Thursday, December 30, 2010

Today's school (Day 74)

Writing another exciting story on the overnight train from Hue to Ha Noi.

sent from my android.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hanoi adventures (Day 75 - Christmas Eve)

- Our overnight train arrives to Hanoi at 4 am. Train staff is not aware of the promise to let us stay in our cabin till 7 am. Or they just really don't understand my question. Everybody gets kicked out. Generally speaking, Vietnamese train staff are not the friendliest people I've ever met - they do not speak English, they shout, and they make sure you are wide awake when you tell them for the third time that you do not want noodles.
- We look for a taxi. Hanoi is famous for its taxi mafia and we soon realize why. No one agrees to go by the meter, everybody wants a fixed price (big money for ridiculously short distances). We get outside the train station, hoping to find an honest driver. We step into the car, we leave. The meter is running, but not the way it should run. We stop the car, we step out without reaching our destination. We go to a fancy hotel, asking the receptionist to call us a cab. He does, but the new driver asks for a fixed price again. It seems we do not really have a choice.
- We finally reach our hotel at around 5 am. We wake the staff up. They are surprisingly friendly though. We leave our bags and go to explore the city. It's still pitch dark.
- The park if full of life though. The locals are exercising. They don't really seem to know how to. They use the benches or the tree branches. Some of them barely move, the others do something really dangerous. Who were their PA teachers at school?
- There are many tourists like us in the park, wondering around, waiting for the check-in to the hotel time. Some of them travel with children too, we smile at each other. The others are sitting or sleeping on the benches. Someone screams after the bird's poo drops from the sky. It feels funny.
- It's light by now. We start looking for a place to eat, but we'd prefer French pastries rather than the street food - the only food available at this hour. So we keep walking.
- We step into a few hotels and travel agencies to ask about train tickets, since we are leaving for Sapa tomorrow. It's Christmas time, so availability is really limited. We are happy to get to know that 3 berths are still available in a soft sleeper cabin, so we rush to book our tickets both ways. Feels like an achievement. We pay by credit card.
- We have breakfast at our hotel, we check-in. It's the most beautiful room we've had in Vietnam so far - good choice for Christmas celebrations.
- We wonder around busy streets of Hanoi's Old quarter. It's hard to cross the street here without having a huge adrenaline rush going through your body. This place is not for a fainted heart!
- It's time to pick up our train tickets and have lunch. We order the food and examine our tickets. How thoughtful of them to translate the ticket. And how cheeky! We look at the printed price, carefully hidden behind English translation. They charged us 50% commission, 60 USD in total! No one has appetite anymore. Well, Elvinas enjoys his meat spring rolls as always.
- We come back to the travel agency and tell them they've made a mistake. They tell us this is business. We ask our money back. They tell it's our fault not to check. We tell we'll request the bank to do a charge-back. The sales agent is really worried by now, but his boss has instructed him not to give the commission back. We leave the place really upset & angry.
- It's so hard to look at people as people now. This whole city looks so unwelcoming after the day's adventures. It's hard to fall into the Christmas mood. I'd like to be somewhere else now.
- My Christmas gift to myself - beauty treatments in one of the upmarket places. I get a manicure done, followed by 1 hour wonderful foot massage. (Ladies - this comes at the cost of 10 USD!) My man comes to pick me up, since it's already dark and the streets are busier than ever. He is so caring. I love him.
- Back in the hotel room we call our families. They are going around their usual Christmas preparation chores now. My father is heating the sauna. Gyula's brother is decorating the Christmas tree with the help of their nephews. We wish we were with them now and... for some snow.
- Elvinas tells Senelis about the biggest airplane in the world, which we took from Sydney to Singapore, and the overnight trains in Vietnam. This is the men talk.
- We dress up. Going down to the hotel's lobby to celebrate Christmas Eve with other guests and our hosts (it's a small family hotel). Their 3 year old daughter is dancing. Then they play with Elvinas. It's 10 pm now, we are exhausted and still sad a bit. But the party was good and lifted our moods greatly.
- We go back to our room. We hang a Christmas sock on the handle of our wardrobe. Will Santa come tonight? We hope so...
- Elvinas kisses us goodnight. He is so sweet and goodhearted. We love him very much.
- We write a blog post with 2 pictures, wishing a Merry Christmas to all. A short one. Not in a creative mood today. But we miss our families and friends, we want to let them know that.
- At this very moment it's hard to understand why we've chosen to travel for Christmas, especially to the country, where almost everybody relates to you as to a walking cash bag. And there is surely no Christmas spirit here, just a lot of commerce around it.
- We write a letter "from Santa", burn the edges of it. We roll it and put into the sock together with the chocolates. Will he be happy, surprised? We hope so. We are so happy he is still so innocent to believe in stories.
- We switch off the lights. So tired. It was a hard day. The toughest so far. Very different from what we've expected for Christmas. But it was a good one. It made us stronger. We say "Merry Christmas" and "I love you". We put in the earplugs. It's going to be loud in the morning. We'll wake up and see Elvinas peaking into the sock first thing in the morning. It's going to be Merry.

Some sort of yoga or meditation in the park 

Hanoi at night
Mass aerobics on the streets - a really interesting sight
Street vendors seen from our hotel window

KOTO (Know one - teach one) cafe, which dedicates all their profits towards education of street children.

Sent from my Android.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Brick factory (Day 69)

Brick ovens for "cooking" bricks

"Rice skin", as locals call it, is used for firing the oven since there is not enough wood / it's expensive. 

This brick factory, which we've visited during our Mekong delta tour, was quite an impressive sight. All the bricks are made by hand (ok, they use a smart machine to create the shape, but all the handling and selecting is done by hand), then they are placed to dry on the sun for 3 days, afterwards they go to an oven for 27 days - 20 days of burning and 7 days of cooling. One oven can hold 100 000 bricks. 1 brick costs 600 dong, which means that 1 USD can buy you 33 bricks. Do the maths yourself!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Xmas!

From Ha Noi, Vietnam, we wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

No matter where you are, with your family, friends, or stranded in some snow covered airport... we hope you can find a lot of warmth in your hearts!

A + E + G

Pictures: views inside and outside of our room tonight.

ps.: And tomorrow, an other 10 hour overnight train to Sapa in the mountains in the North of Vietnam.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rawing in the Mekong delta (Day 69)

After a few days acclimatizing in Saigon, we took a two day trip to see the Mekong delta. We visited a brick factory, a coconut candy workshop, had elephant-ear fish for lunch. Seen water-coconut plants, sat hours in a bus, roamed canals with motor and rawing boats, checked out a busy morning market, had jack-fruit in a fruit orchard, criscrossed over a floating market...

At the end of the second day, we were so tired, that we boarded an overnight train to arrive to Hoi An, about 16 hours later..

Saigon (Day 67 - 68)

Water puppet show with traditional music.

Pho - the traditional Vietnamese noodle soup. We had this for dinner, but normally people have it for breakfast here.

These two young lads jumped to glue Gyula's beloved Tevas, by the time we noticed, he was standing barefoot in central Saigon. Then they've asked for an outrageous payment of 200000 dongs (8 euro), but settled for 10% of it without a word.

The Saigon river before sunset. (Days are annoyingly short now in Vietnam, it is dark at six... Although it is winter afterall..)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Australian wonders (Day 59)

You can tap koalas at Billabong koala breeding center, but hugging and holding is not permitted,  since it can cause too high stress levels for these super cute and sleepy animals 
Koala with a 5 months old baby
Little kangaroos are much more relaxed with humans - we've seen quite a few of them in the wilderness, camping just a few meters away from a huge gas station

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Good morning, Singapore!

View on our first (and only) morning from our room in Chinatown, a few hours ago.

Now: excellent lunch at Google :)

Tonight: Saigon, Vietnam.


Motorhome again, East Coast Australia (Day 57 - 62)

From Brisbane, we drove this monster to Sydney. It can sleep six, and it was almost new. It had to be relocated, so we got a fairly good deal on it.

My favorite: navigating cities and parking.
Also: cool showers inside the camper (!) before sleeping.

Despite often careless Australian signposting, we delivered this rolling castle without a scratch, and 25 minutes before the agreed time (we had it for six days).

Rental was from Apollo.

sent from my android.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Where will you sleep tonight? (Day 50)

Greetings from the sunny Australia! This blog post is really long due, since we've arrived more than 10 days ago, experienced the heat of the Brisbane sun for one day and then the tropical rains have started... and didn't stop till, well, yesterday. For a big portion of time this kept us mostly indoors, cut away from the world and Internet, cuddled in a blanket with a book and a glass of wine, or beer, or juice...

Australia was the first country on our itinerary, where we had nothing booked - no transportation and no hotels, not even for our first night. While this kind of traveling style is usual for regular backpackers, certainly very few families would dear to be so spontaneous, especially on the night of a big cricket game (Australia - England) in town (= booked out accommodation).

Even though it's summer, apparently, it's still a low season in Australia, so we've got quite lucky and productive with our bookings (not with the weather though):

- using a free info phone in the Brisbane airport, we've booked ourselves into Chill backpackers in town for our first night. I've never been to a place like this before... 150 people when on full capacity, you must leave a deposit for the key, for dishes (even if all you need is just one white plate), tiny little rooms with paper walls, no control whatsoever over your AC and no possibility to open the windows, noise from the corridors comes as a natural ingredient of the backpackers, of course. All this comes at the price of 90 AUD (approx. 70 euro) for a triple bedroom per night. Even though it was a charming place for socialising and meeting other travellers, we were quite quick to decide it was not suitable for families...
- for our second night in Brisbane we've moved to B&B Annie's Inn, which was a delightful change from the backpackers and for the same price! The place is being run by one family for over a hundred years and it so reminds of some of the best Irish B&Bs. In fact, the founders of this charming place came from Kerry. I absolutely recommend this B&B to anyone, who is looking for some charm in a big city.
- we've also managed to get a great campervan relocation deal, which has allowed us to do 6 more days of camping in a luxurious 6 berth motorhome for just a fraction of what it really costs. The itinerary was very simple this time: Brisbane - Sydney (1000 km or so drive), visiting Australia's best surfing beaches on the way.
- our surfing experience has started in Caloundra though, where we've booked a 2 bedroom self contained business class apartment for just 90 AUD a night (same price as the backpackers!!!) using the website for last minute deals (the place came for less than 50% of it's usual price).

With a bit of luck last minute booking (which come with excitement of not knowing where you will sleep tonight) can give you flexibility and save a lot of money, but I guess the opposite can happen just as easily. What are your experiences on this?

Family pictures and documents in Annie's Inn

Old house squeezed in between the modern buildings

Love letters from the guests

Getting into the colonial style!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Good morning, Sunshine!

A picture from back in NZ, early morning on the shore of Lake Gunn.

sent from my android.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fearless Keas (Day 45)

Most of the birds we've met in New Zealand were seemingly not bothered by people at all (which Elvinas took a full advantage of) - you can walk very very close to them, feed them from your hands, take pictures, etc. But these fearless Keas (half a meter size alpine parrots), which greeted us on our way from Milford sound, were the most astonishing of all: along the line of cars waiting to pass via impressive Homer Tunnel they would go from car to car asking for attention, food and posing for numerous cameras. Yet again, the most impressive and colorful pictures stayed in the big devices :)

Posing is my occupation
Just compare the bird's size to the tire of our campervan!

I thought this was an interesting welcome :)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tongariro Alpine Crossing (day 28)

Frost on both sides of the window, as we woke up at 6am at the Tongariro base campsite..

The Red Crater of Tongariro

Alpine lake

Gyula, on the descent..

This post was long due... Since this happened about two weeks ago.

So, here are some pics about our first big hike in NZ, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It was 19.5 kms hike, up towards, and then crossing the crater of a volcano, about 2000 meters above sea level. We did it in 8 hours, taking time for photos, lunch, etc.

It was an incredible day, definitely a highlight of this trip.

And now, back to the present. We are on day 50 on our trip, leaving NZ for Brisbane, Australia in about 45 minutes.

sent from my android.


Campervan cuisine - Frittata

Potato, asparagus frittata with tomatos. Credit goes to Austeja of course.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

It's not just a Burger! (Day 46)

Following the series of our muffin culinary discoveries, here is a little shift to something bigger and more meaty. I do not think I've seen a bigger Burger in my life. And, apparently, one has to be really careful not to injure his jaw!  It was, most likely, the best Burger I've ever eaten as well! What else can you expect from the company, which employees are wearing T-shirts claiming that Ferg loves you and showing the man with a 3 finger combination :) 

Letter from a doctor

Gyula turned out to be all right, but very full :)