10 days in Myanmar {Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake, Mandalay}

If you went through a couple of my blog-posts you might have noticed my passion & love for creating videos while traveling. This means, that I also enjoy watching travel videos of any places in the world. I just love the aestethic visuals mixed up with music and sound effects that can recreate a visual portrait of a city or a country.

I really was amazed by this particual video about Myanmar on Vimeo. {click on the link to watch it}.

After having watched it a couple of times in a row, and after having fowarded the link to numerous friends and started feeling the urge to absolutely visit Myanmar as soon as possible. It quickly made it onto my bucket list. Obviously I had to create my own travel video of beautiful Myanmar on this 10 day journey. You can watch it below.

 

We only had 14 days left for our whole trip. As we were landing in Bangkok, and wanted to pass through Cambodia, before landing in Myanmar, 10 nights was all we had left to spend in Myanmar (also known as Burma).

Ten nights isn’t too long if you’re planning to visit the most popular cities: Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay. We also had Ngapali Beach in mind, but considering our tight time-schedule we just couldn’t manage to visit their beautiful beaches.

Yangon.

Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) is a popular travel destination because of its truely beautiful Shwedagon Pagoda. The gigantic golden pagoda was the only reason why we spent one night in Yangon. The taxi-ride from the airport to our hostel was around 13.000 kyat (which would be 9 us$), and the ride took almost 40 minutes due to heavy traffic.

You’re absolutely right if you’re going to tell me that you can’t discover the beauty of a city within a day. We booked a night at the Bodhi Nava Hostel. We checked in around 8pm, and went straight towards the golden pagoda in the city center. The neighbourhood was pretty rhough. I didn’t expected it to be that bad. It definitely reminded me of worn down areas in India. After walking 15 minutes uphill and leaving hundreds of steps behind us, we made it to the holy temple.

Already from afar, through a dark narrow street, you just had to follow the golden glow in the sky. You just couldn’t miss it!

The sadest part of our Yangon experience was the fact, the Shwedagon Pagoda was under construction. At first sight you wouldn’t notice the scaffold along the tip of the golden monument. I was kinda disappointed, as the temple was the main reason why we made it to Yangon. We managed to get a lovely photo of it, however it just wouldn’t be as beautiful as without the scaffold.

On the following early morning we manged to visit a second temple called Sule Pagoda, which was located downtown in a busier neighbourdhood. It was less impressive than Shewdagon. Not too far away, we visited Bogyoke Aung San Market. As we expected a busy market with local crafts and foods, they mainly sold clothes and jewelry.

The surrounding streets were actually nicer to walk through. The colorful colonial housefronts reminded me of Cuba.

The first temples you witness in a particular country are always pretty enjoyable. However you rarely experience memorable moments inside a temple. That’s why I’d rather stroll across unknown streets and hoping to find a local gem, that you wouldn’t find in travel-guide.

So after spending less than 24 hours in Yangon, we were looking forward to our trip to Bagan, the city of the thousand pagodas.

Bagan.

After a 2 hour flight we made it Bagan. Right at the airport we had to pay a tax for visiting the archaeological sites. Every visitor has to pay the tax of 25.000 kyats. (15$)

A cool thing about Bagan is that most hotels aren’t far away from the airport. Your taxi will easily reach it within 15 minutes. Expect to pay 8000 kyats (5us$).

In Bagan you'll find the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins in the world, many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. The main bigger pagodas look absolutely magical at any part of the day. We were passing by the first ones on our way to the hotel at night. It was mesmerizing to witness those rocky temples rising up on both sides of our car as we got closer to our destination.

We just couldn’t wait to explore Bagan by ourselves. Some hotels will offer e-bikes or bicycles to explore the thousands of temples in and around Bagan. I’d highly recommend an e-bike as temperatures get very high during daytime.

Where to start? To be honest I have no idea. There are so many pagodas spread over a large area, that it’s really hard to tell which one are the nicest. The more impressive ones are close to the main road that connects Old Bagan with Nyaung-U.

You can get decent views from the smaller ones at sunrise or sunset. Most of them are closed with fences and it’s illegal to climb on the rooftop or the tip of the pagodas. However for a small tip locals will bring you to pagodas where a guard will open the gates for half an hour an allow you to climb up the pagoda to witness the beautiful sunset over the holy land.

While riding around on our e-bike a Bagan local asked us if we would like to buy one of his paintings. If we would do so, he would lead us to one of the pagodas that we could climb up. Obviously they all get a part of that money, even the corrupt guard, who shouldn’t let people get onto those holy monuments. On the mobile app “Maps.Me” you will find some informations if you hover over the single pagodas, and users will keep the status updated, if the rooftop access is still available or not. While we were in Bagan most spots on the mobile map were highlighted as “closed”.

There isn’t much else to do in Bagan except visiting Pagodas, relaxing at the amazing pool at your hotel, and enjoying a little bit of luxury for a bargain. I’m not even sure if you’d find a hostel in Bagan, as most hotels look pretty fancy.

Talking about nightlife, there’s none. Surely there are always people on the streets, some restaurants are more packed than others, however there’s barely any nightlife with bars, clubs or any other busy places. We spent 3 nights in Bagan, after spending an hour at a local restaurant, we mostly headed back to the hotel, as we couldn’t find any interestings bars along the road.

I wouldn’t recommend more than 3 nights in Bagan. As it can get pretty boring after a couple of days. Besides the endless pagodas, you can visit the charming Minnanthu village, where you’ll get a 30 minute tour through the village, and get introduced to the daily life of the villagers and how they create things (pottery, scarves, food). It’s touristic, but it’s worth stopping by while you’re in Bagan.

In Bagan there’s a Viewing Tower right in the middle of the deserted dry lands. The spectacular hight of the tower offers you a 360° view angle in any direction. The entrance ticket allows you to visit the tower twice a day. Sadly we didn’t get back for the sunset. The downside of the tower is, that most pagodas are pretty far away from the tower. Therefor the photographs from the top of the tower look less spectacular than the ones taken from the top of a temple.

As we were spending our days in Bagan during the waterfestival “Thingyan”, the streets were always busy with younger folks trying to smash a bucket of water into your face. Most of them respected your backpack, and just pured the water of your clothes. I would recommend you to buy a small waterproof bag that would carry your wallet, mobile phone and money, as there won’t be any dry spot on your body after you drive passed three Thingyan-stands.

We had enough of Bagan after 3 full days. I enjoyed every minute in that beautiful area. The locals were once again very welcoming, everything looked quite authentic, except for the luxurious hotels.

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Bagan is one of the two places in Myanmar where you can buy a hotballon-ride at sunrise. Sadly the hot-ballon business stopped around the 10th of April, because of safety issues. I guess they stop in april, as temperatures were just too high (everyday they were over 40°C). Even though we were pretty sad, that we couldn’t do the ballon-ride, we managed to save the insane amount of 300$ a person. As a couple we would have easily spent 600US$ for enjoying the flight over the pagodas.



Inle Lake.

After Bagan we flew straight to Inle Lake. It took us less than an hour. We didn’t know what to expect in Inle Lake, as the lake itself is quite big. We checked the location of our hotel on google maps, and distances seemed pretty far to reach the different attractions that Inle was well known for.

After landing at the tiny airport, we found out, that only taxis could bring us to our hotel. There weren’t any buses or trains. As the taxi-rides in Yangon and Bagan were pretty cheap, we were shocked how much we had to pay in Inle: 50.000 kyat (~ 30 Euro / 35 US$). I know! We wouldn’t complain about those taxi rates in our country, however paying 5 times the price we paid in Yangon, wasn’t really putting a grin on our faces.

The ride from the airport to our hotel took about 80 minutes. Obviously a bus would have taken ages to reach it. We spent 3 nights at a Novotel-Hotel, as we were exausted of our first week of traveling. To that point we already had taken 7 flights, and we decided to move on a little slower during our last days on holidays, and opted for a fancier resort.

It turned out that there wasn’t any public transportation in Inle Lake except for the cabs & the boats. The hotel would offer boat-rides for tripple the price that a local boatman would charge you for. So we decided to walk to a boat-station that was located 20 minutes away by foot.

The hotel handed out complimentary bikes which would make the trip the wooden bridge easier. On our first day, walking to the bridge, we randomly met a young local guy, whose name was Ekko. As we seamed lost, while we were looking for a crossing, that would lead us to that bridge, he introduced himself as a boatman, an offered us a convincing cheap ride, that we gladly accepted. The young man, always with a big smile on his face, brought us to a monastry where buddhist monks were supposed to live. Dens groups of people were noticeable from further distance, but there weren’t hardly any monks around the crowds. I turned out to be another tourist attraction.

The single boat rides from point A to point B can easily last more than an hour. Even though it’s just a lake, it felt more like the sea! As there wasn’t absolutely nothing else left to do around our hotel area, we met up with Ekko on daily basis and asked him to show us the different spots surrounding the lake: long-neck tribes, cotton & silk fabric, pottery factory, pagodas, monastries, floating villages, floating gardens… and so on.

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Actually Ekko introduced us to all the sights & things we knew from several travel videos. I guess we’ve seen it all at Inle Lake, even though it was,’t actually how we had pictured it in our heads. It all seemed like a “watch and buy”market. Without any doubt, some parts were quite interesting, as Vanessa was able to play around with the clay and try to make her own ashtray at the pottery factory. Well the factory was just a tent, with a chair, where a 15-year-old girl showed us how to make cups, plates and ashtrays. But in the end we didn’t regret it. They will give you a free introduction to their crafts & makings, but they’re making a living out of their creations. So expect to spend a couple of bucks while visiting those places. It will make them happy!

Another charming lady, showed us how to make a sewing cord with the stem of a lotus flower.

The cherry on top, was the afternoon where Ekko, our boatman took us to his lake-house and invited us for a cup of tea. It was a 2 storey wooden house, where he lived with 8 relatives. And we got to know that Ekko won a price in a hospitality apprenticeship endowed by a partnership with Luxembourg. What a funny coincidence. Who would have guessed that we would bump into the luxembourgish flag in a Village where almost nobody would ever have heard about our tiny country.

 

Mandalay.

Mandalay was the last city we were visiting on your 10 days in Myanmar. We didn’t really know what to expect. As we visited a couple of wonderful places, Mandalay just couldn’t beat the land of the 10.000 pagodas (Bagan) or the refreshing boat rides at Inle.

Mandalay was already pretty tough with its temperatures that were reaching 43 °C during the day, and the nights just wouldn’t get cooler. After checkin-in at the hostel (Ostello Bell) we were told that most of the shops would be closed because of the buddhist new-year, and that chances would be very low that rental-companies would offer us a scooter for our last 3 days in Myanmar.

It was about time to install the mobile app “Grab”, which is very popular in Asia. It’s the asian “UBER” which works pretty well in Mandalay. The hostel gave us a discount-code for “Grab” which would offer us two cheaper rides a day. On “Grab” you can either choose to get picked up by a scooter, a tuk-tuk or by a car. Scooters & tuk-tuks are obviously cheaper than the 3rd option.

It was pretty hard to find jaw-dropping places in Mandalay. Of course there were a couple of Pagodas and temples left to visit, however we had seen too many them.

The popular daily “Zay Cho” market where they sell locals crafts, clothes and food was closed on those 3 days we spent in Mandalay. The jade market, where they evidently sell all kinds of jade-stone gifts and jewelry was closed as well. Luckily there was one of those train-markets, where a train would just cross go straight through the market, there’s one nearby Bangkok, and another one in Vietnam as far, as I can remember. This was our first time at of those train-markets.

We headed to the top of Mandalay Hill, on which one another temple was located. The ride to the top was fun, as we were sharing the back of a van with 16 other people. Prior jumping on the van, we thought that 8 adults would be the max that would fit onto the small platform of the van. I was wrong, 8 more people would fit! Most of those locals were smiling at us, as if they never shared a van with white people.

Mandalay Hill wasn’t that spectacular, however we enjoyed walking down the path to the bottom, and witnessing how some citizen were living on the street with a fridge, a stove and a tv-set. The whole scenario reminded me of a studio or living room set up on the sidewalk.

We visited a shopping-mall, as we were desperately looking for places to discover and kill our time. The Diamond Plaza mall could have been a shopping place in North Korea. The ground floor was packed with fancy stores that we knew from Europe. However not one single customer was at that shopping mall, except both of us and another caucasian family.

My own highlight of Mandalay was the U Bein Bridge, which is supposed to be the longest and oldest teakwood bridge in the world. We enjoyed spending an hour on the bridge and its nearby market. Actually the coolest part, was the charming village, at the other side of U Bein Bridge. The little village, was actually the perfect image of what I expected Myanmar to be: welcoming & smiling locals spending their free time outside of their homes in the streets, monks, kid-monks, worn down schools, … the authentic street life, without tourists. I could have spent a whole day in that tiny village, enjoying the views, walking around and taking photos. We bumped into a stray dog on the wooden bridge, that kept following us all across the village, got into a brawl with other streets dogs, and followed us til we left the village.

We spent our last night at the restaurant “Mingalabar" where we got introduced to the typical myanmar traditional dishes (btw. Mingalabar means hello in burmese). The whole menu seemed very authentic, however my sense of taste wasn’t ready for some of its flavours. I had a hard time swallowing down some of the dishes. It was funny to see, that most restaurants were packed with caucasion people, obvisouly tourists, except for “Mingalabar”. Nightlife…there was none, and I’m pretty sure we didn’t miss it, or went to the wrong places. Most hotel bars were empty, even the roof-top bar of our hostel wasn’t very lively at night.

We skipped the boat ride to Mingun, as it would have all been for another pagoda… a white one. Definitely a nice pagoda, but just another pagoda.


I pretty much enjoyed every single city we visited on our Myanmar trip. Maybe my expectations were too high, for a country that opened its doors for tourism approximately 20 years ago. The locals, the hotels, the restaurants are doing their very best for making you feel at ease. Everything is relatively cheap for westerners. Don’t compare it with Thailand or Vietnam, as those two are easily travelable. Myanmar people are the nicest ones I’ve met of all my asian destinations i’ve been to these last 5 years. I’m pretty sure in 10 years, everything will have changed so rapidly in Myanmar. Visit the beautiful country, before it becomes another “asian hot spot”.



Bangkok, Cambodia & Myanmar

During the easter 2-week-schoolholidays in april we decided to visit Myanmar. As the flights were much cheaper for Bangkok, we decided to have two pit-stops in the thai-capital. As we were coureagous and eager enough to visit a 3rd country, we opted for Siem Reap in Cambodia, mainly because of its Angkor Wat temple.

We flew from Luxembourg, to Bangkok, followed by a flight to Cambodia, where we stayed for 3 nights, and last but not least Myanmar. As we had planned to visit the 4 most popular cities of Burma, we opted for inland flights as well. The bus-route from Yangon to Mandalay, would last 12 hours. The bus fare was about 20$, the flight would be as cheap as 50$. Instead of losing too much time on a train or bus, we decided that we would move around by airplaine, obviously with low-cost-airlines.

In total we were sitting on 12 different aircrafts on our two weeks adventure ! Considering that the temperatures were reaching the 42°C degrees, it was a pretty exhausting trip.

Obviously I will write a seperate blog-post about Myanmar. In this one I will summarize our adventure in 3 different countries within lees than two weeks.

 

Bangkok.

Exactly one year later, I made it back to Bangkok. I was so convinced that I would return to Thailand much earlier, however things or plans don’t always turn out as we expect them to. After my first trip to Thailand in 2018, I fell in love with the laid back, but respectful, attitude of the country. I was looking forward to get back.

In the beginning of the trip, we only spent one night in Thailand before moving on to Siem Reap. We landed pretty late, and the weather was rainy, so it didn’t turn out to be an joyful night. We passed by the busy khaosan road and fled towards a much quiter street for a delicious pad-thai.

On our way back home we spent two more nights in Bangkok, enough to get to know new areas of the capital city. My girlfriend was curious about its markets, so I took her to the Chatuchak (or “Jatujak") Market, which only takes place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It’s a huge market with all kinds of things: food, fashion, books, kitchen tools. We spent 3 hours at the market, and there were still so many market-shops left to discover. Just next to Chatuchak, we spent another hour at “Camps - the Vintage market”, which is a pretty hip spot ! It was my second visit, and I enjoyed as much as my first time. You will totally enjoy “Camps” if you’re into cheap but trendy clothes, cafe-racer bikes, foodtrucks, ramen!, and craft-beers. It had a more laid-back vibe than the busy Chatuchak.

After two markets, we didn’t had enough of our shopping spree! We jumped on a cab, which took us to the Night Train Market. Again.. a huge market.. with all kinds of things to spend money on. There were a couple of bars nearby the market, that hosted live-music. The sweetest part was, that all the customers of the bars were thai. It was a much enjoyable and more classy area than the mentioned khao-san road. No douchebags, no loud thai teenage-girls.

On our last day, we were trying to get to see a Muay Thai fight in Bangkok. We found a couple of useful informations online. Every sunday the local tv-channel “Channel 7” hosts free muay-thai fights. If you make it to the Channel 7 building before 13:00h (1pm) you will high probably get a free seat for the show. As we totally forgot the change the time, as we came from Myanmar towards Thailand (which is 30 minutes late), we made it to the fight-arena around 13:40. We had to pay 200 bat (5$) per person for a ring-side seat. A pretty cheap deal compared to the usual 50$ you have to pay for a muay-thai fight. We watched 4 fights, until we decided to get back home, and head to the airport. It was a pleasant experience! Even my girlfriend who isn’t into brutal fight-sports, enjoyed the show. The fights are broadcoasted live on tv! Expect around 500 people in the arena.

 

Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Obviously we made it to Siem Reap for the famous Angkor Wat temple. For a long time I thought there would only be one big main temple in Siem Reap, until prior our departure I learned that there are many more temples located around the main Angkor Wat. It actually takes a couple of hours to quickly visit the hot spots of the archeological & historical sites. Some people would easily spend two to three days to get a more profound tour of the temples.

We’ve spent 2 nights in Siem Reap, which was enough to get a first taste of Cambodia and its number-one travel destination. It took about 15 minutes by scooter to reach the temple area. We rented a motorbike for about 15$ a day. After signing the rental-deal we were told which bridges in the city center we should avoid, as it would be illegal for foreigners to ride a scooter in Siem Reap. I’m not sure if it was just an over-cautious tip to avoid trouble, or if it was actually prohibited to ride the bike. We passed a couple of cop cars, and uniformed officers, at some points even without a helmet, and nobody ever stopped us.

You can either buy an entrance ticket for Angkor Wat for 1 day or a 3-day-pass. The 3-day-pass was pretty expensive, around 60 us$ !! per person. In Cambodia all the prices are listed in US$, and you actually pay with US$ bills. The prices in the menus at the restaurants are all listed in US$. Dollars everywhere.

At the airport the tuk-tuk drivers told us that foreigner aren’t allowed to ride a scooter around the temples. That wasn’t true! We visited all the temples on our own, and didn’t get in trouble for a second.

I’d definitely recommend visiting Angkor Wat for sunrise or sunset, as it will offer a nice photoshot opportunity with the reflecting sun in the pond just in front of the temple. The hundreds of tourists however will ruin the vibe. Even at 05:40 in the morning the place was packed with a huge crowd waiting for the sun to rise up behind the holy building.

Is there anything else to do in Siem Reap? Not that much! There are a couple of floating villages which are supposed to be pretty interesting to visit. However during our stay in Cambodia, the temperatures easily reached 42°C. Due to the higher temperatures the riverbeds around the floating houses dried out, and it all looked more like a dusty village. The ride from our hotel to the floating village was packed with lovely landscapes, however the village itself wasn’t worth the 1-hour-drive, as there wasn’t much left to see.

Siem Reap could be quite lively at night. There’s the “PubStreet” right in the heart of the city-center, packed with too many bars, but not enough tourists or locals. Every bar has its music-box turned up to the max, which can be rather annoying if you hear 10 differents songs playing at the same time. Pubstreet was loud and flashy, but among all the noise, we managed to find a laidback bar, where we could enjoy a couple of drinks. The center offers all kind of restaurants, local food, italian, indian, you have a hard time to satisfy your cravings. On our second night we went for street-food, where we paid 2$ for a noodles or rice dish.

As almost every asian city Siem Reap has a night market. If you’ve visited 3 night-markets in your life, you might have seen’em all. This one wasn’t much different.

In Japan a friend told me, that she had a bad experience with too many unfriendly locals in Siem Reap. We couldn’t share the same oppinion. The only unfriendly person we met was our tuk-tuk driver at the aiport, as he wasn’t amused that we refused his offer for a private-tour to the temples.

 

Myanmar.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, definitely was on my bucket list for the last couple of years. After having watched many travel videos of Burma on vimeo, I was blown away by the lanscapes, the pagodas and the special vibe videographers captured on their trip to Myanmar.

However the higher your expectations are, the higher are the chances that you could be disappointed. This actually gets worse when you have a specific idea what your travel videos or photos should look like when you get back home. My expectations were very high! I carried all my photo equipment, which consisted of 4 lenses, my fuji xt2 camera, a go-pro, and a gimbal, to our trip across the country.

As our trip was limited to a maximum of 14 days, we only got to spend 10 days in Myanmar, and we planned to see as much as possible of the country, so we chose to make it to the more popular cities like Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake, Mandalay.

It takes between 6-12 hours by bus to move from one city to the next one. As we were limited in time, we opted to travel by airplane. The lowest faires were as cheap as 40$ for a 1 hour flight. Myanmar makes it easy for travelers to move around, you’ll easily get a cheap taxi, the airports aren’t too far away from the city centers. The mobile app “GRAB” is a must if you wanna get around Mandalay. It works the same as “UBER”, but you can choose between 3 different transportation options: car (taxi), tuk-tuk or scooter. As we were traveling as a couple we mostly grab’ed a tuk-tuk.

We visited 3 different countries on this trip, Thailand, Cambodia and Burma. We often asked ourselves what would be tippicaly “cambodian” or what would make “Myanmar” easily recognizable among the neighbouring asian countries. We couldn’t really tell! As for myselef I refered to Cambodia as a mix of Bali-Vietnam-India.

However Myanmar’s landscapes were easily recognizable by the endless amount of golden pagodas that were spread all over the cities. I can’t remember having witnessed this kind of shaped pagodas all covered in gold (some were white) in another asian country. You could spot them from afar in the mountains, on a hill, next to the river.. pagodas everywhere!

The traditional skirts men were wearing was definitely typically “burmese”. I first noticed them in Bali where they were called “Sarong”, then in India where they’re called “dothi”. In Myanmar it was the “longyis” that were worn by all the men. Even nowadays 85% of the men are wearing the longyis.

Number 3 would be the thanaka face painting, that women (also men) are using as esthetic cosmetics and as sunscreen to avoid sunburn. Thanaka is a white/yellowish paste made out of tanaka wood (the wood is rubbed on a wet grindstone or glasspaper. The mixture of water and the wood-dust makes it a paste. Women are wearing the thanaka as stripes, leaf shapes, or just plain circles on their cheeks and forhead.

As my expectations were very high, concerning this Myanmar trip, I have to honestly admit that I wasn’t blown away by the country. After having visited numerous asian countries, naturewise or citywise, Myanmar wasn’t that much different. For my personal taste, I missed the lively vibes you get to see in Bali or Thailand. After sunset, the streets got quiet, the locals were having food on a streetfood corner, and then slowely faded back into their homes. Obviously as myanmar people have low wages, they can’t afford to spend a night in a bar or restaurant. There wasn’t any kind of entertainment for tourists at night. We were lucky to discover the water festival that took place across the whole country 3 days before the buddhist new year. The locals, especially the children and teenagers were throwing water at us. The waterfestival is supposed to “clean up” the people with water just before sliding into the new year.

In Mandalay there wasn’t really much to do. We felt bored after 2 days. We definitely spend our 3 nights at the best hostel in town called “Hostello Bello”. Despite the welcoming staff and their fancy happy-hour, the nights remained quiet! Many restaurants were almost empty, bars weren’t available, coffee shops were closed in the late evening.

In Yangon, the night started around 11pm (23:00h), the point where are the restaurants and bars shut down. The same counts for Bagan and Inle Lake. Inle Lake was even worse, as most of the hotels were isolated on the outskirt of the lake. There weren’t any bars or restaurants where you could mix up with the locals. And we really missed that!

Myanmar was definitely a beautiful country, and we got to discover a lot of new things! Especially the locals were super welcoming. After all my traveling these last 5 years, Myanmar has definitely the nicest and moste welcoming population of all asia. Many adults were waving at us, as were driving by on a tuk-tuk. Children would touch our arms as they don’t get to see caucasians that often. Everytime when we handed over a tip, they stared back with a surprised look, as if they wouldn’t understand why somebody would leave them a dollar or two. They showed so much grattitude for every coin you would give them as a tip. I really fell in love with the kindness of the myanmar people !

Everything that impressed me in Myanmar travel videos, turned out to be a touristic attraction. Around Inle lake you’ll find the women of the long-neck tribes. As we were expecting a whole village, it turned out to be a ware-house where we were shown how the long-neck women were creating the handmade scarfs. The two long-neck women were very kind but it definitely didn’t feel authentic. The same counts for the traditonal fisher-men on Inle Lake. The real fishermen were casually dressed up in sportswear. The ones that were wearing tradional clothes was a made up show for tourists.

In Bagan we visited the Minnanthu village, where you were introduced to the daily life of a villager. Without a doubt, Minnanthu was worth the visit, however the tour felt once again like a tourist attraction. The women in the village started working as soon, as we approached their cabin or their tiny farm. It all looked like a made-up show.

I will write a separate post about our experience in Myanmar. I’m happy that we made it to Myanmar, and don’t regret it all. However it didn’t feel as authentic as Japan or Bangkok. It’s understandable that Myanmar is trying to attract tourists, as the country opened its borders for tourism only 20 years ago. They’re far behind Thailand or Vietnam, but they’re catching up!

Norway : Lofoten Islands & the arctic circle

The year 2019 started with an unusual trip. My girlfriend and I decided to visit the northern part of Norway, the Lofoten islands and the nordic city Tromso. I’d consider it an unusual destination as I don’t like spending my precious holidays in winter-cold countries or cities.

As we already went through the winter curse in our country, which consisted of freezing nights and rainy days, we headed north-bound towards the arctic circle. I expected to take the best out of my recently bought Mavic Air drone and was looking forward to pet some reindeers. This all sounded too fancy, if it wouldn’t have been for the rain.

 

We flew out from Brussels and had a 2-night stop in Bergen, the main city in the south-west of Norway. All I knew about Bergen, were the beautiful colored houses which I knew from google and the mountains surrounding the city center. It all seemed very “nordic” to me, because of the maritime vibe with all the ships, anchors and fishermen, therefor I was looking forward to finally discover Bergen. It turned out that city center wasn’t that attractive at all, and it ended up as a big disappointment. On tripadvisor we tried to find several tourist spots, which would allow us to kill the time. Sadly we couldn’t find any online.

All you can do is get some fishy-food at the local fish market, grab a coffee or two, get on top of the mount “Fløyen” with its fancy funicalar. All this can be done in 4 hours. Besides that I really can’t give you any further tips. Bergen didn’t turn out as I expected it to be. At night, we didn’t find any awesome bars which would allow us to get to know some local folks, it all seemed very dead. I guess paying 10 euros/dollar for one beer or a shot of rum doesn’t sound very inviting. Sadly that’s the average price you gotta pay for booze in Norway.

We were happy to move on towards the Lofoten in the early morning of our 3rd day in Norway.
You can easily reach the city center of Begen from the airport by the local lightrail (one-way ticket costs about 3,5 euro/dollar, or the express busline “flybussen”, which takes about 25 min(the one-way ticket is about 10 euro/us$).

 

Lofoten Islands: Reine, Sakrisoy, Henningsvær.

We landed in Leknes, where one of the 3 airports of the Lofoten is located. It was the smallest airport that I’ve ever landed at. After jumping out of the airplane, we walked through a door, and immediately reached the luggage claim belt within a couple of meters. Right next to the luggage claim where two single booths of the rental car companies. After spending exactly 4 minutes at the desk, we got a descent upgrade for our car: a hybrid VW Golf, with automatic transmission, and spiked wheels.

Prior our trip we booked a lovely wooden cabin in Sakrisøy, also known as “Rorbu” houses. Rorbuer are traditional fisher houses made out of wood and usually painted in red or yellow. It was one of the cheapest “chalets” we could find on booking.com, but it turned out to be exactly what were looking for. The check-in was flawless. The main entrance of the cabin was facing a big snow-covered mountain, right next to the water. A very basic kitchen station allowed us to prepare our dinners and breakfasts. Nearby the Sakrisoy houses was a “Coop” supermarket, and with 50 euro/us$, we could prepare our food for the upcoming 3 days. Expect to pay at least 60 euro/us$ while having dinner at a restaurant. Norway ain’t cheap!

It was the first time I ever stayed in a wooden cabin. I loved brewing my fresh coffee every morning with my portable “Kalita Filter”. The living area and the wooden beds on the upper level of the house were very cosy. The wooden cabin was definitely an important part of our Lofoten experience, as we weren’t spoiled with the best weater. We spent 5 days / 4 nights on the Island. During our stay we only had two days of sunshine. The weather was changing constantly, it was mostly snowstorms, rain and fog. As it was my first trip where I would use my DJI MAVIC AIR drone, the weather didn’t allow us to fly it up, as the winds were way too strong.

It’s really hard to kill the time on the Lofoten during bad weather, as there’s isn’t much to do. Because of the icy roads it takes quite a while to visit other cities. Driving from Reine to Svolvaer would easily take 3 hours. The center of Leknes hasn’t much too offer, except for a couple of coffee houses and an unattractive shopping mall.

There’s one main road that leads across the Island, the E10. There aren’t barely any shortcuts, you won’t get lost on the Lofoten without a GPS, but you will use the same road over and over again to drive around.

During our 4 days, we visited Reine, Leknes, Henningvaer and Svolvaer and we made it to the Unstad arctic surf beach. There are plenty of tiny villages that you will pass by within a couple of minutes. Different fishermen restaurants are spread out all over the Island. Besides having cake & coffee, taking lots and lots and lots of photographs, there’s not much to do in the Lofoten.

The views are breathtaking! The landscape and mountains scenery is very unique, and you won’t be disappointed. Sadly we got also unlucky with the northern lights. We were using the iphone apps “Aurora Alerts” and “Aurora” to get informed about the optimal conditions of the northern lights. Every night around 22:00h (10pm) the green lights were right above our roof. Unluckily because of the clouded sky, we weren’t able to see them. One night we took our car and started driving around for an hour or two. No luck! Even later in Tromso, one of the best locations in Norway to witness the northern beauties in the sky, we were unlucky again.

 

TROMSO.

Tromso was the last destination on our norway trip. Initially we had planned to make it the most popular city in northern norway to visit e reindeer farm. You can several tours or reindeer sleeding, husky sledding, feeding the reindeers followed by a traditional sami dinner. All of that could have been, if it wasn’t for the rain & fog.

After we landed in the late evening, the first glimpse at the city center was quite suprising. It looked like the center of fairy tale village, lots of inviting shops, packed restaurants and a handful of bars. On the next day we woke up with frustrations, the sky was gray, it was raining, and you could hear the wind through the room-window. We decided to walk across the main Tromso bridge and make it to the “Arctic Cathedral”. The beautiful A-shaped Cathedral was built in 1965, and to me it looked more like an Art-Center or Museum than a church. The shape of the building is actually very unusual for a religious building and it definitely looks like a recent construction. Never thought that the cathedral was over 50 years old.

Obviously with all the bad luck on our side, the church was closed. There were way too many people outside to get a descent photograph. The winds were too strong to fly up the drone. The fog was so dense that we could barely see the other side of the bridge. Bummer!

There wasn’t much to do in Tromso as well. We jumped from shop to the other, and tried too many coffees and cakes in the surrounding coffee-bars. Across our hotel was a lovely vinyl shop called “Backbeat Kaffe og Vinyl”. As the name of shop already reveals… you’ll find an interesting collection of vinyl (rock, indie, metal, soul, local bands) and can buy a fine cup of coffee, while browsing for new music. While in Norway, I had to buy the last album of “Kvelertak”, a gem of nordic rock music!

Click on the button below, to see the whole gallery of my Lofoten shots. Thanks for looking.




Kerala: Kovalam, Alleppey, Munnar

 





As we planned on staying in Kerala for 8 nights, time realy wasn’t on our side. Distances in Kerala are quite significant, which we didn’t expect at all, considering Google-Maps showing us 120-150 km routes. Because of the traffic and the narrow roads, 120 km could easily take up to 5 hours of your prescious time.

We landed in Trivandrum, as we were planning on spending New Years Eve on the beach, and we opted for Kovalam, because the surroundings and its red-white striped light house looked very charming.

Kovalam.

Kovalam’s beach was nice, nothing more nothing less. The restaurants at the beach front were quite alright for indian circumstances. However when you moved further away from the back alleys of the shore, the surroundings got pretty odd. There wasn’t an ATM nearby. You’d find plenty of roadstalls selling the usual stuff, chewing pan, sodas and biscuits. On New Years Eve, we were part of the few younger folks walking through the sand of the beach. Bars and restaurants were busy with older people, mostly europeans.

There was nothing going on late at night. Selling alcoholic beverages was prohibited if the bar wouldn’t pay a pretty expensive authorization. Some bars would sell the booze under table and serve the wine, beer or spirits in coffee mugs. For half a bottle of red wine we paid 10 euros / dollars on NYE, which is insanely expensive for indian people. Of course we had to hide the bottle under the table, in case the cops would show up.

Kovalam had its charming side, because only after one day, the locals would start recognizing you, and you’d get in lovely conversations with them. Of course always having in mind to win you as a customer in their shop or restaurant. The weather was flawless, even at night we had t-shirt temperatures. The water of the sea was pretty warm and the palmtrees bordering the shore made Kovalam a pretty place.

One day we drove up to Varkara with a rental scooter, it took us 5 hours in total to do the roadtrip. Varkara looked different than Kovalam, less buildings, more greens. In the end I can’t tell you which beach I actually prefered. We enjoyed the scenery along the road while heading up north. But I guess the 5 hours driving weren’t worth it, to spend some hours on a beach.

Initially we planned on staying 2 nights in Kovalam, but we extended our stay for one more night, as we didn’t want to rush with the usual check-out and packing our backpacks after the night of NYE. Honestly 3 nights in Kovalam is too long, as there isn’t much to do in the area. You can do daytrips to Varkara, the center of Trivandrum which gives you the feel of a city-vibe, or driving down south to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial (which we didn’t do, as it would take another 5 hours of driving in total). The scooter rental rate was a bargain, as we only paid 300 rupees per day (4 euros/dollars).




Alleppey and its backwaters.

After driving up north to Varkala, we figured out that Alleppey would be quite a ride. The distance between both cities is around 160 km which takes up to 5 hours driving.

A local told us that you can reach Varkala by train, however the train only leaves in the early morning and only once a day. So we opted for a taxi, which would cost us only 40-50 euro/usd, hassslefree, with an A/C, and you can sleep in the back of the car. Easy!

Alleppey is well known for its charming canals and its bigger lake on the northern side. That’s what we saw and what we got. In Alleppey we visited the city center, however the town looked like any other indian city. Our pleasant part of Alleppey was definitely our stay the “Bamboo Lagoon Resort”. The Bamboo Lagoon had the feel of a guesthouse, as there weren’t more than 10 to 12 rooms for rental. We had the chance to get one of the 3 rooms of a cottage that were very close to the river’s edge, facing the backwaters. Opening the doors in the morning was very beautiful as you could witness the beauty of the house boats passing by, watching the local fishermen in their canoos, or just observing the neighbours taking “a shower” in the river. It definitely felt more like India, than Kovalam’s beaches.

There wasn’t much to do on the “island”, as you had to a 1 minute canoo-trip to reach mainland. For one day only it was very pleasant to saviour the quietness of the resort, spending an hour in a hammock and watching the boats passing by. You could book a boat from the hotel and do a canal trip through the back waters. The boat cost around 500 rupee an hour (5 euro/uds). It would lead you through different canals and offer you a scenic view of the neighbourhood.

Unluckily on our first day we were told that on the following day, violent riots could take place in the city as there was an issue with a nearby temple, where women were granted access to use the temple for the first time ever. The radical religious fanatics obviously didn’t like that, and the use of violence was expected. So the only way to get to Munnar was to leave in the early morning at 01:00 or 02:00 am, or we would have to stay a second night, and spend all day at the resort, as driving with a taxi or buses was prohibited for security reasons. We decided to leave at night.

However we were already pretty sure that we would stay one more night at the bamboo lagoon on our way back home to the airport.

Munnar.

Munnar was a contrasty destination in comparison to the backwaters and the beaches of Kerala’s coastal region. Munnar is a located in the mountainous area of Kerala. It looks very green and hilly and the temperatures tend to be much lower at night.

Our roadtrip to Munnar was quite an experience. In the end we can have a good laugh about it, however the behaviour of our driver was rather dangerous than hilarious. The taxi driver picked us up at 01:30 in front of the bamboo lagoon resort. We put our stuff in the trunk and our journey began. After a couple of minutes the cab was stopped by the local police. They asked where we were heading, as it wasn’t allowed to drive out because of the riots that would high-probably happen that day. We were allowed to move on.

On the road I noticed how the driving behaviour of our driver changed: accelerating, breaking, accelerating, breaking.. and it went on like this. I instantly knew he was too tired to hold the road. After having hit the sidewalk numerous times, the driver decided to have a break and sleep for 30 minutes. Later on he told us, that he hadn’t slept for almost 24 hours.

We arrived in Munnar just before 07:00am. We stayed at the “Kaivalyam Wellness Retreat” for one night only. Before checking in we didn’t know that the resort had a fully-packed schedule with activities for their guests: free yoga classes, free tea tasting, early morning visits of the tea plantations, and many many more. They even gave free cooking classes 3 times a week. Obviously the cooking classes didn’t take place when we were visiting… as for myself, I’m always missing the best parts while traveling. Bummer!

The Kaivalyam Retreat was most definitely a beautiful place. Surrounded by endless trees, different kind of plantations (black tea, cardomon), it felt so refreshing breathing in the mountain air with all those scents outside of your room.

After having checked in, being led to our room, taking a shower… we notice the beautiful tree houses outside of our window. The lovely owner of the hotel, was so kind to give us a kind of upgrade, and let us move into one of the few tree houses that were available. Spending the night in a tree house was already worth the 5 hours we drove in a taxi to reach Munnar.

We were looking forward to discover the mighty green hills that we found on Google. Sadly during our visit, most of the tuk-tuk drivers were off work, because of the on-going strike all across Kerala. So it wasn’t possible to get to those greeny landscapes, as they were located 15 kilometers away from our resort.

Nevertheless, we were enjoying our 30 hours in Munnar. The 07:00 am yoga class was fun. It was interesting to witness the indian point of view about yoga, its flow, and how they practice it. We were executing all the asanas on traditional matt, rather a rug, and it kinda felt like I was doing yoga for the first time.

This was pretty much our Kerala trip.

So during a whole week, 7 days, we managed to visit 4 different cities: Kovalam, Varkara, Alleppey and Munnar (and we made it back to Alleppey and Kovalam on our last 2 days). Obviously we couldn’t experience all the parts of that beautiful state. But we experienced enough, to agree that it’s worth doing the drip. The whole trip changed my view of India, as it wasn’t actually that fun the first time I visited the country.

If you’re a fan of Bali or Srilanka, you will love Kerala.

Namaste to all the lovely people that crossed our path on this trip, … we met too many lovely ones!

Back to India: Kerala & Varanasi

Most of my friends and relatives wouldn’t believe me, if I was telling them that I’d travel back to India.

In 2017 I visited a couple of cities in the northern part of the country: Delhi, Agrar, Varanasi, Vrindavan. Back then, I wouldn’t hold myself back shouting out loud my disappointment about India on social-media, as I remembered the wise words of a friend “you either love or hate India, there’s nothing in between”.

Follwing my India trip in 2017 I stood rather on the “hating” side, than among the appreciating crowds. However I had never argued about the fact that India’s culture had so much to offer: the mesmerizing colors, the scents of spices and flowers, the fascinating beliefs and rituals of the Hindu religion, the mouthwatering indian dishes… India has a lot to give, even though sometimes it can hit your nerves in the roughest way.

Reaching the last days of the year on December 2018, I headed back to India. How did this happen?

  1. After my exhausting trip in 2017, I told myself, I would never again travel through India by myself.

  2. And the second condition would be the southern part of the country. I would give India a second chance, while visiting the south, famous for its beaches, palm trees, and yoga retreats.

A quick stop in Delhi at the Humayun Tomb

A quick stop in Delhi at the Humayun Tomb

We decided to visit the state of Kerala on new years eve.

The fact that my girlfriend is a total Sri Lanka aficionada, I felt like adding Varanasi to our India trip. Kerala doesn’t look that much different than Sri Lanka. Adding some contrast to our trip would make our journey across India more interesting and versatile.


Varanasi.

Writing a second blog-post about Varanasi would be pointless, as I mostly visited the same spots and areas as I did in 2017. We booked our 2 nights at the lovely Ganpati Guesthouse, the same guesthouse that I stayed at on my first trip. The room was flawless (for Indian standards)!

On the first day we checked out the surrounding area of the guest house. The "burning ghat” was located very nearby. As the darkness kicked in, the scenes of the flames dancing over the dead bodies covered with piles of wood, was rather surreal. I knew that we weren’t allowed to take any photographs during the cremation of the deceased.

Sometimes you gotta act very naive or stupid, to get lucky with photographs.

As we were standing long enough at the bottom of the stairs, observing how the flames were decomposing the body, a family started asking where we were from. Obviously, like many indians do, one of them asked for a photograph with us. We agreed, and as a returning favor, I asked if I could take a couple of photos of the cremation. I respected the ritual in the deepest way, took out my camera and shot a couple of photos. I was kinda happy that I managed to get some descent snap of that holy place.

The next early morning we headed to “assi ghat” around 05:45 am, to watch the sun rise, surrounded by chantings, pranayama sessions (breathing yoga) and watching the locals go wild during their morning rituals.

2017 I was blown away by the beauty of the sunrise and the diversity of the morning sounds that came with it (chantings, loud breaths during pranayamas, the fire ceremony, Bon Iver playing on my Ipod). All of this together made it to an unforgettable experience, as it felt like being ejected backwards in time.

2018 things had changed. “Assi ghat” looked less crowded. A peer down the river had been installed. The thing that blew me away this time, was the delicious masala chai that was served close to the main square. It was the best chai I’d ever had. Still being very cautious about what I eat and drink while traveling across India, I couldn’t hold myself back and bought 3 chais that day. The lovely gentleman explained us how to do the “best chai” in his own proper way. Just because of Varanasi I finally know how to brew the “best” masala tea.

I also learned, that if you travel with the least expectations, you will enjoy your trip a lot more. I expected to be really annoyed by boats-men and local salesmen. They were less hard on tourist than my previous year. Eventhough Varanasi blew my mind the first time, I even enjoyed it more on my second visit.

We passed by the “Vishnu’s Tea Emporium” as I read on trip-advisor it would offer a unique tea experience. I had the typical tea-shop image on my mind, the tidy western shops, with all kind of teas and smells. As we walked by the “Emporium” we missed it twice as it just looked like a small, dirty and untidy living room. It didn’t look like a tea shop at all. Following the recommendation of a friend, we stepped into the shop, and a couple minutes later Vishnu welcomed us. We got our second introduction how to make proper Masala tea, starting with a plain tea sample and adding each ingredient (ginger, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon..) step-by-step. After our initial shock of the tidiness of the room, we appreciated how much love Vishnu put into his tea ceremony. We bought two tea bags and a masala-spice-mix to thank him for his time and service.

Varanasi is very picturesque old city that comes with “that special vibe”. You can feel the holy spirits within the city. You will see hundreds of very poor people, you will see too many smiles, you will hand out unlimited change and tips, some people will annoy you, others will make you happy with their grattitude, but in the end Varanasi will leave a unique memory within your heart.

During a tea-break we had a short conversation with an older british lady, she told us that she’d stay in Varanasi for 2 weeks. I asked her if she could recommend us some hidden gems of the city, however all we got was the answer I had expected. She told us, that she would spend most of the day along the ghats next to the Ganges River. It was my second time in the city, and all we did, was spending time on the river-walk. That must be the magic of Varanasi, being happy with almost nothing, just enjoying the views and having a masala chai.

While traveling as a couple, you will get used more easily to the poverty, the dirty streets, the endless honk sounds, after one day you will go with the flow, and witness the uniqueness of the probably oldest city on earth.



Kerala.

If you start talking about the south of india, about their beaches and yoga-beach-bums, Goa normally would pop up in most people’s heads. Kerala is just the state below Goa.

The main reasons we were visiting South-India, were the summer-ish weather, the local cuisine, and the glimpse at the indian culture. It could have either been Goa or Kerala. We opted for Kerala as it seemed less touristic than Goa. And we could get a change of scenery within hours.

Kovalam and Varkara are beach destinations, 150km further north you can explore the back-waters of Alleppey, from Alleppey heading north-east you’ll reach the greenish hills and mountains of Munnar. All this sounded very convenient for a 10-day trip through India.

I decided to write a seperate blog-post about the single stops on our journey through Kerala. Writing down our experiences in Varanasi took more lines that I expected.

Briefly I can summarize Kerala as a wonderful experience, as my expectations of India were very low. After bumping into too many rude and unwelcoming indian people in the north, I witnessed how lovely the indian people can be in the south of India. During our 10 days we didn’t experience one single unpleasant moment while interacting with numerous locals.

The local people we bumped into, were very friendly, welcoming, generous and helpful. Especially taxi-drivers were super friendly. Their job wasn’t the easiest, as traffic in india can be a severe pain in the ass. Some of the drivers had to drive 5 hours straight to drop us at our next destination. The drives were chaotic, the cab-driver had to stay attentive during those 5 hours. And the maximum we paid for 4 to 5 hours rides was 4500 indian rupees {50 euros/dollars}. We decided the use taxis to move inside the state of Kerala. Besides doing shorter trips with a rental scooter, taxis would be the quickest way of transportation and we wouldn’t lose much time during our 8 days in the south.

Obviously bus and train rides would have been cheaper and would have offered much more of a backpacker-feel, however some trains only leave once a day (early in the morning) and the rides would take up to 9 hours. As we wanted to visit 4-5 different areas within 8 days, taxis with a driver, was the optimal choice.

Prior our departure, I was convinced that we’d rent a car and do a roadtrip on our own across Kerala. I knew that traffic could be very harsh in Delhi and Mumbai. I didn’t expect this to be the case in Kerala. The main roads weren’t as congested as in the north, however the streets in Kerala were at some points very narrow. While driving around on our rental-scooter, we had to swerve buses driving on our lane towards the oppostive driving direction. Animals and peoples were sharing the road with us. Long story cut short, driving in india is very adventerous and be quite dangerous sometimes.

As we reached the middle of our trip, we were involved in an accident. That moment I thought that we would get in serious trouble, because it actually was our fault, that someone got injured. Surprisingly the police officers that showed up didn’t even ask for our passports. The locals surrounding the spot of the accident almost ignored us. Without any hesitation we paid cash for the damage we caused, and the taxi driver moved on and dropped us in Alleppey.

In Trivandrum we met up my friend Vinoy’s family. They picked us up and dropped us at the airport, they invited us to their house were we got cooked a delicious indian dinner. The whole family was very welcoming. We even got presents after leaving their house.

During our whole stay in Kerala we felt like - King & Queen. The hospitality of the locals was out of this world.











From Taipei to Keelung

Taiwan isn’t the usual destination that you’d go for while planning to visit Asia. Most people would choose Thailand, Japan or Vietnam over Taiwan in a heartbeat. However choosing the perfect summer holidays during the months of July & August isn’t the easiest part, because most asian countries are hit by the summer monsoons.

Thailand and Bali are well known for their rain-season during the european summer months.

While circling around the asian continent on a world-map with my finger, the tip of my index, landed on Taiwan. Two of my friends used to live in Taiwan, that’s why I only heard good things about the country. But I aslo gotta admit that I barely didn’t know anything about Taiwan, except for the city-name of Taipei and its skyscraper the “Taipei 101” building.

After finding out that there are several national parks spread all over the country and that there’s a pretty coast called Kenting which is also know for its surfing spots, Taiwan sounded very inviting.

And chances of getting wet was less probably compared to other popular asian countries.


Taipei.

When I heard Taipei, I thought Hong-Kong. From several photos and videos that I’ve seen form the capital of Taiwan, it pretty much reminded me of the fascinating city of Hong-Kong. Hell, I was wrong.

In my opinion both cities are totally different.

Hong-Kong is such a photogenic city, that you will get endless opportunities to take beautiful shots with your camera or phone. You can hop from cabs to subways and land on a boat and just cross the river within a couple of minutes. Hong-Kong has a bustling nightlife. Get on a funicular and make it to Lantau Island. Temples, skyscrapers… HK got it all.

After my first two days in Taipei I still couldn’t feel the vibe of the capital. There were a couple of dull temples spread all over the different areas of the city. Blocks that were packed with shopping malls, the 101-Skyscraper that you could stare at from further distances. The shopping streets were very busy from the early after-noon until the late evening. Streetfood-markets are very popular, you’ll find quite a few and get all kind of dishes that costs about a dollar or a euro.

At the food markets we only bumped into locals. The pannels were written in chinese and it was pretty hard to figure out what we were eating, as many of the taiwanese people don’t speak a word of english.

Even though the streetfood wasn’t the best one, the foodstalls weren’t the cleanest, I still enjoyed watching people strolling over the market and observing the “chefs” preparing their food.

To be honest, there wasn’t one single tourist attractioni in the city that I really enjoyed. Good nightlife spots were very hard to find, as the popular bars are spread widely appart. So you always gotta use a taxi or public transportation to make it to a busy bar or club. We spent two nights at the gay-district as it was easy to spot and you could buy an “all-you-can-drink” ticket for 15 bucks.

While staying in Taipei we drove to several parcs and suburbs with a rental-scooter. The rides were fun, but the trips weren’t really worth it. Especially after having visited amazing cities likes Osaka, Tokyo, Hanoi, HK, Bangkok…

We were often asked by taiwanese people “why are you vistigin our country?”. I seemed like the locals weren’t used to see a lot of tourists in their city. On our last day in Taipei we crossed a very laid back, but huge american guy, he stared at us, raised his hand, put a smile on his face and yelled at us “hello white people!”. That was pretty funny, because we realized that he was actually right. During our 10 days in Taiwan we met less than a handful caucasians.

Keelung.

Keelung is a city closer to the northern coast of Taiwan. It took us a little more than an hour to reach Keelung by train from Taipei Mainstation. After getting off at the final stop, Keelung instantly felt different than the capital. There weren’t any skyscrapers, no fancing shopping malls, it all looked more laid back.

Obviously the city center looked more “taiwanese” than the capital. Right in the heart of Keelung, there was a harbor, a canal with many bridges and the famous Keelung street market. At first sight I was more attracted and impressed by Keelung than Taipei.

As we planned to spend 5-6 nights in Keelung, quickly it turned out as a bad idea. There was even less going on at night than in Taipei. Keelung definitely beats Taipei with its beautiful coast, and its scenic road that surrounds the northern tip of the island.

You easily could do a couple of daytrips from Keelung. We rented an electric scooter and visited Shifen and Jiufen.

Shifen is a tiny village, located south-east of Keelung. It takes about 40 minutes to reach it by scooter. The special spot that makes Shifen pretty popular among tourists is its “Shifen Old Street”. A tiny alley, reserved for pedestrians, on which a railway-road passes straight through it. As soon as the train passes, tourists jump on the rails, trying to release their sky lantern.

Visitors can buy a blank lantern for 5-10 euro/usd. They will write or paint their wish onto the 4 blank sides of the lantern. The vendor will put a gasoline-soaked cloth on the inside of the lantern, lit it on, and with a light handpush, the landern will fly towards the sky. It actually was a lovely place watching all the lantern flying high.

You could see it as a cheap way to make good money. However, as for myself, it was the first time that I had the opportunity to release a lantern. Not far away from “Old Street” there was a hanging-bridge and cute little train-station.

While being in Shifen, get back on the scooter and visit the Shifen waterfalls. Nothing impressive, however as there’s not that much to do in the area, it’s worth the trip.

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Jiufen is another village, located in the mountains, not too far away from Keelung. You might have seen beautiful nightshots on Instagram with uncountable red lanterns, that photo was high-probably taken in Jiufen. Depending on the weather you can get a jaw-dropping scenic view of the northern coast from the outskirt of the village. We visited Juifen twice, once at night, and once during the rain. It was hard to get descent photos of the views that the vista-point had to offer.

The most famous part of Jiufen definitely is the covered streetmarket, seperated on different levels. Upstairs, downstairs, all the alleys lead to food, drinks, tea- & souvenirshops. The place is crammed with visitors. Hard to guess if it’s a tourist-trap or an authentic market, as we were the only white folks among the crowds.

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Considering the food, both of us got tired of the street food. After a couple of days we got bored and slightly disgusted by the smell of greasy food, seeing living frogs in a glass-jar waiting to get thrown onto the grill, the scents of stinky tofu. It was fun on the first day, after having bought some fresh fruits, followed by local fruit-juices and a big bowl of fatty noodle soup. You will find a couple of indoor food-courts that will serve all kind of asian foods, from thai to japanese dishes, and that was where we mostly had lunch. Foodwise, in my opinion, it was the least pleaseant food I had in all Asia, even though I can’t argue that we had good foos as well, like an amazing shrimp ramen at night, or my favorite nut-pastry in the morning.

Another cool thing that we discovered in Taiwai, was the electric rental-scooter from the company “Gogo Ro”. In Keelung barely nobody would offer the usual scooters for rental. The easiest way to move around the Island, was the Gogoro electro-scooter. The bike was packed with 2 removable batteries, that lasted around 60-80 km. As soon as you reached 40% of battery-power, it was about time to open google-maps and look for the closes battery-charging-station. Some of the gas-stations were equipped with those power-stations, where you’d stop by, remove both batteries from the scooter, and put them into a big white wall. The station would “spit out” two batteries that were fully loaded. The good thing about that, you wouldn’t have to pay for gas, as the batterie-exchange came without further costs. The electro-bike was way faster than a gasoline scooter. However the unpleasant part was, that you could drive up to 90minutes - 100 minutes, and then you’d have to ride your bike towards the closest gas station.



Marrakech

These last years we all got bombed with the most beautiful snapshots from all over the world thanks to Instagram. As a vivid IG follower I was blown away by the colors and the antique architectural beauties of Marrakech.

As I was hoplessly browsing for cheap holidays I opted for Marrakech. I was highly influenced by those beautiful photos I knew from social media and I was really intrigued by the arabic cuisine, as I love cooking with their traditional spices at home.

My girlfriend was traveling across Iceland that time, so I thought spending a couple of days in Morocco and planning on visiting the sahara desert would be a beautiful experience.

To cut a long story short, this trip to Morocco hadn’t nearly fulfilled my expectations.

The flight-ticket was a bargain, as I flew from Frankfurt-Hahn to Marrakech for less than 130 Euros (a two-way-ticket). My beautiful riad “Rodamon Riad Marrakech”cost around 100 Euro for 6 nights. Sounds like cheap but great holidays.

As soon as I landed in Morocco the frustrations began at the immigration desk. It took more than an hour to get my passport stamped. Due to school holidays all over Europe, the queue lasted forever. And I guess I wasn’t the only one with a grumpy face in line.

Same case with the queue at the ATM. After two everlasting hours I made it out of the airport, where the first struggles came into play. The cabs.

The bandit taxi-drivers of Marrakech

Just nearby the taxi area was a sign with the different taxi-rates priced in dirham (moroccan currency). The ride to the city was listed as 110 dirham which would be around 10 euro / 12 us$.
I asked the first taxi driver how much it would cost to take me to the city-center “Oh you don’t know the rates? Well it costs 200 dirham (20 euro) taxes all included".

Obviously I didn’t agree with the price as the big sign mentioned the 110 dirham. I asked a second driver “ohh that will be 200 dirham because of the taxes”. I went passed to a third driver. Same story…. 200 dirham.

As it was my first time in Morocco I agreed to pay 200 dirham, and of course I added another 20 dirham as a tip at the final destination, just for being the gentle travel who I am.

On my last day I took a taxi to make it back to the airport, asked the same question and all I got as a satisfying answer “ohhh my brother, of course same price as always, city center to the airport will be 100 dirham”.

So be cautious about the cab-drivers. The lovely gentleman who drove me back explained that it would be better walking 5-10 minutes to the closest parking lot next to the departure hall, because that’s the spot where the locals hop on a cab for a much lower price.

As my riad (traditional moroccan hotel) was located inside Medina, the old-town of the city, the driver dropped me at one of the closest gates nearby the riad. From that point on you gotta walk through the cute small alleys to your hotel.

At first sight I loved the tiny streets that reminded me of a medieval arabic maze. I passed the security guard of my riad and went for the check-in. Actually my riad was a hostel, and I had to share the dorm-room with 5 other guests. The facilities easily looked like the one of 4 star hotel.

I couldn’t wait to start discovering the neighbourhood.


Either the “grande place” or the “tanneries”.

After walking away from the hotel, during the first 5 minutes, the city-hawks made their “first attack”. I was asked by a local if I needed directions to the “Jemaa el-Fnaa” square. I denied the question as I wanted to stroll randomly through the streets and shoot a couple of photos. Just because the local dude seemed to be pretty nice I asked for the “tanneries”, the place where moroccans color the leathers in a traditional and natural way.

Obviously one of his friends was walking towards the “tanneries” and asked me to follow him. I instantly informed him that I wasn’t looking for a guide and that I wouldn’t pay a dime for his help. "No no… free.. no money”.

As soon as we made it the gate of the tanneries another local jumped in and introduced himself as the security guard who would show me around. Of course it wasn’t a security guard, just another local who was looking to make some pocket-money.

The whole tour with a minimum of explainations lasted about 5 minutes. Everywhere was a sign with “no photo” on it. At the end of the mini-tour the so-called guard brought me to a leather shop very nearby and I gently refused his offer, telling him I wouldn’t be interested in buying leather products.

That was the point where I got served my bill on a plate. I didn’t want to be rude and offered him 50 dirham (5 euro) . He asked for 100 dirham, so I insisted in a gentle way “50 d or nothing”. He grabbed the 50 dirham note and left. At that point the first guy jumped in, the one who walked me to the gate…and asked money as well. He wanted 100 dirham as well.

Suddenly I was surrounded by 3 moroccans, all of them asking for money. I started giving them bad names and pulled out a 50 dirham bill to avoid any trouble. They weren’t happy at all, as it was far less than they demanded.

I read about the same story just before leaving my riad on google reviews. And guess what, it all happened to me exact the same way.

So expect to be asked every half an hour “are you looking for the grande-place or the tanneries” ?




Sightseeing in Marrakech.

Well on my first day I was strolling through the old town trying to get some good snaps of the locals or the buildings. After a couple of hours I noticed that there aren’t any impressive buildings in the city center. There are a handful of beautiful mosques in and around the city, however as a non-muslim visitor access will be denied. Outside of the buildings you will see signs with “non-muslims not allowed”. Bummer!

The “Jemaa el-Fnaa” square looks really dull during day-time. It’s far less crowded, and packed with beggars, snake charmers, cripples who are begging for money, a bunch of syrian families sitting on the pavement with their kids and asking for money as well… The restaurants around the main square aren’t that great. I had lunch and dinner at two different restaurants and was kinda disappointed by their dishes.

As I was trying to get some descente photographs of moroccan people, the locals started screaming “no photos, no photos!” and trying to hide their faces with one of their hands. It seemed to be super impolite taking photos of people. And it wasn’t about taking portraits photos, just randomly shooting.

Marrakech is packed with “souks”, traditional arabic markets, which can be compared with streetmarkets in asia. The souks are packed with stalls that sell all kind of ceramics, spices, clothes and local products. The souks open early in the morning and close late at night. You can spend hours at the “souks” digging for antique collector pieces or buying “tajines” for your friends and family.

On my second day I went to visit the popular “Majorelle Gardens” designed by Yves Saint Laurent. You had to pay 7 or 8 euro for the entrance to the garden. The garden was beautiful of course, however it was pretty small and paaaaaaacked with too many french people. The park was filled up with palm trees and all kinds of cacti (cactuses). There was one eye-catching blue building in the center of the park, where all the visitor were fighting each other to take a photo next to a blue wall covered with a shiny yellow window frame. After having seen too many beautiful public parks in Delhi (India) I wasn’t impressed by the “Majorelle Gardens”. It was just a tourist attraction as no local would spend time in a tiny park overcrowded with tourists. No peaceful location.

Within 24 hours I discovered the souks, two different tanneries, the big main square, the Majorelle gardens, passed by the Koutoubia mosque and the beautiful Ben Youssef mosque (as non-muslims aren’t allowed inside the building… you just admire them from the outside), spent sometime near the pool of my beautiful riad. I spent money on ceramics and spices and bought myself a second-hand tajine.

That’s mostly all you can do in the city center of Marrakech, the old-town of Medina. Eat, sleep, spend money, drink tea, spend money, and got to bed.

Photos aren’t appreciated. Too many locals will begg for money or ripp you off when handing you back the change. I really don’t see how visitor could love this place.


From 6 nights to 1 night.

During my 2 days I spent in Marrakech I was so annoyed by all the local moroccans who were trying to steal my money at every occasion.

As I was using my iphone (with a moroccan sim-card) with google-maps to find my way hrough the maze of Medina, I got asked too many times “hey can I help you? are you going to the grande place?”. I gently declined and told them that I was following my GPS. A common thing was that the guy was trying to keep the conversation going on with random small-talk. “Oh it’s this way”… I gently refused his help and replied that I got my gps and wouldn’t need any further assistance. However he still felt the urge to follow me.

Approximately after a 100 meters, they asked for a tip “I showed you the directions you were asking for…be a gentleman..and show me some gratitude”. Of course I wouldn’t give them a cent.

This happened to me at least 5 times within 24 hours. And obviously the conversation always ended with harsh arabic words I wouldn’t understand, high probably funny insults.

At night, at the crazy busy “Jemaa el-Fnaa” square, where you would find endless amounts of locals dishes, the food vendors would grab you by your jacket and pull you into their restaurant. If you pushed them back, they follow you and kept asking you for your favorite food.

As I was soooooo annoyed and felt more than a victim than a visitor I decided to book a flight home on my second day. I was really looking forward to discover the sand-dunes of the sahara desert, a very popular tour which was organised by my hostel. However I could imagine that these kinds of hassles would go on these upcoming days, as the desert-tour would stop at major touristic spots, so I decided to fly back home.

I’ve been to many places all over the world. India and Morocco were definitely the worst destinations where locals would do anything to make it to your wallet. At least in Delhi, there so much to discover, huge amounts of temples, hundreds of parks, statues, markets, fountains and lakes. Things I really missed in Marrakech.

Maybe I was just unlucky and had the worst experience someone could have in Marrakech.

All I can tell, I would never ever turn back to Marrakech.

Bali ~ Ubud, Uluwatu, Canggu

So after having spent 10 fabulous nights in Thailand, I had to choose my next destination for my pre-summer trip in june. I was pretty sure that it had to be Asia, as I just came back from a very satisfying visit in Bangkok & Chiangmai.

It was about time to break my solo-traveling routine, because a good friend was about to join me. So after a few seconds of brain-storming we came up with Japan, Bali or Thailand.

Since my plan was learning how to surf in 2018, we shared the same thought that taking a first surfing class as a 35 and a 39 year old young man, would be a pretty cool experience. Surfboards, cafe racers, beaches and jungles... we opted for Bali. And besides all that I would celebrate my 36th birthday on the island. It all sounded like a lot of fun.

Sadly two weeks prior my departure my good friend had a motorbike accident and got badly injured with a broken foot. This meant that I had to travel on my own. Back then I couldn't tell why, but I really wasn't in the mood for visiting Bali all by myself. Maybe because we know Bali from dreamy photos on Instagram, where you get to see endless photos of couples, engagements, weddings, ... It all sounded like "noooooope. this is a lovers' destination".

Ubud.

I started my trip in Ubud. I was told that Ubud would be super touristic and packed with Yoga people. Actually I do love yoga, but I can imagine, being surrounded by gurus and spiritual nerds, that this could become pretty annoying. I booked a bed at the "Pillow Hostel", because their rooms looked pretty descent, and they offered free yoga classes in the early morning. Sounded pretty ok! However because of the daily rain showers the yoga classes didn't take place on the open-air rooftop.

I knew about the rain-season before traveling to Bali. So I wasn't disappointed about the rainfall, mostly during the night, and couple of hours during daytime. Luckily there were some days without rain as well.

What to do in Ubud? Well I won't list any super fancy touristic spots, that I would highly recommend, or any must-try restaurants. All I can tell, go rent a scooter! You will definitely not enjoy Ubud without a scooter, if you're not doing any yoga-esque activities. There's a daily market in the very center of Ubud. The streets are packed with shops, the restaurants are filled with tourists. You hardly won't meet any local people on a night out.

I really wasn't keen about renting a scooter, in a country, where people drive on the left side of the road. I haven't been riding a motorbike for too many years. Then came the slippery roads because of the rain... So many reasons why I wouldn't rent a scooter. I overcame my doubts and went for it... I rented a scooter for a day. From that point I knew I would rent a scooter any time again.

I discovered so many cool spots around Ubud and I met local people. Locals let me join a very religious ceremony in a hindu temple. They first denied when I asked if they would let me in. As I told them that would carry a long-sleeve shirt and a sarong (a traditional skirt for men) in my bag. They were so surprised about that, that they let me check out the temple.

I met several groups of kids, who were trying to bring up their giant homemade-kite in the sky. They told me that this would be a balinese tradition, and later on my trip I noticed several spots where the sky was packed with colorful gigantic kites. Beautiful!

I visited the holy bathing temple called "Tirta Empul". Everybody knows the temple from the photos. Before going to Bali, I knew that I would find this bathing temple on the island. However I didn't know that all the people I had seen on the photos, taking a shower under the several fountains, were tourists. If Balinese people jump into the bathing pool to get under the fountain, they do it in the early morning around 5 am (05:00). So expect to bump into a lot of tourists while visiting the temple.

The "Pelingghi Meru", a pagoda-like structured temple, is another eye-catcher you will find on many photos. It took me almost 2 hours to reach the temple by scooter from Ubud. But I really wanted to visit that place. As I arrived in front of the pagoda I was surprised how small it was. It looked very tiny. And again packed with too many tourists.

I always enjoyed the scooter-rides through the suburbs of Ubud. Lots of nature: rice-fields, palmtrees, lakes, beautiful sunsets. So many spots to take a lot of beautiful photos.

Have a couple of stops at the coffee-shops on the side of the road and you will be surprised how many lovely conversations you will get with balinese locals.

The "Tegallalang Rice Terrace" is definitely a must-see. You can easily spend 1-2 hours on the rice fields, take many beautiful photos, enjoy a coffee, and get an instragram-cliche-shot one of the many giant-swings located around the ricefields.

Even though I didn't like the center of Ubud, because of the tourists, I gotta admit that Ubud was my favorite city among Uluwatu and Canggu.

With a scooter you can visit endless waterfalls which are located pretty close around Ubud. There's so much to do, even though you won't get that impression of Ubud at first sight.

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Uluwatu.

Well I decided to have a stop at Uluwatu for 2 nights because it's supposed to have the cleanest surf beaches of Bali. Uluwatu is well known for its huge waves on the shores, which brings fabulous surf spots with it. All this sounded like a cool place to hang out. Every monday night there's a huge party at "Single Fin's". It's pretty packed and a great time is almost guaranteed.

However no one tells you, that Single Fin is located on a private ground, where you gotta pay a fee to drive in with a car or on a scooter. Expect, once again, only tourists among the crowd, as balinese people can hardly afford a beer in that kind of restaurant/bar.

I wasn't in a party mood on that monday night, so I didn't make it to the party. I visited the restaurant on the following day, and all I found out, was that I didn't like the place. The cheapeast gin&tonic was actually pretty expensive for a longdrink in Bali. However you can enjoy a pretty descent view towards the sea and watch people surfing. If this is what's you looking for, nice view, fast food and watery drinks, go for it!

I stayed in the very center of Uluwatu where there was barely nothing that would a attract a 36 year old guy on a scooter. Laid back restaurants, street food stalls, hundreds of supermarkets and clothing stores, and some surfboard-rentals.

To get to the closest beach it took me about 10-15 minutes on a scooter. It was called "DREAMBEACH", and it was actually a pretty nice beach compared to the rest of the beaches that I had explored in Bali. However you had to pass two security check-points, and at the end of the ride, you had to pay parking fee to park your scooter.

Uluwatu was the first place, where I booked my first surfing classes ever. In my opinion the waves seemed to be huge, and as a newbie, they seemed very scary. I only surfed for about 90 minutes instead of two hours, because my arms couldn't manage the paddling anymore against those monster waves. And I wasn't too keen about the surf trainer either. But I was glad that I took the classes, as it took some courage from my side, to get into the water for the first time with a board.

In Uluwato you get the chance the visit the "Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park". It's actually very touristic but I had the possibility to witness one of the biggest statues I'd ever seen. Would I call it a must-see, definitely not, however if you gotta kill some time in Uluwato, the park is definitely worth it to spend an hour or two at.

Before I forget about it... there's a popular Hindu Temple in Uluwato, everybody knows about it, everybody wants to visit it. Go for it!

Canggu.

Canggu is supposed to be the hipster hang-out spot of the whole Island, and it definitely was the case. "Pretty Poison" offers you crowded nights on tuesdays and thursdays, big crowds hanging around the skate-bowl and cheering up the skaters. Their menu offer 4 different descent cocktails and a couple of beer brands. Hip people, trashy rock music, skaters everywhere, pretty girls... you get the vibe, it feels like Venice Beach! The first night I went to Pretty Poison, there was a concert inside the venue. Actually it was a very sweet rock band, which I'd rather watch play, than watching topless skater dudes in the bowl.

I loved the quote above the bar "Someone told me there's a girl out there with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair".

Cafe-Racer fans definitely know the brand "DEUS EX". It's a pretty chill hang-out spot (bar & restaurant) where you can witness the coolest bikes and the coolest custom-made surf boards on the island. They have a "DeusEx" shop where you can spend some money on clothes and other stuff. I went there on daily basis to have lunch. The food was flawless, for a reasonable price. I loved their polenta fries and falafel salad. The music at the restaurant and the indoor design was a plus!

I took another 2 surf classes in Canggu, and I had the pleasure to meet a much nicer surf trainer. The beach wasn't as nice in Canggu, as it was in Uluwatu, however I enjoy the surfing sessions a lot more, because the waves weren't as huge as in the south.

Besides the hip rock bars and hip surf shops, there were so many things that bothered me in canggu. The main reason was the huge amount of tourists, australian tourists. Every bar, restaurant, club, beach spot was packed with tourists. There wasn't a place where I would bump into local people in the center of Canggu. The only locals that I met was at the local tattoo shop "Bold & Bright Tattoo", where I got tattooed. I loved the tattoo artists, they were very welcoming. And I turned back home, truely satisfied about my traditional old-school dagger tattoo. The price was totally a bargain compared to the money you gotta in Europe or the USA for a descent tattoo.

To be honest, I didn't like Canggu at all ! On Instagram everything looks so hip, fancy, and photogenic, but it real life it definitely wasn't. And all those thousands of tourists killed the vibe of the city. I was actually happy to get back home, after my iphone got stole a scooter drive-by while I was walking back home on my birthday night. Happy Birthday Frank!

 

If I ever should get back to Bali, I'd definitely spend more time in the north of the island, where you won't bump into as many tourists as in Kuta, Seminyak and Canggu.

Be cautious about your belongings at night. The guys from my hostels told me that I was the 3rd victim within a month, who got robbed by dimwits on a scooter.

Bold & Bright Tattoo.

As I just mentioned, my iphone got stole on my birthday night, as I was walking home in a very lonsome way... drunk & texting through a shortcut that all the scooters use to get quicker around the city center. While I was busy texting with my friend, as there was no one to celebrate with, a scooter approached me and grabbed my phone out of my hand. The driver just blasted away at full speed, impossible to run after him.

I felt devastated... aallll my photos from Bali were gone, my videos, my contacts, my text messages. And of course I had to spend a shitload of money to buy a new phone. Besides the stole phone, I had planned to get two tattoos at "Bold & Bright". Their prices were pretty much affordable compared to european or US tattoo rates. However knowing that I had to spend the money on a new phone once I'd be back home, I decided to cancel my appointments. 

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Ocen, the tattoo artist, was the nicest person I crossed path with in Canggu. There was no problem with canceling the appointment, even though he told me he could lower the price if I still wanted to get tattooed. 

The next day after waking up I decided to call Ocen, and get one tattoo done. Despite low expectation, or maybe high expectation in some points, Bali had a kind of "wow-effect". It was the first time I ever felt the island vibe on a trip, because I was used to experience the big city life while traveling. It was the first time as well, where I jumped on a surf board, and for a long time I knew somebody would be waiting for me when I get back home. So I decided to bring a lasting souvenir back to Luxembourg. Ocen was very welcoming on the day I had my appointment. He showed a lot a patience and he asked funny questions when I told him he should add a special letter to the tattoo. We talked about tattooing & music (his favorite band was Alkaline Trio), while Matt Skiba's solo record was playing in the background. 

I turned back home totally satisfied with my fresh tattoo, that cost me around 200$. 

I loved their wifi-code "bolderthanyours". 

 

 

4 Nights in Bangkok.

It took me too many years to visit beautiful Thailand. Years ago Thailand used to be one of the most popular tourist destinations. This kept me from visiting Thailand. Nowadays it's gotta be Bali... everybody wants to visit Bali. So I thought: this gotta be it! Now is the right time to give that asian country a try. All I can tell after these few lines, Thailand hit me unlike any other travel-destination. I'm already planning to get back this year, for a second time.

Way too many people told me to skip or avoid the capital Bangkok. After all the photos i've checked out on google, the reviews and stories I read about Bangkok, I was so convinced that I would enjoy the busiest city of Thailand. 

One of the main reasons why my few days in Bangkok were worthwhile, had probably to do with the lovely human encounters I experienced. It all started with a simple thank you at the airport. This might sound pretty goofy, but I think the way thai-people are thanking you, with folding both hands together and rising them upfront to the face, is just the most sincere way for showing your gratitude.  After visiting quite a few asian countries, this was the first thing that I noticed at the airport: "Khob Khun Krup" (thank you for men). My first thought "ok, cool, that's a thai-thing".

Of course the taxi ride, struck my mind as well. It took me almost an hour to get to my hostel, because traffic is usually very busy in Bangkok. With a pretty good tip, the cab-ride cost me less than 10$/€. 

After checking in at the hostel, I noticed that all the guests had to take off their shoes, before entering the main areas of the hostels (bathroom, kitchen, garden, dorms...). It definitely felt like far away from home. 

I stayed 4 nights in Bangkok, and all I've seen was the main area, the pretty much touristic center surrounded by temples. Of course you do have many small alleys, where all the local people live or hang out. However I didn't manage to make it to the skyscraper area on the east side, or to the north the more rural area. 

Temples, temples ... and even more temples. It was obvious, like in Korea, Japan, Hong-Kong... I would do many temples, and after a while I would be bored by temples. The high & colorful "prangs" which are the most eye-catching parts of the temple, were pretty much fascinating. "WAT ARUN" and "WAT PHO" were the ones I enjoyed the most. While riding a tuc-tuc across the city, you will notice those diverse temples along the road. There are just too many temples in the city. 

Just a quick reminder! Taxis are way cheaper than tuc-tucs, because they're using the taxi meter. I wouldn't bargain or set a fix price, because the cabs in Bangkok are dirty cheap! Tuc-tuc driver don't even bother for the low-price rides, they'll just send you to the next driver.

The Grand Palace was definitely a very beautiful tourist attraction! The colors, the architecture, too much gold glitter, walls filled with precious stones, ... it's worth the visit! However the place was so crowded that I just left my camera in my bag, you couldn't get a descent shot of the place. And it was the only temple/building where I wouldn't get in with shorts. They're renting pants or you just can a buy cute elephant pants as a souvenir.

The "Golden Mountain" temple is worth checking out as well ! As you will have to climb up too many stairs, however at the end you will be rewarded with a beautiful view all over Bangkok.

Is there anything to do besides temple-hopping?

I was really looking forward for the floating market. The old ladies on their boats, the scents, the colors, the water... all that would have made a lovely photo shooting. However I was told that the floating market take place on weekends. The best ones would be outside of the city, approximately one hour driving. 

Chatuchak is the biggest weekend market in the city. I was visiting Chatuchak in the very early evening on a sunday, when some of the stalls were already closing. It's mostly about food & fashion. Sounds boring huh? Trust me it's very hip! I bought around 7 shirts & t-shirts. Most of them were around 2-7$ a piece. I really loved the design, you could sell them easily in Europe for triple the price. They had all kind of street food you could expect. I spent an hour at the market, and I enjoyed it a lot. I'd definitely go back on my next trip to Bangkok.

Very nearby was the "Camp - Vintage Market". That one was the cherry on top! Such a cool and hip place right in the center of Bangkok. I'd never expected to discover London's "Camden Town" in Thailand. Old trailers as coffee-bars, vintage cars with surfboards on it, cafe-racer shops, super trendy clothing stores. There was a live band playing soul-music. It was very beautiful place, less crowded and definitely more classy then London's twin-market.

Khao San Road.

Hate it or love... ? Ok, nope, you won't love the place, but you will definitely enjoy the place. "Khao San Road", also know as the "backpacker street", is the main party road in Bangkok. Why "backpacker street"? Well I have no clue, but I guess, because all the people look like surfers or backpackers. No fancy clothes... flip-flops, shorts, tanktops, that's all you see on Khao-San. 

I visited Khao San Road on my first night. And I did expected the worst! While walking through the party-mile totally sober, my first thought was to leave that place.  I reached the end of the road and fled towards the "Soi Ram Buttri", which is located only a couple of footsteps away. "Soi Ram Buttri" is the total opposite of Khao-San. It still feels backpacker-like, but it's a very quite street. The same alley will lead you to the main-road where you will find quite a few music bars. I went to "JAZZ HAPPENS". It was tiny charming jazz bar. The perfect spot to start the evening. I was the only caucasian at the bar, and I found it very welcoming that the band was switching from thai to english just because of me. Gotta love thai-people!

 After some greasy finger-food, and a couple of gin&tonics, I felt ready to get back to Khao-San road. I stepped inside a bar that had a japanese name. And that was the place where the madness instantly kicked in. The topless male bartender greeted me, asked my name, and gave me a free shot. The thai people next to me at the bar, didn't take long to start a conversation with me. I paid a shot, they paid a shot, the bartender gave another shot for free... After way too many drinks, I left the bar with a thai dude, and we headed to the nearest streetfood-grill. That's where I made new friends again... short after that I woke up in my hostel bed the day after. I had a hard time remembering how I got home.

The next evening I walked back to Khao San Road, because it was the closest place to my hostel, where life was happening at full speed. I passed by a group of thais who started smiling at me, a couple of girls and one guy. As I felt kind of not-ready, no drinks yet, I smiled back and moved on towards the end of the street. One of the girls started running after me, and said "Hey Frank!". I  asked her how she would know my name, and then she started laughing "You don't remember us ???". I gently replied with a "nooooope". I joined the group of people and got to know my thai friends for the second time within 24 hours. 

So if I gotta summarize my last paragraphs, give Khao San a chance. Even though you might bump into tons of rubbish people, i'm pretty sure everybody can have a blast, or at least a fun  night, in that street.

3 guys & 2 girls.

3 guys & 2 girls.

Canal Boat Ride.

If you wanna get away from the bustling city center, you can jump on a boat and get ride through the canals and along the river. It's not gonna be a beautiful boattrip! The water is pretty dirty, you will see a lot of wooden cabins, worn down houses of the locals, too many tourist boats crossing yours, and of course the floating market rip-off. One single person on a boat, approaching you to buy a souvenir or a beer for the boat-driver, is considered a "floating market". 

It's definitely not a must-do attraction. However I was glad I bought a ticket for the boat tour. I had a whole boat for myself. I managed to get a couple of descent shots on my camera, and you discover Bangkok from a different angle. After all, that wasn't how I expected Bangkok. Never thought I would ride a boat through several canals for almost an hour.

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Obviously I was checking out Bangkok at a slower pace this time. There's still so much left to discover. All I can tell, I wasn't disappointed at all !

I got to know quite a few lovely people in Bangkok. They told me that Thai people don't eat with chopstick except for the pad-thai dish, they introduced me to sticky-rice and to laughing gas.. so many unimportant things, that I still found it very interesting. And the thai people just loved my most stupid questions about Thailand, which seemed so obvious to them.

I will write a seperate post about the second city I visited in Thailand, Chiangmai! 

Chiangmai, was different, maybe better, but Bangkok was afterall a joy-ride.

 

 

 

Shalom Tel Aviv.

In the daily news you hear a lot about Israel, mostly about the not-so-enjoyable things that happen in their country or on the borderline with their neighbor territories. However despite the headline-stories about war scenes, rocket alerts from Gaza or the recent knife attacks from Jerusalem, I was always intrigued by Israel, even though I absolutely didn't know anything about the country. 

An israeli friend from Germany told me about the "Purim" holiday that takes place between the months of February and March every year. You can compare it to the carnival from Germany, where people get dressed up in costumes and go out partying in the streets. Even the religious citizen are allowed to get totally drunk during Purim. It's supposed to be the most funny and exciting holiday of the year. 

To me, this sounded like the perfect time to visit Israel. I do love the nightlife when traveling, and I love meeting new people who can update my knowledge about their country's culture. 

Just for your information, most European citizen don't need to apply for a visa. And you don't get to fill out any papers on board. Just pass the passport-control, where you will be asked a couple of questions and that's it "Welcome to Israel". 

I remember that the people inside the airport and at the train-station were very very welcoming, and helpful to get me on the right train. When I was about to get out at the  "HaHagana" train station. I noticed the luggage scanner &metal detector at the entrance of pretty small train-station. Outside one single person was guarding the entrance, while holding an automatic rifle. I figured out that the Israelis take their daily safety-precautions seriously.

Tel Aviv.

Prior my trip to Israel, I decided to book 5 nights in Tel Aviv, and then moving on to Jerusalem for 2 more nights. Knowing that "Purim" was taking place, having been informed about "Shabbat" (the 7th holy day, where public transportation isn't available), I decided not to rush. However in my upcoming post about Jerusalem I will tell you, why it was a rather bad decision to spend more time in Tel Aviv than any other israeli cities. 

Tel Aviv is supposed to be very famous for its liberal vibe, fantastic nightlife and apparently it has a worldwide positive reputation in the gay-scene. 

I don't want to consider Tel Aviv straight up as an unattractive city. However in my own personal oppinion, there's not much to do in the city. As a travel-photographer I do love to take photos that shows the very unique culture of a country. I wanna take portaits of local people, of food, of  eye-opening architecture. So that I can bring up the special vibe & flair of the place i'm visiting. The vibe of Tel Aviv was definitely not easy to capture on photos or videos. 

The shore of the city was definitely one of the attractive spots of Tel Aviv. Just along the beach-walk you would bump into all kind of people: tourists, sporty locals, fishermen, surfers & the older generation chit-chatting on a bench. Walking the beach-walk up north will lead you to a boring lighthouse. Walking south-wards will lead you to Jaffa, the muslim Oldtown of Tel Aviv. 

I really liked spending time in Jaffa, it's a rather small neighborhood. The Old Town definitely differs from the rest of Tel Aviv's architecture. You can notice its muslim influence. Walking away from the coast will bring you the flea-market. It's rather a mix of flea-shops and flea-stalls. 

Vegetarian foodporn in Israel.

Just next to it, you will have an endless selection of restaurants and bars. Both really look very inviting with lots of colors. However during "Purim" only a very few ones were very busy in the evening. I can't complain about the food, every single food I had in Israel was super delicious. By the way, just in case you wouldn't know (I didn't): Israel is supposed to be the "mecca of veganism". Israel's people (the jews & muslims) do cook a lot of vegan dishes.

SAROMA MARKET was one of the few fancy places I discovered in the city. The indoor-foodcourt offered every kind of food, from morrocan pitas, to sushi, to italian pasta. I loved the colors and the touch of industrial-vintage-modern design of the market. Right outside of the foodcourt is an outdoor shopping area, it's a mix of parks, playground and fashion shops. SAROMA was a pretty area compared to the worn down houses of the Florentin neighborhood that I passed through every day. 

 

BEST RAMEN OUTSIDE OF JAPAN. I love ramen, I tried so many ramen soups, when traveling I love discovering new ramen places, it's all about ramen. All I can tell is that I had a WONDERFUL ramen at the ramen-shop right next to my hotel "Hiro Ramen Bar by Aharoni". Yisrael Aharoni is an israeli celebrity chef. There are two of Aharoni's ramen restaurants in Tel Aviv. Don't miss the opportunity to get some mouth-watering japanese dishes. I tried'em all, from salads, to gyozas, to japanese-oriented cocktails. I spent 5 nights in Tel-Aviv, which means I had 5 ramen in total at Aharoni's place! 

Nightlife.

What really surprised me, was the fact that everything is pretty expensive in Israel. Restaurants aren't cheap, booze ain't cheap at all, which means the israeli nightlife experience can have a heavy  toll on your wallet. I spent my holidays in the well-known hostel "Abraham Hostel" in Tel Aviv. Even at the hostel's bar you would easily pay 7-8 €/$ for a glass of wine, Gin&Tonic were about 10 €/$ for the cheap-brand-cocktail. 

Despite the expensive little-pleasures-of-life the city offers a great nightlife all over the week. I can't tell if it might have been because of Purim, but any day of the week, most of the bars we visited were totally packed. I will list you a few to check-out, some that are pretty popular in Tel Aviv:

  • KULI ALMA.

Kuli alma is a very arty cafe/club, colorful walls, stickers and posters all over the place. The crowd is pretty hip, and they still offer fair prices on drinks. The music varies from electronic to hiphop. Definitely a place to stop by for a drink while doing a pub crawl with friends across the city.

 

  • BUXA.

Buxa a small bar/club in a  basement, which got a special vibe. We had a hell of a night during Purim. The tiny size of the club makes it pretty easy to bump into people and start a chit-chat. It's right on Rothschild avenue.

 

  • RADIO EPGB

Radio is another basement bar. We were there for a hiphop night, great music & lovely outgoing people. I really loved the place. The dimmed lights in the club and people dancing all over the bar gave this place a really welcoming vibe. Loved it! 

 

  • JIMMY WHO

Many israelis told me that JIMMY WHO wouldn't be a cool place at all. I was visiting JIMMY WHO on a wednesday, it was my last night in Israel. I LOVED it. Around 22:00 (10pm) they had a funky live band playing pop & soul music. After the show the DJ played some dance music... the whole bar packed with people and too many pretty women. I was doing a pub crawl with the hostel, and was disappointed that we left too early for the next bar. The only negative part were the prices, we paid almost 20$/€ for 2 shots of Vodka. Definitely not the place where you wanna get wasted.

 

Summertime in Winter.

Even though I didn't enjoy the city that much. I would give it another try though and turn back during the winter season. The weather was lovely every single day, t-shirt weather in the afternoon, sweater temperatures in the evening. 

The food discoveries were definitely my highlight in Tel Aviv. Go for Falafels, Tahini, Shakshuka, ... you will never get tired of the mediterranean/arabic food culture. I loved "SABICH" pitas, it's a grilled pita bread filled with eggplant, tahini, hummus, 2 hardboiled eggs and a diversity of prickles. Yum! Their pastries, a fest! 

I stayed at the Abraham Hostel in Tel Aviv, and the one located in Jerusalem. Abraham-hostel offers their own tour-service called "Abraham Tours", where you can book pretty interesting and affordable day trips or city-activities. One of the cool features, was the shuttle from Tel Aviv's hostel to the Jerusalem hostel. No need to get your luggage to the next bus-stop or train station. 

I will post a more in-depth review about the hostel and my booked Abraham-tour in a couple of days.

Jerusalem was definitely on the winning side of my trip. Keep your eyes open for my next post about the capital of Israel. 

 

8 days in Havana.

As I finally decided to get my shit together and finalize the booking of my Cuba trip I decided to spend a whole week only in the capital Havana. A day-trip to Vinales would have nicely fit into my schedule. However doing 3 cities within a week sounded too stressful. I haven't had a "relaxed" holiday for quite a while, so I decided to take it slowly on this trip.

Too many people advised me to spend only 3 days in Havana, and then I should move on to Trinidad. Everybody was bragging about that little gem of a town. I didn't give it too much attention and stuck to my plan. 

Now that I got back from Havana, I'd totally advise people to stay at least 5 days in Havana. You can easily do daytrips to the beach "Playa del Este" or like previously mentioned the beautiful city of Vinales. 

I can't imagine that you will feel the vibe of the city within only 3 days, it takes more than that.

 

What to do in Havana?

Obviously as soon as the name Havana pops up, people do think about the colorful streets of Old-Havana. "Habana-Vieja" definitely is the prettiest neighborhood in Havana. It's clean, it's lively and easy to get around. The only thing I didn't like about Old-Havana, it didn't look authentic. "Obispo" street is the main shopping lane leading through the city-center. It's packed with shops, in which ones you won't meet a local cuban, it's just too expensive. The shops are pretty much boring, except for a couple of old bookstores selling books & collector-items of Fidel & Che Guevara. 

As I was spending my holidays during the cuban winter season, too many places like bars & restaurants looked deserted. It didn't feel like the partying Havana-City that we all know from the movies, it was just the total opposite. I liked walking through "calle Obispo" just for the fact, that it was packed with people. I love having a cup of coffee and watching people passing by.

Vedado.

I won't start listing all the places you should visit, that you might find in a tourist-guide. I really didn't focus on any of the very touristic places. I really wanted to discover it on my own. 

I will tell you a little more about the main neighbourhoods "Habana Vieja" and "Vedado".

After the end of my trip I noticed that I couldn't have had a better experience in Cuba than this first 8 days in Havana. Too many of my friends, who returned from Cuba, agreed that it was a lovely island, however none of them wanted to get back. I gotta admit that I became quite a fan of Cuba. 

I'd definitely recommend to stay in a "Casa Particular". First of all it's cheap! The average rate for a room is between 20-35 € or US$ a night. So you'd only pay around 180€ a week, which would not even be enough to spend 2 nights in a hotel. 

Don't hesitate spending a couple of bucks on cuban people in the street. I admit that it can be very annoying being asked 20 times a day, if you want to buy cigars, or if they can show you around, bring you to a bar... it's just annoying. BUT... if you agree on spending one drink (1-3$), the cubans might bring you to a bar you'd have never discovered on your own. 

In bars, you will meet cuban locals, telling you about the country's history. They will introduce you to other drinks than Mojito & Cuba Libre. They will teach you some salsa dancing or tell you about the most iconic salsa-musicians of Cuba. One random cubano, who asked me for a Mojito, took me to the most simple cuban bar, where Che Guevara was hiding for 3 weeks on the rooftop of the building. Inside the bar, there was a big bell, which they used to wake up "the Che", or let him know when enemies were approaching. 

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Places to hang-out.

  • Old Havana is definitely the nicest spots to wander around the colorful alleys, have a peek inside the livings rooms of the different houses (cuban people always leave their front-door open). Visit different art galleries, have a drink or a coffee, enjoy the different music spots throughout the city, talk to people... It just never gets boring. 

 

  • THE MALECON was another highlight of the city. Everybody knows the street from the photos... fishermen sitting on the edgy walls of the Malecon waiting to catch a fish, american cars driving by, waves hitting the walls and wetting the pedestrians walking along the sidewalk. The Malecon is fascinating at any time of the day. In the early hours go for a morning run, in the afternoon go have a delicious seafood meal at the "La Abadia" restaurant, in the evening walk along the walls like the locals. "La Abadia" was my favorite restaurant in the center of the city. The prices were very descent and you had a view straight onto the ocean. I mostly paid around 10-12 CUC (8-10 €/$) for a seafood-salad, a grilled seafood skewer, and a cocktail or a softdrink. 
     
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  • VEDADO was a more authentic neighborhood of Havana, not as a fancy as Old Havana, but you will have a fun time in that area.  LA RAMPA, as they call Avenue 23 (Avenida 23) is the hotspot for nightlife. "La Zorra y el Cuervo" is a pretty nice Jazz-Club, you pay 10 CUC for the entrance and get 2 free-cocktails. The night I visited the bar, there was a local jazz band playing, that didn't blow me away. But there were a couple of special guests who made it a very pleasant show. It was funny to see that the jazzclub was packed with japanese tourists, the japanese LOVE jazz music! Just right next to the club, you will find a couple of salsa&rumba clubs. Even the gay-area is right next to the Rampa. I always started my night at the dive-bar "San Juan", where I would meet the craziest cubans on my trip. One night I met a german tourist and all he could say was "man I love this bar!". Almost every night I had dinner at the restaurant "Locos por Cuba". It was just right next to my casa. The service was flawless, the food was delicious, and again crazy cheap (and they had the prettiest waitresses in Havana!). In Vedado you're only steps away from the famous "HOTEL NACIONAL DE CUBA". Also check out the most famous ice-cream spot in Havana called "COPPELIA". Expect a waiting line of 20 minutes to get your scoop of ice-cream.
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  • CALLEJON DE HAMEL is also located in the VEDADO neighborhood. It's a block of colorful & arty murals. The Hamel street was built up by the local community to raise money for disabled children. It's a very charming place which is definitely worth a stop. They also have a signature-cocktail called "BILONGO", apparently it's the only place where you can get it. 

 

My favorite Bars in Old Havana.

 

  • BAR YUMURI 

The bar looks like the real local thing. There's live music everyday, from midday til the early evening. The bar is located just next to the "La Rosalía De Castro" Culture Center. Almost every afternoon I had a Mojito at their place. They didn't serve the best drinks, but I did like the vibe of the bar. That's also the place where I met two of the most memorable cubanos of my trip, Mario & his son Froylan! Their "signature cocktail" (don't expect too much) is the "Compay Segundo". Try it!
Location: (#3 Calle Monte between Maximo Gomes (Monte) St. & Dragone St.)

  • LA BODEGUITA DEL MEDIO 

La Bodeguita del Medio might be the most popular bar in Old-Havana. It's really PACKED with tourists, but the good thing about it, is its live salsa band. Many people are dancing inside the bar. Their Mojito is pretty alright, even though it's very overrated! On a wall you see a writing of the author Ernest Hemingway "My Mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita". Outside of the bar, the walls are filled with tags, names, signatures of people who visited the place. Just hop in grab a Mojito, enjoy the music til your glass is empty, and leave...

  • MONSERRATE BAR

Monserrate is one of the popular bars as well, which is also a recommendation of the "Havana Club Rum Museum". But it was one of the bars, which had the best live music in the evening in Old-Havana. The customers were mostly tourists but it was a calm place, and it still felt like a cuban bar and not a tourist attraction. The cocktails were 4 CUC, however almost double the size than the regular highball glasses.

  • Creperie Oasis Nelva

The name of the bar might sound odd, but they do have the BEST cocktails in Old Havana. The bar doesn't even look like a creperie (a place where they make french pancakes). I had my first Pineapple-Mojito at Oasis Nelva and it was just marvelous. The interior-design looks fancy, most of the furniture is selfmade. The cocktails are pretty cheap compared to other places in and around Habana-Vieja. The also serve a big variety of organic dishes. Try their "Cuban Lemonade"!

 

NIGHTLIFE.

I would totally stay away from Old-Havana, if you're looking for the clubbing kind of nightlife. I was pretty disappointed about the fact that Old-Havana was asleep in the evening hours of a weekend. You definitely need to jump on a cab and drive to VEDADO. Check out "PALACIO DE LA RUMBA DE LA HABANA". The palacio was the first club I discovered on my holidays. Again I invited a cubano for a drink, and after the first bar shut its door, he took me to the palacio. The club opens around midnight and is pretty dead til 01:00 am. On the first night we went around 03:00 in the morning and it was super busy. Obviously they play "rumba" music. I never heard about "rumba" til I set foot into the club.  I had a lot of fun in that club and all the cubans were very welcoming. 

CASA DE LA MUSICA DE MIRAMAR was the second club (or rather a music venue) that I visited. Casa de la musica was more about salsa music... they host very popular bands. LOTS of dancing people, fair prices on the drinks as well. The neighborhood of Mirama is a 15-minute taxi-ride away from the center. The crowd was a little bit older, than at the palacio. Definitely something you wouldn't witness in Old Havana. 

 

ENJOY HAVANA.

Well Havana isn't just about drinking and eating! Obviously Salsa is a very big thing in Cuba. Why not take salsa classes??? I took 4 hours of cuban salsa classes at the "CASA DEL SON" which is located very nearby the Parque Centrale. 2 hours of dancing classes cost 30 CUC. Most of the teacher do speak very well english. The dancing school looks very nice on the inside, and they do have a bar as well, if you need to loosen up, before the classes or during the break. My teacher Eniley showed pretty much patience for someone with 2 left feet learning how to dance.

I'm not a big fan of museums, but I decided to check out the "HAVANA CLUB" museum on my last day, because after all the Mojitos I had drunk, I needed to get more informed about where it comes from and how the rum gets into the bottle. 

If you're a beach bum you should take a ride to the "Playa del Este". I was told by the cubans that it is a lovely beach. Sadly because of the rainy days on the last part of my trip, I decided to leave the sun-tanning aside. You should combine the beach-trip with a convertible taxi ride. I guess the convertible taxi ride inside an american old-timer is a must-do as well, while in Cuba. Sadly I skipped that part as well, because I was traveling alone and my main credit-card wasn't working in Cuba. So I tried to spend less money to avoid any bad surprises. 

I did visit a cigar factory though. Was it worth it ? I really can't tell. First of all, you need to get the entrance ticket in advance! I read about it, didn't believe it... and I was wrong. When I went into the lobby of the factory, the security agent told me, that I wouldn't get inside the factory without the ticket from a hotel. Because I was staying in a "casa particular" I had no clue where I should get that ticket from. A taxi-driver outside the factory told me he could take me to a tourist office, where I could buy a ticket. The ticket was 10 CUC for the guided tour through the factory. SADLY... you're not allowed to take any photographs. The different facilities of the factory look very old, traditional and photogenic. I would have loved to take some photos of the factory employees. It's interesting to see where the world-famous COHIBA cigars come from, but in my opinion the guide rushed through the factory. You can't touch anything, you observe the workers from a certain distance. But... while in Cuba... you should at least visit one factory. You won't have the chance to visit a factory in every country.

There's absolutely so much to do in Havana... music is big, art is big, rum is big... You hardly ever get bored if the weather is on your side. 

Prior my next trip to Cuba, I really want to inform myself a lot more about the revolution, Fidel, and Che Guevara. I starting reading a book about Che on the airplaine back to Europe and I would love to visit the precise places where the revolution and its take-overs happened.

 

 

First steps in Havana... scams & police.

Cuba always used to be one of the destinations, that was on top of my travel-bucket-list, however it took me ages to make the trip.

Usually when I'm visiting a unique country or city,  and just right after I fastened my seat-belt on the airplane I tell myself silently "In 10 hours you will be standing in.... (the name of the city)". If it is a long-awaited destination, I really have a hard time believing that it's finally happening. 

With Havana it was just the same kind of "ritual" again. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to finally set foot in Cuba and again, I couldn't really believe it, that I was sitting on the airplane.

After all these joyful thoughts during the flight, I gotta admit, that my face certainly didn't look that happy, when I stepped outside of the airplane. Havana definitely has the shabbiest airport I've ever walked through. Even the ones in India looked fancier. Well it was just an airport!

The customs officers were sitting behind desks that looked like zoo-type-cages all painted in red. I stepped forward and softly said "Hola!" (knowing no spanish at all)... the usual procedures with fingerprints & mugshot followed, and I got a gently "Welcome!" from the officer. 

The baggage-claim was crowded with too many visitors. All the travelers were waiting along one single carousel. It didn't feel like you were waiting at the international airport of the capital. 

At the main-hall, when leaving the airport, there are a couple of ATMs where you can withdraw money. I didn't wait too long (5-10 minutes), because I landed late in the evening around 22:00h (10pm).  At the same ATM you could exchange money, but the machine asked for your passport if you were exchanging cash.

The governmental taxis ask a fixed price of 30 CUC (24 € / 30 us$) to bring you to the city. The ride took 20-25 minutes to reach the "parque central" where the most popular hotels are located. I took a hotel for the first 2 nights, because I didn't feel adventurous after 10 hours of flying. After the 2 nights at the hotel, I switched to two different "casas particular" (homestay with a cuban family). More to that later. 

I stayed at the "HOTEL PLAZA". The lobby looked very descent, old fashioned, but just as you expected a hotel to look like in Havana. I paid 100$ a night! Which was way too much. The room was OK, but I had better hostels for 20$ a night. I wouldn't complain about the hotel if I had paid 20-40$ a night. Just as a quick reminder, I paid 35$ a night at the "casa particular", which looked nicer, smelt better, felt better and of course with a light-breakfast included. 

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VERY IMPORTANT!! BRING CASH!!

I had carried two VISA-Credit Cards to Cuba. Two different banks, same country (no U.S. bank of course). My credit-card from the international bank "ING" worked without any issues. The one from my local bank "POST" did NOT work. I contacted all the different services and always was told "your card has not been blocked, and should work just fine. We couldn't notice any denied transactions". The several phone calls cost me about 100€ (115$), and I absolutely got no further help, neither from my bank, nor from the VISA service. Always the same robotic answer. The VISA customer service told me that still some VISA cards wouldn't work in Cuba. But it didn't make sense, why the credit-card from a bank of Luxembourg, wouldn't work at all. You will feel pretty lost in Cuba, if your main-payment-source is being denied on the very first day of the trip. 

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Scams & police intervention on the first two nights.

As soon as I stepped out of the hotel on my first evening around 23:00h (11 pm) a cuban girl approached me and asked where I was from, my reason for visiting Cuba, etc.

She told me that I was lucky, because on that particular weekend, there would be a "Cigar Festival" and cuban people would sell them at the local low-budget store called "cooperativa". The point of the "cooperativa" was, that only the local people would get the money of the cigars, and not the government. (of course there wasn't a national cigar festival!)

I could sense the act of being tricked. However I'm always too naive and I wanted to see what the "cooperativa" looked like. I followed her through the streets of "habana nueva", while talking about Cuba & Havana. The whole neighborhood, which was badly lit at night, looked very degenerated. When we arrived at the shop, they sold me 2 cigars for 10 CUC, which was way overpriced. And of course I'm a non-smoker. 

After that the girl asked me, if she could show me a local bar. I accepted the invitation, because I was really looking forward for my first Mojito in the city. As soon as we walked inside the first bar, I told her that I would like to move on alone and that I wouldn't like to enter a bar with no customers inside. I told her that I noticed the scam with the cigar, and that I wouldn't bother, but I'd rather leave her alone.

She denied the scam and asked for a last favor. She wanted some spare change for buying powder-milk for her little girl. I refused to give her money and walked away. 

On my way back to the hotel, I passed by a bar that looked pretty crowded, a cubano was waiting outside and asked me if he could show me the bar. I approved and we went inside. The chico asked me to invite him for a Mojito as well. As I was traveling alone, and all the streets looked deserted, I agreed to spend a drink for a little conversation with a local. The 2 cocktails were 16 CUC (13 € / 16 us$) in total. WAY TOO MUCH for Cuba! After we took a seat at the bar, I noticed all the women inside the bar who were approaching us like vultures. Prostitutes of course... many prostitutes! I clearly told them, that I wasn't interested, and they moved back without any discussion. After the drink I decided to get out of the bar, again I didn't like the vibe. 

Almost having reached the hotel, I bumped into another habanero, who started a conversation. I told him, that I was tired of bumping into people, who just wanted my money and that I don't feel like spending another 8 CUC on a cocktail. The cubano started laughing and said that I got tricked. "If you want, I take you to a place where we get a Mojito for 3 CUC if you invite me."

Of course I wanted another Mojito and decided to follow the cuban guy and his girl. We went to the same place where the first lady wanted to get me in for a drink, and of course she was still sitting there. As soon as she noticed me coming in with the cuban guy, hid name was Alexis, she left the bar. But hey, the drinks were 3 CUC at this bar.

Alexis was fluent in italian, which was very impressive, because he had never left Cuba in his life. He told me that he learned italian because of an italian ex-girlfriend who was living a couple of months in Havana. 

Alexis seemed honest in what he was talking about. He also told me about the tricks with the "powder-milk" and the "expensive-cocktails". As soon as local cubans bring tourists to a bar, the prices of the drinks go up. So for exampled they charge you 2-4 CUC more, and when the tourist leaves the place, the bartender and the "inviting friend" split the over-charged-money.

It works the same with the powder-milk. Powder-milk for babies is hard to get in Cuba, and of course for locals it's very expensive. They usually ask 10-13 CUC for the milk. Tourists with a big heart, follow the women to the shop, where they buy them one or two packs of milk. As soon as the tourists move on, the "scam-artist" brings back the milk to the shop, gets back the money, and they split it with the shop-woman behind the counter.


My advise:

  • never pay more than 4 CUC for a cocktail, a glass of rum is about 1 CUC, a decent meal should never be more than 12 CUC (fist plate, main dish, 1 beverage).  


The 3 of us, got pretty tipsy/drunk that evening. For a first night in Cuba I couldn't complain. As I could communicate fluently with Alexis, and he never asked for money on my first night, I agreed to meet-up again on the second night. 

On the second night he brought me to 3 bars. As we left the 2nd bar, 4-6 undercover agents, moved towards us from all directions, some were walking, and some were on a motorbike. Even though they weren't wearing uniforms, I could tell straight away that it was the cops. And they weren't happy to see Alexis with a tourist. Even though I don't speak spanish, I could vaguely figure out what they were talking about (because of the similarity with the italian language). They were pointing towards the directions/spots where I was walking around with Alexis. They knew that I was staying in a hotel near the "parque centrale". Outside of the bar they were taking mug-shots with a mobile phone of Alexi's face. And they told him in spanish "if something happens with the tourist, you will go back to jail.". I didn't want to cause Alexis any trouble, so I told them in italian/english, that I was alright, and that he was only showing me around. Stupidly I proved them that I was a police-officer as well, and they all started laughing, showing me their hidden guns, shaking hands, and telling me to be cautious, pointing at Alexis and saying "bandito viejo" (old bandit/criminal). 

Before the cops showed up, Alexis already told me that he spent 2 years in prison, because he was refusing to work for a monthly salary of 40 CUC. That would be a reason enough to go to jail in Cuba. However I can't tell if that's true or not. 

It was a fun night though. It was a weekend, and Old-Havana, the most touristic spot in Havana was dead on a saturday night. Most of the bars/restaurants were closed after midnight. So I felt alright, having spent a night-out with a "bandito" who showed me around, than spending a  lonesome night somewhere else in bar. 

However because I spent about 100 CUC that night on drinks, I decided to check out Havana the next day on my own. And it was time to check-out of the hotel and move on into a "casa particular". 

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Safety in Havana.

After the police-control Alexis told me that two officers already asked him outside of my hotel, why he was following me. That was during the first 24 hours. 

It's crazy to witness, how the Cuban government wants the tourists to be & feel safe. Besides Japan, I've never visited a country where I felt that safe as in Havana. At night I often walked by myself through the darkest and dirtiest alleys. There wasn't one single incident where I felt unsafe. 

Many Cubans told me that the population of Havana would be around 3 millions, and that there were 1 million police officers working in the streets of "La Habana". I can't tell if it's true. All I could notice, is that the cubanos don't like the police that much, but they show a lot of respect towards the officers as soon as they show up. 

Especially Old Havana and Malecon is packed with officers and patrol-cars. 

Even the Cubans are convinced "Cuba is the safest country in the world." 

Summer-vacay in Portugal

After my mind-blowing trip to Lisbon in 2016 I decided to get back to Portugal for this year's summer holidays. I had no clue about the southern part of Portugal called "Algarve" therefor I randomly picked the two cities "Faro" and "Albufeira". Faro because of its international airport and Albufeira for its "busy nightlife" (forget about that part!).

As closer as I got to the my departure date, I felt like canceling my whole trip. A lack of energy for traveling solo and maybe the fact that I was visiting beach-cities all by myself, were the main reasons why I thought about canceling. One week prior my departure my friend Cristine decided she would join me to Portugal. I also had mixed feelings about that, because I was used to travel alone for the last couple of years... would we get along? At least I couldn't cancel the trip anymore.

FARO.

My first destination was FARO. Upon my arrival I still didn't know if Faro was a busy city, and what it had to offer. Summer temperatures outside of the airport, the scent of summer in the air, that's all I needed for a peaceful welcome. I took an "UBER" at the airport to get to the hostel, which only cost me about 6-7 Euros (9 US$).  

The hostel "HOSTEL 1878" is located in an old traditional building with a very unique touch, lots of charming details and a welcoming staff. After my check-in, the guy at the lobby informed me about a folk concert on the rooftop. It just seemed like the perfect first night. About 25 people were watching the concert. The bar on the rooftop, offered red wine for 1.50 Euro a glass, or 3 Euro a Gin&Tonic. The neighborhood looked very traditional and I definitely felt like being on the best spot for my summer holidays.

Sadly Faro didn't have much to offer. I checked out the city center considered as the "Old Town", which was packed with tourists, lots of shops, restaurants, and only a few bars. On the first night I discovered the little gem called "BISTRO 31". A local restaurant with very limited tables. Fabio the owner of the place, his girlfriend and his lovely daughter were the soul of the small business! Every dish I tried at their place was a unique experience for my palate! That's why I decided to get back to "BISTRO 31" every night during my stay in Faro. My lovely friend Cristine, who joined me in Faro on my 3rd day, joined me on our last night in Faro for an amazing dinner. I'm glad she liked the dinner as much as I did. 

On my second day in Faro I walked through the city center, the harbor area, and went to the fanciest shopping mall in the city. There's really nothing to do in Faro except having great food, and getting drunk on delicious cocktails, wines, or port wines.

It's a quiet city, even at night, the busiest bars didn't feel like a club or a dancing place. This doesn't mean that I didn't appreciate Faro. I'd recommend it to families who don't have any bigger expectations about their summer holidays. 

Faro definitely is more lively at night. During my short 3-day-stay a couple of events took place: as the "seafood festival", an electronic festival called "Etcetera" or the "Baixa Street Fest" in the old town. 

For the hostel part, most guests only stayed for 1 night. People checked-in and left the place the following day, so it wasn't really easy to socialize with the travelers and make new friends. 

Another bar I'd recommend was the cocktail-bar "COLUMBUS", their staff puts a lot of effort to make great-looking cocktails. 

 

ALBUFEIRA.

Cristine and I left on a sunday morning towards Albufeira by train. The train-ride took about 1 hour and the single-fare cost around 2-3 Euro. A bargain!

The train-station of Albufeira is located a little bit further outside of the center, so we had to take another UBER ride. After a 12 minute ride we made it to our "Topazio Hotel". The whole neighborhood just looked like any other beach town. I can't say that I enjoyed Albufeira at first sight, but at least it seemed a little busier than Faro. 

We left the hotel as soon as possible and walked towards the rocky beaches of the Algarve. I can't pretend that I'm a beach-bum and I've hardly ever been to an astonishing beach. So all I can tell is, that Albufeira is probably the prettiest sandy-beach-area that I ever visited in Europe. The shores weren't too busy for the high-summer-season, the water looked very blue-ish, and the beach restaurants offered satisfying seafood dishes (and delicious sangrias!). 

However as I mentioned in the introduction of this blog-post, the nightlife, that everybody was bragging about, was definitely the worst I've experienced in a long time. There are just too many bars in the city center. Too many empty bars, lots of 80s music, lots of families, lots of bored people spreading their boredom all over the place. 

The cocktails are watered-down, the bars & restaurant's indoor designs looked pretty odd and all alike, just too many Brits in a portuguese city. I was glad that we discovered two good restaurants during our nights. I can't complain about the food; we had some great cataplanas at the "O-manjar" restaurant in Albufeira, some delicious tapas at a shisha-restaurant outside of the city center. (I can't stand shishas, but the food was alright, and so were the cocktails).

We decided to move on towards Lisbon instead of extending our stay in Albufeira for one more night. 

My highlights of Albufeira were the organized tours. We took part on a boat-trip to witness dolphins in the sea, and to get to the Benagil Cave. The Benagil Cave is only reachable through the water, by boat or by swimming. It was a very eye-opening place, however the cave was packed with too many visitors upon our arrival. Sadly the tour-organizer didn't let us leave the boat, so we only had the chance to get some shots on board.

The next day we decided to do a kayaking tour alongs the rocky edges of the shore. Kayaking along the cliffs, through the caves, in the blue water, was pretty enjoyable. The fun tour lasted about 2 hours. This was definitely my highlight of the Algarve. 

Each tour was about 30-35 Euro a person. I'm not a huge fan about organized activities, however I have to agree that the organizer did a flawless job.

 

LISBON.

I would be lying if i'd tell you that Lisbon had the same wow-effect as it did last year. All the neighborhoods looked pretty much familiar to me. I remembered some restaurants that left some culinary marks in my stomach and in my heart from past year. I jumped into a couple of shops which I promised myself I'd turn back next time in Lisbon.

Last year I got my phone stolen, because of that I wasn't able to write a review about the "YES HOSTEL"in the capital of Portugal. It was pretty obvious that I would stay at any costs at "YES HOSTEL" again. 

Because we didn't plan to extend one more night in Albufeira I had to make 2 different bookings. One booking for 1 night, and the second booking which I did at home prior our departure for 4 nights. While we were checking in I noticed that I only booked one bed. Sadly "YES HOSTEL" was fully booked on the very first day and we had to change plans. We stayed one night at the "Cheese & Wine Apartments" close to Alfama. Instead of paying 50 euro a night, we had to pay 200 euro a night. But! Considering that the apartment had space for 6 people (3 beds) I can't imagine about a better apartment for a group of people, and spending only about 30 euro a person. Upon our arrival at the apartment we were offered a complimentary bottle of red wine, and portuguese cheese. 

The next day we checked-in at the hostel. From the outside I noticed Fabio behind the check-in desk. Fabio and I pretty much became friends during my first stay in the city. I was curious if he would still recognize me 12 months later. While he was busy doing the check-ins, we walked in and waited for our turn. Just seconds later Fabio noticed me and Cristine in the corner and we got the warmest welcome ! Fabio started talking about my recent trip to India, about another luxembourgish customer... while the other guests were impatiently waiting with open-eyes at the counter.

There were two things that made my stay in Lisbon unforgettable. As you can expect, the first one was meeting Fabio for the second time, and the 2nd one was the Cabo da Roca, which is the very western point of Europe. I will come back to the Cabo da Roca later. Well I gotta admit, it was lovely to travel with a girl after all those years of solo-traveling as well. 

If you're a vivid Instagram-User as I am, you will find endless spots to visit in Lisbon. There are so many great looking bars and coffee-bars, but I only had to chance to visit one or two. Beside my Instagram-Check-Out list, I still needed to get to the creative-hub "LX Factory" which is located just below the big red bridge. Lx Factory is packed with lovely souvenir stores, a diversity of restaurants, designer shops, and a great shop for "cafe-racer" fans. 

The "Time Out Market" was on our check-list as well, however visiting it right after having had breakfast, wasn't the smartest move. The food at the different shops looked very mouth-watering. However I didn't feel like waiting another hour, that's why we went on to Alfama.

On our last day we opted for Cascais and Cabo da Roca. Fabio told me that ages ago "Cabo da Roca" was supposed to be the "end" of the world. It was the spot where the earth would end, and the ocean would begin. Once we made it to the edgy cliffs of "Cabo da Roca" I totally got the vibe my friend was telling me about. I've never been to Scotland or Ireland, so I can't tell about their nature spectacles. This was my first time, where I could witness this natural beauty. 

“Aqui ...
onde a terra se acaba
e o mar comeca”

We took a couple of photos on the edges of the cliffs. Sitting down for a couple of minutes, you could only hear the ocean breath, the waves hitting the rocks, and the neverending gaze in front of you. I would love to get back to that place on my next trip, but in the very early morning, or very late at night. 

There's definitely so much left to discover inside and outside of Lisbon. A short train-ride (2.5 Euro) will bring you to the nearest cities within a heartbeat. If the train-ride's too slow, grab an UBER. The cities of Cascais and Belem are definitely worth a visit. Belem is known for its delicious pasteries "Pastel de Belem" and its Belem-Tower. Cascais is the "Cote d'Azur" of Lisbon, everything just looks fancier over there (but doesn't have to better). 

On our way back home from the Cabo da Roca, my friend Daniel showed as another great beach spot that looked totally fabulous. It was just mind-blowing driving by the beach of "Praia do Guincho" which was crammed with kite-surfers. Next time it's gonna be on my list!

Osaka never disappoints

In May 2017 I visited Osaka for a third time, and it definitely wasn't the last time. After visiting Tokyo twice, and Osaka twice as well (prior the recent trip), it was obvious that I was rather the Osaka-kind-of-person. This time I wasn't walking around all day with a camera in my hand. I enjoyed my little moments in the city, observing people, having coffee, eating street-food, and meeting up with old and new friends at night.

My recent trip to Osaka wasn't meant to bring back home the best photos or videos, to convince my friends and blog followers how awesome the city is. People who have been following my posts on this blog or on Instagram, should know by now that I'm a big fan of Japan. 

After being around most corners of Osaka, there wasn't much left to discover, however I never felt bored while walking through the streets of Namba. Let's start with the coffee places.

This was the first time, where I was hunting for good and hip coffee places.

The best coffee bars I visited were located in Amerika-mura (american-village). As you can figure out by the name, the neighborhood is heavily influenced by the western world. It's packed with western clothing brands, american bars, but the hippest coffee spots as well. My favorite bar was "LiLo Coffee Roasters" because of it's interior design; the staff was very fluent in english, and they had too many coffee-accessories for sale. Right next to Lilo's place, was another awesome coffee bar called "Streamer Coffee Company". At first sight from the outside I thought it would be a skateshop pimped up with a coffee-corner. I gotta admit that Streamer actually had the best coffee I tried in Osaka. It's not as cozy as Lilo's corner, but it's definitely worth a try.

Arashiyama

What would a trip to Osaka be without witnessing the beauty of Arashiyama? Arashiyama is well known for its spectacular bamboo forest. The bamboo forest actually doesn't take that much time to visit, think about 15-25 minutes. It's always hard to get a descent photoshot of the path leading through the forest, because there are just way too many visitors, any time of the day. However Arashiyama is always on my list, when visiting the Kansei region. I just love the whole vibe of the village: mountains, rivers, cute little shops, food stalls, japanese people dressed up in kimonos.

For the first time, I decided to visit the monkey forest. You gotta walk up a very steep hill for about 25 minutes, til you reach the top of the monkey place. You'll get a beautiful view all over Arashiyama and Kyoto. You'll get the chance to feed the monkeys, who'll be eating out of your hands. The coolest thing was that the visitors will walk into a cabin, that feels more like a cage, and you'll be feeding the monkey from the inside through the fences of the cabin. So it doesn't feel like a zoo, where animals are captivated for the visitor's pleasure. The monkeys are jumping and climbing freely around the cabin. Those monkey hands felt like baby hands grabbing for food, it definitely was worth the way up to the mountain.

If you're looking for the "kawaii" (which means cute in japanese) side of Japan, you should stop by at the Katsuoji Temple. I heard stories about it many times, but never made it to the very north of Osaka, because it takes about 90 minutes to get there. You gotta use two different trains which will lead you to the Senri-Chuo station. Outside of Senri-Chuo station you will have to catch a 40 minute bus-ride that will drop you at the entrance of Katsuoji-Temple. However the last bus will leave the train station around 3pm or 4pm. As lucky as I usually am, I had to use a taxi (single fare was 35 euro / us$). I left the temple about 5pm, and bad luck stroke again. No buses after 5pm, no taxis around the temple. Me and a 14 year-old chinese boy walked down all the way to the city. The walk took us almost an hour. I couldn't speak chinese or japanese, and the chinese teenager couldn't communicate in english or japanese. But at the end we somehow managed to jump on a bus, that brought us back to a train station after almost 2 hours. 

After visiting a couple of japanese cities, you easily get fed up with temples. Katsuoji however was different, in a funny way. The whole place is packed with daruma dolls, which creates a unique atmosphere. 

The daruma dolls at Katsuo-ji Temple are called "Kachi-daruma" (winning daruma). The darumas are eye-less goodluck charms. People are supposed to draw an eye on the doll's face when they make a wish, and draw in the other when their wish comes true. When one's daruma-doll gets both eyes drawn in, it should be brought back to the temple. 

Last but not least, the Taiko Bridge of the "Sumiyoshi Taisha" shrine. Again, after having witnessed numerous temples in Japan, it gets harder with each trip to be impressed about wooden temples. I have just seen to many temples in Japan. However I haven't ever seen a round bridge like the Taiko Bridge in Osaka. The first one I have ever discovered was outside of Asia, at the Japanese Garden in San Francisco. That's why I decided to jump on a train towards the Sumiyoshi shrine. In my opinion, the shrine didn't blow me away. However the bridge sourrounded by trees and a pond was worth the shot.

 

Nightlife in Osaka.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, that one fact that I really enjoy about Osaka is its nightlife. I mean it's not always that easy, to get in touch with japanese people. Some of them are too busy for a conversation, some are too shy or insecure to communicate in english and some don't understand any english at all. Most of the japanese people, that I had the chance to get to know, were having a drink in a bar or they worked as bartenders. It's just the perfect place to get into a chitchat. In Osaka it's even possible to bump into the same person on the same trip, which hardly ever happen in any other big city.

I wouldn't brag about Namba for being the best place to go out, because there are just too many streets or bars left to discover. Some bars or clubs will always remain undiscovered for many tourists, because they aren't barely visible from the outside. I remember a club called "Bambi", where a french expat took me to. We took an elevator to the 7th floor, and as soon as the doors of the elevator opened, we stepped out right into a club. It's very common in Japan to get on top floors for having dinner or a drink. That's why locals know the best places to check out.

As far as my experience goes, I'd recommend these places while going out in Osaka. They're all reachable by foot and only a couple of minutes separated from each other.

Bar Zerro {Namba}

The Zerro Bar is a bar packed with locals, tourists, and expats. It's usually very busy. Most of the bar tenders are pretty fluent in english. Every time I went for a drink I met people from all over the world. It's not the coolest place, but if every other bar is empty, you'll definitely find some people at Zerro.

Cinque-Cento (500) {Namba}

Cinque-Cento means 500 in italian. That's where the bar got its name from, because every drink or meal on their menu costs 500 yen  (4 € $). The drinks are served in average size glasses, and they don't look as fancy as in a cocktail bar. But you can get a Moscow Mule or a Maitai for a very fair price. All of the bar tenders were very friendly and easy to talk to. While drinking and talking to them, they could tell you some fascinating facts about Japan. "500" easily became my favorite bar in Osaka on my last trip. And yes, you also get some finger- & fast-food for 500 yen.

 Mustang-Bar {Amerika-Mura}

On my recent trip I didn't make it to Mustang, because I couldn't leave "500" and because Mustang is located in Amerika-Mura, the neighbor-area of Namba. But on my two first trips I had a blast at Mustang. The main reason was most definitely because of the bar-owner Neil (or Neal), an expat from Israel. Neal is high probably the craziest dude in Osaka. He used to be very entertaining and made every customer laugh with this harsh jokes. "Mustang" is a very small bar, recognizable by its ceiling, which is covered by hundreds of hanging bras. Apparently drunk women started to undo their bras, and hang them on the ceiling. I guess it's just another prove how crazy it can get at Neil's bar. 

Kamasutra Karaoke Bar

The last episode of my nightly adventures took place at Richard's Karaoke Bar called "Kamasutra". Richard is an expat as well. And it was damn funny coincidence that I made it to Kamazutra. Six or seven years ago work colleagues told me about their crazy night at a karaoke bar where they were introduced to the bar owner called "Richard". After a drunken night at 500, some japanese people took me to a karaoke bar. It was my first time ever at a Karaoke bar. After ordering another round or trinks and starting a chit-chat with the man behind the bar, I figured out his name was "Richard". I took out my phone, to check out if the photo of my friends at "that" Richard's place was the same one where I was sitting. Richard burst out laughing, because he was still remembering the night where my colleagues were visiting him. "Those crazy guys from Luxembourg... that was a hell of a  night!". Sometimes the world just seems so small, when coincidences like this one happen. I went back to Kamasutra one more time before leaving Japan. I had a blast every night!

- GANPATI GUESTHOUSE - {Varanasi}

As you might have read in my blog-posts about my India trip, I sounded pretty fascinated about this little gem of a guesthouse. I tried 'em all during my journey in India, cheap hotels, one fancy hotel, a hostel and this guest house. Maybe it was the perfect match with the city, the calm laidback athmosphere at this guesthouse & the spiritual vibe all across Varanasi. All I can tell is that, Ganpati fulfilled my expectations, and that this guesthouse made me feel, like I initially expected it to be.

I remember when my friend José showed me his photos of Varanasi and a couple of images of this guesthouse. Both just matched perfectly together. When I was trying to book a room at the website "booking.com", I was told that the guesthouse was sold-out during my stay in the city.  But luckily a week later, I got to manage to book the last room available. 

GANPATI was the second "hotel" I checked-in at in India, and without any doubt it was the place where I instantly felt at home. I got a warm welcome by the guesthouse-staff and you could really feel, that the clerk at the front-desk, made some efforts to explain me how the boat-trips work, how to get to the roof-top restaurants, how much I should pay for the different services along the ganges river. I didn't feel like a living dollar-sign at this hotel. 

I read some unpleasant reviews about the guesthouse, so I really didn't know what to expect. Once I figured out that I would get room number 7, right in the middle of the courtyard, I felt really happy. There are lots rooms which are facing towards the river, however the ones in the center of the building, seem more peaceful and colorful. 

All room-doors were locked with a golden-shiva-lock. Everything was very charming about this guesthouse, the colors, the vintage locks, the scent of the rooms... The rooms weren't fancy at all, but you aren't asking for any kind of luxury when checking-in at a guesthouse. The rooms were very clean, the bathroom as well. The bathroom lacked some space, but it didn't bother me at all. 

I loved staying on my bed during the day, with the yellow room-door wide open. You could hear the calming noise of the water-fountain.

On the roof-top there was a restaurant, that was serving food til midnight. Their menu consisted of only vegetarian dishes. The dishes were very simple, but I couldn't complain. The waiters were extremely friendly, and the food was very cheap. During my 4 days in Varanasi, I only had food at their restaurant, because everything just seemed perfect. The food tasted fresh, and of course I didn't get sick of it.

 

There's a main-exit that leads straight down to the ghats, right to the river's edge. On the rooftop you can enjoy your breakfast or lunch with a beautiful view all over Varanasi. What can I say? There's nothing to complain about.

 

When I was checking out, I told the staff, that I took the room's hand printed laundry tote bag, because I wanted to keep it as a souvenir. I offered them to pay for it, but the lovely man at the desk told me I could keep it for free.

As soon as I left the guesthouse, I got one last "namaste" from the door-man. Everytime I left or entered the guesthouse, a "guard" opened the door, put his both hands together close to his chest and greeted me with a "namaste". I loved GANPATI GUESTHOUSE, it was one of the few lovely experiences I brought back home from India. 

Varanasi: Oldest city of India

Varanasi is supposed to be the oldest city of India. Not only the oldest, but also the holiest. Among the 5 cities I initially planned on visiting, Varanasi was the one I was really looking forward to discover. 

On the airplane to India, I started reading a book about the Sadhus of India. "Sadhus" are holy men, considered as renunciants who have chosen to live their life apart from society to focus on their own spiritual practices. Some sadhus used to be wealthy and successful people, but they chose a path in their life where they would cut all familial, societal and earthly attachments. This way they could achieve their purest and highest spiritual level. Sadhus don't lead a normal life like others, they choose to live poorly and only find richness in spirit and humanity. I was told by a local in Varanasi, that they use the ashes of cremated bodies to cover their skin, because the ashes of the deceased is the last remaining of a human body on earth just before it reaches heaven & god. 

I found the lifestyle of the Sadhus very fascinating. Sadly while discovering my first Sadhus in Varanasi, I was told that the holy men I'd meet along the ganges river, would be fake sadhus. Those were the beggars, who'd ask you for money if you'd take a photo of them. Which was actually true, some were even begging for a photo, because all they were looking for was getting a tip. Some of the boatmen considered those "fake sadhus" as lazy people, who were getting high all day, and they were making it through life just because of their fascinating look. I even noticed myself, that those sadhus were accepting money from the very poor people. The poor people were still convinced that the beggar sadhus, could bless them, for having a better life. That's how my interest in finishing the book about the Sadhus stopped! Nevertheless I was told, that there were real sadhus out there in Varanasi, but the real holy men, wouldn't hang out along the river. They would stay away from the crowds, and they would never dare to ask for a tip, if you would shoot any photos. The topic of the Sadhus still remains fascinating. 

Varanasi, wasn't only about the Sadhus. On my first day, upon my arrival at the beautiful guesthouse "Ganpati", I was told that there were 3 main ghats "burning ghat", "assi ghat", and guess the next one, "main ghat". The stairs that lead down to a river are called "ghat", which are usually very big stairs, big enough to do any kind of activity like meditation, yoga, washing clothes, ...

The burning ghat is a public holy place where only Hindus cremate their departed in a sacred ritual. People are allowed to watch the whole ceremony, but taking photos isn't allowed, out of respect for their family. The locals still allow tourists to take photos from a boat, considering that you won't notice an morbid or personal details on a photo shot from a further distance. There are 2 cremation spots along the ganges river. At the "burning ghat" only hindus are allowed to get cremated. The cremations take place 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week. There's no time off. At the entrance to the ghat, people can weigh the wood, which is required to cremate the body. The cremation takes about 3 hours for one single body. The family gives the dead body a last massage at home, with natural oils, to make the deceased "feel good" for one last time, before they reach heaven. At the burning ghat, they wash the body right in the ganges river. Following the cleaning, they put the wrapped up body on the cremation spot. The relatives cover the body with the woods, and spread pieces of sandalwood over the body to accelerate the ignition of the deceased. The family members aren't supposed to cry in front of the body, the mourning takes place at home. After the cremation-process, the remaining ashes are shed into the river. The relatives aren't supposed to keep the ashes, otherwise the soul of the burnt body, would find its way back home. Pregnant women, children, holy men aren't allowed to get cremated, they get all wrapped up, and the whole body is thrown into the river. So there's a chance that you could witness a dead body floating on the water. Right next to the burning ghat there were lost buildings, where people used to spend their last days or weeks. Older people would come to Varanasi, just to die in Varanasi. They believe if they get cremated in the holy city, that they will make it to heaven, and won't get reborn in another life. 

Burning Ghat

Another interesting fact was the "eternal flame of Shiva". Right next to the cremation ceremony you could notice a fire, which they used to ignite the bodies. That's the spot where one of Shiva's girlfriends set herself on fire. For more than a couple of hundreds years, people are responsible to keep that fire burning all day. All the dead bodies are lit up by the "eternal flame". It's not allowed to use any matches or lighters. The second cremation spot down the river, would allow non-hindu people to be cremated.

There were daily ceremonies, to praise the gods, at the main ghat (twice a day, at 06:30 in the morning and in the evening), and another early one at 06:00 in the morning at the assi ghat. The main ceremony at the main ghat, was interesting to watch for the first time. There were thousands of visitors every evening. I personally preferred the one in the early morning. Every morning I left my guest-house at 5:30, and walked towards the assi ghat. The walk took about 20-25 minutes. Sadly it wasn't a peaceful walk, because some boatmen were awake by then, and kept asking the early birds for boat rides. 

The ceremony at 06:00 am at the assi ghat, started with a fire ceremony, were they burnt cow dung, to worship god. While they were doing their thing, you could observe the most beautiful sunrise arise. It was such a serene moment. And with a little luck, if you would find a spot close enough to the ceremony, the boatmen didn't dare to bother you. After the fire ceremony, followed a concert with indian meditation music, and a free yoga session. It was interesting to see the older generation sitting down on the floor and participating at the yoga class, which mainly consisted of pranayamas (breathing exercices). I wish I had participated as well, but all the instructions were in hindi, so i didn't feel comfortable sitting down among the locals, and too many tourists around me. It was also fascinating, to see how yoga is "normal thing" for the indians. People were dressed up in their daily clothes. Some used a towel, others just a plastic bag. There weren't any yoga mats, no fancy yoga clothes, ... it didn't look like trendy thing, as we know it from the western world. Some tourist girls tried to be even more indian than the locals, and they tried really hard to be the most convincing yogi among the locals. It looked so pathetic. 

After the whole ceremony which lasted around 90 minutes, you could watch how the locals of Varanasi, made it the shore, to take a bath, wash their clothes. Another thing I hadn't seen before. Some of the locals were meditating towards the sunrise, others completed their yoga postures. Kids started running around. It felt very uncommon for me to see so much life in the streets at seven o'clock in the morning. Varanasi totally fulfilled my expectations, how I had imagined India. 

However I gotta admit, after 3 nights in Varanasi, the endless "GOD" topics and stories, got a little to much. The locals would mention Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha, in every second sentence, it was all about the holy river of ganges, shiva power (weed), shiva-city (Varanasi), holy cows, pujas (prayer ritual)... The indians would even drink the water of the ganges river, the dirtiest of the dirtiest rivers. 

The walks along the river and the different ghats never got boring. I totally appreciated the mix of street art, hand-painted letterings, and the very old architecture of the city. There wasn't much going on in the busy main streets of Varanasi. It just looked like any other indian city. The narrow alleys, that felt like a walk through a maze, were another charming part of the city. However the streets were most likely very dirty. Cow shit and urine all the way. Too many police officers on every corner, due to a recent threat by the pakistanis, who mentioned they would blow up the "golden temple" of Varanasi. That's why there were  too many heavily armed police men, as well the military, securing the streets. 

Even though the boatmen could get very annoying, the boat rides were the only quiet moment you would find along the river. I took about 3 boat rides during my stay in Varanasi. I got to know a lovely man, called "Diamond" (which is the translation of his hindi name). Even though, I was just another customer, Diamond seemed to be very legit, and I had the most interesting discussion with that man on his boat. The boatman explained me that there were too many boatmen on the river, more boats than tourists, which would make it pretty hard to earn any money. Diamond allowed me to switch places, and I had a chance to get a grip on the paddles. I gotta admit that it was a pretty hard job rowing for 30-60 minutes. Diamond was half my size, and he would keep on rowing for an hour. I could feel my shoulders getting tired after 5 minutes. Despite the amounts of physical power they had to put into the rowing, the boatmen only made 5 to 10 euros/dollars an hour. 

Diamond proudly showed me his shiva tattoo, which he got in Goa (south of India). It was the last time Diamond had ever traveled. Because I was curious about his life, and his stories, I promised Diamond one last boat ride before I'd leave Varanasi. The next day, I took a last ride on his boat. As a gift, Diamond offered me one of his shiva-beeds necklaces. That was a lovely gift! Since the old man told me, that he couldn't afford any new clothes, I gave him two of my shirts I was carrying in my backpack. Diamond gladly accepted the shirts and thanked me with his shining eyes. 

Varanasi was quite an experience. Now being back home for almost a week, and writing about the city on this post, I actually realize how unique the city was. While being in a city, we're so busy soaking up all the informations around us, the noises, the smells, the views, the people... and once we get back home, our mind gets the time to process all the informations we collected, especially when we start writing about it. That's what I like about my travel blog, it doesn't just keep me busy, sharing photos, videos, and stories with people all around the world, but it helps me processing the memories I collected on my trips, and bring them to "digital paper". 

 

 

Update (02.04.2017).

Like I mentioned above, it really does take a while til you realize what you've been through on your journey across the world. I wish I could thank the "yogi" in my video on the top of this page, for being such an inspirational person. While I was observing the early morning yoga session, this gentleman just caught my eyes, and I kept observing him for a while. It just seemed very authentic to my eyes, and I was just blown away to see how much devotion this man put in his daily practice. I guess that's why I also chose to take a couple of shots & film-footage of him. High probably I just looked like any other tourist, taking photos of the locals. I really didn't want to offend anyone, and sometimes I just wish, I could show them what the end-product looks like. Of course it's not a professional documentary and it never will, but it's going to be a souvenir for the rest of my life. My memories in motion, which I will be able to share with my family & friends, and other travelers across the world. 

Last friday during my first yoga class, following my trip to India, I was happy to witness that I hadn't lost any of my flexibility after a one-month-break. But the most beautiful part, was that everytime I closed my eyes during the asanas practice, Varanasi popped up in my mind. I had all these colors, the sunset, the children's choir chants, the morning yoga rituals, right in front of me. After the class I came to the conclusion that Varanasi had a bigger impact on myself, despite the numerous negative moments I went through on my India trip. 

Sometimes we just aren't aware of what we experienced on our holidays, til the right moment kicks in, in the near future. I'm so glad that I had the chance to visit Varanasi, and that I was able to absorb and capture the sounds, the colors, the scents of the city. 

India: Love & Hate.

India's been on my travel-list since I started with yoga practice half a year ago. To be honest, I never imagined visiting India someday, til a work-colleague amazed me with photos of his trip to India and Nepal. The city of Varanasi looked so surreal on his pictures. That's exactly how I got really curious about the huge country of India: the origins of Yoga & the holi city of Varanasi.

Now after I made it back home "safely", I really can't choose if I should start with my "love" or "hate" part of my journey abroad. This is going to be quite a long blog post, because there's so much to write about. I will get into more detailed stories with upcoming blog-posts about Varanasi and the "Ganpati Guesthouse" in Varanasi. For now, I'm going to summarize my good- and not so pleasant experiences.

It all started with my trip to Delhi, the capital of India. My expectations of the capital were pretty low, after I've read too many travel reviews about it, and most travelers were advising to just skip Delhi at all cost. Just for your information, ... Delhi isn't the worst.

I had a typical indian welcome as soon, as I left the airplane on indian soil. The E-Visa appliers were split up into different queues. I had to wait almost 50 minutes to make it to the counter, where my fingerprints were taken, a snapshot, and I was good to leave the airport. I went to the "official" taxi booth and asked for a cab. The ride from Delhi international airport to the city center takes about 40-60 minutes. I didn't bargain on my first cab-ride, and was kindly asked to pay 800 IR (10 euros/dollars). On the way to the hotel the driver told me in a veeeerry broken english, that he didn't know where my hotel was located. So he tried to call the lobby at the hotel, but no one was taking the call (it was already 2:00 am). After several attempts of contacting the hotel, I asked the taxi driver about his plan, and he replied "you choose different hotel!". Well man, I had it all booked in advance, and I wanted to get dropped in front of THAT hotel. So after a couple of seconds of total silence, I asked him for his GPS and I entered the address. So I'm pretty sure that the good man was an illiterate. The hotel was only 3 minutes away. After I got dropped, I had to notice that, the lobby was busy with 2 hotel employees but still no one dared to pick-up the phone. 

"Lodi Garden in Delhi"

I told the receptionist that I booked a room for 3 nights at their hotel "GRAND GODWIN". They seemed to be very welcoming at first and offered me a chai (tea) or a coffee, which I gently refused. They picked up my luggage, and told me to follow them to the building next-door. I could feel the taste of "rip-off" in the air. I told them that I certainly booked a hotel at the "GRAND GODWIN"  and not at the "GODWIN DELUXE". But they were insisting that I was wrong, and that my room would be ready inside the neighbor building. I was just too tired to argue about it... But I wanted to check the room first. The whole staff, were debating in indian and I could feel that there was something wrong. After they brought me up on the 2nd floor, showed me the room, I agreed to accept it. Of course I tipped the bellboy who carried my backpack. Pretty soon I wanted to get online, but noticed that the wifi password wasn't working. I took the room-key ... Damn! They didn't gave me room key, but a paper business-card. Of course being pretty naive, I still tried it, but obviously it wouldn't open my room. I went downstairs and asked them for a proper room-key, and was told "paper card works, but we can give you plastic card instead (broken english)". By the way, later for my check-out at the hotel "Godwin Deluxe", they tried to rip me off again. On the check-out bill, they added every single payable tax twice, and charged me for a airport pick-up which I never asked for. They charged me double the price, than the one which was set during my booking at the website booking(dot)com. 

I hadn't visited anything in Delhi yet, but still I had to manage several issues of incompetence of the indian world. 

Delhi.

I got up pretty early, because I couldn't wait anymore to discover India. I left the hotel around 8:00am, and walked towards the main road, which lead to a bridge. I bumped into a local, who recommended to take a rickshaw (tuc-tuc) because walking to the different tourist spots would be way to exausting. "Don't pay more than 20 IR (30 cents)", and of course the first tuc-tuc driver accepted to bring me to a tourist office for only 20 IR. I went to the first tourist office, just to get a free map of Delhi. As soon as I sat down, they were trying to sell me a bus-tour to other indian cities. I told them that I already pre-booked my trip, and that I just needed a map. I left their office as quickly as I could. On the next corner I bumped into another local, and we got into a little chit-chat. After walking a hundred meters, he told me "Hey, it's your first day in the city, I can bring you to my friend's office. If you have any questions about Delhi, they will help you."

I really don't know why I even followed the stranger. It was just another tourist trap. One office, 4 guys sitting on a couch, and 1 dude sitting behind the desk. They tried to rip me off for sure... but in the end I bought a city tour by taxi for 4 hours, for only 10 euros/dollars. It actually was a bargain, because I saw most sights within those 4 hours. A cab picked me up in front of the office. While I was waiting I got introduced to every single "clerk" who was sitting on the couch. Of course they all looked like the "world's most stupid criminals". I just could tell, that this wasn't a proper tourist office. 

"Humayun-Mausoleum in Delhi"

However I was glad that I met Prem, my taxi driver, through that office. Prem seemed to be a genuine guy, and like after half an hour, he told me that he would be working for that office, but recommended me not to trust those guys. They were just after the money, and of course with his broken english, he tried to explaine that they had no good "karma" :). 

After the 4 hours, I was supposed to get back to the office. Prem explained me that this was the condition of this sightseeing trip. I told Prem, that I was definitely not going back to their office, and if he wouldn't accept that, I would jump out of the car on the next crossing. Prem called the office, and explained them that I wasn't coming back. They asked for me on the phone. I told them that I wanted to get back at my hotel... but, almost like a threat, they forced me to come back with Prem. I told them to f*** o**, and hung up the call. Prem unterstood my decision and drove me to Connaught Place, a huge shopping lane, in the center of Delhi. I paid Prem another 1000 IR, because I wasn't sure if he would get this share of the "deal", since he didn't drop me at the tourist office. I was glad to be out the cab, and asked Prem for his phone number. He seemed to be a trustworthy driver, so I told him I'd be glad if he could drive me back to the airport for my trip to Varanasi. 

After that day, I tried to avoid any contact with locals, because I knew that a short introduction, or just any small-talk would lead me into trouble.

On my second day in Delhi, I just got ripped off by some tuc-tuc drivers. Nothing too bad though, instead of paying 2 euros/dollars, I had to pay 5. 

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib - Sikh temple in Delhi

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib - Sikh temple in Delhi

I had a memorable experience on my second day though. Somehow I never accepted a rickshaw ride, if the divers were hunting for customers. I always picked the drivers I had a certain sympathy for. I opted for Jagdish, a punjabi tuc-tuc driver with a well groomed moustache, who was wearing a yellow turban (see the photo above). On my way back to the hotel, I asked him if he was a hindu or a muslim. He explained me that most religious people wearing that specific turban would be worshiping the religion of Sikhism (sikh). To be honest, I've never heard of the sikh relgion prior that tuc-tuc ride. Jagdish suggest, he could bring me to the biggest Sikh temple in Delhi. I gladly accepted the invitation. The visit was for free, and I was shown all of it. I had to wear a head-cover as well, as all the men did inside the temple. Drinking "holy water", tasting a sweet almond dough, and a private tour through the kitchen where they were preparing the free food for the poor people, were the more entertaining moments of this visit. I have to admit that it was a lovely temple, all white and golden. And all the "sikh" people seemed to be very welcoming, they didn't care to see me in short pants, all covered up with tattoos.  After the visit Jagdish insisted for a selfie in his rickshaw, and asked me forward the photo to his son's mobile phone, that would make him happy. Well ... that's what I did! :)

Varanasi.

Just before taking off for Varanasi, i had to suffer another major panic attack. The ATM at the airport didn't allow me to withdraw any cash, with the reason "CARD BLOCKED". Being stuck in India for 11 more days without any money wouldn't be fun. I tried calling my bank, but their hotline wasn't reachable because of the timezone difference. After my dad helped me out, the bank told him that they blocked my card, because their security service noticed money movements inside of India, and they decided to block my card. SO! Just prior your India trip, contact your bank, and tell them that you're traveling abroad, to avoid this sort of unpleasant surprises.

Varanasi struck me like a lightning. The oldest and holiest city of India was my indian destination with a "wow" effect. Once again I had a typical indian welcome. After my suicidal airport ride stopped at a big crossing (1 hour driving, for 800 IR - 10 euros/dollars), there was already a young local guy who opened the side-door, and helped me getting to the guesthouse. For once, I gotta admit, that I would have never found the guesthouse on my own. The streets were crazy busy with thousands of pedestrians and rickshaws. I followed the guide through very narrow lanes among the old colurful buildings, and after 10 minutes we finally reached my guest house, ... well after I had to tip the young man. 

The Ganpati Guesthouse was the loveliest place I stayed at in India. The staff was amazingly welcoming, and the whole place just felt very cosy. I was lucky to get a room without a balcony, but instead my room-door lead straight to a colorful courtyard. There was a noticeable scent of flowers, inside my  room and outside, around a mandala-shaped fountain. It was my first moment of pure happiness in India. I couldn't wait to get out and have a look at the ganges river. 

I left the guest house, and asked the first locals I met for the right direction to reach the river. And again, the chitchat started, they advise me to visit the "Burning Ghat". The burning ghat is a public holy place where only Hindus cremate their departed in a sacred ritual. People are allowed to watch the whole ceremony, but taking photos isn't allowed, out of respect for their family. My teenage-guide showed me the three main ghats along the river. It was about time to pay a tip, and to spend even more money at his uncle's shop, where I got ripped off. I paid more like the triple for a silk scarf... but yeah, you only live once. I remember how I couldn't stop repeating "this is unbelievable. I saw all those photos of Varanasi, and now i'm standing right in the middle of it". I was so blown away by the very old temple-shaped buildings, all worn off. Many walls were covered with hand-painted letterings and signs. The whole place just looked so photogenic. 

Sadly after my first hours in Varanasi, with disappointment I had to notice, that all the boatmen, the locals, the fake sadhus (wanna-be-saints), wouldn't stop asking for a boatride, for prayers, for a massage... You were invited to spend money on bracelets, on floating flower pots, on colored powder. Tourists just couldn't be on their own, and enjoy the scenic views for 10 minutes. Even in the very morning, when tourists were leaving their hotels at 5:30 am to walk towards the "Assi Ghat", for an early morning ceremony, the boatmen started following you, and kept asking for a boatride. The boatrides were pretty cheap, they charged you 4 euro/dollars for a 30-40 minute boat-ride.  But it was a real pain in the ass, explaining them that you weren't interested. 

It went on like this, for the 4 days I spent in Varanasi. I will write another more detailed blog post about Varanasi, so stay tuned for more informations. 

Agra.

I will keep my summary very short about Agra. It's not even worth mentioning. Well ... once again... I reached Agra, leaving from Delhi, in a very typical indian way. I booked a bus-ticket the evening just prior my departure to Agra. It was a crazy cheap ticket, and the tourist-office guy told me to show up at their office around 06:00 am. That's what I did. While I was trying to wake him up after I reached his place, he instantly stood up, and pretended like he hadn't even slept. He took out his mobile and made a phone-call.  When the bus-driver showed up 10 minutes later, he was kinda in a hurry, and told me to follow him. On the way to his bus he asked me in a pissed-off way "Why did you book your tickets 5 minutes ago?". I told him, that I did the booking the previous evening, and that I paid my bus-ticket in advance. "Really? Your tourist-guide contacted me 5 minutes ago, and you gotta be very lucky today, because there was only 1 seat left on the bus"!!

From 06:00 to 08:00 am, the bus was picking up people all across Delhi, fueled up the bus at a gas station, and finally took off after 8 o'clock. It took us 4 hours to reach Agra (my worst bus-ride ever). After the bus had dropped us at the "Old Fort" in Agra, I had to explain them, that I wasn't interested in a tour, and that I just needed a ride to Agra. I got my back-pack and took a rickshaw to get to my hotel "Grand Imperial Hotel". This one surely was my fanciest stay for one night. The hotel had a colonial architecture flair, and it was pretty posh for India. Sadly the neighborhood outside of the hotel, was a pile of dirt. Extreme poverty, and too much filth covering the streets of Agra.  After I checked in, and already had paid in advance, the receptionist brought me to my awesome room and started asking me "Excuse me sir. Due to the heavy rain yesterday, a couple of hotel rooms were flooded, and we can't host all the guests who booked a room at this hotel." I got pretty mad, because they put another colorful dot on my forehead upon my arrival, they garnished me with a flower-necklace, I got a free orange juice, I paid the room... and after all that, I was kindly asked if I would agree to spend my night at another 5-star-hotel, which wouldn't cost me a dime. I disagreed, because I was so looking forward to spend one night at their beautiful hotel. 

Agra... the Taj Mahal... that's it. That's all I did. There was absolutely nothing else to do, except for the Old Fort. The streets of Agra were extremly dirty, hundreds of tuctuc-drivers handing out their phone numbers. It wasn't a peaceful place, and I was happy to leave. 

Vrindavan.

In Agra, I left in the early morning to get to the train station. I went to their ticket office, and got a train ticket to Mathura, the city just next to Vrindavan. The train ticket was 80 IR, not even 1 euro/dollar. The train station was quite an adventure. I felt completely lost, and had to asked several indians which train would leave towards Mathura. Once I stepped inside the train, I could notice the scent of poo and urine. A passenger invited me to sit right next to him. Jimmy, a university student, was one of the few indians  I met, who wasn't after my money. The friendly young man, had to spend 28 hours on that train, to get back home. Honestly, I was glad, I could get out of it, after 2 hours. 

Outside of the train stations, the tuc-tuc drivers were flying around me like vultures. I was asked by ten men, if I needed a ride. I gently denied and picked out a driver who seemed cool. The one I chose wasn't cool though. He couldn't speak english, and didn't know the location of my hotel. On the way to Vrindavan, I gave him my phone so he could contact the hotel for precise directions. 

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Vrindavan was just crazy. It was supposed to be the most traditional, but also the craziest, city for the "Holi Fest" in India. I gotta admit, it was just too much for my taste. On my way to the hotel, I got covered with too many colors. My black backpack was all messed up, my new shirt was all covered up with colorful sand/dust.  It went on like this for the next 2 days. Myself, I barely could stay outside of the hotel for 2-3 hours. Every local felt so lucky to color my face, kids were amazed to pour endless buckets of colored water over me. They used big water guns as well, with artifical colors. Those colors wouldn't even vanish after 4 showers. After my first 3 hours among the crowds, my hotel room looked like a mess. I was glad that the room service didn't clean up my room on the next morning, because on the 13th of march, the official holi-day, got just insane. The Hindus were rushing towards the several temples in the cities, throwing all kinds of colors in the air, pushing women, and kids aside. It was a real battle making it inside the temple. I got heavily pushed back by a police officer, because I wasn't barefoot, so I decided not to follow the crowd inside the holy building. Every body aperture was filled up with colors, I had to throw away my clothes, it took an hour to clean my camera, and my go-pro. This was a next-level holi experience. The locals really didn't care, they smashed the colored powder right into the your eyes. I'd definitely recommend wearing goggles!

The hotel I stayed at was total crap. They had no mini-bar, and no shop, where I could buy water or food. Outside of the hotel weren't any shops or restaurants. It almost felt like a survival training, getting plastic bottles of clean water, and killing my hunger with street food. After my lucky catch with the street-food samosas, I suffered a severe diarrhea for the next 3 days. I couldn't wait to leave Vrindavan again.

Because of my bad experience in Agra, and Vrindavan, I decided to not move on towards Jaipur, the last indian city I was supposed to visit on my trip. But instead I turned back to Delhi, and booked a room for my last 4 nights at a hostel. I was looking forward to some chit-chat with travelers. I really haven't had a real discussion with people during those first 9 nights in India. I really missed the contact with people around me. So I thought that a hostel-stay would feel great. 

 

Max Brown Midtown Hotel // Düsseldorf

February highlights the end of carnival season in Germany, mostly in the central part of the cities. Cologne is well known for being "THE" place to celebrate "Rosenmontag" (rose monday), the last day of the carnival celebrations. Compared to the U.S. where the craziest day happens to be on a tuesday (mardi gras), for the germans it takes place on a monday, just before "mardi gras".

We decided to spend 2 nights in  Düsseldorf, the city neighbouring Cologne. In 2016 we celebrated in Cologne, which ended up as a kind of disappointing trip, due to the horrible weather and the lack of visitors because of the recent attacks on women during the night of new years eve. 

We were told to check out Düsseldorf. Without any doubt we had a blast in Düsseldorf!

Not only because of the partying, the lovely people we met in Düsseldorf, but also because of the Max Brown Hotel. Our stay at this hotel definitely contributed to our excellent time in the city.

The vintage design of the lobby is the first eye-catch you'll notice while checking in. The staff is welcoming you, dressed up with denim-aprons, behind a desk that reminds you of a vintage shop from the 50s. Vintage "toys" are up for sale, like retro-ish designed boomerangs, playing cards and notebooks. 

Our first two nights were spent in a beautifully designed smaller room, big enough for 2 people. The room was equipped with a portable vinyl player, a couple of vinyls (mostly soul&indie music), colorful hangers, vintage looking water boiler & cups. 

After two nights, we decided to extend our stay for another night. The hotel staff offered us a great rate, even cheaper then booking(dot)com. We spent our last night in a bigger room, which had the size of a small studio. It looked even nicer with a vintage couch in the middle of the room. 

The breakfast was alright, the usual continental one. Nothing fancy, but the decoration in the dining room made the breakfast so much cosier. 

All the people we met in Düsseldorf were super friendly. There are so many opportunities to satisfy your shopping wishes, just way to many unique shops. Düsseldorf isn't the prettiest city you'll discover in Germany, but the city as a whole, will give you a decent experience. We loved it, without any doubt! I'd choose Düsseldorf, over Cologne, in a heartbeat.

I'm pretty sure that i'm returning to Düsseldorf very soon. And I'll most definitely stay at Max Brown Hotel.

 

 
 
 

CONTACT

Adress: 

Kreuzstraße 19A, 40210 Düsseldorf, Deutschland

Website:

www.maxbrownhotels.com/midtown

Phone: 

+492113611980

White Chapel Gin Bar {San Francisco}

White Chapel is a damn fine Gin-Bar nearby Union Square and Market Street in San Francisco. I hardly ever write blog-posts about bars, however if i'm writing a review about it, it's pretty obvious that i had a splendid time and a great night at the café.

The walk from Union Square towards White Chapel will lead you through sketchy corners at night, but it definitely was worth the adventure. Passing by the bar, you hardly recognize it as a gin bar from the outside. After getting the head nod from the bouncer I walked in, as soon as i passed the door I exhaled an inner-wow. The interior design was astonishing! It reminded me of the shapes and forms of a cathedral, so did the low dimmed ambient light.

I took a seat on at the bar and waited for ordering my first drink. While traveling solo, the first order often gives me a weird insecure feeling, because most of the customers are in groups or couples. The bartender Keli, who considered herself as a "ginoisseur", took care of my first gin&tonic made out of "Brooklyn Gin".  To make me even more insecure she asked if i ordered a "brooklyn" or "brockley"gin. Because of the ambient noise I didn't understand what she was talking about. So she showed me both bottles and I picked the right one.  Instantly I was amazed by Keli's knowledge about gin.

After having downed my first drink, another unknown bartender, asked me for another gin&tonic. I agreed, and he filled up a glass with a homemade g&t from the tap. Gin&Tonic from a tap? That was weird and that's how it tasted, weird. I couldn't drink it. So I called Keli and asked her for another drink. She noticed that I didn't like the tap g&t. I opted for an icelandic gin. Kelli told me it's on the house. Considering that most gin&tonics were around 10-14$ , i found it pretty nice to get a free drink.

After that drink Keli taught me lots about gin, and we talked about her travels, her experiences with foreign gins, etc. It was crazy to see how the gin scene had evolved since my last visit in San Francisco.

Later in the evening I got in touch with Andrew and Enoch, two damn talented bartenders, who impressed me quite a lot with their mixing skills. When Andrew added me on instagram, we found out that we had lots of common interests, coffee, music and photography. I was invited to have a coffee at Andrew's place the next day. The roller coaster ride went on and I got served more gin&tonics, port wines, and cocktails. It actually was mind blowing to see how much effort and details Andrew and Enoch put into each cocktail they were pouring out. It looked and felt very artistic.

I had quite a few tastings of several gins. 

I left the bar pretty wasted, but i was really happy that i ran into these people. Actually it was the first time where I had fun at a bar, only because of the staff working at the bar. I wish I had met more locals like Keli and Andrew in San Francisco. Genuine people!

The cherry on top, was the music that night, all soul music!

White Chapel thank you for having me! 


White Chapel

600 Polk St, San Francisco,
CA 94102, USA

website: www.whitechapelsf.com

San Francisco - Trails & Beaches

I just came back home from my 6th trip to San Francisco, and thought I'd get bored of publishing another blog-post about one of my very favorite U.S. cities, but that ain't the case. Once again I soaked up many new impressions and travel memories in San Francisco.

Just before my trip, I put a list together with all the interesting parts & sights I hadn't discovered yet. I pretty well filled up the schedule of my 6 days and planned ahead which parts I'd visit on the specific weekdays.

As my trip came to an end, I sadly realized that I still missed so many things, and that I barely completed my check-list. There's still so much to discover in San Francisco, even after 6 trips to the city. 

This time I really put my focus on its beaches. I was browsing through a couple of photos of the golden gate bridge, which were taken from the Baker Beach angle. I kind of felt ashamed that I never made it to Baker Beach, because you definitely get the best photos from that viewpoint. The typical tourist photos you see from right in front of one of both ends of the bridge, are the least impressive in my opinion. So I was looking forward to get to Baker Beach.

Baker Beach.

As I don't like taking bus-rides in big cities, I decided to start my "baker beach hike" early in the morning at 6am, just before the sunrise, to get a couple of descent photos of the city, just before sun rise. I walked from the union square neighbourhood toward the ferry building very next to the bay bridge, that leads to Oakland. I haven't even been close to the ferry building, on my previous trips, and I felt like i missed a beautiful spot of the city. You can watch the sun rise on the pretty wooden pier, walking through the middle of the lamp-post lane. The cupid-arch is withing walking distance as well. Inside the ferry building you'll find lovely shops selling different kinds of crafts, "french" pastries, delicious coffee at "Blue Bottle". 

I tried to avoid the popular pier 39, which only has tasteless tourist-shop to offer, and almost only restaurants which serve bad and greasy food. From the ferry building, I walked up too many stairs til I reach the beautiful Coit-Tower. It became one of my favorite parts of the city, even though it attracts a lot of tourists. The altitude of the hill gives beautiful views all over the different areas of the city. 

I moved forward through the colorful North Beach, towards the "Ghirardelli Square" at North Point Street, where I stopped for my second coffee in the city. I was impressed how good their chocolate was. Who ever thought Americans were great at making chocolate ? ;) Outside of the Ghirardelli square, you already can witness the beauty of the famous red bridge, and it feels like it's already pretty close, but it's not! It takes another 40-50 minutes to reach it.

After I made it to the bridge, I decided to move on to Baker Beach. Starting from the Golden Gate Bridge, you can choose different trails that will lead you to Baker beach. To get to the trails, you gotta follow the path below the bridge, as I can remember it's the only way to get to the other side without a car. 

You walk past several view points and it felt like forever to reach Baker Beach. I took my first photo shots down at Marshall Beach. There are a couple of paths that lead you down to the shore, but don't forget, that you gotta walk those paths uphill again to move on towards Baker Beach. 

On my way a couple of tourists asked me if I had seen restaurants nearby, but I didn't. I guess those folks, underestimated the distance of the trails, like I did. And of course, it felt like summer! The weather was just great for a november, real t-shirt and shorts weather. I caught a light sunburn, walking all day in the sun.

What I learned after I had reached Baker Beach:

- it's further and more exhausting than I thought it would be.
- it's only a small part of the San Francisco shores.
- once you've made it to the beach, you gotta get back to the city. If you don't have the exact change for the bus ride, can't get a cab in the area, "uber" doesn't work, because you don't have internet-access on your mobile phone because of roaming issues, it's gonna be a hell  of walk to walk back in the city center.

 

Ocean Beach & Sutro Beach.

On my second day, I decided to get back to the beach area. Walking down Powell Street towards Market Street, I took the "#5R-Fulton Rapid" busline, which was only 2.25$ . It takes approximately 35-45 minutes to reach the last bus stop of the route. From the bus stop it only takes a short walk to reach the beach, or to get to the wind mill that is located at the "Golden Gate Park".

Nearby there's a beach house, where I stopped by for coffee & breakfast. It was kind of pricey, but you could enjoy an ocean view while having breakfast. North of the beach there's the popular camera obscura and the famous "Cliffhouse Restaurant". Behind the restaurant, there were several pathes which lead to Sutro Beach, where only ruins of the once public swimming pool are left.

Following the different paths will lead you northbound towards Baker Beach, but it's still quite a few miles away. Nearby Sutro Beach, there's another vista point, which will give you a lovely view onto the Golden Gate Bridge. Besides the view, there's another big circle made out of stone to discover. It's really not a must-see, but while being in the area, why not check it out. 

Before heading back to the busstop, to get back to the hostel, I enjoyed some time on the beach, watching the waves collapse in front of me. The weather was just outstanding for a november. There aren't many cities that would come to mind, if i had to recommend a travel destination for the last two months of the year, except for asian countries or southern american countries.

San Francisco would be one of the cities I'd consider turning back to in november or december months.

Ocean Beach.

Hayes Street (Patricia's Green).

Afer visiting an art gallery which hosted a couple of artworks of Shepard Fairey (OBEY), I was told that Fairey recently painted two new murals in San Francisco. The one I really wanted to see, was a mural of Cesar Chavez, which was located at Hayes Street, nearby the Patricia's Green square. 

I can't remember if i'd ever been to Hayes Street, but I was so impressed by the charm of that lovely and colorful neighborhood. The hood was packed with different coffee bars, art galleries, craft-shops... Once I'll get back to San Francisco, this is definitely gonna be the place where I'd love to hangout or even book a room at a hostel or hotel in that part of the city. 

 

White Chapel (Gin Bar).

More to come about this fabulous place. I will write a separate review about my favorite bar in town. The link to the review will be added soon.

 

Clement Street (and 5th Avenue).

I had my best night at Clement Street (with 5th avenue). I met up with my friend Jessica on a Saturday at Haight Street for a coffee. She decided to take me out the same evening to a show at the venue called "Neck of the Woods". The whole alley on Clement Street was packed with different restaurants, bars, bakeries, flower shops. Somehow it felt totally different than the other areas I've been to in San Francisco. It had the vibe of a little american village. There weren't barely any tourists, and it definitely felt like a local spot. People were a lot more outgoing and easy to talk to. I realized again, that the city has so much more to offer than just the popular spots. Even after my 6th visit in the "City By The Bay" there's still so much left to discover.

San Francisco remains one my favorite U.S. cities, it could even be my favorite. I felt proud again that I had the initials -SF- tattooed on my right arm.