30 September 2009

Czech Republic photos uploaded

I love taking photographs. It's something I really enjoy. The result is I end up with LOTS of photos that need to be sorted and organized before I can upload them for sharing with others. I'm happy to report that I have uploaded our Czech Republic photos. Whew! The pictures are organized by location and I hope you'll enjoy viewing them.

One country down, three more to go.

Flickr link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/liezel/collections/72157622326115549/

29 September 2009

Philippine tragedy

Last weekend, a typhoon dumped a lot of rain on Manila and caused major flooding. Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected and so far, over 200 people have died. The photos of people struggling in the flood waters are heartbreaking. My sister Leslie lives in Manila and thankfully, they live in an area not affected by the flood.

I donated to the Red Cross right away, feeling like that was really the only thing I could do from where I am. I phoned my other sister who lives in Richmond, BC and asked her if she had donated. She said no because the last time there was a calamity in the Philippines, it was revealed later on that a lot of the donations from overseas were pocketed by corrupt government officials and never reached the people who really needed the help. How anybody can stomach doing such a thing is beyond me. I am now hoping that my donation will actually make a difference, reach the people they are meant for, and not end up in someone’s Swiss bank account.

Which is the bigger tragedy - that thousands of people have lost their homes or that the trust we have in our own brethren has been lost?

20 September 2009

The good, the bad, and the ugly - part 3

- The food! Everywhere we ate in Bari, Naples and Rome, the food was super delicious! The pizza in Naples deserves special mention.
- The history lesson, live. Very cool to learn about history while being in the actual place where it happened.
- The Amalfi coast. Stunning.
- The friendly train conductor who didn't charge us 50 Euro for not validating our ticket, the friendly Naples bus driver who let us on the bus without a ticket, the friendly pastry shop owner who warned us to hold on tightly to our bags and camera while walking around Spaccanapoli, and the friendly pizza chef who told me to put my watch away because I might get mugged wearing it in Naples. We found Italians to be quite helpful, friendly and patient with us tourists.

- The Metro construction in Naples turned many of the city's piazzas into construction sites. Too bad.
- People who insist on taking photos in museums and churches when the signs clearly say taking photos is not allowed.

- The graffiti and litter strewn all over Naples turned a city with the potential to be a beautiful city into an ugly one.

19 September 2009

Last stop, Rome

Rome. A bit bittersweet being in Rome. We're here for only a few days and it is also the last stop of our little tour. But going to Rome is on my life's to-do list and I'm so excited to have the chance to visit. We spent our first day walking and walking and walking. We started our walk in Trastevere, where we were staying, and made our way to Piazza del Popolo. We wanted to shop for Ed's suit and were advised to go to Via del Corso. Along the way, we stumbled upon Campo de Fiori and Piazza Navona and lots of churches and beautiful buildings. We rested in Piazza del Popolo for a bit before heading down Via del Corso. The shops got more high-end as we got closer to the Spanish steps. We walked into one store where the price tag said 3,000 Euro for a suit. Yeah, we exited that store pretty quickly.

Our second day in Rome was all about the Vatican Museum, St. Peter's Square, and St. Peter's Basilica. We slept in a little because we were exhausted from all the walking we did the previous day. We agreed that we would use the bus and metro more. The Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel were amazing. The grandeur of the rooms struck me - how could a church that asked its priests and nuns for a vow of poverty have such opulence? But then again, the church ruled just as kings did at one point in history, and so a lavish palace would have been in order. I am glad that past popes had the foresight to collect and safeguard the works of art from the past which we now get to enjoy and appreciate with our own eyes. I wish I could be in the Sistine Chapel alone. Just me and the wonderful frescos that adorn it. Ok, Ed can be there, too. Instead, there were hundreds of people there with us, plus all these annoying people who insisted on taking photos in spite of the large signs that showed a big red X over a camera and the chapel police saying "no foto" every two minutes. Grrrr...

Our third day, we explored the old Rome area - the Colosseum, Forum, and Pantheon. I imagined the Colosseum packed with cheering spectators as the gladiators battled each other. These spectators from 2000 years ago walked on the same ground that I just walked on. Our audio guide said to look around and imagine the present-day tourists wearing togas instead. That's what it would have looked like in the past. After lunch, we walked to the Trevi Fountain and then took the bus to the National Museum of Rome. The museum was the most quiet place we've been to since we got to Rome and it was a nice break from the crowds. Our time in Rome was too short and we'd really like to come back and spend more time in this beautiful city.

And just like that, our vacation was over. We had an early morning flight out of Rome and had a full day of travel back to Vancouver (via Frankfurt and Toronto). I was glad to be going home (I really missed my cats) but was also sad that our little travel adventure was done. We had a really great time!

I'll be uploading our pics to Flickr very soon. Stay tuned...

16 September 2009

Napoli, etc.

Ed and I are in Naples' central train station waiting for our train to Rome. We spent three days exploring Naples and the surrounding areas. On our first afternoon here, we walked around Spaccanapoli, an area of narrow streets, churches, and monuments. Naples is where pizza was invented so having one (or two) during our stay was a priority. The pizza was delicious! After a bit of siesta, we headed to Galleria Umberto I, a shopping mall built in the late 1800's. The galleria was ornate and impressive. They just don't make shopping malls like that anymore!

Our second day was all about Pompei and the Archaeological Museum. Most of the artifacts discovered in Pompei were hauled off to the museum where they are now on display. Sculptures, paintings, coin collections, etc. provide a glimpse into what life was like in Pompei when Mt. Vesuvius erupted. We then went to Pompei and walked around the ancient city. It was very interesting and you could almost picture people going about their lives back in 62 A.D. There were temples, palazzos, simple houses, baths, a market, a brothel, theatres, a basilica, and so on. The ruins of a whole city preserved for us to explore. It was a neat experience.

We spent our third day exploring Capri island, Positano on the Amalfi coast, and Sorrento which is on the other end of the Bay of Naples. Capri is a ritzy little island full of designer shops and beautiful mansions. I took away a small souvenir from Capri - a pair of Maui Jim sunglasses. :)

From Capri, we took a ferry to the little town of Positano. We almost missed the boat, literally stepping on the gangway as it was already being pulled up from the dock. Whew! When we arrived in Positano, it started to rain quite hard so we seeked shelter in a caffe bar. We sat back, enjoyed our caffe, and watched the rain and lightning. Finally, the rain eased up and we walked around the town. Positano is a village that goes vertical. The houses hug the mountain and they look like they are on top of each other. Very picturesque town.

Our next adventure was the Amalfi drive from Positano to Sorrento. The bus was standing-room only and we had to hang on tight as the road twisted and turned along the Amalfi coast. And the bus driver was not in any mood to slow down for the turns, just honking the horn to warn oncoming traffic that our bus was coming. The road was like a ribbon weaving its way on the mountain side. One thing is for sure - Gravol is highly recommended!

Sorrento was very pretty and much cleaner than Naples. We walked around the market area and I bought a scarf for 3 Euro. We enjoyed a delicious dinner near the main square and then took the Circumvesuviana train back to Naples. It was a long day but truly a great one.

Our visit to Naples and the surrounding areas went by way too quickly. Naples is an interesting place - busy, dirty, and crowded. Stark contrast to the glitz of Capri and the postcard-like beauty of Positano and Sorrento.

Our next (and last) stop is Rome, a destination I am very excitwd about. Hard to believe we're going home in a few days!

13 September 2009

Wows and whoas

Wow: When we were clamoring and Googling away in the lobby of our Prague hotel looking for a way to get to Split because SkyEurope went bust, Ed's teammate Ron took a picture of us hunkered in front of laptops. Ron posted the picture to his Twitter with the caption "stuck in Prague". Less than ten minutes later, another hotel guest approached us with his iPhone in hand and said "Are you these guys?" and showed us the picture from Ron's twitter displayed on his phone. He said he recognized the sofas in the picture since he was sitting on an identical one a few metres from us. Is that crazy or what? Turns out he was a jilted SkyEurope passenger too.

Whoa: At Zlatni Rat beach, Kevin says to me, "I think that dude is wearing a woman's bottom". I looked over and saw the guy with short graying hair, his back towards us. He was on the heavier side, a little fleshy around the midsection and his speedo did look like it had small ruffles. Right at that moment, the dude turned around and we saw boobs. The dude was actually a topless older lady. Too funny.

12 September 2009

Dubrovnik and Montenegro

Ed and I spent four nights in Dubrovnik which is an amazing place. There is something magical about the imposing city wall, red-tiled roofs, and marble streets. We stayed in the Old Town, the walled city that is the historic centre of Dubrovnik. We walked the city wall one morning with an audio guide. The walk is about 2 km long and it took us over 3.5 hours to complete our tour and I took a gazillion pictures. It was just so beautiful. I'm glad we stayed within the city walls because we felt part of the place as I scoot over to the bakery to buy some bread or the store to buy a bottle of wine. The best time to walk around Old Town is either early in the morning or late at night when the throng of tour groups are gone. On our third day in Dubrovnik, we went on an excursion to the Elafiti islands just off the Dubrovnik coast The boat took us to three islands and we got some beach time in two of them. The other one was where we stopped for lunch. The last stop brought us to Lopud island where Sunj beach is. Boasted as the best beach in Dubrovnik, it did not disappoint. (Zlatni Rat in Bol is still the best beach we visited in Croatia.) The grilled fish we were served for lunch was very delicious.

On our second day, we did a day trip to Montenegro which is the country just south of Croatia. It was part of the former Yugaslavia like Croatia was. The tour was okay; Montenegro was beautiful. Going on the tour reminded me why I don't like going on them - a big group being sherperded around and being told we have 1 hour to look around. But if we didn't go with a tour group, it would have cost us a lot more to go and probably wouldn't have covered as much ground. Oh well. Okay, back to Montenegro. We drove to the Bay of Kotor and stopped at the town of Kotor. The have an Old Town, too, but not as impressive as Dubrovnik's. It reminded me of Trogir in Croatia. The bay was very picturesque. Then we took this crazy road with tons of hairpin turns up the mountain to the town of Njegusi where stopped for a quick lunch. We then went to the Museum of King Nicola which is his residence that has been converted to a musuem of his stuff. Afterward, we went to the town of Budva which is the touristy beach resort town in Montenegro. You can tell there have been lots of development in recent years as the buildings all look quite new. Budva,too, had an old walled city that is now, like all the other walled cities we've gone to, a shopping area.

Now, Ed and I are on a ferry en route from Dubrovnik to Bari, Itally. The crossing takes 8 hours which seems short now after enduring a 22-hour train ride. I've been sitting on the deck enjoying the sun all day.

We really liked the Adriatic coast of Croatia. There is a laid-back atmosphere here that was very relaxing. The ocean breeze and the sound of waves are never far away. We'll add Croatia to our list of places to (hopefully) visit again.

9 September 2009

The good, the bad, and the ugly - part 2

The good:
- Getting beach time and beach weather to go with it. Zlatni Rat has been the best beach so far.
- The seafood, especially mussels and squid, have been awesome.
- Dubrovnik's city wall and old town. Definitely makes the 22-hour train ride to Croatia worth it.
- The Adriatic coast. Rugged and beautiful.
- Traveling and hanging out with Eugene, Kevin, Brian and Vivian was really fun.

The bad:
- Food is more expensive than we anticipated. Prague is definitely cheaper than Split, Bol, and Dubrovnik.

The ugly:
- SkyEurope flights getting cancelled the day before our flight. That's plain ugly.
- People who really should not be wearing speedos or going topless but still insist on wearing speedos or going topless.

6 September 2009

Split and Bol

Ed and I have been in Croatia the last six days. Getting here from Prague was an adventure in itself. We had booked a Sept 1 flight with SkyEurope but on Aug 31 the airline was booted out of airports for failing to pay their airport fees. We found out about it a few hours before our flight so we decided to go by train. Fortunately, there is a direct train from Prague to Split. Unfortunately, the trip takes 21 hours.

Four of our friends were also on the same flight so the six of us booked a couchette on the sleeper train and made the trip together. We were like sardines in a can. But we enjoyed each other's company and laughed a whole lot. Made our time on the train go a lot quicker.

Our apartment in Split was very cozy and it was perfect for me and Ed. Our friends also had an apartment nearby and we just hung out and chilled. Split's main attraction is the Diocletian Palace which is now one big bazaar of shops and cafes. The best time to visit it is actually at night when the throng of shoppers are gone and the main square is lit up. We also went to a couple of beaches - Bene which was so-so and Bacvice which was a nice one. We did a day excursion to the town of Trogir which is a UNESCO heritage site.

From Split we took the ferry to a town called Bol on Brac island. The main attraction in Bol is the beach called Zlatni Rat (which means Golden Cape). We woke up to gray skies and strong winds. The rain started to pour while we were having breakfast and so the morning was spent playing cards. The sky cleared up by 1pm and we headed Zlatni Rat. The beach is awesome. It is a pebble beach and the water is so clear. There were also lots of things on the beach that entertained us. This is Europe after all and nudity is not a big deal. Men in Speedos, topless women and people changing out of their swimsuits without covering up was not uncommon.

Eugene, Kevin, Brian, and Vivian left this morning for Split where they will catch their flights to Frankfurt, then to Vancouver. We had so much fun traveling with them and will terribly miss their company. Tomorrow, Ed and I head to Dubrovnik. But right now, I am enjoying Zlatni Rat, the ocean breeze and the clear blue sea.

3 September 2009

Exploring Prague

Exploring Prague is very easy. The transit system is quite good and makes it easy to get around. Walking around the different neighbourhoods is also easy. The main areas for tourists are Hradcany (where Prague castle is), Mala Strana (where Charles bridge is), and Nove Mesto (where Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square are). We spent many hours walking through the narrow cobbled lanes from one area to the next. I really enjoyed seeing these sites at night when they were lit up. So beautiful.

We also did a day excursion to Kutna Hora, an hour by train east of Prague. We visited the Bones Church - a church decorated with human bones. Very creepy but interesting at the same time.

By sticking with the recommendations in the Lonely Planet book, we managed to have some delicious meals while in Prague. It is also inexpensive to dine out if you avoid the restaurants right in the touristy areas. A half litre glass of beer cost anywhere from $1.50 to $4.00, depending on where you go. And the beer was good!

We enjoyed our stay in Prague. Would I go back? I don't think so. A few days is all you need to see the main sites. I am glad to have visited. Thanks, Ed, for making the team and giving me the chance to go.

1 September 2009

Go Canada!

The dragon boat world championships wrapped up last Sunday and the Canadian contingent did really well. It's fun to hear the anthem play during the medal ceremonies. There were so many fast teams which made the races quite exciting to watch as many of the race times were within hundredths of a second of each other. Ed's team competed very hard. They placed fourth in the 2000 m, fourth in the 1000 m, first in the mixed 500 m, and seventh in the mens 500 m.

The fun part for many were the trading of race jerseys with other countries. It was like a market place with people negotiating for jerseys back and forth. I was tasked with trading Ed's jerseys and I got jerseys from Macau and Ukaraine. Ed was able to trade for jerseys from Poland and Czech Rep. I traded my Canada jersey for a Philippines one. Fun stuff.

With the racing done, our vacation officially starts now. I quite enjoyed Prague and was able to explore quite a bit. Next stop, Croatia.