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To Berlin We Go….

3rd December 2011

Soppy Moment Warning: Once we had finally figured out how to get my SIM card active, I sent Buddha a message to let him know my number in Germany. He replied around 1am Germany time, I saw it but was too tired to reply. About 5min later he sent another checking if I got the first. By now the jet lag and effectively kicked my butt and I was in no condition to reply. In all he sent 3 texts and tried to call me twice. It was kind of sweet that he wanted to reach me so badly.

Berlin Bound

To get to Berlin we were taking the subway to a meeting spot where we were meeting up with a rideshare. It makes traveling in Germany so much easier and cheaper using the rideshare website. As we waited for the train I sent Buddha a quick text saying I got his. He called me almost immediately and it was so good to talk to him, and he sounded thrilled to have reached me, but unfortunately the train pulled up at that moment…

Taking the train to the city center we found our rideshare. Cathleen had warned the lady that I was at the end of a world tour and had 2 big bags, she had assured Cathleen that there was space and she might not offer the 3rd seat just in case. Well turns out she had a tiny car that was already pretty chocka-block full and she had offered the 3rd seat. After much shifting and squeezing we managed to fit ourselves and the bags in and set off. The guy sitting in the back with me kept spreading out and eventually I was almost sitting on the door handle, all the time with my backpack in my lap. At the same time, our rather… eccentric (that seems like a safe word), used this down time of driving 2 hours to catch up on all her phone calls, without a headset.

I don’t think Cathleen and I have been happier to fold out of a car as we were when we reached our destination. It was just crazy, but makes for a funny story in hindsight and it only cost us 14 euro each, about a third of the price if we had taken the train all the way.

3 Little Pigs Hostel

We had been dropped off at the train station and it was just a short ride to our exit for the hostel. The train exit was at the beautiful old ruin, originally the station during WW2 I believe.

As we emerged two wizened old men asked us if we were going to “The Church”. We said no and looked a little confused. When we reached the hostel we realised it had been converted from an old convent and it still had the church up and running. Hahahahah it was rather amusing after we had stood and disagreed with the old fellas just moments before. 3 Little Pigs Hostel was rather impressive, but it was barely 11am and check in was only at 3pm. So after stowing our gear we headed out for the first half of the walking tour that Cathleen had chosen. Of course as we stepped outside it started raining.

Berlin had Bear statues everywhere. Reminded of the pigs we had all over Seattle, Washington in the states. I couldn’t resist getting a photo with at least one of them.

Heading for the Platz

Just down the way from the hostel was the new up and coming trendy area called Potsdamer Platz. With tons of restaurants and stores to choose from, it was also the site of the next Christmas Market. We decided to save that for later though.

Walking the Wall

I remember hearing about the Berlin Wall growing up, studying it in history class and watching on TV when it was finally torn down. I never thought I would be standing in the shadow of its remnants. It just made you wonder why, why and how politics so often destroys lives.

Started in 1961, the wall was built by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and completely cut off West Berlin from East Germany and East Berlin. The fall of the Berlin Wall paved the way for German Reunification. The wall was torn down for the most part in 1990. During those almost 30yrs the wall tore apart families, friends and an entire country.

Part of the Wall Left as a Reminder

At this section of wall there was also a museum that gave full accounts of life during Nazi Germany, the camps and Hitler. It was a rather poignant reminder of that time and I was impressed that even though it was a time of shame in so many ways, there was no attempt to hide it.

Holocaust Memorial

As we followed the Walking Tour we came across one of the largest memorials I have ever seen, The Holocaust Memorial. Covering 4.6 acres it is covered with large stone stelae (slabs) numbering 2711. The stelae are of varying heights and arranged on a sloping field. According to Eisenman’s (the architect) project text, the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. And it certainly does just that. Within the midsts of the stelae, especially on the grey cloudy day, the feeling is hauntingly eerie.

Gates

Continuing the walking tour we followed the East / West line towards the Brandenburge Gates, the ultimate symbol of German reunification.

We spent the next 2 hours gawking at spectacular architecture and looking for either a Christmas Market or coffee shop as it was raining and freezing!! The only market we found you had to pay to enter but just down the street was a coffee shop. So we huddled in there to get warm. Cathleen had hoped we would get more of the walking tour done but, after 11months of travel, sitting in a coffee shop and watching people go by seemed like a much better plan to me.

Hostel Room

Finally the time rolled round when we could check into the hostel and we hurried in that direction. Walking into our room was like walking into what a backpacker might consider 5 star. The room was huge with only 6 beds. The beds were large and comfy and clean and had HUGE pillows. After 4 hours of walking in the rain and being soaked almost to our skivvies, there was only one thing to do…NAP.

Potsdamer Platz Revisited

Around 6pm, with much difficulty, we rolled out of bed, rebundled against rain and cold and decided to head back to the Platz for the Christmas Market. I had my first bratwurst here and think I could have had 10. It was divine, especially with my mug of gluwein. My second gluwein mug is also one of my favorites, tall and slim with frosted glass.

Mug 2

Back at the hostel and in bed around 10pm, I fear I literally passed out and have no recollection of anything, only waking at 7am, as 2 male roommates returned after a rather successful night out… by the smell of them anyway.

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Posted by on June 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Germany Bound!

1st December 2011

Security Checks Continue

So my route plan from Kathmandu to Hamburg was extensive: 8am flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi, 4hours layover, New Delhi to Milan, 4hours there, finally, Milan to Hamburg…

After leaving Nepal far behind, we disembarked in New Delhi, India. Quite a fancy airport and it even has sleeping “cocoons” that you can rent if you have a long layover.

Once again we were given bag tags to add to our ever growing collection, I think I will look like a traveling Christmas Tree by the time I am through all of these.

Bag Tag Decorations

Waiting in line I met Hannah, returning to the UK after volunteering in Nepal for a few months. Going through security check number 2 or 3 since arriving at the airport, we had to scan our bags. Her’s was pulled to the side and the good humored guards asked where the little pair of scissors were. She argued stating there were none, but when she unpacked it she found it in a little side pocket. There was much laughter. As mine went through I took out my little pair before they even had a chance to ask, dang it totally forgot about them till Hannah was arguing. We joked that they should open a used scissor shop after work. It was refreshing to find airport security with a sense of humor.

Money Exchanges… Or Not

I had ended up with 2500 Nepali Rupees, totally forgetting to change my money before I left (blaming lack of sleep and emotions). But was certain I could change it into Euros in New Delhi airport or at the very least change it into a currency that would be more workable once I got to Germany. As it turns out there were TWO major issues:

1) Past immigration and security no FOREIGNER could exchange money (only Indian Passport holders). Since transit meant I was already past security meant I had no hope of being able to do this.

It did occur to me to ask an Indian Passport holder to change it for me… until

2) They don’t take Nepali Rupees.

GO FIGURE!!! It was suggested that one of the Duty Free stores might take them, but after about 15 shops both Hannah and I realised there wasn’t much hope. Mmmmm guess it means I just have to go back to Nepal.

People Watching

People watching in airports is one of my favorite pastimes and this was no different. This brought a bemused giggle to my lips:

Reebok Monks

I can barely afford Reeboks and here are 2 monks buying a pair of stylish running shoes in the Duty Free Shop (which is usually twice as expensive).

Jet Airways continued

So far Jet Airways had been pretty decent and I hoped this would continue with the 11hour flight to Milan looming in my near future. After an hour delay it was time to board, then a further 30minute delay we were finally in the air. I was in the middle section on the aisle with an Indian mom and 2 boys. For the most part they were reasonably well behaved, but there was the occasional elbow in the ribs when they weren’t concentrating. Luckily Jet outdid themselves with individual entertainment units, great service and decent food. I think I even managed a bit of shut eye, which is rare for me unless I have a row to myself.

Arrival Milan Airport

Finally landing in Milan and feeling decidedly travel worn already, I wandered through the airport towards my gate, which was on the far end. On the way I thought it wise to draw some Euros, but at that precise moment could not remember if Italy used them or not. I asked at one of the duty free shops and after a bit of confusion with translation I got my question across and the fact that I was brain dead at that moment. We all laughed and they pointed me in the direction of an ATM. Of course it was all in Italian without the option of English (if there was one it was probably asking in Italian if you wanted English). Oh well, it was a good thought.

Went through another security check and finally found my gate, I literally think it was at the end of the airport. Another hour long delay so I decided to buy some internet time just to let all those who needed to know that I had made it this far.

The plane was almost empty and I just hung back to board up hoping to get a front row to sleep. Thank karma I did, the attendant too one look at me and didn’t argue, pointing me to the second row. I think I was out for the count before the plane even left the ground. I woke up just before we landed and before my eyes were even in focus the attendant was offering me the snack and juice I had missed at the beginning. I love good service and was very appreciative of this.

REUNION!

Germany was not just a country of random choosing like most of the others. At the very beginning of my trip, in my first country, I had met an awesome girl by the name of Cathleen in Aguas Calientes. You can read about that in my entry “Aguas Calientes Day 13”. We had always joked about me visiting her on my way home but never really thought I would get the chance to. Once I realised I was going to Nepal and would head home over Europe it just seemed like it was meant to be. Cathleen lived in Leipzig in the former Eastern side of Germany but had traveled to Hamburg to meet me. As I got off the plane and wandered through the non existent immigration check (still very strange to enter a new country without all that rigamarole and slightly annoying as I now don’t have a German stamp in my passport), I felt exhausted but was very excited to see my friend.

She was there with her friend Hendrik who lived in Hamburg. He had driven her to the airport which meant no dealing with public transport, he also gave up his bed for us. I was exhausted but still had many things going through my mind and still trying to fathom that my year of travel was only 2 weeks from an end. This would prove to be a difficult idea to wrap my head around in the weeks to come.

But for now, there was a new country to explore and a great friend to catch up with.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow….

1st December 2011

Farewells

I have never been very good at goodbyes, you would think after so many I would be better at it. But alas, I shall always be an emotional person.

We decided Buddha would not come to the airport with me as I was leaving at 6.20am and was sharing a taxi with Namiko, the Japanese girl from the night before. However, he did carry my bags down and into the car. It wasn’t a very emotional goodbye with us hanging onto each other, I think we were both in shock that our time was over. So with a hug and a kiss and tears just barely welling in my eyes I drove off into the sunrise towards the airport with him watching after me.

I have had holiday romances before and always I am a complete wreck when I leave. This time seemed a little different, a little calmer, I just felt deeply sad but there was a glimmer of hope that we would meet again. Like something was meant to be…maybe…or is that just my girlish dreams infiltrating my practical brain?

Airport Security… Nepal Style

Before getting far in the taxi we had a flat or needed to inflate the tire, not sure as there was so much incense burning IN the cab that I was in a daze!

Finally arriving in plenty of time we went to enter the airport, it was all very confusing as we were not permitted to enter until a certain amount of time before our flight. So joining the mulling masses we hung around outside for a further 10minutes. Then it was security check 1, there would be many more to follow.

Warning Soppy Moment: Standing in line I sent a text to Buddha telling him to sleep well. He replied with “I am sleeping but think of you and dream I am flying”. I wish he was flying with me.

At the baggage counter my fear of having my checked bag overweight was soon alleviated as it was 6KG under. However, in my zealous attempts to achieve just this my carry on was 6KG over. The guy suggested I transfer items, but I feared an explosion if I attempted to unzip either bag as they were packed to the brim. I have a slight shopping in developing countries habit. The guy kind of winked and let me off without having to pay a fee. But then, he followed me as I walked away from check in asking for a tip… I guess thats one way of putting it. Except for two 1000 rupees (which was a little much I thought), I only had a 20 rupee. He wasn’t overly impressed at my backpacker generosity but took it and walked off in disgust.

Namiko was still in line for check in and I hung around waiting for her. Unfortunately, with time ticking away to under an hour for my flight I said cheers and hoped we would meet in Delhi on our mutual layovers. Just as well I did, because the road blocks, starting with entry to the airport, along the way were numerous.

Security 2 – As I attempted to go up the escalated the guard asked to see airline tags on my bags, turned out I needed one on EVERY form of bag, except myself… You didn’t need to write anything it just needed the tag.

Security 3 – Men and women were separated into 2 lines, this is one of the few times being in the ladies line is to your benefit. Bags were scanned as we walked thru a scanner, and then bags were searched. This is when bag tags are stamped.

Soppy Moment Warning: While I waited I called Buddha, normally nothing wakes him up, but he answered and we said we missed each other. He told me to call before I took off.

Security 4 – yup you guessed it, apparently going from lounge to plane on the tarmac there is a chance of picking something contraband up. We had to have our bags searched again right at the foot of the stairs to the plane and be patted down.

Finally on the plane I was waiting for the flight attendants to ask to search our bags again before giving us a snack at take off. Even in the states I have never gone through so many check points. I think I had collected about 2 bag tags for each bag at this point.

Soppy Moment Warning: As requested I called him one last time before take off. He wished me safe travel and said he missed me already. I am really not sure how I feel, as mentioned most boys left me in a wreck when I left them, but feel strangely calm this time and can’t quite figure out why…

As the plane left Kathmandu and I watched the mountains disappear in the mist… smog… I realized that Nepal was everything and yet nothing I expected it to be. From the insanity of Kathmandu to the tranquility of Nagakot, from the food to the markets to the friendly, kind nature of the Nepali people, to the guy who has part of my heart. This has been one of my most pivotal stops… one that will, ultimately, change my life completely…

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Return to Kathmandu…

18th November 2011

side note, I believe I have been writing 2012 on some of my posts, oops, ignore that and imagine 2011 when you read it… Thanks! (of course I guess I could always go back and change them, I could…)

Bus Ride number 3

Returning to Kathmandu would involve another 6+hr bus trip, luckily this time I had booked in advance and had ensured I would have one of the very front seats. So after checking out and saying a sad farewell to my new sister, Laxmi, I grabbed a taxi and headed to the bus station. As luck would have it, the driver didn’t have change, but one enterprising young lad selling baked goods quickly took advantage of the situation:
“Lady, lady, I can make change if you buy something…”
Well I did need something for breakfast. I told him he was a bright lad and would go far and he seemed to like this. Now that I think about it maybe the two were in cahoots… But either way it meant I didn’t overpay the driver and got something to eat at the same time.
I felt a little bad for another chap who had tried to sell me something but I had said no, he just sort of looked on in shock. Am guessing he learnt a valuable lesson.

The front seat I had so hoped for ended up being almost jammed into the glass behind the driver giving no room to put my legs up and the seat was too high to put my feet down, for those who don’t know I am barely 5ft/1.5m tall, you can pretty much use me as measurement. My seat mate was a local travel agent and was kind enough to ask the driver for one of the little stools people use in the aisle when the bus is overcrowded, and I had an instant foot rest. It only got better when the people booked into the row behind us never showed up and the agent moved to that row, providing ample space for me to stretch out.

The bus ride still took over 7 1/2 hrs and I was utterly exhausted at the end of it.

Without much warning and in an area completely unfamiliar the bus stopped mid traffic flow and the driver yelled “Thamel! Last Stop”. All of us piled out of the vehicle rather confused and disoriented, we grabbed our bags as they were unloaded, with the bus still moving with the traffic, and then hurriedly got out of the road.

Luckily a couple of folks were heading my way so I was completely left to fend for myself and in no time I recognised a street corner and knew where to turn. My friend, Buddha, had promised to meet me, but when I called he said he had been invited to participate in a bartending competition and if I could make it back to Hotel Silver Home the owner, Yogi, would come and pick me up and take me to where he was.

Competitions

I had hoped to have time to shower and grab something to eat, but it sounded like we had to go asap. So after they showed me to my 4th floor room (I have always had a severe dislike of stairs, especially after a long bus drive), I washed my face and headed back down. Unfortunately Yogi got side tracked with some duties at the hotel, and Buddha called twice to find out where we were before we finally left.

I was tired, famished and dressed in wonderfully touristy Nepali clothing when we pulled into this rather fancy looking bar hosting the event. A local bartending school was using it as a way to prepare bartenders from around Kathmandu for international competition, with a rather nice sum of over $100 for 1st place. Buddha works as a bartender on the MSC cruise lines, and has for the last 5yrs, he is a natural when it came to that.

He was excited to see me and gave me a big hug then lent on me as we watched some of the other bartenders take their turns. Unfortunately I was so light headed and tired I had to find somewhere to sit. It took almost 2 hrs before it was his turn and he was by far the best of the lot, I am not biased in any way…ok maybe a little.

He had wanted to make 3 cocktails in the 5minutes they had, the judges permitted 2, but with a severe shortage of glasses and then have a glass shatter mid pour and cutting his finger he ended with one… and still a minute to spare. It was called purple rain and I thought it was spectacular, as the 2 colors of alcohol turn a vivid purple when mixed. The judges were well impressed and the only negative comment was that perhaps he seemed too confident. We felt he was a shoo in for 1st.

Buddha doing what he does best

We waited for the results but the flaring competition which was very cool, ended up taking too long, so we headed out to Buddha’s friends place for dinner.

Bronco Billy’s

Bronco Billy’s is a western theme, cowboy type place ,with pics of John Wayne and other stars on the walls. There was a circle of chairs and a big drum for a fire pit. Buddha had arranged it all for me and a few friends, super sweet thought, if I hadn’t been so exhausted. But the food was amazing with chicken and beef ribs (or rather buffalo) all done on open flame and slathered in yummy sauce. The hot rum punch that was ordered for me was also fantastic, threatening to make me pass out then and there. After a great evening it was time to head home, almost falling asleep behind Buddha as we rode through an eerily quiet Kathmandu at 2am on his motorbike. Dropping me off at my hotel we planned to meet the next day for more sightseeing.

Bed oh glorious bed!!!!!

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Shopping Nepali Style

15th November 2012

Early Morning Taekwondo

Ever since I told Garaup about having a black belt in taekwondo, from my years living in Seoul Korea, he has begged me to come to his early morning class at 6am. So at 5.30am in the pitch dark I rolled out of bed threw on some clothes and headed out into the night. I knew round about where they would be having class, and headed in that direction. It was about an 30minutes before sunrise and a beautiful time of the morning. This mist was rising off Few Lake and creating an eery presence to the morning. I could hear the disembodied ki-aps of the students but could not find entrance to the field. As I wandered down a lane full of buses I came across a staircase leading over a wall to some houses. I was fairly certain they were over the wall, but didn’t want to be that tourist that merrily walks into peoples yards at 6am in the morning. Call me a scaredy cat, but growing up in South Africa certainly makes you more cautious. Around 6.20am I gave up and headed back to the hotel. As I turned to look back at the lake one more time the sun’s rays had just kissed it and it was stunning, for a brief second before the grey clouds realised they were being lackadaisical in their duties and quickly filled the hole. I fear it might be another dreary day, but hey at least there are momo’s in this country, maybe for breakfast after another few hours of sleep.

Sleep didn’t last too long as I received a call from Raj, one of our drinking mates in Kathmandu. He is hilarious that guy, but not at 7am, I mumbled some kind of greeting and put the phone down. Oh well I was due to meet the German folks from Dresden at 8.15am anyway, may as well just get up. Headed over to Few Restaurant and got settled, unfortunately there was a misunderstanding on time and they had been there about 20min earlier. Oh well, all good though as Fewa has decent wifi, so I was able to sit and work on my blog. Been there so many times I pretty much have a table and they know how I like my coffee, one of my favorite things about stopping in one place for longer than a few days.

Walking Fewa Lake

As I could tell the sun was desperately attempting to break through the impenetrable barrier of clouds I decided to enjoy what little sun, or rather glare, there was and go for a walk. For weeks before I had arrived here I had dreamed of talking a daily walk around part of Fewa lake, relaxing perhaps sitting with my singing bowl I was yet to buy, and I was looking forward to it. I put on my MP3 and headed out. After some interesting criss cross maneuvers along the path and field that were saturated with the rain I finally made it to the path around the lake. EXCELLENT!!!!

The path turned out to be all of 500m long, it just stopped at the edge of the lake to the left and at the boats you could rent to go on the lake to the right. I was gutted to discover the only way around the lake, other than by boat, was to walk through town. As much fun as that can be it was not the relaxing, zen like hike, I had been imagining all this time. Oh well if you can’t beat ’em may as well walk and explore the main drag, luckily I had forgotten my money at the hotel so had an excuse everytime a seller approached me. I wish I had more money to be able to sit and bargain and interact with all of them, as it is one of the most enjoyable and occasionally frustrating things to do when traveling.

Rent-a-boat

Shopping Trip!

Popped in at Laxmi’s for tea and she said she was going to go to town to get some supplies and look for some cloth for me if I want a traditional outfit. I asked to join and we decided to leave in an hour. Went to get changed and take a rest and then headed back.

We hopped on the local bus and squeezed into a seat. Then enjoyed the 20 minute ride out of the tourist center and into the local shopping center. When we got to our destination we hopped off with barely enough time for both feet to hit the pavement before the bus hurtled off in search of more passengers. Laxmi uses one shop to buy material and the fabric was all absolutely stunning, the colors amazing and the embroidery beyond description. Unfortunately, even with the owner giving me the friend of local discount, it was still too much to pay for an outfit I might never wear. In hindsight I kind of wish I had, but when you are in backpacker penny pincher mode its often hard to see hindsight…

We walked around a bit and she bought us some peanuts to share. They are roasted out in the open, in their shells. Very yummy!!! She also chose some Indian style bracelets and bought us each a set, “a gift for my sister”. Explored some of the local produce and then caught the bus back home.

Prickly Cucumbers…


Fresh Produce on Every Corner

As we boarded the bus and squeezed into the front seat we were rewarded with this, some of the best word art on a vehicle yet… I am still not sure what to make of it!

Ummm… well I guess it’s better than two pieces…

To Stay or To Go

Back in Pokhara I went to my usual wifi spot at Fewa Restaurant to check emails and chat to friends. Chatted a bit with my mate who had been in Pokhara a year before in January about staying or going. He said the weather would clear if I wait another day. But considering the weather reports keep pushing the sun out another day, I am seriously doubting that. I will give it a few more days, but am leaning towards heading back early. At least in Kathmandu I have a great friend who can take me to many places on his bike and show me all the nooks and crannies with yummy local food. Staying in Pokhara is going to result in a serious dip in my bank account as I am just not motivated to go out sightseeing when it threatens, and often succeeds, in pouring with rain each day.

Around 6pm I headed over to the family and helped Gaurab with his homework. He told me that I should come and stay and teach, he would talk to his teacher and get something sorted for me. In his words:
‘Cause you’ve got skill Kathy, you’ve got skill!” Well at least I know I have skills somewhere. Laxmi is just amazed at how he listens to me. Unfortunately she was brought up very traditional and Gaurab, being a boy, barely has to disagree with her decision before she gives in. She changes significantly when her husband gets back, I don’t think he is mean in any way, but she just becomes quieter and more deferential.

I am a little concerned because she has developed a bad cough and was vomiting last night. I wish there was something more I could do, she is so sweet and am so blessed that she adopted me as her sister. Luckily Gaurab has facebook so we can stay in touch a little at least when I leave.

Back “home” involved curling up in bed with the movie channel…

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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