A Travellerspoint blog

Bird Man

by Izzy


View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

"Ka-ka, ka-ka!"

I was nicknamed Bird Man by my buddy Tom (Yost). We were teenagers and baseball teammates on a traveling squad from all over Ohio. Some of the best days of my life. Tom lived two+ hours away in podunk Plain City(on a farm) while I grew up in the sprawling Doylestown-ship of 3,000 (in a farm house). We spent the summers together playing 'ball, talking 'ball and dreaming 'ball. Tom was huge, or on his way to being huge. And I was small, a rail. Tom was 'Hoss'. And I was 'Bird Man'. As I would go to bat, I could always count on Tom chanting, "Get-a-hit Bird Man... Ka-ka, ka-ka!"

Not much has changed. Tom is still huge and I am still a rail. We still talk 'ball when we talk and he still calls me Bird Man. We still see each other every summer, even though he has lived in Japan for the past eight years (and now, is on his way to live in Germany). But instead of ripping liners into the gap, or at least attempting to, I have tried to use my bird-given talents in the sky. I have jumped from a plane and I have made the bungy plunge... paragliding was next, ka-ka, ka-ka.

I was still in Brasov and one morning I overheard a couple asking the hostel manager about paragliding. I didn't quite hear all the details, but my interest was perked. Marisa and I were suppose to paraglide off the cliffs of Rio de Janeiro, but the weather never permitted. So why not in Romania? I had been blown away with the beauty of this region and for the right price of 60 euros, I thought I'd give it a try. Lets see this place from the sky!

At noon, I hopped into a cab directed to the outskirts of town. I was the only one partaking on this day. Twenty minutes later, I arrived at the lift. There were four others there waiting for me, three of them were dodging work and using the day to be more productive - like jumping off mountains. And the fourth was my 'guide' - Radu (not really his name, but I couldn't pronounce it when he told me, so it has slipped from my memory bank. Radu is a proper Romanian given name and it sounds cool too, so I'm using it!). Introductions were brief. Nothing was explained and no waivers or life-ending forms signed. This was not even a registered business, but a guy making some side change doing what he loves. The lift didn't start running until we paid the straight-faced lady a healthy sum for the inconvenience of pushing the 'GO' button. Then up we went, two-by-two, and me left with the bags. It was scenic and peaceful.

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It took some time for the lift to climb to the top, but I had paid a good chunk of money for this experience, so I was taking in every second as we ascended above the pine-studded slope. Then without hesitation, we hopped off, grabbed the body-like bags and trudged to the very top by foot. Still, there was little conversation. English was not the dominant language spoken by my peers and Radu was on the phone telling his wife Bianca exactly how to make his world famous goulash. So I took pictures as the first group prepared for lift-off.

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They struggled. It was kind of funny, but at the same time, they were attempting to leap off a mountain. The clouds weren't quite right and the wind was blowing a bit off to the side, making the conditions less than ideal. We were next. Radu finally put his phone away in disgust as he was sure Bianca would not get the recipe right and instructed me to put on my fly-suit. There was one thing after another to put on and soon I was sweating like a pig in a blanket. But I was well protected in case there was a need for a crash landing from a 1,000 meters or so. Perfect.

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'When I say run, run' said Radu. Ok, no problem. Then without warning he changed plans, we turned backwards and he started pulling down the hill in reverse to catch the gust of wind coming from the opposite direction. Before I could question this maneuver, we were sailing swiftly up into the sky - 'ka-ka, ka-ka!'

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Bird Man was back in action. It was awesome. I put my arms straight out to the sides and pretended I was living my re-occurring childhood dream of flying. But this time it was real. It was hard battling the urge to take tons of pictures and the urge to just sit back and take in this amazing experience. We swooped and dipped, corkscrewed and lifted. The whole flight took somewhere around ten minutes and then we prepared for landing. After all tray-tables and seats had been returned to their upright positions, we hit the ground running for a stellar landing. Even the Russian judge gave us a 10!

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My heart was pumping. I had just flown, as close to a bird as I would ever get. And I was ready to go do it all over again. I was all questions now, putting Radu to the test. How far, how long, how much, longest ever, where to buy, how many times a week? And so on...

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We packed up and hiked back to the base of the lift. That was that. Radu gave me a ride back to the hostel. He had grown on me, and I on him. He was much more friendly now that he had forgotten about the doomed goulash that would be awaiting him back home.

Tom, the Bird Man lives on and he will be flying into Germany to see you and your new family soon. Until then my friend.

Posted by triptime 08:14 Archived in Romania Comments (1)

'Probably the Best City in the World'

by Izzy

sunny -32 °F
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

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Brasov. Two hours by train and I was dead center in the country and on the very edge of Transylvania. It still felt familiar. And then on the bus ride into the old section of town, I passed it. Transylvania University (of Brasov). It really exists. Another TU! I felt like popping in and taking an alumni walk through the sister-school. But I didn't. I did, though, meet two sisters who had recently graduated from Transy Brasov. They ran the hostel I stayed at. We swapped stories and experiences. They were worlds apart.

I was here to see castles. From what I had been told, this was the base-town to do it from. And there were plenty of tour options, promoting the opportunity to see and visit Dracula's castle - Bran Castle - among others. At first, I was stoked to see the Count's dwelling quarters, the setting for Stoker's thriller and one of the actual residences to Mr. Vlad the Impaler. But I found that none of this was true. Vlad never lived there and Bram never knew Bran ever existed. Argh. With the myth balloon popped, I opted for a much better plan than Bran...

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Anne, my new friend as of Sighisoara, was meeting me early Wednesday morning for some castle crusading. Anne was all-energy and up for an adventure, so we decided to hitch-hike (44km) to the town of Sinaia, site of one of the best castles in all of Europe - Peles (the Royal Palace). So we picked up some lunch food from the market, dug up a cardboard box for our road-side sign and headed off. This was going to be so much easier with Anne! Once outside of town, the plan was for Anne to hold the sign to Sinaia, eagerly waving down a ride with her Dutch-blond hair and inviting smile, while I hid behind a bush off to the side with my beard and our bags. Genius. Foolproof. And though it took some strategizing on the proper location for our plan to take full affect, it went off without a hitch. Picked up and dropped off outside the gates in less than an hour.

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Peles. Wow, this place was ripped right out of the pages of the classical fairy-tale books. I half expected to see Shrek and Fiona wandering out of the backdropped forest to meet up with Donkey munching on the well-groomed green lawn sloping down from the castle's courtyard. It was hard to imagine that anyone besides cartoon-ized figures actually roamed these grounds. We took it all in, including a 45 minute tour of the lavished interior. It's amazing what money can buy.

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We had completed our mission early and there was still plenty of light left in the day, so out again came the sharpie and we flipped the piece of cardboard to write: Rasnov. It was on the way back to Brasov, not directly, but in the general direction. Again it took some time to find a logistic spot to flag down motorists and again we went with the Anne plan-of-attack while I sat back out of the way and watched. Bingo, another taker. He was a burly middle-aged man with a buzzed head, a five o'clock shadow and a fully grown mustache. He was driving a van. If I had been by myself, I might have been a bit intimidated and have tried my luck with another passerby, but Anne had no qualms, so we hopped aboard. We weren't quite sure if he was going to take us all the way to Rasnov, but as we approached the junction (jamming to Genesis' I Can't Dance), we found our driver was more than happy to make the detour from his regular route. What service. Another successful drop off at another castle's gate.

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It was fun hanging with Anne. We had things in common and plenty to talk about. It was nice sharing dinner conversations, slurping down the thickest hot chocolates of all time and just hanging out. She left the following day and I went back to exploring solo.

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Brasov has all of the walled-in medeival town sites anyone could ask for (and even more in the surrounding areas). From guard towers, churches, cathedrals, fountains and squares, historic buildings and even the most narrow street in Europe - all surrounded with quaint cafes and shops and mom-n-pop markets and a friendly old-town feel that can't be beat - Brasov delivers the goods and may even live up to its umbrella-proclaimed title of 'Probably the Best City in the World'.

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Posted by triptime 23:48 Archived in Romania Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Transy-land

by Izzy


View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

Most of you know that I graduated from Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. And most of you can't believe that a school with that name actually exists, especially in the Bluegrass state. While there, and since, I have heard my fare share of the jokes and jests and have happily dealt with the doubters and naysayers. But I really did, and I have the Count's signature on my diploma to prove it.

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So after arriving in Eastern Europe for the first time (Budapest, Hungary), I felt a calling, a pilgrim-like homage-paying kind of responsibility to venture to the original Transylvania and see what it was all about.

For better part of the second century, Transylvania was controlled by the Magyars and under Hungarian rule. But now, Transyland consumes a third of the Romanian countryside, defining their border with Hungary and stretching east towards the Carpathian mountain range. I arrived in the heart of this region bus-battered. There was a constant drizzle coming down and the streets were eerily empty and quiet on another Sunday morning. Church bells occasionally broke the silence, but the skies remained dark with slow moving clouds. This was Sighisoara, Romania - birthplace of Dracula.

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Dracula. The man, the myth, the legend. In this case, all three truly apply. The man, Vlad Tepes, better known as Vlad the Impaler, reigned supreme in Transylvania during the mid 15th century. Vlad gets mixed reviews. Most Romanians deem him as a savior to their nation, while those on the outside are reminded of his gruesome form of torture and punishment (undoubtedly leading to death) - hence the name, the Impaler. His proper Romanian surname is Dracul (translating to 'Dragon' or 'Devil'). Bram Stoker ran with this. I never saw an over-sized bat fluttering through the moon light and I never felt an uneasy stare from a native, but there were plenty of souvenirs selling the myth and pushing the legend.

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On Monday, things were different. Blue skies and fluffy clouds. Open windows and doors and open cafes. People enjoying the day. Sighisoara now stands as an exemplified medeival fortified town. It is the only city in Romania that is honored and protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, and rightfully so. This place boasts beautiful cobbled streets, ancient citadel grounds, colorful colored buildings, a central dominating clock tower, wandering side-alleys, lost cemeteries and the statue reminder of the man that haunted his enemies and continues to scare generations through his immortal lore. Transylvania lives on and I was moving on to see more of my college roots.

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Posted by triptime 01:22 Archived in Romania Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

i'm lovin' it

by Izzy

sunny 1 °F
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

I did it. I finally broke down. I can't believe it.

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I hardly had anything to eat today. The 'breakfast included' at the hostel included the last two pieces of bread in the loaf with some unidentified jam out of a tomato paste jar. Then I caught the six past noon train to Bucharest. The slow train. It was cheaper. I have learned that I have more time than money. Some say that's a good thing. On the train, I ate the last two spreadable cheese triangles I had left out of the eight-pack. I pushed them around with my finger onto the remaining bread I had from two days prior. It was enough for two cheese sandwiches. I had some olives left too. In between bites of the sandwich, I would mix in an olive or two, adding some flavor and juice. Then I would spit the pit into the emptying olive container. It was quite a process. I had some water to wash it all down, but not too much, because it was a four hour train and I still wasn't sure if it had a toilet or not. Then I licked my fingers clean.

It was now past six and I had made it to another hostel. Sweat dripping, I checked in and asked for a nearby market. I was craving and needing vegetables. I was also running out of of the Romanian currency (and my ATM card doesn't work in this country - even after yelling at the bank over the phone) and needed to budget appropriately to make it until I leave tomorrow night. A nice veggie medley would do both myself and my wallet wonders.

I started walking. It was still hot. I began to put a dinner menu together in my head. Everything sounded good. You should never shop hungry. Then I passed the gas station, the market was just behind it to the left. Wow. It was huge. A megaplex. A mall. I walked into the air conditioned corridor and saw nothing of a grocery store. I could have been in the Iowa City outskirt shopping plaza, picking up a few items from Kohl's or Dillard's or maybe an adapter from Radio Shack. Had I missed the market? Was it that mom and pop shop I passed a block ago with the dog panting on the second stair-step? I proceeded anyways, salivating at the ice cream kiosks and taking in the delicious smells from the LUSH store.

I had been misguided or maybe bamboozled. Maybe my original question had been lost in translation. And then I entered the food court. Alert! Danger zone! The lights and sirens were going off in my head as I rounded the KFC and spotted the Golden Arches. No, I can't do it. I looked for other options to break the pressure. But I was stuck. I went to walk towards another eatery, but my feet landed closer to the Mickey D's order queue. I gave in. The urge was too great and my hunger too strong. I went all out and ordered the European classic Mc Royal, with a large fry and large Coke. The deed had been done.

I was given my sizable fountain Coke first, ice cold, on a tray with a number. I sat down and awaited the rest. No longer did vitamin rich vegetables clog my thoughts. I was sipping in happiness. I watched as happy, round Romanian children skipped towards the counter in anticipation of their Happy Meals and early stages of diabetes. Minutes later, they came. Hot and fresh, right from the deep fryer and straight from the grill. I bit into the Mc Royal (a quarter pounder with cheese to the rest of us) and it was just how I had remembered it. Sweet and savory and dripping with goodness. It has been over 15 months since I had last devoured the American staple. Now I will admit that I have slipped in a few Burger Kings along the way (Pat and Eli bared witness to a few of these) and I may have supported the Ronald McDonald empire by buying a premium roast coffee here and there, but I had been dead-set on avoiding McDonald's super-sizing antics and commercial domination at all costs! I had broken down and given in... and it was delicious. It was a pure shot of Americana, an instant home-sick-I've-been-on-the-road-a-long-time remedy. A jolt of 'just what the doctor ordered'. I didn't even feel guilty. But instead of saving a few Romanian bucks, it cost more than the amazing traditional sit-down meal I had last night while being entertained by a trio of folk musicians in the Transylvanian town of Brasov. What the hell?

With an added bounce to my step, I kept walking deeper into the megaplex. Maybe I was scouting for dessert or maybe I was just curious at what I might find. And not more than 100 feet from the end of the food court beamed the biggest grocery store I have seen to date on my travels! Like Krogers and Acme, like Ralphs and like Vons, this place had it all. One stop shopping Eastern European style.

I smirked. The fruits and vegetable section took up a quarter of the space. It smelled healthy and ripe. What could I do? The damage had been done. I tried to salvage my conscientiousness by picking up a grapefruit and a couple of apples. It was the best I could do. So there you have it. The truth. The whole truth and nothing but the truth. And I don't even know if I (or you) can handle this unforeseen truth. But it happened, and I'm lovin' it.

Posted by triptime 09:37 Archived in Romania Tagged food Comments (1)

Jordan's Big Two - Jarash & Petra

by Izzy

sunny 100 °F
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

I was all hyped up on Jordan. The people were warm, like their weather, the food was filling and fattening and fried (delicious), and the history was so rich I couldn't wrap my head (even with a Keffiyeh) around it. With all that bubbling deep inside, like a hot pot of sizzling falafal, I prepped myself for the big two - the unbelievably preserved Roman ruins of Jarash and one of the newly added wonders of the world, Petra.

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First up on my Arabian docket, Jarash. Now it's hard to write about places like this. They're big massive sites, filled with way too much information from a time that your history teacher touched on during a day or two while you were transitioning through puberty in the 6th grade. Then all of a sudden, during a well awaited world-wind tour, you find yourself walking the same streets as the Romans did at around 100AD.

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It took a couple hours to walk the city grounds, from the south to the north gate and back. I was lucky enough to tag along with a duo fresh out of Harvard. And as we strolled the 'Street of Columns' and tripped over the same chariot-wheeled ruts left by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago, I began to imagine life as it was then. People crossing back and forth to the merchants and shops that lined the wide sidewalks. The gentle sound of the sewage system trickling underground. Music playing in the plazas, performances taking on the late afternoon crowds in one of the theaters, people mingling outside at the end of a church service, 15,000 taking in the big chariot race at the Hippodrome, or a few locals slipping into the massive west baths for a wash behind the ears. This place must have been jamming with activity! But now it sits quietly and still, hardly any tourists climbing the many staircases or strolling through the decorated temples... this was and is Jarash - one of the largest and most well preserved sites of Roman architecture left in the world (outside of Italy).

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From the Romans to the Nabataeans, the ancient Arab tribe that settled in southern Jordan over 2,200 years ago, I once again tried to put myself into the sandals of these caravaning profiteers. These guys had skills, and the money to pull it off. By dominating the trade routes and levying tolls on all of the frankincense, myrrh, Indian spices and silks, along with African ivory and hides, the Nabataeans orchestrated a kingdom worthy of the majesty we see today.

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Four hours from Amman, Mike and I arrived. An army veteran of Iraq, Mike knew his Muslims and had a true appreciation for the Arab culture. He was good company.

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I had expectations. This was one of those sites that gets all the hype and ballyhoo. And the Siq (the 1200 meter long entrance through an 80 meter deep and narrow gorge) was the perfect set-up for what laid beyond. The colors and shapes, the coolness of the shaded natural walls and the intense sun, the echoes and the silence... and then there it was. Peaking through the end of the open tunnel, the 'Treasury' comes into sight. Huge, solid, behemoth, beautiful... it stopped me in my tracks and begged for complete attention. There were people around, lots of people. People taking all kinds of angled pictures, people hopping up on camels for post-card-esque pics for grandma, people buying the usual 'hand-crafted' souvenirs, people paying for overpriced waters and snacks (because they forgot it was going to be hot), people being people being tourists. And for a few minutes, I joined in the picture fun. But it was so hard to do it justice. I tried and tried, except for the camel option, but never felt like I captured its fullness. And that was just the beginning...

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Mike and I walked, climbed, explored and reclined for seven straight hours. It wasn't enough, but we got the point. This place was and is special. The royal tombs, the colonnaded streets, toppled temples, high places of sacrifice, the towering Treasury, the mammoth Monastery... it was immense and overwhelming. The time and craftsmanship it took to carve these buildings and facades out of stone does not register with my lack of patience. What!? How? Why? I guess with no internet or television back then, the Nabataeans could make the most out of their time.

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My expectations had been met and surpassed. Jordan had delivered the goods, just like the caravaning crews of Arabia many moons ago.

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Posted by triptime 07:29 Archived in Jordan Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

The Abbasi and Me

by Izzy

sunny 96 °F
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

From the lush humid terrain of Thailand to the straight-up desert of Jordan, things had changed.

The eight hour flight from Bangkok traveled through four time zones, putting me on the ground at the airport outside of Amman, Jordan at the still-developing-crusties-in-the-corner-of-your-eyes time of 4:30am. After a lengthy time through immigration and a cat-like snooze on the bench in the arrival area, I was tip-top and ready to make my way into Amman. A local bus got me to the new north end bus station where eager cab drivers awaited its descendants. I have played this game before. My boy Mohammad agreed to a reasonable price and seemed confident that he knew where my hotel (Abbasi Palace Hotel) was - especially after showing him the address and contact information I had written down. Into town, downtown, to old town we went, with Mohammad pointing out various sites along the way. "Welcome to Jordan," stammered Mohammad, emphasizing the national phrase, the anthem that rings true from the mouths of just about every Jordanian. "Welcome!"

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Mohammad parked the cab on one of the various hills in town and he led me down the street to the hotel. Into the side alley, up the elevator and straight to reception, I was getting the royal treatment. I mentioned my reservation, provided my passport and ate the included breakfast while awaiting my room to by fixed up. It was just past 8:00am.

Exhausted from traveling, I plopped my stuff down in the 'single' room (which was odd, because I reserved a mixed-dorm room of 6 people) and fell asleep. Come noon, I was back on my feet and thinking straight. I wasn't quite sure that I was in the right hotel. I went back down to the lobby/reception area and checked out the computers. They charged for internet use. Hmmm... the hotel I booked had free internet. Back to the receptionist I went, with a few questions I needed answered.

They almost got me. This was the Palace Hotel, not the Abbasi Palace Hotel, and they have a crew of cab drivers that get commission to bring the naive to their hotel. So after putting some facts together, being the gumshoe that I am, I checked back out (luckily I had not paid for the room) and made my way to the blistering streets in search of the Abassi. The nice receptionist now could not help me, claiming she had never heard of the place... odd, even denying me the use of the phone to call and ask for directions.

I popped into banks and shops asking the locals for help, but no one could point me in the right direction. Plus we had a language barrier. Arabic was not one of the languages offered at my high school. Then, like an angel sent from above, a Tourist Information Center gleamed in the mid-day light. Pleading my case, I once again was escorted down the street, through another side alley and up another elevator. This time, I had reached the Abbasi Palace Hotel.

Nijmah (pronounced Neesh-ma) 'welcomed' me to my new home. And that's what it was like. I felt like one of the family from the very beginning. Nijmah took care of me, bringing me chocolate cake, fruit and cookies throughout the day, inviting me to join her and other staff for home-cooked meals at dinner and serving up delicious chai tea or Turkish coffee mid-afternoon. She also got her business partner Abud to play the traditional oud, an Arabic guitar-like instrument, during one night while a group of us gathered and ate popcorn. I felt like a local. I had been truly 'welcomed'.

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Outside, Amman bustled. Clouds did not exist and the sun was intense. A some-what cool breeze always seemed to blow. The air, dry and moisture sucking, kept me sipping plenty of fluids throughout the day. People honked and vendors barked, but it was no-where-near the onslaught in South East Asia. Here, they just wanted you to know they were there. Five times a day, amplified calls to prayer service rang out from the mosques. There was no excuse for not hearing these highly audible reminders. Markets buzzed with chatter and flies and the sweet smells of ripe fruit lured you into their quarters. And no matter where I stopped or passed by, the Jordanians were there to 'welcome' me and strike up conversation.

The people made up for what the city lacked in building and architectural character. Blocks on blocks of sand colored concrete slabs, checkered with windows and air conditioning units. They keep it simple for sure - no decor or sprucing, no color combination or facades, no peaks or porches. Muslim minimalism at its best.

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And within all these blocks are parts of ancient history. Within an afternoon's stroll, I was able to walk the steps of the Roman Theater and summit the onlooking hill of the Citadel and its historic remains. Thousands of years of Middle Eastern history can be viewed in these places, including some of the first ever man-made human sculptures, dating back to 6,500BC. That my friends, is a long time ago.

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Nijmah also organized a driver and trip for a few of us wanting to take a relaxing dip in the Dead Sea. For a minimal amount, four of us headed out on a three-stop tour with a home-made picnic dinner thrown in by our host with the most. We stopped in Madaba and took in the amazing mosaics of St. Georges Church, then took in the view of the Holy Land (just like Moses did) from Mt. Nebu, before finally bobbing around in the Dead Sea during sunset.

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For those of you that don't know, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on Earth (422 meters below sea level) and because of its extremely high concentration of salt, you float like a cork! I was a tad doubtful of these famed floating experiences, but after my first dip, I became a believer. It truly is effortless! You float! You can't go under even if you tried. So covered in magical black mud from the sea's bottom (its suppose to work wonders on your skin I'm told), I watched the sun set over the hill where Jerusalem sits on the Israeli side. As peaceful and spiritual as a place I have been, I had a few words with the Big Guy above, thanking him for the blessings in my life and the ability to 'float' on.

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  • Thank you to all my new friends at the Abbasi Palace Hotel (Nijmah, Abud and Marcos)! It was the warmest of welcomes!

Posted by triptime 02:15 Archived in Jordan Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Thailand, Por Vida!

by Izzy

sunny 85 °F
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

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I was extremely excited. Like being five years old on Christmas Eve excited. Like hitting my first round-tripper over the fence excited. Like driving to pick up a first date in high school excited... well, maybe not quite that same kind of excited. But anyways, you get the idea. I was pumped!

Pat and Eli were on there way to Bangkok. The old gang, the old three-man crew, the old roommates, P.I.E. reunited again, but this time (for the first time!) abroad. Only the greatest kind of trouble could ensue.

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Maybe part of my excitement, the part I never really thought of until it happened, was that I would be sleeping on clean beds, with clean sheets, in air-conditioned rooms with running warm water and flush toilets able to swallow the TP - civilized traveling. And I enjoyed every minute of it as I kicked back and cleaned-up in the Dream Bangkok hotel awaiting my homies from their 1:00am arrival. The 7/11 pick-up had been made and three bottles of celebratory brew laid chilling in the mini-fridge.

And just as the long day and building anticipation was knocking me into sleep-ville, they arrived.

It was like returning from a long weekend away. Nine months of self-exploration, for each of us, vanished for eight days. We never skipped a beat. The sharp whit was back, the jokes still ringed true and the camaraderie seemed to be at an all-time high. Lets party!

The first night slipped away fast. The celebration beer turned out to be a hopped-up, malted rice-wine of sorts that put us in a funny way. Not to be shut-in, we strolled down Sukumvit at 3am and finished our updates over our first (of many to come during the week) beer Changs while plopped down on lawn furniture on the sidewalk, taking in the late-night crowds, street-food smells and un-enticing cat-calls of the darker-side of Bangkok. It felt good to be amongst friends again.

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Over the years, we have had our meeting places: sometimes around the small, square, kitchen table that follows us from house to house, sometimes the nook and sometimes the ping-pong room or back patio overlooking Santa Monica. And no matter the place, the same is said time and time again - "That was the greatest week/weekend/night of all-time!" This was no different. So in the same spirit as those 'square-table' reminiscing sessions, here we go yet AGAIN...

Remember the time... We got a late start in BKK (because of the unidentified clear-beer) and as we arrived to all the sites, they were closing?

Remember the time... We hired a tuk-tuk for the afternoon for a grand total of 75 cents?

Remember the time... We got scammed at the TAT office planning our island adventures and didn't care because we were fed ice-cold Changs, while Pat agreed to marry the daughter of our travel agent Sarah?

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Remember the time... We accepted our fate with the dangerous crowds in the upper level of the Thai boxing arena? (I think we counted a whopping 10 total spectators including the 10 year old selling over-priced beers.)

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Remember the time... We partied with the locals at the Brick Bar and cheers-ed the night away with a good 36 (out of 100) Pipers?

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Remember the time... We kicked, bounced, rolled and threw a rubber ball around the wrong airport gate trying to miss our delayed flight to Phuket?

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Remember the time... We learned how to properly play with the fox tail in the shallows of Ko Phi Phi?

Remember the time... We were robbed in our hotel room while we slept? That was a good one...

Remember the time... We canoed down the Sok River, swung from the rope swing, spotted Mangrove snakes, ate lunch while a mullet-ed child frolicked about, rode elephants into the jungle and filled out police reports all while being guided by our lady-boy friend, Bill? Oh, then we ate mango and sticky rice!

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Remember the time... We won 8 out of 9 games of volleyball on the beach against a conglomerate of trans-sexual, transvestite, lady-boyed locals? That was fun.

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Remember the time... We had the greatest lunch ever? I will never forget!

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Remember the time... We met up with our volleyball friends and they treated us to dinner before the table-topped dance-off on the beach? We won of course.

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Remember the time... We ate dinner outside at our hotel during the last night, near the BKK airport, and about got blown away by the tropical rain storm? The ambiance could not be beat. Delicious.

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Oh, and remember the time... We met up in Thailand and had the greatest week of all-time? One for the ages boys! Thanks for added memories. Thailand, and myself, will never be the same!

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Even more, if you bare to look:
http://s427.photobucket.com/albums/pp359/triptimephotos/TripTime/Babes%20in%20Thailand/?albumview=slideshow

Posted by triptime 11:24 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

I did have some fun...

by Izzy

overcast 88 °F
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

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I know. Cambodia doesn't quite seem like a great pick for that next tropical paradise vacation. But I did have some fun there...

The beach provided a gathering place for fellow travellers. And with that, I made new friends. Days of lounging around, waiting for Happy Hour to kick in. I mingled with Aussies, Germans, Canucks and Brits. We shared drinks and stories and even shot some pool, teaming up against the locals in some barn-burning battles. There were birthday celebrations, fire-twirling twilights and nights that slipped away over the meaning of hapiness.

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I got sold on a boat trip out to Bamboo Island by an ex-pat with more jumbled energy than any one man could contain. He was a nut, but a good nut. I made the voyage with 20 others, including my new friends Jack and Shaun (OZ) and Ingrid (Germany). The open seas rocked me to submission (thanks dad for that genetical trait!), but once the hour and half ride came to an end, life crept back into me. The anchor went down and then another hard splash hit the water off the side of the three-storied fun-boat. The guide, the nut, had just jumped from the top shelf! "Come on in - the water feels great!" You don't have to tell me twice... as I scurried up the flights of stairs. While everyone else wondered if we were really allowed to jump, or afraid to make the 25ft leap, I showed my veteran savvy and dove right in. Others slowly plopped in awkwardly. Then I went to the second deck and started doing flips. Now I was the nut.

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Not me
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Me

After lunch, I shoved-off for my first sea kayaking experience. Besides the 20 pound oar and double-seated 'yak, I enjoyed my exploration through the small breaks and rocky coast. Then to finish off the day, I prepped an ocean pole with bits of squid and tried my awful luck at fishing. While small local girls and half-drunken foreigners pulled in spiny, dotted, colorful fish... I did not. I just don't get it! Don't worry dad, I'll get one before I get back. I needed a beer.

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As the sun set yet again, we departed the boat at Victory Beach to our awaiting moto drivers. But they would have to wait. The four of us sat down at the beach-side bar/restaurant sporting an old Russian plane as its centerpiece. Why not? To keep the night going, we also made a stop at the Snake Pit - another themed eating and drinking hole. There is nothing like drinking a Tiger while a Burmese python slithers under the glass of your table. That's after you dodge the chained-up 6 foot crocodile at the entrance pool and squeezed by the 20-30 aquarium-contained frogs, lizards and exotic snakes. The low lighting and jungle sounds didn't stop once inside. Back behind the tables and chairs, a path winds by huge fish aquariums, bird cages 20 foot high with cockatoos and tucans and a croc farm containing at least 16 of the smiling fellows. This place was better than most zoos I've been to and we were the only customers there - what a shame!

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Then there was the time the time I ate a snake. Street food at its best, locals walk about the night with platters of fried snakes-on-a-stick, crickets, spiders and grubs, looking for takers. It took some encouraging, but "When in Rome..." It tasted more like jerky than snake. The thin layer of meat peeled back like string cheese. A soy sauce flavor hinting from the tough texture. Not a bad bar snack. Now I wish I had tried the others.

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So there are some hilights. Cambodia can bring the best and worst of anything... and that's why I liked it!

Posted by triptime 09:51 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Cambodia - It grows on you.

by Izzy


View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

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It's hard to explain. Really hard actually. It's wilder than the wildest of wests. Though it's catagorized as South East. "Rules? (said in a deep James Earl Jones accent) There are no rules here!" That's Cambodia. Every man, woman, child, chicken, cat and canine for themselves, but in the end, they take care of each other. It's dog-eat-dog, out of survival, not out of greed. And no matter how opressed, poor or beaten the people are, or have been, they still try to smile.

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Cambodian gas station

From Wats (no relation to South LA) to the capital of Phnom Penh, the scenery went from spacial country-side shacks, sloshing water buffalo and freshly plowed rice fields to congested filth. There was nothing to romanticize about this place. The heat and the stick clinged to everything and the smell of dirty diapers mixed with rotting fruit seemed to come from every direction. And the sounds. Cars, tuk-tuks and motos honking to form a buzzing background of loud white-noise. The constant hustle for your attention from restaurants, shops and vendors. Trucks with amplified speakers shrieking out political opinions or upcoming events or sales that could not be missed. Shop-men welding on the crumbling sidewalks with no masks, shoes or gloves. Barber shops made from bungied and tied blue tarps extending from chained linked fences. A single plastic lawn chair and a mirror no bigger than a book wired up as a customer gets his striaght-razor shave. Business as usual here.

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This was real. No fakes here, at least not in the way we might think. Of course there are plenty who would love to make a few quick bucks off the nieve tourist, but that's part of the game, that's business. What I mean about 'real' is that Cambodians know the score, they know the odds are against them. They have learned English, well enough to do business, because that is the easiest way to survive - find the foreigner and offer them a service or souvenir. But when they do, there is a warmth about them. They are pushy, but not aggressive. They are persistent, but not impatient. And they love to smile and chat.

Two days felt like a week. Phnom Penh was intense. The brutal city beat my senses up and broke my heart with the day trip to both S21 and the Killing Fields (as mentioned in a previous blog). I took what it dealt me and moved on. Sihanouk Ville, on the southern coast, brought yet another angle on the Cambodian life-style and the people that live it.

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I settled down here. I found a place across from the beach-strip and unpacked. In fact, this was the first time in the entire trip that I took everything out of my bag, stacked things on shelves, hung others on hooks and truly made myself at home. I got to know the staff. During meals at the guesthouse, I would ask questions. Employees worked 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week. Some moved about like zombies - robotically going through the motions to make ends meet. To help their families. They were the lucky ones, they had a steady job. A slew of tuk-tuk and moto drivers lingered just beyond the entrance, popping into action when any guest came remotely close. Pleading for work, negotiating for livelihood.

On the beach, the hustle intensified. Now kids were involved. There precious faces, huge smiles or perfect pouty lip - piercing your heart as they work their spiel. "Mister, you wanna buy bracelet? I make good deal for you. Open your heart, open your wallet. No? Why not you buy from me? Tomorrow you buy. Pinky swear, you buy from me!" It was a daily onslaught. Overwhelming to the point of extreme annoyance. But underneath their facade, they were still kids, and I would try to bring that out. By the end, I would go down to the beach to see my favorites - the ones I nick-named Bob (because of his sweet rendition of Marley's Get up, Stand up), Ed (because it was much simpler than his real name) and Jenna (actually, that was her name). They were all beautiful, charming and full of life, but I wondered about their limited future. What options do they have?

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And as I ate $3 seafood BBQs while overlooking the Gulf of Thailand and slurping down a few $0.50 Anchor drafts during eight consecutive sunsets (a new personal best), the kids still spieled, the teens pushed fruit, the women worked you over for massage, the poor carried their babies and jingled a cup while the handicapped scooted legless along the sand on their rubberized bottoms. This was real. This was survival. And to me, this was wild. But until help comes, or change takes place, Cambodians will still do what they can, what they have to, in this lop-sided world, and they will do so happily.

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Posted by triptime 08:07 Archived in Cambodia Comments (3)

'Wat' Not to Miss

by Izzy

sunny 98 °F
View Izzy's Travel Itinerary on triptime's travel map.

I took a day to recover from my food poisoning. It was a day well needed.

The air was so thick you could eat it with a spoon. The humidity laid on you like a wool blanket in the near 100 degree heat. It was a perfect day for a bike ride!

The hostel had free bike rentals, and you all know FREE is my favorite four-letter 'F' word. I wanted to explore Cambodia's main attraction at my own pace and soak it all in with a day of sweating and picture taking.

The Angkor Archaeological Park was a good 35 minute ride, just enough time to learn that the bike seat was going to cause lasting pain and discomfort for days to come. I pedaled with the locals, swerving around watery pot-holes and dodging dodgy tuk-tuk drivers. At one point, I merged into a group of children who had just been let out of school. Feeling competitive, I pulled up alongside a dapper little guy barely reaching his pedals and silently challenged him to a race by revving my handlebars. He accepted and we were off! What a kick! He would nudge ahead, giving a slight backward glance and then I would pull up, just a tire-length ahead, giving him the complete stare-down. In the end, old-man Holden lost out to the sprout who had the stamina of a seasoned cyclist as he left me eating his dust. What was I thinking? I needed to pace myself - it was going to be a long steamy day.

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I parked my bike amongst the hustling vendors, accepting their 'free' service to watch over it. Angkot Wat! What a site to see! An ancient (12th century) Cambodian-like castle surrounded by a moat and protected by a wall measuring 1300 x 1500 meters. Inside the gate, it was massive. The grounds were green the sky was blue and the three-tiered pyramid forming Wat glared down on me with its five lotus-looking towers. And there was hardly anyone around. I felt like an entruder as I poked and prodded, in and out of columned steps and entrances, through the courtyards and down the long corridors of detailed carvings depicting stories and characters of Hindu mythology. The patients, money and man-power to put something like this into action was mind-blowing. Even without the explanations of a guide, I could still appreciate the artistic control and architectural ingenuity that went into this tourist-attracting temple.

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And it didn't stop. From one temple to the next, I was continuously amazed. It almost became surreal, like I was a peasant from a lost time, strolling through a fantasy land of abandoned empires. All I needed were some traveling minstrels to accompany me, and maybe a couple wenches to keep me hydrated - I dripped from all points. I never saw any dragons, though there were a few statues that had a curious resemblance. And by the time the storm clouds rolled in and it thundered down upon me, a refreshing and muddy experience, I had completed visits to four timeless temples, including: the majesty of Angkor Wat, the smiling faces of Bayon within the gates of Angkor Thom, the 'Tomb Raider' ruins and roots of Ta Prohm and the overlooked rubble of Banteay Kdei.

Angkor Thom - Bayon
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Ta Prohm
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Banteay Kdei
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A must see and do stop in South East Asia - some even put Angkor in the same catagory as the Great Pyramids, the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu. You could spend weeks exploring all the ruins and temples, but I felt content with my one solid day on my semi-busted steed-of-a-bike. The 17+ kilometer gallop left me with an unforgettable sense of mystery and accomplishment of a once dominating Khemer era, in addition to some serious butt bruising and a back-side splattered in mud. It was well worth the dings and dirt.

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Ta Keo as I rode by.

Posted by triptime 22:39 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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