upcoming event.

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By the time, we had completed our tour of the Kremlin, we had walked already for quite a while and for considerable distances. We deserved a good break and found it at a nice and comfortable café where we stayed for quite a while. Eventually, Max was ready to get some exercise again and we headed to a playground and then played Frisbee in a nearby park.

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We did not want to take a lot of chances and made sure to get to the train station well ahead of our departure time. That way, we had enough time left to buy some provisions (especially kvass and beer). Considering that roughly a quarter of Russian supermarkets seems to be dedicated to selling alcohol, it can take a while until we find a brand we like.

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It was easy to get our baggage out of storage and to go through the security checks. Our train had already pulled into the station and by showing our passports we were admitted to our compartment. This time, we shared with Feodor, who was going to St. Petersburg, just like us.

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Contrary to most other tourists on the Trans-Siberian Route, we had opted not to stop in Moscow. After all, both Sam and I had explored Moscow already a couple of years ago when Sam worked in Russia. We rather preferred to spend more time in St. Petersburg, where none of us had been so far.

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Our train did stop at some stage in the middle of the night in a Moscow train station. Admittedly, we missed it and slept profoundly. Anyhow, we would not have been too impressed anyhow: that night a major storm hit Moscow which even resulted in a couple of deaths. We were lucky that our train was not affected in any way by falling trees or other objects.
When we woke up the next morning, we had breakfast and got ready to leave our train as it was approaching St. Petersburg at around 10am in the morning.
In total, we had covered the whole distance from Ulaanbaatar to St. Petersburg by train – a total of 6895km, 116h 27 min and five time zones. Split into six legs, train travel was comfortable and a reliable, safe and convenient way of traveling. We truly enjoyed approaching our destination step wise and being able to make so many stops along the way. And in addition, we got to see the landscapes and small towns along the way as well.
Still, knowing that we had now finally reached the very last stop of our journey of more than a year did feel strange after all. Having approached it in intervals and rather slowly, made the process easier. But still, there was an element of sadness in knowing that before too long, this trip of a lifetime would be over.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 07:21 Archived in Russia Tagged rain kremlin mosque church train metro vodka islam volga Comments (1)

White nights of St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg

rain 12 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

Arriving in St. Petersburg on a grey morning at 12 °C and pouring rain was a bit of a damper. Even though our apartment was only 20 minutes walking distance away, we were rather put off by the thought of getting drenched.
We knew from our host Anton that an Uber to the apartment should cost around 100 rubles. So we were not keen on taking up the offers of the taxi drivers waiting in the station who tried to charge up to 2000 rubles. As we walked towards the exit of the building, the offers got lower, but admittedly we were only able to find a guy offering 400 rubles in the end. By that time, we were already at the end of the parking lot of the railway station and had gotten a good share of rain. In other words: despite knowing that we had a bad deal, we did not mind anymore.
At the apartment, our host Anton was already waiting for us. The ‘Zoe Suites’ were a super nice and luxurious three-bedroom apartment with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. For the first night, we’d be the only guests, so we had the place for ourselves.
Anton also shared with us that in St. Petersburg, there are only 60 sunny days per year, so that we should not bee too surprised about a rainy day like today. We couldn't resist to recommend to Anton to move to sunny Mongolia which features 300 days of sunshine. Given how far north we were, it was no wonder that temperatures were not very high either. St. Petersburg marks the northernmost point of our travels so far ever located almost as far north as Anchorage in Alaska.
It took us until the early afternoon to motivate ourselves to get out into the rain. Admittedly, we had been spoiled on our travels so far. Strolling along St. Petersburg’s main avenue Nevski Prospekt, we passed luxurious shops, important architectural highlights and many monuments. We also observed as one car hit another at an intersection. Both cars continued as if nothing had happened. We were rather astounded about that. A local next to us only shrugged and commented ‚normalnyi‘. Ok, that's also a way of looking at things...
The Nevski Prospekt was impressive and much bigger than what we would have imagined. But anyhow, even though we knew that St. Petersburg is Europe's second largest city after Moscow, it still surprised us by its sheer size. We walked along, passed the statue of Catherine the Great surrounded by her associates (aka lovers) and made it all the way to the Kazan Cathedral. By then we were soaked enough to give up our sightseeing effort and headed into a café.

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We had great plans for the evening: Anton brought his daughter Zoe over and she played with Max until both of them were long overdue to go to bed. I skipped the fun and went for an evening program of a different kind: I went to see a classical production of ‘Swan Lake’. Being in Russia meant that I also wanted to see Russian ballet. I had a great evening.
When I left the theater at almost half past ten, it was still light outside. Being so far up north means that the nights are really short in June and it hardly gets dark at all – the famous white nights of St. Petersburg. I felt extremely safe walking through the streets of St. Petersburg on my own. In fact, I was not alone - there were many people out and about on the way to and from restaurants, clubs and bars.
The next morning, we were greeted by the sun. We were delighted and headed out right away to take the metro. The St. Petersburg metro system is the deepest in the world and we realized that it took us quite a while to reach the ground level again. Similar to the Moscow, the stations are very beautiful - the so called workers' palaces.

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The metro took us to the Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Petersburg's citadel next to the Neva River.

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It was sunny, but extremely windy and rather cool. That did not stop the people from sunbathing at the beaches along the fortress walls next to the Neva River. Probably they had protection from the wind. We did not and almost got blown away as we crossed the Trinity Bridge over to the other side of the Neva River. The high wind was also the reason why we did not get to do a tour through the canals of St. Petersburg. The wind caused the water levels to raise and to make the smaller bridges in the center of town impassable.

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We continued our tour on foot. Via the Summer Garden we reached the Church of Savior on Spilled Blood. The church marks the spot where emperor Tsar Alexander II was mortally wounded in 1881. The church looks a bit similar to St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. Being a recognizable landmark, it was also the prime spot for the many TV crews to setup their camp such that they can report live from the St. Petersburg World Economic Forum which took place these days featuring Russia’s President Putin and important politicians from many countries.
The inside of the church was as beautiful as its outside. The interior walls are covered by 7500 square meters of intricate mosaics. Heading out of the church, we got to enjoy the church from the same angle as we had seen it a day earlier. What a difference! Yesterday it had looked nice in the grey rain. Today with the blue sky it looked spectacular.

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We had lunch in an excellent Georgian restaurant ‘Cha Cha’. Having relaxed there, we were motivated again to walk the remainder of the way home. We passed the Russian Museum, the Circus and other nice buildings along the way. With so many nice buildings, the city reminded us a bit of Vienna. And also the food reminded us of home: the strudel we bought in a bakery was meeting even the highest Austrian strudel standards.

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We spent the evening at home and took it easy after a busy day. The next morning, we woke up with a big surprise: after the beautiful day yesterday it was raining heavily again. The weather was purely awful. So we dropped our plan to visit Peterhof today. Lucky us that we had not bought tickets in advance. In this gruesome weather it would not have been any fun to explore the extensive gardens with the fountains.
Anton recommended that we rather visit the Yusupov Palace. Contrary to many other St. Petersburg sites, it is not quite as overrun by tourists as e.g. the Hermitage Museum. So that’s where we went. And indeed: the palace was beautiful and when we did our tour there were hardly any other people around. And once more it was the site of a murder: Rasputin had been assassinated in the basement of the palace in 1916.

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By the time we left the palace, it was still raining. We tried to catch the bus back towards the Nevski Prospekt. After searching for quite a while to find the bus station into the other direction, we gave up and started walking. Luckily, the rain eventually turned into a mere drizzle. We walked by the Saint Isaac’s Cathedral and the Admiralty Building to reach the Hermitage Museum which includes the Winter Palace, a former residence of Russian emperors. On the Palace Square the rain finally stopped and even the sun was peeking out a bit.

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At a café, we relaxed a bit before taking the bus back to our place. We used the time to pack our bags – after all we’d be heading back home tomorrow.
A bit later, Anton and Zoe picked us up. We took their 30-year-old Mercedes Benz S Class to a park. We had to use a hole in the fence to get in. Officially, all park doors were closed due to a predicted storm. But considering that there was an event of the Economic Forum taking place right next to the park, we speculated if the park was maybe just closed for that reason.

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From the park, we headed on to the Smolny (or Resurrection) Cathedral. In the evening light, it was a beautiful sight. But as we were hungry, we did not spend much time and headed towards the Ukrainian restaurant where Anton had booked a table for us. Luckily, he had reserved, as the place was packed.

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It was a great last evening of our trip. We had great food and enjoyed Ukrainian music. It was fun to chat with Anton and his wife Nadia. We exchanged stories from our travels and laughed a lot. We confirmed once more, how friendly and pleasant Russians are – great hospitable people. Zoe even presented Max with a good-bye present: a typical Russian stuffed animal called ‘Cheburashka’, which can even speak a couple of sentences and sing the Cheburashka song. But also Sam and I requested a souvenir: we asked Anton and Nadia to write into our traveling guest book, which by now is almost full. What a great last night out – an absolute highlight.

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When we left the restaurant after midnight, there was still light on the horizon. Despite the lack of sleep, Anton did stop by at our apartment at seven in the morning to make sure that we made it well to our taxi to the airport. Let’s hope that one day he will come to visit us in Germany, such that we can reciprocate the great hospitality we enjoyed.
Within thirty minutes, we reached the St. Petersburg airport. It did not take long to check in our bags. But then, we encountered a couple of difficulties. At first, the guy at the customs desk asked us if we had any liquids in our checked bags. We truthfully answered that ‘yes’ there were not only toiletries, but also two small bottles of vodka in the bags. That caused him to make us wait at his desk for about ten minutes until he had received a message that our bags were ok and that we could proceed.
Immigration was worse still. We knew already that the Russian embassy in Cambodia had stuck our visa into our passports such that the machine-readable part was on the inside fold, i.e. the visa was not machine readable. While the immigration officer back at the Mongolian – Russian border had been only slightly frustrated by this issue, the lady at the airport made a huge deal out of it. It took her almost 15 minutes to clear the three of us such that we could get out of the country.
Fortunately, we got through the security checks without any further delay, as otherwise we would have probably missed our flight. For the first time in our 26 flights so far, we had to run to the gate in order to make it on time.
All that rush avoided any possibility to get melancholic about the fact that this is the absolute end of our trip around the world. Even though we knew it was our last flight and that we’d be at home with friends and family within just a few hours, it felt still very unreal and hard to believe.
We were able to see a bit of the landscape underneath us also from the plane. But maybe it would have been easier approaching the end of our travels more slowly by train. As we had learned in the last few weeks, there’s a different quality to traveling by train. But then we would not have arrived within 2 hours and 40 minutes, but we would have needed to spend at least 34 hours in at least four different trains.

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The immigration officer at Vienna Airport briefly checked our passports and waved us through. It’s so easy being an EU citizen arriving in another EU country – what an advantage over what we faced in many other countries. Despite the fact that it is not needed, we asked for stamps in our passport to mark our arrival back home. That way, it’s officially documented now that we have reached the European Union again after more than 13 months of having been away.
We are home…

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 20:57 Archived in Russia Tagged rain church palace river museum fortress wind cold Comments (0)

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